Tag Archives: resilience

Back to the future, kids

by Stan Hirst

Permit me to introduce the apples of my eye – my grandkids.

They’re Canadians, so naturally there is one boy and one girl. I use the term ‘Canadians’ somewhat collectively, since a quick review of their family trees shows ancestors from 10 known genetic ancestries. Plus, there is a bit of Neanderthal in there as well, according to DNA analysis.

They do well at school. They can play the piano, ride bicycles, swim, cross-country ski, play soccer, fiddle with anything that has dials, knobs and switches or goes beep, and they frequently aggravate their parents. Totally normal, well-balanced kids. Take after their grandfather in every respect, except for the piano bit. I’m proud of them.

But I am deeply concerned for them. Not as kids, mind you. They’re well supervised, guided and taught. No, my concerns are for them as the grown-ups which they one day will be, and for the situation in which they will find themselves in as they enter maturity and have to fend for their own children in this rapidly changing world of ours.

What will their world look like? I don’t own a crystal ball, but Big Think, an internet portal set up in 2007 to cogitate and debate on such things, has ventured a variety of prognostications which at least give me a good impression of whither goest my kith and kin.

By mid-century there will likely be 9 billion people on our planet, consuming ever more resources and leading ever more technologically complex lives. According to the futurists the majority of these people will live in urban areas and will have a significantly higher average age than people of today. My unfortunate middle-aged grand-kids and their offspring will, figuratively speaking, be immersed in a great sea of cranky old elders like me. Nothing new for them then, just more of the same. I’m betting that medical science, despite its ever-accelerating rate of discovery and innovation, will not have eliminated ageing and its unwanted attendant afflictions such as mental illness.

The kids are tech savvy now (8-year-olds with their own e-mail addresses!?), so as adults they will merge seamlessly with the pervasive and highly interconnected networks of the future. They and their children will spend their whole existence immersed in overlain and interacting smart grids running every detail of their lives. Their homes and they themselves, via their Apple 1105’s, will be multi-linked to energy, information and resource distribution systems which will provide their every need and requirement. Well, almost every need – they’ll still have to open their own boxes of Choco Pops.

Their work environments will be similarly completely multi-linked. There are drones zooming around the countryside now delivering parcels, so a few decades hence will almost certainly see offices and industrial plants linked worldwide on a real-time basis. Grandson engineer in Calgary, he of Lego renown, will design a supermod skyscraper, transmit a few million specs to a company in Guangzhou who will set up the production contract and eventually build the modular monstrosity in Kyrgyzstan.

Granddaughter neurosurgeon, who as a 6-year old once expressed the concern that “people don’t have very good brains” will sit in her plush (pink?) workspace in Vancouver, surrounded by consoles and sensors which watch her hands and eyes. On the monitor she will see, in crystal-clear resolution, the shaved head of her tranquilized patient in Mombasa, Kenya, 15,000km away. She will also see the many electronic instruments and strobes positioned around her patient, all of which are controlled by the switches, buttons and mice on the console in Vancouver. In 6 minutes she will scan the patient’s brain, detect the lesion, analyze it, transmit the diagnosis to the resident surgeon in the Mombasa hospital, bombard it remotely with iomega waves, check the patient’s responses, transmit a report to the printer in the hospital admin office in Mombasa, wave goodbye to the theatre staff, and sign off. All in a day’s work.

My grandkids might be well equipped for the future, but I can’t say the same for the country I’m leaving behind for them. The Canada we know now is already a land of extremes, from freezing cold to searing heat, from drenching rain to parched drought. We all know what climate variation is like now, but the change forecasts from climate scientists suggest that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

It will certainly be warmer by mid-century – a country summer average of about 20C higher. Wetter too, by an average about 5%. However, averages are statistical devices to summarize large amounts of data and can be misleading. Climate change will feed into Canada’s already considerable natural variability and won’t do anything to smooth the fluctuations out. In effect, the likelihood of droughts or more wet periods in whatever region my kids choose to live will certainly be quite different to what they now know.

The additional rain is unlikely to fall as gentle spring showers, much more likely as great flooding downpours or winter rains that drain away before they can nourish crops. In Saskatchewan where the other grandparents in the family tree once resided and farmed, the amount of water that falls as snow has already declined by 50 per cent. The number of multi-day rains has increased by the same amount. These trends will very likely continue, but ironically prairie crops will not benefit from the longer growing seasons because the precipitation gains will be offset by higher temperatures and higher evaporation.

The mild winters will allow mountain pine beetles to survive and infest forests in western Canada, killing trees and turning parched and overheated trees into tinder boxes. Wildfire seasons already begin weeks before they used to. In the Northwest Territories, where temperatures are climbing at a rate faster than almost anywhere on earth, the 2014 fire season set a record of 3.4 million hectares of scorched forest. In the earlier part of 2017, B.C. experienced its worst-ever wildfire season, with 894,491 hectares burned by 1029 recorded fires at a cost of $316 million. It’s a tad mind-numbing to project such figures to the time when the next generations have to deal with, and pay for, the ongoing consequences of climate change caused by their grandparents.

This is a dynamic that will be seen more frequently across the country in coming decades – financial benefits for some and devastating losses for others. A warmer climate and longer growing season may benefit crops such as corn, soybeans, forage and horticultural crops in eastern Canada, but the same climatic pattern could be calamitous for southern regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where food production already takes place in a semi-arid climate.

Western Canada may still look a lot like the country that the kids’ pioneering forefathers called home, but the ecological boundaries will shift. By 2050 extensive areas of the boreal forest’s southern fringe will have converted to prairie. Drought-prone spruce will be lost first, followed by pines and then aspen, to be replaced by prairie grassland. There will no more glaciers in the Rocky Mountains and in the coastal ranges.

Along the Pacific coast fishery catches will decline by an estimated 4 – 10% by 2050. Wild Pacific salmon hauls are calculated to drop by an estimated 20-30%. Not all the prognostications are negative – west coast fishermen can expect more pacific sardines and clams. Over on the Atlantic side catches are expected to increase, but fishermen will have to sail further north to find them. Commercial fisheries could also open in an ice-free Arctic Ocean with catches of turbot, Arctic cod and Arctic char. It has yet to be estimated if these fisheries will be sustainable in the long-term.

Some climate change forecasters see many positives in Canada’s future. Melting ice in the Arctic will open up shipping routes in the Arctic Ocean, significantly reducing the time and cost of international trade. Changing ecological conditions could bring more fish into the Arctic Ocean and into the northern reaches of the Pacific and Atlantic. The implications are that global trade in and out of Canada could triple, while the economic value of the planet’s oceans could to trillions of dollars.

Canada currently has access to more than 20 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves – a resource that will be more valuable than gold over coming decades. Climate change will impact those reserves by eliminating glaciers and altering precipitation but, compared to the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and the southwestern USA, we’ll still have an advantage. The challenge will be defending our fresh water from others, especially the Americans.

Countries that are already struggling economically are going to be severely pummeled in the next decades. Drought may set off more civil wars in Africa. Entire cities and regions of the Middle East might become too physically hot to survive in. National income declines of 80 to 90% compared to growth scenarios without climate change could become common across the developing world.

Canada – the true North strong and free – has always been an open country in all senses of the word. It has been especially welcoming to immigrants, as the kids’ own family trees attest. It will become even more attractive to outsiders a few decades from now. A lot of these immigrants will come from south of the border as Americans are driven from their homes by flooded coasts, storm-ravaged cities and deluged or drought-stricken prairies. Some U.S. immigrants may seek alternatives to an increasingly violent and erratic governmental system in their own country.

Other waves of immigrants will show up in Canadian cities from Asia, Africa and the middle East as the internecine strife and wars so prevalent now in those areas becomes worse with burgeoning populations and diminishing water and agricultural land resources. Huge waves of future immigrants and refugees will certainly strain the tolerance for which Canada is so famous. As regions and countries across the planet collapse, millions of refugees and other migrants will head north. Future governments will inevitably attempt to admit only the most skilled or in-need migrants; the country’s population could swell to 100 million people as a result. The most likely situation is that many migrants will be turned away, and Canada’s land borders could become militarized with drones and gunboats patrolling our shores.

I frankly doubt my grandkids will wind up as fishermen, foresters or firefighters, so will heavy rains, severe droughts, burgeoning bark beetles and burning forests make any difference to them? Without any doubt – a resounding yes. Everything is connected, especially when the ecosystem components and resources undergoing the changes are the lifeblood and economic underpinnings of their society. There are very few items in the list of resources they will need or seek out in their future that will not, in some way, be impacted by climate and population changes. Just as now, and even if they’re living in some super condo in some or other supercity, their essential food supplies derived from land-based agricultural crops and farmed livestock, or from marine-based fisheries and seafood sources, or from freshwater-sourced crops and fisheries, will always be totally dependent on favourable climates and on adequate supplies of fresh water.

Am I justified in being concerned for my grandkids as they go into the future? Its hard not to be concerned, that’s what you sign up for when you become a grandfather. Need I be concerned? Surprisingly, I don’t really think so. They are being given love, support, encouragement, education and motivation in spades now. I think they will be as prepared as any for the changed world they will inherit.

There is one more factor in their favour – those 10 ancestries buried in their DNA. In the murky entwining of their genetic heritage are Dutch, English and Asian ancestors who journeyed centuries ago in rickety sailboats from the far reaches of the world to Africa to establish homes, farm the land, and dig for diamonds. Their ancestry includes grannies and granddads from central Europe and Scandinavia who hauled themselves halfway around the world to establish farms and entrench their families on pristine Canadian prairies.

So will the kids make it in the new world coming?

Hell, yes.

How to Have Enlightenment, Power (and Money) with Resilience Stories

Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

by Dan Kingsbury

1.

It’s quite strange to be here on this planet with you, don’t you think? I consider it equally strange that, as much as I know about our world, I can never really know you or any other person for that matter. Yet we can relate and have a connection. Rather than the proverbial “us and them” I can change the way I think about the things I know, change the meaning to what I think about you/them, or more precisely, I can transform you by how I know you. With that food for the soul in mind and with these stories I’ll share the real return, the beauty and time, and where to find it to begin each day.

Imagine a still mountain lake reflecting its shoreline to the sky; as above, as below. In the mirrored image off the lake you might, maybe for the first time, have an “awakening” when you notice the trees appear taller towards the midpoint of the lake’s reflection, showing you directly the curve of your home planet against the skyline. And much more because you are here, observing this view! And these thoughts and words are the memory of it I use to deal with the mystery of it – we are all somehow a part of all this! The reality is there is no fixed world “out there”. This world is in constant change and it appears that there is no getting out alive. And it also appears that there is no purpose to evolution without us.

The natural environment is what has been worked out by hundreds of millions of years of evolution from which we emerged only about 2 million years ago. We became conscious of who we are, with a past and a future, only in the last 70,000 years. And that’s the problem – we have a past that is poorly remembered. We’ve already forgotten that we’ve only been writing our stories for 5,500 years, .03% of the time we’ve been hunting and gathering. So, if we are so privileged why is it that we have a future that we all know is far from certain?

Fortunately, we’re primates and we can mass together like no other animal mostly because we have an imagination, a certain fiction or relative reality that we can share. Similarly, because we can and do change the way we think about things, things can and do change. This is because whatever you think about expands. It’s up to you. Surprisingly simple, isn’t it?

During this speedy-time we call a life time, a time when we are all going around the sun at the same speed, in the same moment, it’s endlessly fascinating how each of us experiences time so differently, hardly free and equal. But we’re missing the sum of the whole life journey for all that we are doing with the day-to-day of our busy lives, typically having no time to experience the “being-ness” in the landscape, mostly because we are so fascinated to a fault with its working parts, i.e. us. Unfortunately, we don’t reflect well off a lake and we don’t see ourselves in the lake’s image and so we think we’re separate, and landscape is just something we cross to get to the other side. Of course, when we do so we also miss the opportunity for a rather profound relationship with our landscape.

We are more than the individual self. We are our collective self, we are Homo sapiens. And we are The Breaking Wave (Song) and all we absolutely have is this moment in time. Time is speeding up for us humans; we live fast but we all come from a childhood full of imagination. Even if you don’t have any imagination now, you did have when you were a kid – and that is so important to know, to access. This is because imagination is a useful resource to being resilient with your life time, to being alive in a world threatened by humans, by who we are, makers of war and carbon-based climate change. This means that with imagination that even if you don’t like your “story” or what it might be doing to destroy the natural world around you that sustains you, then you can change your “story.” It’s easy, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3… Plus, all you need is love.

2.

There is a new story available now that I’m invested in, it is out there and it is another connection, another part of the inter-connection of life, of “being.” Imagine that this new connection or new relationship with another “being” is your landscape or your environment seen differently, seen with imagination and awakened eyes. No matter where you are you can connect to “it,” it’s presence can easily be felt at both sunrise and sunset with the light. This is where the mystery and magic is, with the light unfolding into the darkness, layer by layer, to bring on a new day or to ebb out its presence again at the twilight hour. There is no judgement, nothing you can’t be with and there is no suffering in this light. Rather, quite the opposite in fact, and yet this realm of darkness is not an apposing force and is merely something the light grows into or from, not unlike a seed in the soil. There is a need for both before any thoughts can be had (thank goodness!).

I am talking here about the primacy of the landscape on our blue dot planet we call Earth, and the infinity of the Universe that is nourishing and sustaining us on this landscape. Imagine the landscape as a “being,” one that we can relate to as we enter every day when we leave our house and go from place to place, to work or school. For most of us this is “dead time,” a time experienced between your house and wherever. The opportunity is to imagine you are entering a landscape whose sense of time is different from yours, much longer in years than is humanly possible to know, and yet it has a certain presence that is revealed somehow in its “being,” it’s kin to the soul.

Imagine how the landscape transforms from granite and ice into a subjective holder of interconnectedness and nature. It’s landscape that tells you to be mindful and present, not to be “on time,” but rather to relate to time as either in-or-out of presence within the sanctity of the moment. Changing time opens up, “awakens” is another way of “knowing.” This is one of the reasons why travel is so popular, it changes time. Knowing this, you would probably like to be spending more time with your landscape’s “being,” traveling or not. It’s easy and you don’t have to go far, the landscape’s presence can be accessed through the power of prayer or meditation. You can access it and bring it within to hold a place of quite and stillness, like the environment or landscape can do for you when you are “out there” – if you let it in. If you know how to listen to the silence and be with stillness, you can literally transcend time for the beauty in the moment, and eventually you come to learn that this too shall pass, and that’s OK.

3.

The point of this story is to bring the “out there,” the being-ness of the landscape and its presence inward, “in there” so that it becomes a place to come from and go to when you go about the busyness of your day whatever the activity (maybe even investing, it doesn’t really matter). That’s my resilience story, an imagined partner whose language is silence and solitude, not desolation lost, cynicism, resignation, anxiety or depression. Within the landscape, wherever you live, it’s a question of beauty, if you can see it. If you can “awaken,” or transform your use of meaning and patterns to see it.

This is an invocation to extend your relationship to your home environment, this is an invitation to have an ancient conversation with your landscape beyond your usual sense of time, to fetch the spray of “being” found between the stone and ocean. Won’t you be there beside me? It calls us home. “The warm glow of a campfire, a cool drink from a mountain stream, this is what makes me wise” (Dad’s Song) in a land (Where the Mountains Meet the Sea); these are examples of songs about our Pacific NW landscape, or place, or connection, and they touch my heart.

4.

If the landscape is a memory and a story then it has a certain reality, a being-ness on a different time scale than our own, and once seen it is as useful as the lighthouse to restoring confidence to the navigator getting tossed around by a busy life. Landscape is useful too, like a song’s offering, towards restoring what’s unseen, but not unknown in who we are. Consider for a moment what climate change brings along with the loss of the sea ice, the loss of the way of life that is maybe 12,000 thousand years old for the Inuit people of today. And then, consider the importance of the restorative narrative, a story that articulates the resilience that their landscape holds for them, and that their daylight brings to them… and then consider the hopelessness and despair seen in Inuit young people’s suicide as their way of life is literally melting around them (https://vimeo.com/109830144).

Holding the blood in the snow and the Arctic glow is part of the resiliency in the needed restorative narrative held in both landscape and song. Captured in the preceding 2-minute video an Inuit Elder says how important it is “for our young people to know where they come from,” or have a “place” or landscape or natural environment to come from, or go to. This Inuit throat singer (https://vimeo.com/109709510) knows her voice is most at home in this bleak landscape, “out there” where the outlook is far from certain. Our singer holds on, it seems, sensing “the being” in the landscape, in nature, and all that “it” represents as she renews with restorative resolve what comes with the daylight, the melting sea ice, in her lament song, at least the Daylight Remains. Bringing-in the possibility of taking-in the silence and solitude “out there,” taking-in the “being-ness” of the landscape and using it in our time of climate change is a resilient narrative. Using your imagination to garner connection to our environment “out there” and as a “being” that you relate to is key. Choosing to relate to it for human evolution to survive is wise. Is it time for the love tribe, Homo empathicus or Homo deitus to arrive?

5.

It follows then that, as an inspired and responsible Elder, I aligned my choices for investment to on those companies supporting a sustainable future and to those businesses that are keeping us all connected and/or fed. Of course, a 21% infusion of value would all by itself be thought of as resilient, particularly if that return is in money or gold.

Is it more than that, my one-year return on my life time? I mean, we all make meaning of a 21% return, but it doesn’t mean anything unless we agree or disagree on what it is that creates a shared relative reality. This is the imaginary construct of money, beauty and time and stories like environmentalism or evolution. I use it to hook your mind to show you the mystery behind my resilience story, how I get beauty and time, environmentalism and evolution, with or without the money and endless fascinations. That said, the mystery is in how I got there, which presumes I’m here!

Imagine that you are the place where the Universe is conscious of itself. When doing so, how important is how I made 21% last year anyway? Consider that we are all separated by our minds, our biographies, and that we are more than the stories we keep, we are a part of what the landscape provides. We are also our ability to know, we are the knower and if we know this then we can be the observer too, and not stuck in the drama of our lives and times. Of course, this takes some imagination, keeping your imagination active is a resilient characteristic. Giving names to places like fields and mountains personalizes them, creates a story in the landscape, deepens relationship. First Nations people have a relationship expressed with “All My Relations” such that they use personal pronouns for animals so that, for example, when coming upon a set of new tracks in the forest one might ask, “I wonder who (not what) it was that goes there.” They see the land and the animals as part of who they are, different, not separate. Imagine that!

6.

We choose other things to learn from and be with, we don’t usually give ourselves time with our landscape. Yet, your environment gives you rhythm, stillness and some sense of solitude. All you need to see its beauty is to look. There is an invitation to look and use. Use it to go within and start your day with your landscape by being in peace and living in ease. This is metaphorically a place where you have never been wounded (yet, it’s not that you haven’t experienced pain and suffering and illness) and somehow “it” let’s you know or feel as if you are seen or have come home. Imagine that! It’s a resilience story, it has beauty in it and if it finds you, and you like it, it will grow on you and become your resilient story too.

Now you know how my resilience story helped me make money last year, I invested in the sustainability of the environment and the connection of people. Along my way I found my return in my interdependence with landscape and with others.

Now go lose yourself in your own landscape and comment in the comments section if you want to know the specifics on how I made 21% last year in the stock market, or if it really matters, or……?

Enough said.

 

It’s not as bad as it looks (but is it much worse than it seems?)

[global change, climate change, understanding, pessimism, optimism, attitude]

by Peggy Olive

In the wee hours of the morning, I listened to a replay of one of CBC’s  thought-provoking programs called Ideas. A career diplomat, Paul Heinbecker, was invited to discuss The Challenge of Peace. Among other positions, Heinbecker served as Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, Ambassador to Germany, and Minister of Political Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. He also headed the Canadian delegation to the climate change negotiations in Kyoto.

According to Heinbecker, the real challenge is our inadequate understanding of the world we live in. “Thanks to social media, we are bathed in doom and gloom…an endless repetition of the same terrible stories. It is not surprising that people think that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and quickly.”

He goes on to say, “In fact, the reverse is actually true. We are living in a golden age.” Canadians, and the world more generally, have never been richer, healthier, as well-educated, as well-connected, or as safe as we are now.

On hearing this good news, I felt considerable relief, but also some nagging scepticism. Could this be true? Are we really in a golden age (aside from those of us who are golden-agers)? I went to an informative source to answer this question: Our World in Data. This site is hosted by Max Roser, an Oxford economist who says, “Once you turn to statistics, it gets much harder to have a pessimistic story.”

I extracted some numbers from the hundreds of graphs on his site to emphasize the changes that have occurred over my lifetime. Heinbecker is right; living conditions across the globe have greatly improved since I was born. Had I presented the statistics for Canada, a smaller but similar trend would be seen.

So why my scepticism? I noticed that most of the graphs on Our World in Data showed an upward trend as if  this wonderful state of affairs could continue forever. We would live longer, under better conditions, become more educated, and have more abundant food, and all this would be possible as our population climbed above 11 billion.

Continued growth on a planet with finite resources isn’t possible. We will run out of raw materials eventually. Our soils and fresh water reserves are already being depleted and we continue to overload Earth’s atmosphere with greenhouse gasses that will change our climate for centuries.

Many see this happening in some distant future, and Roser’s graphs confirm that our living conditions have never been better. Even our fears of war and disaster, often exacerbated by the climate crisis, are overblown when compared to the risks of heart disease, cancer, and road traffic accidents. It would appear that we’re worrying needlessly, at least about some things. Paul Kennedy, the host of Ideas, commented briefly on the role media has played in promoting doom and gloom messages, but as Max Roser says, no one listens to the news to hear that nothing bad has happened today.

I don’t  believe that we are ambulance chasers hungry for disturbing news, or alternatively, that the world situation is anywhere near as rosy as these data might lead us to believe. Oddly, Max Roser’s own research is concerned with rising income inequality which is not good news, and does Heinbecker realize that all Golden Ages come to an end? The original Golden Age of Greece lasted only 200 years.

This left me wondering if the positive global trends in our living conditions are part of the reason we are failing to act quickly on climate change. Living in a sustainable way on this planet will be difficult if we see ourselves as better off today than a few decades ago and we expect this situation to continue. Yet there are obvious signs that the gravy train, driven largely by fossil fuels and greed, is at an end. When we recognize that there is only so much track left ahead of us, it is vital that we slow down before it runs out.

Yes, we are very fortunate to have experienced a Golden Age, but we must also recognize that this age is now in decline and it is past time to apply the brakes.

 

Difference is the essence of humanity

by Jill Schroder

“Difference is the essence of humanity”.

This quote from John Hume seems to me an appropriate thing to remember on International Women’s Day. Hume carries on, “Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein likes a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

What a soothing balm this message offers in the face of the xenophobic, misogynistic, hate and judgement-filled atmosphere of the current political arena. Difference is the essence of humanity. I feel my heart open and grow soft, as I reflect on the Syrian family we took into our home just over a year ago, on how they knew absolutely no English, but in a year have learned the language, and gained training and skills and are now contributing to the community and country. Difference and diversity go together like, what? Peace and good government?

John Kennedy writes, “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.“

Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, in 1800: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Ah, if only!

I like this one from Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

My husband has recently been enjoying a kaleidoscope as a toy, joy, and metaphor. I look through the viewer and see the multicoloured pieces. On the one hand they are distinct and separate, but they blend together, overlap, criss-cross, to create a truly beautiful, unique and unified image… When I turn the kaleidoscope ever so slightly there is a whole new arrangement of separate pieces, joining to make a remarkable, colourful whole. Cool metaphor for life, for diversity, for difference: the essence of humanity, eh?

As I go out about my day today, International Women’s Day, I will take this in my heart, the warmth, the unexpected challenges, the pleasures and opportunities for growth and connection that come when I respect and celebrate difference as the essence of humanity. I notice how different it is when I intentionally take this view, how differently I see people, how it affects my heart and my mind, what I see, and how I feel – on the bus, the sidewalk, in my building.

Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Know it and love it!

 

Climate change and emotional resilience: seeking clarity

by Stan Hirst

Resilience has become the buzzword of the 21st century, and its rapid rise to prominence in the media has taken some of us by surprise.  It’s a common enough term in the English language, but it has been applied to a wide number of subjects and themes, possibly not always with the same exact meaning. It is used in physics, ecology, engineering, urban development, military science, psychology and a few other areas, possibly not always with the exact same nuancing or intentions.

Now we have a more recent usage, one which is being promoted by our own Suzuki Elders in relation to global climate change – emotional resilience.  The Elders have defined emotional resilience as “keeping the ability, both personal and communal, to deal with the psychological and social trauma that comes from seeming to lose ground“.

Elder vanity discourages me from admitting I’m not clear on what this actually means, but I’m reasonably sure that I have allies within the Elder ranks when I say that we need some discussion on the concept. This post is my humble attempt at unpicking the concept.

Since I’m old and wise (that’s the definition of an Elder!) a first traditional step might be to turn to a dictionary definition of resilience.  It states resilience to be  “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness“.  Alternately it is said to be “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity“.  That gives us a glimmer of meaning but precious little understanding of the relevance to emotions.

In my own discipline  – ecology – the concept of resilience has been under progressive study for nearly a half-century. Ecologists accept the definition of ecological resilience to be “the capacity of ecosystems to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly“.  Note that ecological resilience typically refers to an entire community or ecosystem.

A common example given for ecological resilience is a mature coniferous forest with stands of several tree species plus understory layers of shrubs, grasses and herbs, the forest occupied by populations of mammals, birds and herptiles. The forest persists for decades in a more or less “stable” state.  Inevitably along comes a forest fire or a major storm or a pest outbreak which destroys huge proportions of  the tree cover, disrupts the shrub and herbaceous layers, exposes the soils to desiccation, erosion and run-off, and kills off a significant portion of the faunal populations. The forest as we knew it is essentially either destroyed or severely disrupted.  However, many of the basic ecological functions such as plant succession, photosynthesis, water retention, energy flow and reproduction remain intact. If left to its own devices the forest will, over decades, regenerate and regain its community structure and functions. Wildlife populations will return.  The whole system might not become be an exact replica of what it was, but we’ll likely accept whatever can be retrieved.

Human sciences have taken on the concept. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes resilience in regard to the individual as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, and other significant sources of stress”. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.  A similar concept is applied to whole communities, towns, cities, agricultural systems, etc. by planners, sociologists and engineers.

The APA points out that resilience in people is ‘ordinary’, not ‘extraordinary’. People have commonly demonstrated resilience, an oft-cited example being the individual and social responses to the 11 September  2001 terrorist attacks in the USA.  Resilience does not mean the non-experience of difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common sequels to major adversity or trauma.  The road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Psychological studies show that the primary factor in [emotional] resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.  Specific factors that have been linked to resilience include:

  • capacity to make realistic plans and to take steps to carry them out;
  • a positive view of self and confidence in personal strengths and abilities;
  • skills in communication and problem solving; and
  • capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

The science of psychology has laid out some clear strategies for building personal resilience. Developing resilience is seen as a personal journey. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not necessarily work for others. Various strategies need to be invoked. However, as spelled out by the APA, there seem to be common procedures that work for many:

  •    Make connections.
  •    Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
  •    Accept that change is a part of living.
  •    Move toward your goals.
  •    Take decisive actions.
  •    Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
  •    Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  •    Keep things in perspective.
  •    Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  •    Take care of yourself.

I can see how this all links in to emotional resilience in individuals and in communities, but it remains unclear to me it links to climate change, either globally or regionally.

We need to remind ourselves that climate change is not the same as a change in the weather, although the two may look the same to an uninformed observer over a short period of time. The difference is that climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over an extended period of time (decades, centuries, aeons). Its still going to  rain along the west coast, it will still be cold in Alberta in the winter, and we will still have dry spells in the Interior; its the frequency, timing, onset, duration and/or severity of all these familiar weather patterns that will change.

Will prolonged winter storms, summer droughts and frequent blowdowns affect me emotionally? You bet they will.  What will I do about it?  Shake my fist at the Westridge Terminal across the inlet? Throw tomatoes at D.J. Trump’s smirking face on the TV screen? I’ll do it but I don’t expect much in return. I will need to be emotionally resilient.

Now if I only knew what that actually meant.

 

 

How do we build resilience to the impacts of climate change?

by Don Marshall

In a more optimistic time we were convinced that, as environmentalists, we could in time help to bring about sustainability and change the planet’s current trajectory of environmental deterioration. So we did what we could to bring about change in our personal perspective, in our habits, and in our institutions and social systems. We worked to help others see the need for the changes.

We think we made some difference, but it has been hardly enough. From many sources we know and feel that we are losing ground in the effort to preserve our environment. The natural world is suffering. The situation at times seems to be getting worse, not better. Our environment has deteriorated to the point that we now need to consider how to adapt to changes that are inevitable.

This is not just a physical problem of the environment. Its also a psychological and emotional crisis within ourselves. How can we hold our centre and keep our commitment to doing what we can to save the planet? How can we keep hope alive? We feel we need to develop resilience. What we mean by resilience is keeping the ability, both personal and communal, to deal with the psychological and social trauma that comes from seeming to lose ground.

In order to keep working as environmentalists we must take care of ourselves and of each other. Resilience, we believe, is best learned and practiced in the setting of the community where we can connect with each other in empathic conversation. We need to ask ourselves sensitive questions about these pressing issues. We need to engage within our own circles. Power to continue on in our environmental quest will come from deeply listening to each other—listening to our fears, hopes, and dreams.

As Suzuki Elders we are working towards bringing Small Group Listening Conversations to various venues in the Greater Vancouver area. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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