Our on-going mission is to protect the Chollas Creek Watershed community from the devastating effects of Climate Change. In keep with that mission, Groundwork San Diego has created a series of blogs. This blog series will help our community’s residents gain a better understanding of Climate Change, illustrate how it directly affects them and show community members what they can do to help stem the tide of these effects.
This series will also highlight our Climate Action Plan for Community Resilience.
We have partnered with the City of San Diego, local universities, charitable foundations, local businesses, public utilities, multiple local, state and national agencies and other community based organizations like ourselves to research, identify, outline and implement climate actions that can bring about positive change in our own community.
This plan of resilience represents our best hope and is the key to ensuring that our community survives and thrives in era of Climate Change.
This is the first blog in the series.
Change and Resilience: A Bond Forged in History.
Resilience has always gone hand and hand with change.
Change is when something different happens to
you or the world around you.
Resilience is the ability to recover from the
hardships caused by change and get things back to normal.
Before the word climate was attached, the early ideas of “Change” and “Resilience” were first defined in the sciences of biology and ecology, around the mid 1850s. In the “The Era of Darwin”, many scientists believed that if changes were made to the Earth, or its species, then Earth would use its “resilience” to take steps to counter those changes and bring things back into balance. At the core of Resilience, was a centuries old idea called the “Balance of Nature”. This idea stemmed from a belief that Earth, itself, was the entity responsible for maintaining natural order. “Balance of Nature” is a commonly held belief in many cultures that has been passed down through the ages, from one generation to next. Even today, many people still believe that if anything, including humans, upsets the balance, the Earth will always make the necessary corrections to bring things back to its normal state.
Research on Climate Change also goes back to the 19th century. In the late 1890s, several scientists, in the areas of chemistry and physics, started reporting that CO2 levels were increasing. One of these scientists, Svante Arrhenius of Sweden, wrote a research paper in 1896 that showed a relationship between increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and an increase in the Earth’s surface temperature. In 1903, Arrhenius was awarded the Nobel Prize in the area of Chemistry, in recognition of some of his earlier scientific discoveries. In 1907, he wrote a book where he claims that the burning of coal and other fossil fuels is the cause of increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. He also states that gases created by the increase in CO2 can trap the sun’s radiation and cause a hothouse effect, or what we now call, the greenhouse effect.
However, Arrhenius, and other leading scientists at the time, did not see Earth’s increase in temperature as bad thing. They wanted to keep the world from entering the next ice age. Human population was increasing. They argued that if there are more humans, then we need more land to grow food. Another ice age could reduce the amount of available farmland, which in turn would reduce a major portion of Earth’s human population. They saw the increase in temperatures as a way to increase humanity’s chances for survival. Many of those same scientists were also afraid to stand up, tell the truth and rock the boat.
The Industrial Revolution was already in full swing. It charging forward, gaining speed and momentum, like a runaway train. Many scientists felt that they were powerless to stop it. Scientists who spoke up about the dangers of burning coal and other fossil fuels were ridiculed and ignored. The brave souls who continued to “fight the good fight” were labeled as troublemakers, crazy people, or in some cases, enemies of the state. Everyone else did whatever they could to avoid being labelled as “one who stands in the way of progress”.
Since the train had already left station, most scientists focused their research in areas where they could get funding and be published. Scientists also did not have the tools they needed to prove that the increase in the Earth’s temperature would have negative effects on the Earth. Those tools were decades away from being invented. In addition to these hurdles, many scientists also held onto the same belief that the general public had: the Earth always makes the necessary corrections to get things back on track. Over time, most of the people who knew about the early research on CO2 and global warming died. The research itself was filed away and forgotten. The train moved forward. Humanity moved on.
In the 20th Century, as technology continued to advance. science advanced right along with it. Things moved slowly, at first. Then, science gradually picked up speed from the 1920s to the 1960s. Then computers were invented. From 1960s to the 1990s, science took off like a rocket. More and more researchers, from various unrelated disciplines, discovered that the “balance of nature” was shifting. Some scientists even started to realize that the combination of human population growth and industrialization was having a negative effect on our planet. Other researchers found that changes were happening at a rate that faster than Earth could respond. The commonly held belief that the Earth’s natural resilience was fully capable of bringing things back into balance was proven wrong, time and time again.
As scientists from different fields of study kept coming across these inconvenient facts independently, a few concerned scientists started to reach out to scientists in various other fields. They wanted to compare notes and see if the changes viewed in their area of study had some connection to changes seen other other scientific disciplines. Then more scientists started to take notice and do the same. Finally, scientists started to formally organize their combined research projects and brought the whole scientific community together to create a unified picture of what was happening to our earth.
What they found out was staggering.
To put things in perspective and share their findings in a way that we all can understand, we offer this illustration:
Imagine that the earth is a restaurant and all of humanity dines at this restaurant. Ever since the restaurant opened, diners could order whatever they wanted off the menu, without looking at any of the prices or paying their tab. One day, a group of waiters (read: concerned scientists) walk into the dining area and put a bill on each table. The headwaiter of each zone of the restaurant taps a spoon on a glass to get the attention of all the diners in his or her area. Each headwaiter stands on a chair and makes the following announcement:
“The piece of paper in front of you is a collective bill for all the meals that have been eaten at this restaurant. Each one of you is responsible for paying this bill. If the bill is not paid, then the restaurant may have to close. We understand that some of you may feel that you are not responsible for contributing to the payment of this bill. If you fall in this category, we thank you for your patronage and leave you with these parting words, ‘You are always welcome to eat somewhere else.’ ”
How did humanity respond to this? We all banded together, as we entered the 5 stages of grief.
At first, most people, including our political and business leaders, did not believe that humanity bore the brunt of the blame for all these “unrelated occurrences”. Many of those who did believe Earth was changing, thought that these changes were just a part of the Earth’s natural cycles. We all heard the truth, but it was too hard to swallow. We just could not believe that humans could irrevocable damage something that has been here for so many millions of years before us. Slowly, people started to accept that Climate Change is real and that it is a serious problem. According to a report by the Pew Institute in April of 2019, two-thirds of Earth’s population currently believes that Climate Change is a major threat to our existence and that humans are the cause of it.
As we started to grapple with the sobering reality of Climate Change, we also started looking for solutions to counteract the effects of what we have done to Earth. Scientists, thought leaders, politicians at every level of government and businesses in every economic sector started exploring strategies to move forward and attack this crisis. Then someone realized that we might be able to answer our current crisis by dusting off an old idea.
Change and Resilience have always gone hand and hand.
We explored Resilience again. However, before we could champion the idea, we needed to make some changes and give Resilience an upgrade. We realized that could no longer wait for the Earth to right our wrongs. We knew had to take a hard, unflinching look ourselves and re-examine our relationship with the world. Humanity would have to take the lead on this and clean up the mess we created. Resilience had to be updated to reflect our new role and responsibilities. In the era of Climate Change, Resilience is now defined as the ability to recover quickly from catastrophic events caused by Climate Change, so we can take the necessary steps get things back to a normal state. This strategy allows us to do the following:
1. Recover quickly from Climate Change events and get back to living life at a normal pace
2. Assess the current state of our environment and learn to adapt to any changes
3. Take ownership of our mistakes
4. Make the necessary steps to correct our mistakes
5. Learn from past efforts and mistakes, so we can minimize the effects of future Climate Change events
6. Work towards securing a future where we can bring an end to Climate Change and prevent Climate Change events from happening in the first place.
This new idea of Resilience took hold and started to spread like the wildfires and warming trends that now plague our world. Plans for Resilience have expanded from the international level all the way down to the City and community level.
When government agencies, businesses and non-profit organizations make a Climate Action Plan to address Climate Change, plans for Resilience are key component of their plan. If a plan for Resilience is made at the community, city or county level, it is called Community Resilience. If a plan for Resilience has to cover a larger area, like a state, a nation, a continent, an ocean or the world, it is called Climate Resilience.
Thank you for allowing us to bring you a brief history of what has taken place up to now. Equity, or the ability to be to be fair or impartial, is one of the guiding principles of Groundwork San Diego. We wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page and give residents in our community have a better understanding of Climate Change, Resilience and the role that we, as humans, play in this story.
In the upcoming blogs of this series, we will cover how Climate Change affects us locally. We will also show how the City of San Diego is helping to maximize our local Resilience to Climate Change and how Groundwork San Diego is doing the same for the Chollas Creek Watershed at the community level.
Our next blog is about wildfires, power outages and how both of these may be closer to us than we think. We will get you up to speed on what is being done by Groundwork San Diego and our local government to keep electrical grid shutdowns from affecting our community. There will also be information on what you can do to keep your family safe in the event of urban wildfires and power outages.
Until we meet again,
Your friends at Groundwork San Diego.