Escaping a rigidity trap: Governance and adaptive capacity to climate change in the Everglades social ecological system


The Everglades is perhaps one of the most recognized ecosystems on the planet. Its international reputation arose in part because of the writings of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who wove together a rich, natural, social, and cultural depiction of the area entitled River of Grass. The ecosystem is characterized as a subtropical wetland, rich in biodiversity and other environmental values. Such values are reflected in the portions of the Everglades set aside for conservation and preservation. The areas of the Everglades with the deepest organic soils now support agricultural production of sugar and vegetables that rely on federal economic support. A mild subtropical climate also contributes to a tourist economy, and abundant rainfall provides water resources for millions of inhabitants. Such complexities illustrate a few of the interactions between people and their environment that can be distilled into a conceptual framework of the social-ecological system of the Everglades. ... Changing climate will pose important questions for those who manage the water infrastructure in southern Florida. One such question is will the climate become wetter, drier, or both? How will changes in tropical cyclones influence the manifestation of those changes at regional scales? What is the capacity of the social system to adapt, evolve, or devolve? How can conservation lands adapt to rising sea levels and the resultant ecological shifts? We attempt to respond to these questions in four subsequent sections. We begin with a recap (Part II) of the historic pattern of development in the Everglades SES during the twentieth century, indicating the ebb and flow of resilience, and shifts in social values and environmental crises. Part III assesses the resilience of the current water resource system (ecological and human components) to future climate change. Part IV evaluates the adaptive capacity (the ability of the system to manage regime shifts) of the current governance (including legal constraints) to anticipated climate shifts. We conclude in Part V with a summary of how the SES seems to be in a hierarchy or rigidity trap, and a discussion of obstacles to and opportunities for adaptation to impending climate change.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Lance H. Gunderson
Ahjond Garmestani, EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory
Keith W. Rizzardi
J.B. Ruhl, Vanderbilt University
Alfred Light
Idaho Law Review

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