Book Review: Resilience Matters

This review reflects the independent thinking of the author.  Although the Diva may not agree with the perspective offered, she is willing to include postings and articles that provide other points of view, as long as they as they are thoughtful and polite.

Resilience Matters; Strengthening Communities in an Era of Upheaval. This 188 page ebook issued by Island Press may be downloaded at no charge.

Reviewer: John Plodinec, Associate Director, Resilience Technologies

I read a book like Resilience Matters – Strengthening Communities in an Era of Upheaval, edited by Laurie Mazur, to find solutions I can use or recommend for increasing community resilience. I suspect she would agree that that is one of the primary purposes of publishing this collection of essays. I strongly suspect we might not agree on much else.

The Introductory essay by Sawin and Smith sets the tone for much of the rest of the book:

“At this moment of climate desperation, investments that link health, equity and human well-being with climate protection are our best hope.”

The other 48 essays echo this to a greater or lesser extent. They are organized into four sections:

I. Climate Adaptation; Climate Justice
II. Resilient and Equitable Systems: Energy, Water, Health, Food
III. Sustainable Cities for All
IV. Policy Regulations and Finance

I found the first section spotty. The essays in this section that are focused on the organizing and planning aspects of becoming more resilient were not very helpful at all. While these are important – perhaps even essential – steps along the path to greater community resilience, the essays were more polemic than practical. Too much anti-capitalism (“A healthier planet requires an overhaul of our economic system,” “policymakers and large philanthropies are too wedded to the capitalist economy to be able to imagine anything outside of it, and the consolidation of wealth, spurred by white supremacy and patriarchy, is the foundation of a capitalist system whose growth-at-all-costs philosophy is killing the planet.”) and too little “Here’s what needs to be done to successfully organize.” For me, success is defined by action – not by how many are included, not by a plan but by real action.

One exception in this section well worth reading is Gibbons’ Three Myths about Climate Adaptation Work. She points out that climate change is not just an urban problem; we can’t afford to forget suburbia and rural areas. She also notes that there are no universal solutions to climate change; just as its manifestations vary from locale to locale, so must its solutions. Earl’s essay on Washington DC’s unpreparedness for a Florence-like hurricane was also informative, as was Woodside’s on how institutions of higher education can adapt to climate change.

I found the second section’s fifteen essays to be the most valuable. The essays on both water and energy offered real solutions relatively uncolored by polemics or politics. Mosley’s Developing the Energy Efficiency Workforce: A Collaborative Approach highlighted an important issue that’s often overlooked by those enamored with the promise of renewable energy. I found myself intrigued enough by Wodder’s depiction of Community Water and Energy Resource Centers to read further about them – there are real advantages to distributed systems in terms of community recovery. Unfortunately, she glosses over the capital requirements and ignores their workforce needs.

Bohan’s article on how public schools could adapt was also interesting. Its central argument of the public school as the hub for assuring the health and safety of the whole child – not just their education struck a chord with me. I have seen the success of this kind of thinking in housing for the homeless (dealing with all of their problems, not just providing temporary shelter) and believe it could be just as successful in schools.

The third section starts with Wilson’s What Democratic Design Looks Like. I really love the opening quote by Sandra Turner-Handy:

“The word empower, I truly hate it. No one can empower you. We have the power already. It’s just about utilizing the power, and I think in the City of Detroit, the people have been so misled that they no longer think they have this power to really move the city forward. A lot of the work that we have done at this table, in certain communities, we have reenergized that power with the residents. And that is what it’s about—reenergizing the power residents already have.”

This essay talks about Detroit’s metamorphosis from a city without hope to one with a vision for the future, and its first step to realize that vision. It’s a 50 year framework; too often we forget that resilience takes time. As Wilson says, Detroit’s success “will be measured with longer time horizons,” city government a part – not the whole – of the solutions. Alan Mallach’s following essay also highlights that Detroit has made a start but has much left to do. Two articles on urban transit were also informative as were those on parks, walkable suburbia and urban flood control. The others in this section – not much.

The last section was marred by several political essays blaming Mr. Trump for seemingly all of the world’s ills. If you are inclined to accept their assertions at face value these essays may not bother you; in those cases where I either knew the facts or was able to access independent information the essays badly mis-represented the Administration’s positions. The polemic against the EPA’s proposed “transparency rule” is a good example. According to the essay, the proposed rule would require exposure of patients’ private information – absolutely false! The operative part of the proposed rule requires that the EPA “ensure that the regulatory science underlying its actions is publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation. Where available and appropriate, EPA will use peer-reviewed information, standardized test methods, consistent data evaluation procedures, and good laboratory practices to ensure transparent, understandable, and reproducible scientific assessments.” I suppose you can argue with the proposed rule (although I’m not sure on what basis) but I defy the author to explain how the EPA’s rather innocuous proposal leads to her allegations of potential violation of patient privacy (It is truly unfortunate that the Tweeter-in-Chief lends himself to caricature so well. His public statements – and essays like these – don’t help us have some of the adult conversations we should be having.).

The section was redeemed by two articles relating to finance – Environmental Impact Bonds and “Pay for Success.” Too many of today’s politicians seem to forget that somebody has to pay for the politicians’ well-intentioned ideas and that those ideas need to work. Organizing and singing kumbaya are great but don’t fix any problems.

Previously I reviewed an earlier edition of Resilience Matters for the Diva (Long may she reign!). I can best summarize my views on this edition the way I summarized that one. “I can neither condemn nor recommend this tidy collection (this one’s not as tidy). If the polemics don’t bother you, there are some valuable nuggets here. If you’d prefer pronouncements on policy independent of partisanship, then you might not want to bother.”

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Resilience Matters

  1. It is worth noting that many scientists are concerned about the potential impact of the EPA transparency rule, in terms of the use of historical findings (which may not have original datasets attached to them) and contemporary research where HIPAA and/or human subjects rules limit our ability to share identifiable datasets. For example, see this commentary in the Annals of Internal Medicine, one of many critiques of the proposed rule:

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