The Post Carbon Institute based in California have just published this excellent article on security and resilience in a post carbon world. Although the article mainly discusses the issue from an American perspective, it does hold a lot of gems for us to think about in Skerries. Specifically David Orr’s definition of resilience is one which captures the whole idea in one succinct paragraph.

“Sustainability, in short, must be the domestic and strategic imperative for the twenty-first century. Its chief characteristic is resilience — a concept long familiar to engineers, mathematicians, ecologists, designers, and military planners — which means the capacity of the system to “absorb disturbance; to undergo change and still retain essentially the same function, structure, and feedbacks” (Walker and Salt, 2006, p. 32; Lovins and Lovins, 1983, chapter 13; Lovins, 2002). Resilient systems are characterized by redundancy so that failure of any one component does not cause the entire system to crash. They consist of diverse components that are easily repairable, widely distributed, cheap, locally supplied, durable, and loosely coupled. In Joshua Ramo’s words: “studies of food webs or trade networks, electrical systems and stock markets, find that as they become more densely linked they also become less resilient; networks, after all, propagate and even amplify disturbances” (Ramo, p. 198). In practical terms, resilience is a design strategy that aims to reduce vulnerabilities, often by shortening supply lines, improving redundancy in critical areas, bolstering local capacity, and solving for a deeper pattern of dependence and disability. The less resilient the country, the more military power is needed to protect its far-flung interests and client states — hence the greater the likelihood of wars fought for oil, water, food, and materials. But resilient societies need not send their young to fight and die in far-away battlefields, nor do they need to heat themselves into oblivion.”

One unfortunate example of how important resilience is in maintaining our highly linked global economy is the effect the Japanese earthquake and tsunami has had on the supply chain and distribution networks across the world. Even now months after the tsunami, the tightly linked, Just In Time supply chains have shortages in vital industrial components that go to make everything from specialist batteries to electronic aircraft components. A loosely connected local food supply system, not reliant on external electrical power or oil based fertilisers and pesticides has a much better chance of withstanding a national energy shock such as an oil or gas shortage. So keep growing in your back or front garden or in your allotment. Try as many organic methods as possible. Support local business’ where it makes sense. And if it doesn’t make sense, tell your local business why, is it price, service or quality? Reuse your grey water for watering plants, collect rainwater and improve your water resilience. Get out the bike and cycle down to the shops, it saves you money, is healthier and you get to say hello to your friends and neighbours as your flying along at a sedate 10 mph.

See you up at the allotments.