Shifting towards resilience

October 3, 2012

Professor Dennis Meadows leads REC brainstorming workshop

LEARN BY DOING: Workshop participants eagerly await further instructions from Meadows, at right. Photos: REC archive

The REC once again had the honour and privilege of welcoming Dennis Meadows, most widely known for co-authoring the seminal book Limits to Growth, first published in 1972. Professor Meadows has been and remains an outspoken proponent of the argument that current levels of economic growth are unsustainable due to the finite nature of planetary resources.

Meadows was invited to lead a week-long workshop on September 25-28, organised by the REC's Sustainable Development Academy in partnership with the Italian Trust Fund, which offered some fascinating and often quite sobering insights into the school of thought Meadows has come to represent.

The main purpose of the workshop was to reflect the growing view, within both the public and the scientific community, that there is an increasing likelihood of reaching an anthropogenically driven 'tipping point' at which the natural environment will incur irreversible harm.

TALK IT THROUGH: REC Junior Expert Sasa Solujic raises a point during a workshop group session.

Meadows began the workshop by explaining that most opportunities for alleviating the burden on planetary systems have already been squandered, and that attention must now be given to ways that will minimise the consequences of inevitable disturbances.

Within the context of present disillusionment and impending disaster, the workshop shifted emphasis to local capacity-building efforts to boost or maintain the resilience of environmental and social systems.

In a keynote speech delivered on September 25, Meadows explained that the concept of resilience refers to "the ability to continue providing essential functions after receiving a shock." This, he added, will require "out of the box" thinking and nurturing cooperation through the pursuit of mutual, long-term goals.

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED? Meadows breaks down the math of 'Fish Games,' one of his better-known simulations.

The latter portion of the workshop was devoted to numerous strategy games, developed by Meadows, which grant insight into the incentives that drive human behaviour, and glimpses at underlying solutions to common problems.

These games, or simplified scenarios, serve as helpful metaphors for what are often complex systemic issues (e.g. floods, droughts or even the euro crisis), and suggest that pragmatism and effective communication will be prerequisites for coping with future hardships.