I’ve written before about Stewart Brand’s pace layers — a nifty hierarchy that orders rates of change from fast to slow, system by system: fashion, commerce, infrastructure, governance, culture, and nature.
On a panel with Geoffrey West, Paul Romer, Benjamin de la Peña, and Anthony Townsend at the 2011 Urban Systems Symposium, which I recently caught on video, Brand discussed rates of change.
As an ecologist, as a biologist, what I’m seeing is that the nature level is as strong as ever — but the innovation at the cultural evolution level, which cities represent the leading edge of, has moved fantastically since the eras that Jared Diamond looked at. And indeed, this century, we’re going to see another step-function change in the power of cities to deal with their biological limits.
And so, the idea of collapse always has to be borne in mind, but to some extent the game has changed — though we can always blow it. Climate is nature coming up to hit us. The question I’m asking as an ecologist and an environmentalist these days is: Can democracy handle climate change?
Not a novel idea, to be sure. It’s captured, for example, in the title of 2007’s The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy.
But I hadn’t thought of it visually, as a shuffle of the layers — the implication being that the pace of nature’s change starts to move faster than that of governance.
Just one observation from a panel discussion that’s well worth watching. The symposium was hosted by the Urban Systems Collaborative.