Australia 21 organized conference Shaping Australia’s Resilience: Policy development for uncertain futures (18-19 February 2010) at Australian National University in Canberra. They quote my colleagues Steve Cork, who recently editted a book for Australia 21 – Brighter prospects: Enhancing the resilience of Australia). Australia’s ABC news covered the start of the conference in Experts call for ‘resilience thinking’:
[Steve Cork says] the typical society relies on centralised networks that are vulnerable to threats.
“It’s all dependent on one or a few people or agencies. If they collapse then the whole system collapses,” says Cork.
Professor Peter Newman of the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute in Fremantle says most cities are not built for resilience.
“At the moment our resource consumption is all based on infrastructure that is highly centralised,” says Newman, who will address the Canberra conference.
“You have big power plants that pump electricity across hundreds of kilometres, and you have big water supply schemes and big pipes in and big pipes out.”
Newman says recent events showed how vulnerable this made the Western Australian capital of Perth, which suffered an economic blow after the natural gas pipeline that supplies it was cut by an explosion.
“The city had no gas virtually for six months,” says Newman, who has recently co-authored a book detailing seven principles of sustainable cities.
“Industry basically had to close down for that period.”
Newman says a more resilient city would consist of smaller interconnected components, which were largely self-sufficient, collecting renewable energy and re-using it locally.
“If you cut the gas supply to the city, as occurred in Perth, the city can go on because it has all these other components.”
Newman says “distributed” energy and better public transport would help decrease dependence on fossil fuels, reduce energy waste, and improve the liveability of cities.
Natural resource management
Cork points to how resilience thinking is being applied to natural resource management.
He says the Federal Government is now providing most of the funding for conservation and better land management.
“So whether the Federal Government gets its policy right or wrong will determine the whole outcome. That’s not a resilient situation,” says Cork.
He says people at the local level need to be given more authority to detect change and make decisions, because they have a better idea of what is going on in the field.
“You don’t send an army into the field and wait for generals to make all the decisions. You give people in the field the authority to make decisions,” says Cork.
Cork says studies of personal resilience show the ability to recover from a serious illness, for example, is linked to a sense of personal control.
“And yet our health system is all about taking that control away from you.”