This article introduced me to a new domain of knowledge with which I was not familiar: landscape science. As its name indicates, this discipline studies changes in the morphology and constituents of landscapes, hence is particularly pertinent to the themes of this blog. Indeed, the article argues, two forces that are preeminent shapers of landscapes, urbanization and globalization (acting together, “glurbalization”), are at the same time primary drivers of the Anthropocene, i.e. are responsible for some of the pervasive and permanent changes in the Earth system the Anthropocene concept is meant to help us understand. And, of course, “glurbalization” can be viewed in terms of the “habitability approach” we are exploring here: cities now constitute the habitat for half of all human beings, whose lives there are increasingly dependent on global trade networks.
Barau and Ludin’s survey of landscape science (the article is a “living review” of the literature, which the authors can update) points to its applicability to the habitability approach. They suggest that since the 1930’s paradigms have emerged in the field that foreground the ways human activities help constitute the landscapes human beings inhabit. The authors cite Naveh and Lieberman’s (1984) “Total Human Ecosystem paradigm“, which Naveh later characterized as a conception of “a social-ecological super system where humans, together with their total environment, form an indivisible and coherent co-evolutionary geo-bio-anthropological entity” (p. 12). This formulation is suggestive of the dialectical understanding of nature I have discussed in earlier posts.
The complexity of that entity Naveh proposes—which has geological and biological as well as human dimensions—points to another feature of landscape science which aligns it with our interests on this blog: it is an essentially interdisciplinary enterprise. Barau and Ludin provide the adjacent graphic to illustrate the range of disciplines that contribute to landscape science. And in addition to the physical and social science approaches it shows they also mention humanities-based approaches that consider, for example landscape aesthetic, the cultural meaning of landscapes, and normative principles at work in the political processes by which landscapes are managed.
Finally, this article introduced me to the idea of the “Fourth Paradigm.” That term refers to the use of “big data” in scientific enquiry. Barau and Ludin argue that landscape science is a particularly appropriate field for the use of big data, because it offers the opportunity for a wide range of measurements to quantify landscape change. The aspiration of landscape science regarding the Fourth Paradigm is the production of more accurate models of complex landscapes through the integration of capacities for data collection, communication, and analysis.
The authors’ discussion suggests that improved models, along with enhanced monitoring capacity, can contribute to the habitability of landscapes in a very direct ways, for example by facilitating planning for disaster responses. The fungibility (so to speak) of data can also aid in improving resilience globally, by making it easy to provide information to “data deficient areas” (p. 20). (The authors do take note however of problems that can come with the deployment of big data schemes, e.g. cyber-security.) I certainly do not wish to succumb to the kind of technological utopianism that can accompany discussions of information technology. Nonetheless, it is plausible that more accurate modeling could help with environmental governance by predicting whether policies were likely to compromise a landscape’s future habitability. In general, the Fourth Paradigm idea is obviously aligned with the aim of providing information that helps make people more responsive to the impacts of their habitation practices.