International Institute of Tropical Forestry, USDA Forest Service, United States
The Anthropocene, an age where humans have become the main force shaping the environment, is characterized by rapid change, compounded problems, rising inequality, and increasing complexity and uncertainty. For cities, extreme events driven by climate change pose particular challenges, including threats to lives and livelihoods, compounded infrastructure failures, and unequal distribution of risk due to past unjust practices. Strengthening the capacity of these social-ecological-technological systems (SETS) to maintain their essential structure and function when faced with such events is of paramount importance. Yet solutions have been based on prevailing views that the world is complicated, not complex; predictable, not uncertain. Further, solutions often are constrained to single domains (social, ecological, or technological) based on a dichotomous view of human and natural systems. These failures to recognize the interdependent nature of SETS translate to failure to effectively navigate the complexity of the problems.
Resilience provides an appropriate conceptual basis for framing solutions for cities and other ecosystems, but is a contested concept with a wide variety of meanings. Resilience theory has continued to evolve separately within S, E, and T domains or pairs of domains, perpetuating the siloed or dichotomous approach to problem-solving. We advocate the application of a SETS framing, merging perspectives on resilience from sustainable engineering, ecology, social-ecological systems, and social-technical systems thinking to advance resilience theory. A SETS perspective expands the capability to navigate complexity, opens up the problem space, opens up the solution space, and builds capacity for integration and production of diverse knowledge systems.