With still-low development levels and relatively high risks from climatic impacts, the less developed world faces a greater challenge for future development than developed economies. Applying the science of complexity to study human-environment systems (CHES) and integrating ideas from climate change research into a larger framework of sustainability, this dissertation attempts to operationalize the concept of sustainability and provide analyses that are useful for achieving sustainability in less developed places vulnerable to climatic hazards.
In the first chapter, I present a new framework for studying sustainability of CHES. I use well-being and resilience to characterize sustainability. With chapters 2 through 5, I present a case study in the Poyang Lake Region of China (PLR) using the new framework. The study aims to understand how the complex interactions between individual households and the social and environmental setting shape the well-being of rural households. It is also intended to generate insights into (i) how polices can effectively promote social and economic development and mitigate flood impacts, and (ii) how rural households can increase their overall well-being. In addition, it demonstrates the three analyses that support the three steps toward sustainability under the new framework.
Following an introduction to the study area in the second chapter, chapter 3 presents a regional-scale assessment of well-being combining remote sensing, GIS, and socioeconomic data. Chapter 4 presents an in-depth analysis of underlying causes of well-being based on surveys and interviews. Chapter 5 presents an analysis of rural development policies using an agent-based model. In the final chapter, I reflect on this research and discuss future work that expands this research to more general analyses of sustainability.
My findings focus on interactions between individual households and their social and environmental settings, which explain rural development at the aggregate level, and variations in well-being between rural households and across places. Specifically, I found that constraints associated with rural and urban development dynamics at the national level, and issues around land-use rights limit the choices and outcomes of rural household livelihoods. Through modeling, I showed that an alternative land policy may help loosen these constraints and promote rural development.