Lessons from the past, policies for the future: Resilience and sustainability in past crises


This article surveys some examples of the ways past societies have responded to environmental stressors such as famine, war, and pandemic. We show that people in the past did think about system recovery, but only on a sectoral scale. They did perceive challenges and respond appropriately, but within cultural constraints and resource limitations. Risk mitigation was generally limited in scope, localized, and again determined by cultural logic that may not necessarily have been aware of more than symptoms, rather than actual causes. We also show that risk-managing and risk-mitigating arrangements often favored the vested interests of elites rather than the population more widely, an issue policy makers today still face.

Publication Type
Journal Article
John Haldon, Princeton University
Adam Izdebski, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Sam White, University of Helsinki
Environment Systems and Decisions