An Interview with Bob Doppelt, The Resource Innovation Group
As I write this blog, my family and I are waiting for Tropical Storm Olivia to arrive in Hawaii later this evening. Fortunately, we already have our supplies from last month’s scare, Hurricane Lane, not to mention, Hurricane Hector, which came a month before that. Though the affects have yet to hit my town badly, these events entailed many days of anxiety and preparation, distracting from work, outdoor activities and even sleep, not to mention requiring significant expense for emergency supplies. At the same time, South Carolina is evacuating coastal towns in preparation for Hurricane Florence. In fact, there are 9 tropical storms in world right now. With millions of people currently in the path of potential devastation, from storms, to heat waves and wildfires, I am glad to be able to share my recent interview with an expert in helping communities and individuals cope with the stress resulting from climate change and it’s various “new normals.”
For those of us working in this climate resilience space, it’s hard to think of work more overwhelming than protecting communities around the world from the varied, serious, accelerating and expensive impacts of climate change. We are tasked with determining how best to pursue and pay for solutions based on an immense amount of information on topics ranging from human health, economics, natural habitats and infrastructure, where the projections for danger are uncertain at best. As if this work wasn’t challenging enough, it seems most of us have been unwittingly ignoring what may be the most necessary element of all: ourselves.
Bob Doppelt, author of Transformational Resilience, professor, and head of The Resources Innovation Group, suggests that building our psycho-social-spiritual resilience is the most sure-fire way to reduce the human suffering that climate change will inevitably bring. And isn’t that our goal? I was fortunate enough to learn about Bob’s work as I was seeking advisers for a national climate and health program I’m designing, which cites mounting literature on the mental health impacts of climate change.
In our fascinating interview embedded above, he shares how his own thinking about climate adaptation has evolved over the years. Years ago, Bob and his colleagues had a more standard and linear focus on infrastructure, biological resources and medical vulnerabilities. Today, he promotes a unique focus on helping individuals, organizations and communities grow psychologically stronger and more resilient in the face of climate-related adversities.
What Doesn’t Kill you Makes You Stronger
Transformational resilience is a term Bob coined which he defines as “developing the capacity to respond and cope constructively with adversities of all types and use them as transformational catalysts to learn, grow and increase the wellbeing of others as a way to increase your own wellbeing.” While traditional resilience focuses on bouncing back to “normal,” transformational resilience refers to a hopeful theory that humans can actually grow stronger after an adverse event.
In his book, Bob provides numerous examples of how communities demonstrate varying levels of human resilience, or stress and dysregulation, when faced with climate change disasters like as Hurricane Katrina, or slower-growing impacts such as drought and sea level rise. Bob points out that the trauma caused by climate change won’t just happen once, but will go on and on, accumulating over time.
To combat these stresses, Bob’s “Resilient Growth Model” focuses on building psychological skills derived from practices ranging from social Buddhism to adversity-based growth. Skills Bob collectively refers to as “Presensing” can help individuals turn inward to calm their nervous system (e.g. mindful breathing), remember their strengths and social networks, and observe their reactions with self compassion.
The Resilience Growth Model also promotes “Purposing” skills such as connecting to a greater sense of personal meaning and hope. Bob suggests that when communities have these skills, they fare better during periods of disaster or prolonged climate adversity, and are also better able to tackle solutions to lower local emissions. He recommends looking to the example of Targon Springs, Florida, a community actively working on becoming “trauma-informed” and more resilient.
Getting Started on Building Human Resilience in Communities
When I asked Bob what he would advocate for if he had 1 minute with a policy-maker, without hesitation he responded “I would ask them to authorize and fund prevention programs that train people in what we call Transformational Resilience. Adults and youth.” He would love to see trained local coordinators or educators working in communities all over the country to teach transformational resilience skills to avoid “billions in costs” associated with treating mental health and related social impacts after the fact.
If you’re like me, you might be eager to figure out how you can help people in the communities you serve build the kinds of psycho-social skills that will prepare them best for the next climate impacts heading your way. I invite you to listen to our discussion to hear Bob’s thoughts on how to evaluate your community’s level of human resilience, who is best suited to lead transformational resilience efforts in communities, and how overwhelmed, community-serving sustainability professionals can make room for this critical but challenging work.
For extra guidance and support, check out The Resources Innovation Group’s trainings, webinars, books, and other resources available on their website.
What do you think? I invite you to share your comments on whether you think human wellbeing and resilience deserves a bigger share of the time and resources dedicated to preparing communities for climate change.
As Prosper Sustainably continues to hit the streets in various communities, our goal is to continue sharing strategies, ideas and insights with those of you working to help hometowns prosper, sustainably. We invite you to join us us on Facebook, Youtube, and Linkedin. If you know colleagues that would appreciate a dose of inspiration, we would appreciate if you would share this with them!
Written by Angie Hacker, Vice President and Senior Consultant, Prosper Sustainably
I’m Angie. I’m a mom and sustainability consultant. I love communities and have been serving them for nearly 20 years, implementing solutions that protect the places that people call home. My family and I are now exploring communities around the world, meeting hometown heroes and thought leaders, and we are convinced. Solutions exist. In data, in technology, in policy, in plans, in projects, and in programs. They are a part of the tale future generations will tell about how we chose a thriving future. Let’s find them together. Let’s move faster and smarter. Let’s prosper, sustainably.