Governing Complex Systems

From Earth System Governance

Governing Complex Systems

Social Capital for the Anthropocene

By Oran R. Young

An exploration of the need for innovative mechanisms of governance in an era when human actions are major drivers of environmental change.





An exploration of the need for innovative mechanisms of governance in an era when human actions are major drivers of environmental change.

The onset of the Anthropocene, an era in which human actions have become major drivers of change on a planetary scale, has increased the complexity of socioecological systems. Complex systems pose novel challenges for governance because of their high levels of connectivity, nonlinear dynamics, directional patterns of change, and emergent properties. Meeting these challenges will require the development of new intellectual capital. In this book, Oran Young argues that to achieve sustainable outcomes in a world of complex systems, we will need governance systems that are simultaneously durable enough to be effective in guiding behavior and agile enough to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. 

While some insights from past research on governance remain valid in this setting, Young argues that we need new social capital to supplement mainstream regulatory approaches that feature rule making with an emphasis on compliance and enforcement. He explores the uses of goal setting as a governance strategy, the idea of principled governance, and the role of what is often called good governance in meeting the challenges of the Anthropocene. Drawing on his long experience operating on the science/policy frontier, Young calls for more effective collaboration between analysts and practitioners in creating and implementing governance systems capable of producing sustainable outcomes in a world of complex systems.


$90.00 X ISBN: 9780262035934 296 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 3 b&w illus.


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262533843 296 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 3 b&w illus.


  • One of the most senior researchers in the area of the Anthropocene presents the most innovative ideas on how to deal with these emerging challenges. A 'must-read' book for all concerned with global governance!

    Steinar Andresen

    Research Professor, the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway; coeditor of The Domestic Politics of Global Climate Change: Key Actors in International Climate Cooperation

  • This book confirms Oran R. Young's unique and leading role of providing insights by combining social and natural science to improve our understanding of complex socio-ecological systems. His analysis stands out in being at the cutting edge of academic research and at the same time speaking directly to policymakers and stakeholders.

    Arild Underdal

    Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, University of Oslo; and Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo

  • In his deep yet elegant book, Young gives us key insights for creating the innovative and agile governance systems—or steering mechanisms—we need to guide human systems towards a safer interaction with the climate and other biophysical systems. As Elinor Ostrom and Daniel Kahneman have done in their fields, Young provides the creative insights to spark a revolution in his field of governance. The fate of the human enterprise may well depend on how well we follow Young's road map.

    Durwood Zaelke

    Founder and President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development