Review: Resilience and the Behavior of Large-Scale Systems

5 Star, Complexity & Resilience

ResilienceSuperb, Dated, Needs Reissuance, March 8, 2008

Lance H. Gunderson

I would normally take away one star for failing to recognize Herman Daly's contribution to Ecological Economics and Paul Hawkin's contributions to the ecology of commerce (and most especially “true cost” as an essential metric) but realizing that I came late to this book (it was published in 2002), and respecting the extraordinary value herein, I left it at five stars.

The book should be reprinted after a proper literature search (I grow tired of citation cabals, these folks–20 contributors–need to get out more) and a simple capstone Executive Summary added for the busy policy-maker. The Literature Cited should be consolidated into a single annotated and much expanded syntopical bibliography.

Most importantly, the book was inspired by the Beijer International Institution for Ecological Economics realizing that resilience is the key unifying concept for both ecological and social systems; and that there was a need for demonstrated concepts of ecological resilikence including an understanding of alternative stable states and disturbances.

The book is fully satisfactory and my take-away is that all of the contributors, overseen by the likes of Lester Brown, Medard Gabel, Herman Daly, and Paul Hawkin, are part of the solution and must be fully integrated in the creation of the EarthGame that will one day deliver real-time science and near-real-time stable state options.

It is very well-organized, and the authors are all uniformly competent at presenting the obligatory case studies from which they draw their conclusions.

Theory, metaphors, models, stability disturbances, resilience, are all discussed at length. Stessors are multiplicative not additive. [A better summation is found in Charle's Perrows Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies, to wit:

+ Simple systems have single points of failure easy to diagnose and correct

+ Complex systems have multiple points of failure that interact in unpredictable ways and are very hard to fix

+ We have created constellation of complex systems interacting in ways we simply do NOT understand, and therefore we are subject to cataclymic unanticipated break-downs almost impossible to fix.

The book ends with an excellent summary, of value in and of itself, with these key points discussed:

+ Pathology of constancy versus visibility of variability.

+ Diversity & stability versus diversity & resilience

+ Short versus long term sustainability

+ Vulnerability increased as sources of novelty are edliminated and cross-scale functional replication is reduces.

Last two key thoughts:

+ We can increase novelty (I added the word in my own mind, “artificially”

+ Resilience occurs at multiple scales.

This book is recommended for use in undergraduate and graduate instruction, and if the original sponsor cared to fund an update, I have some specific suggestions that would make a new book much more valuable to connecting true costs, real-time science, and digital gaming as well as digically orchestrated independent action (imagine a range of gifts table online, specific down to the district level, with needs from $10 to $100 million, that all foundations, corporations, non-governmental organizations, and individuals (80% of the giving) could use to “opt-in” and turn micro-boxes of need “green.”)

I have over 70 lists including one focused on environmental degradation (high level threat to humanity) so I will end with links to just ten books, but there are many many more.

See also:
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism
Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications
The Ecology of Commerce
The True Cost of Low Prices: The Violence of Globalization
The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict
The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink
Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy
Blue Frontier : Saving America's Living Seas

See also books I have written, edited, or published. They are also free online but the Amazon versions are much more exciting to engage.

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