As of today I am happy to announce my participation in a new project. Deepening Resilience, Earth-Based Responses to Climate Change. It is a community blog project, initiated by Syren Nagakyrie and a platform for conversations on climate change in the weeks leading up to Earth Day. Every other week will be the focus of a different question and topic, and I will be typing out my responses to those topics here. Definitely check it out, and consider contributing to the conversation!
So let’s begin!
(A conceptual drawing of my own local city, from here)
Question 1, What does ecological resilience look or feel like?
Resilience; “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks” – Wikipedia “Ecological Resilience”
I approach animism and ecology through a systemic point of view. I like to look at the emergent, complex whole, at the big picture. As such, when I think of resilience, I think of the capacity of a given system to withstand and adapt to change, while still remaining functional.
This is true whether I am talking about ecological systems or social systems, and honestly there is a great deal of overlap between the two. Our cities and communities are not somehow apart from nature, but a part of the ecosystems in which they are grounded. The growth of our cities has certainly had a impact on those very same ecosystems, this is true, and not always for the better.
Still, when I think about ecological resilience, humanity is included in that discussion, as part of the entire planetary biosphere, as an extension of the planet and nature. This is important when we talk about climate change, because it affects way more than just humanity, it affects our planet’s ecosystems too. The other-than-human world.
To me, that is at the heart of ecological resilience. The changing climate affects the whole of the planet, human and non-human alike. So when we are talking about resilience, we are talking about everyone, because we are all part of the same planetary system. As such, the question becomes what can we do to help build that kind of systemic resilience in a changing world?
There have been a lot of reports lately, many of which I have discussed on this blog, that are starting to model what a climate changed world looks like. Fires, floods, and crop failures, but also melting ice caps and a growing number of extinctions. This is a whole lot bigger than just the impact on human communities, but also on non-human ones too.
The development of our human civilization has done a fair bit of damage to the ecosystems of our planet, from deforestation, to the decrease of wetlands, and to unsustainable forms of industrialized farming. And these aren’t just far away problems, issues that are “out there”. These affect my own local environment too, from PFAs contamination to toxic algal blooms.
So I think the first part of ecological resilience is doing what we can to restore our relationship as part of nature to some kind of balance. The truth is, ecosystems are self organizing, and really don’t need us to help them build resilience, as forests and wetlands kind of do that on their own. That is, if they have the space they need to do that. Building subdivisions on former wetlands is not the kind of space they need.
This covers a whole host of ecological restoration ideas. From hands off approaches like letting fallow fields go through the succession process, to more active approaches such as building new forests, restoring current forests, and protecting wetlands. It can also look like aiding communities on the frontlines of climate change, such as indigenous people.
There is a whole host of conservation and restoration oriented projects, many at the local level, that are in need of resources and volunteers. That is something we can all help with, if we have the means and will to do so. We know that forests can help sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and that wetlands are the front line when it comes to managing floods and excess water runoff.
But the story of climate change also impacts human communities, and the resilience of our ecosystems is also tied intimately to the resilience of our cities and communities. Community in this way takes on a much broader context, that includes both human and nature. That is animism in a nutshell, and it means we must work with natural ecosystems, and learn from them, because they are active partners in our approach to climate change.
Take for example the relationship between urban design and wetlands. Wetlands are vitally important for a whole host of reasons, from filtering out some toxins and pollutants, to managing flooding and drainage. Climate change is going to bring more frequent and heavier precipitation to my region, and that water has to go somewhere. Floods are devastating natural disasters, and climate change is going to bring larger floods, more frequently. How do we build resilient communities to that kind of damage? Wetland restoration could be one answer;
“Wetlands may not be as obvious a solution to managing flood risk as engineered investments such as dams, levees, floodwalls and drainage systems. But experiences from around the world — recently, but also dating back a century — show that wetlands should be part of the mix of solutions as cities confront this challenge. Within cities, urban wetlands are part of a mix of investments — including rooftop gardens and permeable pavements — that can intercept and absorb rainfall, so that more water sinks slowly into soils and groundwater and less becomes rapid runoff that submerges streets and
overwhelms storm drainage systems. “
In my local area, we had another great example of room for resilience planning. In recent months, we had a polar vortex move through Michigan, and temperatures plummeted as a result. It go cold, really, really cold. We were colder than Mars in some parts, and broke several cold weather records. This strained our natural gas (for heating) infrastructure, which resulted in a fire and a subsequent natural gas shortage and rationing. It was a bit of crisis, in the midst of the coldest weather my home region has to offer.
While the crisis was handled well on many levels, it is notable that it only took the failure of a single compressor facility to put millions of people at risk from the cold. That is a critical weak point in our infrastructure, and redundancy and contingency planning could go a long way towards making that entire system more resilient.
In short, that is exactly the kind of thing we need to be thinking about, regardless of the scale. Whether it is our households, our communities, our regions, or the whole damn planet; climate change brings with it the threat that fires, floods, and weather will get quite a bit worse. How to we prepare for that? How do we keep the lights on? The water flowing and clean? How do we feed ourselves? Our most vulnerable out of the cold, or the heat?
These are questions that have to be addressed, and that we have plenty of ideas and tools to tackle them. I cannot detail all those here, (but this is a great start) but the point is that technical prowess or scientific knowledge is not the problem. It’s a question of willpower, of political and social will. It involves big changes, in our thinking, as well as our approach. A resilience oriented mindset will take us at least part of the way towards a better future.
If we start say, thinking like a forest, or the planet, we can see the networks of systems that are all around us. We can see more clearly how wetlands adapt to flooding, or how forests connect with one another to increase the odds of survival through fungal networks. When we start thinking in a more systemic, holistic, and networked ways, we can build more resilient and adaptable systems. By learning from nature, we can build resilience in a changing and uncertain world.
Because, at the end of the day, the Earth, our home, is one damn big system. And it’s changing, and so we need to learn how to adapt and mitigate those changes. That process, that’s what building resilience looks like to me. Personally, I think pagans were tailor made for this kind of work.
Thanks for reading!