Abstract: This article asks how people envision lives without economic growth in contexts where conventional development ceases to be feasible. It presents ethnographic research I conducted in Peru and in the Maldives, which policy makers see as two climate crisis frontiers. I argue for defining resilience as a grounded, necessarily local, actor’s theory of permanence; it is a theory people from diverse social classes and institutions generate in situations of vulnerability and crisis. In the Andes’ Colca Valley, which some residents predict has only several habitable decades left due to increasing water scarcity, sustainable development projects are attenuating their presence as their budgets shrink, while mining enterprises and their corporate social responsibility programs have emerged as development’s new agenda setters. The Maldives is one of the world’s lowest-lying nations, which rising seas could soon render uninhabitable. Between 2008 and 2012, President Mohamed Nasheed made addressing the climate crisis a policy priority by substituting conventional industrial development with a short-lived quest for national carbon neutrality. Examining this contrapuntal pair of frontier sites, I argue that defining the unit of resilience is a political act: forging this definition means prioritizing what, in a human-driven ecosystem, should remain permanent and what should be left behind.
Journal of Political Ecology 24: 462-475.