Date of this Version
Ecology and Society 25(1):4.
Management frequently creates system conditions that poorly mimic the conditions of a desirable self-organizing regime. Such management is ubiquitous across complex systems of people and nature and will likely intensify as these systems face rapid change. However, it is highly uncertain whether the costs (unintended consequences, including negative side effects) of management but also social dynamics can eventually outweigh benefits in the long term. We introduce the term “coerced regime” to conceptualize this management form and tie it into resilience theory. The concept encompasses proactive and reactive management to maintain desirable and mitigate undesirable regime conditions, respectively. A coerced regime can be quantified through a measure of the amount of management required to artificially maintain its desirable conditions. Coerced regimes comprise “ghosts” of self-sustaining desirable system regimes but ultimately become “dead regimes walking” when these regimes collapse as soon as management is discontinued. We demonstrate the broad application of coerced regimes using distinct complex systems of humans and nature (human subjects, aquatic and terrestrial environments, agriculture, and global climate). We discuss commonalities and differences between these examples to identify trade-offs between benefits and harms of management. The concept of coerced regimes can spur thinking and inform management about the duality of what we know and can envision versus what we do not know and therefore cannot envision: a pervasive sustainability conundrum as planet Earth swiftly moves toward a future without historical analogue.