Review: Resilience Thinking–Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World

5 Star, Complexity & Resilience, Environment (Solutions), Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design
Resilience Thinking
Amazon Page

Gem of Useful Education, February 24, 2008

Brian Walker

This is a gem of an educational book. Mixing case studies with elaborating chapters on key concepts, it’s as a good a volume as I have found for teaching undergraduates, graduates, and practitioners (farmers, factory managers, investors) the core ideas needed to restore a sustainable social-ecological system.

Highlights for me:

+ Optemization is a false premise, simplifies complex systems we do not understand, with the result that we end up causing long-term damage.

+ Resilience thinking is systems thinking. I cannot help but think back to all of the excellent work in the 1970’s and 1980’s–the authors were simply a quarter century ahead of their time.

+ In a nut-shell, resilient system can absorb severe disturbance.

+ System resilience is affected by context, connections across scales of time and space, and current system state in relations to threshholds.

+ Fresh water, fisheries, and topsoil depletion are major failures.

+ Drivers of environmental degradation are poverty, willful excessive consumption, and lack of knowledge (from another book, I recall that changes to the Earth that used to take 10,000 years now take three, one reason we need real-time science).

+ Key concepts are threshholds and adaptive cycles. Adaptive cycles have four phases: Rapid Growth; Conservation; Release; and Reorganization.

+ Redundancy is NOT a dirty word (just as intelligence–decision support–should not be a dirty word within the United Nations)

+ Ecological networks cannot be understood nor nurtured with a tight linking and understanding of the social networks that interact with the ecological networks.

+ Subsidies are a form of social denial, as they subsidize unsustainable practices and prevent adaptation and change.

+ Lovely–absolutely lovely–chart on page 89 about time-scales of climate and natural disasters like major fires.

+ One size does not fit all–solutions for one social-ecological network, e.g. in the USA, will not be the same as for another, e.g. in Norway.

+ Diversity is the key to regeneration.

+ Governances must be able to see and act upon key intervention points.

+ A Resilient world would be characterized by:

1. Diversity
2. Ecological variables
3. Modularity
4. Acknowledgement of slow variables
5. Tight feedbacks
6. Social capital
7. Innovation
8. Overlap in governance
9. Ecosystem services

Within this small and very easy to absorb book one finds a great annotated bibliography of recommended readings, a fine reference section, and a very solid index.

Other books that come to mind as complements to this one (limited to ten links by Amazon):
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
The HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design
High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them
Pandora’s Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy
The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink

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