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Post Carbon Institute - Newsletter

Practicing Resilience

The first expectation shift is to move our thinking away from trying to "solve" this crisis to "responding" to it. This may sound like a difference without a distinction, but it's fundamental to the approach we should take, particularly when climate is so inextricably connected to the concurrent economic and energy challenges we face. In attempting to "solve" a problem like climate change, we're looking for a miracle that's going to allow us to get back to business as usual. In trying to "respond" to it, however, we acknowledge that business as usual is no longer an option. This is clearly necessary for a number of reasons:

1. The cat is already out of the bag when it comes to climate change. We've already altered the climate, even if we completely stop using fossil fuels this very second. Hence the planetary name change, a la PCI Fellow Bill McKibben: Some level of adaptation is required, though how much is still in our control.

2. As our report Searching for a Miracle ( details, no known combination of alternatives can fully replace our current use of fossil fuels.

3. Even if we could somehow to discover and bring online a clean energy alternative at sufficient scale and speed, there are numerous other limits that will prevent business as usual from continuing.

Redundancy, adaptability, and experimentation are going to be key in how we respond to this and other crises.

The second thing to understand is that it needn't be — indeed it shouldn't be — an either/or proposition. It's a both/and proposition. When done right, efforts at different levels can amplify one another and are iterative. This can even be true when groups reasonably respond to the same opportunities in totally different ways. For example, some of our friends in the UK are considering holding a "Great Stay At Home" during the COP 16 meetings in Cancun, Mexico in late November and early December 2010. The idea, as articulated by Transition founder and PCI Fellow Rob Hopkins right after COP 15 last year, was this:

So how about this, as a co-ordinated approach for the next time there is such a gathering, which will again, no doubt, be trailed as ‘the last chance to save the planet’? We (that is, those who care passionately about climate change and the need for a proportionate response), confound expectations, and stay at home. Using the web-based technologies we now have at our disposal, we co-ordinate an international festival of meaningful change. We stay home and insulate whole streets, create community gardens, work meaningfully with our local authorities to do projects with them, eat local food diets for the duration of the conference, live without cars, insulate our schools, set up an area of the settlement in question as a model for what it would look like transitioned. We start bringing the future that we can imagine but which is still beyond the comprehension of so many, into focus.

I think this a fantastic idea. But does that mean that NGOs and environmental activists should all boycott COP 16? Absolutely not. Without allies in Cancun to bear witness, keep delegates' feet to the fire, and push for meaningful international agreements then the odds of delegates paying any heed would be close to nil. And conversely, when delegates attempt to hide behind excuses about political or technical feasibility, our friends in Cancun can point to what's being done right then back at home by everyday citizens with shovels, caulk guns, and bicycles. Done right, these two approaches can be greater than the sum of their parts. If there's anything that gives my cynicism pause, it's the possibility of divergent efforts like these amplifying rather than defusing one another. And that is why I want to encourage every single person out there to get involved in a 10/10/10 Global Work Party. No, Glenn Beck, it's not some International Neo-Communist Party. It's hundreds of thousands of people in more than a 140 countries making a statement by getting their hands dirty. As our friends from explained:

Since we've already worked hard to call, email, petition, and protest to get politicians to move, and they haven't moved fast enough, now it's time to show that we really do have the tools we need to get serious about the climate crisis. On 10/10/10 we'll show that we the people can do this--but we need bold energy policies from our political leaders to do it on a scale that truly matters. The goal of the day is not to solve the climate crisis one project at a time, but to send a pointed political message: if we can get to work, you can get to work too--on the legislation and the treaties that will make all our work easier in the long run.

Part of what I love about 10/10/10 is that even if actions fail to move politicians sufficiently, through these projects a foundation can be laid — no matter how small or simple the projects — for transitioning each and every community. Yes, it's a focused day of international action. Yes, it's intended to make a statement. But it can and should also serve as the start or boost for ongoing resilience building.

Asher Miller
Executive Director, Post Carbon Institute