Skip navigation
Return to Issue

Research and Discovery: MSU Ecology Professor Gives New Meaning to the Big Picture

  • Author:
    Sue Nichols
  • Published:
    Fall 2014

            In today’s “ hyperconnected world,” goods, services, market trends,news and rumors bounce back and forth across great distances in a flash. That’snot just awe inspiring. This small and fast world ischanging science itself.

            Jianguo “Jack” Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and director of the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, has been leading an international effort to wrangle the many forces that make or break global sustainability. Liu and colleagues are making a case that biology, forestry, geography or social sciences are no longer isolated, lone fronts on which huge challenges are fought. The battle for sustainability must be simultaneously waged on many fronts. 

            And since change moves faster than ever before—with unintended consequences springing up in unexpected places— the stakes keep getting higher. Today’s solution is too often tomorrow’s disaster.

            Earlier this year, a scientific publication written by Liuwith some of the world’s most noted sustainability scholars has been given the Ralf Yorque Memorial Competition Award as best paper in 2013.

            “Framing sustainability in a telecoupled world,”published in the international journal Ecology and Society, outlines“telecoupling”—a new framework to understand socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances.

            It’s a novel and faster way of connecting the whole planet—from big events like global climate change and natural disasters to daily occurrences like tourism, trade, migration, pollution spread, flows of information and financial capital and invasion of animal and plant species.

            “We need an integrated umbrella framework that can capture all different kinds of socioeconomic and environmental interactions among coupled human and natural systems across scales and over distances,” Liu said. “That will help scientists more systematically understand connections and feedbacks between different places and help policy makers develop more effective policies to protect the environment, conserve the natural systems, and benefit the people worldwide.”