Sustainability or Resilience?

Do you feel tension?  No, not emotional tension, the intellectual kind.  Does intellectual tension invigorate you?  It invigorates us at Save the Redwoods League.  There is a debate among conservationists:  should our goal be sustainability or resilience?

At Save the Redwoods League, we protect ancient redwood groves to help sustain the planet.  Redwood forests are, perhaps, the greatest carbon sink on the planet.  So, we are a sustainability organization.

We're trying a variety of restoration techniques at Mill Creek.
We’re trying a variety of restoration techniques at Mill Creek.

Yet, we also study the redwood forest and use the results to guide our restoration work, thus helping the resilience of the redwood forest as the earth and its climate undergo change.

Our conservation work addresses both sustainability and resiliency.

The tension between these two approaches is the subject of Andrew Zolli’s thought-provoking article, “Good-bye Sustainability, Hello Resilience,” in the Spring 2013 issue of Conservation Magazine.

According to Zolli, sustainability advocates assert that humans should seek a lasting equilibrium with our planet by employing “the right mix of incentives, technology substitutions, and social change.”  In contrast, Zolli argues that chasing sustainability is futile.  The planet is always changing and always trying to adapt to change.  “(W)here sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage an imbalanced world,” Zolli writes.

Which approach is best?  The League employs both.  Our work is a constant experiment; we recognize the tension and use it to motivate our work.  Protecting the redwood forest requires a dual focus, a focus on both sustainability and resilience.

Leave a comment and tell us what do you think!

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About Harry Pollack


Harry joined Save the Redwoods League’s staff in 2011 as the General Counsel. He brings over 30 years of experience in the fields of law and real estate transactions.

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One Response to “Sustainability or Resilience?”

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    John Mel

    You are absolutely right in your balance of thinking, the two aspects of conservation go hand in glove, in the end it matters not how we define our efforts, but that our efforts are beneficial to this earth, and life in all its amazing diversity. We are with you in our hearts and appreciate all your endeavours and hard work as guardians of the forest sanctuaries.

    John Mel

    The Sanctuary Network


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