OVER CHRISTMAS, I used my recently learned Spanish. Each time I understood a taxi driver or shopkeeper, I felt a great sense of awe. What once seemed to be a jumble of indistinguishable sounds had sub-divided into individual words. It was as if a microscope in my brain were able to bear down on the language’s component parts.

Resilience is like that for me. The topic came up in an editorial board meeting a number of years ago. Although the concept intrigued me, I couldn’t grasp the language. Our board members may as well have been speaking Mandarin. My hope is that this issue of Alternatives will make resilience theory comprehensible, and illustrate how important it is to a sustainable future.

The concept of resilience, when you get it, makes so much sense that you will wonder what all the fuss is about. You will likely realize that on a daily basis most of us practice resilience – or at least recognize that we should. We may not call it resilience, but every time you put money away for “a rainy day,” or go for an annual check up or take a vitamin, you are making yourself resilient – to a lost job, an injury or the flu.

Our authors have applied what seems obvious in financial management to ecological systems. We lead off with Dr. C.S. (Buzz) Holling, the father of resilience theory. In an exclusive interview, Holling describes our need to introduce more resilience into how we deal with environmental challenges if we are to avoid total collapse of systems. He reminds us of what happened to the East Coast cod fishery and to the Mayans to illustrate his point.

While resilience theory is fairly new to me, it has been taught in universities for some time. Much of what students learn is documented by George Francis in his article “The Hardcore Guide to Resilience.” While Francis’ presentation may daunt the uninitiated, Chris McLaughlin has put together a primer that should be “borrowed” by every undergraduate student who is studying resilience theory.

If after reading Holling’s interview, Francis’ lecture and McLaughlin’s primer, you are still not sure what resilience is all about, then consider the examples presented by Taarini Chopra (Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank) and Emily McGiffen (plant breeding). And if that doesn’t bring you up to speed, then perhaps you will delight in Andrew McMurray’s piece on “The Rhetoric of Resilience.”

We also offer you the wisdom of our columnists and our book reviewers, and we present Bruce Lourie’s undressing of Canada’s forestry policy.

Copenhagen is behind us. It’s the start of a new decade – the perfect time to introduce more resilience into our approach to climate change, biodiversity and the economy. It’s a concept that we predict will be on the mind of whoever is selected to be Earth Day Canada’s 2010 Hometown Hero. So please nominate your local environmental do-gooder for this worthy award. By supporting our visionary leaders, we build resilience and can move toward a sustainable future.

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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