How coordination can boost the resilience of complex supply chains

By Célian Colon, PhD student at the Ecole Polytechnique in France & IIASA Mikhalevich award winner

How can we best tackle risks in our complex and interconnected economies? With globalization and information technologies, people and processes are increasingly interdependent. Great ideas and innovations can spread like wildfire. However, so can turbulence and crises. The propagation of risks is a key concern for policymakers and business leaders. Take the example of production disruption: with global supply chains, local disasters or man-made accidents can propagate from one place to another, and generate significant impact. How can this be prevented?

Risk propagation is like a domino effect. Credit: Martin Fisch (cc) via Flickr

Risk propagation is like a domino effect. Credit: Martin Fisch (cc) via Flickr

As part of my PhD research, I met professionals on the ground and realized that supply risk propagation is a particularly tricky issue, since most parts of the chains are out of their control. Supply chains can be very long, and change with time. It is difficult to keep track of who is working with whom, and who is exposed to which hazard. How then can individual decisions mitigate systemic risks? This question directly connects to the deep nature of systemic problems: everyone is in the same boat, shaping it and interacting with each other, but no one is individually able to steer it. Surprising phenomena can emerge from such interactions, wonderfully illustrated by bird flocking and fish schooling.

As an applied mathematician thrilled by such complexities, I was enthusiastic to work on this question. I built a model where firms produce and interact through supply chain relationships. Pen and paper analyses helped me understand how a few firms could optimally react to disruptions. But to study the behavior of truly complex chains, I needed the calculation power of computers. I programmed networks involving a large number of firms, and I analyzed how localized failures spread throughout these networks, and generate aggregate losses. Given the supply strategy adopted by each firm, how could systemic risk be mitigated?

With my collaborators at IIASA, Åke Brännström, Elena Rovenskaya, and Ulf Dieckmann, we have highlighted the key role of coordination in managing risks. Each individual firm affects how risks propagate along the chain. If they all solely focus on maximizing their own profit, significant amounts of risk remain. But if they cooperate, and take into account the impact of their decisions on the risk profile of their trade partners, risk can be effectively mitigated. Reducing systemic risks can thus be seen as a common good: costs are heterogeneously borne by firms while benefits are shared. Interestingly, even in long supply chains, most systemic risks can be mitigated if firms only cooperate with only one or two partners. By facilitating coordination along critical supply chains, policy-makers can therefore contribute to the reduction of risk propagation.

Colon's model analyzes how firms produce and interact through supply chain relationships. Credit: Jan Buchholtz (cc) via Flickr

Colon’s model analyzes how firms produce and interact through supply chain relationships. Credit: Jan Buchholtz (cc) via Flickr

Drawing robust conclusions from such models is a real challenge. On this matter, I benefited from the experience of my IIASA supervisors. Their scientific intuitions greatly helped me focusing on the most fertile ground. It was particularly exciting to borrow techniques from evolutionary ecology and apply them to an economic context. Conceptually, how economic agents co-adapt and influence each other shares many similarities with the co-evolution of individuals in an ecological environment. To address such complex issues, I strongly believe in the plurality of approaches: by illuminating a problem from different angles, we can hope to see it more clearly!

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Climate change, bioenergy, and ozone in the EU

By Carlijn Hendriks, Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) & IIASA Peccei award winner

Last summer, I participated in IIASA’s Young Scientist Summer Program, working with the Mitigation of Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases and Ecosystems Services and Management programs. My research focused on what impacts the EU climate and air quality policy could have on ground level ozone around the middle of this century. While clean air policies should help reduce the pollution that can lead to ozone formation, we found that that climate change and energy policies will still increase ozone concentrations and damage by mid-century, unless stricter air pollution measures are implemented.

Ozone forms through reactions of various pollutants - a process that speeds up at higher temperatures. © Damián Bakarcic via Flickr

Ozone forms through reactions of various pollutants and chemicals in the atmosphere – a process that speeds up at higher temperatures. © Damián Bakarcic via Flickr

Ozone at ground level is an air pollutant, causing health and ecosystem problems. It is also an important component of summer smog. Ozone is not emitted into the atmosphere directly, but is produced when volatile organic carbons are oxidized in the presence of  nitrogen oxides and light. Nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere mainly as a result of combustion processes (like car engines and industry), while non-methane volatile organic carbons (NMVOCs)  come in large part from vegetation, especially broad-leaf trees and some fast-growing crops.

Part of the EU energy policy is to stimulate the use of sustainable biomass as an energy source. This could lead to expansion of commercial bioenergy crop production in plantations and an increasing use of  forests. While this may help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will also increase NMVOC emissions. At the same time, EU air quality policies aim to reduce emissions of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and man-made NMVOC. Because some steps in the ground level ozone formation process are driven by absorption of light and/or proceed faster with higher temperatures, climate change could lead to higher ground level ozone concentrations in the future.

The separate effects of these three trends on ground level ozone have been studied before, but the question remains: what will be the combined impact of a) an increase of bioenergy plantations, b) EU’s air quality policy and c) climate change on health and ecosystem damage from ground level ozone? And which of the trends is the most important? To answer these questions, I used three models to study two energy and air quality scenarios for Europe under current and possible future climate conditions.

Two energy scenarios calculated by the Price-Induced Market Equilibrium System (PRIMES) model form the basis of this work. We used a reference scenario and one in which Europe reaches 80% CO2 emission reduction in 2050. These energy scenarios were used as a basis to calculate air pollutant emissions with IIASA’s  Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies (GAINS) model. Then we put the same scenarios into IIASA’s Global Biosphere Model GLOBIOM to obtain the change in land cover because of increasing bioenergy demand. I combined these datasets in chemistry transport model LOTOS-EUROS (the model of choice at my home institute, TNO) to calculate the impact on ground level ozone concentrations across Europe. To simulate ‘future climate’ we used the year 2003, in which Europe had a very warm summer, with temperatures 2-5 °C higher than normal.

Difference in average ozone concentration (in µg/m3) between the current situation and the 80% CO2 reduction scenario in 2050 under future climate change conditions for the period April-September. Negative numbers mean a decrease in ozone levels.

Difference in average ozone concentration (in µg/m3) between the current situation and the 80% CO2 reduction scenario in 2050 under future climate change conditions for the period April-September. Negative numbers mean a decrease in ozone levels.

We found that especially for the CO2-reduction scenario, the increase in bioenergy production could cause a slight increase in ozone damage. However, the impact of reduced emissions because of more stringent air quality policies far outweighs this effect, leading to a net reduction of ozone damage. The third effect, more efficient ozone formation in a warming climate, is so strong that in 2050 ozone damage to human health could be worse than today, especially for northwestern Europe. Stringent air quality policies close to a maximum feasible reduction scenario would be needed to make sure that health and ecosystem damage towards the middle of the century is smaller than it is today.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Education and crime in South Africa

By Anne Goujon, IIASA World Population Program

If you live in South Africa and did not complete high school then your chances of committing crime, being caught, and sent to jail are pretty high.  This is what we can tell from comparing the education characteristics of the population of inmates in South Africa with that of the population who was not in jail. A recent study that I conducted with a team of African and European researchers in the framework of the Southern African Young Scientists Summer Program confirms some findings from previous research, such as this 2010 study that found that education has a statistically significant effect on crime.

South Africa spends about 8 billion dollars a year on public order and safety. Violence and related injuries are the second primary cause of death in South Africa, and in the last 10 years, the prison population rate has been in a range from 300 to 400 per 100,000 people, one of the highest rates in the world.

© straystone | Dollar Photo Club

© straystone | Dollar Photo Club

South Africa is still plagued with the after-effects of its apartheid history, which enforced sub-standard education for different racial groups, creating a polarized society. The disparity in education between white and other racial clusters actually widened after the fall of the apartheid government. At the same time—and not unrelatedly, as shown by our study—the apparently peaceful transition to a democratic regime was accompanied by a rise of crime and violence, a gauge of the dichotomized South African society and its high levels of social exclusion and marginalization.

Indeed, our analysis of the 2001 census shows that the effect of education on criminal engagement – meaning in this study actually serving time in prison for a crime – differs by race. This suggests that there is an interaction effect between race and education.  The negative relationship between being highly educated and the likelihood of being incarcerated is linear for respondents of mixed ethnic origin (or “colored” according to the South African classification), Indians, and to a lesser extent also for Africans. For white respondents, however, the effect of education creates a bell-shaped graph, with the richest and poorest people less likely to be in prison, and the medium levels of education associated with the highest probability to be in prison.

 Share of the general and inmate population by level of educational attainment, South Africa, 2001

Share of the general and inmate population by level of educational attainment, South Africa, 2001

We also looked at the empirical results from a sample drawn in the Free State province—a crime hot spot – which indicated that a person’s native language, a proxy for race and place of origin, has a statistically significant influence on the likelihood to commit a contact . We also found that the probability of committing contact crimes, including vandalism, threat, assault, and injury, decreased with years of education, while the likelihood of committing economic crimes, including tax fraud, increases with years of education

This research provides another good incentive to invest in education in South Africa, and particularly to insist on all children completing upper secondary education finishing with grade 12.   Education statistically significantly decreases the probability of engaging in criminal activity. Hence, it should be included in the National Crime Prevention Strategy, particularly in some targeted provinces within South Africa.

Reference

Jonck, Petronella, Anne Goujon, Maria Rita Testa, John Kandala, 2015, Education and crime engagement in South Africa: A national and provincial perspective. International Journal of Educational Development, 45: 141–151. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2015.10.002.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0738059315001248

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Do scientists need the media?

By Katherine Leitzell, IIASA Science Writer

Earlier this month, IIASA hosted an unusual guest—science journalist, blogger, and educator Andrew Revkin. Revkin is probably best-known for his work at the New York Times and the blog Dot.Earth. He also teaches at Pace University and has recently been involved in sustainability projects such as Future Earth.

At a lunchtime seminar on science communication, Revkin surprised many IIASA scientists by focusing primarily on new media, rather than on old-school models of press releases and interviews with journalists.

Old-school journalism is long gone. What's replacing it is still developing - which brings opportunities for scientists willing to get into the game.

Old-school journalism is long gone. What’s replacing it is still developing – which brings opportunities for scientists willing to get into the game. (Photo: Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the 1940 film His Girl Friday/ Public Domain)

The reason? The world of journalism is changing quickly.  “The days of a reporter sitting down with a notebook and interviewing you for a story are over,” he said.  There are fewer and fewer reporters specializing in science journalism and those who remain in the field have tighter deadlines and more to cover.

The good news is that researchers need not send out a press release and wait for a reporter to call them to share their story. Blogs, social media, and videos provide new channels for communication. Revkin argued that these channels may even form a better platform for communicating complicated, sticky subjects—like much IIASA research—than traditional news stories, which have a tendency to oversimplify information. A blog, in contrast to a news story, can examine a topic from multiple angles over a longer period of time, giving a “prismatic” view of a multifaceted problem.

Yet blogging and engaging on social media take time. How can a researcher fit communication in on top of already substantial workloads?

The answer is that you don’t have to. Not every scientist needs to engage the public all the time, but every institution should have channels and content to do so, and be able to help scientists to tell their stories.

Revkin, left, chats with participants in IIASA’s Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) (Photo: K. Leitzell, IIASA)

Why bother? Some benefits of communication are clear: Research has shown that scholarly articles shared on twitter end up with more citations, and some journals are even using social media sharing, for example using  altmetrics, as a new measure of study impact.

Taking control of communication using new media can also circuitously lead to coverage in traditional media. Journalists around the world use Twitter to research stories and find sources.  Revkin explained that when researching his blog posts, he searches for posts by scientists that provide background and explanation. Then he links to these sources.  In fact, today Revkin defines his role as more a curator of information than a journalist.

At the same time, by learning to write and communicate in an understandable way for the general public, and practicing this skill, researchers also hone important communication skills that can help them effectively engage with policymakers.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Crossing tribal lines: Interdisciplinary cooperation in IIASA’s YSSP

By Benedict Singleton, IIASA Young Scientists Summer Program 2015, School of Humanities, Education and Social Science, Örebro University, Sweden

The first two weeks of the IIASA’s three-month long Young Scientist Summer Program (YSSP) are an exhilarating, if at times stressful experience. A quick-flowing series of events are scheduled including lectures, supervisor meetings, and drinks at a local vineyard.

The IIASA YSSP 2015 on their first day exploring Vienna. Photo by Siyuan (Kelsi) Yang

The IIASA YSSP 2015 on their first day exploring Vienna. Photo by Siyuan (Kelsi) Yang

Prominent are the initial presentations, where all 50 students give four minute talks describing their work to their peers. The YSSP program is multidisciplinary, with representatives of many natural and social sciences. This made it challenging for me, because one is seldom sure of one’s reception outside of the comforts of one’s own disciplinary box: familiar terms become strange and theoretical givens can quickly become hotly contested points of debate. IIASA is interdisciplinary and international in scope and part of the idea behind YSSP is to promote collaborations across academic boundaries. This is a daunting task; many disciplines jealously guard their specific view on reality and the absence of a shared theoretical vocabulary can transform well-intended discussions into general bafflement. Thus, despite interdisciplinarity being of considerable importance to science (no discipline can grasp all of reality all the time), it remains a considerable challenge in practice.

My own YSSP research centers around cultural theory, which asserts that the diverse ways humans view the world can be classified within a fourfold typology: individualism, egalitarianism, hierarchical, and fatalistic. Without going into too much detail, cultural theorists argue different combinations of these four cultural types are at play in any given social situation (Thompson et al. 2006). It has been interesting for me to reflect upon IIASA strategies for promoting interdisciplinary work among YSSP participants even as I am subject to and cooperate with them.

Academics often struggle to cooperate effectively as the profession is structured to allow both considerable individualism and a clear hierarchy. In this it has been said to resemble a drug gang. Researchers have considerable freedom to guide their own work while at the same time there is considerable competition for funds and the few permanent positions available. There is also distinct ranking and differentiation, with each discipline largely defining the researchers’ identities and concerns. Within disciplines there are often hierarchies of positions and institutions, which exert authority over and gain the attention of researchers. In sum, pressure to meet expectations within one’s own field and gain credibility amongst one’s peers in one’s own subject actively works against building the kinds of productive relationships required for genuine interdisciplinary work.

Rite of separation: opening presentations. (Source B. Singleton)

Rite of separation: Opening presentations. (Source B. Singleton)

The YSSP seeks to deal with this by trying to foster social bonds between participants through what anthropologists would recognise as a rite of passage. According to anthropological theory, such rites encompass three stages: rites of separation (from society), the liminal phase, and rites of (re)integration. Rites of separation take participants outside of their normal social structure. In IIASA’s case, this consists of mandatory group attendance of welcoming lectures and seminars (where the specialness of the YSSP group is emphasised) and the initial presentations, which are taken very seriously. The ending of the YSSP rite of separation is then marked with a post-presentation social event. Participants then enter the second, liminal phase; group bonds form amongst participants, who are equal in their “betwixt and between” state – whatever their statuses and identities before or after the rite of passage (Turner [1969]1995). Communication between equals then becomes possible within the group. For YSSP this is the most important phase; having forged egalitarian bonds between participants, cooperation and cross-pollination of ideas becomes more likely. YSSP then concludes with a rite of integration, a final presentation symbolically marking the end of the summer and the return of the participants to ordinary social structures.

Does the ritual work? It’s hard to say and depends rather on the level of one’s ambition for interdisciplinary dialogue. Speaking personally, I have had several productive conversations and have been pleased to receive interesting suggestions from fellow YSSP participants and scholars from well beyond my disciplinary horizon. However this is balanced by several factors inhibiting wholehearted participation during the liminal phase. Firstly, for most YSSP participants the summer project is but one small part of a greater PhD program, concern for which trumps any desire to learn outside of one’s own discipline. Secondly, it is clear that within IIASA itself there are different interpretations of what ‘interdisciplinary’ means and indeed clear differences regarding the relative values of particular subjects and philosophies. This undermines efforts to break down hierarchical boundaries between scholars and encourages individualistic behaviour among YSSP participants. By the end of the summer it’ll be clear how much egalitarian interdisciplinary work was possible and how powerful a rite the YSSP actually was.

Rite of separation: Forging bonds at a heuriger. (Source B. Singleton)

Rite of separation: Forging bonds at a heuriger. (Source B. Singleton)

References

THOMPSON, M., VERWEIJ, M. and ELLIS, R.J., 2006. Why and how culture matters. In: R.E. GOODIN and C. TILLY, eds, The Oxford handbook of contextual political analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 319-340.

TURNER, V., [1969]1995. The ritual Process. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Interview: Coal, natural gas, and clean air for China

Jun Liu, a PhD student at the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering in Peking University, Beijing, China, has won the annual Mikhalevich Award for her outstanding research as part of the 2014 Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) in IIASA’s Mitigation of Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases research program.

Jun Liu, second from right, at the YSSP award ceremony in August 2014.

Jun Liu, second from right, at the YSSP award ceremony in August 2014.

Could you tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from and what do you study?
I’m a fifth-year PHD student from College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering in Peking University, Beijing, China. My major is Environmental Sciences. My main fields of scientific interest include source of air pollution, regional air quality modeling, mitigation policy and health effects of atmospheric air pollutants.

Why did you apply to the Young Scientists Summer Program?
For a long time before the YSSP, I had read many excellent research papers on the RAINS and GAINS model. It was developed at IIASA. I hoped to have chance to utilize the model in my research. At the same time, I was so lucky to learn about YSSP application from my supervisors when I was visiting in Princeton University in winter 2013. So I applied for the program.

Please tell me about your research project: What was the question you were trying to answer?
In the background of Russian-China gas deal signed in May 2014, we wanted to discuss and compare the potential air quality benefits for coal substitution strategies between power plants, industrial boilers, and residential cooking and heating activities.

What did you find?
We found that whereas more efforts were directed at the power sector, replacing coal in power sector is actually the least effective strategy to reduce pollutants emissions. Instead, coal substitution in the residential sector achieves the highest potential for emission reduction and air quality benefits.

Thick air pollution is a common problem in many areas of China. Credit: V.T. Polywoda via Flickr.

Air pollution is a serious and growing problem in many areas of China. Credit: V.T. Polywoda via Flickr.

Why is this research important for policy or society?
As we know, China is facing serious air pollution problems. Replacing coal with natural gas is one of the important strategies to reduce this air pollution. Historically, the power sector is the largest coal consumer and receives highest priority for reducing coal use, but the residential sector is scarcely discussed. It is an urgent time for China to propose a rational and effective distribution plan across different sectors for our limited natural gas resources.

My study shows that informed decision making should direct strategies to maximize the air quality and human health benefits, rather than focusing on the control of coal consumption. From this perspective, the residential sector is more promising than power sector and industrial boilers.

How are you planning to continue this research when you return to IIASA?
I plan to finish writing papers for the natural gas scenarios and continue with other policy relevant work, such as potential role of agricultural ammonia emission in air pollution in China.

What was your favorite aspect of the YSSP and IIASA?
First, The YSSP encourages an interdisciplinary perspective and integrated method. Second, we have lots of opportunities to improve our research through discussions with our research teams, our supervisors at IIASA, and experts in other fields who are also at IIASA.  Also we can communicate and learn from other YSSPers to improve our work. The three-month length of the program is highly productive and effective.

What was your favorite moment of the summer?
 There were many moments: I particularly enjoyed the many discussions with my supervisors and my colleagues in my research program, the unforgettable trip with YSSPers to Hallstatt, Asia Day, and the awards ceremony.

Jun Liu, seated at left, and her colleagues in the Mitigation of Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases research program

Jun Liu, seated at left, and her colleagues in the Mitigation of Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases research program