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IPCC Lead Author member of group that preaches “Revolt and Remember”. Resilience Alliance talks of “destabilization” and “destruction” leading to “reorganization”. Group inspired by “hoofed, horned, hairy and horny” pagan god, Pan: symbol of the “all pervasive spiritual power of nature” in his “destabilizing role” of spreading “panic”.

Donna LaFramboise has an interesting post at Nofrakkingconsensus which looks at Neil Adger, the author of the new IPCC chapter on “human security”. Adger lectured on “environmental economics” at the University of East Anglia and nowteaches “environmental geography“ at the University of Exeter. Nofrakkingconsensus notes Adger’s record of calling for decarbonisation of the global economy and his belief in catastrophic climate change. Hardly an unbiased account for the consideration of world leaders.

Adger is also a proud member of something called The Resilience Alliance.

Whilst the organisation might sound like a convention gathering from Star Trek, their aims are far, far, more serious and wide-ranging than that. Indeed, their ultimate goal, as stated on their website, is nothing less than what they term “Panarchy” in accordance with “nature’s rules” of “unpredictable change”. An important part of the philosophy of panarchy is that national governments are increasingly sidelined in favour of multi-jurisdictional institutions.

So what does this actually entail? What does Adger’s group mean when it talks about its expressed aim of global panarchy? This isn’t entirely clear (surprise, surprise) but they sum up the most important part of the process of instigating global panarchy in the phrase “Revolt and Remember”. Perhaps this diagram would help explain:

I hope this makes our aims perfectly clear? The cycle of destruction and “reorganization” that Resilience Alliance would like to see instigated.

Just in case the esoteric swirls and formula of this diagram didn’t make it entirely clear, the authors explain that “revolt and remember” is a process of destabilization and reorganization that radically undermines structures, organisms, and institutions, allowing “new entrants”:

As a consequence of the periodic, but transient phases of destruction (omega stage) and reorganization (alpha stage), a system’s structure and processes can be reorganized. This reshuffling allows for the establishment of new system configurations and opportunities for the incorporation of exotic and entirely novel entrants into the system. The adaptive cycle explicitly introduces mutations and rearrangements as a periodic process within each hierarchical level in a way that partially isolates the resulting experiments, reducing the risk to the integrity of the whole structure.

From “Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems”. Hosted at the Resilience Alliance Website.

Destruction of the current system will therefore form the final or “omega” phase. Following the arrival of the new entrants an entirely new phase, the “alpha” phase can begin of reorganization.

This is still quite abstract, of course. What it means in terms of social rather than biological change is that in times of crisis, institutions become vulnerable, and can be taken over and reorganized by “new entrants” as part of the cycle of destruction and reorganization:

The Revolt and Remember connections become important at times of change. When a level in the panarchy enters its omega phase and experiences a collapse, that collapse can cascade to the next larger and slower level by triggering a crisis, particularly if that level is at the K phase where resilience is low.

Resilience Alliance: Revolt and Remember.

As the Resilience Alliance explain: “an example . . . would be when local activist groups succeed in efforts to transform regional institutions and politics”. If institutions have become (or can be encouraged to become) overly large and unwieldy, they will be “rigid” and vulnerable to attack. “Fast and small” events could, the authors argue, overwhelm even large institutions and lead to the collapse and destruction that must necessarily precede “reorganization”.

“Revolt” may take place when a level in the panarchy enters its omega phase of collapse. The collapse can cascade up to the next larger and slower level by triggering a crisis, particularly if the higher level is at the K phase where resilience is low. This effect could cascade to still higher and slower levels if those levels had accumulated vulnerabilities and rigidities. In “revolt” fast and small events overwhelm slow and large ones.

However, it is crucial to observe that when the Resilience Alliance talks of “Panarchy” they do not mean to imply a natural equivalence to anarchy as self-rule. In their vision of a Panarchic world, there would still be hierarchies, but these hierarchies would be concerned with ecological matters. Control of the four elements of nature -air, water, earth, and fire – would fall to those who understood that “panic” and “destruction” also imply creation and reorganization:

Since the word hierarchy is so burdened by the rigid, top-down nature of its common meaning, we prefer to invent another term that captures the adaptive, and evolutionary nature of adaptive cycles that are nested one within the other across space and time scales. We call them panarchies, drawing on the image of the Greek god Pan – the universal god of nature. This hoofed, horned, hairy and horny deity . . . represents the all pervasive spiritual power of nature and has a personality and role that is described in sections of the Orphic Hymns as Goat-legged, enthusiastic, lover of ecstasy, dancing among stars, weaving the harmony of the cosmos into playful song . . .

In addition to this creative role, Pan has a destabilizing role that is captured in the word panic, directly derived from one facet of his paradoxical personality. His attributes are described in ways that resonate with the attributes of the four phase adaptive cycle; as the creative and motive power of universal nature, the controller and arranger of the four elements- earth, water, air and fire (or perhaps, of K, alpha, r and omega!). He therefore represents the inherent features of the synthesis that has emerged in this comparison of ecological and social systems.

Thus, Panarchy in this context still involves hierarchy, but it implies that with panic and destruction comes the opportunity to seize control of the elements of nature and govern with a pagan, natural spirituality that honours “sacred” Mother Earth. This isn’t the first time that links between supposedly free nature and global hierarchies of administration have been noted, but this is one of the most radical and explicit calls for it so far.

Pan, horned, hairy, and horny. Deity of panic, destruction and creative reorganization according to the Resilience Alliance.

Quite why Adger wants to associate himself with a group like The Resilience Alliance that preaches “Revolt and Remember” as part of the cycle of destruction and reorganization on the path to global panarchy I will leave to others to decide for themselves. But it does make you wonder if such a person should be writing chapters on “Human Security” for the IPCC.

Haunting the Library, 30 May 2012