Environmental governance has largely developed around the prevailing scientific understanding that there is a “balance of nature” that could be sustained in perpetuity or mitigated if out of balance; a dated conception that is at odds with the dynamics of social-ecological systems. Accelerating environmental change will likely result in more frequent non-linear change in social-ecological systems (e.g., regime shifts in coral reef systems; emergence of novel viruses; more frequent, larger, and intense wildfires and tropical storms), and thus formal institutions are now just one piece of the puzzle for governing multi-scale social-ecological systems. This resilience governance perspective has important ramifications for infrastructure (e.g., transportation infrastructure, water infrastructure) moving forward in the Anthropocene. In order to better account for cross-scale dynamics of social-ecological systems, governance should further tap adaptive and transformative approaches to governance, as well as subsidiarity principles in order to improve environmental governance.
The views expressed in this presentation are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.