Discover more from Resilient Futures | J.A. Ginsburg
Resilience is the ability to bounce forward.
Evolution is how life navigates change and accommodates the unpredictable. It is resilience written in genetic code, an elegant system built on possibility, where traits that best “fit” a given set of circumstances are favored.
Competition and chance determine who or what makes it to the next round. Synergies bring efficiency and stability to the whole.
Yet nothing stays fit forever because nothing stays the same. Change is a constant: dynamic, connected, chaotic, full of fluttering butterflies whose wing beats set off cascades of events that can trigger stormy weather on the other side of the world. Or so chaos theorists tell us.
The fossil record is littered with the bones, imprints and bits of DNA of all that have come before. The fit are what’s here now, a small sampling of everything that has ever lived on Earth over the last 3.8 billion years.
It takes eons for oceans to form, continents to break apart, then drift back together, microbes to collectively emit enough oxygen to alter the atmosphere, and ice ages to come and go. The shifts from one environmental “normal” to the next are mostly slow. But when an asteroid slams into the planet, it is an instant reset. The long of reign of fit for dinosaurs came to a fast, furious and fiery end. Which, of course, cleared the decks for mammals, so good news for us.
Sixty-six million years later, humans have taken on the role of planet-slamming asteroid, causing mass extinction and triggering an all around reset. In a blink of time—just 12 generations (~250 years)—the industrialization of everything has enabled humans to do more and make more of pretty much everything imaginable. Forests have been cleared for timber and palm oil plantations. Grasslands have been plowed under for farms and cities. Oceans have been fished, trawled and scoured for seafood. Cities have exploded into mega-cities. In a little over a century, the global car population has gone form 0 to ~1.4 billion (which doesn’t include all the cars that have been scrapped; or all the trucks, motorcycles, trains, planes, ships and scooters zipping around on vast, heat-reflecting networks of asphalt roads that also didn’t used to exist).
Our modern lives are built on the remains of Earthlings past—plants and animals that were once the pinnacle of fit. Now, in the form of oil, coal and gas, they have been pumped into fuel tanks, burned for heat and power, and brewed into petrochemicals and plastics, at scale and at almost incomprehensible costs:
A hotter, more humid world thanks to an accelerating accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: melting ice caps, rising sea levels, retreating glaciers, longer droughts, hotter wildfires, floodier floods, expanding territory for ticks and mosquitoes, record-breaking heat waves. Heatstroke insurance is now a thing.
Farmland and rangeland increasingly vulnerable to floods, droughts, extreme heat thanks to a dependence on plowing and petrochemicals—fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides—that together have annihilated soil microbiomes all over the world. Pollinators and other beneficial insects are joining the extinction queue, while superbugs and superweeds have evolved to withstand the chemical onslaught. An astonishing one-third of the world’s topsoil has either blown away or been washed downstream as chemical-laced farm field run-off. According to the UN, an absolutely gobsmacking 90% of topsoil could be “at risk” by 2050.
A plasticized planet: The first plastic bottles were produced in the late 1940s. Single use plastic bags came along about twenty years later. Today, massive gyres of plastic garbage swirl in the middles of oceans. There are plastic bags in the Mariana Trench, the lowest point on Earth, and on Mount Everest, the highest. Plastic is in rocks. In rain. In plants. In animals. In us. And researchers now suspect, in our brains.
The balance and the bounty of our beautiful blue dot planet—the balance and bounty upon which our future depends—has been thrown off kilter.
This isn’t somebody else’s far-off dystopian future, but our own very real and terrifying present.
Which brings us back to resilience.
To build a future where we stand a chance means bouncing forward.
Business-as-usual is a literal dead end. There is no back to return to. What used to be, including a reliably stable climate, is no longer.
Resilient Futures looks at companies, organizations, innovations, business models, methodologies, financial models and policies that bring creativity and imagination to the development and deployment of solutions that can restore ecological balance and build equitable prosperity.
Will these efforts be enough? Without them the answer is both clear and dire. But when everything is at stake, there also nothing to lose trying to do things differently. On the bright side, we can’t do worse.
And there is reason for applied hope, a term coined by Amory Lovins, co-founder of energy consultancy RMI. Since the 1970s, gains in unglamorous energy efficiency have collectively bought us significant, precious time, reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also putting more capital into the pockets of businesses and consumers.
Efficiency tends to be invisible, hidden inside walls as insulation or as transparent as thermal glass. Efficiency can even take the shape of plumbing designed to reduce friction, requiring a fraction of the power for pumping fluids No elbow joints in sight.
We don’t see emissions avoided. We don’t see what we’ve saved on our utility bills. We don’t see how much more it would have cost to fill up at a gas station. But without efficiency, it is likely that we would already have tumbled over the climate cliff.
* from 2018, so a little dated, but overall still on point
It turns out that no new miracle technologies are needed to save us, although, of course, the more the better. Resilience (evolution) is about finding new and more effective ways to use what’s on hand. It is about seeing old ideas with fresh eyes and experimenting with combinations of technologies, methodologies and business models.
The answers that will provide a better fit for our changed world are possible. But they need to scale faster than the tipping points all around us can tip. The transition to a fossil-free future is already happening. The linear, failed take-make-waste paradigm is shifting to one full of arcs and connections.
A resilient future is one where nothing, especially time, is wasted.
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