When disaster strikes, connections make us safer
Last weekend I had two separate conversations with people concerned about climate change and looking for land where they could settle. While New Zealand was irrelevant, I got the general feeling of these people that they wanted to find somewhere, anywhere, where they could isolate themselves and take care of their loved ones.
It’s an understandable urge. And we live in an individualistic culture that will feed envy in any way it can.
During this time, however, my social media feeds were full of friends from the southern United States who were directly demonstrating the opposite approach. Here’s Mary Heglar, essayist and climate podcaster, reflecting on her recent transplant experience in New Orleans:
And lo and behold, as Hurricane Ida continued on its way, this idea of resilience and strength through connection became even sharper. There were companies that offered their premises to people to grill food or just to find community.
There was the citizen-led Cajun Navy conducting search and rescue operations:
There was this guy who was dropping off some much-needed supplies:
There were neighbors who risked their lives to protect other people’s homes:
And there was a general feeling that what protects us in a storm is not high walls and amassed supplies, but rather a social bond, a shared responsibility and the understanding that we all are, that we are. like it or not, in this mess together. It’s not just isolated, heartwarming stories that tend to perform well on social media algorithms. These are manifestations of a verifiable fact: Social connections and networks are essential for both disaster preparedness and resilience and post-disaster recovery.
This is something we learned during the pandemic. While ‘survivalism‘ is often seen as synonymous with ‘going it alone’, what we have learned over the past year and a half is that it is caring, community and mutual trust that come into their own when compostable organic matter hits the fan.
Rebecca Solnit wrote about this in her 2010 book “A paradise built in hell“, arguing that altruism, ingenuity, generosity and even joy are natural human responses in times of tragedy and disaster. This is probably why communities like Louisiana and Mississippi, which face these challenges since always, have such a culture of connection. and caring is deeply linked to a unique sense of belonging.
Of course, self-reliance and human relationships are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, learning how to grow your own food, generate your own energy, or meet your direct and immediate needs will also put you in a good position to help your neighbors and build mutual trust. The trick, as with so many things in the climate crisis, is learning to see ourselves as part of a connected and more complex whole.
Considering where in the game we are with the climate crisis, we know that more disasters and tragedies are to come. So we better prepare to strengthen selflessness and connection in any way we can.
Something tells me that each of us retreating into our own private concessions isn’t quite going to cut it. If you want to get a head start on building this type of response, please consider donating to one of the many great relief organizations out there. A few are listed below: