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.

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