Social Complexity and Sustainability
Social complexity and sustainability emerge from successful problem solving, rather than directly from environmental conditions. Social complexity develops from problem solving at all scales from local to national and international. Complexity in problem solving is an economic function, and can both support and hinder sustainability. Sustainability outcomes may take decades or centuries to develop. Historical studies reveal three outcomes to long-term change in problem-solving institutions: collapse, resiliency through simplification, or continuity based on growing complexity and increasing energy subsidies. The slow development of complexity in problem solving makes its effects difficult to perceive, especially over short time periods. Long-term social sustainability depends on understanding and controlling complexity. New strategies to mitigate or control complexity are offered.
Tainter, J. A. Social Complexity and Sustainability. Ecological Complexity 3: 91-103.