Resilience: What Does it Mean?

Through High Meadows’ work since Tropical Storm Irene, I’ve developed a working definition of resilience, borrowing heavily from the Roadmap to Resilience of the Resilient Vermont Project.

To be resilient, a community must:

  • Identify and manage risk
  • Proactively reduce vulnerabilities, and
  • Improve response and recovery

The risks and vulnerabilities we identify need to not just be about the symptoms of climate change – the increased flooding, for example – but also about the underlying factors that contribute to climate change.

As one example, in making our mobile homes more resilient, it’s not enough to identify the risk of more floods and respond by elevating the homes by three feet, as FEMA now recommends. We cannot pretend that we can elevate ourselves out of the way of the oncoming storms. 

To be resilient, we need to address the underlying risks of extreme weather events and create manufactured housing that is sturdy, energy efficient, affordable, healthy, and located outside the floodway and near transportation and community services. 

But, it is equally important to continue to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to the underlying dynamics of our increasingly weird weather. To be resilient, we need to both adapt to the changing climate and mitigate against even more dramatic changes in the future. 

Adaptation alone, and mitigation alone, are not enough. Resilience needs to address both adaptation and mitigation.

Gaye Symington
March 2014