I used to be rather resistant to the whole concept of sustainability, because I felt that it was rather not a metabolic process, rather static, rather heavy-bounded, in its first definitions. And then I discovered the whole resilience cycle. So there is a resilience cycle that has been really well-documented in interdisciplinary research, often referred to as panarchy these days.
And panarchy is actually following the cycle of living systems that starts with a self-organizing process that says: 'Okay, we've figured out how to do this and we're going to exploit it.' That's the first stage. And then, when that matures into a stage where it's stable, the resources will come to a point where they will be over-exploited, and they will become less prime, and in fact, because they're not adapting, will fall into a stage of disintegration, a breakdown.
And that third stage, the breakdown, if you're in it, it looks like the end of the world. If you're a forest, it's a forest fire, and it is the end of the forest as standing trees. If you're society and you're in the war, it looks like life is over. But that stage sometimes can be quite protracted and look like nothing will ever come out of it. But eventually that stage also shifts, and when it shifts, it may be because the entire forest has been completely turned to cinders.
But when the dust settles, literally, life happens and it reorganizes. This is the stage where self-organizing emerges, and connections, new connections that haven't been made before, emerge. And eventually, order comes out of this. One of the great expressions out of complexity is: We get order for free, we get it because self-organizing eventually produces order. And out of that, we shift back into that exploitive cycle again.
So the resilience curve is like a figure 8: It also is something that you can think about as how the stages of complexity emerge, as it becomes more and more complex.
And once I was able to see the life and the stage settings in resilience, I realized that one way I could reframe sustainability is that when something is sustainable, order has emerged. When something is resilient, self-organizing is alive. And if you only have one without the other, you don't get the elegance of a living system that is part of an ecology. An ecology is very resilient, it develops its own resilience, and you get all this incredible niching, all of the holons within the holons within the holons. But it's cycling, it's always cycling. And that's how emergence happens. It is, I think, through the combination of sustaining and resilience.