AERO [Alternative Energy Resources Organization] asked Max Milton, who presented a terrific community resilience workshop at the 2014 AERO Annual Meeting, to tell us more about how a serious consideration of resilience can inform the work we each do daily, as well as the future direction of AERO. Here are five questions and their thought-provoking answers.

What first got you interested in resilience as an alternative framing to sustainability?
I became interested in resilience when I heard a talk by Rob Hopkins at a 2007 Soil Association conference on “Transitions Towns” and “energy descent plans” in the UK. (The Soil Association is the U.K.’s oldest organic certification organization.) At the same conference, I also heard a talk by Richard Heinberg called One Planet Agriculture. They were both addressing, for the first time I think, the implications of both peak oil and climate change on their work promoting locally based sustainable agriculture in the United Kingdom.
I became excited about the Transition Town idea and got some of their books. The term Resilience is used throughout their work, including two main publications, The Transition Handbook: from Oil Dependency to Local Resilience and The Transition Timeline: For a Local, Resilient Future.
What do you see as the difference between resilience and sustainability, and what does that difference mean materially to the work AERO does?
If you Google “sustainability vs resilience,” you will find a plethora of discussions on this question, but, as William Rees, author of Thinking Resilience, writes in an article on the website:
Resilience… becomes a theoretical construct for sustainability that…warns that surviving the breach of a major tipping point, whether human induced or natural, will require unprecedented levels of investment, cooperation and other forms of institutional and societal adaptation. …[R]esilience thinking is a complement to sustainability, not a substitute.
With the combinations of concerns about peak oil disruptions, climate-caused collapses and disruptions, global financial instability, and other issues, many people have started questioning whether advocating for and developing sustainable practices really fully addresses the need to shore up communities, especially as the “business as usual” paradigm has begun to break down in multifaceted dysfunction.
These are all concerns motivating AERO members, I believe. So rising above, so to speak, a focus solely on sustainable food systems or energy work might reveal new ways to engage our communities on these larger concerns which go beyond creating personal or household resilience. How would a “resilience task force” (dare I say) address this?  Using frames from permaculture, systems thinking, resilience science, etc., it would look for leverage points, entry points, to build complexity, connection, and redundancy within our communities. It will probably require new strategies and priorities for AERO’s work.
What are some key characteristics of resilient communities?
Again, an online search will reveal many sites addressing this question, often from a public health and/or disaster preparedness perspective. One definition I found is: “Community resilience is the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity.”  And I would add, “Or avoid or temper adversity in the first place and thrive in the process.”
We all know there is already ongoing adversity in all our communities in Montana around hunger, health, poverty, and lack of economic opportunity. For our purposes, I would point to resilience behaviors and conditions such as wide social connectedness and trust, community design that limits dependence on far away or “expensive” and non-renewable sources for food, shelter, energy and health care, complementary redundancies in important services, and diversity of economic choices and services, to name a few.
A good resource to look to for a fuller picture of the topic from the perspective of people working within a resilience frame is the Communities Guide at
Are there any local examples of resilience you’ve come across that would resonate with AERO’s members and like-minded people?
AERO members could probably point to many examples in their own communities. In Helena there is underway an “edible forest park,” the 6th Ward Garden Park, that is using permaculture design principles to transform a currently “under-utilized” 1.1-acre urban park. The project is a collaboration between private citizens, the City Parks and Recreation department, the local historic neighborhood, Helena Food Share and Helena Community Gardens.
The success of the park will rely on locally raised funds leveraging significant in-kind services and volunteer efforts and in the end will be a model of the type of work that can exemplify resilience. A diverse group of Helenans has been involved since the project’s beginnings, including many AERO members but also many others unfamiliar with AERO. This park will bring healthy food to those who often have least access to it and be an experiment in different ways to imagine public spaces.
Another organization that has done some really phenomenal things using volunteers that would resonate with AERO members is Daily Acts in Santa Rosa, California, particularly their Community Resilience Challenge.
In what ways do you see AERO playing a role in creating resilient communities?
People seem to join AERO to work with like-minded people to become more self-reliant around food and energy, to build communities where we support each other in those efforts, and to model wider community change in the direction of sustainability (or resilience).
While AERO members for years were (and still are) at the forefront in Montana advocating for and creating progress in locally sustainable food systems and smart energy choices, there are now many strong organizations across the state also doing that work.
AERO members might think about who in their lives and communities share a concern for community resilience around food, health, energy, local economies. What does a local economy that is resilient or sustainable look like? Might AERO play a role in helping communities become more self-aware as resilient or sustainable and broaden beyond merely seeing its work as shared between efforts to strengthen food systems and widespread adoption of energy conservation and renewable energy?
Food and energy are only two of many indicators of local economic resilience or sustainability. Perhaps AERO members might see themselves as weavers of community resilience by identifying and collaborating on projects that bring together people, not currently connected, to strengthen and deepen a community’s commitment to local economies.
While this is a start,  I haven’t got much further than what I have written here in thinking how this might be different from what AERO has been doing so well over 40 years, and I will be curious to see what readers think of these ideas as a future direction for AERO.
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