Resilience Thinking – seeking a safe living space for humanity

Resilience Thinking 

TreeSong Jinan,  sucrose Series,  (3.7.3.b) Niamh Cunningham 瑞连 2020

Resilience is the capacity to be able to deal with change, to live with change, to make use of change , not just incremental change but also sudden shocks and crises and develop the ability to turn those crises into opportunities.

When we acknowledge we are in the driving seat of change and defining the conditions for world development, this profoundly shifts our potential in terms of our social well being , development and economic growth. And so we are able to look at the Anthropocene directly in the eye and deal with it in a more manageable way.

Having completed the Planetary Boundaries on line course presented by the SDG academy (all of the lecturers are from the Resilience Centre in Stockholm.) I wanted to mull over some of the things I have been thinking about.

The nine boundaries begin with the three main large scale processes : climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion and ocean acidification. Slow variables are biodiversity loss, interference with nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, changes in land use and fresh water use. The last two are heavily human induced chemical pollution and aerosol loading.











I discovered more about positive and negative feedbacks , regime changes , tipping points and to a more limited extent the interactions between boundaries.The main presenter Johan Rockström raises the chilling concept of the Quadruple Squeeze . These include Affluence and Population, the second is Climate Change crisis , the third is the Loss of our Ecosystems ability to buffer the changes (such as carbon buffers in seas) and the fourth is Surprise leading to tipping points where there is an ‘abrupt knock out’ after a period of resilience.


There is no doubt that we are facing the largest and fastest transformation in the history of humanity . We are the first generation to witness the changes directly and the last generation to have the capacity to exert meaningful change to these biospherical processes. 


Even though delivery of the talks are brief and persuasive it makes it easier to absorb the weight of the content.  One of the lecturers Gary Peterson whom I view as an eco philosopher spoke on resilience thinking. He explained the use of optimization can only be used when we know the variables.

Resilience Thinking , Niamh Cunningham 2020


In order to act collectively there needs to be shared ability and shared trust. We need social, technical and institutional ways to enable new understandings which cope with uncertainty and the evolution of new things. Ways in supporting the Biosphere underpins our wealth and our wellbeing

However simply increasing resilience is not the issue, we also need to consider where resilience is harmful. Understanding circumstances when  increasing resilience in one thing can decrease resilience in something else. We need to understand what creates , destroys and trades off these things and also not focus simply on increasing resilience but what kind of resilience do we want to increase. For example the fossil fuel economy is amazingly resilient, we need to reflect how can we undermine the resilience of these things? 




The course can be taken free of charge on EdX  platform