Thinking about Tipping Points: Reflections from the Resilience Project
Are ecovillages ready for navigating crisis? I think some are, because they are already doing it. GEN Ukraine is doing heart-achingly beautiful work extending community and new hope to people in their war-torn country. Many members of GEN Africa are working hard to teach thousands of people how to adapt their livelihoods to rapid changes in climate – even while living through civil war. In GENOA, learning about resilience makes members of the Sundarban Ecovillage feel even more vulnerable and under-resourced, underlining the acute need to think about and address disparities in loss and damage as well as resources available to respond to the climate catastrophe.
But I think many ecovillagers, myself included, still do not fully grasp the magnitude of the deepening polycrisis and what it could mean for our ways of life and approach to creating a regenerative human presence on Earth.
This month, the theme we are exploring in the Ecovillage Resilience Project is tipping points – places where a changing climate could push parts of the Earth system into abrupt or irreversible change. The effects of such change would be far-reaching, cascading through ecological, social, and economic systems at multiple scales, and potentially triggering other tipping points on the way.
Recent research indicates that current human-caused warming of 1.1C has already pushed five global tipping points into the “possible” range – including the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. Crossing six additional global thresholds would become “likely” – and a further four “possible” – if global temperatures rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. That’s a temperature we’re projected to reach in the early 2030s.
I live in Europe – still very privileged when it comes to most things, including the impact of climate change. If just one of the “likely” tipping points reaches a critical threshold, one of those where conditions are already right in 10 – 15 years, my home continent will see a rapid drop in temperature and rainfall. Enough to knock out local ecosystems, cause forests to die back, and see the continent lose a majority of its arable land. We’d freeze, dry, and starve (which is of course what millions of people outside of Europe are already doing -although they are more likely to burn or drown).
Many ecovillages were created to avert this unfolding ecological and climate catastrophe by showing that another way of life is not only possible but also deeply fulfilling. I know our movement models many beautiful solutions and alternatives that can still help mitigate climate change. But I no longer think we’re living in a world where avoiding massive disruptions is possible.
That’s why my passion now is supporting ecovillages to be prepared and resilient enough to continue to be beacons of hope and practical action while also navigating rapidly worsening and turbulent times. There is a choice point in there, in the tipping point scenario above. What do we do when we freeze, dry, and starve – or drown, burn, and starve for that matter? We could choose to burn more fossil fuels, cut down the last trees, bleed soils of life using even more artificial fertiliser, pump dry the aquifers, start fearing and hating our neighbours, and go to war looting the more fortunate. Or we could realise that the only real way forward is to build a better world for all beings, and try our very best to do it together.
When I think of ecovillages now – I think about who we will be when facing those choices, and what our role will be in helping others who do too. How do we make not only ourselves and our communities resilient, but the transition to a regenerative human presence on Earth resilient too?*
That’s what the Ecovillage Resilience Project is really about, to me.
What will it take to keep strengthening and expanding the networks, communities, and relationships with the more than human world that support us to hold fast and continue to live with dignity, hope and solidarity?
How do we build resilience not only in our communities, but in the regions and systems they are embedded in?
And what will it take to keep our capacity to mitigate climate change while also navigating the polycrisis?
These topics are bleak – but for me, being in community helps me face them. Building capacity for navigating climate catastrophe means paying close attention to the resilience of our social-ecological systems – how we’re organised and set up as communities and societies and what needs to change for us to be able to sustain, adapt and transform. It also involves our relational and inner resilience – how able we are to navigate our own emotions and reactions, build social cohesion, care and solidarity in widening circles. I still think ecovillages and the ecovillage model are one of the most powerful ways of doing both.
Mis estimados queridos, My Esteemed Ones:
Do not lose heart. We were made for these times.
If you want to see more about what we are learning and doing related to tipping points, please visit our public and living Resilience Project archives.
* I owe part of my thinking on this topic to the IPPR and their take on doom loops and virtuous circles, as laid out in the excellent report “1.5°C – dead or alive? The risks to transformational change from reaching and breaching the Paris Agreement goal”