26 August 2019

Crawford Stanley "Buzz" Holling, 1930-2019

It is with profound sadness that IIASA marks the death of C.S. Holling, who was a researcher at IIASA from 1973-1975 and director from 1981-1984. His work founded the field of Adaptive Ecosystem Policy and Management at IIASA, and he led the institute as director during a time of great uncertainty.

Buzz Holling at IIASA in the 1970s

Buzz Holling at IIASA in the 1970s

Holling, a Canadian ecologist, first came to IIASA in 1973 to led the Ecology and Environment Project. His work lead to a ground-breaking book, Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management, which illustrated how systems must take uncertainty into account, rather than eliminate it.

In 2018, Holling's project was revisited in Ecosystems Research and Policy Planning: Revisting the Budworm Project (1972-1980) at IIASA and states: "Holling's budworm approach was counterintuitive and provocative at the time, which underpinned a significant change in using scientific analysis as a guideline for policy making and management in the 1970s."

Holling returned to IIASA from 1981-1984 to serve as the 3rd director. In his interview below, Holling states "It was a turbulent time, which is great. It was an exciting time, and I was glad to be there to help."

The current Director General of IIASA Albert van Jaarsveld expressed his sorrow at the news, saying: "Holling was not only a pioneer in his field, he pioneered the institute during his time as director. He inspired many and will be sorely missed by IIASA colleagues, past and present.”  

In his memoir Bubbles and Spirals, Holling writes: "With inevitably incomplete knowledge come surprises and mistakes. But the mistakes become possibilities for new learning, not routes to failure".

Alumni share their memories of Buzz: 

"Buzz was a man of towering intellect; yet, he remained a caring, modest and fun loving man. 

We met at IIASA more than 40 years ago and the institute remained an important part in our lives. He served as director from 1981-1984 navigating IIASA through its first major funding challenges. 

He was a maverick in many ways; his novel ideas and his fundamental contributions to our understanding of the world will continue to deeply influence generations to come.  

Above all, he was an incredibly generous and caring human being.

He will be deeply and forever missed by his family and everyone he touched around the world." - Ilse Holling

"Numerous individuals can provide more detail about Buzz Holling's scientific contributions. In addition to being a significant contributor to IIASA from its beginning and the third Director, Buzz certainly contributed to IIASA being an interesting and enjoyable place from the beginning. He had key roles on the Annual Canada Day breakfast, the production of the Ralf Yorque Newsletter, and the personal distribution of a red rose to IIASA visitors at heurigers associated with various meetings." - Ralph Keeney

"Although I was at IIASA part of the time when Buzz was director, I was a research assistant and didn’t have any real personal interaction. I do remember the genuine enthusiasm for science that he brought to IIASA, which was truly inspiring and motivating for me as a young researcher. I also remember that Buzz had a weekly coffee round where anyone could go and talk science – it was in the coffee area between the Gvishiani and Wodak rooms. His openness to new ideas was refreshing. Although I never worked directly with or for Buzz, his legacy has been present during my long-time collaboration with Mike Thompson, who often tells the story of how he and Buzz realized their notions of complexity and resilience were quite similar, with Buzz focusing on ecosystems and Mike focusing on people. As an economist, I’ve been deeply influenced by Buzz’s theories of complex systems, resilience and adaptive management. He will be missed." - JoAnne Linnerooth-Bayer

"Having had the privilege and honor of assisting Buzz during his 3,5 years of tenure at IIASA, I really cherish the memories of a unique scientist who did his utmost best to manage IIASA at its most challenging and difficult period of its history. The Ralf Yorque Society has lost one more of its founding members. My wife joins me in expressing our heartfelt sympathy and deepest condolences to Ilse and the other family members." - Sebouh Baghdoyan

I got to know Buzz as a great provocateur des idees from many workshops and presentations. Expect the Unexpected - can one imagine how visionary that insight was when it was carried into the world at the end of the 70s? I am aware how fortunate I am to have crossed Buzz' paths multiple times. Bowing before a great thinker and scientist," - Matthias Jonas

"The strain of seeing giants like Buzz pass on is somewhat eased by seeing by all the good work being done by his heirs and the cohorts of bright young scientists that his heirs are training. Buzz's ideas resonate very much here in Central Europe, so his legacy lives on.

While his intellectual impact is felt globally, we are among the lucky few to have shared his rich and irascible sense of humor (he was delighted to learn that the new millennium's first decade was referred to as "the naugthties") and gracious wisdom as well as his deep love for this world. There was a huge heart under that great brain, and it informed the passion with which we all carry on trying both to understand and to conserve this lovely world - which his finer sensibilities captured in art as well. He loved to inspire with ideas that were as simple and elegant as modern sculpture, which he practiced for decades.

We are all fortunate to have known him, as well as the very fine people he attracted to him." - Jan Sendzimir

An image that reminds me greatly of Buzz and his appreciation for elegant designs of deceptive simplicity.

As Time goes by - a song written and performed live by the IIASA Council when we said goodbye to Buzz as the IIASA Director

You must remember this, systems analysis, it must be done with style
The fundamental thing applied as Buzz goes by.
When UK IIASA woos, Maxwell says I love you, on that you can rely,
No matter waht the future brings as Buzz goes by.
Draft plan and dues always out of date, staff full of passion, jealousy and hate, Canada needs
Buzz and Ilse needs her mate, that no one can deny
It's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die!
IIASA always welcomes directors, as Buzz goes by.

- a memory from Anders Karlqvist

One afternoon, back in 1982 (I think), I wandered along to the room outside the Wodak Room in the hope of finding some free coffee left over from an earlier meeting. The coffee was indeed there, and so too was Buzz, escaping, for an hour or so, from his directorial duties. We ended up speculating as to whether there was any connection between his four "myths of nature" and the four "ideas of nature" that had been identified by Mary Douglas: the British anthropologist who had supervised my PhD. Taking advantage of a flip-chart that happened to be there, we played around with the two typologies, trying to fit them onto his now-famous figure-of-eight diagram. To our delight they mapped onto one another perfectly, thereby establishing a remarkable link between ecology and anthropology that I see as a key insight for applied systems analysis and have relied on ever since. Just goes to show the value of coffee breaks!

- Michael Thompson

Book of Condolences:

Please share your memories of C.S. Holling in the space below.

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Last edited: 12 September 2019


Monika Bauer

IIASA Network and Alumni Officer

Communications and External Relations Department|Communications

T +43(0) 2236 807 223


Holling, C.S. (1978). Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781932846072

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