Peace and Strength

My name, Li An (安力), might be the shortest one that can be ever seen. An, an unpopular family name in China, means peace or safety. My first name Li means strength, force, or power. Hmmm--peace and strength ? It might reflect what I (many other people too?) have been seeking throughout the past years. Coincidence?

I grew up in a mountainous city in the central part of China. Hiking, fishing, reading, and playing games (unfortunately--maybe fortaunately--no eletronic games at that time) were my favorite things during my childhood. My later schooling years witnessed an era of (over)emphasis on science and mathematics in the late 1970s and early 1980s shortly after the Cultural Revolution. There was a famous slogan at the early stages of China’s Reform & Opening-Up policy: “Excel in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, no hurdle at all wherever you go in the world”. In today’s view, this slogan may be biased (even misleading) because it overlooked many aspects (e.g., diversity, humanities, arts, spiritual dimension) of our lives and world. However, this overemphasis on math and science has had a significant impact on my career. From my middle school age to my college years, I have dedicated the vast majority of my time to building a solid foundation in science and mathematics, seeking to empower my future with a bit more peace and strength.

Many drastic changes in the Chinese society took place over the last 30-40 years: from a rigid ideology to a more open socio-political environment, from a government controlled economy to a more market oriented economy, from no family planning to strict “one-child” policy to the current relaxation of the policy... Recently, China's economic boom has made a substantial impact on not only the Chinese people, but also on people of many other countries as the whole earth is becoming a "global village". I wonder whether the Chinese people, as well as all global villagers, feel to have more peace and strength?

This kind of overemphasis on economic development without adequate care of human-environment sustainability can bring in many negative consequences, even irreversible disasters. There is virtually no “pristine” landscape on the earth that is completely free from human influences, and nearly any part of the earth has had some “fingerprint” of human activity. The world is increasingly immersed in environmental, socio-demographic, economic, or political challenges or crises. One of the extreme examples was the 1998 flooding in the Yangtze River, which caused huge loss of human life and property. China's former premier Zhu Rongji’s angry yell to the illegal tree-fellers in upstream areas still echoes: “You cut my trees and I cut your heads!” Are we losing peace and strength?

All these past events and experiences have led me to a professional career towards building a more sustainable, more peaceful, and more livable world through various research, education, and outreach activities. I work on complex human-environment systems (CHES), including many urban and rural landscapes (national parks and protected areas in particular), and seek to improve CHES understanding, envisioning, and planning through geovisualization, representation, modeling, and simulation. My CHES exploration has largely experienced the following waves of efforts.

Wave I dates back to my early stage of CHES research, largely from 1998 to 2003. As a novice (Ph.D. student), I was eagerly wrestling with questions and problems in sociology, environmental economics, landscape ecology, and sustainability science. In addition, I focused on various statistical, geospatial, and simulation methods (e.g., tools, software, models) and their applications in a specific CHES--Wolong Nature Reserve, China for the giant panda conservation. One highlight of my Wave I efforts was to develop a couple of spatially explicit (through connecting to GIS and cellular models) agent-based models.

Wave II, largely from 2003 to 2005 when I was a postdoc at University of Michigan, features sharpening my skills in GIS and statistical modeling and applying these skills to address urban develpment questions. One highlight in this wave is "borrowing" survival analysis from social science disciplines to address geospatial and/or space-time issues. The so-called Landscape Survival Analysis (LSA) was developed from this stage. Another line of geospatial analytics research, namely Landscape Pseudo-History Analysis (LPHA), was also started during this wave.

Wave III of my CHES efforts started around 2005 when I joined SDSU's Department of Geography and lasted till 2011. As a bit more mature CHES researcher, I turned more attention to a set of CHES related theories or frameworks (e.g., complexity theory, coupled human and natural systems or CHANS) and their applications in real CHES. My research expanded to CHES sustainability at more study sites including Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve (China) and Chitwan National Park (Nepal). My efforts at this wave still had an urban frontline, characterized by my roles in a couple of projects studying health variability in the CHES of Accra, Ghana.

Building on past experiences and expertise, Wave IV of my CHES endeavors (2012-present) has expanded to areas of space-time analysis, modeling of human-decision making and interaction with the environment, the telecoupling framework, and high-performance agent-based modeling (ABM). This expansion was based on my evolving understanding and philosophy about CHES: To better understand and envision CHES dynamics, temporal variability, low-level (e.g., individual people) decisions and actions, and influences from remote (not only local) places have to chime in! One big methodological frontier that may better facilitate such "chime-in" is to develop high-performance (e.g., web-based, parallel or clouds computing-enabled, cyberGIS-, and cellular automata-, and big data-friendly) agent-based models...

I wish all these waves of efforts will contribute a little to empowering the global village where we live with a bit more peace and strength. But would that really happen? I do not have an answer, but would turn to the wisdom from above for peace and strength.

To view pdf files you may need to download Adobe Reader.