One set of conversations goes 'cultivating resilient, localising communities is one key to marrying mitigation and adaptation efforts (or 'prevention' and 'cure' for climate change bound together) - but in ways strongly rooted in starting from community strengths - which is why it is taking off in movements such as transition towns'. My work at Carnegie UK Trust owes much to this kind of analysis.
Others see resilience as old-fashioned; a harking back to times gone by and the 'war spirit', so less helpful because it underplays the critical role of innovation and creativity (and adaptability) in the transitions we are all facing. It's useful to ask at this point whether 'resilience' is a term worth breathing new life into, updating, and advocating as a dynamic, creative and utterly ecological (or compexity/systems-thinking) based approach - and thus very different from a single-stranded 'dig for victory' type message. As John Robb says on his community resilience-focussed blog,
the resilient community isn't a step backwards to 19th Century approaches (survivalism, scarcity, and low productivity), but rather a move in a direction that makes it possible to generate rapid and sustained (as opposed to the relative stasis and irregular progress of the current system) improvements how we live.Alastair McIntosh, in his excellent new book 'Hell and High Water' (Birlinn), presents a depth critique of how consumerism, nihilism and lack of presence are linked together in blocking us from addressing the root causes of climate change. He ends with a 12-step plan, a theology of hope in the face of the death that already characterises our times. His analysis of consumerism is the clearest and most powerfully written I have come across. The book leaves me wanting more - in particular, for Alastair to meld into his analysis the implications of oil shocks on mass consciousness, and how these may present opportunities to augment his '12 step' plan for climate activism. Broadly the argument is a strong one however - a cancerous material culture can only be transformed by a resurgent spirituality founded in sure values of justice and sustainability. What, then, are the qualities of leadership necessary to cultivate such a shift? And what might be some of the crystallising focus points to galvanise such leadership?
This blog's focus suggests that 'cultivating resilience' is one such focus with great potential to lever profound shifts in consciousness and transformation beyond a monopoly of deadening consumerism. There is already a broad movement working through how this looks in real places. For me, resilience thinking must first be grounded in a resilience practice - that is, a practice of staying present and connecting - in loving relationships with partners, friends, community. Meditation, gardening, improvised music... can all be practices to support this core intention, and which offer powerful grounding as we stay present with the unfolding patterns of disruption and chaos brought by oil, climate and other shocks. These and many similar practices are surely at the heart of creative, life-affirming contribution to the emergence of a global movement such as the one Paul Hawkin describes in Blessed Unrest.
Alex Steffen presents another perspective. Responding in his post to an ardent localiser, Steffen re-emphasises the dangers of sinking into survivalist thinking, likening it to the millenarian cults who dose up on catastrophe as a way of being less than present. I'd suggest that the numbing process that comes with spending too much time in the future (whether it's being terrified or blankly optimistic) is worth looking out for - it can lead to nihilism or radical dislocation from the choices and opportunities of the present. Steffen writes:
I think pretty highly of John Robb. I don't always agree with him -- and sometimes I think he's way off base -- but I think he's really grappling with the new realities of violence, conflict and system instability in our times.
In particular, I find his on-going series of posts on Resilient Community a source of both worry and insight.
First, the insight. John's posts themselves tend to focus on work-arounds for brittle infrastructure, things like smart local networks (sort of the information equivalent of energy smart grids), community scrip and local fabrication. There are some really thought-provoking ideas here, new thinking applied in new ways, many of which fit well with a strategy of increasing neighborhood survivability. The world is getting bumpier, and preparedness, learning and innovation are called for.
But I worry as well about the role these sorts of ideas seem to often end up playing in the public debate. At the very least, I see these sorts of ideas playing into a misinformed understanding of the possibilities of localism, one which has the potential to seriously drain needed energy from efforts to stave off collapse. At the worst, I see it playing into an insane survivalism, one that's quite oblivious to the real nature of big systems failures.
Because, it bears repeating again and again and again, responses based purely on localism and scaling-back can't save us now. We need to remake our material civilization. If we don't do that, no amount of community preparation or personal bunker-building is going to save our bacon. If we don't avoid the tipping points, we're headed into an atmospheric singularity, which will likely involve cascading systems failures and a total inability to meaningfully plan our own lives.
Resilience is a great strategy for making sure our communities are capable of withstanding the bumps we're facing in order to keep generating solutions which can be used to avoid the crash; but if the crash comes, individuals and local communities are not going to be in any position to weather it through their own actions, no matter what they do.
Prevention is the only cure worth talking about here.