Sustainability has become a hot word in recent years as our world changes in drastic ways. Disruptions in climate, land cover, pollution, and water have impacted the way that the environment and people can react to natural and human phenomena. But, what does it actually mean to be more sustainable and what is the ultimate goal of it?
Sustainability is a word used to describe a variety of actions, but the basis of the definition is, “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” Essentially, it’s the longevity of a system to continue forward. However, there is another part to this definition that encompasses the goal of “sustainability:” resilience. Ecosystem resilience, the ability to withstand and endure in a variety of ways despite external and internal change, is ultimately the goal of sustainability. These two definitions are often interchanged, but it is important to define and understand the difference in terms in order to outline steps of moving forward in ecological adversity.
Human behavior in the face of major challenges is interesting to categorize since it varies greatly based on the size of the problem, the resources available for the response, and the type of response source (political leaders, individuals, ecosystems.) However, a common pattern is that humans are initially adaptive, not mitigative or preventative in adverse situations. In the case of climate crises, it has been more common to see reactions to natural disasters met with aid and rebuilding efforts rather than implementing preventative measures that focus on climate change itself. Resilience is the goal that is more long-term and likely cannot be met through short-term adaptations. The long-term structure of adaptation should account for future disasters and mitigation of the source of the problem, which is seen in current safety measures. There are many stakeholders when it comes to climate issues, so it is more difficult to create long-term actions and plans that are abided by multiple parties and generations. The aim should be resilience to survive big shocks that occur as we start to see even more intense ramifications of environmental change.
Ecosystem resilience can be measured and modelled by indicators such as soil quality, climate scenarios, landscape structure, biodiversity and model for ecosystem abundance. By using ecosystem abundance as a proxy for natural system health, it can be used to measure overall resilience along with physical infrastructure, economic stability, preparedness, and social well-being. Resilience relies on social well-being as much as ecological measures.
This data may seem to be difficult to obtain, but there are secondary sources that provide indicators, secondary measures, and proxy change variables that may constitute factors for food system resilience. Measuring absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities of dimensional stakeholders in agricultural and food processes is one such way. In “Assessing and Monitoring Climate Resilience,” the authors go through an analytical approach that define proxy variables that are used to calculate these capacities, in turn computing the environmental resilience of a system.
Being able to compute the resilience of food systems, from seed to table, will provide consumers and other stakeholders with another metric of how their choices impact the greater environment. Food plays a monumental role in the environment given the quantity and amplitude of resources required, like land, water, and energy use. These processes negatively impact current ecological systems, but they can be refined to be better and more resilient to future shocks if they are changed soon enough.
By Sunanda Adibhatla.