System Resilience

Ecological systems are complex and full of variables. As demonstrated by the Bay Game in lecture it takes several factors (and players) to make the right decisions in improving, in this case, the Chesapeake Bay’s health. As one decided to either use money for more sustainable practices or more conventional methods, the consequences and results were recorded and charted over time. In this game, the bay’s optimum health was the ultimate goal of each team, and in each round of the game there proved to be some drastic changes. However, systems are not all about changes. Resilience is also an important property of a system.

According to Brian Walker and David Salt, resilience is “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, and feedbacks”. It is the ability of a system to roll with the punches, so to speak, in order for the system to retain its identity.

Lastly. Resilience is also not a static property, it is dynamic. As Walker and Salt have described, resilience is “not about not changing”. In fact, if a system were to be stubbornly only one way, it would have poor adaptability in the event of a radical disturbance. Thus, “being resilient requires changing within limits -in fact probing those limits”.

One example of poor resilience brought up by the Metropolis blog, is the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan that worked smoothly until the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2010. Based on a 1960’s US nuclear reactor model, it depended on an electric emergency cooling system. However when electricity failed, the reactors melted. Ecological disasters such as this one in 2010 go to show the unpredictability of transformations in nature and the inherent need for resilience to survive through them.


Brian Walker and David Salt, Resilience Practice: Building Capacity to Absorb Disturbance and Maintain Function