Applying a Social-Ecological Resilience Framework to Planning for Energy Security
Among the most significant challenges of the 21st century are those involving the development, distribution and utilization of energy. The energy choices we make have profound environmental, economic and geopolitical implications. This talk will introduce key tenets of social-ecological resilience theory - first developed to assess communities’ abilities to withstand major external disturbances - and explore how these principles can be used to improve planning for more sustainable energy use and development and, thus, help to increase energy independence. Resilience theory recognizes fundamental linkages between the natural environment and human communities. More resilient communities have well-informed, engaged residents who are active participants in collective decisions, possess high levels of scientific understanding of changing risks, and are able to learn from past disruptive events to reduce or avoid future damages. Viewing energy planning as an opportunity to enhance the resilience of communities and nations encourages innovative energy conservation efforts and more systematic consideration of a wider range of energy options. For example, the international organization ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability uses resilience principles to help member cities conserve energy and develop “climate plans” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time. A resilience framework also could help in the evaluation of the relative risks and benefits associated with emerging or even controversial options, including the unconventional recovery method of hydraulic fracturing of shale material to extract natural gas. If expanded natural gas extraction, for example, could be implemented with appropriate environmental and safety regulations by a well-informed citizenry, some nations could become more energy independent. Clearly, finding a pathway toward energy independence would help reduce economic and political vulnerabilities, and may discourage military interventions in some cases. In this important context, resilience theory provides useful insights about the necessity of scientific evaluations of the relative risks and benefits of various energy options, communication of that information, and wide public involvement in energy planning at local, regional and national levels.
Department of Environmental Sciences
Energy, Coast and Environment Building
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Contribution proposed for: oral presentation