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Developing resilience in the face of climate change


Zoe Satherley
26 October 2009
Looking to the past to see the resilience shown by older civilisations in coping with catastrophic earth changes and global climate change is the focus of Professor Bill Boyd’s research.

Professor Boyd will share some of his insights in an upcoming free public talk at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus on Thursday, November 5, as part of the Professorial Lecture Series.

The title of his talk is ‘Resilience and opportunity in ancient South East Asia and Papua New Guinea: Socio-environmental lessons in the face of climate change and other catastrophic events’.

Professor Boyd, from Southern Cross University’s School of Environmental Science and Management, said that at a time when climate change was framing our social and political understanding of the future, realistic modeling of environmental processes – and how past societies have responded to them – was important.

“Across the globe we can expect to experience possibly quite dramatic climate change – just as past civilizations have,” Professor Boyd said.

“While we need to know if our current models of climate change prediction are right, we also need to know how past societies have adapted to similar events and learn about how they survived and developed their resilience.

“I see resilience as the ability to maintain structure and function despite disruption. Societies in the past had to be adaptive and there are plenty of lessons to be learned from their experiences.

“While it is true that some past societies have collapsed when faced with extreme environmental changes, it is also true that many societies have been resilient enough to adapt and survive. There have been incredibly long periods of time – thousands of years – when societies have been stable and I am interested in the characteristics of those societies.

“Over long periods of time their populations have increased and decreased, their forests have come and gone, rivers flooded and run dry, the temperature has gotten hotter and colder, the oceans have risen and fallen – yet human life has adapted and even flourished.”

Professor Boyd will examine two specific case studies. One is a society in South East Asia which was first settled about 5,000 years ago and lived through many such climate changes.

“The fact that about 1,500 years ago these people started to leave the area may be more to do with them adopting the powerful new idea introduced around that time of living in cities, rather than them finding life too hard to sustain as subsistence farmers in small rural villages,” he said.

A second case study will focus on a society in Papua New Guinea which has needed to adapt to catastrophic volcanic eruptions over a period of some 25,000 years – and yet they have adapted and survived.

“If you look at these studies through the lens of resilience and not catastrophe and collapse, a very different picture emerges,” Professor Boyd said.

“What is it about resilience than enables people to survive with rich cultural lives even in the harshest environments?

“You could say that the more massive the earth changes, the greater the extension of society’s resilience.

“Modern society will also have to develop its resilience with innovative solutions to potentially catastrophic earth changes – perhaps living in massive floating cities or even in underwater cities or space stations.”

Professor Boyd will deliver his lecture on Thursday, November 5, in room U-231, at the Lismore campus, from 5.30pm – 7pm. Please RSVP to Donna McIntyre on 6620 3503, or via email [email protected].

The next two lectures in the Southern Cross University Professorial Lecture Series at the Lismore campus will be a talk by Professor Andrew Cashin on Wednesday, November 11, in Z-181 on ‘The triad on impairment in autism revisited’ and a talk by Professor Phillip Hayward on Thursday, November 26, in U-231 on ‘Why islands are important’.

Photo: Professor Bill Boyd will talk about developing resilience in the face of climate change at Southern Cross University on November 5.