When people hear the word ‘resilience,’ often the first thing that comes to mind is the ability to bounce back following a personal crisis – a divorce, a major illness, the death of a loved one. And in a sense that’s what we mean, but on a much broader scale.
When we talk about resilience, we don’t mean just personal resilience. Rather we mean the resilience of systems – a set of connected things that make up a more complex whole. And for our Resilience Fellowship we specifically mean social-ecological systems and how they respond to disturbance. That means systems that include both humans and the natural world.
So resilience is the ability of a system that includes humans and the natural world to survive, adapt and thrive in the face of chronic stresses, and that also has the capacity to transform when required.
One example of such a system is how we get our food – through a system called a foodshed. While some food is grown locally, for many Americans most of the vegetables they eat come from California, their winter apples come from Washington and their pork comes from Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. And that means many things must be connected and working properly in order to get that food to your table. A drought in Central Valley, California, a Midwestern tornado or even a regional strike by truck drivers could prevent you from getting that Cobb Salad and pulled pork sandwich for dinner.
All systems face disturbance. Some don’t fare all that well when that happens, because they are not resilient. A resilient system is able to respond to disturbance while maintaining its basic function. Having resilience in our systems is important, because it allows us to function well as a society. Our Fellowship looks at what creates resilience in the systems we rely upon daily, and how best to cover resilience issues.
Systems can be large, like the food example, or small. For a major city, even a small block of apartment buildings can make up a social system containing many layers of complexity that keep those homes functioning. But the point is, systems are all around us. How those systems respond to disturbance and their ability to retain their original form is what resilience science is all about.
So what does that mean for journalists? Resilience is about the health and diversity of a community. Resilience stories are about where we live and how we live. Resilience is relevant, now more than ever.