When Ernst Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful” fifty years ago, he identified three essential capitals we were not paying attention to; fossil fuel, Nature’s Margins of tolerance and Human Substance. His concern at that point was for fossil fuel running out, rather than our concern now for the damage it is causing before it does, but in every way he was prescient.
I think his identification of “Nature’s Margins” and “Human Substance” was a profound observation. His concern was that we were treating capital items as income; that we regarded our access to finite resources as infinite, and that we were not concerned with how we conserved, substituted or replaced them. He seemed to view resilience as a capital item – something we need to keep in stock to be available when we need it, and to ensure we do not run out. We can be as efficient as we like at production, but without material to feed the process, it counts for nothing.
I wonder what he would make of it now? We have exhausted nature’s margins of resilience, of its ability to cope and recover from our use of natural resources, or of our own ability as humans to cope healthily with what we have demanded of ourselves. We have an epidemic of mental health issues every bit as important as our climate issues.
If we want nature, and people to be resilient we need to have a sufficient stock of it. We cannot train people in extremis to be resilient any more than we can train nature to replace what we have taken within a generation or two. We have treated capital items as income, as though they are readily replaceable, and they are not.
We need to rebuild our stocks of human resilience, and enable nature to do the same. We cannot do that whilst we target ever more efficiency in pursuit of more.
It is something we need to do individually, because corporates hooked on “more” will not. We need to do less, not more, to pay attention to what is important more than what is shiny, and take personal responsibility for our own resilience so that we can help the natural world of which we are part do the same.
As we face the storms we know are coming, we need to prepare and resilience is not a skill, it is a stock we have to rebuild.