Resilience is related to, but different from, adaptation. In classical terms, an organism with resilience is flexible enough to “go with the flow” to survive temporary environmental changes (such as drought) long enough for conditions to return to normal. So resilient organisms do not change in a permanent way, and neither does the environment. In a drought, an animal might eat different foods it doesn’t normally eat. But once the drought is over, it goes back to eating the foods to which its teeth and digestive system are specifically adapted. Adaptation is a permanent change in the species, in response to environment changes that are also permanent. A population that has lots of resilient individuals may eventually experience long-term changes that are actually transformative (Redman et al 2003).

Complexity theory has changed the classical view of ecological resilience, as it has changed our understandings of evolution and adaptation. Donald Falk (2017:206) cites several other ecologists to support the richly powerful statement that “What we define and observe as resilience is an emergent property of complex adaptive systems, in this case including species evolutionary processes and ecosystem function, creating a reservoir of ‘ecological memory,’ the tendency for past states of an ecological community to influence contemporary or future ecological responses.” Perhaps realizing that ecologists see ecosystem complexity as capable of creating, through self-organization generated by a complex web of interrelationships, such a thing as ecological memory that can influence future as well as present ecological responses to change can help evaluators begin to understand the care with which they must approach living ecosystems, and the importance of not evaluating them as mechanistic, cause-and-effect linear systems. The old “wholly mechanical process” model of nature Deloria pointed to as typical of classical Western science (1999:225) is increasingly not applicable to real, complex ecosystems.

Questions to facilitate your conceptual weaving process:

How does Falk’s view of resilience apply to the situation in Japan where seawalls caused a loss of resilience in the human populations?

Falk’s view of resilience as an emergent property of ecosystems puts the armored Japanese coastline and the people living there in a larger environmental context. If you consider the resilience of those Japanese coastal residents in the larger context of the ecosystem Falk outlines, how might the seawalls impact human resilience to tsunamis? How might the seawall impact human relationship with the sea and the land? Are these two things (resilience to tsunamis and relationship with sea and land) connected in some way?

What criteria do you think were used to evaluate the impacts of coastal armoring on the coast of Japan before the new sea walls were built? Are there other criteria you suspect were not used that seem important as you learn more about resilience from ecologists such as Donald Falk? Regardless of whether your thoughts about this are changing or not changing, what sorts of critical issues do views of resilience such as Falk’s raise for you, as an evaluator in this particular field of work?

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