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

John Haldon*, Merle Eisenberg, Lee Mordechai, Adam Izdebski, Sam White

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)287-297
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironment Systems and Decisions
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Complex historical societies
  • Environmental stress
  • Existential risk
  • Government responses
  • Inequality
  • Pandemic
  • Plague
  • Resilience
  • Risk mitigation
  • System recovery


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