Sustainability & Resilience

Everybody is still talking about sustainability while another terminology is entering the discourse on how future societies can become social and ecological: resilience. But which concept is behind the term resilience? Or is resilience simply “sustainability 2.0”? In this lecture, we will address diverse perspectives on ecological and social resilience and discuss them controversially.

Resilience was the theme of the fifth event of our lecture series. But what does the term resilience mean? Moderated by Susanne Ober and Veronica Gnisia from the Sustainability Office Uni Freiburg, Prof. Dr. med. Hartmut Fünfgeld first approached the historical context of the term resilience. He proposed three understandings of resilience: a technical, ecological and social one. He defines the term resilience as a collective characteristic, advocating the goal of preserving man-made systems in defiance of change. This also makes it clear that resilience is a very conservative concept since the goal is to design a system that “jumps back” into the status quo. One difficulty here is to determine which state of a system is worth preserving. Thus, the concept of resilience also lacks a vision for the transformation of the status quo. Prof. Dr. Hartmut Fünfgeld sees a further danger in that “under the guise of resilience” neoliberal ways of thinking are obscured and thus political responsibility shifted to other sections of the population (socio-economic discrepancy).

Dr. Roderich von Detten discussed resilience and sustainability from a forestry perspective, focusing his speech on the critique of sustainability discourse and linking it with a critique of resilience. He wondered how far both concepts took into account uncertainties and ignorance. The concept of sustainability creates a “vague consensus”, everything wants to be “sustainable”, harmonizing underlying uncertainties and conflicting goals rather than addressing them. The experience in the forest sector shows that the practice is always a mix of planned and unplanned, it usually comes differently than we think. According to him, the problem here is that measurements of the resilience of forests are uncertain in view of the considerable plasticity of the climate. The danger of the resilience concept consists in narrowing the discourse towards expert opinions, which define supposedly fixed threshold values ​​and thereby ignore the experiences of the practice “in most cases, what came was unexpected”. The actual resilience of forests can only be truly recognized in the future, in 30 to 100 years.