F. Stuart Chapin

University of Alaska

Research Focus: The study of the resilience of regional systems in the face of directional changes in climate, economics, and culture.

F Stuart ChapinDr. Chapin, is an ecosystem ecologist whose research addresses the sustainability of ecosystems and human communities in a rapidly changing planet. His work emphasizes the impacts of climate change on Alaskan ecology, subsistence resources, and indigenous communities, as a basis for developing climate-change adaptation plans.

The central focus of his research is the study of the resilience of regional systems in the face of directional changes in climate, economics, and culture. He believes this is one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity: How do we sustain the desirable features of Earth’s ecosystems and society at a time of rapid changes in all of the major forces that govern their properties? This requires an understanding of the mechanisms that tend to maintain the system in its current state versus factors that cause changes to a new state. It also requires an integration of natural and social sciences because many of the drivers of change involve social-ecological interactions.


Shaping a future partnership of people with the rest of nature

The fundamental controls over the wellbeing of Earth’s ecosystems and society are changing rapidly. This provides the opportunity and necessity to repair and shape a more mutually supportive relationship between people and the rest of nature. By recognizing how respectful connections with nature shape people’s individual and collective identities, we can build commitments to create conditions in which both nature and humanity can thrive. We can also imagine both traditional and new ways in which people can experience and celebrate nature for their mutual benefit. In today’s world, nature is never very far from people, and people have the opportunity to appreciate their close ties to nature, wherever they live.

Reconnecting people with nature requires a flexible, reflective, and multi-pronged approach that can connect many kinds of people with many kinds of nature. First, broaden recognition of the fundamental interdependence of people and nature through stories, education, and the immersion of people—especially young people—in many types of nature. Second, manage ecosystems in ways that sustain the material and cultural benefits that nature provides to society. These include the capacity of nature to provide food, clean water, protection from hazards, and the cultural and recreational connections to nature that make life a pleasure. Third, promote non-consumptive dimensions of humanity’s happiness and wellbeing. Fourth, use positive messaging and solution-focused dialogue to build collaborations around points of agreement to sustain valued places. Finally, pursue respectful political action to address issues that are not successfully bridged by dialogue and collaboration.

My top three action items are:

  1. Foster society’s recognition of people’s dependence on and joy received from nature
  2. Immerse people—especially kids—in many types of nature
  3. Bridge political polarization through respectful conversations about shared ideals