Another interesting Tweet-stream from Dr. Sawin (the first is here). The 280-character limit on individual Tweets makes the piece more direct and spontaneous than your typical essay. A new literary form!
– Bart Anderson, Resilience co-editor

One hard-nosed civil engineer I worked with on a project preparing for the more intense precipitation expected with climate change talked about ‘softening the city.’

He was leading an effort to rip out the concrete forms channelizing urban streams to let them run free and meandering again, tearing out pavement, recovering wetlands, and installing green roofs and rain gardens.

The goal was to make the city more sponge-like so that it could absorb and hold water and slowly and gently release it. Softening the city. His words stuck with me.

I hate so many things about climate change: the waste, the injustice that those who have contributed least suffer the most, the lost opportunities for prevention. But, there is something that inspires me in the notion that climate change could teach us to soften.

Another project I worked on was focused on the resilience of pastoralist peoples, and how their resilience came from being able to move in the face of climate impacts like drought. Rigid political boundaries were in the way of that, softening them to allow passage would help.

Softening is a climate change adaptation strategy we should give more thought to, and learn to practice more, in my opinion.

Also, think of some of the biggest recent wins on climate change mitigation, and notice that they were created by coalitions – another kind of softening, a blending of categories and groups and interests into a common ‘we’

Of course, looking around the world, you see plenty of evidence of people responding to climate change in the opposite way. Razor wire and camps at national boundaries, sea walls and levees against the water, us vs them thinking being seeded and encouraged by politicians.

Still, there is this other way, the softening way, and while hardening may get the media attention, the softeners are hard at work too, everywhere, ripping out the armoring and breaking down the artificial walls.

I have a lot of hope for the future. Lately I’ve been realizing that knowing and working with many who practice the softening way is a major source of that hope.

Photo: Green roof on Chicago City Hall (2008). By Tony the Tiger via Wikimedia Commons