“Hope is a path on the mountainside. At first there is no path. But then there are people passing that way. And there is a path.”

—Lu Xun

Photo by Heidi Unger

Photo by Heidi Unger

My work in progress, Thrivalists: Reimagining the World in an Age of Crisis (working title) offers a firsthand view of what Joanna Macy has called “the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the Industrial Growth Society to a life-sustaining civilization.”

At the end of the era of cheap oil, the earth’s climate is irrevocably changing, the food we rely on is anything but secure, and economic distress rules the day. Life as we know it may be about to turn upside down—and for many, it already has.

Yet countless people are working together to shift this trajectory and relocalize their lives. As they build community resilience, they move from DIY to Do-it-With-Others (DIWO)—and find their lives enriched in innumerable ways. Thrivalists: Reimagining the World in an Age of Crisis takes readers along on my quest to experience this emerging movement across North America.

The Mudgirls, a collective of women builders on the west coast of BC, Canada

The Mudgirls, a collective of women builders on the west coast of BC, Canada. (Photo by Mudgirls).

In the face of escalating environmental destruction and rumblings of global economic collapse, the book sets out to find the people collectively transforming our dominant storyline to a new vision of environmental restoration and social justice. I find that communities everywhere are taking the building blocks of modern life into their own hands. From livelihoods to agriculture, currency to healthcare, education to entertainment, these groups create new models for a healthy, vibrant future.

KI girls

Students from an innovative inner city school on the way to tend their urban garden

Along the way, I will dig in alongside these trailblazers—building a cob cabin from clay and straw with a Vancouver-area women’s building collective, “barnraising” a solar project with a New Hampshire energy cooperative, cultivating mushrooms for soil remediation with a Washington State mycology group, and otherwise getting my hands dirty.

The communities I encounter face the most urgent challenges of our day with creativity and enthusiasm, spreading the hope that we can not only survive, but thrive, no matter what happens—even on a potentially vastly altered planet. Their stories will galvanize readers to face their apocalyptic anxieties head-on, build their own community, and collectively weather the coming storm.

A child from a homeschool cooperative with salad ingredients foraged from the homestead

A child from a homeschool cooperative with salad ingredients foraged from the homestead

People frightened by the escalating environmental crisis and economic downturn will find hope within the pages of Thrivalists. They’ll realize that connecting with their neighbors, relocalizing their lives, and learning new skills are essential in an uncertain age.

Mudgirls at work (photo by Mudgirls)

Mudgirls at work (photo by Mudgirls)

Whether it’s tending urban farms and fisheries, developing alternative currencies, or reviving old-time skills, the changes these communities make are vital to our shared future.

Thrivalists will show that the multiple crises facing us create an unmatched opportunity to transform communities and the larger society on a deep level—and that this transformation is necessary, possible, and life-sustaining.

“Though Shawndra lays out the harshness of our time, those she gathers are bound together by a sense of hope. Thriving, as she well knows, is different from surviving. As she states, ‘Thrivalists move people from paralysis to engagement.’ The voices she collects show that life ahead just might be better than what has been. This is particularly important if one considers that everything that comes into being is first imagined. This is why her book can be powerful to everyone alive who shares in tomorrow, which will be only as beautiful as our ability to free the imagination.”

Wendy Jehanara Tremayne, author of The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-on Living

Shawndra says: Please send me your comments and questions using the form on this page. If you have a great story of community resilience, I’d be thrilled to hear it—and may feature your community on the blog.