Posts from NZAEE (4): Henrik Moller

Posted on February 17, 2008


Henrik Moller would like to lose the Sustainability word, he would prefer us to use Resilience.

Dr Moller spoke at the New Zealand Association for Environmental Education in Dunedin recently. He heads CSAFE, the Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Otago University. His research includes the titi project and was involved in the climate change global assessment.

He presented a model of sustainability behaviour with two continua. On the y-axis “slowing climate change and adapting to it” is opposite “accelerating change”. Actions are positioned on the x-axis: passive through to active. Al Gore is in the top right. The NZ business round table he positions in the lower right: active cynics. The NZ populace he puts in a cloud in the centre – the role of Education for Sustainability is to move that cloud diagonally up and right.

Moller prefers the term resilience over sustainability. The term sustainability, he says is tainted, and anyway, doesn’t fully express what we really mean:

  • sustainability suggests a target state where we should be looking for a set of target processes (flow)
  • resilience suggests a focus on strong and flexible, whereas we have been focusing on what makes a brittle state vulnerable
  • resilience is closer to concepts from ecological science. It is explicitly formed in a systems view and can encompass surprise, uncertainty and dynamism.
  • resilience lends itself to adaptive management of which people are explicitly apart. Sustainability is too close to conservation (ie the bad view of conservation meaning lock it all up forever).

Moller believes that “Resilience” stands a better chance at “getting everyone help”.

    Moller sees that “changing NZ’s conservation paradigm is critical to getting everyones help

    Sustainability is often described by the familiar three circles diagram (a Venn diagram with sustainability in the middle). Moller describes this as the “contested interests model”.

    Moller argues that both “treasury and the preservationists” would see the environment as something separate. Instead he favours the concentric circles model. This model lends itself to socio-ecological constructs such as environmental justice.

    The change to resilience and to a concentric circles model would bring about a change in language. Moller believes that we have to change our discourse to enable change. The contested interests model and sustainability believers/disbelievers positioning leads to exaggeration and combatorial interactions. This leads to thinking about change in terms of “and” rather than “or”:

    • walk and talk
    • heads and hearts
    • top down and bottom up
    • Mātauranga and science
    • first steps and long term vision
    • fear and hope
    • regulation and incentives
    • individuals and communities
    • theory and practice

    Moller’s view on Resilience is quite widely held and I agree whole heartedly that we need to reinforce the socio-ecological systems perspective, but I’m averse to changing names, I think that no sooner did we adopt resilience, then something else will come along. The blog title stays!