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Article

From Plows, Horses, and Harnesses to Precision Technologies in the North American Great Plains  

David E. Clay, Sharon A. Clay, Thomas DeSutter, and Cheryl Reese

Since the discovery that food security could be improved by pushing seeds into the soil and later harvesting a desirable crop, agriculture and agronomy have gone through cycles of discovery, implementation, and innovation. Discoveries have produced predicted and unpredicted impacts on the production and consumption of locally produced foods. Changes in technology, such as the development of the self-cleaning steel plow in the 18th century, provided a critical tool needed to cultivate and seed annual crops in the Great Plains of North America. However, plowing the Great Plains would not have been possible without the domestication of plants and animals and the discovery of the yoke and harness. Associated with plowing the prairies were extensive soil nutrient mining, a rapid loss of soil carbon, and increased wind and water erosion. More recently, the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and no-tillage planters has contributed to increased adoption of conservation tillage, which is less damaging to the soil. In the future, the ultimate impact of climate change on agronomic practices in the North American Great Plains is unknown. However, projected increasing temperatures and decreased rainfall in the southern Great Plains (SGP) will likely reduce agricultural productivity. Different results are likely in the northern Great Plains (NGP) where higher temperatures can lead to increased agricultural intensification, the conversion of grassland to cropland, increased wildlife fragmentation, and increased soil erosion. Precision farming, conservation, cover crops, and the creation of plants better designed to their local environment can help mitigate these effects. However, changing practices require that farmers and their advisers understand the limitations of the soils, plants, and environment, and their production systems. Failure to implement appropriate management practices can result in a rapid decline in soil productivity, diminished water quality, and reduced wildlife habitat.

Article

Where Is Equity in Integrated Approaches for Water Resources Management?  

Jeremy Allouche

The challenges of integrated approaches and equity in water resources management have been well researched. However, a clear division exists between scholars working on equity and those working on integration, and there is remarkably little systematic analysis available that addresses their interlinkages. The divide between these two fields of inquiry has increased over time, and equity is assumed rather than explicitly considered in integrated approaches for water resources management. Historically, global debates on water resources management have focused on questions of distributional equity in canal irrigation systems and access to water. This limited focus on distributional equity was side-lined by neoliberal approaches and subsequent integrated approaches around water resources management tend to emphasize the synergistic aspects and ignore the political trade-offs between equity and efficiency. The interlinkages among equity, sustainability, and integration need deeper and broader interdisciplinary analysis and understanding, as well as new concepts, approaches, and agendas that are better suited to the intertwined complexity of resource degradation.

Article

Ecotourism  

Giles Jackson

Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that educates and inspires through interpretation—increasingly paired with practical action—that helps conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of local people. Ecotourism is the fastest-growing segment of the travel and tourism industry, and its economic value is projected to exceed USD$100 billion by 2027. Ecotourism emerged in the 1960s as a response to the destructive effects of mass tourism and has been embraced by an increasing number of governments, especially in the developing world, as a vehicle for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As an emerging, interdisciplinary field of study, ecotourism has reached a critical inflection point, as scholars reflect on the achievements and shortcomings of several decades of research and set out the research agenda for decades to come. The field has yet to achieve consensus on the most basic questions, such as how ecotourism is, or should be, defined; what makes it different from nature-based and related forms of tourism; and what factors ultimately determine the success or failure of ecotourism as a vehicle for sustainable development. This lack of consensus stems in part from the different perspectives and agendas within and between the academic, policy, and industry communities. Because it is based on measured and observed phenomena, empirical research has a critical role to play in advancing the theory and practice of ecotourism. However, scholars also recognize that to fulfill this role, methodologies must evolve to become more longitudinal, scalable, inclusive, integrative, and actionable.

Article

Resilience  

Carl Folke

Resilience thinking in relation to the environment has emerged as a lens of inquiry that serves a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration. Resilience is about cultivating the capacity to sustain development in the face of expected and surprising change and diverse pathways of development and potential thresholds between them. The evolution of resilience thinking is coupled to social-ecological systems and a truly intertwined human-environment planet. Resilience as persistence, adaptability and, transformability of complex adaptive social-ecological systems is the focus, clarifying the dynamic and forward-looking nature of the concept. Resilience thinking emphasizes that social-ecological systems, from the individual, to community, to society as a whole, are embedded in the biosphere. The biosphere connection is an essential observation if sustainability is to be taken seriously. In the continuous advancement of resilience thinking there are efforts aimed at capturing resilience of social-ecological systems and finding ways for people and institutions to govern social-ecological dynamics for improved human well-being, at the local, across levels and scales, to the global. Consequently, in resilience thinking, development issues for human well-being, for people and planet, are framed in a context of understanding and governing complex social-ecological dynamics for sustainability as part of a dynamic biosphere.

Article

Economics of Campus Sustainability  

Kimberly S. Hodge, Jane Stewart, and Lilly Grella

Can sustainability initiatives support positive economics, or are they necessarily cost-additive? With thousands of colleges and universities across the globe actively pursuing sustainability and carbon-neutrality goals, the question of how to balance institutional sustainability priorities and fiscal responsibility hovers in discussions ranging from utility planning to student programming. Educational institutions often heavily weigh the economics and academics of a potential sustainability project. However, pressing issues with long-term implications, such as climate change and rising operations costs, can make campus sustainability projects an appealing option. Institutions will incorporate the environmental, financial, and social aspects of a decision differently and through different avenues of funding. Examples of measures that institutions of higher education are taking to incorporate sustainability include adaptations of campus infrastructure, operations, and administrative leadership, and those measures necessarily intersect with financial planning and outcomes. An overview of general models and specific institutional examples of sustainability initiatives in the areas of infrastructure, operations and management, education and community engagement, and administration indicate that sustainability measures, especially for environmental sustainability, can contribute to positive campus economics. This outcome, however, is most likely when decision-making considers both long-term and cross-sectoral impacts to evaluate the true cost–benefit profile as it applies to the institution as a whole.

Article

Environmental Benefits and Concerns of Center-Pivot Irrigation  

Leonor Rodriguez Sinobas

Center-pivot irrigation systems started in the United States in the mid-20th century as an irrigation method which surpassed the traditional surface irrigation methods. At that time, they had the potential to bring about higher irrigation efficiencies with less water consumption although their requirements in energy were higher too. Among their benefits, it is highlighted the feasibility to control water management as well as the application of agro-chemicals dissolved in the irrigation water and thus, center-pivot irrigation systems have spread worldwide. Nevertheless, since the last decade of the 20th century, they are facing actual concerns regarding ecosystem sustainability and water and energy efficiencies. Likewise, the 21st century has brought about the cutting edge issue “precision irrigation” which has made feasible the application of water, fertilizers, and chemicals as the plant demands taking into account variables such as: sprinkler´s pressure, terrain topography, soil variability, and climatic conditions. Likewise, it could be adopted to deal with the current key issues regarding the sustainability and efficiency of the center-pivot irrigation to maintain the agro-ecosystems but still, other issues such as the organic matter incorporation are far to be understood and they will need further studies.

Article

The Role of Tourism in Sustainable Development  

Robert B. Richardson

Sustainable development is the foundational principle for enhancing human and economic development while maintaining the functional integrity of ecological and social systems that support regional economies. Tourism has played a critical role in sustainable development in many countries and regions around the world. In developing countries, tourism development has been used as an important strategy for increasing economic growth, alleviating poverty, creating jobs, and improving food security. Many developing countries are in regions that are characterized by high levels of biological diversity, natural resources, and cultural heritage sites that attract international tourists whose local purchases generate income and support employment and economic development. Tourism has been associated with the principles of sustainable development because of its potential to support environmental protection and livelihoods. However, the relationship between tourism and the environment is multifaceted, as some types of tourism have been associated with negative environmental impacts, many of which are borne by host communities. The concept of sustainable tourism development emerged in contrast to mass tourism, which involves the participation of large numbers of people, often in structured or packaged tours. Mass tourism has been associated with economic leakage and dependence, along with negative environmental and social impacts. Sustainable tourism development has been promoted in various ways as a framing concept in contrast to these economic, environmental, and social impacts. Some literature has acknowledged a vagueness of the concept of sustainable tourism, which has been used to advocate for fundamentally different strategies for tourism development that may exacerbate existing conflicts between conservation and development paradigms. Tourism has played an important role in sustainable development in some countries through the development of alternative tourism models, including ecotourism, community-based tourism, pro-poor tourism, slow tourism, green tourism, and heritage tourism, among others that aim to enhance livelihoods, increase local economic growth, and provide for environmental protection. Although these models have been given significant attention among researchers, the extent of their implementation in tourism planning initiatives has been limited, superficial, or incomplete in many contexts. The sustainability of tourism as a global system is disputed among scholars. Tourism is dependent on travel, and nearly all forms of transportation require the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels for energy. The burning of fossil fuels for transportation generates emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change, which is fundamentally unsustainable. Tourism is also vulnerable to both localized and global shocks. Studies of the vulnerability of tourism to localized shocks include the impacts of natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and civil unrest. Studies of the vulnerability of tourism to global shocks include the impacts of climate change, economic crisis, global public health pandemics, oil price shocks, and acts of terrorism. It is clear that tourism has contributed significantly to economic development globally, but its role in sustainable development is uncertain, debatable, and potentially contradictory.

Article

A New Economics to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals  

Marcello Hernández-Blanco and Robert Costanza

“The Anthropocene” has been proposed as the new geological epoch in which we now live. We have left behind the Holocene, an epoch of stable climate conditions that permitted the development of human civilization. To address the challenges of this new epoch, humanity needs to take an active role as stewards of the integrated Earth System, collaborating across scales and levels with a shared vision and values toward maintaining the planet within a safe and just operating space. In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has at its core 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals built on and superseded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Unlike the MDGs, they apply to all countries and represent universal goals and targets that articulate the need and opportunity for the global community to build a sustainable and desirable future in an increasingly interconnected world. The global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has been a strong hit to a vulnerable development system, exacerbating many of the challenges that humanity faces in the Anthropocene. The pandemic has touched all segments of the global populations and all sectors of the economy, with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most affected. Understanding the interdependence between SDGs is a key area of research and policy, which will require novel approaches to assess and implement systemic global strategies to achieve the 2030 agenda. Global society requires a new vision of the economy, one in which the economy is recognized to be a subsystem of the broader Earth System (a single complex system with reasonably well-defined states and transitions between them), instead of viewing nature as just another source of resources and sink for wastes. This approach will require acknowledging the value of nature, which, although it has been widely recognized in the scientific literature, has been often ignored by decision-makers. Therefore, there is a need to replace the static, linear model of gross domestic product (GDP) with more dynamic, integrated, natural, and human system models that incorporate the dynamics of stocks, flows, trade-offs, and synergies among the full range of variables that affect the SDGs and human and ecosystem well-being. The SDGs will only be achieved if humanity chooses a development path focused on thriving in a broad and integrated way, rather than growing material consumption at all costs. Achieving the SDGs is a future where society reconnects with the rest of nature and develops within its planetary boundaries. The new economics and the visions and strategies are aimed at achieving these shared global goals.

Article

Economics of the Genuine Progress Indicator  

Junior Ruiz Garcia

The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) is an interesting alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of society’s development. Historically, GDP has been used by policymakers, media analysts, and economists as the main indicator of development, even though economics textbooks often state that it is not a measure of social welfare. Strictly speaking, GDP is only an indicator of the production of economic goods and services, not an index of well-being or development. It does not include the environmental, social, or economic costs of producing goods and services. The theoretical basis of GDP is conventional macroeconomics, which adopts an isolated economic system as the object of analysis. In this approach, there is no flow of matter and energy to produce economic goods and services. The economy is considered a perpetual motion machine that does not need material and energy to produce and which consequently does not generate waste. However, the economy is a subsystem open to the flow of matter and energy, supported by a closed, natural subsystem—the global environmental system. In practice, the production of economic goods and services is dependent on the continuous flow of matter and energy from the environment, and inherently, the result of GDP is also the generation of waste. The GPI adopts this perspective. In the 1990s, Daly and Cobb created the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), hereafter termed GPI. The objective was to incorporate environmental, social, and economic costs associated with GDP growth, and to generate an indicator that reflected a genuine development of society. The GPI has been estimated for several countries, including the United States, Australia, China, and Brazil. This indicator is neither perfect nor complete for assessing development or human well-being, but it is superior to GDP. Despite technological development, there has been an unequivocal increase in environmental degradation, contrary to the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) hypothesis. The result of environmental degradation has been an increase in the environmental, social, and economic costs of GDP growth. However, these costs have been ignored by policymakers, companies, and society in their production and consumption decisions. Improving the GPI and its estimates can provide better information for decision making by economic and political agents.

Article

The Science of Agroecology  

Juha Helenius, Alexander Wezel, and Charles A. Francis

Agroecology can be defined as scientific research on ecological sustainability of food systems. In addressing food production and consumption systems in their entirety, the focus of agroecology is on interactions and processes that are relevant for transitioning and maintaining ecological, economic, political, and social-cultural sustainability. As a field of sustainability science, agroecology explores agriculture and food with explicit linkages to two other widespread interpretations of the concept of agroecology: environmentally sound farming practices and social movements for food security and food sovereignty. In the study of agroecology as science, both farming practices and social movements emerge as integrated components of agroecological research and development. In the context of agroecology, the concept of ecology refers not only to the science of ecology as biological research but also to environmental and social sciences with research on social systems as integrated social and ecological systems. In agroecological theory, all these three are merged so that agroecology can broadly be defined as “human food ecology” or “the ecology of food systems.” Since the last decades of the 20th century many developments have led to an increased emphasis on agroecology in universities, nonprofit organizations, movements, government programs, and the United Nations. All of these have raised a growing attention to ecological, environmental, and social dimensions of farming and food, and to the question of how to make the transition to sustainable farming and food systems. One part of the foundation of agroecology was built during the 1960s when ecologically oriented environmental research on agriculture emerged as the era of optimism about component research began to erode. Largely, this took place as a reaction to unexpected and unwanted ecological and social consequences of the Green Revolution, a post–World War II scaling-up, chemicalization, and mechanization of agriculture. Another part of the foundation was a nongovernmental movement among thoughtful farmers wanting to develop sustainable and more ecological/organic ways of production and the demand by consumers for such food products. Finally, a greater societal acceptance, demand for research and education, and public funding for not only environmental ecology but also for wider sustainability in food and agriculture was ignited by an almost sudden high-level political awakening to the need for sustainable development by the end of 1980s. Agroecology as science evolved from early studies on agricultural ecosystems, from research agendas for environmentally sound farming practices, and from concerns about addressing wider sustainability; all these shared several forms of systems thinking. In universities and research institutions, agroecologists most often work in faculties of food and agriculture. They share resources and projects among scientists having disciplinary backgrounds in genetics (breeding of plants and animals), physiology (crop science, animal husbandry, human nutrition), microbiology or entomology (crop protection), chemistry and physics (soil science, agricultural and food chemistry, agricultural and food technology), economics (of agriculture and food systems), marketing, behavioral sciences (consumer studies), and policy research (agricultural and food policy). While agroecologists clearly have a mandate to address ecology of farmland, its biodiversity, and ecosystem services, one of the greatest added values from agroecology in research communities comes from its wider systems approach. Agroecologists complement reductionist research programs where scientists seek more detailed understanding of detail and mechanisms and put these into context by developing a broader appreciation of the whole. Those in agroecology integrate results from disciplinary research and increase relevance and adoption by introducing transdisciplinarity, co-creation of information and practices, together with other actors in the system. Agroecology is the field in sustainability science that is devoted to food system transformation and resilience. Agroecology uses the concept of “agroecosystem” in broad ecological and social terms and uses these at multiple scales, from fields to farms to farming landscapes and regions. Food systems depend on functioning agroecosystems as one of their subsystems, and all the subsystems of a food system interact through positive and negative feedbacks, in their complex biophysical, sociocultural, and economic dimensions. In embracing wholeness and connectivity, proponents of agroecology focus on the uniqueness of each place and food system, as well as solutions appropriate to their resources and constraints.

Article

Economics of Waste Minimization, Recycling, and Disposal  

Rawshan Ara Begum and Sofia Ehsan

With rapid population growth and urbanization around the world, waste generation (solid, liquid, and gaseous) is increasing. Waste management is a critical factor in ensuring human health and environmental protection, which is a major concern of both developing and developed countries. Waste management systems and practices, including collection, transport, treatment, and disposal, vary between developed and developing countries or even in urban and rural areas. In response, economic models have been developed to help decision-makers choose the most efficient mix of policy levers to regulate solid waste and recycling activities. The economic models employ different kinds of data to estimate the factors that contribute to solid waste generation and recycling, and to estimate the effectiveness of the policy options employed for waste management and disposal. Thus, economic analysis plays a crucial role in the proper and efficient management of solid waste, and leads to significant developments in the field of environmental economics to reflect the costs of pollution related to waste, measure the environmental benefits of waste management, find cost-efficient solutions, and shape policies for environmental protection and sustainable development. Economic assessment and cost-benefit analysis help to determine optimal policies for efficient use of resources and management of waste problems to achieve sustainable waste management, especially in developing and least developed countries. Crucial challenges include issues such as the limits of waste hierarchy, integration of sustainable waste management, public-private cooperation, and linear versus circular economy.

Article

Consequences of Agriculture in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and the Levant  

John M. Marston

The ancient Near East was one of the earliest centers of agriculture in the world, giving rise to domesticated herd animals, cereals, and legumes that today have become primary agricultural staples worldwide. Although much attention has been paid to the origins of agriculture, identifying when, where, and how plants and animals were domesticated, equally important are the social and environmental consequences of agriculture. Shortly after the advent of domestication, agricultural economies quickly replaced hunting and gathering across Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Anatolia. The social and environmental context of this transition has profound implications for understanding the rise of social complexity and incipient urbanism in the Near East. Economic transformation accompanied the expansion of agriculture throughout small-scale societies of the Near East. These farmsteads and villages, as well as mobile pastoral groups, formed the backbone of agricultural production, which enabled tradable surpluses necessary for more expansive, community-scale economic networks. The role of such economies in the development of social complexity remains debated, but they did play an essential role in the rise of urbanism. Cities depended on agricultural specialists, including farmers and herders, to feed urban populations and to enable craft and ritual specializations that became manifest in the first cities of southern Mesopotamia. The environmental implications of these agricultural systems in the Mesopotamian lowlands, especially soil salinization, were equally substantial. The environmental implications of Mesopotamian agriculture are distinct from those accompanying the spread of agriculture to the Levant and Anatolia, where deforestation, erosion, and loss of biodiversity can be identified as the hallmarks of agricultural expansion. Agriculture is intimately connected with the rise of territorial empires across the Near East. Such empires often controlled agricultural production closely, for both economic and strategic ends, but the methods by which they encouraged the production of specific agricultural products and the adoption of particular agricultural strategies, especially irrigation, varied considerably between empires. By combining written records, archaeological data from surveys and excavation, and paleoenvironmental reconstruction, together with the study of plant and animal remains from archaeological sites occupied during multiple imperial periods, it is possible to reconstruct the environmental consequences of imperial agricultural systems across the Near East. Divergent environmental histories across space and time allow us to assess the sustainability of the agricultural policies of each empire and to consider how resulting environmental change contributed to the success or failure of those polities.

Article

Renewable Energy for Human Sustainability  

Peter J. Schubert

Renewable energy was used exclusively by the first humans and is likely to be the predominant source for future humans. Between these times the use of extracted resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas has created an explosion of population and affluence, but also of pollution and dependency. This article explores the advent of energy sources in a broad social context including economics, finance, and policy. The means of producing renewable energy are described in an accessible way, highlighting the broad range of considerations in their development, deployment, and ability to scale to address the entirety of human enterprises.

Article

Terracing: From Agriculture to Multiple Ecosystem Services  

Paolo Socci, Alessandro Errico, Giulio Castelli, Daniele Penna, and Federico Preti

Agricultural terraces are widely spread all over the world and are among the most evident landscape signatures of the human fingerprint, in many cases dating back to several centuries. Agricultural terraces create complex anthropogenic landscapes traditionally built to obtain land for cultivation in steep terrains, typically prone to runoff production and soil erosion, and thus hardly suitable for rain-fed farming practices. In addition to acquiring new land for cultivation, terracing can provide a wide array of ecosystem services, including runoff reduction, water conservation, erosion control, soil conservation and increase of soil quality, carbon sequestration, enhancement of biodiversity, enhancement of soil fertility and land productivity, increase of crop yield and food security, development of aesthetic landscapes and recreational options. Moreover, some terraced areas in the world can be considered as a cultural and historical heritage that increases the asset of the local landscape. Terraced slopes may be prone to failure and degradation issues, such as localized erosion, wall or riser collapse, piping, and landsliding, mainly related to runoff concentration processes. Degradation phenomena, which are exacerbated by progressive land abandonment, reduce the efficiency of benefits provided by terraces. Therefore, understanding the physical processes occurring in terraced slopes is essential to find the most effective maintenance criteria necessary to accurately and adequately preserve agricultural terraces worldwide.

Article

Environmental Accounting and the Management Challenge  

Roger L. Burritt, Stefan Schaltegger, and Katherine L. Christ

There is a need to achieve sustainability through development of economies and companies that operate in the safe operating space of planetary boundaries and contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This requires that decision makers are informed about the state of the natural environment, the environmental impacts being caused, and the effectiveness of improvement measures. Environmental accounting focuses on such environmental issues. It informs decision makers about combined environmental and economic matters and supports improvement processes. Environmental accounts at the national and regional macro level are mostly focused on the environmental condition and changes in condition over time. In contrast, company environmental accounting at the micro level either focuses on reporting on the overall impact in the past, providing detailed internal information for managers to address key problem areas, or identifying aspects for improvement. Transdisciplinary research helps to address the economic and management challenge of linking company-related micro level accounts and activities with macro level environmental objectives.

Article

Business Models for Sustainability  

Nancy Bocken

Human activity is increasingly impacting the environment negatively on all scales. There is an urgent need to transform human activity toward sustainable development. Business has a key role to play in this sustainability transition through technological, product and service, and process innovations, as well as innovative business models. Business models can enable new technologies, and vice versa. These models are therefore important in the transition to sustainability. Business models for sustainability, or synonymously, sustainable business models, take holistic views on how business is operated in relation to its stakeholders, including the society and the natural environment. They incorporate economic, environmental, and social aspects in an organization’s purpose and performance measures; consider the needs of all stakeholders rather than giving priority to owner and shareholder expectations; treat “nature” as a stakeholder; and take a system as well as a firm-level perspective on the way business is conducted. The research field of sustainable business models emerged from fields such as service business models, green and social business models, and concepts such as sharing and circular economy. Academics have argued that the most service-oriented business models can achieve a “factor 10” environmental impact improvement if designed the right way. Researchers have developed various conceptualizations, typologies, tools, and methods and reviews on sustainable business models. However, sustainable business models are not yet mainstream. Important research areas include the following: (a) tools, methods, and experimentation; (b) the assessment of sustainability impact and rebounds for different stakeholders; (c) sufficiency and degrowth; and (d) the twin revolution of sustainability and digital transition. First, a plethora of tools and approaches are available for inspiration and for creation of sustainable business model designs. Second, in the field of assessment, methods have been based on life cycle thinking considering the supply chain and how a product is (re)used and eventually disposed of. In the field of sufficiency, authors have recognized the importance of moderating consumption through innovative business models to reduce the total need for products, reducing the impact on the environment. Finally, researchers have started to investigate the important interplay between sustainability and digitalization. Because of the potential to achieve a factor 10 environmental impact improvement, sustainable business models are an important source of inspiration for further work, including the upscaling of sustainable business models in established businesses and in new ventures. Understanding how to design better business models and preempting their usage in practice are essential to achieve a desired positive impact. In the field of sufficiency, the macro-impacts of individual and business behavior would need to be better understood. In the area of digital innovation, environmental, societal, and economic values need scrutinization. Researchers and practitioners can leverage the popularity of this field by addressing these important areas to support the development and roll-out of sustainable business models with significantly improved economic, environmental, and societal impact.

Article

Soil Resources, the Delivery of Ecosystem Services and Value  

David A. Robinson, Fiona Seaton, Katrina Sharps, Amy Thomas, Francis Parry Roberts, Martine van der Ploeg, Laurence Jones, Jannes Stolte, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Paula Harrison, and Bridget Emmett

Soils provide important functions, which according to the European Commission include: biomass production (e.g., agriculture and forestry); storing, filtering, and transforming nutrients, substances, and water; harboring biodiversity (habitats, species, and genes); forming the physical and cultural environment for humans and their activities; providing raw materials; acting as a carbon pool; and forming an archive of geological and archaeological heritage, all of which support human society and planetary life. The basis of these functions is the soil natural capital, the stocks of soil material. Soil functions feed into a range of ecosystem services which in turn contribute to the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs). This overarching framework hides a range of complex, often nonlinear, biophysical interactions with feedbacks and perhaps yet to be discovered tipping points. Moreover, interwoven with this biophysical complexity are the interactions with human society and the socioeconomic system which often drives our attitudes toward, and the management and exploitation of, our environment. Challenges abound, both social and environmental, in terms of how to feed an increasingly populous and material world, while maintaining some semblance of thriving ecosystems to pass on to future generations. How do we best steward the resources we have, keep them from degradation, and restore them where necessary as soils underpin life? How do we measure and quantify the soil resources we have, how are they changing in time and space, what can we predict about their future use and function? What is the value of soil resources, and how should we express it? This article explores how soil properties and processes underpin ecosystem services, how to measure and model them, and how to identify the wider benefits they provide to society. Furthermore, it considers value frameworks, including caring for our resources.

Article

Economic Causes and Consequences of Desertification  

Luca Salvati

Land degradation and desertification are composite processes that reflect how components of land capital have worsened over time, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Land degradation is intended as a truly socioeconomic issue because the idea and practice of use (and misuse) of land are socially constructed. In this perspective, soil productivity and land capacity, water consumption and landscape fragmentation, agriculture and sustainable development all reflect the vast ensemble of human-nature interactions. The intrinsic heterogeneity of land degradation processes at the global scale limits the development of mitigation actions. Comprehension of the socioeconomic processes underlying land degradation can benefit from a multidisciplinary approach that considers the intricate feedback between biophysical and economic dimensions. The mutual relationship between economic growth, social inequality, political action, and land degradation provides examples of the interplay among proximate causes and factors underlying desertification.

Article

Planning for Resilient and Sustainable Coastal Shorelands and Communities in the Face of Global Climate Change  

Richard K. Norton

Coastal shorelands and communities are among the most beautiful, vital, remunerative, popular, inequitable, and hazardous of places to live, work, and play. Because of the varied and intensive uses of them combined with climate-related impacts to them, they increasingly experience threats from coastal hazards, suffer ecological degradation, and engender contentious conflicts. Although some coastal shorelands are publicly owned, many are privately owned. Coastal states and communities confront many challenges as they plan for and manage the use of privately owned coastal shorelands. Coastal shorelands encompass the near-shore beaches, dunes, wetlands, and other transitional areas within dynamic coastal zones, whether developed or natural. Sustainability suggests the ability of natural and social coastal systems to persist, whereas resilience speaks to the sustainability of those systems when subject to substantial disruptions such as flooding from extreme storms. In addition to promoting sustainable and resilient coastal shorelands in general, advocates also call for redressing the heightened risks and other inequities experienced by historically marginalized communities. Most of the challenges prompting calls for enhanced coastal resilience, sustainability, and equity are not unique to coastal settings, but coastal communities especially need to attend to them given the heightened risks and development pressures they face. Broadly, they include increasingly frequent and fierce storms, floods, drought, fires, and heatwaves. Coastal communities also face unique challenges, including accelerating rates of shoreline recession and increasing near-shore flooding. Further complicating these natural dynamics are complex and poorly adapted property right, public interest, and related legal/administrative institutional arrangements shaping both private and public expectations in coastal settings. Community planning, if well executed, offers the promise of facilitating and advancing the kinds of nuanced and adaptive resiliency and sustainability goals needed everywhere, especially in coastal settings. Toward that end, researchers and advocates promote a range of planning principles, such as recognizing that coastal economies are nested within and dependent upon coastal ecosystems; promoting culturally aware, place-based, and infrastructure-efficient development policies; adopting no- to low-regrets climate adaptation policies; and encouraging ongoing learning and adaptative management. They similarly promote a variety of planning methods to support those policies, such as land suitability, infrastructure capacity, hazard vulnerability, and social vulnerability analyses, best engaged through scenario-based planning given climate-related uncertainties. Coastal communities experiencing aggressive shoreline recession face difficult choices as well—such as whether to armor receding shores or withdraw—most of which will require acknowledging and working through unavoidable trade-offs. Finally, providing knowledge about natural coastal dynamics and management systems is necessary but not by itself sufficient. Also needed are enhanced local capacity to conduct the analyses required to identify policies and programs that will effectively and equitably advance coastal sustainability and the firm commitment of local residents and officials to adopt those policies—challenges that are daunting but not insurmountable.

Article

Smart One Water: An Integrated Approach for the Next Generation of Sustainable and Resilient Water Systems  

Sunil K. Sinha, Meghna Babbar-Sebens, David Dzombak, Paolo Gardoni, Bevlee Watford, Glenda Scales, Neil Grigg, Edgar Westerhof, Kenneth Thompson, and Melissa Meeker

Quality of life for all people and communities is directly linked to the availability of clean and abundant water. Natural and built water systems are threatened by crumbling infrastructure, floods, drought, storms, wildfires, sea-level rise, population growth, cybersecurity breaches, and pollution, often in combination. Marginalized communities feel the worst impacts, and responses are hampered by fragmented and antiquated governance and management practices. A standing grand challenge for the water sector is transitioning society to a future where current silos are transformed into a significantly more efficient, effective, and equitable One Water system-of-systems paradigm—in other words, a future where communities are able to integrate the governance and management of natural and engineered water systems at all scales of decision-making in a river basin. Innovation in digital technologies that connect data, people, and organizations can be game changers in addressing this societal grand challenge. It is envisioned that advancing digital capabilities in the water sector will require a Smart One Water approach, one that builds upon new technologies and research advancements in multiple disciplines, including those in engineering, computer science, and social science. However, several fundamental knowledge gaps at the nexus of physical, social, and cyber sciences currently exist on how a nationwide Smart One Water approach can be created, operationalized, and maintained. Convergent research is needed to investigate these gaps and improve our current understanding of Smart One Water approaches, including the costs, risks, and benefits to diverse communities in the rural-to-urban continuum. At its core, implementing the Smart One Water approach requires a science-based, stakeholder-driven, and artificial intelligence (AI)–enabled cyberinfrastructure platform, one that can provide a robust framework to support networks of river-basin collaborations. We refer to this envisioned cyberinfrastructure foundation as the digital research and operational platform (DROP). DROP is envisioned to exploit advances in data analytics, machine learning, information, communication, and decision support technologies for the management of One Water systems via AI-enabled digital twins of river-basin systems. Deploying DROP at a large-basin scale requires an understanding of (a) physical water systems (natural and engineered) at the basin scale, which interact with each other in a dynamic environment affected by climate change and other societal trends and whose data, functions, and processes must be integrated to create digital twins of river basins; (b) the social aspects of One Water systems by understanding the values and perspectives of stakeholders, costs and benefits of water management practices and decisions, and the specific needs of disadvantaged populations in river basin communities; (c) approaches for developing and deploying the digital technologies, analytics, and AI required to efficiently operate and manage Smart One Water systems in small to large communities; (d) strategies for training and advancing the next-generation workforce who have expertise on cyber, physical, and social aspects of One Water systems; and (e) lessons learned from testing and evaluating DROP in diverse testbeds. The article describes a strategic plan for operationalizing Smart One Water management and governance in the United States. The plan is based on five foundational pillars: (a) river-basin scale governance, (b) workforce development, (c) innovation ecosystem, (d) diversity and inclusion, and (e) stakeholder engagement. Workshops were conducted for each foundational pillar among diverse stakeholders representing federal, state, and local governments; utilities; industry; nongovernmental organizations; academics; and the general public. The workshops confirmed the strong desire of water communities to embrace, integrate, and grow the Smart One Water approach. Recommendations were generated for using the foundational pillars to guide strategic plans to implement a national-scale Smart One Water program and facilitate its adoption by communities in the United States, with global applications to follow.