Resilient Communities

Discussion Leader: Henry Curtis

Recorder: Ed Young

This theme area was originally titled “Climate Justice”, but the presentation and discussion led by Henry Curtis can better be called “Building Climate Resilient Communities”. Henry is the executive directory of Life of the Land, a nonprofit that has been deeply involved in energy policy and decision-making in Hawaii, intervening regularly before the state Public Utilities Commission to promote renewable energy and a reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions but emphasizing the importance of enhancing other environmental and community values as we pursue these goals. Henry, along with his partner Kat Brady, are recipients of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peacemaker Award, given annually by Church of the Crossroads Honolulu.

The presentation and discussions emphasized Hawaii’s vulnerability to weather-related disasters, such as hurricanes and other tropical storms, events that are becoming more frequent and intense because of human-induced climate change. The COVID19 pandemic has actually highlighted some of our vulnerabilities by reducing the ability to travel freely and the loss of tourism as an economic driver. Should a storm or other disaster shut down the ports in Honolulu, the state would not last more than a couple of weeks without suffering from severe shortages of food, fossil fuels to generate electricity and pump water up from our aquifers, and other basic goods we need on a daily basis.

Understanding that these climate-driven disasters are coming, Henry emphasized the need to build resilience in our communities, but doing so in a way that promotes justice and sustainability. The concept promoted was that of a community “cell”: a social, economic, and ecological unit that has the capability and resources to survive a disaster and bounce back quickly, which is a general definition of “resilience”. In the context of a pandemic, like we are experiencing now, can a community survive and meet its basic needs with limited movement of people and resources into and out of this cell?

These cells need more than food, water, and electricity; they need people who collectively have a variety of knowledge and skills. The local economy may need to temporarily work on a barter system, meaning the community within this cell must have trust and be oriented toward the common good.

The smaller islands of Hawaii - Lanai, Molokai, Niihau - and rural communities right here on Oahu can be models of these resilient and connected communities. Instead of looking at them as places of need and dependent upon centers of economic activity and goods & services, we should look at them as places that have the resources and potential to be partly self-sufficient and thus resilient to disruptions to the larger connections we make on a daily basis. This is not to promote parochialism as the model of sustainability; rather, it is to promote local capacity and abundance as the foundation of resilience within the context of sustainability. Focusing our initial efforts on these places actually promotes social and economic justice, since they ARE the most disconnected but also the most dependent upon “outside” sources of goods, services, and economic activity. Strengthening their local capacity addresses these long-term inequities but also builds resilience against natural disasters that can disconnect them temporarily from outside sources of goods and services.

Faith communities can be essential to building and supporting these resilient communities. Natural disasters can be devastating emotionally and spiritually. Faith congregations and their outreach missions have traditionally been sources of comfort, relief, and assistance in these difficult times. Religious congregations can serve as models of diverse communities that are united in their core values, beliefs, and mission and that offer their knowledge, skills, and abilities to address complex challenges in the larger community. And faith groups can advocate for what makes a place and its people special and essential to the spiritual well-being of the people who call these places home. The inner strength and resiliency of communities is part of the mana, or spiritual essence, of people and places.

Vision: Climate-resilient communities will have a diversity of natural and human resources, oriented to supporting the well-being of the community, that allow it to survive and recover quickly after climate-related disasters. Building this resilience will promote the goals of justice and sustainability, especially in communities that are now highly dependent upon outside sources of goods, services, and economic activity.

Contributions of People and Communities of Faith:

  • Spiritual and social comfort during times of crisis

  • Spiritual and social leadership to promote resilience, along with justice and sustainability

  • Serving as models of diversity unity, sustainability, and resilience

  • Advocating on behalf of the spiritual and practical needs for community resilience

  • Working with other churches, nonprofits, community groups, and community and government leaders to create a network dedicated to building and maintaining resilience

Partners in This Effort:

  • Hawaiian civic groups and cultural nonprofits working on biocultural restoration and with working knowledge of the natural and social-cultural resources of traditional resilient and self-sufficient communities

  • Government agencies that collect, analyze, and report on key demographic, economic, health, and natural resource data needed to identify needs and capabilities within communities to build resiliency

  • Local community groups, neighborhood boards, and civic organizations that promote community interests and have knowledge and experience of local needs and capabilities

  • Life of the Land and other nonprofits who promote community interests, sustainability, and resilience at community, island and state government levels

  • Local chapters of unions, professional societies, and social organizations that represent workers with critical knowledge and skills needed for community resilience

  • Resilient Oahu and other government agencies dedicated to sustainability and resilience in Hawaii’s communities

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