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Journal Articles

“Tragedy of the Commons” as conventional wisdom in sustainability education

Janssen, M.A., S. Smith-Heisters, R. Aggarwal, M.L. Schoon

2019 Environmental Education Research 25(11): 1587-1604.


More than 50 years ago biologist Garrett Hardin published his influential essay ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. In his essay, Hardin argued that in situations where people share resources, external intervention via governmental regulations or privatization of the resource is needed to avoid resource overexploitation. While the article is considered by many resource governance scholars as misleading and incomplete, it is one of the most assigned articles in environmental studies courses. Here, we present findings from a survey of instructors who teach undergraduate courses on sustainability within the USA on how Hardin’s essay is used and what the understanding is of the instructors about the essay. The results from the survey demonstrate that there is a mixed understanding of the current state of knowledge about commons governance. In particular, instructors trained in the natural sciences have more misconceptions about commons governance than instructors trained in other disciplines.


Remembering Buzz Holling

Gunderson, L., C. Folke, and M. A. Janssen

2019 Ecology & Society 24(4):39. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-11434-240439.

Towards a more dynamic understanding of human behaviour in the Anthropocene

Schill, C., J.M. Anderies, T. Lindahl, C. Folke, S. Polasky, J.C. Cárdenas, A.-S. Crépin, M.A. Janssen, J. Norberg, and M. Schlüter

2019 Nature Sustainability. doi:10.1038/s41893-019-0419-7.


Human behaviour is of profound significance in shaping pathways towards sustainability. Yet, the approach to understanding human behaviour in many fields remains reliant on overly simplistic models. For a better understanding of the interface between human behaviour and sustainability, we take work in behavioural economics and cognitive psychology as a starting point, but argue for an expansion of this work by adopting a more dynamic and systemic understanding of human behaviour, that is, as part of complex adaptive systems. A complex adaptive systems approach allows us to capture behaviour as ‘enculturated’ and ‘enearthed’, co-evolving with socio–cultural and biophysical contexts. Connecting human behaviour and context through a complex adaptive systems lens is critical to inform environmental governance and management for sustainability, and ultimately to better understand the dynamics of the Anthropocene itself.


Agricultural and Natural Resources Adaptations to Climate Change: Governance Challenges in Asia

Shivakoti, G.P., M.A. Janssen, and N.B. Chhetri

2019 International, Journal of the Commons 13(2): 827-832.

Spatially explicit simulation of two-way coupling of complex socio-ecological systems: Socio-hydrological risk and decision making in Mexico City

Bojórquez-Tapia, L.A., H. Eakin, A. Baeza, P. Gómez-Priego, M.A. Janssen, Y. Miquelajauregui and F. Serrano Candela

2019 Socio-Environmental Systems Modeling 1.


We present here MEGADAPT (MEGAcity-ADAPTation), a hybrid, dynamic, spatially-explicit, integrated modeling approach to simulate the vulnerability of urban coupled socio-environmental systems – in our case, the vulnerability of Mexico City to socio-hydrological risk. Although vulnerability is widely understood to be influenced by human decision-making, these decisions are rarely captured as endogenous to dynamic vulnerability models. The objective of this paper is to use MEGADAPT to demonstrate a methodological approach that allows vulnerability to be simulated as a reflexive process: the result of the interplay between mental models held by influential actors and the response of the biophysical and social world to the realization of decisions based on these mental models. MEGADAPT represents Mexico City as a self-organizing system. Hence, its computational framework involves the implementation of a suite of system models, geographic information system-multicriteria decision analysis, and geosimulation. A novel contribution of this approach is the use of the Analytic Network Process to synthesize the dynamic feedback between mental models and conditions of geographic automata. In this way, MEGADAPT depicts the shift in the behavior of socio-environmental systems from one-way coupling/single-loop learning to two-way coupling/double-loop learning, with the decision-making process as an endogenous system driver.


Operationalizing the feedback between institutional decision-making, socio-political infrastructure, and environmental risk in urban vulnerability analysis

Baeza, A., L. Bojórquez, M.A. Janssen, and H. Eakin

2019 Journal of Environmental Management  241: 407-417.


Urban adaptation to climate change is likely to emerge from the responses of residents, authorities, and infrastructure providers to the impact of flooding, water scarcity, and other climate-related hazards. These responses are, in part, modulated by political relationships under cultural norms that dominate the institutional and collective decisions of public and private actors. The legacy of these decisions, which are often associated with investment in hard and soft infrastructure, has lasting consequences that influence current and future vulnerabilities. Making those decisions visible, and tractable is, therefore, an urgent research and political challenge in vulnerability assessments. In this work, we present a modeling framework to explore scenarios of institutional decision-making and socio-political processes and the resultant effects on spatial patterns of vulnerability. The approach entails using multi-criteria decision analysis, agent-based models, and geographic information simulation. The approach allows for the exploration of uncertainties, spatial patterns, thresholds, and the sensitivities of vulnerability outcomes to different policy scenarios. Here, we present the operationalization of the framework through an intentionally simplified model example of the governance of water in Mexico City. We discuss results from this example as part of a larger effort to empirically implement the framework to explore sociohydrological risk patterns and trade-offs of vulnerability in real urban landscapes.


Knowledge Infrastructure and Safe Operating Spaces in Social-Ecological Systems

Anderies, J.M., J.D. Matthias, and M.A. Janssen

2019 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 116: 5277-5284.


Maintaining safe operating spaces for exploited natural systems in the face of uncertainty is a key sustainability challenge. This challenge can be viewed as a problem in which human society must navigate in a limited space of acceptable futures in which humans enjoy sufficient well-being and avoid crossing planetary boundaries. A critical obstacle is the nature of society as a controller with endogenous dynamics affected by knowledge, values, and decision-making fallacies. We outline an approach for analyzing the role of knowledge infrastructure in maintaining safe operating spaces. Using a classic natural resource problem as an illustration, we find that a small safe operating space exists that is insensitive to the type of policy implementation, while in general, a larger safe operating space exists which is dependent on the implementation of the “right” policy. Our analysis suggests the importance of considering societal response dynamics to varying policy instruments in defining the shape of safe operating spaces.


Special Issues

Agricultural and Natural Resources Adaptations to Climate Change

G.P. Shivakoti, M.A. Janssen, N.B. Chhetri
2019 International Journal of the Commons 13(2).

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