Robin Kundis Craig
University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
Melinda Harm Benson
Geography & Environmental Studies
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
Date posted: October 30, 2012 ; Last revised: January 27, 2014