Resilience and Sustainability

Resilience and Sustainability: One needs to embrace the concepts of resilience and sustainability in order to safeguard and rebuild communities and institutions on an increasingly coupled human-environment system.

Resilience and Sustainability

One needs to embrace the concepts of resilience and sustainability in order to safeguard and rebuild communities and institutions on an increasingly coupled human-environment system (Liu et al. 2007)
These concepts are the result of the realization that these systems are dynamic and intertwined by nature.

The concept of sustainability

The Brundtland Commission placed a strong emphasis on the idea of sustainability in 1987. Sustainability is defined as the capacity of a system or human activity to satisfy the needs of the present generation while also safeguarding the environment and its resources for future generations.
Consequently, sustainable activities are those that do not harm or deplete the environment or natural resources. The goal of sustainable development is to serve the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations. Sustainability is measured by high resilience and low vulnerability. As soon as resilience is lost, vulnerability appears (Holling, 1995).
Resilience and Sustainability
Resilience and Sustainability

The concept of resilience

Resilience is the capacity of an organism to withstand or recover from challenging circumstances, as well as the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb shocks and return to its pre-disturbed state after being disturbed (Walker et al. 2004). After absorbing disturbances, stability is a gauge of how quickly a system returns to equilibrium or a state of balance. Systems with high resilience but low stability may experience significant and frequent changes while still operating, whereas systems with high stability but low resilience may experience minimal change during disturbances before abruptly collapsing. It is more crucial to focus on system recovery rather than recovery time.
According to Folke et al. (2003), a number of factors, including top-down effects (removal of functional groups of species and their response diversity), bottom-up effects (impact of waste and pollution on ecosystems), climate change, and changes in the size, frequency, and duration of disturbances have all contributed to humans’ reduced ability to adapt ecosystems to change over time. The vulnerability of the ecosystems is increased by this human-caused loss of resilience.

Definitions of resilience

There are various definitions for resilience. Physical resilience describes risk-resistant or adaptive systems that, even under stress, maintain their structure and functions. According to Seixas and Berkes (2003: 272), “The resilience of an ecosystem is its capacity to absorb disturbances while maintaining its behavioral processes and structure.”
Resilience and Sustainability
Resilience and Sustainability

What is ecological resilience?

Ecological resilience is defined as the amount of change an ecosystem can experience while remaining in the same regime, retaining the same structure, function, and feedbacks. It can be characterized as having the ability to self-organize, to adapt and learn, and to withstand disturbances. “In general, a system’s resilience is defined as its capacity to withstand turbulence, its capacity to return to its initial conditions, and its capacity to adapt to changing contexts.

Conceptualization of social resilience

To conceptualize social resilience, these definitions can be applied to social systems. According to Adger (2000), social resilience is defined at the community level rather than the individual level; it is associated with the social capital of societies and communities; it is institutionally determined; and it can be examined through indicators like institutional change, economic structure, and demographic change, as well as by observing the positive and negative aspects of social exclusion, marginalization, and social capital. Communities that depend on the commons, such as pastoral and nomadic ones, are one example of social resilience.
These communities and their customs were labeled as “vanishing tribes” during colonial times and were viewed through the lens of social evolution. These communities have, however, demonstrated an exceptional capacity to absorb ecological stress and adapt to shifting conditions (Kavoori 2005).
Resource-dependent communities, or those that depend primarily on their physical environment and resources for survival, are particularly susceptible to external stresses and shocks, including environmental changes as well as social, economic, and political changes or disturbances (ibid). In these communities, the links between social and ecological resilience are quite evident. For instance, O’Brien et al. (2004) claim that different regions of Indian agriculture exhibit different vulnerabilities as a result of climate change and economic globalization.
In general, it would be useful to look into actions that can lessen their vulnerability and boost resilience given the interconnectedness of socio-ecological systems.
Resilience and Sustainability
Resilience and Sustainability
Four measures were described by Berkes et al. (2003: 354–355):
a) becoming accustomed to change and uncertainty;
b) nurturing diversity for reorganization and renewal – fostering ecological memory, sustaining social memory;
c) combining various types of knowledge for learning; and
d) providing opportunities for self-organization – matching ecosystem and governance scales and addressing cross-scale dynamics.
Folke (2006) also views resilience as a set of processes for learning, adapting, and innovating, all of which help social and ecological systems be more sustainable. As a crucial step toward sustainable development, it is important to further examine resilience as the capacity to learn from change, a capacity for renewal and reform, and the role of individuals and institutions in it (see Gunderson et al 1995).
Given that social-ecological systems only have a few mechanisms that allow them to survive but are still susceptible to human influence and environmental change, this forces one to reevaluate efforts toward sustainability. It is still unclear how to ensure sustainable development, which is already recognized to be a contradiction in terms (see Redclift 2005), without pushing the boundaries of human adaptability and the resilience of nature.
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