Resilience. Communities. Networks. Questions. Possibilities. Hopes. Challenges.
By Scott Spann, Innate Strategies
This is the second short glimpse into what we’re up to in this domain of “resilience” – who’s focusing on it, how and why. Last time we touched on “how”, and this time we’ll look at the “why” and a little of the “how.” We’ll say a bit more about the “who” in preparation for our gathering at the pre-conference workshop – Catalyzing a Resilient Communities Network.
In our conversations with key leaders focusing on resilience, three key themes emerged that also parallel our own motivation for focusing on resilience. Both arise –out of a macro set of circumstances that virtually no one denies:
- We face the clear and present danger of a system on “auto-pilot” in which the hoped-for checks and balances are amplifying our errors, rather than containing them.
- In the U.S., the gridlock once only visible at the Federal level is now emerging increasingly at the State level.
- Globally, no overarching body is able to step in to contain a runaway system at anything like the order of magnitude needed to safeguard those of us living on our Earth today, much less future generations.
“Why we can’t.”
Both nationally and globally, a consistent chorus of reasons why “we can’t” respond continues to block our forward progress:
- Money: We can’t afford to make such changes, nor would investors back it,
- Jobs: We can’t afford to displace the jobs that would be lost without “growth.”
- Consumers. Consumers have made it clear they don’t want to go “green.”
- Technology: We don’t know how to do this cost efficiently.
- Globalism: We’re so globally interdependent that can’t act alone, only in unison.
The “How” of why we can.
We’ve discovered that the common naysayer complaints don’t hold water. In our initial interviews with15+ key leaders in the field of resilience (with more to come), we’ve sought to understand precisely how they’ve literally caused resilience in their work and communities. (For a glimpse at a few of them, go to Resilient Communities Intensive.)
Based on these leaders’ experience, there’s overwhelming evidence to show we can. Here are just a few:
- Andy Lipkis with TreePeople, in his groundbreaking work around watersheds in L.A., found the funds were already present in the budgets of existing municipal departments – they just needed to be re-allocated.
- Astrid Scholz with Ecotrust has introduced radically different, sustainable business models that parallel and disrupt the current unsustainable paradigm while improving equity for small business and consumers. Further, they’ve found investors very willing to take sustainable longer-term returns instead of unsustainable short-term returns.
- Gar Alperovitz, a political economist with Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperative, has helped pioneer local economic development rooted in “anchor” institutional clients (e.g. hospitals, universities, local government) that, by sourcing locally with long-term contracts, drive more local jobs, investment, profits and the democratization of ownership structures and wealth.
- David Orr of Oberlin College, via the Oberlin Project, has garnered $60MM in funding and is positioned to generate 70% of the area’s food locally and 90% of its energy renewably by 2020, while increasing the number of jobs, businesses and local investments.
- Greg Watson, now Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of Massachusetts, has seen a consistent rise in the number of local farmers able to earn their living supplying food via local farmers markets.
- Mary Gonzales of the Gamaliel Foundation consistently finds ways to improve both social and environmental conditions while increasing the jobs, living wage and investment prospects for local communities.
- Paul Hawken shared his experiences in business as a clear indication that, when people are given the opportunity to purchase healthy, sustainably produced products, many will choose wisely. It’s a matter of making those options available on a level playing field.
- Tom Linzey is helping local communities re-charter themselves to assert local, democratic control directly over corporations, and re-establish both their own democratic rights and give legal rights to nature. Citizen demand for such resilient alternatives is on a rapid increase, he says.
- Lipkis, Scholz, Alperovitz, Orr and Watson are all finding that consumers are not the problem. Given the choice — and the needed business models and policy structures — they readily move in the direction of resilience.
The idea that we don’t know how to do this, that it’s too complex or too expensive, similarly comes undone under examination:
- Janine Benyus of the Biomimcry Institute finds the demand from industry to employ nature’s principles to solve challenging problems steadily growing. Indeed, they’re solving not just technical problems, but problems in organizational development, resource sharing, chemistry and more – 2,100+ tangible solutions so far. And, they’ve only just begun.
- Scholz cites innovation in business models, information visualization and investing that help to move us closer to resilience.
- Lipkis, Scholz, Alperovitz, Orr, Watson, Gonzales, Linzey are each finding abundant innovations – technical, legal, organizational, informational, economic, and on.
Others are demonstrating that we don’t per se have to act globally. Local action begins to catalyze regionally, then nationally, and is likely the best, and perhaps the only path to build global resilience.
- Colonel Mark Puck Mykleby, in his prior role as Chief Strategic Advisor to the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, co-wrote A National Strategic Narrative advocating a move from containment to “sustainment” – from military or hierarchical control to credible influence, emphasizing the need for local, regional and national sustainability as a national security imperative.
- Bill McKibben and 350.org’s work responding to local threats to climate sustainability are rooted in the conviction that we must act on the ground locally and regionally to stem the tide of climate change, if we’re to have any hope of disrupting the current model and establishing sustainable, resilient ones.
- Tom Linzey’s work also focuses locally – whether with local “home rule” charters at the community level or the “rights of nature” in the Ecuadorian national constitution. The ability of local citizens to ground global issues in local, personally meaningful issues and action is critical to building the capacity to provoke change at national and then global levels.
It seems clear from the direct experience of those most engaged in the resilience movement that we have the elemental building blocks needed to make the transition – at scale – to a resilient world. Of necessity, that world will align social, environment and economic goals in ways that ensure increasing equity at each level.
Please join us in this exploration and conversation. We’ll be learning and communicating much more about the “who, what, how, and why” of resilience at the conference intensive and in the months to follow. We’d love for you to be a part of that dialogue and share your experience and wisdom. Please join us at Bioneers on October 18thfor the Resilient Communities Intensive.