Resilience Has Not Been Lost (It's Been Willfully Ignored)

Tony the Misfit/CC BY 2.0

Resilience is a hot topic right now. With worst-case climate scenarios looking increasingly realistic and a continued refusal by Governments to grasp the seriousness of peak oil, many environmentalists are shifting their focus.

Shifting Our Focus
While we previously worried primarily about how to cut carbon and reduce the impact of the status quo, there is an increasing realization that we also have to look at how to keep this show—meaning human culture and civilization—on the road at all. And that means a renewed focus on resilience.

All this is a good thing. From my own lessons on resilience from a zombie apocalypse,to Lloyd's take on resilience in architecture and green building, this shift in focus is an opportunity to rethink the very basics of how our culture operates. And if the recent financial crisis has taught us anything, it's that our culture could really do with a heavy dose of rethinking.

We're Not Reinventing the Wheel
But I can't help but also worry about some of the rhetoric around resilience. Because I'm increasingly hearing we need to "rediscover" something that has been "lost" to us as a culture. And that's bullshit. It's true that many of us have not been taught how to grow our own food, how to repair things, or how to make the best use of the resources we have available to us. But there are many who have.

As I noted in my post on why "hipster" urban farmers are doing nothing new, there are many communities—both rural and urban—for whom resilience has always been a way of life; where the trickle down economics has never really trickled down at all; and where sharing, collaboration and an informal economy are the primary forms of organization—not a fancy new idea for saving the world.

Innovators Are Everywhere
The trouble is that these communities are the ones who have been economically, socially and politically marginalized. For whatever reason, their voices have rarely been heard in any discussion, and we as a culture are not used to viewing poor communities as anything other than charity cases, objects of derision or a cause for suspicion. But as we face the very real possibility that our future will not be as economically stable as our past, we would do well to start understanding that those of us who have experienced financial poverty are often natural-born innovators, savvy business operators and committed participants in a truly sharing economy. In short, those of us who have already had to understand resilience in order to survive have a lot to teach the rest of us who may need to do the same. Even if the crises we face do not prove to be as severe as some of us fear, it's hard to argue that a society which shares more, consumes less, makes the best use of its resources and (gasp!) values the input and skills of ALL of its citizens is anything but a vast improvement on what we have now.

So by all means let's get excited about collaborative consumption. Absolutely, let's recognize that the real economy is about much more than just money. And let's reinvent the barn raising for the 21st Century. But let's also learn to learn from those who have been doing this stuff all along.

Maybe, in the process, we can accord everybody with the respect and access to opportunity that they deserve.

Tags: Activism | Communities | Community Gardens | Economics | Poverty | United States