Frederick Boltz, N. LeRoy Poff, Carl Folke, Nancy Kete, Casey M. Brown, Sarah St. George Freeman, John H. Matthews, Alex Martinez, Johan Rockström, Water is a master variable: Solving for resilience in the modern era, Water Security, 8, 2019
Resilience is increasingly recognized as an imperative for any prospect of sustainable development, as it relates to our ability to sustain human well-being and progress under the planetary and societal changes that we face now and into the future. Yet, we are ill-prepared to meet this challenge. We neither fully understand nor manage consistently for resilience of the human and natural systems that we must steward through extraordinary change. A unifying approach and common currency would help us to understand and manage for resilience under uncertain futures. Water is an essential, defining element in human and natural systems. Human civilization and water systems have co-evolved as a coupled system, with the majority of natural freshwater systems transformed to meet our demands. Shifting patters of water availability in space and time will define key pathways and tipping points for our resilience, and thus requirements for water system resilience must guide the trajectories and boundaries of human development. Here, we consider the thesis that water offers a key to unlocking the complex challenge of designing and managing for the resilience of coupled human-natural systems. We examine what constitutes a resilient system, what drives freshwater resilience, and how pathways to human resilience may be charted and navigated through the medium of water. Our theoretical treatise frames a portfolio of research that tests this thesis, including modeling and applications to water and water-dependent systems.