Forests, Food & Climate

Climate Change Resilience

The idea of resilience comes from the study of ecology and it's really about how systems and settlements stand upto shock from the outside...and they don't just unravel and fall to pieces. I think it is a more useful concept than sustainability... When our supermarkets have only enough food for two days time, sustainably seems to focus on the efficiency of the freezers. Looking through the lens of resilience we really question how we let ourselves get into a situation that is so vulnerable. Resilience runs much deeper it is about building modularity - building surge breakers into the basic things that support us.Rob Hopkins, Founder of the Transition Movement

Photograph by Damian PrestidgeGlobal climate change has been triggered by industrial growth across the planet, leading to dramatic climatic changes in less than a century. Industrialisation and the burning of fossil fuels have led to ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, resulting in global warming and climate instability.

This globalization of the industrial system has also caused extensive fragmentation and degradation of ecosystems, resulting in the destruction of vast habitats of indigenous plants and animals across the planet and thereby causing the sixth mass global extinction of species. An international study by over a thousand scientists around the world warned that many of the Earths ecosystems are on the brink of collapse: in the sea huge areas of coral are dying out because the sea is becoming acidic due to the high carbon content of the atmosphere; fish are migrating due to the changes of temperature in the sea with unknown consequences for the ecosystem they leave behind or that which they migrate to; vast forests across Africa, Asia and Latin America are being destroyed for logging or to make way for biofuels and agriculture; millions of seed and crop varieties developed by farmers over centuries have become extinct, replaced by monocultures of industrially-developed seed. In the US alone, 97% of varieties once listed by the US Department for Agriculture have been lost in the last 80 years.

The vital role of ecosystems and biodiversity - the biosphere - in maintaining conditions for life as we know it, is less well recognised. It is precisely the plants and animals in different ecosystems, which have the capacity to absorb excessive carbon and other gases in order to maintain the conditions for life to evolve. Resilience to climate change is dependent upon healthy ecosystems and the rich biodiversity they sustain. The greater the biodiversity in an ecosystem, and the ecological knowledge held by communities, the more resilient these bio-cultural systems will be.

Climate change resilience is enhanced when ecological governance sustains the resilience of ecosystem and community in dynamic equilibrium, and where these healthy systems are linked up across regions.Liz Hosken, The Gaia Foundation

Resilience comes from having the capacity to mitigate (diminish impacts) or adapt (respond to change.) It signifies the capacity of a system to absorb disturbances and surprises. It can mean the ability to reorganise so as to retain the same essential function, structure and identity. Resilience is an inherent quality of all healthy living systems. It is a state of dynamic equilibrium which enables systems to grow and evolve while keeping their coherence.

Achieving resilience means learning to understand the natural laws of our living systems - Gaia - so that we work with Nature rather than against her.

The best way to learn about resilience is to learn from Nature. Nature has created the most wonderfully resilient animals and plants. The minute that you interfere with the genetics of a being you can't be sure of the resilience of that being any longer. The whole GMO argument falls apart.

Wanjiku Mwangi, Porini Association, Kenya

Our Work

Gaia collaborates with organisations, networks and communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America to enhance resilience to both climate change and destructive industrialisation.

Traditionally, sacred sites have played a vital role in safeguarding critical ecosystems where biodiversity and water sources can flourish. The revival of traditional cultural practices and ecological knowledge systems strengthen livelihood systems which protect the vital aspects of ecosystems.

Farming traditions which enhance agro-biodiversity, nurture wild biodiversity, and use agro-ecological approaches and traditional ecological knowledge are key to ensuring communities' ability to enhance resilience.

Over the years, Gaia has collaborated with partners to evolve a holistic approach to rebuilding the integrity of communities and ecosystems. Community Elders are at the heart of this process. Through community dialogues with the Elders, conditions are created for their priorities to emerge from deep reflection and analysis of their situation from a traditional ecological perspective. Over time the path for reviving their resilience becomes clear, as the socio-ecosystem begins to weave back together again, through aligning with the traditional systems of ecological governance. Thus the relationship between the health of the ecosystem from which the health of the communities are derived, is re-established.

Find out more about this work on the ground by watching the film The Kamburu Story.