Hawaii wildfires expose need for resilience in a polycrisis world

(Context, 25 Aug 2023) Disasters like the Lahaina fire are a wake-up call revealing how unprepared we are to face simultaneous climate and other threats

Dr. Joseph Fiksel is Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University and a Visiting Scholar at George Washington University. He is the author of Resilient by Design (Island Press, 2015) and has provided consulting services to companies, governments, and industry associations worldwide.

The destruction of the Hawaiian town of Lahaina by the Maui wildfire is only the latest indication that our communities are unprepared for what some call a “polycrisis” - a rare convergence of multiple forces that results in a disaster. Lahaina residents have always lived in the shadow of an active volcano, but no one anticipated that a wildfire would be magnified by a freak windstorm, and that the town’s communication systems and water supply would fail to respond properly.

This tragedy could have been lessened by greater attention to resilience: the capacity to survive, adapt and flourish in the face of turbulent change and uncertainty. Animals and plants are resilient, especially the micro-organisms that have colonized our planet. Humans are unique among all species, having created a complex global economy built on miraculous technologies. But just how resilient are we?

In a volatile and tightly interconnected world, businesses and communities have become less resilient to unexpected crises. The threats emerge from the broader systems in which we operate - economic, political, and environmental. During the 20th century, humans generally flourished, creating wealth and populating the Earth at a rapid pace despite frequent conflicts among nations and tribes. Yet lately, global turbulence and uncertainty have caught up with us. We are ill-equipped to face an array of daunting challenges, mostly of our own making.

External link

Context, 25 Aug 2023: Hawaii wildfires expose need for resilience in a polycrisis world