Telecoupling: A New Frontier for Global Sustainability
Abstract, Ecology and Society, 2018
Telecoupling refers to socioeconomic and environmental interactions between distant coupled human and natural systems, and has become more extensive and intensive in the globalized era. The integrated framework of telecoupling examines flows of information, energy, matter, people, organisms, and other things such as financial capital and goods and products around the globe. It pinpoints causes and effects arising from engagement of diverse agents in the global sphere. This first special feature on telecoupling includes 16 articles that explore diverse telecouplings including trade, migration, tourism, information exchange, and transnational product certification schemes. Here we synthesize the articles by describing eight overarching lessons learned. These include the impact of physical, social, and institutional distance on telecouplings, key roles of agents and their inter-relationships, and the important function of telecoupling in enhancing information signals over long distances. Several lessons directly apply to global sustainability challenges, such as the importance of recognizing trade-offs between local and global sustainability and the need for multi-level management and governance solutions. We also suggest five areas of future research to help propel this nascent field forward and further cement its applicability to addressing global sustainability challenges.
Key words: coupled human and natural systems; feedbacks; globalization; telecoupling; spillover