THE NEW GREEN: Resiliency awareness
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 00:10
Sustainability has become a buzzword in natural resource management and even in the realm of business and social policy. Many people incorrectly believe that the word is synonymous with being “eco-friendly.” A more accurate definition is the one famously adopted by the World Bank, which states that sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability principles aim to achieve a state in which our current systems could simply continue to exist and function, based upon our current understandings and parameters. In the face of climate change and all of its associated social upheavals, many community leaders feel that simply sustaining our current systems is not going to be enough. Across the globe, governments and institutions are instead adopting a new goal: resilience.
In the book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, authors Andrew Zollie and Ann Marie Healy explain that “resilience” means “the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.” Unlike sustainability, resiliency acknowledges that humanity will be faced with unknown challenges that it cannot plan for, and it also adds the important elements of purpose and integrity that transcend the basic goals of survival and equilibrium. As Zollie explains, “where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage an imbalanced world.”
This year, the Post Carbon Institute published the report Resilient Against What?, a study on what some innovative American communities are doing to build resiliency. The report offers an informative introduction to key resiliency concepts. For example, the report introduces the concept of “modularity” and explains: “A resilient community is made up of distributed elements that can operate independently of one another. Rather than being hyper-connected, these elements are capable of functioning alongside, and overlapping with, but independent from, other parts of the system.” Understanding these building blocks is essential to building a resilient system. The report consisted of a series of questions answered by municipal leaders to identify their resiliency-related challenges and goals. For example, among the polled cities, the top three “Risks and Vulnerabilities” were identified as flooding, extreme weather events and local-government financial challenges. The report culminated in five major conclusions, which were that the leading municipalities regarded resiliency as “more than mere disaster preparedness,” considered resiliency important to their ability to deliver services, found lack of time and budget constraints to be the largest barriers to building resilience, felt intense pressure from citizens to enhance resiliency efforts and did not find local or federal law to be barriers to resilience.
Every community, from the smallest rural town to the largest American city, should be discussing resiliency and what it would look like locally. We cannot now prevent temperatures from rising and the increased occurrence of extreme storms, droughts, disease, and social unrest, but we can certainly strive to build intelligent responsive systems to get us through them.