Many of the new ideas about sustainability and resilience are nothing more than a recognition that the old ways of living are actually good, as seen today in small villages throughout Europe, Mexico, Latin America, Asia and Africa.
In our Western culture of over-consumerism, we have actually missed the opportunity of reaching any kind of sustainability. Perhaps we never have actually understood what that concept is all about. I always thought that the original sustainable development term – which was coined 20 years ago in the 1987 UN report, Our Common Future – was a total oxymoron.
Perhaps the main reason that we never got it, is that such a level of true understanding of what is at stake requires being proactive. We need to think about the implications of our lifestyle, think about consequences. Yikes, that is too much work, so why bother? It is easier just to keep on BAUing (Business As Usual) and pretend everything is fine.
As a consequence of our inaction, we are starting to see the concept of resilience replacing sustainability as a goal.
Perhaps this is because we are finally realizing that the imminent threats of global warming, climate change, overpopulation, poverty, religious wars, peak oil, food scarcity, etc. are real. So we are now talking about the need to become resilient, to be ready to cope with all the social, economic and environmental changes and challenges that are coming.
Suddenly, a sense of urgency is in the air, and there is talk about local resilience and resilient communities. If we don’t understand these concepts, and make changes necessary for a significantly different way of life, sooner or later we will be forced into facing the next level down: becoming survival communities of sorts.
The diagram tries to graph this idea. We have already missed the sustainability plateau and we are starting the descent. Maybe we can stop the fall at the resiliency plateau. If we can’t, we will then face really difficult times.
Originally published in The Watershed Sentinel, June-July 2008