Replacing Sustainability

42 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2012 Last revised: 27 Jan 2014

See all articles by Robin Kundis Craig

Robin Kundis Craig

USC Gould School of Law

Melinda Morgan

Geography & Environmental Studies

Date Written: November 6, 2013


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.

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

Suggested Citation

Craig, Robin Kundis and Morgan, Melinda, 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:

Robin Kundis Craig (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Melinda Morgan

Geography & Environmental Studies

Albuquerque, NM 87131-1221
United States

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