Regrets, we’ve had a few. The latest is an acronym. Yesterday we got word that our paper on resilience theory was published. The paper explores how systems evolve under the pressure of disturbances such as climate change. Some call this resilience. We propose that eight qualities determine that resilience or evolution. In that article, they are summarized by their initials: CLARDIET.
This morning I woke up convinced I should have used a much more timely acronym to summarize the theory. CLIMATED. To get this acronym, you only have to add D for Diversity at the end of climate.
The C in the model refers to connectivity. All resilient systems are highly connected to other systems. Look at any lasting ecological system and you’ll see each individual is highly networked with other species. But they maintain independence along with that connectivity. Any component which is too dependent on any other component will die when that component dies. Toyota car production in Japan plummeted 62.7% in March 2011 after a tsunami wiped out the sole source of a crucial part.
The L refers to locally self-organized. Resilient systems organize themselves. They are not organized from outside. Regions which recover most quickly after a disaster are those where the local people are self-organized and begin their own relief efforts. Many failures of international rural development efforts and federal antipoverty programs illustrate the lack of this quality. Such efforts are often organized by well-meaning people from outside the system with little to no input from local people.
The I is for innovation. No system can change unless it has the capacity for innovation. Biological systems evolve through changes in their genetic material (the DNA/histone complexes which are your chromosomes). If these changes help the species survive and thrive, they will be passed on to the next generation. Any business will fall behind which does not have the capacity to quickly adapt and change. Just ask the buggy makers who didn’t evolve into automobile makers. But innovation in resilient systems is always conservative. Innovations do not fit within the existing system will fail. Da Vinci invented a helicopter, but it took 400 more years before the a larger system existed in which a helicopter fit.
The M in the old acronym is Redundancy, which includes Maintenance. Resilience systems replace themselves. No agricultural system will be resilient if new farmers don’t come into the system. No individual farm is resilient unless its equipment is carefully maintained. Maintenance requires that replacement parts be at hand or easily manufactured locally. The smooth functioning over time of any system requires that redundant systems be present to replace and maintain components of the system.
A is for accumulation of reserves and infrastructure. Resilient farms are more likely to have wells and reservoirs for irrigation, increasing soil quality, storage for crops, and processing equipment. Resilient ecosystems accumulate the reserves and infrastructure they need to survive. A resilient tropical forest has huge reserves of nutrients accumulated in its vegetation, just as a resilient prairie has huge reserves of nutrients stored in its soil and vegetation.
T is for transformation. Resilient systems regularly transform themselves. Nations which languish under the same leadership for generation will stultify and decline. A healthy temperate forest will have fire as part of its natural cycle of renewal.
E stands for ecologically integrated. Unless a system is integrated with the local natural ecology it cannot long survive without massive and continuous inputs from outside. The failure of Northern Europeans in Greenland was due to dependence of sheep, cattle and hay. The native Inuits resiliently relied on fish and seals which were still abundant when climate cooled and not enough forage could be grown for ruminants.
Diversity is the quality designated D. The diversity of resilient ecosystems is unbelievable–try to count the thousands of species in any shovel of healthy soil. But sometimes an increase in diversity can destroy a system. Introducing kudzu into the U.S. South seemed sensible to those who wanted a fast-growing specie palatable to grazing animals. Until it began to grow over and smother existing species. Who would have expected the harmless rabbit to wreak such havoc in Australia. Diversity only contributes to resilience when it is complementary to other component system.
Here’s the article we just got published: