Planet Earth is home to millions of species of life, including 7 billion humans. The idea of Adaptive Transition Initiative that aims to promote social and ecological justice began from two profound observations over several decades: lived experience on smallholder subsistence farms in the central Himalayas, and interactions with off-grid farmers in developed countries. While Himalayan farmers are compelled to live in nature, often miserably, off-grid farmers voluntarily opted-in to move back to nature. Both types of agroecosystems that are important for human survival experience population decline as over a half of people currently live in cities.
Adaptation and transition are two prominent sustainability science concepts. The former includes one facet of resilience, the capacity of socio-ecological systems to continually change and adapt within their critical thresholds with some exceptional transformability beyond thresholds. The latter concept entails niche experimentation of low-carbon systems and how niche-internal actors influence transformational changes, so-called sustainability transitions, and are influenced by incumbent socio-technical regime. Critics argue that neither adaptation literature nor transition literature sufficiently informs adaptive transition pathways that need to be adaptive to already low-carbon subsistence production systems in many developing countries and rural areas of developed countries.
Adaptive transition constitutes procedural and substantive aspects of innovations and sustainability transitions. Procedural aspects entail such processes as participatory technology development, public engagement in science, and modulation of social and technical changes. Substantive aspects of adaptive transition involve environmental justice and social welfare gain, fair distribution of welfare and respects of rights.
New and emerging technologies may ignite controversy in society. The following are some examples: (1) Boundaries of life: abortion, euthanasia; (2) Animal rights: handling of animals, testing on animals, use of animals in the cosmetic industry and for medical research; (3) Genetic engineering: cloning, GMOs, stem cells; (4) Physical engineering: robotics, drones, drone bees, nanotechnology, nuclear power; and (5) Synthetic biology: synthetic meat.
Why are these technologies controversial? Some would jump to a conclusion that the public is ignorant of science and increasing science literacy can address at least some of the problems.
Others do not necessarily agree with this deficit model of public engagement in science that assume science is apolitical and free human values and emotions. Many of them believe in ‘citizen science’, which is also called public engagement in science or crowdsourcing scientific research, to address science and technology controversies.
We are witnessing disruptive innovations from agriculture to health care, education, governance and community services. However, not all innovations are socially and environmentally responsible. We have seen accessibility and adaptability concerns for many modern agricultural technologies among smallholder farms across the world. The problem of digital divide has been identified in developing as well as developed and emerging countries, albeit at a different scale.
Scholars have suggested measures, such as anticipation, inclusion, reflexivity and responsiveness, in the engagement processes to make innovations more responsible. Now there are journals dedicated to responsible innovation, http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tjri20
This video from the Engage2020 explains Europian initiatives on responsible innovation.
In a recent journal article, we have integrated latest approaches to assess social and technological change, which are known respectively as ‘reflexive learning’ and ‘reflexive governance’. This paper contextualises the integrated framework of reflexive interactive assessment using case studies of broadband access and use among small businesses and community organisations from the first release areas of the heavily invested high-speed broadband network known as EORN (Eastern Ontario Regional Network) in Canada.
Highlights from the paper are as follows.
• Broadband technology assessment involves aspects of social as well as technical change.
• This paper develops a hybrid methodology — reflexive interactive assessment — integrating program assessment and technology assessment.
• We have used this methodology to assess a major Canadian rural broadband investment program.
• Findings suggest that broadband Internet is an essential service for regional and rural innovation.
Gallardo’s book is one of the few recent texts available on the topic of digital rural economy. In this regard, the book has made an important contribution to digitally engaged rural community development.
We, at the Adaptive Transition Initiative, agree with Dr. Gallardo that intelligent communities (not smart communities) will generate regional and rural innovations and facilitate adaptive transitions in the digital age. He further argues that it would be imperative to address the rural digital divide revisiting extension theory and practice with a focus on asset building (also called ABCD – asset based community development).
Global warming provides risks to ecosystems, food security and sustainable development. Striking a balance between incremental and transformational adaptations would help holding global warming less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels within this century. Transformational adaptation is particularly imperative to address structural deficits, such as soil fertility decline, deforestation and biodiversity loss, and lack of income, education, health and political power. We have discussed these concepts in the following articles, among others.