The biggest turned-the-corner story ever told

After 2017, we will really never be the same

That feeling when someone expresses a point and you think to yourself, or tell the person, “I couldn’t have said that better myself.”

Yup. That was me listening to Beth Gibbons. So this post is not so much me saying anything, as it is her. But since I’m not gonna simply transcribe the interview, I suggest you see it first, if you have a quick half hour.

After introducing the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, of which she is Executive Director — isn’t that the best acronym in the world? ASAP. Hello! We so have to hurry up on climate action — Beth takes us on quite the journey into that place within where she reflects on deep resilience.

I got the feeling at times she wasn’t talking to me at all, or to you, or looking at the web cam, but rather thinking out loud, much like we all do, perhaps with the aid of a mirror. Except this was a two-way mirror, like those used for focus groups, and we’re looking at her from the adjacent room.

Still, there was this one big piece of news that deserves to be called the lead of the story, the one suggested in the headline.

“We’re at a tipping point right now in adaptation and climate action.”

Last year, she believes, “was a watershed. The number of disasters, the diversity of disasters, the places impacted, the way communities were impacted, has really forced a recognition that we can’t maintain the status quo without adapting.”

has forced a recognition that we can’t maintain the status quo without adapting. See what I mean? Couldn’t have said it better myself, particularly because I’m not the one leading the premier association of resilience professionals in America.

This is Beth Gibbons saying that. She runs ASAP, and it is a message every government and corporate leader in the world must heed.

Many, we know, bless their souls, agree and have begun taking action, well before 2017, in some cases, as documented daily by 100RCs, ICLEI, Post Carbon Institute, and multiple other stand-outs.

But this is “most” time across the planet, the moment when MOST leaders and citizens, not just “many” or the visionary few, must recognize they can no longer “maintain the status quo without adapting.”

“The tipping point we’re at, of people waking up and saying climate change is real and affecting me now, is leading to innovations, the emergence of leadership in the business sector, discussions with insurers. But there are still a lot of communities back at the 101 [level], and we have to make sure we’re bringing them along, too.”

When that word “communities” is used to mean people in neighborhoods, companies, countries, cities, provinces, organizations of all kinds, we capture the historic scope of the turning point she’s shouting out.

Because yes, 2017 was a watershed. No doubt. Recognition has since mushroomed. Now, it is time to scale that awareness and the action that comes with it. Massively. To ALL those communities.

Time for corporate scale

In fact, Beth addressed the challenge of scale, and shared, as with everything else, a provocative take.

In the resilience movement, we tend to focus primarily on government action, particularly by mayors and others at the local level. And while that level must indeed accelerate madly, there is one other that should rethink its role at this juncture.

“Getting the business community to participate more wholly in resilience is a scaling mechanism.”

I thought right there that I heard a big BOOM go off in corporate boardrooms everywhere.

“A corporation thinks about this in a global manner — the network, the supply chain. They have an intuition that has a global view.”

Maybe it’s the melodramatic in me here, more the cinematic perhaps, but for some reason this brings to mind the La Mamma Morta opera scene in the movie Philadelphia, as if Tom Hanks were delivering Beth’s message to a group of corporate leaders, played by Denzel Washington — really getting to them, inescapably, opening their minds to new possibilities, triggering, finally, some decisive action — the crescendo at the end of the scene.

“Most people think about their single place,” Beth goes on, “where they are right now. But if you get some of that corporate mentality and their whole way of considering solutions, then you have a real opportunity for scale and action, because it’s inherent to the way they build solutions to other corporate resilience challenges.”

“In come the strings,” says Hanks in the film, “and it changes everything, [brings] a hope. Listen, listen…Oh, that single cello…I am life!”

Come to think of it, looking at that scene again, and again, it is also relevant in at least one other way.

As we wait for the light to switch

I asked Beth if she’s satisfied with the resilience conversation, even among adaptation professionals, when it comes to severe events that we’ve seen overwhelm adaptation measures, where a new level beckons. Her answer was, true to form…surprising.

“If adaptation is reduced to disaster preparedness, then we’ve missed the point, because the impacts from climate change that are really insidious, like extended heat evens — the people already at risk and dying are at risk more often than when we hear about headline events.

“And so there is this balance of how we make sure we’re thinking about adaptation as not just a reaction to the headline, but also in preparation for the everyday climate change that is occurring.”

Can it get more cinematic than this?

“The place that cradled me is burning,” cries Hanks. “I am oblivion…It was during this sorrow that love came to me…”

Beth doesn’t want the industry she lives for to be in oblivion, urging everyone to “think critically about what does it mean that we have these severe, punctuated events.”

As a community, she punctuates, “we are not doing the best thinking we could on how we cope with and prepare for more regular, really severe, especially coastal storms.”

Ah, yes, and so we come to that most vexing of all climate operas.

“Our business, our economy, is coastal. This question: are you going to move Miami, New York, Boston, New Orleans, Houston — are you going to move these cities, or fortify them? Right now we’re still talking about fortifying, and that might not be borne out as the solution we should have moving toward.”

I can just hear Hanks appeal to Denzel on the life-and-death urgency of those solutions “we should have moving forward.”

Should we stay? Risk it? Keep wondering if this is really happening? If this place that cradled me will indeed burn? Or should we…retreat!

Retreat, Beth continues, this time stating what is obvious, like the elephant that must be uncloaked in the room, “is a very, very scary thing to talk about. Economically, it is terrifying for investors to hear that discussed, and I don’t think anybody is ready to really talk about large-scale retreat of major economic coastal centers.”

No, they are not. Not today. That’s for sure. But when will they be? When will we begin that conversation?

“I don’t know when we will. I suspect it will be a light switch that flips. One day there will be a coastal investment, and the next day there won’t. There will be a time when it will just not be insurable to keep building on the coast. But we’re not there yet, so until that insurance incentive goes away, it will continue.”

The End

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