Resilience refers to the property or ability that is able to “bounce back” or recover quickly from difficulties. It can be applied widely to substances such as rubber and natural phenomena such as ecosystems as well as to institutions, societies and people. It is for example a widely recognised capability in psychology in which it refers to an individual's tendency to cope well with stress and adversity without showing negative side effects.
In a sense resilience is always “intrinsic”, or built-in. It does not require assistance or intervention to function although some external conditions will favour resilience whilst others will not. So what more are we adding to the concept of resilience when we call it “intrinsic”? The answer to this question has to do with boundaries.
“Resilience Engineering” for example represents a new way of thinking about some aspects of management. It acknowledges the new world of Primal Reporter in which networks and emergent complex interactions replace relatively simple chains of cause and effect. But Resilience Engineering is bounded by the very organisations that it manages: within our business and other organisations, it looks for ways to create processes that are robust, flexible and able to maintain the efficient use of resources in the face of disruptions or ongoing production and economic pressures. In other words Resilience Engineering shares boundaries with traditional conceptions of businesses and other organisations.
In a similar way, those who are concerned with our societies may seek to build more resilient societies that are better prepared for, and able to recover from, emergencies. Since societies are far larger and more complex than any individual organisation, this responsibility is shared widely between central and local government, emergency services, the private sector, civil society and individual communities. Hence social resilience transcends the boundaries of any specific organisation or indeed legal jurisdiction.
But for the “intrinsic” in resilience we need to go beyond even these social boundaries. Intrinsic resilience is concerned with whole world complexities. Responding to Climate Change is one such challenge for intrinsic resilience and it involves whole world complexities. The Poptech Climate Lab reports that by 2050 some 250 million people may be displaced by climate change. To put that in perspective, it means a ten-fold increase over the documented number of displaced persons we are witnessing at the moment – and that is a huge amount of disruption, stress and pain.
But climate change is not the only external pressure that we, mankind, has to face. Water, food and energy shortages no longer loom but are facts in today’s world. The forthcoming “Global Sustainable Development Report” from the United Nations (UN) argues that we need to sustain Earth, biodiversity, ecosystems, ecosystem services, resources, environment, peace, cultures, groups and places. This is such a broad list that sustainable development can be taken to be going beyond any boundaries that we have previously had to deal with in businesses, societies, nations and international organisations.
Sustainable Development is a matter of concern for all of us. It will not be sufficient to let others make the necessary changes or to think that in the long-term all will be well. Indeed some kinds of change are gradual and we will no doubt adapt in time to proceed with fairly smooth and continuous change. But some of the other kinds of change that will come with climate change and unsustainable forms of development will be sudden and chaotic with widely spread impacts:
“Evidence points to a situation where periods of such abrupt change are likely to increase in frequency and magnitude. This challenges the adaptive capacity of societies.”
So what can we do? The Stockholm Resilience Centre argues quite rightly that increased knowledge is important when coping with the stresses caused by climate change and other environmental impacts. But the centre is dealing with increasing resilience as a response to abrupt change: this contrasts most clearly with intrinsic resilience that does the same but in addition gets down to dealing with root causes.
The book Intrinsic Sustainable Development: epistemes, science, business and sustainability (Birkin & Polesie, World Scientific Press, 2011) is an exploration, both personal and objective, of the root causes of unsustainable development. It is particularly concerned with how dominant social systems such as capitalism and free-markets have distant roots in a kind of scientific understanding that has now been displaced. In essence, this mismatch between significant social institutions and new scientific realities provides an excellent explanation of the root causes of unsustainable development and climate change. The book offers alternatives to capitalism and free markets that will increase our intrinsic resilience in businesses, societies, the world at large and in ourselves.
It is however the “in ourselves” part of resilience that we wish to highlight here in this post. After all, it is ourselves, we extraordinary people, that invented capitalism, free-markets and the whole gamut of neo-classical economics that in some almost unimaginable way permits major institutions to damage and destroy whole classes of people and nature to the extent that Earth’s basic life support systems are themselves damaged.
So it is the attitudes and values of everyday, extraordinary people that we need to address at the heart of Intrinsic Resilience. To increase Intrinsic Resilience, we need to ask the question: “If we really want to make the transition to a world that is healthy, sustainable and just, what attitudes and values would we and our societies need to hold?”
This is no ephemeral question for attitudes and values determine who we are and what we do – and we need answers right now:
“For many of the world’s poorest communities, the adverse effects of climate change are no longer a future possibility; they are a present reality. The poverty, dislocation, health crises, resource conflicts, food insecurity and economic harm that climate change engenders threaten to undo many of the humanitarian and other global development gains of the past thirty years. Marginalized constituencies experience the effects of climate disruption worst and first. And among the most vulnerable are rural girls and women.”
|The World's poorest communities are the most vulnerable.|
We do have answers. It is not lucky that answers are available; nor is it a coincidence that the answers involve “intrinsic” concepts. It is a sign of the times, a sign of new understandings based on new knowledge that are now emerging, the coming Primal Age or episteme that is the over-riding subject of this blog.
What are the answers? Well there is no easy answer in the sense of a quick solution that we input into the system and all is well. The changes required are far too big and complex for that to happen. The answers are ones that will changes us, we extraordinary people, and allow us to think, develop and act in ways that increase intrinsic resilience and create more robust, stable, equitable and healthier worlds in which all of life may flourish. The answers are ones that help us to overcome some of the restraints and narrowness of day-to-day life which can create a small and mean sense of who we are, what we need and what we do. The answers are ones that gives us greater riches even though we may own less! The answers are ones that increase our motivations and rewards by increasing our sense of who we are and what we can do. The answers change people.
Take a first step towards working out your own personal yet generic answers and read, think about and begin to apply the following: