Most scarcity-sustainability-security problems arise from a coupling of natural and human systems. Interdependent physical and societal dynamics give rise to complexity within these systems. What distinguishes complex systems – from those of simple and complicated systems - is that the “fuzziness" of the cause-effect relationships cannot be easily clarified through traditional deterministic or probabilistic calculus; the predictive uncertainty cannot be statistically characterized; and the emergent behaviors cannot be pre-specified or predicted. Specific types of system framing and responses – known as complex adaptive system (CAS) - that are warranted to understand and shape the evolution of scarcity-sustainability-security linkages for actionable outcome were described and promoted.
Three general attributes of CAS – interaction of system elements; nonlinearity, uncertainty, and feedback; emergence and adaptive action - are used to understand the nature of these relationships and their interactions. In this framing, the relationships among scarcity, sustainability and security are not considered as causal but emergent conditions. A key implication of framing scarcity, sustainability and security interactions as CAS is that such interactions cannot be designed, steered, managed or controlled as we generally understand the terms within the context of simple or complicated systems. Thus, we don't promote conventional planning and acting based on a predictable outcome; instead, we suggest processes and protocols to look for signals of emergent pattern and be adaptive in our learning by doing and be responsive to address evolving pattern of scarcity-sustainability-security dynamics. Such a reframing will allow us to take pragmatic steps - based on principles of equity and sustainability - to address emergent scarcity and security issues of given the capacity and the constraints imposed by the context of the chosen problem.