Two new programs aim to get subject-matter experts linked up with local and regional governments to take on their most pressing resiliency challenges. Andy Revkin offers up his typically link-infused overview of these efforts, centered on Thriving Earth Exchange, which is networking to bring in experts to help cities with specific issues such as flood risks to food distribution systems, adapting to extreme heat, responding to drought, and many others. Meanwhile, the Obama White House rolled out a similar program dubbed The Resilience Dialogues, an “online consultative service will help communities find, use, and understand information, tools, and programs to support their climate-resilience needs.”
Both of these programs are actively soliciting requests from cities for expert guidance, and subject-matter experts willing to share their insights. If you’re active in your local community’s transition, resiliency, or climate response programs, check them out! Start with Revkin’s introduction, then dig in.
Acclaimed permaculture teacher Ross Mars has just released a new book that will be a valuable resource for the burgeoning crop of small farmers working on modest landholdings, as well as for people moving toward increased self-reliance on their property while maintaining their jobs away from home. As Mars notes, “Today in North America, the fastest growing forms of agriculture are small peri-urban farms of less than 20 acres growing vegetables for market.”
The Permaculture Transition Manual: A Comprehensive Guide to Resilient Living is a hefty (450 page) resource that features in-depth guidance on all elements of permaculture design and personal homestead resilience—land, labor, wildlife, energy, and your own mindset—as well as case studies of four diverse projects. We fully support Ross’s underlying respect for the value of permaculture’s insights:
Permaculture connected many streams of the world’s traditional knowledge with modern forms of science and urged ordinary people everywhere to continue that lineage of empirical investigation. The books were a prospectus for a worldwide distributed experiment in ecological subsistence agriculture for the post-industrial world.
That experiment is now over 30 years old, and I will argue that its fruits are abundant and that results have validated the original thesis well enough that we should expect it to meet the needs of a new generation of garden farmers whether they be former pastoralists settled into towns in Botswana or industrial workers made redundant by energy descent in Boston.
Readers of The Resilient Investor will remember that our picture of more vibrant local economies is rooted in a shift from national and international trade networks toward increasingly vibrant regional economic systems. A recent article in the NYTimes speaks to the emerging regional character of the US economy and society, suggesting that national policy should be redirected from state-specific funding, and instead nourish the already-emerging regional networks, which can then breathe new life into their surrounding rural areas and depressed smaller cities:
America is increasingly divided not between red states and blue states, but between connected hubs and disconnected backwaters. Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution has pointed out that of America’s 350 major metro areas, the cities with more than three million people have rebounded far better from the financial crisis. Meanwhile, smaller cities like Dayton, Ohio, already floundering, have been falling further behind, as have countless disconnected small towns across the country.
Here’s the map of the US that the authors suggest we begin to plan around (click for larger version):
Here’s an author interview that takes some fresh new angles: Michael Kramer recently spoke to the folks at Urban Farm about the ways that permaculture has informed both his life and our resilient investing approach. The interview can’t be embedded here, but you can hear it on the Urban Farm page: Michael Kramer on Permaculture and Economics. Poke around their site a bit; you’re likely to find other articles and interviews that’ll be of interest.
A central underpinning of The Resilient Investor is the recognition that in our increasingly complex world, it’s nearly impossible to predict how the future will unfold. That remains true, but a team of researchers at Northeastern University is using complex non-linear math to try to shed some light on a key modern problem: predicting when a natural or social system will hit a “tipping point” that triggers rapid breakdowns in its natural resiliency:
Using statistical physics, Northeastern network scientist Albert-László Barabási and his colleagues Jianxi Gao and Baruch Barzel have developed a tool to identify that tipping point—for everything from ecological systems such as bees and plants to technological systems such as power grids. It opens the door to planning and implementing preventive measures before it’s too late, as well as preparing for recovery after a disaster.
Then, says Jianxi Gao, one of the researchers who developed the method, “you can begin to tackle how to manipulate that resilience—how to enhance resilience or restore resilience. These are not easy questions, but our theory, by giving us a picture of the entire system, paves the way to the answers.” A video about their work (embedded below) is especially evocative.
While this is only a start, it’s just the sort of previously unimaginable leap of understanding that will likely come more and more frequently as computing power increases, taps into the distributed data now gathering in the cloud, and moves inexorably, though at a still-uncertain pace, into increasingly functional artificial intelligences. Along the way, say resilient investors who favor the Breakthrough/Driver perspective, we’ll find that these kinds of complexity models will become more common, and offer practical insights that have been beyond our grasp.
We live in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. Are you poised to adjust nimbly to changing circumstances as they arise? Because while we may not know quite how or when changes will crop up, it’s clear they’re coming—who foresaw oil prices dropping so precipitously, or US political polarization devolving so rapidly and dangerously?
A recent piece by Eric McNulty in Strategy+Business, Leading in an Increasingly VUCA World, offers the best concise overview of VUCA and how to respond that we’ve seen (well, other than in our book!). McNulty stresses:
VUCA isn’t something to be solved; it simply is. Attempts to simplify complexity, or to break volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity down into smaller and smaller parts in hopes that each can be decoded and countered will not make them go away — there are too many elements beyond the control of traditional centers of power and authority. It is a network phenomenon and can’t be mastered through industrial age structures and practices.
We absolutely agree. That’s why we formulated the integrated planning tools laid out in The Resilient Investor, centered on a “map” of our lives that provides a foundation for making clear and responsive choices within this VUCA landscape. Personal and social resilience is enhanced when we cultivate all our assets (personal, tangible, financial), each of these engaging with our communities, the global financial system, and evolutionary initiatives that are making things better.
McNulty offers three tips for personal VUCA preparedness. The first two will be familiar to our readers.
OK, so you’re totally on board with The Resilient Investor‘s goal of being “ready for anything”—you’ve clarified your own idea of where the world seems to be headed, while also realizing that you don’t really know when or how one of the countless wild cards in play might change the game in fundamental ways. You get that focusing significant energy Close to Home will pay off no matter how the future unfolds; perhaps you’re also committed to pushing our society in those enticing Evolutionary directions.
And yes, you recognize that there is a chance of painful disruptions to life here on American Easy Street. Maybe you think any hiccups are unlikely to be severe . . . or you harbor a secret dread that’s too nebulous to really figure out how to address. You certainly aren’t into being a serious Prepper, stockpiling supplies, fine-tuning a “go-bag,” and overlaying that kind of dire filter onto your day to day life. If it comes to that, you figure we’re all toast, or we’ll all be in it together, and there are better ways to spend your time in the here and now. But you also have a niggling sense that you could be a little more prepared for a societal speed bump: it’s not so hard to imagine some sort of grid snafu (cyber-attack or solar flare) or regional weather or terror event that could make things rough for a week, or maybe even a few. Just-in-time supply chains, vulnerable water supplies, our reliance on fuels and electricity. . . yeah, there are a few weak links out there.
While we’ve pointed to writers and resources that aim to help you prepare for various Breakdown scenarios, if you don’t really identify as a “Doomer,” you’ve probably held off on digging into all that very deeply. Well, here’s a less-scary entry point for those of you that have been thinking you really consider doing something: a well-curated collection of The Best Emergency Preparedness Supplies from the good folks at Sweethome/Wirecutter.
Scandinavians have grappled with social challenges more diligently than most of the rest of the world, and it’s no different in the realm of resilience. The Stockholm Resilience Centre has long been the global leader in researching and teaching about the nuts and bolts of what resilience is and what it can offer to communities, planners, and the world. They’ve just compiled their most-requested new papers of 2015, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better syllabus for getting up to speed with the most current municipal experiments and global thinking in resilience. Topics range far and wide, with a special emphasis on recent practical attempts to implement resilience, along with the important question of how we can or should assess or measure resilience. If you’re active in local or regional resilience planning or Transition Town programs, you really do need to jump on over to the SRC website and peruse this collection.
Here’s a taste of the topics covered; their site includes a full-page summary of each one, some with video and most with a sidebar of related papers and links:
Learning to apply resilience: First in-depth analysis of a resilience assessment put into practice
Don’t fence me in: Managing ecosystems for predictable outcomes may backfire, new study warns
Beyond measure?: Reducing resilience to a few measurements can block deeper understanding
Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet
Five factors for successful management of natural capital: Strategies for successful governance, for both people and ecosystems
Kudos to the Centre both for funding this important work, and for offering such complete summaries of each paper to help guide visitors to the ones that are most relevant for them. Great work!
Not along ago, we were introduced to Brad Kaellner, a kindred spirit who is engaging in the world of investing from a foundation in permaculture. He recently did a solid brief review of our book, which he called “a relatively short book with a big vision,” and noted:
My favorite chapter was “Tales of Resilient Living” where the three authors share how they use the Resilient Investing Map to guide their unique investment plans based on their personal outlooks and personalities.
Returning the favor, we’d like to say that Brad’s Permaculture Investor website is a valuable resource, especially for those new to investing or to adding a social and environmental overlay to their investment decisions. He’s studying to become an SRI financial advisor, and shares what he’s learning, as well as accessible overviews of investing strategies; he also pokes around in the dirt a bit, shedding light on some of the lessons he’s learned as he tries to more fully align his money-making decisions with his values. We look forward to following his journey!
One of the key drivers to the development of the resilient investing system is the recognition that we can no longer count on the steady long-term growth of the stock market to be the driver for growing our assets. Frequent extreme volatility, with the market struggling to keep up with inflation over the course of a decade of downs and ups, as well as uncertainty about whether ecological limits, increased costs of scarce raw materials, or social unrest will undermine the steady-growth machine of the global economy, all led us to step back a bit and look at ways to “wean from Wall Street.”
Still, even in a year of sputtering markets and big global economic disruptions, the S&P 500 is holding steady, so that’s a good thing, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. It turns out that five companies (yup, 1%) are responsible for keeping the ship on an even keel. If we disregarded the big years from “mega-cap” companies Amazon, Alphabet/Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and GE, the market would be down 2.2%—and unless you hold some of the big winners, you may be down as well. Amazon is up over 100% year-to-date and the other four are up 16-40%, while the rest of the “gang of 500” underperformed so much that the index as a whole only eked out a 0.06% gain.
Just another reminder that resilient investors will want to continue to pursue a much broader approach to diversification than simply having your eggs in a range of Wall Street baskets. Our book The Resilient Investor discusses ways of weaning off Wall Street that include community investing, a focus on personal and tangible assets, and a wide range of related strategies.
Alex Steffen recently gave a keynote talk at The Nature Conservancy’s annual trustees meeting that could serve as a statement of purpose for the Dreamers and Drivers among us who continue to believe that we can find our way through the eye of the historical needle. It’s in the form of a talk to a conservation gathering a hundred years from now, looking back:
We’ve lost so much. We came far too close to losing nearly everything. If things went on as they were, we might have.
Instead, we live today on a healing planet. Yes, much has been lost, but much was saved or restored or reinvented, and what was saved and healed and made anew has become a powerful legacy.
Those gifts became the seedbeds from which sprouted our new world. That we have so much left from which to coax a long and bountiful tomorrow is no accident. Those seeds of hope were saved and planted and tended to by people who made the decision that they would live as if the future mattered. As if nature mattered. As if we mattered.
These were visionary people. Responsible people. Courageous people. All around the world, our best ancestors took up the challenge of leaving a different, bolder legacy, one not of error and loss, but of leadership, stewardship, innovation.
Take five minutes to soak in Steffen’s vision of how we became the ancestors who, “when they understood the planetary crisis they faced, their answer was not cynicism or surrender, but to seek out others and together meet that crisis with action.” It’ll perk you up for another day of doing what we can today to assure that our descendants have a future worth living in. (That final link is another compelling essay, in which Steffen makes the moral case for not giving in to despair.)
Co-author Christopher Peck was recently interviewed by Pat Lynch of WomensRadio, in advance of his upcoming talk at the San Francisco Green Festival. In a nice concise thirteen minutes, he introduces the core principles of resilient investing and offers a quick overview of his career as a holistic financial planner. Listen below, or on the WomensRadio site.
Michael Kramer also offers a great, brief overview in a recent interview at the Sustainability Unconference in his home state of Hawaii; click through to hear his summary of the system, and take a look at this short article that illustrates the system as well. Stay tuned to the end to witness the historic first utterance of what’s sure to become a major socio-philosophical movement (or Muppet character?) when Scott Mooney of Triple Pundit dubs Michael an “apolocaloptimist!”