In a nutshell: We may be many in body, but we are one in mind. Our collective efforts to help shape a new reality using a social-ecological systems perspective are addressing complexity with wisdom and heart. Also, the mystery behind the big bruise on Albert’s face is solved.
The ebullient and sun kissed PECS family of researchers, practitioners, decision-makers and a few artists gathered for the closing plenary after three days of rich discussions, fruitful exchanges, and many mouthfuls of mezcal.
Our chatter charged the hall with an air of excitement and perhaps, a touch of wistfulness - soon we would all go our separate ways, saying goodbye to old and new friends. For some, the vibrant colours of summer, the birds of paradise flowers, the spicy Oaxacan chocolate will be replaced by short, grey winter days and the cosy comfort of wearing thermal underwear for the next six months (probably longer in Sweden, actually).
For the moment, everyone giggles at the out-takes of a series of short video clips featuring some of our colleagues talking about the highlights of the week. Rafa, a.k.a the warm heart of the PECS family, got in a right pickle (I recommend you watch the clip). Nevertheless, the sentiments were sincere. Being in Oaxaca and learning first-hand from Latin American colleagues was valuable. Being all together in one place, getting the measure of the state-of-the-art of resilience and being exposed to new ideas was enriching. Apparently, mezcal was an effective facilitator for many of these activities.
PECS is reaching a broad and big audience. Tweets reached 300,000 accounts, and our research is even popular with a new audience of bots that accounted for 1% of tweeting platforms. Buzz words and hashtags included biocultural diversity, resilience, adaptive capacity and, Stockholm Resilience Centre reearcher Tim Daw. His Scottish charm clearly made an impression.
“We’ve come a long way,” Maike Hamann, a postdoc researcher at the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, reflected on the big, grey sofas set up on the PECS stage. Harold (Hal) Mooney, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, sat on the sofa on stage with Maike and painted the historical backdrop of her comments. Sharing the wisdom of his six decade-long career as an environmental scientist, Hal described the small beginnings and uncertain first steps of a community of scientists that dedicated themselves to promoting biodiversity as an intrinsic pillar of future processes, such as The Millennium Assessment and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in the 1990s.
It was tough going, he said, and often slow and uneventful but those early meetings of like-minded people laid the foundations for where we are today. It takes the kind of dynamic, never-give-up spirit and energy to power the momentum behind informing the guidelines for global environmental policies. Considering someone that has that sort of pizzazz, Hal reflected that “I sometimes think Patti (Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico) from outer space. She’s like a battery that just keeps on going and going.”
After an eruption of affectionate laughter, Albert asked the others on the sofa about what challenges remain. Juliana Mercon, Universidad Veracruzana, pointed out that whilst the social and ecological are well integrated and on an equal footing, science has been less sensitive to other ways of thinking and living. “PECS and other academic networks can make room to co-create new ways of thinking that come about through more equal alliances.” Juliana encouraged us to see it as an urgent priority to cultivate links to a wider and more diverse group of colleagues from other sectors who need support and inspiration. These words resonate strongly in a part of the world where indigenous peoples, like the many Zapotec communities in Oaxaca, still struggle to be heard above the din of their history of being a people conquered.
So much is happening so fast, but we still have a long way to go. Maike singled out environmental justice, how to move towards transformations and how to elicit and understand different values as priorities. A bit overwhelming? “Well, it’s comforting that we all have the same problems and challenges. It keeps me from freaking out too much.”
In between dancing salsa until the early hours and debating the finer points of flamenco with colleagues, Antonio Castro, Idaho State University, told Albert et al that this conference has provided a thinking space for him. In a year of rushing about from place to place, the opportunity to focus on topics that are close to his heart fills Antonio with the certainty that the best is yet to come.
A perfect cue for our warm and generous host to leap onto the stage and say a few last words. Patty is indeed a dynamo and behind every amazing person there’s a team of extraordinary people. The essence of their spirit of giving, co-operating, loving, sharing with each other, sharing with nature and sharing with life is carried in one magical Zapotec word. Guelaguetza – in short, a party.
Applause, laughter and hugs paved the way for the celebrations to begin. The sunshine softened and mellowed into dusk and the mezcal flowed one final time.
I was a documentary director at the BBC making science, history and arts programmes for over a decade before moving to the Stockholm Resilience Centre where I work for SwedBio and GRAID. Now, I use film and photography as a way of delving into knowledge and insights that other research methods might have a harder time reaching. The visuals feed into research because they unearth new perspectives and questions that are valuable for sustainability and resilience thinking. Hopefully, the films and photos also communicate complex science and tell stories that engage people’s heads and hearts.
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II CONFERENCE OF THE PROGRAMME ON ECOSYSTEM CHANGE AND SOCIETY