6 x 9
15 photos and illustrations
Increasingly, cracks are appearing in the capacity of communities, ecosystems, and landscapes to provide the goods and services that sustain our planet's well-being. The response from most quarters has been for "more of the same" that created the situation in the first place: more control, more intensification, and greater efficiency.
"Resilience thinking" offers a different way of understanding the world and a new approach to managing resources. It embraces human and natural systems as complex entities continually adapting through cycles of change, and seeks to understand the qualities of a system that must be maintained or enhanced in order to achieve sustainability. It explains why greater efficiency by itself cannot solve resource problems and offers a constructive alternative that opens up options rather than closing them down.
In Resilience Thinking, scientist Brian Walker and science writer David Salt present an accessible introduction to the emerging paradigm of resilience. The book arose out of appeals from colleagues in science and industry for a plainly written account of what resilience is all about and how a resilience approach differs from current practices. Rather than complicated theory, the book offers a conceptual overview along with five case studies of resilience thinking in the real world. It is an engaging and important work for anyone interested in managing risk in a complex world.
"This is one of those books that barely mentions planning as such, but has lots of implications for it. It's short but will repay some extra quiet time...Their goal is to get us to look at the world and its systems in a fresh new way."
"Resilience Thinking is an impressive and highly successful effort to explain complex ecological and social interactions and changes in a unified framework and in language accessible to a wide audience. This book should stimulate extensive discussions on these critical issues and innovative ways to approach them."
Harold Mooney, Achilles Professor of Environmental Biology, Stanford University
"Resilience Thinking provides a much-needed accessible entrée into a concept that holds the key to our future.... Full of wisdom, sophisticated science, and practical guidance, this book provides profound ideas, insights, and hope to scientists, students, managers, and planners alike."
Jane Lubchenco, Distinguished Professor of Zoology, Oregon State University
"Resilience Thinking is an essential guidebook to a powerful new way of understanding our world—and of living resiliently within it—developed in recent decades by an international team of ecologists. With five clear and compelling case studies drawn from regions as diverse as Florida, Sweden, and Australia, this book shows how all highly adaptive systems—from ecologies to economies—go through regular cycles of growth, reorganization, and renewal and how our failures to understand the basic principles of resilience have often led to disaster. Resilience Thinking gives us the conceptual tools to help us cope with the bewildering surprises and challenges of our new century."
Thomas Homer-Dixon, Professor of political science, University of Toronto
"...a clear, readable, non-academic explanation of the difference between an optimization mindset and a resilience mindset."
Chapter 1. Living in a Complex World: An Introduction to Resilience Thinking
-Case Study 1: Carving up a National Icon: The Florida Everglades
Chapter 2. The System Rules: Creating a Mind Space for Resilience Thinking
-Case Study 2: Between a (Salt) Rock and a Hard Place: The Goulburn-Broken Catchment, Australia
Chapter 3. Crossing the Threshold: Be Careful about the Path You Choose?You May Not Be Able to Return
-Case Study 3: Losing the Jewel in the Crown: The Coral Reefs of the Caribbean
Chapter 4. In the Loop: Phases, Cycles, and Scales?Adaptive Cycles and How Systems Change
-Case Study 4: Scenarios on the Lakes: The Northern Highlands Lake District, Wisconsin
Chapter 5. Making Sense of Resilience: How Do You Apply Resilience Thinking?
-Case Study 5: Building Resilience in the Wetlands: The Kristianstads Vattenrike, Sweden
Chapter 6. Creating Space in a Shrinking World: Resilience and Sustainability
Postscript for a Resilient World
About the Authors
A few weeks ago the world learnt of the disappearance of the Bramble Cay melomys, a small Australian rodent only known to occur on a tiny coral cay off the northern tip of Australia. The finding is noted in a government report that documents how a comprehensive search for the species in 2014 had failed to detect a single animal.
The report’s authors state that the population had “almost certainly” disappeared because its habitat had been destroyed by the ocean stripping vegetation from the low-lying cay. Indeed, so close to sea level is the tiny island that it probably provided little refuge to the melomys from big weather events. The authors even suggested ocean inundation could have directly killed or carried away individual animals! It’s a tragic situation to contemplate, the final specimen of a species being washed away by a rising sea.
Thousands of species around the world are on the lip of extinction but the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys is particularly poignant in that human-induced climate change has been identified as the root cause of its demise. Sea-level rise and increased frequency and intensity of weather events have been noted as the cause of the loss of its island home.
The loss of a species of island rat does not overly concern everyone, something that is clear if you peruse the discussion threads following some of the articles on this event (for example, see Nature and The Washington Post) and many simply deny the existence of climate change (read those same discussion threads). And yet the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys should be ringing alarm bells everywhere. It’s a symbol of clear and present danger, an example of irreversible consequence and a portent of things to come.
The Bramble Cay melomys has crossed an irreversible threshold. It’s gone with no possibility of return. And with its passing, the system it was a part of has lost a natural component making it less able to cope with change and disturbance; such is the consequence of biodiversity loss.
Scientists across multiple disciplines have identified what they believe is a ‘safe’ level of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere. It is 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. This year we crossed 400 ppm. The consequences of transgressing this ‘planetary boundary’ is climate change, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. This increase in disturbance threatens to overwhelm the resilience of many species, especially those living in low areas, and the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys is but the start of this process.
Given the already devastating change to Bramble Cay it’s unlikely that the loss of melomys will have any effects on what’s left of its ecosystem. However, in more-or-less intact ecosystems the loss of species serves to erode the system’s resilience to climate change. It’s a synergistic set of secondary feedback effects making things progressively worse. Biodiversity loss makes us more vulnerable to climate change, less able to absorb the disruption it brings.
Resilience thinking helps us engage with the complexity of the world, guiding our management of ecosystems. Part of that complexity is the strength of policy feedbacks to change. Some have suggested we should have moved the last Bramble Cay melomys to some safe harbor before they were swallowed by the hungry sea. And, indeed, we should have; we’ve known they were at risk for many years. That we didn’t suggests our feedback to the challenge of climate change are inappropriate. They need to be tighter. In this case it’s resulted in the irreversible loss of a mammal species. And maybe we should seeing this rodent as a canary in the coalmine.