Toward a more resilient community — and world

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nore the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

-Charles Darwin

In Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben writes that survival begins with words.

“We lack a vocabulary and the metaphors we need for life on a different scale. We’re so used to growth that we can’t imagine alternatives; at best we embrace the squishy sustainable, with its implied claim that we can keep on as before.”

McKibben goes on to offer his candidates for words that may help us to better wrap our heads around the kind of communities we’re going to need on a hotter and less predictable planet: durable, sturdy, stable, hardy, robust. These are words that conjure a world, McKibben says, where we no longer grow by leaps and bounds but where we hunker down and dig in. “They are words we associate with maturity, not youth, with steadiness, not flash. They aren’t exciting, but they are comforting — think husband, not boyfriend.”

Building on McKibben’s idea, YES! Magazine devoted most of its Fall edition to the concept of resiliency and ways we can build it into ourselves and our communities. They even offer a test to help readers determine just how resilient they are. The broad categories include, “Do you have a support network?” and “Are you self-and community-sufficient?” I took the test and was somewhat disappointed to discover that I have a way to go before I can count myself among those leading the way to a more resilient world.

How resilient are you and your family? Take the test and find out.

In another YES! article, “In the Face of This Truth,” journalism professor Robert Jensen examines people’s anguish over the decline of the planet and the denial many of our fellow citizens still live in. We must continue to tell our “exceptional truth” about the state of the world, Jensen says, because “no political project based on denying reality can be viable for the long term.” In fact, Jensen says, honesty and humility may be humanity’s only hope. “The work of breaking out of denial is less about specific actions and more about the habits and virtues we must cultivate.”

Photo by Rick Chamberlin

I met with some of the denial Jensen is talking about when I called my county board rep a few weeks ago to see if he’d be willing to meet with me to discuss how we can prepare our county for the changes global warming will bring us in the years ahead. I had first tried to introduce myself via email, but several weeks went by without a response. So I called him up.

My attempts at small talk were met with suspicion, annoyance and curtness, so I dove right in to the reason for my call.

“Oh, I know some things are happening,” the man elected to represent me said at my mention of climate change, “but I don’t know if there’s anything we can do about it.” His tone told me he’d rather be having his teeth drilled.

“Well,” I said, “even if we disagree about whether we can stop or slow climate change, I think you will agree with me that there are things we might do to prepare for the changes on the way.”

He didn’t agree or disagree. Instead he said he didn’t think he could meet with me because he was getting ready to go on an Alaskan vacation. Ah, perfect, I thought.

“I worked up there back in the late eighties,” I told him. “You’ll certainly see and hear a lot about climate change when you’re there. Global warming is hitting Alaska pretty hard.”

My attempt to build on common ground was met with silence. Nevertheless, I politely pressed for a meeting. Perhaps when he returned from vacation?

“Call me after Labor Day,” he grumbled before hanging up.

I’m hoping that the scales fell from his eyes in Alaska and that he won’t still be living on the banks of a certain river in Egypt when he returns.

Regardless, I’m going to keep at it, because building more resilient lives and communities is not an elective course. It’s a prerequisite — to survival. It’s pass or fail, swim or sink, do or die.

It’s also a lot more fun and interesting than following the same worn-out road to nowhere.

1 Comment

One Comment

  1. way to be persistent with your representative. Looks like your initial attempt at a common language was met with, let’s say, less than enthusiasm. Perhaps his Alaska trip will open his eyes….if he’s ready for that experience. We seem to be better (not necessarily good) at crisis management but suck at anticipating these events. Reptilian brain perhaps?