Topic outline

  • General

    Notice on wall saying everything will be OK

    Think Resilience consists of 22 short videos (between 7 and 15 minutes long) split into 6 sessions, that explore the inter-related crises of the twenty-first century, and what we as citizens, students and community leaders can do to respond to them.

    The course will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the complex issues we face, introduce you to (or refresh your knowledge of) systems thinking and resilience science, and give you concrete ideas and strategies for how to engage in building the resilience of your own community.

    To access the course click here:

    • Our Converging Crises

      This first section consists of 5 lessons as follows:

      Lesson 1 - Introduction (5:44 mins)

      An overview of the Think Resilience course.

      Lesson 2 - Energy (12:18 mins)

      Energy is key to everything - it's an essential driver of the natural world and of the human world, and it will also be pivotal to the societal transformations we'll be experiencing in the 21st century and beyond.

      Lesson 3 - Population and Consumption (12:22 mins)

      Human impact on the environment results not just from population size, and not just from the per capita rate of consumption, but from both together. In this video we explore how adoption of tools, language, agriculture and most especially fossil fuels allowed humans to temporarily overcome the carrying capacity of the planet to support our growing population and consumption, and why those trends can no longer continue.

      Lesson 4 - Depletion (12:24 mins)

      Depletion is an inescapable fact of life: as soon as you've taken one sip of your coffee, or one bite of ice cream, you've begun to deplete that resource.  Economists will tell you, "no problem.  You can just run to the store and buy more, or find something else just as good as a substitute".  But does that work on a finite planet, and are all resources so easily substitutable?

      Lesson 5 - Pollution (8:52 mins) 

      In nature, waste from one organism is food for another. However, that principle sometimes breaks down and waste becomes poison.  Humans aren't the only possible sources of environmental pollution.  But these days the vast majority of pollution does come from human activities.  That's because we humans are able to use energy and tools to extract, transform, use and discard natural resources, producing wastes of many kinds and in ever-larger quantities.

      • The Roots and Results of our Crises

        This second section consists of the following 4 lessons:

        Lesson 6 - Political and Economic Management (10:48 mins)

        Every society has institutions for making decisions and allocating resources.  Some anthropologists call this the structure of society.  Every society has an infrastructure, which is its means of obtaining food, energy and materials.  Finally, every society also has a superstructure, which consists of the beliefs and rituals that supply the society with a sense of meaning.  In this lesion we see how our current systems of political and economic management - our social structure - evolved to fit with our fossil-fuelled infrastructure, and we'll very briefly explore what a shift to different energy sources might mean for the politics and economics of future societies.

        Lesson 7 - Belief Systems (8:02 mins)

        Every human society has a shared set of beliefs to encourage cooperative behaviour.  These beliefs may be religious or secular in nature.  In either case, they provide what many anthropologists call the superstructure of society.  Modern industrial society features the pervasive belief in inevitable material progress and economic growth - a superstructure very much suited to our particular, fossil-fuelled infrastructure.

        Lesson 8 - Biodiversity (7:16 mins)

        As our human populations and consumption habits have grown, our destructive land use practices and environmentally harmful pollution have wiped out countless ecosystems around the world.  As a result, the number of species of insects, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals are declining - everywhere.  Biologists call this widespread, rapid loss of biodiversity the Sixth Extinction, and some Earth scientists say were are creating a new era in Earth's history: the Anthropocene.

        Lesson 9 - Collapse (8:48 mins)

        Historians have long noted that civilizations appear to pass through cycles of expansion and decline.  underlying the factors that appear to contribute to the collapse of civilizations, there may be a deeper dynamic: the relationship between the ability of a society to solve problems and the amount of energy it has available to do work.  Unfortunately, most energy production activities are subject to the law of diminishing returns.  At what stage in the cycle of expansion and decline might our own civilization find itself today?

        • Making Change

          This third section consists of the following 3 lessons:

          Lesson 10 - Thinking in Systems (10:12 mins)

          The interrelated crises of the twenty-first century can't be solved with simple technical adjustments.  Understanding and responding to them intelligently requires us to think systemically.  All systems have: boundaries, inputs, outputs, information flows from and to the surrounding environment, and feedbacks.  Systems thinking recognizes the roles of these components, and tries to identify leverage points where small shifts in one thing can produce big shifts in everything else.  The "shock doctrine" (Naomi Klein) and the theory of the "diffusion of innovations" (Everett Rogers) are two examples of using systems thinking to understand how big changes happen in modern society.

          Lesson 11 - Shifting Cultural Stories (12:09 mins)

          Society's goals and mindsets could be thought of as the stories we tell ourselves.  Some cultural stories are deeply ingrained in us as a species, while some are predominant narratives of the particular society into which we have been born.  They help us to make sense of the world around us, but they may also hinder our ability to foresee big social changes and to adjust our behaviour accordingly.  Therefore, some of these stories need to change: we may need to shift from the consumer economy to a conserver economy; from valuing things to valuing relationships and experiences; from inevitable growth to a steady-state economy; from politics of mass persuasion to a politics of local engagement.

          Lesson 12 - Cultural Change and Neuroscience (11:21 mins)

          If we want to adapt successfully to a future of less energy per capita, and little or no economic growth, we need to better manage some of the neurological traits that served our evolutionary forebears but are ill-suited to the modern world.  Consumerism is a modern version of our biological drivers for status-seeking and novelty-seeking, and makes use of how our brain chemistry develops addictions.  We also have an innate tendency to give more weight to present threats and opportunities than to future ones; this is called discounting the future, and it makes it hard to sacrifice now to overcome an enormous future risk such as climate change.  Fortunately we also have some inherited neurological tendencies that would be useful to encourage, like cooperation, empathy and altruism.

          • Resilience Thinking

            This fourth section consists of the following 3 lessons:

            Lesson 13 - What is Resilience? (12:18 mins)

            In ecology, resilience is seen as the ability of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.  In other words, a system that's resilient can adapt to change without losing the qualities that define what it is and what it does - which together comprise that system's "identity".  Resilience boils down to an ability to adapt to both short-term disruption and long-term change while retaining the system's essential identity.  Building resilience starts with decisions about what we value about a system.  Concepts like the adaptive cycle and panarchy further aid our understanding of resilience in systems.

            Lesson 14 - Community Resilience in the 21st Century (11:49 mins)

            This lesson brings resilience into the context of this century's simmering and complex "E4" crises, with (1) ecological, (2) energy, (3) economic, and (4) equity dimensions. It clarifies the relationship between sustainability and resilience, and shows why a lot of the climate change resilience discussion - while necessary - doesn't go far enough.  And it explains why this course focuses primarily on building resilience at the community level, as opposed to the global, national or household level.

            Lesson 15 - Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience (15:11 mins)

            In 2015, Post Carbon Institute surveyed the academic literature on resilience and talked to scholars, activists, and local leaders around the country to determine how the concepts of resilience might be most usefully applied in communities by people who aren't resilience scientists. We found an easily understood framework that speaks directly to the challenges communities face regarding equity, group decision-making, and their complex social and economic contexts.  We identified six foundations that appear necessary for community resilience-building efforts to be successful.  And these are: people, systems thinking, adaptability, transformability, sustainability and courage.

            • Economy and Society

              This fifth section consists of the following 4 lessons:

              Lesson 16 - How Globalization Undermines Resilience (12:16 mins)

              Globalization is largely about the relentless pursuit of economic efficiency.  And while there are benefits to efficiency (increasing profits, minimising waste), as an economic strategy it has serious costs to community resilience.  Wealthier countries lose jobs for higher-paid wage laborers, as well as the skill base and the infrastructure to produce goods and equipment.  The offshoring or manufacturing to poorer nations reduces domestic pollution but increases pollution in the exporting nations (which often have less stringent regulations).  Economic inequality increases, both within nations and between nations.  And as regions specialize, there is an overall loss of local diversity in jobs.

              Lesson 17 - Economic Relocalization (10:29 mins)

              The local challenges created by globalization can be partly countered by economic localization.  It starts with communities supporting local business rather than giving subsidies such as tax breaks and free utility hook-ups to large, non-local businesses, as is so often done.  In fact, half of all private -sector U.S jobs are still provided by small businesses, and almost all of these businesses are local.  Moreover, local dollars have a multiplier effect - when spent within the regional economy, they increase local wealth, local taxes, jobs, charitable contributions, tourism, and entrepreneurship.  Local economic development benefits everyone - except maybe big multinational corporations.

              Lesson 18 - Social Justice (12:00 mins)

              Systemic inequality reduces the sustainability and resilience of society as a whole.  Capital tends to reproduce itself and become more consolidated and centralized over time - that's its purpose - but only some members of society are motivated or able to set aside money and goods for the purpose of capital accumulation.  Inequality is also created, sustained and worsened over time through institutionalized racism, which results in chronic conditions of poverty and lack of access.  Ultimately, promoting equity will require strategies like cooperative ownership of business and expanding the commons - the cultural and natural resources that should be accessible to all members of a society, and not privately owned.

              Lesson 19 - Education (7:47 mins)

              Education - particularly early-childhood education - not only sets the foundation for who we become later in life, but also shapes society as a whole.  If we want a more resilient society and more resilient communities, we have to plant the seeds today in students both young and old.  We need education that trains people in both community and personal resilience-building.

              • Basic Needs and Functions

                This final section consists of the following 3 lessons:

                Lesson 20 - Meeting Essential Community Needs (12:35 mins)

                Building community resilience ultimately has to come to grips with the infrastructure that enables any community to function.  This lesson looks at food, water, energy and money systems, and how these can be made more resilient.  If any one of these essentials goes haywire, a community loses its support capacity very quickly.

                Lesson 21 - Resilience in Major Sectors (18:54 mins)

                Manufacturing, transportation, and buildings use energy to provide goods and services; transforming these sectors will entail finding ways to use less energy for these purposes, ways to use it that suit renewable energy sources, and ways to provide for human needs while using fewer material resources and producing less pollution.  Land use planning touches on every aspect of local government concern, involving decisions on air quality, water quality, biodiversity, transportation options, economic vitality, and quality of life.  And sound public policy is essential to community resilience efforts - with the recognition that imposing policies from above without adequate understanding of, or support for, those policies from community members will lead to political failure.

                Lesson 22 - Review, Assessment and Action (8:02 mins)

                If you want to apply what you have learned in this course, one way to do so might be to design and implement a community resilience assessment.  Why an assessment? It's important to understand a system as much as possible before intervening in it.