Climate resilience and community resilience are so intimately connected, it’s hard to think about one without the other, as the current COVID-19 pandemic so aptly illustrates.
Having access to the basic elements for survival – healthy food, clean water, safe shelter – is essential for resilience. Maintaining social interaction and connection to nature are equally important to our emotional well-being. But meeting these basic needs is becoming ever more challenging as we navigate the combined impacts of a pandemic, an economic crisis, and the most challenging environmental and social threat of our time: climate change.
As we enter a third month of shelter-at-home and physical distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, I’m wondering what we will take away from this experience once the crisis subsides. Resilience is often described as the ability to “bounce back” after a disaster or disruption. Instead we should be thinking about resilience as our ability to “bounce forward” with a vision that lifts up and protects all people and supports the earth’s resources and species.
It may feel like an impossible task to build a bold climate resilience strategy when we can barely catch our breath between the current public health and economic crises we are currently facing, and the next climate-related emergency we know is coming – whether that be an extended drought, abnormally high heat, or a long fire season. Yet, that is exactly what we must do – here and now – with the lessons we are learning from this pandemic.
Building climate and community resilience will take extraordinary efforts to build a social, economic and environmental infrastructure that is equitable and inclusive for all. Even with a rapid shift and ratcheting up of efforts to prepare for climate change, it will require coordinated planning, political will, major investments and reallocation of resources to realize the bold changes that are needed for climate resilience. But that’s only part of the solution.
Equally important is the work we must all do now, in the short-term, to build resilience from the community level up as we continue to experience the impacts of climate-related disasters, starting with our own personal resilience. We’ve learned from this coronavirus quarantine that a disruption can last longer than most of us expected or financially planned for, and the impacts are far more devastating for those already socially or economically vulnerable or marginalized. Here are critical strategies for each of us to do now to build resilience from the ground up.
Get to Know Your Neighbors
Personal resilience starts with building your own network and creating a safety net to support you, your family, neighbors and friends. A strong support system allows you to be better prepared to respond and recover from a disaster – be it fire, flood or a health crisis like COVID-19.
Start by getting to know your neighbors. Who lives alone and might be most vulnerable? Who can you call on for help? There are many ways to communicate with your neighbors – from neighborhood watch groups and phone trees, to electronic platforms.
Support Your Local Food System
Having access to food can be critical if supply chains get broken. This can happen when the freeways are closed for an extended period of time, like during the Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow. As we saw in the COVID-19 crisis, food processing facilities and other parts of the supply chain were shuttered when workers became ill with the virus or orders required closure. This is why supporting a local food system with protections for the essential local workforce is critical to community resilience. By purchasing produce, meat and seafood products from local farmers and fishers, you are supporting local business and strengthening the local food supply chain. Many growers are offering weekly boxes of fresh food delivered to your house or for pick up. You can also grow your own food if you have a yard, patio or even a balcony. Neighborhood fruit and veggie exchanges are also a great way to build your neighborhood resilience.
Give Back to Your Community
Many people lost their jobs and incomes during the stay-at-home orders and needed support for basics like food, medical care and covering monthly expenses. Fortunately, we’re seeing the depth of human compassion and generosity in this time, as we did in past disasters, with people providing mutual aid and comfort by volunteering to give out food, making and donating face masks, and redirecting resources to support those most in need. Consider volunteering or donating to organizations working with the vulnerable populations and frontline workers.
Know and Love Your Region
Finally, it’s critical that we connect with nature and find solace for our mental and physical well-being. Knowing your region – understanding weather patterns, the plants and animals, and the geology — helps build resilience. A study done after the 2018 Woolsey Fire showed that the residents that were successful at “staying and defending” their homes in the face of the fire were those who had a strong sense of place and understanding of the environment, and a critical awareness of weather, terrain, fuels and fire behavior. This is an important resilience indicator and makes an excellent case for increasing your local environmental knowledge and getting to know and love the region. Gardening and spending time in your yard or going on “social distancing” walks, hikes or bike rides allows you the opportunity to observe plants, birds, wildlife and vistas around you. And local guidebooks and online resources can help you expand your environmental literacy.
As these strategies imply, climate resilience IS community resilience. We can build resilience from the ground up while we’re working on the longer-term solutions and adaptations to climate change. We need to be strong, supported and ready to take on the really big work before us, and it’s critical that we take care of ourselves and our neighbors. Let’s use these lessons and observations from the COVID-19 crisis and not only be ready for the next disaster, but be prepared to “bounce forward” with a vision for resilience that supports all members of the community along with earth’s resources and species.
To learn more about CEC’s work to build community resilience through a year-long series of Climate Resilience Roundtables, click here.