Author Archive

Podcast of Prof. Folke’s Q&A session

When there is a crisis, things are breaking down but opportunities are also opening up. The question is who is coming into that arena and making choices of what to do?

Podcast of Prof. Folke’s lecture

My talk is going to concentrate a lot on what we call ‘reconnecting to the biosphere’. How can we reconnect our own actions and activities to start collaborating with the planet to enhance the likelihood of a good life for people on Earth?

Wherefore resilience?

By John Zablocki

Resilience. The term has now grown common in discussions of ecology, with leading environmental NGOs such as the World Wildlife Foundation touting it as a primary management goal. But what does resilience actually mean? Director of Oxford University’s Biodiversity Institute, Professor Kathy Willis explored the concept of resilience in her 2012 Linacre Lecture, “Planning for ecological resilience on landscapes: the importance of the past to plan for the future.” Her work deciphering paleo-ecological records, to determine what has driven ecosystem changes in the past, has led to a greater understanding of how to approach ecosystem management today. Often what we thought was human-induced change, such as the conversion of littoral forest in Madagascar to a heath-dominated system, has turned out to be driven by natural factors. Identifying what actually drives ecosystem change is essential to prioritizing management and conservation efforts. The idea of “resilience” as Professor Willis defines it, fits into this paradigm. A “resilient” ecosystem is a system which can withstand disturbance and return to its previous functionality without transitioning to an alternative stable state. In the discussion that followed her lecture, she emphasized the slippery slope of nebulousness when the term “resilience” is used outside of this context. Applying the term to individual species, for example, changes the meaning of the word and can lead to confusion with other processes such as organism adaptation and behavioral plasticity. Resilience is undoubtedly a key concept for the future of ecology, yet there remains much confusion about what is meant by it, both within and outside the scientific community. The ongoing work of Professor Willis and her colleagues provides crucial insights which must to be taken into account when attempting to clarify our terms of discussion.

Can we decouple sociological from ecological resilience?

During Prof. Willis’ Q&A session, it was called into question whether sociological and ecological resilience are necessarily in harmony, and a picture was painted of a society so technologically advanced that it didn’t need to draw on natural resources in order to maintain itself. Indeed such a state of being is so desirable, it’s almost hard to imagine what it could look like. And while it’s certainly worth aspiring to, the current state of affairs is such that even the most affluent countries are far from achieving it.

Meanwhile, less technologically-integrated communities, which often depend more directly on the environment for their well-being, are demonstrating considerable resourcefulness in furthering the resilience of their localities. In An Environmentalism of the Poor, Liz Fouksman of The Oxonian Review  explores the fascinating case of Beliqo, a pastoralist community in Kenya that is tapping into human knowledge networks and legal structures in order to enable eco-cultural preservation of their community and habitat: http://www.oxonianreview.org/wp/an-environmentalism-of-the-poor/

Podcast of Prof. Willis’ Q&A session

[Resilience] is now a CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) target and they’ve only got 18 targets … So clearly it isn’t just a wacky idea that a few conservationists are thinking about. It’s now firmly within government policy.

Podcast of Prof. Willis’ lecture

I’m sure every single speaker who talks on resilience over the next six weeks will give you a slightly different definition, and I think in some ways that is one of the problems that we have to address: the whole question of what do we mean by resilience?

More on the creation of a ‘sense of place’

Both in his lecture and the Q&A, Prof. Chapin discussed the influence of a ‘sense of place’ in leveraging stewardship.

For those interested in how to go about establishing such a sentiment, here is a talk by Prof. Nabeel Hamdi, author of The Placemaker’s Guide to Building Community and founder of the Masters in Development Practice at Oxford Brookes University. Hamdi emphasises, amongst other things, the importance of participatory planning in effectively creating a sense of belonging. Although his focus is on the urban environment, the principles outlined herein can similarly be adopted for fostering a sense of connection to nature, particularly in those who live apart from it.

And a case study in what happens when it all goes wrong: this TEDTalk by James H. Kunstler amusingly showcases the lack of civic design American suburbia. Thanks to John Zablocki for sharing this with me!