Resilience : How?
We recently did a small event in Bangalore — discussing the idea of resilience and imagining a few approaches and steps to getting there.
This is not a quick, short read. It’s a draft and will be edited often and easily as the discussion progresses, ideas improve and evolve.
What is Resilience? Why should I care?
Irrespective of what you think about the origins and causes of climate change, or it’s criticality, there’s impacts visible everywhere. Food, water, energy, livelihoods, population migrations — there’s likely to be massive changes in everything we see around and life as we know it. Then there are the reactions to it as well — countries trying to do damage control as they recognize the crises — reducing packaging, taxing and reducing dirty energy, inhibiting immigration as the resources get strained, the private battle to secure resources, and so much more.
The debate around sustainability, and around whether we can do anything or enough to limit these changes, is ongoing. Our models to understand this are ever evolving. But it’s clear that the changes are happening, whatever the reason. We can either react later, or we can proactively rearrange our lives, economies, tech and society around the changes we can anticipate, reduce the downsides and negative experience, and perhaps even improve the human experience on the planet. This is the core of what resilience is about. It involves solutions and ideas that manage resources better, manage needs better and smarter, and ensure we think in circular loops than linear ways.
The simple example of an LED bulb comes to mind — much lower resource consumption and the same or better experience, and likely longer lasting. There’s still a lot of scope for efficiency — perhaps by redesigning and reorganising production — to avoid wasting all that plastic and metal we throw out merely because a little LED in there needs to be replaced! There’s a gazillion more such things we could think of — technologically, behaviourally — that will not only let us live happily with more, but may improve our overall quality of life.
If we continue with the current way, inefficiencies and destruction, and only react when the changes have already happen, we will suffer pain, loss, and our solutions will continue to be short term and knee jerk, worsening the situation and our experience on this planet.
Can we bend, gracefully, instead of break? Can we reduce the impact in most cases, and even be anti-fragile in some ways, and actually experience a better life?
Resilience is important for us all if we care about the human civilization, the human experience, and in turn the ecosystem around us that we are part of and depend on very very fundamentally, not merely as transient consumers.
Sounds Hard! How Do We Do This?
Yep, it is hard. Our brains and fundamental flight/fight nature isn’t designed to proactively look at and comprehend deeply what’s coming in the non-immediate future and adapt early for that. But our knowledge systems, computational capabilities and collective organisational ability have, in small ways in the past, transcended our evolutionary limitation to plan ahead and adapt. Arguably, this is much much larger and needs all of humanity to push together, but surely we have the ability to imagine a more efficient, resilient way of living on this planet, and the ingenuity to get there.
Let’s start small — but stuff that adds up to the big
Often we get too fixated on specific individual solutions — public transport or veganism or nuclear energy or renewables or farming or taking flights or the monetary system or whatever — and debate the pros and cons of each to death. Not everyone can make every switch immediately to the same degree, and making each sound like the holy grail that must be complied with merely gets people to dig in and impedes a collective push directionally. It makes the effort seem more onerous than it needs to, rather than a positive, happy thing to do, and makes us all a little pessimistic about actually making any impact.
Here’s some things that came up during the discussions during and after the event:
- PRODUCE when/what you can : We all have become consumers of most things — almost everything, in our daily lives. If we remember to try produce a few of these, when possible and when the opportunity arises, we’ll make an impact. Not talking about the production of abstract work that is consumed in an abstract way in another part of the planet — but something either you or someone in your vicinity uses directly, visibly. Could be a little lamp you make, or gadget you fix, or a play or performance for your community, or growing food in the garden, or a wood fired oven in the yard, or home-dinner instead of a restaurant meal — just keep thinking about this and spotting opportunities. The self belief and skills are both a major part of being resilient, and it’s a lot of fun!
- Try doing the HARD Things once in a while : Some of the huge changes will happen if cheap energy reduces. We will be need to walk/cycle more, take the bus more, live with a larger range of temperature and weather conditions than we’ve gotten accustomed to in the last century, and so on. Just to stay flexible, do some of what seem like the “hard” things once in a while. It makes you fitter and more agile both mentally and physically. There’s no long list, but each time you seek convenience, remember to think about doing the inconvenient thing as well and doing it if it seems like a useful thing to be flexible about in a changing world. Includes learning a few words in a new language, and eating stuff you didn’t think you’d ever need to, or want to.
- Rethink NEEDS, especially new purchases : Do you really need to buy another pair of shoes? Right away? Do you need one more set of placemats for the table? Do you need the 3rd TV, or one more lamp, or rucksack, or whatever? At least give it a serious thought before you go ahead. If each of us resists impulsive buys and cuts back even 15%, that’s 15% less of everything on the planet that’ll get produced, junked, transported etc. More left to go. And you’ll have suddenly figured out you have plenty already. Wanting less is a huge step for resilience — financially, emotionally.
- Make things LAST : A logical extension of the above is to make what you have last a lot, lot longer than you do. And imagine how everything we do might last a lot longer — remember the LED bulb mentioned earlier? It’ll need us to be comfortable with “older”, “slower”, and so on. It’ll need modular, smarter design, and upgradable components that are built to last. It may mean nothing is “cheaper” all the time any more. But that “cheap” is pretty expensive, when you really start to look at it over a longer term. It’s useful to pause and weigh the minor benefits (“better screen resolution”) against the costs for a replacement (e.g. read about cobalt mining) before you take a decision — it’s still ok to upgrade but the thought may delay a few needless ones. Just freeing yourself from a constant-consumer mode is very, very liberating and makes you, and our ecology resilient in very deep ways.
- Understand Nature’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Cycles : When you see things around, do recognise the services nature provides — air, water, energy and other resources. Think about your dependence on them, and their dependence on each other in complex ways. Think about each action and imagine what could compromise this beautiful complexity, and lead to reduced levels of availability of those services that we critically depend on for a healthy, happy existence. As this understanding deepens, we’ll automatically realign to work with it rather than against it, and will enable a more resilient ecosystem — something that is very, very, very desirable.
- KNOW People around you : Know who they are, what they do. In times of a crises, when we need the understanding of and solving of problems, people around are our best bet. Investing in relationships across professional, economic, ethnic boundaries etc in your region, building a strong connect and bond, helping people solve their problems and pitching in are all major tools for building long term resilience personally, and as a community.
- Get INVOLVED in Problem Solving : We need to expand the set of problem solvers because the solutions will be many — big and small, and local and contextual. We need a support group, because these changes aren’t always easy, and sometimes social norms and established behaviours get in the way. We need to discover more opportunities and methods to be a little more resilient, to create a little more resilience around us, and to spread ideas about alternatives and ideas that are efficient while they improve our experience, or reduce the impact of the inevitable changes that our coming. Don’t worry about the size of the change, figure out a way to get involved.
Most of the above aren’t specific solutions — and the idea is not to be prescriptive. We’ll all have different ideas, various starting points, and personal challenges and failures. But overall, if we make enough progress on all these, it’ll get easier and easier and the really great ideas will start to spread. It’s not critical for ALL of us to become began, or stop flying altogether, or to stop participating in the consumer economy altogether. But it is important that we all recognise these as directions we want to move towards, and there be an overall move in these directions. It’ll add up, and we may be able to handle the coming changes a lot better, and who knows, maybe even avoid a few altogether!