Saturday, October 1, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Imagine you are on a boat docked in calm harbor and you want to quickly carry a brim-full cup of water across a stateroom without spilling. Now imagine the same situation but with the boat in rough seas. In harbor, the solution is simple: just walk quickly, but not so quickly that the water spills. At sea, speed is a secondary concern; now the real challenge is to maintain balance on an abruptly pitching floor. The solution now is to find secure handholds and footholds and to flex your knees to absorb the roll of the boat. In harbor, the solution is a simple optimization problem (walk as fast as possible but not too fast); at sea the solution requires you to enhance your ability to absorb disturbance--that is, enhance your resilience against the waves.
"Since the time of the agricultural revolution, the problem of environmental management has been conceived to be an optimization problem, like the example of carrying the water on the boat in the harbor. We have assumed that we could manage individual components of an ecological system independently, find an optimal balance between supply and demand for each component, and that other attributes of the system would stay largely constant through time.
"But, as we learn more about ecological and human systems, these assumptions are being shattered. Ecological systems are extremely dynamic, their behavior much more like the analogy of a boat at sea. They are constantly confronted with 'surprise' events such as storms, pest outbreaks, or droughts. What is optimal for one year is unlikely to be optimal the next. And, the structure and function of the systems continually change through time (and will change even more rapidly in the future as global warming becomes an ever-stronger driver of change).
"Quite simply, the basic framework underpinning our approach to environmental management has been based on false assumptions. In a world characterized by dynamic change in ecological and social systems, it is at least as important to manage systems to enhance their resilience as it is to manage the supply of specific products. In other words, we must apply 'resilience thinking' " 
From Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World by Brian Walker and David Salt (page x-xi)


  1. The Transition Town movement, aimed at navigating a world of peak oil and climate change, that started in Ireland/England uses, I think wisely, the term resilience also.

  2. I agree, with, Anonymous also.