Problematizing Resiliency and Carrying Capacity


This week’s discussion centered on two major themes: resiliency and carrying capacity.  Several issues were brought up as we compared the two concepts.  For some, the concept of resilience has attractive qualities that provide hope in our ability and that of the environment to adapt to the eminent impacts of climate change and other environmental hazards; however, several questions were raised:

  • What does resiliency mean within sustainable development and how can it be applied in practice?
  • How does it relate to the concept of justice? Things can be resilient in ways it doesn’t promote justice, so is resilience a distraction?

Another area of discussion we centered on was about our capacity to model societies and predict their ability to adapt or not adapt to climate change and its environmental impacts.  Our ecosystems are very complex, making any modeling questionable in its ability to predict how resiliency of species and plants will carry out.  Moreover, it raises the question about our role as humans within the ecosystem and our ability to mitigate and/or control environmental issues that can arise.  Folks raised the issue of how much can human actions even be modeled, given our societal dynamics and political complexities.  Questions were further raised about humans’ capacity to learn and adapt and how their socioeconomic condition impacts their ability to do so.  As one student pointed out:  If we are unable to predict or model the complex processes and responses of living things and humans within our ecosystems, how does that impact sustainable planning or planning in general?

The discussion of carrying capacity brought up other questions about:

  • How do we talk about sustainability and economy? Are there limitations to this framework?
  • Can people just live regionally?  Can they be sustainable within their area?

Eder centered the discussion about carrying capacity at a very human scale when he shared about his father’s fishing business in Chile.  He asked, “We have a carrying capacity, but someone is taking more. How much fish corresponds to me as a small fisherman, compared to industries that take more?”  The issue of global and social equity complicates the notion of carrying capacity, challenging us to rethink how this concept is applied and what it overlooks.

The last key point we reflected upon in relation to carrying capacity was the issue of further development to raise the standard of living for people.  Increasing the standard of living within our capitalist system ultimately means higher consumption and depletion of environmental resources.  So how do we tackle this conundrum? Do we follow Reese’s recommendation that development only be advanced in the developing world and halted for the developed countries?  Can a higher quality of life go hand in hand with sustainability? Why or why not?