Welcome to Frontier Earth

By Keith Kloor

Credit: unonymous/flickr

It’s a destination. This blog is a journey to all the places and ideas and stories along the way.

Let me you give you some background.

Anyone familiar with human history knows we are a resilient species. The evolutionary biology tale alone speaks to our incredible resilience. But the age-old story of tribes, society, and peoples is one of bouncing back repeatedly from war, disease, hunger, trauma, and all manner of natural disasters.

Consider the story of Japan this past month. While the nuclear crisis has dominated much of the news, to my mind the big story is the resilience of the Japanese people, how they have endured disasters of epic proportions with equanimity and resoluteness.

But my purpose with this blog is to explore another dimension of resilience that is less well known but just as vital to human well-being: the durability of the ecosystems we rely on and live in tandem with, and the durability of our societal institutions and infrastructure, when put to the test by sudden (as in the case of Japan), cascading shocks.

In recent years, a paradigm and a body of scholarship have emerged to address mounting climate and environmental concerns. It is called Resilience Science. Here is a nice definition of the concept from an interdisciplinary group of scientists:

We depend on ecological systems for our survival and we continuously impact the ecosystems in which we live from the local to global scale. Resilience is a property of these linked social-ecological systems.

Resilience Science seeks to identify “tipping points” that could push an ecosystem beyond the point of self-repair. But the field recognizes that ecosystems and human society are intertwined, so the implications for people are obvious. Resilience Science also seeks to identify ways to enhance the stability of social-ecological systems in advance of disturbances.

This involves identifying measures that strengthen institutions and infrastructure to withstand increasing impacts from climate and environmental related changes. Among the topics that contain this resilience framework that interest me are climate adaptation, environmental security, and sustainability science.

Indeed, the latter strikes me as the flipside of Resilience Science. We live in a world where rising population pressures, natural resource scarcities, peak energy concerns, and climate instability are coming together in combustible ways that seriously challenge the durable capacity of the planet and human societies.

The nascent field of Sustainability Science will help chart the journey to Frontier Earth.

In the next post, I’ll discuss in more detail the kinds of stories I’ll be covering in this space. (I’ll also say a few words about your humble host). But one important feature of this blog I want to emphasize at the outset is the role of you, the reader. I want you to be actively engaged in the material covered here. To that end, I welcome all your suggestions and story tips. Additionally, I will encourage discussion in the comment threads. I also intend on highlighting some of your contributions to the dialogue.

I look forward to taking this journey with you.