The Goldilocks approach to climate adaptation

Storms and other natural disasters are as old as the earth, but their frequency and intensity have clearly increased in recent years, and with them the number of people affected. Man-made catastrophes are on the rise too, and their impacts amplified and sent around the world by our increasingly dense global interconnectivity. Some people, some communities, some nations are able to bounce back in the face of disaster. What is it that makes them resilient, and how can we learn to become resilient?

A simple definition of resilience would be a “system’s ability to mitigate and withstand disturbances and bounce back afterwards, while continuing to function”. Across the many studies of resilience, several common themes have emerged. Human and natural systems that are resilient usually have the following features:

  • diversity and redundancy
  • modularity
  • reserves
  • social capital
  • agency
  • inclusiveness
  • tight feedbacks
  • innovation

Sometimes these features are part of a trade-off – e.g. redundancy or economic efficiency – or contradict each other – e.g. diversity may bring innovation, but may also reduce social cohesion. There’s no ‘right’ recipe for resilience, especially when we consider the scale of what global resilience might look like. What we do know is that a resilient world would look very different to the one we have today.