(Remedial) summer reading.

We’ve all seen and read the summer reading columns…just as the days lengthen and our thoughts turn to a vacation on the coast or in the mountains, they pop up in newspapers, magazines, and the most modern of social media. Best mystery novels for your beachside reading. Summer business reading. Best non-fiction of the summer. And so on.

Here’s my contribution to the genre. It’s flawed in three major respects. First, mid-August hardly counts as the beginning of the season. Second, I’m recommending only a single book, not a smorgasbord of delights. And third, the book I’m recommending was copyrighted not in the last few months, but way, way back, in 2009.

But what a book! It’s Adaptive Governance and Climate Change, by Ron Brunner and Amanda Lynch. To get us started, here’s the blurb you’ll find on the AMS website: As greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures at the poles continue to rise, so do damages from extreme weather events affecting countless lives. Meanwhile, ambitious international efforts to cut emissions (Kyoto, Copenhagen) have proved to be politically ineffective or infeasible. There is hope, however, in adaptive governance — an approach that has succeeded in some local communities and can be undertaken by others around the globe. This book provides a political and historical analysis of climate change policy, shows how adaptive governance has worked on the ground in Barrow, Alaska, and other local communities, and makes the case for adaptive governance as a complementary approach in the climate change regime. [You might be interested in a real review of this book, as opposed to a ramble. Here’s one of the few I was able to find. If you have others, please send a link.]

Here’s my personal history with the book (and it’s not a proud one). When it first came out, the AMS book editors sent me a free copy. I’d known both Mr. Brunner and Ms. Lynch for some time and was a fan. I looked at the title and the précis and knew that it would be worth the read and relevant to my work.

But I was busy.

Some 90% of the reading I was doing every day (the statistic’s still the same) was for the tasks at hand at work.  The remaining 10% was split, ineffectively, among a growing pile of books I was accumulating that beckoned. But when you have a couple of dozen books competing for attention, you finish none of them. The book sat in my office for a while. Then, after some time, because I hadn’t given it a start, I took it home, figuring (erroneously) its chances were better there. It started at the top of a stack. But the stack grew. Over time, the stack migrated to join other stacks in a basement room.

Then, back on December 10, 2012, I ran a post on a “new” dimension to science policy. Ms. Lynch was kind enough to make a gentle comment, referring me to her work with Mr. Brunner. I made a note to circle back to the book.

And searched the office and home high and low, failing to find it.

Then, two weeks ago, looking for another title, I stumbled on Adaptive Governance.

Aha! I had a trip coming up. I thought to put AG in the briefcase, started it on the plane…

…and couldn’t put it down.

Not that it’s an easy read. More than 400 pages. Heavy on scholarship, richly footnoted and referenced, a weighty set of ideas, many with novel aspects, others with novel presentation.

We were taught by our graduate faculty, as we were initiated into the scientific community, to do better than this. We were admonished that there are few crimes worse than failing to keep up with the literature (plagiarism, falsification of data and the like come to mind, but that’s all). However, with seven billion people making discoveries and publishing them while our backs are turned, treating the work of our peers with this kind of attention and respect is hard to do. I’m guilty of this failure. Feel free to heap on the opprobrium.

I alone may be at fault… but I rather doubt it. This is a challenge common to us all, more than we’d like to admit.

Anyway, this is my attempt to make amends. A number of ideas in this blog about resource management, environmental protection, and building resilience to hazards over the past few years – the dysfunction of top-down, command-and-control, the opportunity represented by place-based tactics, pilot studies, the need to imbed scientists in communities to solve problems, the potential of social-networking, and more – have been presented as conjecture. I’ve taken refuge behind Darwin’s quote on the masthead, because I lacked the scholarship to back up many of the assertions, and didn’t have or make the time to dig deeper. Many of you have probably already read AG and much of the literature on which it is based. But if you haven’t, you can find the requisite research and on-the-ground experience for these ideas and more in this book and its bibliography. One strength of the work is the extensive referencing of policy literature dating back half a century… citing the papers and books of Lasswell and many others, showing the lineage of this train of policy analysis.

Two comments. First, don’t be mislead by the title’s focus on climate change. The material applies equally well to other environmental issues (as the authors note), to hazards (as you’ll quickly see), and could be applied as well to governance broadly, across the whole spectrum of policy issues: jobs, health care, education, welfare, and much more. Second, the authors in humility and the spirit of scientific caution offer adaptive governance as a complement to top-down, command-and-control policy approaches. But others less reticent (see, e.g., The End of Power From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be’ by Moises Naim) have argued more boldly that this is more than an additional policy option…it’s the emerging reality.

If you’ve read the Adaptive Governance and Climate Change already, good on you. If it’s sitting on your shelf or e-book unread, give it a try. If the book is new to you, order it and get started. You’ll be glad you did… and given how it’s likely to influence your work and contributions going forward, the world will be the better for it.

Better late than never.


Oh, and if you’re wondering, why favor Brunner and Lynch, when your book is just as important and deserving, take heart. It’s probably in another of my basement book stacks. My apologies…

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2 Responses to (Remedial) summer reading.

  1. Amanda Lynch says:

    Bill – thanks so much for reading our book and your kind words about it. It was certainly a labor of love from Ron and me, and a perspective we both continue to try to work on, apply, and get a little more right. I look forward to seeing you at AMS this winter!

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