beyond sustainability: on systems evolving to absorb shocks

egg brittle

Jamais Cascio wonders how we can live within our means when those means can change beneath us, sometimes swiftly and unexpectedly (via foreignpolicy).

According to Cascio, sustainability is not enough if it is seen as "the right combination of behavior and technology that allows us some measure of stability".

"A sustainable world can avoid imminent disaster, but it will remain on the precipice until the next shock", says Cascio.

Cascio's solution? Shoot for resilience, instead, and "accept that change is inevitable and in many cases out of our hands, focusing instead on the need to be able to withstand the unexpected."

The key, says Cascio, is "avoiding being trapped on a losing path."

Cascio lists 8 principles of resilience that might guide how choices are made and how systems are created:

  1. Diversity: Not relying on a single kind of solution means not suffering from a single point of failure.
  2. Redundancy: Backup, backup, backup. Never leave yourself with just one path of escape or rescue.
  3. Decentralization: Centralized systems look strong, but when they fail, they fail catastrophically.
  4. Collaboration: We're all in this together. Take advantage of collaborative technologies, especially those offering shared communication and information.
  5. Transparency: Don't hide your systems; transparency makes it easier to figure out where a problem may lie. Share your plans and preparations, and listen when people point out flaws.
  6. Fail gracefully: Failure happens, so make sure that a failure state won't make things worse than they are already.
  7. Flexibility: Be ready to change your plans when they're not working the way you expected; don't count on things remaining stable.
  8. Foresight: You can't predict the future, but you can hear its footsteps approaching. Think and prepare.

Bottom line, according to Cascio: "The goal of resilience is to thrive."

So, if we've been thinking of sustainability as something static, we gotta think again.

First published 21 Apr 09

Published by Ken on May 17th, 2010 tagged Island Ecosystems

One Response to “beyond sustainability: on systems evolving to absorb shocks”

  1. supak Says:

    John Robb says we can use the net, especially open source social networking like Diaspora, for a lot of the goals, to create resilient communities. If only we had backups for the net!