Tag Archives: Guy Barnett

Australian Radio on Resilience

Australia’s ABC Radio show Future Tense recently had a show on Resilience Science that interviewed our colleagues Brian Walker, Guy Barnett, and Paul Ryan.

The show can be downloaded (download audio) or its transcript read online.  From the transcript:

Antony Funnell: But in a very practical sense, how does it make the situation better for the catchment authorities? Why is it preferable that they use resilience theory in their thinking, than the sort of traditional approaches that they’ve taken to solving these sorts of problems?

Paul Ryan: That’s a good question. Why should we try to bring in a new concept? Well in the past, we’ve used different approaches like sustainability as our sort of broad approach. Now sustainability as a concept is as a useful sort of catch-all, but when you really get down to it, what is sustainability? We’re not really sure what will be sustainable in the long-term. So trying to set a course or a pathway towards some sustainable point in the future, is a real challenge. What resilience thinking does is, it just brings a different perspective that says, What are the limits, for a start? Let’s understand the limits to this system so we know that all systems of people and nature that are interacting, people and their environment that are interacting. It has limits, and resilience thinking helps to identify those limits, and it says, ‘When you reach those limits, if you go beyond that, if you go over some tipping point, a threshold, if you go past that point, things will change, and they could change quite rapidly and quite unexpectedly, in ways that we don’t predict.

So resilience thinking for a start says ‘Let’s identify those limits to the system and how it operates’, and it helps us to think about how do we stay and manage within those limits? And so it’s sort of for a start, it sets the boundaries for a safe operating place, if you like.

The next question we ask is, Well what do we want to be resilient to? What are the possible things that could come along and impact on the system? And some of them are things we know a lot about – drought, bushfires, those types of things. But there’s a lot of challenges that we don’t know about, or there’s combinations of challenges. So if you think about the sorts of things that have happened in the last few years, just in Victoria alone, where I’m from. We’ve had the devastating bushfires, the drought, the global financial crisis which obviously affected the whole of Australia, we’ve had the threat of swine flu, we’ve had this combination of things that came along all at once, and we’re just not, traditionally we’re not prepared for those types of combinations of things. Resilience thinking helps us to think about those things in a structured way.

So the Catchment authorities have been dealing with lots of complexity, in all of these different issues, and our traditional approaches have been fairly one-dimensional. They assume that things will change in a fairly predictable way. Resilience thinking says things aren’t predictable, and we need to just accept that change is a really dominant part of our world, and so how do we work with that change and stay within some safe operating limits?

via Victor Galaz

Seed Magazine on Urban Resilience

Maywa Montenegro interviews our colleagues Thomas Elmqvist, Brian Walker and Guy Barnett for a long article in Seed Magazine on Urban Resilience.

The article covers many projects including the ongoing Urban Atlas Project, which aims to develop new tools for understanding the social-ecological capacity to provide ecosystem services.

The article writes Urban Resilience:

Urban centers have always been hubs of innovation, creativity, and wealth, but they are also hubs of crime, disease, and environmental pollution. Cities can be models of resource efficiency—the average Manhattanite uses only 29 percent of the energy an average American uses in a year—but they also concentrate the need for huge amounts of power, water, food, and other resources. In the developing world, cities are changing faster than scientists can understand the diverse factors driving those changes, and to complicate matters further, many of those forces operate in contradictory directions and at differing scales.

In short, cities are the quintessential complex adaptive system. Which makes them, in many ways, the perfect place to explore resilience.

Brian Walker is former program director and chair of the Resilience Alliance, a loose international coalition of natural and social scientists who, in their own words, “collaborate to explore the dynamics of social-ecological systems.” In 2005, recognizing the growing impact of urbanization, the Alliance held a series of brainstorming sessions, laying the groundwork for the “Urban Network,” based out of the Stockholm Resilience Center, an interdisciplinary research group that formed at Stockholm University in 2008.

The Urban Network has research sites in 12 cities: Bangalore, New Dehli, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Chicago, New York City, Phoenix, Canberra, Helsinki, Istanbul, and Stockholm. These cities span the globe and differ vastly in terms of culture, history, and economic development. The ultimate goal, according to Thomas Elmqvist, lead researcher of the Network, is to do a comparative analysis of these cities. How are they similar or different with respect to handling development? How do they compare it comes to withstanding shocks and surprises?

“As humans, we should try to understand how to manage systems in order to avoid passing thresholds,” says Elmqvist. But this is especially difficult in urban contexts, which have already been so transformed by humans that they’ve breached most of the thresholds ecologists are familiar with. When great expanses of concrete and steel now exist where trees and streams once did, new tipping points must be defined for places that are, as Elmqvist puts it, “already tipped.”

Case studies are now underway in each of the Network’s 12 participating cities. But in deciding what kind of data to gather, researchers have had to ask themselves: What would a city look like through the lens of resilience?


A city’s lifeblood is a continuous flow of stuff—fuel, consumer products, people, and services that enter it either actively, through human effort, or passively through natural processes like solar radiation, atmospheric currents, and precipitation. Ecologists often talk about these resource flows in terms of inputs and outputs. They’ve developed several budgetary models of accounting for them, including the well-known “ecological footprint.”

The resilience approach, according to ecologist Guy Barnett of the Urban Network’s Canberra research team, focuses less on the resources that cities consume and more on the interdependencies along the chain of supply and demand. Dependence on a single type of fuel as an energy source, for instance, creates a highly vulnerable system—especially if fuel prices are volatile or if the supply is prone to disruption.