Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beyond sustainability

A rapidly changing world forces us to re-examine our points of departure. The concept of sustainable development or sustainability is just one of these concepts due for a rethink. Crises breed such opportunities (see earlier post on the benefits of being gloomy) and several suggestions are currently being put forward. One of them is resilience. 

This article in Foreign Policy by Jamais Cascio at his blog Open the Future describes the concept of resilience as one the next big things. A few quotes:

Sustainability is a seemingly laudable goal, it tells us we need to live within our means, whether economic, ecological, or political but it is insufficient for uncertain times. How can we live within our means when those very means can change, swiftly and unexpectedly, beneath us?
Sustainability is inherently static. It presumes there is a point at which we can maintain ourselves and the world, and once we find the right combination of behavior and technology that allows us some measure of stability, we have to stay there.
Resilience, conversely, accepts that change is inevitable and in many cases out of our hands, focusing instead on the need to be able to withstand the unexpected. Greed, accident, or malice may have harmful results, but, barring something truly apocalyptic, a resilient system can absorb such results without its overall health being threatened.
Ultimately, resilience emphasizes increasing our ability to withstand crises. Sustainability is a brittle state: Unforeseen changes (natural or otherwise) can easily cause its collapse. Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.

Change and surprise is inevitable. We have to learn how to deal with it much better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reflecting on political loyalism in Rome

I am on a working trip in Rome and following the SA election news on a distance. Despite so much that happened in South Africa, an influencial newspaper states that no major changes are expected, despite huge discontent on the achievements of the ruling party. 

Why? Loyalism to liberation movements? Identity politics? Or just a case that most people still vote for the ruling party as there are no other options?

A participant in the meeting I am in provides some cold comfort: UK voters also voted Labour even when Tony Blair was quite unpopular.  

Back to work...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Resilience Economics

From the Open The Future Blog as quoted on Resilience Science:

Resilience economics continues to uphold the elements of previous economic models that offer continued value: freedom and openness from capitalism at its best; equality and a safety net from socialism's intent. But it's not just another form of "mixed economy" or "social democracy." The focus is on something entirely new: decentralized diversity as a way of managing the unexpected.

Decentralized diversity (what we sometimes call the "polyculture" model) means setting the rules so that no one institution or approach to solving a problem/meeting a need ever becomes overwhelmingly dominant. This comes at a cost to efficiency, but efficiency only works when there are no bumps in the road. Redundancy works out better in times of chaos and uncertainty -- backups and alternatives and slack in the system able to counter momentary failures.

It generates less wealth than traditional capitalism would, at least when it was working well, but is far less prone to wild swings, and has an inherent safety net (what designers call "graceful failure") to cushion downturns.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Systems Thinking: The Ben Okri Way

There is a famous story of a chief who ordered all the frogs to be killed because they disturbed his sleep. The frogs were killed and he slept well till the mosquitoes came and destroyed his kingdom. His people fled the realm because of the diseases the mosquito brought and what was once a proud land became an empty waste.

A passage from Infinite Riches authored by Ben Okri

He must have been inspired by Dr. Suess.