Interview – Buzz Holling

Alliance magazine

‘The philanthropic community should pick up more of the spirit of experimentation of the 1980s and 1990s.’

Crawford Stanley (Buzz) Holling is a Canadian ecologist, Emeritus Eminent Scholar and Professor in Ecological Sciences at the University of Florida, and one of the founders of ecological economics. With over 50 years’ research on socio-ecological systems and networks, he is one of the most profiled and most cited systems thinkers in the world. Why do networks matter, Harald Katzmair asked him.


You are known for your work on resilience and adaptive cycle networks. Could you explain why understanding this cycle is critical to understanding networks and why crises are necessary to networks?

The theory emerged from a group called the Resilience Network started in the mid-1990s and funded by the Ford and MacArthur Foundations. We developed a model of integrative change, which goes like this.

Take, for example, a boreal forest in Canada, where I grew up. When a fire appears, it’s a crisis. The fire is created by the forest, by the accumulation of fuel. The system has become increasingly inflexible and resistant to change. At the same time, it has become vulnerable to a crisis, or even a total collapse – whether from a fire, or an outbreak of an invasive species, or something else. The fire suddenly releases the system’s accumulated capital, which is stored in the trees, the plants and the animals that live in the forest. Yet such a crisis is good because it releases all the constraints on the accumulated capital, which can now be reconstituted in a variety of ways. Typically, it’s quickly reconstituted in a healthy forest.

 
Next Special feature to read

Glossary

Alliance magazine