Transition US – Resilience for a Time When Resilience is Mandatory

By John Crawford

It’s impossible to miss the fact that we’re in a more “normal” weather pattern in Ohio this winter: we’ve already doubled our snowfall compared to last year; temperatures have been colder than normal, but we’re not getting the below-zero readings that have hit Oklahoma, parts of northern Texas and a number of other states.

The center of the country has been plunged into the polar vortex resulting in multiple record-smashing low temperatures. Dozens have died because of carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia and car wrecks across a wide swath of the United States.

Texas governor Abbott tried to blame green energy for the grid problems; however, he was quickly shouted down. This “big lie” is akin to the big lies of the climate change “hoax,” a “stolen election” and a pandemic “hoax.” These lies have currency because politicians and constituents alike do not like what the truth implies: our systems are not resilient; we struggle in the face of challenges to the status quo.

What’s happening in Texas is partly being shaped by short-term trends – the la Niña event in the western Pacific Ocean causes cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures there, resulting altered weather patterns globally. This more “normal” winter was predicted months ago based on the expected la Niña event.

The longer-term picture is complicated, but, essentially, climate change may be altering the stability of the jet stream winds that circle the northern hemisphere: this instability allows for strong, prolonged incursions of cold, arctic air into the deep south (Europe and the Middle East have also been affected).

At the same time, warm air leaks north in other locations. The point is that events like the Texas emergency are more extreme, and will be matched by other extremes in rainfall and increased temperatures as the more common el Niño events return (unusually warm sea-surface temperatures in the western Pacific).

Resilience is the ability of systems to absorb shocks, with minimal disruption and loss of life. One way to think about resilience is that it can, and maybe should, entail redundancy – for example, if you have solar panels with battery back-up, when the grid goes down, you are able to run essential systems in your house. Yes, it is redundant because you are drawing electricity from the grid, and generating electricity with the solar panels.

What’s the downside of redundancy? Up-front costs. What we have to do is factor in the environmental and physical (and mental) health benefits of resilience when we weigh those costs. The benefits are ignored by our economists because the problems that are addressed and solved by resilience are considered “external” to the inputs and outputs of the economy under the assumptions of neo-classical (“normal”) economics.

The Transition network is a worldwide effort to build resilience at the local level, and maybe drag local and national governments to it in the process.

In November 2020, a group of Transition advocates met for a “National Strategy Conversation with the goal of identifying ways in which the Transition US staff and board, the Collaborative Design Council (CDC), national working groups, and regional hubs can strengthen the network of people-powered initiatives at the local level.”

One participant, Leslie MacKenzie, recounted how her family established a (capturing rainwater, planting edible plants gardens, etc.) and added solar panels to the house. They then participated in a citywide home tour that allowed them to connect with more than 300 people about what they had done.

How you can help

Simply Living has, pre-pandemic, done an annual garden tour in Columbus, with many of the participating households highlighting their “green living” efforts, including solar panels, composting, edible yards, fruit trees, geothermal heating and cooling, electric cars and many others. Simply Living is a Transition US hub and looks to support local and statewide efforts to get green and turn this giant spaceship Earth around in time to thwart the multiple crises we find ourselves in – please join us on this adventure!