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Resilience Imperative

Authors: Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty

Reviewed by: David Towell

In an April posting on the website* I co-host with John O’Brien, I reviewed two excellent books by Nick Wilding and Philip Monaghan respectively which seek to understand how locally resilient communities can become the basis for sustainable societies. A new book from Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy builds on both to offer a compelling account of the Social, Ecological and Economic Strategies we require for ‘life after growth’ i.e. to make a SEE Change in our economy and society.

The authors begin with a quote from Arundhati Roy: ‘Another world is possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.’ Like Tim Jackson and Rob Hopkins, they are persuasive on why ‘business as usual’ is already, and will be increasingly, disastrous for us and our planet. 

In the spirit of Roy, they then offer a detailed theoretical and practical analysis of the alternative agenda required to achieve the ‘great transition’ to more local and resilient economies, based on careful attention to both current and historical innovations (the latter mostly swept away by the ascent of modern ‘free market’ capitalism) which have the potential to be scaled up and linked together to achieve radical change.

Fundamental here is an appreciation of the need to strengthen the capacity of our ecosystems to adapt to emerging challenges through attention to seven principles of resilience which include: promoting diversity; creating arrangements which have some mutual independence (so they don’t all fail together!); investing in social capital so we can better work together; and encouraging innovation from which we can learn.

In turn this leads to four broad strategies for the SEE Change:

  • Reclaiming the commons (not just the land which was taken away from communities by private ‘enclosure’ but also the biosphere as a whole);
  • Reinventing democracy by wresting back control from the large corporations and reinvigorating local participatory democracy;
  • Constructing a ‘social solidarity’ economy based on reciprocity in local systems (like ‘La Via Campesina’ in agriculture) as a major third element between the state and the private sector; and
  • Introducing new pricing policies (e.g. a carbon tax) which factor in externalities and so include the real costs to people and planet.

Turning these ideas into concrete proposals The Resilience Imperative offers a necessarily radical agenda for social and economic innovation, embracing for example:

  • Restructuring ownership (e.g. along the John Lewis model) so that power is shifted from shareholders to stakeholders;
  • Reforming banking (the sooner the better!) to put finance at the service of communities;
  • Removing land from the market and making it available for community-led development;
  • Reviewing energy production and use to promote rapid ‘carbon descent’ plans; and
  • Reweaving our economies with democratic governance, closer to home.

There is work enough for us all in pursuing this agenda. The Resilience Imperative provides a detailed script. It’s time we all heard the new world breathing.

*Visit the website: Building Inclusive and Sustainable Communities 

The publisher is New Society Publishers.

The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy © Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty 2012.

Review: Resilience Revisited © David Towell 2012.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.


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