(3) About protecting human well-being within ongoing changes to the environment and human society
.... or designing a resilient social-ecological system
The resilience approach falls within the broad, emerging field of sustainability science, a research area that seeks to understand the interactions between nature and society in order to cope with pressing sustainability challenges.
Social-ecological resilience, the other name for evolutionary resilience, emphasises the way this concept grasp people and nature as interdependent systems.
Its necessary to mention that in social-ecological systems resilience can include the persistence of existing patterns which is not necessarily always a good thing, depending on how appropriate the patterns of organisation and behaviour are that we are ‘bouncing back to’. The resilience of some of the outdated systems we have created can actually resist transformative innovation and prolong patterns that are destructive.
What is concrete benefit of using the resilience concept for creating a better human well-being? Or, considering the mentioned negative impact of resilience, is there a right and wrong use of the resilience concept?
The shortest answer is that the resilience perspective can guide the shifts of the laws, regulations and policies from those that aspire to control change in systems assumed to be stable, towards the laws, regulations and policies that manage the capacity of social–ecological systems to cope with and adapt to change.
The thing what we shouldn’t miss in the process is the direction we want to go towards to. Losing the direction is the biggest trap after collapse in functioning of the system.
In this spirit, I see in a Chapter Sixty-four of ancient Tao Te Chin great advice for any decision making process:
It is easy to preserve when things are stable.
It is easy to plan ahead when things have no yet occurred.
If one waits until the affair has begun,
Then the situation is as brittle as ice that easily cracks and is fragile that easily shatters.
Take actions before things occur.
Manage before things get out of order.
Evolutionary, of social-ecological resilience helps build the society that doesn’t presume saving a imaginary equilibrium, but increases its ability to effectively cope with the change. Can you talk about how these policies, and laws, and regulations should look like?
To create policies that can design resilient social–ecological system, we should consider three main characteristics of a resilience of system.
First one is our understanding of amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain within the same state or domain. For example, what is the highest urban population density for infrastructure to be functional? How many funds can company loose in order for to keep functioning?
Second is the degree to which the system is capable of self-organisation, versus lack of organisation, or organisation forced by external factors. In other words, is there enough knowledge and connections within a community, governance network or company to self-organise after the change in the leadership, natural disasters, laws, or fundings?
Last is the degree to which the system can build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation. Are there enough opportunities to create and share knowledge? Is there enough diversity of knowledge? Is there enough capacity to drop the “equilibrium” that is no longer working, like eternal economic growth?
The right policies can be designed if we are able to estimate the current degree of those characteristics, and then pursue increasing each one of them. One of the biggest challenges of the resilience science right now is to develop reliable methods to increase ability to self organise, and capacity for learning and adaptation in interconnected human and ecological systems.
I see the one of the promising approaches in using actor network theory, and adaptive complex systems theory, on which I was working on in past few years.