Deepening Resilience: Preparation.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

Preparedness looks different from community to community. In some places, it’s ensuring that there will be enough clean food and water. In others, it’s getting ready to battle things like worsening allergy seasons and severe weather phenomena.

In mine, it means pulling up stakes.

To look at my neighborhood, you wouldn’t really think of it as something that’d be that threatened by climate change — the hardest part might be getting supplies in and out of the city, right? When you look at projections of swelling rivers and reshaped coastlines a few years to a few decades from now, though, it’s not that easy. One estimate places the new waterfront at ten feet from my front door. In addition to rather complicated traffic patterns, there are many reasons why this would be really, really bad. Even with time to prepare, how can an entire, already-existing city keep sewage, garbage, vermin, and other vectors of illness out of the rising water? Keeping our potable water from contamination is important, but also not something a small community using city infrastructure can really manage on its own. Even if we set up our own, smaller-scale  means of keeping our drinking and bathing water clean, the mold, rats, and insects will still be there.

Sometimes, preparedness looks a lot like leaving.

Unfortunately, that means it may not be possible to take care of everyone. There are a lot of people here who can’t move on their own, whether due to physical or monetary limitations. Even if we take it for granted that my community would be willing and able to pitch in to uproot every member and move us all to somewhere safer, it still isn’t possible. Some are too old, others are too ill. Even with able-bodied people to help, even if money isn’t an issue, you can’t move everyone.

That doesn’t even take into account the strong ties people feel to their homes. There are still people living in Centralia and outside of Pripyat, and not all of them are there because circumstances force them to be. The ties to home are strong. For some, a life in a strange place — no matter how safe — would be no life at all.

So, how do we prepare our community for climate change here? Is it right for the able-bodied to put themselves and their families at risk for those who either can’t or won’t move to safer ground? Could my community even still function, as our houses flood and crumble and our streets vanish under the water? I don’t have an answer. I wish I did.

Sometimes, preparing means packing up and doing the best you can.

 

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Deepening Resilience: Ecological grief.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

How do you respond to the news that another oil spill happened? That yet another oil company has been given permission to drill in yet another “protected area?” That plants in your neighborhood have decided to burn recyclables instead of recycling them domestically? How do you keep going after blow after blow?

Ecological grief is a profoundly helpless feeling. You can rage, but you’re only one person pitted against an entity with the (questionable) backing of lawyers and law enforcement. You can point out how bad an idea this all is, but it won’t matter to those who refuse to listen.

Individuals don’t have the police force’s arsenal, or the legal budget of Nestlé. We’re discouraged from organizing at every turn, as protesters are shot with water cannons and workers are forced to sit through propaganda to keep us from marshaling our numbers and the power of our labor. It keeps us willing to accept less and less — less money, less security, poorer health, dirtier air and water, fewer rights, less workplace safety — while we’re also bombarded with encouragement to seek relief through coping mechanisms like retail therapy. In other words, the things that grind us down also keep us supporting the entities behind the grinding.

As communities, our options for responding to environmental trauma expand beyond what we’re able to do as individuals. A single-person boycott, or protest, or letter writing campaign, or even a single thrown fist doesn’t amount to much. Together, we’re stronger, and strong communities can persist in the face of environmental trauma. Identifying the strengths of each member, organizing ways to distribute resources outside of the systems that profit off of environmental destruction, and creating strategies for protecting the local environment may not seem like much in the face of a global problem, but they are. Every community is different, every local environment is different, and it’s on a neighborhood scale that we’ll be able to look out for each other.

I am, perhaps, fortunate to live in a place that’s a nexus for policy and corporate lobbying. My community has options that others often don’t. On a daily basis, our neighborhoods and local businesses see the people who make the decisions that lead to environmental trauma. We know their names. We recognize them. And we can make them know they are unwelcome.

The faces behind the decisions that harm people and the environment are not gods, and they all have names and pictures.

Deepening Resilience: Hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

“Climate change” seems like such a soft term, doesn’t it? George Carlin talked about how euphemistic “global warming” and the “greenhouse effect” sounded, and I agree with him — warm sounds cozy, a house is a home, and greenhouses grow things. Climate change doesn’t really seem to encapsulate the full scope of acidifying oceans, dust-choked air, and the creeping horror of feeling your muscles freeze stiff in the deathgrip of a polar vortex, either.

If you can’t tell, I find the whole thing pretty frightening.

Part of it is that I worry for all of the people hurt the worst by it. This is especially true because the people most affected by climate change are women, especially those in developing nations where poor infrastructure creates additional barriers to preparedness. As long as low income women are the ones experiencing the worst of climate change, you will never get the people capable of making a global impact to care.

Part of it is knowing how many animals suffer because of climate change. Unless they’re cute and marketable, though, the people capable of making a global impact still won’t care.

Part of it is a gnawing dread, like watching a slow-motion car wreck. Knowing that there is a tipping point at which we can no longer do anything (how are we going to capture all of the methane currently trapped in melting ice?). Knowing that we’re pretty much there. Knowing that those with the ability to hit the breaks, aren’t.

Part of it is pure self-interest. Extremes in temperature mess me up. The heat makes my brain feel like its being crushed, I can’t breathe, and my heart pounds. The cold makes every limb feel swarmed with fire ants. Knowing that these extremes are only going to be worse, and come more often, isn’t comforting.

Climate change isn’t necessarily the kind of thing you can prepare for. Sure, you can develop a Bartertown-style compound for surviving a Mad Maxesque, worst-case-scenario apocalypse, but that only lasts as long as your ability to defend it does. Investing in gold or other concrete things would make for a great updated retelling of The Cock and the Jewel. Land and supplies are only as good as your ability to keep them, and even the most ardent stockpiler will run out of bullets, eventually.

Personally, I’m not sure how I’d prepare even if I were entirely able-bodied. I know how to grow food and forage, but this is only helpful as long as the right conditions for growing things last. With the weather weirding and disappearing pollinators, I have no misapprehensions about being able to feed myself. I have other useful skills I could barter, but that isn’t really bankable in such an extreme scenario.

I feel the most prepared when I open myself to the possibility of disaster. It might sound fatalistic, but death positivity has done more to help make me an effective person than anything else. When I embrace the fact that everything is probably not going to be okay, when I can look in the face of the absolute certainty that I’m going to die of something at some point, it’s freeing because I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can hope and work for the best, but expect (and accept) the worst. Death, itself, holds no fear for me.

As trite as it is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are things that can be done now (not “things we can do” — there is very little, on a day-to-day level, that individuals can do to stop climate change), and the people preventing them are not gods.

Deepening Resilience: The shape of ecological resilience.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here.

Resilience is toughness. It’s the ability to spring back after a blow, to have the capacity to return to a healthy state after going through hard times. It’s elasticity.

But, above all, it’s about breathing space.

Picture a mattress. In your mind’s eye, push your fist into the middle of that mattress, as hard as you can. Feel it give under your hand. Feel the foam squish or the springs creak. If you keep pushing, you can hold it like that. It’s only after you let go that the mattress is able to return to its own shape.

In an ecological sense, resilience is the capacity for an environment to return to a state that, while it might not be identical to its beginning state, is still capable of supporting the life that originally depended on it. Let a field go to seed, and the birds, deer, and insects will return. Let a warehouse in the middle of the city begin to crumble, and the moss and vines will creep in through the cracks while pigeons nest in the rafters. Over time, more of the original flora and fauna will return — so long as they aren’t extinct.

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But even the earth needs breathing space. It isn’t possible to take and take, and expect the environment to continue to be able to give. Taking anything, whether it’s food, water, wood, or stone, requires some kind of reciprocal relationship, and part of that reciprocal relationship is knowing when to stop and rest. The environment isn’t the only thing that needs that pause, though — the constant push to produce is no more natural or healthy for people than it is for the land or water. Profit is not a natural motive.

Ecological resilience looks like reciprocity, and feels like rest.

There’s another aspect to resilience at play here. To wit, have you ever experienced choice fatigue?

It’s a funny thing. You’d think that having more options is objectively better, but, unfortunately, there’s a point where our brains become overwhelmed. What seems like it should be freedom instead becomes stifling. Choices become harder to make. We may even end up seeking out a similar scenario that offers fewer choices instead, or not choosing anything at all. If we do make a choice, we’re less satisfied with it. There’s only so much we can process, even when it’s something “good.”

The reason I bring this up is that it doesn’t just apply to jelly, or cars, or any other consumer good. It applies to everything. Reading the news is a nightmare in part because it’s almost never good news, but also because there’s an overwhelming number of situations that demand our attention. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and succumb to fatigue. When it comes to taking action effectively, that overwhelmed, mentally exhausted feeling is a surefire way to tank it.

If you read the comment section of pretty much any news story posted on social media, there will always be at least one person who shows up just to go, “Well, what about [some other horrific situation happening right now]?” The quick, sensible response here is that it’s possible to care about more than one thing at a time. It’s possible to be upset about more than one thing at a time.
I just also think it’s only possible for one person to really act on a limited number of things at a time.

Resilience is flexibility. It’s the ability to take a blow and recover quickly. One of the biggest impediments to this is a lack of breathing room — when you’re hit, over and over, by tragedy after tragedy, there is no space to bounce back. It’s something that political figures count on: Throw too many bad headlines and worse decisions at the public, they won’t be able to fight back indefinitely. Monopolize the breathing room, and you can keep people from being able to act. The healing never begins if there is no space between fresh hell.

The EPA granted “emergency” approvals for dumping bee-killing pesticides. Oil and gas pipelines leak with disturbing frequency. Environmental protections are eroded more day by day. Then there’s the border wall. How do you focus? What do you act on? How do you act?

The key to developing and maintaining resilience in the face of this fatigue is to prioritize. Choose what is the most important to you (or what needs you the most), whether it’s on a local, national, or global level, and pour your energy into it. It’s okay to feel anger and frustration when things are brought to our attention, but not everything needs immediate and direct action on an individual level. It’s okay to read a news story or see a problem somewhere, find out who is already acting on it, offer whatever support we can offer without overextending ourselves, and release that anger with gratitude to the people who are already working on it. Chances are, they know what they need to do.

Outrage is not finite, but energy is (particularly for those of us whose energy is limited by disabilities). Don’t let politics and the news grind you down, because that’s exactly what the end goal is. Find your breathing space, and support those who are not yet in their breathing space. Bounce back, then react. Maintain your resilience.