USC Center for Sustainability Solutions

Developing Solutions for a Sustainable and Equitable Future

Hidden Order: Lessons from Bali’s Water Temples

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J. Stephen Lansing

Along a typical river in Bali, small groups of farmers meet regularly in water temples to manage their irrigation systems. They have done so for a thousand years. Over the centuries, water temple networks have expanded to manage the ecology of rice terraces at the scale of whole watersheds. Although each group focuses on its own problems, somehow everything works out in a way that optimizes rice harvests for the farmers in dozens of villages. How is this possible? Google Earth reveals transitory patterns in the rice paddies that closely resemble phase transitions in physics, like the onset of magnetism. This unlocked a story of hidden order that charms physicists, perplexes economists and offers everyone a startlingly new way to think about how people can interact with nature.

Bio: Steve Lansing is the director of the Complexity Institute and professor in the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is also external professor at the Santa Fe Institute and the Vienna Complexity Hub; senior research fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and president of the Anthropology and Environment Society of the American Anthropological Association. In 2012 he developed a UNESCO World Heritage for the subaks and water temple networks of Bali.

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