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Replacing Sustainability

Robin Kundis Craig

University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

Melinda Harm Benson

University of New Mexico

November 6, 2013

46:4 Akron Law Review 841-880 (2013)
University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 25

Since at least 1992 and the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, sustainability and sustainable development have been explicit and persistent goals for the governance and management of socio-ecological systems (SESs). However, the repeated invocation of sustainability ignores the ecological realities of the Anthropocene — biodiversity loss, increasing per capita resource consumption, and climate change. Climate change in particular makes human-focused ecological sustainability — the long-term maintenance of ecosystems, species, and natural capital in particular states that humans find most economically and socially productive — increasingly futile as a governance and management goal.

This Article argues that environmental, natural resources, and land management laws should replace goals of sustainability with resilience thinking. Unlike sustainability, resilience thinking acknowledges from the beginning that ecosystems not only change but also cross thresholds in ways that humans find unproductive. As a result, resilience thinking emphasizes that governance of SESs should focus on managing change and maintaining flexibility rather than on preservation and restoration. At the same time, however, resilience thinking allows governance systems to implement important human values such as equity while simultaneously making the costs of consumerism increasingly transparent.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 42

Keywords: sustainability, sustainable development, resilience, resilience thinking, climate change, adaptation

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Date posted: October 30, 2012 ; Last revised: January 27, 2014

Suggested Citation

Craig, Robin Kundis and Benson, Melinda Harm, Replacing Sustainability (November 6, 2013). 46:4 Akron Law Review 841-880 (2013); University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 25. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2168345

Contact Information

Robin Kundis Craig (Contact Author)
University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )
332 S. 1400 East Front
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

Melinda Harm Benson
University of New Mexico ( email )
107 Humanitites Building
Albuquerque, NM 87131-1221
United States
505-277-1629 (Phone)
505-277-3614 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.unm.edu/~mhbenson
Feedback to SSRN

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