Unknown Dutch Gap, Virginia. Bomb-proof quarters of Major Strong 1864
A little over a week ago I published an article at The Automatic Earth by our friend Dr. Nelson Lebo III from Wanganui, New Zealand, named Resilience is the New Black. After being reposted at Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism and at least a dozen other sites, it may well have had more hits than everything he ever wrote put together. While that is obviously great, Nelson also did come away feeling a bit misunderstood – in particular, about what resilience actually is, and how he made it part of his life -, and he said he wanted to try and set the record straight. By all means. Here’s the doctor:
Nelson Lebo III: The article I wrote for The Automatic Earth last week – Resilience is the New Black – appears to have caused a stir in certain sectors of the internet. It’s great that the piece struck a chord with so many but this came as a surprise to me. We have been publishing our blog for over four years but only get 50 to 100 views per day.
The other two things that surprised me were the misreading of the piece and a huge amount of confusion and uncertainty about what ‘resilience’ even means. I’ll address both in this article.
Ilargi first alerted me that Yves Smith had posted the article on Naked Capitalism with some comments of her own. I had a look and was a bit shocked at what she had written. Her comments appear to misrepresent the article and perhaps served to bias readers before they got into the piece itself.
It appears that the two main points of her critique miss the mark: 1) that I have abandoned the notion of sustainability; and, 2) that I have turned my back on the world and focus only on “me, mine, my family”.
Here is what I submitted to the comments section, admittedly after reading a number of bizarre musings from courageously anonymous posters:
Thanks for posting this article. Raul tipped me off. It’s great to see it has sparked healthy debate. Two important points that I think you missed in your preamble.
First, it was not my intention to indicate an “abandonment of the notion of sustainability.” What I wrote is that I do not bang the drum for sustainability anymore. I practice it on a daily basis. I have meant to make a couple of points in the article: 1) My observations of the global debate on many issues has shifted to resilience over the last 7 years; and 2) Most people in my direct experience relate much stronger to the notion of resilience than sustainability.
I work with patterns and both of these are strong patterns I have observed since 2008. As a community educator, it is my duty to take the most effective approach to support my fellow citizens. The resilience approach has been hugely successful across the socio-economic spectrum.
Second, the word community is used three times in my article along with a reference to sharing our project locally. I’d say that scores 4 mentions of us supporting our neighbours and our city. Characterizing the piece as focusing on “me, mine, my family” is simply inaccurate. I know of few people in the sustainability movement worldwide who are more community-focused than us or who are more generous with their time. Ask anyone who has ever met us or worked with us, including Ilargi and Nicole at the Automatic Earth.
I see no problem challenging someone on their own “home turf.” I think it is important to do. But it is necessary to make sure you are accurate in your critique.
My thesis was that resilience has surpassed sustainability at the forefront of many people’s minds in recent years. But to embrace resilience does not mean to deny sustainability completely. If resilience is ‘the new black’ it doesn’t mean you don’t wear sustainability once in a while. Personally, I wear it everyday, but I bang the drum for resilience because more people listen.
On the second point above, Yves is totally off the mark. I am heavily involved with the permaculture movement and sustainability networks, and know of few people globally who can match our community projects here. How did she overlook the major emphasis on community in the piece? Reading further down the comments section gave me some possible clues.
One person suggested resilience was simply “prepping” and another thought it might be some new hipster term for…I don’t remember. My point is that there appears to be a huge amount of misunderstanding of resilience. I suspect that Miss Smith labeled me a “prepper” and then stereotyped all of the common attributes of preppers.
I am used to the term sustainability being interpreted in hundreds of different ways, including being co-opted by corporations. It seems the concept of sustainability is surrounded by grey area, but I was not expecting the same for the concept of resilience. It appears the Internet can make anything grey, so I’ll try to put things in black and white.
Resilience is not “prepping.” I repeat, resilience is not “prepping”.
A three second search of the Internet found these definitions:
1) the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity
2) the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
While both definitions focus on after-the-fact aspects of resilience, the most important aspects in the context of climate change, income inequality and volatile energy prices involve building resilient capacity. In other words, the ability of bounce back requires lots of up front groundwork. In these contexts, the groundwork that needs to be done is moderating extremes.
The human body is a great example of moderating extremes. When we are too hot we sweat and when we are too cold we shiver. Like the Buddha, our bodies seek a middle way. But unhealthy living conditions weaken the immune system and decrease the body’s resilience. I have been a crusader for warm, dry, healthy homes in my community (and world wide through the web) for over four years. I even developed a maths/science curriculum on passive solar design using our Eco-Thrifty Renovation as an example. The Little House That Could can be found on Facebook.
In the context of climate change, resilience means moderating climate extremes, especially those involving water and the lack thereof. In both cases eco-design is the best approach to take: imitating the way nature moderates for climatic variability. We are currently using eco-design to drought-proof our farm while also managing for periods of excessive rainfall. I have written an article for fix.com on how to drought-proof a suburban property but it is yet to be published. If you’re interested keep an eye out for it.
In the context of income inequality, we also need to buffer society from extremes. Researchers have told us that there is a correlation between wealth inequality and social problems. If we want a resilient society – and I sure do – we need to work to moderate those extremes. That’s why I have put so much volunteer work into raising awareness of the TPP in my community.
In the context of volatile energy prices, I believe it is important to design for resilience for ourselves and our communities. Our Eco-Thrifty Renovation project represents this approach, and would be considered one of the best such initiatives anywhere in the ‘developed world’. For a summary of the project, see this page I posted as part of my diploma work in permaculture:
We have lots of mottos and catch phrases, but one of the best is Act Locally – Share Globally. Our work represents thousands of volunteer hours that are both locally and globally focused. As an individual, I answer every email I get requesting information about our projects. Who else can say that?
The bottom line is that extremes and their consequences are almost always expensive. Avoiding and moderating them is both conservative and practical. I believe our world and my family will both be better off if I promote resilience to extremes on all levels. Nothing grey about that, is there?
Dr. Nelson Lebo believes in the permaculture principles of Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share.