What is the difference between a resilient and non-resilient system?
Resilient systems display the following characteristics.
- Are composed of a variety of components (diversity)
- Components are highly interconnected and mutual
- Components are both horizontally and vertically integrated
- Display high levels of redundancy (if one component fails, another is available to substitute)
- Display high levels of information and so able to change quickly while maintaining production
Our current form of turf management is based upon the philosophy of “optimization”, which seeks to optimize the production of a single or few product/s, such as green short grass, without concern for the how the optimization will affect the other components (soils, water, economies, food production, nutrient regulation, etc. ) in the system. The optimization can achieve high levels of green grass production, but it also forces us to become over-dependent on a few products.
Likewise, optimization requires an increasing amount of raw materials as feedstock, while producing an increasing amount of waste products needed to be expelled. The feeding and expelling erodes away at the other components in the system, until a threshold is reached, and the entire system crashes.
Current turf management is focused on providing the perfect lawn, short green grass. (RSS is also designed to achieve short green grass, if that’s the objective, but in a completely different way, one that pays for management instead of costing.
For example, in our current agricultural (food) systems, farmers seek to optimize one or two products, such as corn and soy. Everything on the farm is soon invested in growing corn and soy. Likewise, the local towns also become over invested in helping the farms grow nothing else but corn and soy. So what happens to the farms and rural communities if an external shock disallows production of corn and soy? The entire corn-soy system collapses, farms and villages are lost. This type of shock could come in several forms such as prolonged drought or wetness, depressed market prices, pestilence and disease, and even by public perception of the environmental cost (land and water) for optimizing corn and soy. You could say that through the process of optimization and over-complexification (building a house of cards), our food producing systems based on corn and soy are non-resilient.
Building a house of cards and loss of autonomy:
Science & industry drive optimization by constantly seeking ways to out-pace minor shocks to the system. In so doing, we over-complexifiy and construct a house of cards while losing our autonomy to make decisions based on local knowledge. Instead, we follow the directions on the label and work the land for the man (industry).
- To combat corn-root borer, science genetically modified corn to be toxic (hopefully to just the corn-root borer).
- To reduce tilling and soil erosion, science genetically modified corn to be resistant to pesticides. Industry patented the toxic pesticide resistant corn seed and now every farmer buys the same seed and follows the same planting instructions.
- The new corn requires more nitrogen (ammonia anhydrous).
- Because of its toxicity, ammonia anhydrous is produced in only the poorest third world countries and shipped by boat and train to where corn is grown.
- Farmers apply ammonia anhydrous losing 40-75% waterways destroying productive fisheries
- Depressed commodity prices are combated by government subsidies.
- Subsidies inspire more corn growing, bigger farms, and growing outside its range, achievable only through intense irrigation, more fertilizer, more pesticides and government crop insurance.
- Bigger machinery is necessary to plant more acres
- Bigger machinery requires bigger bank loans
- Land price soar
But what happens if a drought like the 1930s strikes the corn-belt for several season in a row? Or what if a virus finds the new GMO corn defenseless? Or public perception of corn syrup, confined animal feeding operations, ethanol and the environmental costs of growing corn sour?
A more resilient foods production system would include a variety of crops and breeds. This diversity allows food production despite shocks to the system. Likewise, each farmer can choose what crops and breeds to sow and grow based on the farmers knowledge, and not on an industry standard. Towns supporting a more diverse agriculture have a greater diversity of support services. Instead of every job based on corn!, now there are many types of jobs, many of which may support value added products creating whole new sources of wealth.
Carpenter,S., B. Walker, J. M. Anderies, and N. Abel. 2001. From metaphor to measurement: Resilience of what to what? Ecosystems 4:765-781.
Holling, C. S. 1973. Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 4:1-23.
Holling, C. S. 1996. Engineering resilience versus ecological resilience. Pages 31-44 in P. Schulze , editor. Engineering within ecological constraints. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
Scheffer, M., S. Carpenter, J. A. Foley, C. Folke, and B. Walker. 2001. Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature 413:591-596.
Walker, B., S. Carpenter, J. Anderies, N. Abel, G. Cumming, M. Janssen, L. Lebel, J. Norberg, G. D. Peterson, and R. Pritchard. 2002. Resilience management in social-ecological systems: a working hypothesis for a participatory approach. Conservation Ecology 6(1): 14. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol6/iss1/art14