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Introduction to The Community Resilience Reader

We’re pleased to announce the publication of our latest book, The Community Resilience Reader: Essential Resources for an Era of Upheaval, edited by Daniel Lerch and published with Island Press. Here is the Introduction chapter, which explains why we’ve produced this important new collection of essays.


For over thirty years, the world community has tried to resolve the combined challenges of environmental degradation, fossil fuel dependence, economic inequality, and persistent social injustice—largely under the banner of internationally brokered “sustainable development.” Despite some partial successes, it is clear today that the pace of these global trends has not been slowed, let alone stopped or reversed. Their scale has grown and their impacts have become so widespread that they now threaten the stability—in some cases even the existence—of communities around the world. The global sustainability challenges of the past have become the local resilience crises of today.

Resilience is the ability of a system—like a family, or a country, or Earth’s biosphere—to cope with short-term disruptions and adapt to long-term changes without losing its essential character. We depend on the resilience of all the systems that support us for life and well-being; if these systems falter, we suffer. A crisis is an unstable state of affairs in which decisive change is both necessary and inevitable. Today we face four major crises—environmental, energy, economic, and equity—that threaten to overwhelm the resilience of the systems we care about, particularly at the local level.

The failure of international sustainability efforts to thwart these crises means resilience-building efforts at the community level—working on all issues and systems, not just climate change and infrastructure—are needed more than ever. But the charge to build community resilience raises important questions: Resilience of what, exactly? Resilient to what, exactly? Building resilience how, and benefiting whom?

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Olduvai II: Exodus
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