We hear a lot about being “Sustainable”. Most of us have some vague notion about that meaning living our lives without using up too many resources so that people in the future can live good lives too. When I think about sustainability, I think not only about those distant relatives seven generations from now … I wonder what it will take just for US to make it through the next 10, 20 or 40 years. That is where the concept of being “Resilient” comes into play alongside the notion of being sustainable … as resources get scarce and changes happen without warning, how do we continue to live productive, meaningful and steady lives?
In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined Sustainable Development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Back in 1987 (when Guns ‘N’ Roses released Appetite for Destruction, one of the greatest musical achievements of all time, in my humble opinion), practically no one wondered if there would be enough gasoline or electricity or wheat to go around. Sure, there was lots of income and wealth disparity, there were “have’s” and “have nots”, but no one thought we were pushing up against any limits to growth or that natural resources or natural systems had any scarcity.
Today, we’ve got green this and green that and rainforest certified toothpicks and soup spoons made out of corn starch that you can eat when you’re done with your Chunky Noodle. Everyone is thinking about green and sustainable, whether or not they are actually taking it seriously. Gasoline prices spiked above $4 a gallon more than once, and hang out north of $3.50. American muscle cars are beaten off the line of stoplights by Japanese hybrid electric cars that are practically silent instead of throaty, growling things. Meanwhile, “Global Weirding” has left the pages of Thomas Friedman’s books, made a devastating stop in New Orleans, and now hurricanes are cancelling Broadway Shows (hurricanes are NOT supposed to hit New York, people!). Slash is still wearing his black top hat and rockin’ out, but don’t get me started on where Axl Rose has slid down to.
The point is that we’re living it right now and those “future generations” that we’re supposed to ponder and pity and maybe save some scraps for might be our own kids or maybe even our own selves in a decade or two.
Which brings me to being Resilient. In this context, “Resilience” is a term that comes out of Ecology, and refers to the extent to which a system is able to withstand unexpected shocks or disturbances without being thrown off or losing its functionality. A resilient business is one that is energy efficient, has diversified revenue streams, multiple suppliers, back-up systems, and disaster preparedness plans in case of catastrophes like natural disasters, computer hackers, or vicious competitors. A resilient government is one that has evacuation plans, local food supplies, a vibrant local business and cultural scene, and engagement with people so that they can respond to whatever the world comes up with next. A resilient person is one who rolls with the punches, or who can effectively adapt to a new situation, or even read a blog entry written by a so-called professional who likes to reference completely random things like hard rock bands without completely losing the thread of the points being made.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an alarmist. I just want to make sure that we can collectively make it from Point A to Point B. Sustainability is great. By all means, let’s preserve resources for future generations. And at the same time, let’s make sure that we can continue to function well and without interruption on our way to those future generations.