What Next? Part VI: What Can We Do to Build Local Resilience?

The short answer is lots, and all of it not only helps mitigate and reduce the scale of the climate catastrophe but also helps prepare us for the increasingly inevitable societal crises or even societal collapse to come.

Vote today. We’re only offering up one recommendation, Miguel Acosta for Santa Fe Community College School Board, Position 5, but there are other races on the ballot, so exercise your right. It will be a light turnout so there won’t be lines and your vote will matter all the more with light turnout and close races. Click here for more on Miguel.

Local Action: Where Change May Be Easier to Create

“When the shit hits the fan, no one’s coming to rescue us,” Buff says. “We’ve got to figure it out ourselves, because this is our city. This is where we live. This is what we’ve got.”

Radio Kingston executive director Jimmy Buff . Excerpted from The US City Preparing Itself for the Collapse of Capitalism.

The above seemed an apt quote to launch an exploration of how we can work at a local level to respond to the looming climate catastrophe. Clearly no city can, by itself, make a substantial contribution to slowing the climate crisis. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can on the local level, because change at the local level can inform systemic change, offer promising and proven practices, and illustrate how individuals are willing to pull together and sacrifice.

But while local innovative practice can provide models and inspiration, it really falls on the international community to respond to the crisis to keeps temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, according to abundant research, it appears very possible that global warming will reach 2 degrees Celsius and the quote below from climate scientist Jem Bendell who developed the notion of Deep Adaptation, is typical. Click here to read the full article, New Outlook for Global Warming: Best Prepare for Social Collapse and Soon.

“Bendell’s new research paper, which concludes that recent trends in key climate factors indicate we are headed for ‘near-term social collapse due to climate chaos.’ By the near term, he means less than 10 years from now. By social collapse, he is speaking of unpredictable and interrelated breakdowns, in affluent as well as poor countries. “

MinnPost, Earth Journal. New Outlook for Global Warming: Best Prepare for Social Collapse and Soon.

All you have to do is ask yourself how prepared are you for the power to go out, for the stores to run out of food, the water faucet to go dry, and the internet to shut down?

The focus of this post is on what we might do at a local level to prepare for the inevitable climate chaos, societal disruption, or even societal collapse. Those disruptions are coming, as so much of the temperature rise is beyond our control. Even if Greta somehow convinces the world to do everything she says now, 1.5 degrees is likely inevitable and with that rise will come moments when we will need to be resilient, prepared, connected and trusting of our local communities. Fortunately, there are an array of organizations, foundations, cities, and proven or promising programs that offer the outline of a map for what cities can do at a local level to knit together communities and build resilience and the capacity to adapt to climate disruption and social chaos. (Links to all articles are at the end of this post.)

The first place I found in exploring models for cities developing resilience or adaptation plans is Kingston, a 20,000 resident town in upstate New York, that ten years ago began constructing local health initiatives to bypass the larger health system to ensure critical health resources were accessible by all. From there they began reinventing themselves as a city, building urban farming systems, bike trails, and coming together explicitly to develop a city resilient to the coming climate crisis.

The first weekend in November at a local elementary school, the public is welcome at a conference called Surviving the future: Connection and community in unstable times. “Leading thinkers in the field of system change and transition” will discuss key themes for an inclusive, holistic, “just transition” away from capitalism to something new … whatever that might look like.

The Guardian, The US City Preparing for the Collapse of Capitalism.

While Kingston is just beginning this journey, it provides an inspiring model to observe over time. The author of the Guardian article, Alexandra Marvar, had previously lived in Kingston only recently moving to the South for an employment opportunity. Her reflection on what Kingston is doing is precisely the motivation for this post: We all worry about this. It is becoming more common in the media to discuss social collapse as possible, even inevitable, so why are we not preparing for this?

From my vantage in the deep south, it looks as though, one mission at a time, Kingston is piecing together the infrastructure for a self-sufficient community – one that wants to survive the possibly impending systemic collapse we nervously joke about over beers.”

The Guardian, The US City Preparing for the Collapse of Capitalism.

Reading about Kingston spurred me to dig deeper, thinking that if Retake could assemble an inventory of best practices in building resilient cities, a team could scour those resources, learn from them, and apply what makes sense in local NM communities.

I next found an article from the International Institute on Sustainable Development, Eight Ways Cities are Building Climate Resilience, by Dr. Frank Venema. (Link to article at end of this post.) The article explored how eight cities from Chicago, Calgary and Edmonton to the Netherlands were each wrestling with different urban challenges coming from climate catastrophe. Efforts to address flooding, build urban vertical food gardens, develop smart grids, ensure a safe supply of drinking water and build urban ecosystems. There was even a model for how a city could use data to target resources to ensure initiatives primarily benefited low-income, more vulnerable communities.

Finally, I came upon the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, with summaries of how 100 very different cities across the world are doing precisely that: building policies and programs explicitly designed to build resilience.

100RC defines urban resilience as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

While not all the 100RC sites are exclusively focused on addressing climate catastrophe, most all had elements that were directly germane to building climate crisis resilience.

Lastly, I found a study that had nothing to do with climate crisis, but addressed the sense of loneliness and isolation that is common to urban residents, the kind of isolation that results from feeling apart from your community. It occurred to me that one of the important ancillary results of a community coming together to develop its own resilience plan could be breaking down that isolation.

A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Economist found 2 out of 10 Americans often or always feel lonely, and another study revealed an even higher rate.
‘If we had deliberately aimed to make cities that create loneliness we could hardly have been more successful,’ Suzanne Lennard, an architect and the director of the International Making Cities Livable movement, told Vice. “

Truthout. Modern Cities Breed Alienation. Insurgent Urbanists Are Pushing Back

In Modern Cities Breed Alienation. Insurgent Urbanists Are Pushing Back we find examples of how “insurgent urbanists” are challenging the existing governing structures and launching highly participatory and democratic Do-It-Yourself projects to reclaim public spaces and do what local government can’t seem to do: design these spaces to foster social cohesion, self and group agency and host highly participatory community planning and advocacy. At the same time, it breaks down isolation.

The links below are not at all exhaustive. There are dozens of other reports, studies, and organizations promoting city-level resilient strategies and, while I have scanned the resources below, each one has links to other cities, reports or strategies.

After a day of reading reports on this issue, three things are abundantly clear:

  • No city in NM is ready for what is inevitably coming.
  • The benefits derived from coming together as local communities extends far beyond preparing for climate disruptions, they also bring us together as communities in processes that can generate trust, compassion and action plans that foster not just climate justice, but social, racial and economic justice, as well.
  • They bring us together as a community as people who know each other, care about each other and are ready to willingly sacrifice for all of us. And that is the only way forward that affords us any hope.

I am hoping that our Research Team, or a newly formed group working with the Research Team, will take this on as an area of focus, using the resources below as a starting point. In a recent post I wrote about the concept of forming “affinity teams,” small groups of friends perhaps over time including others from outside their circle, to work together on a consistent basis on a specific advocacy effort. An affinity group would be the ideal structure for working together, researching models of resiliency or adaptation across a wide array of coming challenges from transportation, to food and water security, land use, health, local currency, and neighborhood level governance and support systems for the frail and elderly. If you are interested in forming a team to do this research or to be part of such a team, please write to RetakeResponse@gmail.com.

Resources

  • The US City Preparing for the Collapse of Capitalism. An inspiring story of Kingston, NY. A model for what one small town can do. Click here.
  • International Institute for Sustainable Development, Eight Ways Cities Are Building Climate Resilience. This excellent summary profiles eight cities who each developed a model sustainability and resilience policy or strategy related to transportation, vertical farming, flooding, food, smart grids, budgeting and ecosystem design. Click here.
  • 100 Resilient Cities. The home page for the website that offers profiles on 100 different cities with El Paso and Boulder being the closest to NM. Nonetheless the profiles offer ways in which cities across the world are preparing for climate disruption. Click here and explore.
  • 100 Resilient Cities. An array of reports on different ways in which cities have developed resiliency in the face of climate catastrophe. Click here.
  • In Modern Cities Breed Alienation. Insurgent Urbanists Are Pushing Back you will find an interesting combination of urban strategies designed to foster social cohesion and a stronger sense of community, important qualities of a resilient city. Click here.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

6 thoughts on “What Next? Part VI: What Can We Do to Build Local Resilience?

  1. Has anyone shared the El Paso resiliency plan with Mayors Keller and Webber or their staff? Seems like a good first step. Does the local declaration of a climate emergency help with the establishment of a Chief Resiliency Officer?

  2. Kingston has a lot of resources that are non existent here. They have virtually unlimited supplies of fresh water, a navigable river and the vestiges of a functioning food system. They also have a lot of skilled people, builders, and craftspeople, who can easily resurrect necessary skills, like metal work, pottery and construction. People in that area have experienced 2 weeks without power, and serious storms in the dead of winter. There are plenty of locations where old mills, that harnessed water power, were recently converted to comfortable living arrangements. The remnants of the old electric systems, and water powered mills are still there.

    • We have a functioning food system too. (Support the New Mexico Acequia Association!) But something like 98% of the food grown in New Mexico is sold out of state!
      We also have lots of skilled people, I believe.

  3. So, Kingston will have it easier than us but we need and must build resilience and adaptation strategies. We can do it. We have a local, underdeveloped food shed and indigenous knowledge. And more.
    Please stop being negative.Let’s work on finding solutions for the problems we see and have. We need to be creative and learn from other cities.
    There are a lots of resources which are solution oriented.
    We already know what is wrong with our society but we have not worked enough in depth to find solutions. We can be creative and develop solutions for our problems here.
    Lets work less on the negatives and more on the positives and on creating workable and feasible actions/goals……

    • I agree Eduardo, Mary likes to criticize everything, but also adds an immense amount of info and insight, as well. In this instance the point of including Kingston is that it is an example of a small community operationalizing equity as its policy lens. Obviously they have tons of water and we don’t, but they face other challenges. We actually also have many artists and craftspeople, a similarity with Kingston.

  4. Great post today, Paul and Roxanne. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the fact that one could spend all of his or her time on these issues alone. Do you have suggestions for people who still work long hours? We all need to focus on the things you outline here: sense of community, caring for one another, learning to grow our own food. Not sure how we’ll manage without water if it comes to that. But I agree that we must prepare. So thanks a lot for sharing this information and these resources.

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