Article Title

Replacing Sustainability


This Article argues that, from a policy perspective, we must face the impossibility of even defining—let alone pursuing—a goal of “sustainability” in a world characterized by such extreme complexity, radical uncertainty, and discomfiting loss of stationarity. Instead, we need new policy directions and orientations that provide the necessary capacity to deal with these “wicked problems” in a meaningful and equitable way. The realities of current and emerging SES dynamics warrant a new set of tools and approaches to governance of those systems. Part II of this Article provides a brief history of sustainability and sustainable development, including corollary emphases on preservation and restoration in contemporary U.S. natural resources and environmental law and policy. Part III examines in detail how climate change problematizes sustainability as a goal for natural resources management at anything but the most general of scales, warranting a search for a replacement paradigm. Part IV offers up resilience thinking as a candidate for that new paradigm. In particular, this Article argues, resilience thinking—unlike the stationarity-based sustainability— emphasizes that environmental regulation and natural resource management require a continuing effort to identify, manage, and adapt to continual change, making it a more useful paradigm for the climate change era. In addition, properly implemented, resilience thinking could demand even more from humans in terms of precautionary uses of resources than sustainability has yet managed, productively shattering the illusion that we can still “have it all.”