Sustainability and Community Resilience: The Importance of Time

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Sustainability and Community Resilience


The Importance of Time

To introduce this second article from Dr. John Plodinec on the subject of Sustainability and Community Resilience, we must first reference the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory – CARRI – definition of Community Resilience:

Definition of Community Resilience


The capability to anticipate risk, limit impact, and bounce back rapidly through survival, adaptability, evolution, and growth in the face of turbulent change.

When a community is truly resilient, it should be able to avoid the cascading system failures to help minimize any disaster’s disruption to everyday life and the local economy.  A resilient community is not only prepared to help prevent or minimize the loss or damage to life, property and the environment, but also it has the ability to quickly return citizens to work, reopen businesses, and restore other essential services needed for a full and swift economic recovery.

We took as our basis a simple economic rationale:  communities have a quantifiable level of functional capacity.  In a situation such as a natural or man-made disaster that capacity declines at a rate and to a depth that is largely dependent on the nature of the disruption, the community’s level of preparedness for that specific disruption, and the rapidity and effectiveness of that response.  More importantly, the recovery rate from the disruption largely depends on those same factors.
By Dr. John Plodinec, Firestorm Expert Council Member.  John is the Associate Director for the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In this role, he is responsible for identifying and evaluating technologies useful for enhancing community resilience. He also is playing a leading role in development of CARRI’s Community Resilience System. He has been heavily involved with CARRI’s engagement with the Charleston, SC, region. Read more about Dr. Plodinec here

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, fear of the apocalypse seems to be driving some of what’s being done in the name of resilience.

The Transition Town movement and John Robb’s Resilient Community blog are both based on a presumed death of globalization, and a tumbling down Peak Oil to a valley of unknown depth.

Those John-the-Baptists who are proclaiming the coming apocalypse go on to preach from the Book of Sustainability as the Path to Resilience in the face of what’s coming.

I won’t assess any of their suggested actions – many I find useful, some I find silly, and some are likely counterproductive – but I do want to examine the relationship between resilience and sustainability.

Is a sustainable community resilient?


Is a resilient community sustainable?


Are resilience and sustainability at opposite ends of a continuum, or at right angles to each other?

Right away, we’re confronted by a huge difficulty – both sustainability and resilience have become fads, so both words have become very imprecise concepts.

The dictionary definitions of sustainability are about maintaining something at a constant level, or, as Wikipedia says, the capacity to endure. In essence, this means a type of persistence. However, if we look at the definition implied by the World Commission on Environment and Development, then sustainability is all about the balance between using resources for current needs vs saving them for use in the future.

In what follows, I’m going consider sustainability as meaning a wise use of resources:

  • Discriminating between wants and needs so that needs are met first, and
  • Using resources efficiently – the least necessary to meet the maximal amount of needs.

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