Creating a Sustainable and Resilient Community

The creator of this blog, Eric Cohen, is my husband and he has generously told me I can publish things here as often as I want. Previously I have only taken him up on that offer  for one cutesy article riffing on the name Sag Hampton. Now, however, I find that I have many things I want to write about and until I develop the time and savvy to create my own blog, you’ll regularly find articles and postings from me here.

What has engendered this new-found need to communicate? I’m not sure, but I guess it stems at least in part from my recent involvement in several organizations and events that have inspired me. In no particular order, here are some of them: Organizing for America on the South Fork, 725 Green, WISE (Women’s Initiative for a Sustainable Earth) and the First New York Women’s Conference for Sustainability, which was held at Stony Brook Southampton at the end of March.

Sometimes I’ll have opinions I want to voice, but I suspect that mostly what I want to do is get information out about events that are taking place and become a go-to source of information about things happening in our area, especially if they are somewhat green in nature.

OK, so the first thing I want to share is one of the outcomes from the First New York Women’s Conference for Sustainability. While at the conference attendees broke up into various discussion groups, one of which was entitled Visioning Sustainable and Resilient Communities.  I was part of that group and we found that we only had time to scratch the surface, so we agreed to meet again at the College on April 13th.

We spent the bulk of our time discussing our goals and visions and focused on the need to articulate just what sustainability and resilience means. We took turns expressing what we felt went into the definition and one of our members, Mark Seidler volunteered to synthesize what was said and write it up for us. He captured our ideas so brilliantly and eloquently, that I want to share it here. As soon as I can, I’ll post more things about events that are taking place. In the meantime, if you’re interested in joining the conversation/action of our Sustainabiliy-Resilience group, we meet on the second Monday of each month at the Student Center at Stony Brook Southampton at 7:00 p.m. Our next meeting is May 11th.

Here is what Mark wrote:

In a material sense, sustainability implies that we don’t use more resources than we – or nature at large – can regenerate. We are all familiar with the idea that humanity’s current consumption of fossil fuels is not sustainable. A sustainable energy future depends on shifting toward renewable sources. But in attending to the quantifiable measures of resource levels, we should not forget that sustainability has a basic moral dimension: our behavior is sustainable only when it doesn’t negatively impact those generations which will succeed us.

Sustainability focuses on the idea of maintaining a quality of life and health, personally, socially, and environmentally. But we know that changes are inevitable; it appears ever more likely that we will face quite disruptive and possibly even catastrophic changes in our environment and climate, our economic system, etc. So we are increasingly speaking of another concept in conjunction with sustainability – resilience. Resilience implies that in the face of inevitable change, we as communities must develop the capacity to ‘bounce back’ – to maintain our basic physical and social health in spite of those challenges.

A key concept that many of us associate with resilience is the idea of diversity. In the study of nature, we see that strong, robust systems are diverse systems. (By contrast, agricultural practices that rely on monoculture undermine diversity and therefore reduce resilience.) Resilience can be described as the capacity to suffer abuse and still maintain – or restore – health. For those who envision the possibility of  catastrophic changes in our environment – rising oceans, droughts, fuel shortages, for example – there is a special urgency to develop resilience. Many look to do this in part by increasing self sufficiency around the resources needed to sustain life – growing more food locally, for example.

But the understanding of resilience should not be limited to material measures. Resilience is also about maintaining our capacity to function effectively as a community in the face of those insidious or precipitous changes in our material environment. To succeed as communities we need to recognize that resilience requires a kind of intellectual and cultural diversity – the capacity to be open to many points of view, to be flexible and creative in our response to problems, to nurture multiple solutions in order to increase the chances of finding the best way to adapt to changing conditions and new constraints on resources. And for this we need to refine and perfect the ways in which we communicate with each other, continuously seeking better ways to share and manage both information and mutual support. Some will add that at the heart of this process must lie love and mutual respect. 
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One Response to Creating a Sustainable and Resilient Community

  1. Dorothy Reilly says:

    I’d love to know if there are notes to share from the meeting on Monday May 11.

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