a call to cultivate resilience

Climate tipping point? Where next?

The IPCC fourth report on climate change, published last Saturday, significantly strengthened its emphasis on the dangers of runaway (‘beyond tipping point’) climate change. See the guardian’s summary graphic (PDF). This is particularly significant as we know that climate change amplifies the impacts of unsustainable human development on earth.

In a powerfully moving presentation before several hundred people at the ‘Be the Change’ in London last Thursday, David Wasdell, an IPCC reviewer and past whistleblower on political corruption and the IPCC process, outline the contents of a new book on climate feedback systems.

In short, the book shows how ‘vicious circles’ of positive feedback loops in climate change systems are amplifying each other. The warmer the atmosphere gets, the more carbon dioxide is released, which warms up the atmosphere more, etc.. And they are not balanced with enough counter-cycles such as global dimming, to dampen the effects significantly. Jim Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia is beginning to seem not so far fetched after all.

Examples of feedback loops include:

Arctic ice melt 2007
We saw an arctic ice melt last summer (2007) at a pace many times greater than the IPCC expected. As ice melts, there is less ice to reflect sunlight so more warmth is absorbed, melting more ice.

Siberian methane thaw has begun
When Siberian permafrost melts, carbon buried since the Pleistocene era is bubbling to the surface of lakes, and dissipating into the atmosphere as methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Siberia has warmed faster than anywhere else on Earth – average temperatures have increased 3°C in the last 40 years.

Sergei Kirpotin of Tomsk State University describes permafrost melting as an “ecological landslide that is probably irreversible”. He says the entire western Siberian sub-Arctic region has begun to melt in the last three or four years. Larry Smith of the University of California Los Angeles, has estimated that the western Siberian bog alone contains 70 billion tonnes of methane, which is 25 percent of all methane stored on the land surface worldwide.

The other major potential source of methane lies under the sea. Methane clathrates, also called methane ice, is a solid form of water that contains a large amount of methane within its crystal structure. If the sea warms up too much, it could release massive amounts of methane. This has been hypothesized as a cause of past extinction events.

Natural CO2 sinks losing their capacity to soak up CO2
We know that the Amazon rainforest narrowly escaped significant wildfires last summer after several seasons without enough rain. The Amazon is becomming a ‘brittle’ ecosystem, unable to withstand shocks, susceptible to irreversable damage. Fewer tress means less CO2 is taken up; which increases the carbon loading in natural carbon sinks to the point of saturation, where they start releasing, rather than storing, carbon. Another positive feedback loop.

Changes in wind patterns over the Southern Ocean resulting from human-induced global warming have brought carbon-rich water toward the surface, reducing the ocean’s ability to absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On land, where plant growth is the major mechanism for drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, large droughts have reduced the uptake of carbon.

“The new twist here is the demonstration that weakening land and ocean sinks are contributing to the accelerating growth of atmospheric CO2,” says co-author Chris Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology. “that’s the thing that is scary about this whole thing. There are lots of mechanisms that tend to be self-perpetuating and relatively few that tend to shut it off.”

breaking down to breakthrough…. into resilience?

Our collective senses are beginning to perceive clearly the implications of the rapid changes that are now upon us. However, as Peter Chatalos recently wrote, you might say earth has its own human-induced AIDS, its own immune-deficiency syndrome, which involves a numbing of our sensitivity to the earth’s pain. This numbness is evident in the tired old systems of human governance which are not yet tuned keenly enough to the scale of the challenge before us, and therefore play out tired patterns of response, and as this old system becomes fearful of its collapse, it can actively obstruct the innovation we need.

This blog’s purpose is to support the emergence of a craft practice of resilience. The resilience pioneers are helping the old systems ‘let go’ as well as focussing our evolutionary energy on building resilience at every level – to withstand the coming storms whilst enriching our collective humanity, cultivating life-giving cultures of sustainability.

Last weekend, another friend, eco-psychologist Mary-Jayne Rust, presented a paper to the Guild of Psychotherapists recently that called the profession to leave its couch and engage in the corridors of power, equiping us with the psycho-dynamic wherewithall to comprehend the processes of denial and projection which threaten to bury our collective heads deeper into the sand; that a profound understanding of inner resilience and transformation is required.

In her recent book on the psychology of ambiguous loss, Pauline Boss says

“Resiliency is a constant and positive adaptive trait. It is a basic part of our healthy psychological makeup … it is more than ‘bouncing back,’ which implies regaining the status quo; rather, it means rising above traumatic and ambiguous losses by not letting them immobilize and living well despite them. Resiliency means flexibility, the opposite of brittleness, and movement, the opposite of paralysis.” Loss Trauma and Resilience (2006)

Resilience implies practical action, diverse yet seemlessly connected initiative, married with deep values that reinforce our sense of self-worth, dignity and sensitivity.

There is already a global justice movement which, with largely under-the-radar stealth, is infusing our societies with resiliency from the inside-out. Paul Hawkin’s latest work charts, with effervescing energy, the emergence of this movement, and the principles at its heart.

A practical expression of it in the UK is the phenomenal take-up of the ‘transition towns’ movement… It’s been suggested that a reason for the phenomenal take-up of this approach – that enables local people to take responsibility for the ‘powerdown’ of their community – is its emphasis on cultivating local resilience, from the ground up. When faced by the enormity of climate change, combined with the coming ‘peak-oil’ crisis where our oil-addicted economies are eating more oil than our reserves can give up, resilience is an idea that can grab you, earth you, connect you to a powerful energy to get up and do something meaningful.

To summarise: at the heart of the resurging, dynamic invigoration of collective capacity is a focussed, determined, exuberent and compassionately grounded cultivation of resilience in relationships at every level – from the personal to the plantary. This resilience is then embodied in the emerging structures of ecologically-sane organisations and institutions.

This blog is therefore offered in service of surfacing, connecting, advocating and catalysing practices of resilience.


to see clearly
to work with what is
to amplify nature’s self-healing properties

… cultivating resilience.

my resilience
our resilience
local resilience
global resilience

… cultivating resilience.

Weaving together an integral approach
finding simplicity beyond complexity

… cultivating resilience.

Resilience as life;
resilience bourne of spiritual strength through hard times;
resilience of elasticity and a capacity to ‘bounce back’.

… cultivating resilience.

Resilience in ecology:
ecosystems, full of diversity, far from the brittleness of breakdown.

… cultivating resilience.

Resilient communities, full of solid, trusting relationships and generous hearts.

… cultivating resilience.

Resilient institutions, founded on creativity, learning,
and authentic leadership serving greater purposes of sustainability and social justice.

… cultivating resilience.

What does ‘resilience’ speak of to you?

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