Methods for addressing Ecological Problems

Use Kai Lee’s key ideas in an essay | Book's purpose | Primary Lesson | Background | Decision making model | Learning | Summary

bookKai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993)


1 Taking Measures
2 Sustainability in the Columbia Basin
3 Compass: Adaptive Management
4 Gyroscope: Negotiation and Conflict
5 Sea Trials: Comparison cases
6 Navigational Lore: Expectations of Learning
7 Seaworthiness: Civic Science
8 Seeking Sustainability


The Book

This text is about the experiences of the author as a member of a Court appointed settlement mechanism called The Northwest Power Planning Council on which he served as a representative of the State of Washington. As a "policy actor," he "came to see as well the perils of advocacy" and thus he presents a "case for a promising approach," not a glib or pat "solution."

p. xii.

“How science and politics can, in the appropriate combination, be enlisted in the search for a sustainable material culture, and to describe cases showing how some elements in search have been organized and tried out.”

p. xi.

“This book is accordingly not social science but social engineering —or would be, if we knew enough to link design reliably to result.”

p. xii.

“the world is bounded…”

p. 3.


Taking Measures

"Human activity disrupts environmental stability on a planetary scale."

p. 7.

Social Learning

Large Ecosystems

First World Bias (developed wealthy, commercial industrial societies of Europe, America and Japan)

"Sustainable development": An Elusive Idea

A Map

"Today, humans do not know how to achieve an environmentally sustainable economy."

p. 8.

Large Ecosystems  

"What makes an ecosystem large is not acreage but interdependent use; the large ecosystem is socially constructed."

characteristics are:

"territories with a measure of ecological integrity"

"They are complex, often badly damaged, riven by deep rooted rivalries among several jurisdictions, and essential to the well being of large populations.


"river basins are more largely integral than others."
"LE provide opportunities for learning from and about the real world."

"Their governance presents challenges of science, management and politics, often entangled in ways that resist simple approaches."

"without some degree of simplification there can be no learning and no transfer from one case to others."

p. 11.

"Multiple use of a river or other large ecosystem ( forests, wetlands, estuaries, watresheds ) requires trading off qualities that are hard to compare, controlled by or benefitting different people."

p. 12.

What is sustainable with respect to development?

two contrasting definitions

first second
broadly defined by the UN narrowly defined by capacity

"development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."


"the assimilative use of natural capital in such a manner as not to diminish and actually enhance its productivity over the long term by respecting the carrying capacity of the sources of wealth."



A Map

"Environmental policy should be idealistic about science and pragmatic about politics."

"Idealism is necessary because knowledge is limited…"

"Pragmatism is necessary in a world of nations that fumble their way toward governing a planet."

pp. 15-16.

"The tension between scientific truth and the quest for a just society lies at the heart of sustainable development."

p. 17

An interpretation:

Science uses different means or methods than does policy analysis.

While both are literate and quantitative, science is more skeptical and disputive about meaning whereas policy is more disputive about ends and less skeptical of the means to those ends.

discipline Science Policy
removing uncertainty removing inequity
hydrology & fisheries regulations
  water flow quantity







energy efficiency

cluster buildings





Science is the accumulated field, experimental and heuristic knowldge about natural processes. The intent is to remove, or at least diminish the overwhelming uncertainty that accompanies learning about physical, chemical, geological and biological processes that are at work in any place.

Policy is the accumulated traditions ofadministrative decisions based on legislative intent and precedents in court cases that establish a set of expectations based on law. The intent is to maintain a system that divides rewards and costs more fairly among participating members of society.

Older ideas:

from skia, to cut in two, making rational decisions

from Polis, governing of the city-state.

Science Politics
explaining how the ecological habitat and community function effectively to maximize carrying capacity. managing access and distributing uses due to increasing and competing demands for things.
The practice of verifying the mystery around us. "The art of the possible."
"Truth" means revealing what actually happens. Limiting the role of doubt about an outcome. "Money is the mother's milk of politics."

Just as science (knowledge) does not necessarily dispel uncertainty, so policy (police) does not dispel unfairness. Instead both seek ideals that are frequently beyond the capacity of institutions and human players in organizations to achieve.

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Sustainability in the Columbia Basin

p. 19.

Two Civilizations

Wilderness & Industry

Dwindling Fish Runs

Energy Economics and the Northwest Power Act

Bringing back the Salmon

Basin Program -- long time biological significance

Harvest Controls -- carrying versus harvestable capacity of the species

System planning

River Operations

Water Budget

Flaws in the system

A fundamental change in priorities with respect to fish and wildlife.

There have been two Columbia River civilizations; a third is now emerging."

  1. Kwakiutls and salmon hunting native peoples of the First Nations (Canadian term for Indians)
  2. Euro-Yankee pioneers and settlers (extractive industry based on market production)
  3. Hydroelectric high frontier (energy intensive, aerospace and information technology society)


Two Civilizations

Wilderness Industry
Forest as watershed Forests as timber. lumber supply
Salmon, five species and subsistence Electricity from dams


Salmon are anadromous fish which, like shad or striped bass, return to fresh water to spawn. Their life cycle is adapted to the rivers' flows since they begin life upstream, travel downstream to mature, grow to adulthood in the estuary and spend their adult lives in the sea (Ocean) before returning to the rivers to swim upstream against the current and spawn in gravel beds among clear, cold, pristine creeks.

          1. Chinook or King (Spring)
          2. Coho or silver
          3. Sockeye
          4. Chum
          5. Steelhead

p. 24.

"The appetites of economic growth will eventually reach the limits of the natural world to support them."

p. 23.

Dwindling Fish Runs

"In 1987 the Northwest Power Planninmg Council attributed 80% of the damage to fish runs to the power system."

Two thirds of the salmon returning to the Columbia River today are from artifical hatcheries.

p. 24

salmonNumber of fish:

11.0 million fish annually before 1850.

02.9 million annually 1971-88 average.

p. 25.

Sustainability | Two Civilizations | Dwindling Fish Runs | Energy Economics | Bringing back Salmon


Energy Economics and the Northwest Power Act

"The prosperity of the Columbia basin is also tied to its dams."

p. 28.

"40 percent of the nation's aluminum production capacity."

p. 29.

With Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams, two major projects of the 1930s, the federal government transformed the regional economy. When the development of the Columbia River basin ended in the 1970s, three-quarters of the power in the Pacific Northwest came from falling water, and electricty rates were the lowest in the nation."

p. 29.

"draw upon cheap power as a tool for social change, especially by bringing electricity, and thus the conveniences of modern life, to isolated farm familes."

p. 30.

Sustainability | Two Civilizations | Dwindling Fish Runs | Energy Economics | Bringing back Salmon


Electricity use in the Pacific Northwest in 1988 by sector (type of user):

16,621 MWH



p. 30.


Sustainability | Two Civilizations | Dwindling Fish Runs | Energy Economics | Bringing back Salmon



Bringing back the Salmon

salmon run

Endangered Species Act vs. Electric power supply and PURPA.

US Fish and Wildlife Service versus Army Corps of Engineers


"blueprint for a laboratory of energy and environmental conservation."

p. 32.

In 1980, "Congress passed the Northwest Power Act.

"A law could not solve the problem of Salmon or power."

p. 33.


Sustainability | Two Civilizations | Dwindling Fish Runs | Energy Economics | Bringing back Salmon

Water Budget:

"The keystone of the Columbia basin program is an augmentation of the flow of the river, called the water budget."

p. 45.

"Power managers can use the water flowing in the river to generate power, but they cannot control its timing. For this reason, the water budget loses money for the power system, because water is released in the spring, rather than in the autumn or the winter, when higher demand for power would permit higher prices."

p. 45 - 46.


"reckoned by the revenues forgone," the water budget for sustaining viable fisheries "costs about $40 million per year on average." (1980s)

p. 46

River flow diagram p. 47, is an essential graph to understand.


Sustainability | Two Civilizations | Dwindling Fish Runs | Energy Economics | Bringing back Salmon

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Compass: Adaptive Management

The Columbia River basin experience identifies themes common to a large ecosystems: our control is limited; there are opportunities for constructive change; but to search for sustainability we need to learn in a new way.”

p. 51.

Experimentation as Policy

System Planning in the Basin

Favorable Institutional Factors

Avoidable Error and Genuine Surprise

Experimenting without a Laboratory

Adaptive Management in Real Human Institutions


The watershed as a regional unit is a large ecosystem (several ecological subsystems and habitats)

Large ecosystems require field experimentation

Experimentation as Policy

System Planning in the Basin

reliable knowledge

uncertain nature

Favorable Institutional Factors

Avoidable Error and Genuine Surprise

Experimenting without a Laboratory

Adaptive Management in Real Human Institutions

Four limitations on institutional learning and responsiveness are of key importance:

    1. reliance on operating agency staff
    2. the disruptive capability of policy changes
    3. vulnerability to political change
    4. the necessity of the adaptive manager as an able negotiator and visionary scientist

p. 80

Table 3-5, page 85: List of institutional situations affecting adaptive management.


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Gyroscope: Negotiation and Conflict

"The reason that boundaries exist where they do is that they are tested periodically."

Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management, C. S. Holling

Origins of Environmental Disputes

Conflict and Learning'


Negotiation and Planning


p. 87.

“Conflicts in ecosystems can easily bog down. There are typically many parties, not the two opposing sides for which our courts, our normal means of processing conflict, are designed.”


Comparison of dispute resolution techniques:

The Courts

traditional litigants:

Plaintiff and Defendant

complaint against perpetrator

allegation versus denial


Emerging alternative resolution mechanisms

traditional stake holders:

Farmers, lumber companies, sport and commercial fishers, urban residents, suburbs, Utility Companies, irrigation districts, canneries, fruit packers, migrant workers, Indians, energy intensive industries, commercial ports, water companies, health professionals, real estate industry, recreational and out door equipment sales, tourism, hunters, shore fishers, boaters.

Origins of Environmental Disputes

Conflict and Learning


Negotiation and Planning

Decision making under varying conditions of agreement & two strategies of intervention: settling or consensus building.

Preferences about outcomes
Beliefs about Causation















(Thompson & Tuden, 1959), Lee. p. 106.

Etiology of conflict is explained on page 107, where the above differences over ends and means are often entwined, and hence confused, and hard for a mediator to determine the source of the conflict.


The first step in mediating a conflict is to define the problem

"conflict over means becomes a way of disputing goals"

p. 107.

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Sea Trials: Comparison cases

“Social learning comes from the accumulation of knowledge within a network of organizations and from conflict between organizations and their environments.

p. 115

Ecosystem Management

Institutional Comparisons


Ecosystem Management

"Learning has been slow for several reasons. First there is a long lag-time

Second, because there is considerable natural variability in survival of salmon

Finally, because the trend in most sockeye populations has been upward for the past twenty years"

due to either

  1. channel improvements


  2. a coast wide trend in higher survival rates

Institutional Comparisons

"Learning is largely a public good that must be paid for by government."

Learning at the operational and policy levels can occur under appropriate conditions."

Pp. 127-128.

successful experimental learning is rare.

p. 128.

"The implication for adaptive management is worth stating again: Controls and replication are indispensable. but they are expensive. There are two alternatives" reliability or errors.


"In sum, the small number of social experiments that have produced improvements in policy and operations furnishes warnings about the reliability of studies conducted outside the laboratory."

p. 129

Epistemic Community (recall Van Der Ryn's remarks about epistemological traps)

"the political role of experts."

"Knowledge of environmental problems, when organized appropriately, exerts political influence."

"An epistemic community is not a formal organization but something similar to an advocacy coalition…: a network of experts who share a belief in the importance of pollution as a problem and a set of priorities for dealing with it."

Characteristics of an epistemic community

"a common approach to understanding."

"An agreement on procedures and processing information."

"Confronted with anomalous data… would retract their advice and suspend judgment."

"Faced with an epidemic, politicians listen to experts in public health and medicine..."

"can solve (some) political problems."

p. 130.

"Learning is possible and worthwhile, but it is difficult and entwined with crisis and conflict."

p. 135.

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Navigational Lore: Expectations of Learning

What is learning

When does leaning occur?

How does prejudice interfere with learning?

How do we know we are learning?

Where should this learning take us to?

“Learning from experience occurs when decisions produce results.”

p. 136

Rational Learning

Bounded rationality

Biased cognition

What can real institutions learn?

Patient Learning

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"I have organized theories of learning along two dimensions: by the assumptions each makes about the character of the learner, and by the assumptions each makes about the way the learner makes decisions."


Some Theories of Learning



types of

Decision making


Rational choice
Logical reasoning




versus agent

Bounded Rationality





Coalition-bound incrementalism
Biased Cognition
Institutional constraints
Organized Anarchy

On pp. 156-157, are tables based on the above model with examples and expectations of each of these nine models with respect to the Columbia River.

Rational Learning

For example, energy efficiency is a rational choice as the cost of electricity increases with either the rise in price of fossil fuels or the decline in readily available hydropower due to drought.

Bounded Rationality

The principle tool for untangling individual behavior and changes in organized human relationships is the idea of bounded rationality elaborated by Herbert A. Simon. Humans are not rational in the idealized sense..."

p. 143.

Biased Cognition

"The existence and effects of superstitious learning suggest that psychological phenomenon matter....there are systematic errors in human perception... individual and collective human perceptions can be disconnected from reality under some circumstances,... analogous to optical illusions--situations in which the inferences people draw are systematically mistaken. Important and long-lasting distortions of learning result."

Four kinds of bias lead to "skewed reasoning":

  1. incorrect inferences from the relation of cause and effect.
  2. errors in perceiving evidence
  3. errors of judgment based on social interactions
  4. errors in organizational apprehension of signals (institutional constraints.)

p. 150.

Heuristic Biases

"ordinary life is sometimes not a good model of reality."

"...simplifications of reality sometimes lead to erroneous inferences."

An inference is the product of having drawn a conclusion from some formal body of evidence.

What can real institutions learn?


What kinds of learning are realistic in organized human endeavor?

Means of Learning and specific examples to describe each:
Rational energy efficiency is a cost effective source of "supply" for additional electrical power.
Principal - agent fish hatcheries substitute quantitatively for habitat loss. (But lack genetic variability)
Cybernetic projected power deficit stimulate new plant construction. (more supply to feed demand).
Coalition-bound incrementalism timed water releases and dam operations can help fish during the spawning season to cut mortality and enhance recovery of a declining stock..
Single loop spawning channels can be improved and protected,as are old growth forest by wide buffered areas of trees.
Double loop reexamining premises and goals based on shifting outcomes, when fish populations dwindle despite protection of spawning grounds.
Heuristics incorrectly basing assumptions for improvement or degradation based on extrapolating from original data where past errors are overlooked or forgotten.
Institutional constraints water right under riparian doctrine conflict with either water apportioned by prior appropriation or existing treaty obligations.
Organized anarchy change occurs only when windows of opportunity open such as in court suits or adopting fish and wildlife habitat protection in certain administrative decisions.

Pp. 156 - 158.

"Knowing there is a problem, also the first step to finding ways to deal with it."

Leaning occurs where there are appropriate incentives and rewards for changing behavior.

p. 158.

Patient Learning

"change one thing at a time so that the chance of seeing cause and effect clearly is improved."

p. 160.

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Seaworthiness: Civic Science


"aid in the creation of methods"

"so men may learn from their errors and profit by their successes."

John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems.

"Managing large ecosystems should rely not merely on science, but on civic science; it should be irreducibly public in the way responsibilities are exercised, intrinsically technical, and open to learning from errors and profiting from successes."


Civic science is a political activity; its spirit and value depend upon the players,...."

p. 161.

Conceptual Soundness




Risks and Visions


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Seeking Sustainability

p. 185.

Searching for a Path

Equity: Sustainable Parity

Continuity: Compacts and Colonialism




“…we must acknowledge the pace and scale of nature’s teaching.”

“…Cultivate a world in which we can live together.”

p. 201

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If solutions grow from place then the Columbia River Basin is the region

Pacific northwest: valuing local knowledge

Management of natural resources includes:

  • timber
  • electricity
  • fisheries
  • irrigated farming
  • waste disposal and cleanup

“…the constraints and opportunities of a particular, well-defined region.”

Sym Van der Ryn. Pp. 33-81.

Large ecosystems are “territories with a measure of ecological integrity that are divided among two or more governmental jurisdictions.”

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“Interdependent use”

Kai Lee, p. 31.

Assimilating too many human demands for the same resource.

Present Kai Lee’s key ideas in relation your essay’s theme.

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In 1860, one in every ten (1:10) American's lived in cities.

Urban Planning began in the 19th century in response to need for water supply and public buildings.

London and later New York construct subways (underground railways) to relieve congestion, (1880).

In the early 20th century the city-beautiful movement extolled the virtues of parks, parkways, urban mass transit and monumental building designed in the Beaux - Arts tradition then popular in France.


Zoning became a means of remedying the placement of incompatible land-use designations in the same proximity. Challenged in court, zoning became legally established in 1928.

By the 1920s congestion reached such an intensity in Manhattan (New York City) that merchants -- it was calculated -- were losing money from disinclined consumers who chose to shop at home.

Transportation in the form of rail, highways and airport facilities became a leading driver of urban planning and regional planning in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled, in Baker vs. Carr, that State Legislatures had to be apportioned more fairly and this led to an enormous increase in the power of urban constituencies over spending and taxation to enable them to pay for urban services from general revenues.

By 1972 the balance of power in the US Congress became suburban due to redistricting to favor of constituents who reside in small towns and villages that surround major cities.


Adaptiveness & Urban Planning Myths

(compare regional concepts in Siry, McHarg & Lee)

Adaptive management is the compass because: ____________?

Urban planning will not solve, but rather will exacerbate conflict over resource use.

Lee. Pp. 51-86

Can regional planning solve, or rather will it only further exacerbate conflict over resource use?

Two examples: Energy Conservation and Fisheries Management, findings.


Hood River, Oregon: small city on the banks of the Columbia River in the gorge, 1985-1986.

"The town has both urban and rural consumers.... of low-cost federal hydropower."

"The three year, $29 million project was highly successful in reaching energy consumers but less so in saving energy."

Hood River project findings for the 1985 - 86 year.

3000 buildings represented 85% residences retrofitted
range of efficiency measures were offered 83% of the reccommended measures were adopted
Net savings / unit = 2,300 KWH per annum actual expenditure averaged $4,820 per unit

"Conservation was a new and unfamiliar activity, not a well-tried engineering option."

p. 37.


"about half the cost of implementing energy-efficiency measures (cost $ 5.6 million)" involved "Monitoring energy uses in about 10 percent of the houses weatherized in Hood River,..."

p. 38.


"In Seattle,…performance levels were only half of what had been expected." (even in the commercial sector).

Conservation expenditures must generally be made during construction and renovation, a time when keeping future operating costs low may not seem important..."

p. 38.

It is possible to obtain conservation savings at costs that compete favorably with new generation, and to do so with a highly fragmented utility industry and government structure. Achieving all cost-efective savings remains impossible for now...."

p. 40.


"The example of changes in Snake River flows highlights a second problem of the ecosystem laboratory: changes caused by human intervention. In contrast to natural fluctuations such as droughts or insect infestations, changes resulting from policy are unlikely to be random in a statistical sense."

p. 82.

"Randall Peterman has described research on British Columbia sockeye salmon in the 1930s that led to the conclusion that hatcheries there did not work. Under budgetary pressure because of the Depression (1929-1968), the hatcheries were closed."

On reevaluation of the statistical data it was determined that there was insufficent data to determine if the hatcheries worked, but that there were no data to show the hatcheries did not work.

p. 83.

Concluding remarks from two examples:

From both a learning perspective and a policy implementation perspective certain design flaws are evident in these two examples of energy conservation and fisheries management.

Sphere & substance: Problem Evidence Implements Design implications
Energy cut waste expensive cash incentives for construction / retrofit. Keep everything on site.
Fisheries grow supply of stock misunderstood Public works: build hatcheries. Make nature visible.



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Social context of scientific knowledge

The practice of scientific investigation is important in determining social policies, so that science becomes the basis of social learning.

The need for synthesis among the six analytical frameworks of each discipline:

          1. Physical
          2. Geological
          3. Chemical
          4. Biological
          5. Ecological
          6. Social: (demographical and case study approaches)

"This combination of adaptive management and political change is social learning."

Kai Lee, Compass and the Gyroscope, (1993), Page 8.

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Social learning is the outcome of a two-step process:

          1. Adaptive management - applies the concept of experimentation to the design and implementation of policies.
          2. Bounded conflict - dispute is the inevitable consequence of a free marketplace of ideas and unequal access to tools.

Adaptive management: an approach to resource, technological and science polices that embodies a simple rule: "policies are experiments; learn from them." Or it is the directional compass in charting strategic ways to achieve stated objectives.

Ibid., page 9.

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The Compass
Adaptive management

“in order to live we use the resources of the world, but we do not understand nature well enough to know how to live harmoniously within environmental limits.”

Adaptive management takes that uncertainty seriously, treating human interventions in natural systems as experimental probes.

How its practitioners act and treat information:

“Linking science and human purpose, adaptive management serves as a compass for us to use in searching for a sustainable future.”

“Adaptive management plans for unanticipated outcomes by collecting information.”

“Framing an appropriate balance between predictable cost and uncertain value is a principal task….”

p. 9.

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The Gyroscope
Bounded conflict

“Reconciling control with the diversity and freedom essential to a democratic society is the task of bounded conflict.

Policy formulation involves limited (bounded conflict) opposition:

“Conflict is necessary to detect error and force corrections."

“Like a spinning gyroscope, competition is motion that can stabilize.”

Ibid., page 10.

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“Both adaptive management and bounded conflict are essential for social learning to occur.”

Together they can bring about learning over the decades-long times needed to move from the current condition of unsustainability toward a durable social order.”

“Social learning is most urgently needed in large ecosystems: territories with a measure of ecological integrity that are divided among two or more governing jurisdictions.”

p. 11.

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Write an essay based on the text on how social learning is necessary for creating, managing and maintaining an effective community.links