The world’s oil-based energy economy has significant sustainability implications for a range of globally distributed, multi-scaled social-ecological systems. These systems are typically highly complex and comprise many social and ecological components that are linked by, and interact through, non-linear processes and feedback loops.
Although complexity does not preclude the use of predictive techniques for analysing system sustainability, it does impose limitations in this regard. The application of resilience theory transcends some of these limitations. Resilience is defined as the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganise while undergoing change so as to still retain the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks. It relates to the ability of a system to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a different state controlled by different sets of processes. Where critical thresholds are exceeded, resilience theory can elucidate the adaptive cycles through which the release, reorganization, exploitation and consolidation of resources occurs, along multiple pathways, in the process of system transformation. Human foresight and ability to intervene can control, to some extent, system resilience and/or direction of adaptive change.
In this paper we apply resilience theory to explore some of the dynamics within the oil-based energy economy that have sustainability implications for two selected classes of social-ecological system. One class is defined in terms of its oil consumer, developed country context and its functioning at a global spatial scale; the other class is defined in terms of its oil producer, developing country context and its functioning at a local spatial scale. We speculate on the current stability landscapes of the selected systems and, through a largely theoretical approach, extend this to include some of the possible states into which they could transform as a result of key drivers. In doing so, we consider a number of social, economic and ecological system attributes that would seem to be important in terms of determining system resilience and the potential for adaptive transformation.
|Keywords:||Resilience, Sustainability Analysis, Oil-based Energy Economy|
Researcher, Sustainability Science Research Group, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Stellenbosch, South Africa
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