Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Learning to live in a global commons: socioeconomic challenges for a sustainable environment

Abstract

Ecologists, economists and other social scientists have much incentive for interaction. First of all, ecological systems and socioeconomic systems are linked in their dynamics, and these linkages are key to coupling environmental protection and economic growth. Beyond this, however, are the obvious similarities in how ecological systems and socioeconomic systems function, and the common theoretical challenges in understanding their dynamics. This should not be surprising. Socioeconomic systems are in fact ecological systems, in which the familiar ecological phenomena of exploitation, cooperation and parasitism all can be identified as key features. Or, viewed from the opposite perspective, ecological systems are economic systems, in which competition for resources is key, and in which an evolutionary process shapes the individual agents to a distribution of specialization of function that leads to the emergence of flows and functionalities at higher levels of organization. Most fundamentally, ecological and socioeconomic systems alike are complex adaptive systems, in which patterns at the macroscopic level emerge from interactions and selection mechanisms mediated at many levels of organization, from individual agents to collectives to whole systems and even above. In such complex adaptive systems, robustness must be understood as emergent from selection processes operating at these many different levels, and the inherent nonlinearities can trigger sudden shifts in regimes that, in the case of the biosphere, can have major consequences for humanity. This lecture will explore the complex adaptive nature of ecosystems, and the implications for the robustness of ecosystem services on which we depend, and in particular examine the conditions under which cooperative behavior emerges. It will then turn attention to the socioeconomic systems in which environmental management is based, and ask what lessons can be learned from our examination of natural systems, and how we can modify social norms to achieve global cooperation in managing our common future. Of special interest will be issues of intragenerational and intergenerational equity, and the importance of various forms of discounting.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Aoki K, Ihara Y, Feldman MW (2006) Conditions for the spread of culturally transmitted costly punishment of sib mating. In: Brown M (ed) Towards a scientific concept of culture (in press)

  2. Axelrod R (1997) The complexity of cooperation. Princeton University Press, Princeton

  3. Bowles S, Gintis H (2004) The evolution of strong reciprocity: cooperation in heterogeneous populations. Theor Popul Biol 65:17–28

  4. Boyd R, Richerson PJ (1996) Why culture is common, but cultural evolution is rare. In: Runciman WG, Smith JM, Dunbar RIM (eds) Evolution of social behavior patterns in primates and man. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 77–93

  5. Cavalli-Sforza LL, Feldman MW (2003) The application of molecular genetic approaches to the study of human evolution. Nat Genet 33(Suppl):266–275

  6. Chao D, Levin SA (1999) A simulation of herding behavior: the emergence of large-scale phenomena from local interactions. In: Ruan S, Wolkowicz GSK, Wu J (eds) Differential equations with applications to biology. American Mathematical Society, Providence, pp 81–95

  7. Couzin ID, Krause J, Franks NR, Levin SA (2005) Effective leadership and decision making in animal groups on the move. Nature 433:513–516

  8. Dieckmann U (1997) Can adaptive dynamics invade? Trends Ecol Evol 12:128–131

  9. Dieckmann U, Metz JAJ (eds) (2005) Elements of adaptive dynamics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

  10. Durrett RT, Levin SA (1998) Spatial aspects of interspecific competition. Theor Popul Biol 53:30–43

  11. Durrett R, Levin SA (2005) Can stable social groups be maintained by homophilous imitation alone? J Econ Behav Organ 57:267–286

  12. Ehrlich PR, Levin SA (2005) The evolution of norms. PLoS Biology 3:943–948

  13. Eshel I (1983) Evolutionary and continuous stability. J Theor Biol 103:99–111

  14. Fehr E, Gächter S (2002) Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature 415:137–140

  15. Fehr E, Fischbacher U, Gachter S (2002) Strong reciprocity, human cooperation and the enforcement of social norms. Hum Nat 13:1–25

  16. Fisher RA (1930) The genetical theory of natural selection. Clarendon Press, Oxford

  17. Gould SJ, Lewontin RC (1979) The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist programme. Proc R Soc Lond B 205:581–598

  18. Hamilton WD (1964) The genetical evolution of social behavior: I and II. J Theor Biol 7:1–52

  19. Iwasa Y, Levin SA (1995) The timing of life history events. J Theor Biol 172:33–42

  20. Iwasa Y, Nakamaru M, Levin SA (1998) Allelopathy of bacteria in a lattice population: competition between colicin-sensitive and colicin-producing strains. Evol Ecol 12:785–802

  21. Kerr B, Riley MA, Feldman MW, Bohannan BJM (2002) Local dispersal promotes biodiversity in a real-life game of rock-paper-scissors. Nature 418:171–174

  22. Kinzig AP, Harte J (1998) Selection of micro-organisms in a spatially explicit environment and implications for plant access to nitrogen. J Ecol 86:841–853

  23. Klausmeier CA, Litchman E, Daufresne T, Levin SA (2004a) Optimal nitrogen-to-phosphorus stoichiometry of phytoplankton. Nature 429:171–174

  24. Klausmeier CA, Litchman E, Levin SA (2004b) Phytoplankton growth and stoichiometry under multiple nutrient limitation. Limnol Oceanogr 49:1463–1470

  25. Klopfer E (1997) Evolution of intermediate exploitation rates in exploiter-victim systems. University of Wisconsin, Madison

  26. Levin SA (1999) Fragile dominion: complexity and the commons. Perseus Books, Reading

  27. Levin SA, Muller-Landau HC (2000) The evolution of dispersal and seed size in plant communities. Evol Ecol Res 2:409–435

  28. Lewontin RC (1961) Evolution and the theory of games. J Theor Biol 1:382–403

  29. Livnat A, Pacala SW, Levin SA (2005) The evolution of intergenerational discounting in offspring quality. Am Nat 165:311–321

  30. Ludwig D, Levin SA (1991) Evolutionary stability of plant communities and the maintenance of multiple dispersal types. Theor Popul Biol 40:285–307 Erratum: 240 285–307

  31. Maynard Smith J (1982) Evolution and the theory of games. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

  32. Maynard Smith J, Price GR (1973) The logic of animal conflict. Nature 246:15–18

  33. Miller JH (1996) The coevolution of automata in the repeated prisoner’s dilemma. J Econ Behav Organ 29:87–112

  34. Nakamaru M, Iwasa Y (2005) The evolution of altruism by costly punishment in the lattice structured population: score-dependent viability versus score-dependent fertility. Evol Ecol Res 7:853–870

  35. Nakamaru M, Levin SA (2004) Spread of two linked social norms on complex interaction networks. J Theor Biol 230:57–64

  36. Nowak MA, Bonhoeffer S, May RM (1994) Spatial games and the maintenance of cooperation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 91:4877–4881

  37. Slobodkin LB, Rapoport A (1974) An optimal strategy of evolution. Q Rev Biol 49:181–200

  38. Tilman D (1994) Competition and biodiversity in spatially structured habitats. Ecology 75:2–16

  39. West GB, Brown JH, Enquist BJ (1997) A general model for the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology. Science 276:122–126

  40. Zea-Cabrera E, Iwasa Y, Levin S, Rodriguez-Iturbe I (2006) Tragedy of the commons in plant water use. Water Resour Res (in press)

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Simon A. Levin.

About this article

Cite this article

Levin, S.A. Learning to live in a global commons: socioeconomic challenges for a sustainable environment. Ecol Res 21, 328–333 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-006-0162-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Social Norm
  • Stable Strategy
  • Complex Adaptive System
  • Evolutionarily Stable Strategy
  • Adaptive Dynamic