Reflections from the closing plenary of the Resilience2017 conference

One last time, a conference room somewhere in Stockholm, another capital on planet Earth, is the meeting point for young scholars, pioneering scientists, practitioners, and the generally curious. Henrik Österblom, Deputy science director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre,Sweden, introduces the mixed panel of practitioners and scientists. The honour of the very last say goes to Emily Boyd, Director of Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, Sweden, Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Harini Nagendra from Azim Premji University, India and Sundaa Bridgett-Jones from The Rockefeller Foundation. A painted puma in full flight guards the scene, making sure the important messages from the past four days will once more swirl around the room at full speed.

What comes out of this conference in relation to resilience? Sundaa Bridgett-Jones opens; “Resilience is no longer simply a theory. It is a practice, it is lived, learned, observed. Resilience has been embraced by practitioners as a new way of seeing our world. It is the connector bridging disciplines, knowledges and conversations about our collective thinking. However, there is a translation gap we should close. There is so much complexity in resilience thinking that often confounds people. We need to make it more accessible to those who are not in academia but actually looking to apply these models and frameworks. How do we actually illustrate and quantify the benefits of resilience practice to them?” Harini Nagendra also joins in on this point. She constantly sees how students are all fired up to start working on sustainability challenges because they see the problems in the world, but often leave all overwhelmed when they are taught about sustainability, social justice and more. “How do you frame this in a way that is positive, looking at the negative but taking that forward?”

Another gap Nagendra identifies is that of the humanities and the creative arts. The painted picture of a puma displayed over the speaker nods its head. “How do you get music, culture, art oriented towards resilience? How do we make a global culture of sustainability, knowing that we are losing our local culture? First, we need to individually internalize the idea of resilience, but then think about we can take it forward collectively.” Emily Boyd agrees that humanities and arts have a big role to play. Resilience thinking has matured, but she is convinced we can do more. Alluding to Katrina Brown’s talk, arts and humanities can help us think about the self, take the political, mediate through practice and observe the changes we are already going through as questions about transformation.

However, there are more people missing at the table, Nagendra later adds. “A lot of the imagining of the future world that us scientists do is somewhat similar. We are missing perspectives from extremely marginalized, perspectives from the indigenous, from the poor …. And one big challenge is; how do you get past the power to get all these voices on an equal platform? There is always invisible power in the room.” These words echoed in young scholar Radhika’s testimony (pictured); “We need to map the common narratives and mismatches at different scales in order to help us identify the science gaps. These gaps can hopefully help us to raise the voices of those that have forgotten to become stewards of the biosphere, but more importantly, of those that are less privileged than us to be here today.”

Rockström, as a man of big words, has a grand hypothesis he would like to put forward. “We may never succeed in a global transformation towards a sustainable future unless we achieve a deep mind shift of reconnecting our human well-being to the biosphere.” Bridgett-Jones has something to add from the very last talk she attended; resilience is perhaps too often biased towards anthropocentric perspectives, putting people at the centre of the conversation. “For thousands of years, humanity has acted as stewards, in full connection with the planet. Our disconnection today is what made us create all the problems we are dealing with. We need to go back to indigenous cultures, practice and ways of living to relearn how to focus on the planet and the biosphere.”

With a second bold statement, Rockström continues; “In this world of deep diversity, geopolitical cracks and social turbulences, something seems to be emerging irrespective of culture around universal values in regards to nature, ecosystems, the planet, … Perhaps we should explore these values as potential bridges to some of the cracks we see.” Mother Earth contently keeps spinning.

To sum it up with Rockström’s words: “This conference will be remembered as the conference where we take the leap for deep integration of social and natural sciences, with special depth in discussions of the social sciences around social justice, equity, human wellbeing, …. We could even start talking about a new discipline; global sustainability science with a resilience framework that is truly about integrating world and earth until we can talk about World Earth Resilience”, jokingly (or so we hope) adding the acronym ‘WE R’.

Lastly, as a science communicator I must add what a pleasure it was to be part of a conference where history was made: for one day, #resfrontiers trended higher on Twitter than Game of Thrones! (Hold on to your seat.)

Using the words of young researcher David from Nigeria, one massive thanks to everyone who has been ‘sweet sweet’ and helped making this conference possible!

And now to you, fearless resilience scientists and all concerned with our planet, let’s keep getting uncomfortable!

Watch the closing plenary here

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Elke Markey is a former Master’s student from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where she earned a degree in Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development. Her roots lie in political science and in Belgium, where she gained another Master’s degree in Comparative and International Politics from KU Leuven University. To complete these endeavours, she packed her backpack for field work on forest governance in the Amazon region as well as on food systems in South Africa.


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