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Embracing Adaptability. Developing Resiliency.

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System Shocks Make Personal Adaptation Necessary.

When we speak about climate change, adaptation strategies help guide us through to a “new” norm while building our resiliency to episodic shocks that are expected to come.  The same can be said for acute shocks like the one we are experiencing today with Covid-19.  Here’s the base reasoning: climate change impacts are occurring today and will continue to impact us tomorrow and those impacts will, for the most part, be increasingly detrimental, less predictable, and more chaotic over time.  Implementing strategies in our everyday lives to be less impacted by climate change or…Covid-19, requires new ways of behaving, new processes of doing, and often, new innovations to support our new way of living.

Adaptation and Resiliency Go Hand-in-Hand.  One Begets the Other.

Resiliency – of individuals, households, communities, companies and countries – is the desired outcome from the implementation of adaptation strategies to successfully mitigate the detrimental impacts a system shock can and will have on people’s homes, health, water and food supplies, energy systems, and livelihoods.  Adaptation measures support resiliency.

The Origin of Resiliency

The idea of resilience originally comes from environmental ecology:  the study of nature.  The principle of resilience as it relates to ecosystem sustainability is the capacity of the environment to “recover from adverse impacts” to it; the ability of a particular ecosystem to “bounce back” from a disruption such as a flood or wildfire[1].  This ecology concept is now being applied to societies and communities effected by systemic impacts such as climate change.   We can call this socio-political turn on resilience:  ‘livelihood resilience’[2].

The definition of resilience as it relates to society, a community, and individuals is the ability to “resist,  absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of…essential basic structures and functions”[3] of a defined community.  In effect, livelihood resilience focuses on how “the daily practices of ordinary people”[4] can be made more robust through new coping mechanisms and adaptation strategies to whether the increasing likelihood and intensity of climate change impacts to our daily lives.  Resiliency gives us the ability to survive, bounce-back and ultimately, thrive under a “new” normal state of operating.

Personalizing the Idea of Resiliency

Livelihood resilience is the study of how individuals respond to environmental stressors that can heavily tax their daily existence by providing a practical road-map approach to the implementation of pro-active, anticipatory actions that meet personal lifestyle requirements in a satisfactory way.   For instance, the cost burden should not be too high nor the behavioral changes required should not be too drastic.  This is where adaptation strategies come in.  Adaptation measures do not have to be radical to be effective.  Incremental adaptation can be sufficiently effective if applied consistently and continuously over time.

A Roadmap Toward Personal Adaptation

Adaptation is the deployment of a diverse set of practical strategies to reduce one’s risk and vulnerability to a systemic impact.  As it relates to climate change, its anticipated impacts will be to individuals’ health, livelihood, home, water and food supplies, and the energy systems they rely on to stay safe and remain productive.  Climate change adaptability necessarily entails developing new habits and behaviors, implementing new practices both at home and professionally, and adopting new innovations all in support of reducing one’s exposure to negative impacts likely to occur.  Climate change adaptation measures help us to “moderate harm” to ourselves[5].

Note: in speaking about adaptability there is a great degree of emphasis on personal responsibility, pro-active steps taken, and anticipatory (versus reactionary) action taken.  One does not go fishing without securing a fishing rod and bait.  One could fish by taking a trip to a river, finding a long, bowed stick and digging up some worms or killing a fly on-scene, but this is hardly efficient nor very effective to one’s goal of successfully catching fish.  So too, one does not contemplate a long road-trip without acknowledging one’s transportation needs or food and shelter requirements.  Pro-active, anticipatory behavioral changes, effective planning practices, and employment of beneficial technologies can help ensure that when an environmental or economic shock, we are ready to withstand its impact and possess the capability to rebound to pre-shock productivity levels more quickly.

First Step:  Making changes in Our Habits (and Long-Held Beliefs)

Behavioral changes are ways in which we conduct ourselves, much of them are unconsciously decided.  Changes in our habits or the ways in which we conduct ourselves are difficult.  They are unwritten rules we live by, often inherited over our lifetimes, learned from our early days as kids and young adults.  Think about how we cook and eat.  Much of the comfort foods we love come from our very earliest experiences of first trying them.  Good memories are attached to them whether it was on a cold night when our mom cooked that delicious chili with beans topped with shredded cheddar cheese served with a crusty baguette, or when unexpectedly, after a tough day at school, dad made his “famous” homemade mac & cheese dish sizzling hot out of the oven with breadcrumbs on top and the oozing-gooeyness of the cheese making each mouthful both work and a lovely prolonged sensation.  To this day, we may love both chili and mac& cheese.  We might still cook them exactly as we experienced them the first time.  But when say, we are diagnosed with Type II diabetes or celiac disease, eating rich, fatty foods or gluten are detrimental to our bodily health.  We must then make different and better-informed dietary decisions to build a body that is sustainable and healthy over the long-term.  These decisions must be consciously made, even when we feel we want to resist them.  They do not feel natural and thus, foreign. This is the re-learning period of changing out old habits for new, beneficial ones.  Over time and with much conscious iteration of our new behaviors, new habits become embedded in our mind, so much so that we no longer have to think about them, consciously, to perform them.  They become our new and standard way of doing things.  That is conscious, incremental adaptation.

Second Step:  Developing New Personal Habits That Are Sustainability-Driven

New practices are novel ways we go about accomplishing what needs to be done to run our lives smoothly on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  We fill the car up with gas once a week.  We go grocery shopping on Mondays and Thursdays.  We drop-off our dry-cleaning every Tuesday.  We pay our household bills the 2nd of every month.  We set-up standards and routines to keep orderly track of all that needs to get done on a continual basis.  We can call this a mental check-list of life’s “To Do’s”.  Some of these practices we just do and don’t think about much.  A pair of socks gets a hole in them so we throw them away and buy another pair.  We use Aluminum foil until the roll is depleted and we put it on our shopping list to get more.  We buy that Gallon of Tide laundry detergent because having more is better.

New practices can also be defined as being open to trying new ways, new things, new brands, and new concepts to accomplish the same life tasks that require our attention.  For instance, instead of performing manual bank reconciliations, many of us now use e-banking services with our banks.  This not only automates our payments out and credits in, it automatically serves to streamline our personal monthly cash flow reconciliations.  With the advent of online shopping, a shift has occurred in how we shop.  Instead of visiting a mall, we take time out of our work week to shop online, making more efficient use of our time and removing the hassle of lugging our purchases around with us, with free or low-cost delivery services.  Another example:  we rarely hail a taxi cab…with our raised arms, in urban areas; instead, we “call” an Uber or Lyft car to pick us up at a determined spot and time that is electronically ordered by us through our mobile phones.  Some of these new practices take time to learn and get used to.  Though with practice, we often find they serve us better:  saving us time, money, and effort.

Third Step:  Embracing New Technology That Supports Personal Sustainability

New technologies have multiple beneficial purposes.  Often, technologies are designed to make a process more efficient (e.g., use less material), such as what 3-D (additive) manufacturing does, whereby an athletic shoe or a wing of a plane can be designed on a computer screen, tweaked for performance and peak design without the need to create a prototype (or sample mold) to be made.  New technologies originate to replace or substitute products or processes that are less efficient or are more harmful to the environment, such as the production of biofuels (liquid fuel originating from plants such as corn or agricultural waste and grass) that are used to replace the use of gas or coal as an energy input for many types of transportation vehicles.  Other new technologies seek to solve big problems for humanity.  Several include the idea that making energy generation distributed (regionally, locally, or individually-managed) and affordable, will allow disadvantaged people in less-industrialized nations to raise their standards-of-living and to live more securely.  This is the thought behind both solar PV systems that can be installed on homes and mobile infrastructure as well as “next generation” batteries based on sodium, aluminum or zinc that can power whole manufacturing plants, towns or small rural communities[6].  Many new technologies may be commercially available but expensive.  Others are emerging technologies that are being tested and developed to reach commercial viability.  Some technologies are readily available in some geographies, but not in others.  Most new technologies require some research into how they are installed and operate, whether they are supported by subsidies or incentives, and take a little personal elbow grease for their implementation.  That said, return on investments can be significant, and even more than initially modelled.

Final Thoughts on the Road to Resiliency

When we talk about adaptation strategies to employ on the road to building effective resiliency to climate change impacts (or economic ones from Covid-19), the three requirements of adaptability are 1) learning new habits, 2) employing new practices, and in some cases where appropriate and affordable, 3) investing in new technologies/innovations.  Remember, we are preparing ourselves to combat systemic shocks the best way possible with the resources and knowledge we possess.  Adaptability and resiliency are a one-two punch strategy:  make personal changes to be better prepared when shocks and disasters happen while taking agency in our lives by making conscious life-decisions to reduce our exposure to both acute and/or persistent shocks to come.

TripleWin Advisory develops sustainable business cases and supports strategic decision-making through value-chain mapping and Scope 3 inventories of companies’ greenhouse gas emissions.  In so doing, it unlocks opportunities for greater profitability, relevancy, and longevity for businesses.  Learn more.     

[1] Harris, Jonathan M. and Roach, Brian.  (2013).  Environmental and Natural Resource Economics:  A Contemporary Approach, 3rd Edition.  Armonk, New York, M.E. Sharpe, pp. 315, 342.

[2] Tanner et al. (2015, January).  Livelihood resilience in the face of climate change.  Nature Climate Change, Vol. 1, pp. 23-26.

[3] Jabareen, Yosef.  (2013).  Planning the resilient city:  Concepts and strategies for coping with climate change and environmental risk.  Cities 31, pp. 220-229.

[4] Tanner et al., op. cit., p. 23-24.

[5] Noble et al., op. cit., p. 834.

[6] Carbeck, Jeffrey.  (2016, June 23).  Those next-generation batteries could end energy poverty.  World Economic Forum.

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