1st Edition

Resource Efficiency Complexity and the Commons The Paracommons and Paradoxes of Natural Resource Losses, Wastes and Wastages

By Bruce Lankford Copyright 2013
    248 Pages 75 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    248 Pages 75 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The efficient use of natural resources is key to a sustainable economy, and yet the complexities of the physical aspects of resource efficiency are poorly understood. In this challenging book, the author proposes a major advance in our understanding of this topic by analysing resource efficiency and efficiency gains from the perspective of common pool resources, applying this idea particularly to water resources and its use in irrigated agriculture. 

    The author proposes a novel concept of "the paracommons", through which the savings of increased resource efficiency can be viewed. In effect he asks; "who gets the gain of an efficiency gain?" By reusing, economising and avoiding losses, wastes and wastages, freed up resources are available for further use by four ‘destinations’; the same user, parties directly connected to that user, the wider economy or returned to the common pool. The paracommons is thus a commons of – and competition for – resources salvaged by changes to the efficiency of natural resource systems. The idea can be applied to a range of resources such as water, energy, forests and high-seas fisheries. 

    Five issues are explored: the complexity of resource use efficiency; the uncertainty of efficiency interventions and outcomes; destinations of freed up losses, wastes and wastages; implications for resource conservation; and the interconnectedness of users and systems brought about by efficiency changes. The book shows how these ideas put efficiency on a par with other dimensions of resource governance and sustainability such as equity, justice, resilience and access.

    1. A Preliminary Explanation of the Paracommons 

    2. Main Introduction and the Scope of the Book 

    3. On Resource Efficiency; Multiple Views 

    4. A Framework of Resource Efficiency Complexity 

    5. The Liminal Paracommons – Efficiency and Transition 

    6. Distinctions Between the Commons and Paracommons 

    7. Significances and Applications of the Paracommons 

    8. Conclusions


    Bruce Lankford is Professor of Water and Irrigation Policy at the School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK. He has 30 years’ experience in the field of land and water development, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is a co-founder of the UEA Water Security Research Centre.

    "Throughout the world, water managers and users face numerous concerns that collectively define a water crisis: growing competition for supplies of water, the need to grow more food with limited water, environmental pollution and degradation, and dealing with floods and droughts. Gains in water use efficiency are frequently hailed as the number one solution. However, others have pointed out that misuse and misunderstanding around efficiency could lead to counterproductive action – if farmers consume more scarce water supplies by becoming more efficient they may leave less for others – or that efficiency gains could result in less return flows back to the environment. Ultimately a more complete picture of water efficiency is required. Bruce Lankford addresses these critical issues head on, unpacking the term efficiency in water resource management to understand the winners and losers, costs and benefits of our water actions. This book is essential for water practitioners and researchers, and others involved in natural resource management, if we really want progress in water management."David Molden, Director General, ICIMOD, Nepal 

    "This book is excellent. Virtually all the themes the author writes about are crucial to water (and energy and other paracommons resources) today and into the future. Efficiency, internalizing 'waste' as a resource, and tradeoffs in recapturing losses are treated here with profound insight, illustrated by conceptual figures, and demonstrated through case examples. The implications of this new way of thinking are only beginning to be felt, and so this volume is especially timely -- a "must read" for researchers, agency and NGO managers, and policy-makers alike."Christopher Scott, Associate Professor, and 1885 Society Distinguished Scholar, University of Arizona

    "Bruce Lankford has written an exciting and innovative book. Resource Efficiency Complexity and the Commons develops the novel concept of ‘the paracommons’ through which savings of increased resource use efficiency can be viewed. It throws a new and bright light on how these efficiency gains in resource use may be made and transmitted and who benefits from them. Policy makers, scientific advisors and members of select committees should read this book, as well as graduates, research students and academic faculty."Piers Blaikie, Emeritus Professor, University of East Anglia

    "This unique book introduces a challenging and controversial concept, demonstrating its utility through thought-provoking examples that also provide a high-level overview of natural resource management and sustainability studies. Of great interest to a broad audience, the text will be widely read and is certain to generate a lot of much-needed discussion among experts in those fields and in related areas of study." – Paul Trawick, Chair, Dept. of Anthropology, Idaho State University

    "Efforts to raise resource efficiency and, concomitantly, reduce resource losses are expected to intensify as scarcity and linkages between resources are increasing. Yet such resource redistributions are often associated with greater uncertainty and complexity than is commonly acknowledged. Concentrating on physical resource efficiency, the book by Bruce Lankford makes an important contribution to the field by challenging prevailing assumptions and developing new ideas and concepts to explore how changes in resource use can effectively be made, how the resulting gains may be distributed, and how the measurement and monitoring of outcomes could be improved. Since many concepts are illustrated with examples from water management and irrigation, this Earthscan book will be of particular interest to the water community." – Susanne Scheierling, Washington DC

    "Of the many ideas offered in the paracommons concept, perhaps the one I enjoy the most is the concept of liminality applied to the governance of complex natural resource systems. The notion of an 'in-between-ness' existing between flawed opinions of the current state of systems and a future gain in performance offers natural and social scientists new perspectives on how to judge those actors promising better futures on the basis of productivity and efficiency gains." – Sian Sullivan, Birkbeck College.

    "This book, Resource Efficiency Complexity and the Commons, helps us revisit our disciplinary assumptions about natural resources use and efficiency. What exactly is gained through efficiency gains? How, when and why do these gains matter? The innovative concept of paracommons proposed by Bruce Lankford reveals the very complex nature of resource use efficiency. It also provides contours to the hard-to-grasp notion of temporality of efficiency gains. This book offers much food for thought for both natural and social scientists serious about natural resources management and sustainability." – Naho Mirumachi, Kings College London