On Resilience

I spend some of my time volunteering with ALLFED – the Alliance to Feed Earth in Disasters. I’m working on a paper on maintaining nutritional health in the face of major disaster – a 50% drop in incoming sunlight that reaches the surface is the primary scenario we’re planning around. It’s an interesting question – how do we ensure that everyone has their caloric needs met, and also doesn’t end up deficient in key nutrients, when the foods we grow currently won’t have their needs met?

We’ve found things that will grow under those conditions – potatoes, for example, already grow at that kind of sunlight level in Alaska. They’re impressively resilient. Potatoes can be found all over the planet, from the Andes to Alaska, and they are a great starting point if you want to get people fed. They aren’t, on their own, enough to keep everyone hale and healthy, though.

That said, potatoes aren’t perfectly resilient – as we’ve seen in history, there are ways in which we can lose access to them as a crop. Most crops have at least one problem along these lines – we of course want to grow the variation of a given crop that will give us the largest harvest, which means that one narrowly genetically defined breed ends up being the one that’s grown everywhere, and when something moves into that ecological niche, it explodes. While we have fairly good methods of control, farming as a whole is not resilient.

This has led me to think about resilience in and of itself; resilient systems, resilient species, and the resilience of particular people. In some ways, I’m fairly resilient. I wouldn’t have survived the hell year without it; every once in a while I tell someone that story and they tell me they don’t know how I made it through, or that they couldn’t have, something along those lines.

I’m also fairly fragile along some axes – I recently discussed with my partners, the fact that I have some difficulty taking certain kinds of criticism. They’ve been investing some amount of skull sweat into not breaking me when there are things I need to be told about myself. Always, always, there are ways to become stronger.

It’s definitely something I want to work on, although at the moment things in people’s lives are a little bit too on fire for me to bring it up as an area to target. Soon, I hope, and of course I’ll keep digging into the resources I can work with on my own.

And yourself, dear reader? How resilient do you find yourself? What have you found that helped you become more resilient?

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