Environmental science and management in a changing world

Gary Brierley*, Carola Cullum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Recognition of the pervasive impact of human activities on the natural world has prompted a reframing of approaches to environmental repair. Disentangling threads in the evolution of theoretical environmental science and management practice over the last 50 years enables practitioners to position contemporary programmes within a coherent conceptual framework. Over the last 50 years, environmental management strategies have moved beyond concern solely for utilitarian values to recognizing the importance of biodiversity management and associated ecosystem services. Initially, these programmes focussed on management of single issues, emphasizing concerns for endangered species and conservation in designated reserves that retained notionally pristine areas. The transition to an ecosystem approach to environmental management marked the recognition that there are too many species to attempt to save them one at a time and that conservation efforts must focus upon whole ecosystems. However, the ecosystem approach retained a vision of nature in equilibrium and management initiatives were framed in terms of environmental reference conditions and adjustments around a mean condition. Emerging theories in both ecology and earth sciences view nature as a complex adaptive system, often involving non-linear relationships and stochastic events which lead to outcomes that are unpredictable in time and space. Explicit recognition of inherent uncertainties in the character and behaviour of environmental systems has prompted a shift towards application of adaptive and participatory management principles. Recognizing directly the imperative to integrate scientific thinking with social-ecological considerations, post-normal scientific practice embraces a more inclusive approach to the management of complex adaptive systems, striving to maximise the resilience of any given system. Prospective opportunities for geographers in meeting the needs of this emerging framework are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives on Environmental Management and Technology in Asian River Basins
EditorsDavid Higgitt
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9789400723306
ISBN (Print)9789400723290
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • biodiversity
  • ecosystem management
  • environmental management
  • post-normal science


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