What is Resilience?

Building resilience is the cornerstone of the Transition Movement. By “resilience,” we mean our ability to flex and adapt through the changes ahead. Specifically, this means the ability to adapt to peak oil and climate change, simultaneously, combined with economic circumstances that will render large-scale capital investment unrealistic.

When considered separately, peak oil and climate change each have a set of possible solutions. Yet many of the possible solutions to peak oil – switching to coal, for example – are unthinkable for global warming. And many of the proposed solutions to global warming – switching to electric cars, or the “hydrogen economy” – are severely constrained by how much cheap oil we will have on hand to put the infrastructure in place and whether we will have sufficient economic support for the massive conversion.

Taken together, the “triple header” crisis dictates a very small pool of potential solutions. Realistic solutions are not likely to include continued globalization; we simply will not have the fuel to maintain it. The most resilient solutions tend to be simple, local, and small scale and demand few resources and little in the way of energy inputs. This set of solutions has been variously described as “energy descent”  or “powerdown.”  In any event, the crises we face have already determined that our future will inevitably be one of less energy consumption overall.

Within Transition initiatives, building resilience means growing our local ability to meet the everyday needs of life despite fewer resources and less energy with which to do it. The goal is that local communities become more flexible, robust, and skilled. Thus rather than campaigning for “clean-fuel” trucks to bring our food from globalized supply networks to supermarkets, resilience-thinking guides a Transition initiative to expand its local skill base and develop the local food network through urban agriculture and edible landscaping. Rather than massive-scale solar projects in a grid across the desert, resilience-thinking highlights the wisdom of small, community-owned solar arrays while simultaneously powering down our electricity demands to a minimal level which matches what can be generated locally. Rather than one-size-fits-all, resilience-thinking points to local culture, local abilities, and local resources as the core of practical answers.

The term “sustainability” has become far less useful. In order to achieve a state of human existence which might potentially be able to be sustained for a long period of time, powerdown must come first. Given our North American and developed-nations ecological footprint, we must substantially adjust our consumption habits to bring them within the carrying capacity of the planet. When the word “sustainability” is used in a context that excludes the concept of powerdown – for example the oxymoron “sustainable prosperity” – it becomes completely useless as a target for basic human survival. Additionally, attaining true societal sustainability is such a long-term prospect that big-picture thinkers such as David Holmgren estimate that those of us alive today will never see it, and it implies such a static state that thinkers such as Transition Colorado’s Don Hall hope we never do.

“Resilience,” on the other hand, is imbued with the vibrancy of life. The term brings up images of a kid bouncing on a trampoline, able to rebound easily and delightfully with the changing surface beneath him. Resilience is simultaneously robust and flexible. Resilience is exhilarating creativity. Resilience is diversity of approaches and multiplicity of solutions. And resilience-building contains “the potential for an economic, cultural, and social renaissance the likes of which we have never seen.”

This is an excerpt from an article which was written for a university forum for the urban studies and planning communities.  The full text of the article is on Joanne's personal blog.

Read a list of "Resilience Indicators" begun by Rob Hopkins in The Transition Handbook and expanded upon by Transition Los Angeles.

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