Collectively engaging complex socio-ecological systems: re-envisioning science, governance, and the California Delta

Richard B Norgaard, Giorgos Kallis, Michael Kiparsky

"there is no environmental reality over time, or the possibility of one in the future, that is independent of how people both understand and affect the environment through governance, or its absence"

This article first outlines key components of the important history of the California Delta. The authors offer an in depth look at the multiple actors - both governmental and non-governmental, social, political and scientific - that have had major roles in the development of the Delta system and how those actors have interacted up to today. Because the Delta is such an important water and ecological resource, its use is naturally a contentious issue.

Given the complexities of the interactions between social and environmental systems, the authors argue against managing the delta with a visionary endpoint in mind, and instead stress the need for a broad-sweeping, well understood, adaptive approach. 'Visions of the Delta's future,' they argue, 'must be both dynamic and open to surprise'.

This article provides a good case study of how humans have, will and should interact with environmental systems. Looking as we are toward the future of environmental restoration, it is important to understand historical and current trends, so that we can move forward well-informed and adaptable to the inevitable changes that will occur in both social and ecological realms.

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