'Telecoupling' explains why it's a small world, after all

February 21, 2011 By Sue Nichols

Understanding and managing how humans and nature sustainably coexist is now so sweeping and lightning fast that it’s spawned a concept. Meet "telecoupling."

Joining its popular cousins telecommuting and television, telecoupling is the way Jack Liu, director of the Human-Nature Lab/Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University, is describing how distance is shrinking and connections are strengthening between nature and humans.

The “Telecoupling of Human and Natural Systems” symposium was held Friday, Feb. 18, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

“This is a beginning of exploring the new frontier,” said Liu, who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU. “Telecoupling is about connecting both human and natural systems across boundaries. There are new and faster ways of connecting the whole planet – from big events like earthquakes and floods to tourism, trade, migration, pollution, climate change, flows of information and financial capital, and invasion of animal and plant species.”

Liu said that telecoupling is a way to express one of the often-overwhelming consequences of globalization – the way an event or phenomenon in one corner of the world can have an impact far away. In effect, systems couple – connecting across space and time.

Increased trade, expanding transportation networks, the Internet, invasive species – all have made everything seem closer. That has enormous consequences for environmental and socioeconomic sustainability.

Thomas Baerwald, National Science Foundation program director, observes that traditional analyses in the natural and social sciences presumed that many phenomena were predominantly the product of local conditions and processes.

"While local factors remain significant,” Baerwald said, "the researchers participating in this symposium highlighted ways in which geographic scales of interaction have changed significantly in recent decades. NSF and the research community now are exploring these new dynamics in order to enhance basic understanding and consider ways to enhance the lives of people and the environment we inhabit."

Explore further: To be sustainable, China must implement bold innovations

Related Stories

Making lifesaving devices less life-threatening

February 16, 2011

Every year, more than half a million people in the United States undergo surgery for biomedical implants – like stents or heart valves – intended to save their lives, according to the American Heart Association. ...

Number one rules in nature: study

February 17, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers from The Australian National University have used a long-forgotten mathematical rule to reveal that in nature the number one dominates, as well as detect natural events like earthquakes for the ...

Recommended for you

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

'Carbon sink' detected underneath world's deserts

July 28, 2015

The world's deserts may be storing some of the climate-changing carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, a new study suggests. Massive aquifers underneath deserts could hold more carbon than all the plants on land, according ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.