I’ve been invited by PopTech and the Rockefeller Foundation to give the opening remarks at an upcoming event on interdisciplinary dimensions of resilience, which is being hosted at Georgetown University. This event is connected to their new program focus on “Creating Resilience Through Big Data.” I’m absolutely de-lighted to be involved and am very much looking forward to the conversations. The purpose of this blog post is to summarize the presentation I intend to give and to solicit feedback from readers. So please feel free to use the comments section below to share your thoughts. My focus is primarily on disaster resilience. Why? Because understanding how to bolster resilience to extreme events will provide insights on how to also manage less extreme events, while the converse may not be true.
One of the guiding questions for the meeting is this: “How do you understand resilience conceptually at present?” First, discourse matters. The term resilience is important because it focuses not on us, the development and disaster response community, but rather on local at-risk communities. While “vulnerability” and “fragility” were used in past discourse, these terms focus on the negative and seem to invoke the need for external protection, overlooking the fact that many local coping mechanisms do exist. From the perspective of this top-down approach, international organizations are the rescuers and aid does not arrive until these institutions mobilize.
It occurred to me as I was reading Beatrice Benne's article, “Demystifying Pattern(s) of Change: A Common Archetype,” that America is facing calamity now because we've been so wildly successful at going through the adaptive change cycle, over and over. But the successes were short-term, and now all these short-term successes are adding up to a dead-end long-term strategy.
So it's not only important to successfully adapt, it's also important how you adapt. It's not only change itself but the quality of change that's important; and we can only measure quality by thinking in eons rather than years, decades, and centuries. Today's joyous rebirth can be tomorrow's problem child.
So Benne's patterns made me think of fractals because fractals repeat patterns in successively larger scales. Short-term patterns add up to larger long-term patterns. So successful change, in and of itself, can be extremely misleading. Of course this is common knowledge to systems thinkers.
It's the success of humans that is killing us as a species. We're similar to the rabbit plague of Australia. We have no natural predators to speak of except for our own species.
But the main point I wanted to make about the patterns illustrated in Beatrice Benne's article, is that each pattern can be a small section of a larger fractal pattern. Short-term successes can be collectively heading to long-term failure.
So the kind of insights required to solve short-term problems are often not enough. We need to start seeing these short-term patterns as small waves adding up to form a larger wave. And of course that's exactly what systems thinkers are doing. But sometimes it's good to state the obvious out loud.
Phi Beta Iota: In order words, the corruption of short-term deal-making is the cancer of long-term resilience. We've not only eaten our seed corn, we've been crapping in our water well.
Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister for eight years and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group, is currently Chancellor of the Australian National University and co-chair of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect. As Foreign Minister, he was at the forefront of recasting Australia’s relationship with China, India, and Indonesia, while deepening its alliance with the US, and helped found the APEC and ASEAN security forums. He also played a leading role in bringing peace to Cambodia and negotiating the International Convention on Chemical Weapons, and is the principal framer of the United Nations’ “responsibility to protect” doctrine.
Project Syndicate, 27 December 2012
CANBERRA – If we were hoping for peace in our time, 2012 did not deliver it. Conflict grew ever bloodier in Syria, continued to grind on in Afghanistan, and flared up periodically in West, Central, and East Africa. There were multiple episodes of ethnic, sectarian, and politically motivated violence in Myanmar (Burma), South Asia, and around the Middle East. Tensions between China and its neighbors have escalated in the South China Sea, and between China and Japan in the East China Sea. Concerns about North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs remain unresolved.
Complex Adaptive Systems Adaptation at the Edge of Chaos
Without going too deep into the theories, complexity science and the theory of complex adaptive systems teach us that complex adaptive systems (CAS) and living systems (LS) adapt to changes occurring in their environment in a state away from dynamic equilibrium, at the edge of chaos—a paradoxical transition phase of simultaneous stability and instability. At the edge of chaos, when the conditions are right, the components of CAS and LS are able to spontaneously self-organize, without any blueprint. The result is the emergence of new structures of higher-level order and new patterns of organization better adapted to the environment. This creative process, taking a system from dynamic equilibrium to the edge of chaos, and, then, to a higher state of order, coherence and wholeness is depicted on Figure 2. It is important to note that emergence is never a guarantee. When the system does not have the required learning capacity to creatively self-organize and transform, it may go through an immergence—a process of disintegration and complete breakdown.
China: China has submitted to the United Nations what it calls geological evidence that it contends prove that disputed islands in the East China Sea are Chinese territory
China says its continental shelf extends across to the Okinawa Trough, just off the Japanese island of Okinawa, an area that takes in island territories owned by Japan.
The continental shelf is the relatively gently sloping seabed from the shoreline that ends when the seabed drops off steeply to much greater depths. Waters on the continental shelf are usually around 600 feet at most.
Details of China's claim are in its presentation Partial Submission Concerning the Outer Limits of the Continental Shelf beyond 200 Nautical Miles in the East China Sea.
Xinhua the state-run news agency reported Chen Lianzeng, deputy head of China's State Oceanic Administration, saying geological characteristics show that the continental shelf in the sea is the natural extension of China's land territory.
Comment: The Chinese submission is an example of legal chicanery as a high art. Japan's ownership of the islands is by right of conquest and occupation. China's submission to the UN is based on geology. This is an incongruity. Geology has no standing against physical occupation and administration.
The Chinese are seeking the moral high ground and presenting themselves as victims. In fact, they are manipulating the UN to back-up their assertions of ownership with scientific documentation in a forum that is hostile to the US and US allies. China does not want to administer the Senkakus. It wants to explore and exploit seabed resources. .
Fortunately, Japan has no obligation to comply with any UN determination, which ineluctably would rule against Japan.
Philipp Saumweber is creating a miracle in the barren Australian outback, growing tonnes of fresh food. So why has he fallen out with the pioneering environmentalist who invented the revolutionary system?
The Observer, Saturday 24 November 2012
The scrubby desert outside Port Augusta, three hours from Adelaide, is not the kind of countryside you see in Australian tourist brochures. The backdrop to an area of coal-fired power stations, lead smelting and mining, the coastal landscape is spiked with saltbush that can live on a trickle of brackish seawater seeping up through the arid soil. Poisonous king brown snakes, redback spiders, the odd kangaroo and emu are seen occasionally, flies constantly. When the local landowners who graze a few sheep here get a chance to sell some of this crummy real estate they jump at it, even for bottom dollar, because the only real natural resource in these parts is sunshine.