Resilience

A social-ecological perspective of environmental security stresses adaptability and learning through thoughtful probing. Emphasis needs to be placed both on dealing with threats and hazards, and on human response to risk. Encouraging risk-adverse behavior or discouraging risk-prone behavior is more effective than simplistic schemes intended to reduce hazard. The reason for this is that people tend to engage in more risky behavior, if they perceive a more secure environment (risk homeostasis).

There can be large differences among countries, in terms of the causes of fragility and coping capacity. The root causes, where choices exist, arise from (1) how we perceive and respond to risk, (2) how we relate to the natural environment, and (3) our values.

Our present system of economic values is based upon a static view, and it is heavily influenced by wealth and power distributions of the status quo. In contrast, the evolutionary basis of our biological insight stresses adaptation and response to changing conditions.

The flip side of fragility, which is resilience, requires greater attention than is given at the moment for addressing environmental security issues. In its current form, resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same identity, function, structure, and feedbacks. Resilience and fragility are inversely related to each other. Because SESs are complex and exhibit chaotic behavior, to cope with environmental threats optimal solutions do not exist, as it is difficult to learn general lessons from several local cases, whereas we need to know trends at different scales. Both holistic solutions and cultural change are necessary to reduce risk and improve environmental security.

The current state of understanding how to measure and manage for resilience in SESs can be approached with a set of scenarios and simple models to guide in the identification and manipulation of the system's resilience on an ongoing basis and during times of crisis. This process emphasizes the chaos created by disasters (take the recent New Orleans flood as example), and the means by which people move to rational decision making, either through research or bargaining, depending upon what is known or unknown.

In this approach, the sustainability of any particular state depends on the properties of the stability domain corresponding to that state. Ecological sustainability is often described in terms of the resilience of the system, and that implies also the capacity to manage environmental security.

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