The Trouble of Discounting Tomorrow
As Levin points out many of the concepts he articulates in his article have been known for some time. The question is HOW to proceed with these processes and approaches. Colleagues and I have been and continue to work at the community level with citizens and willing local governments to explore collaborative approaches for formulating durable and equitable environmental policy and tackling the wicked problem of climate change.
A major problem is that we are unable to obtain funding from the traditional agencies. For example, a year ago we submitted a proposal to NSF to test many of the approaches discussed by Levin. The reviewers thought it not practical, not doable, and too ambitious. I've pasted below the relevant sections that relate specifically to the discussion by Levin.
To put into practice what Levin and others advocate we need to find willing partners on the ground (communities, etc.) to take the risk to experiment and visionary foundations to provide the funding.
From the NSF proposal, Coordinated Research Network for Informing Society in Sustainability (ISIS):
A major unanswered question is how such a shift can be achieved, given the complex social and political dynamics that shape real-world decision processes. Through participatory action research, we will explore practical ways to foster the emergence of institutions and processes that enable flexible and adaptive collaborative governance in the face of change and constantly emerging surprise.
Here is the project summary:
Our proposed interdisciplinary research and practice network will explore the relationship among governance regimes, social processes, and environmental changes using adaptation to changing climate as our focal topic. Adaptation can be usefully framed as a wicked problem— one that cannot be solved by scientific and technological solutions alone, but which requires engagement with social, political, economic and cultural systems. Even after 40+ years of study, wicked problems continue to elude clear characterization and effective decision frameworks for their resolution. A major barrier to developing viable decision frameworks for such problems pertains to the need to alter existing governance processes and institutions. Our premise is that the rapidly changing natural-human system dynamic, accelerated by climate change, calls for effective leadership, change management and risk/vulnerability assessment strategies, tactics and processes, particularly through place-based, collaborative institutions at local levels of governance.
Objective and methods: The network, Informing Society in Sustainability (ISIS), is designed to better understand and develop institutional processes that can provide consistent, transparent, fair, and effective system assessment and change management. The network will bring experts from social and physical sciences together with a representative range of community-level stakeholders to engage a set of case studies concerning the ‘wicked problem’ of climate adaptation. At the case level the network will explore a variety of process approaches to integrating science and planning in collaborative, deliberative democratic decision making. Then, using a comparative case study approach, action research principles and participatory methodologies, we will identify practical and theoretical insights that will advance sustainable responses to the effects of a changing climate. We will practice looped learning, in which we identify theoretical insights, test them in community process, and refine the resulting theory.
Intellectual Merit: Recent climate assessments indicate that the era of a relatively stable climate has ended and that we have entered an era of significant environmental instability, rapid change, and high variability. Our governing institutions, decision processes, laws, regulations, and legal and economic frameworks evolved during the period of relative climate stability. Leading science organizations, such as the National Research Council (NRC), assert that these institutions, processes, and frameworks may not be adequate to deal with the effects of changing climate. Yet, many climate change adaptation plans are predicated on being implemented under current institutions, governance regimes, etc. Will the current institutional arrangements, legal frameworks, regulations, and decision processes be adequate to deal with the surprises brought about in conditions of rapid change within a context of complex, tightly coupled natural and human systems? Elinor Ostrom (2009) has shown how informal coordinating mechanisms support what she refers to as polycentric governance across otherwise apparently fragmented entities. However, such efforts are difficult, especially at large scales involving significant public-private deliberation and scientific uncertainty. Statutes, accompanying rules, budget processes, and inexperience with collaborative decision processes have limited the emergence of polycentric, or “shared” governance. With the type of focused, grounded, and interdisciplinary effort provided by this project, there is the potential to examine and develop the forms of governance, institutional arrangements and decision processes needed to effectively address the impacts of climate change.
Broader Impacts: We will work with several selected communities to develop place-based, participatory, collaborative institutional processes that incorporate cultural norms, economic effects, local knowledge, and scientific assessment of risks to help communities adapt to changing climate testing academic theory about these processes. The overall outcome of this study is the identification of new institutional arrangements, decision processes, and learning networks that effectively connect and coordinate scientists, decision makers, and citizens at different scales to enhance responses to climate effects on communities. We define the projected outcome of this project as providing improved decision processes for sustainability.
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