Climate-Resilient Wealth

“What does climate-resilient wealth look like?” That’s a question someone asked in the Socially Conscious FIRE group (Facebook) the other day. And it’s a question that I’ve thought about a lot myself. And an implied question that’s been weaving through many conversations lately in the climate preparedness/adaptation community.

Following is a short list off the top of my head. This is not meant to be complete, or to imply that a person can’t be resilient or ethical without cultivating the forms of wealth on this list. Humans are fundamentally creative and we find our own ways. That said, I hope you find this list helpful in formulating your own thoughts and in initiating community discussions.

What I see as the best forms of climate-resilient wealth, not in any particular order:

• Some sort of occupational skill that is not likely to go away regardless of what happens with the planet. The know-how to practice an “energy descent” version of your profession. A version that is not dependent on centralized systems, large mechanized equipment, etc. You could start practicing this with your existing occupation, or you could start training for an additional occupation that draws you. Carpentry or land management with hand-tools and without industrial chemicals; sewing by hand or by pedal-powered machine, are among the oft-cited examples. But we’ll need energy-descent versions of every occupation. Having a steady way to make a living, which includes a plan for making a living in one’s old age, is a greater form of wealth and security than any amount of stockpiled money or other stockpiled material investments can ever bring. I think this fear of not being able to make a steady livelihood in old age (or the equivalent of a livelihood — having a useful and needed function that makes people want to have us around) is the real existential malaise that underlies our frantic efforts to stockpile massive amounts of money or equivalent (which never end up making us feel safe). “Being useless once we get old” is a dysfunction of capitalist/consumerist/industralist/financialized society. By reclaiming real forms of wealth, we can get ourselves and society beyond this illness.

(One example of a gentle old-age livelihood would be teaching the trade you practiced in your younger years. Another would be sharing your wisdom through storytelling/writing. Or watching children, or tending animals. Or tending a shop. Or mentoring young people.)

• The know-how to live largely without money. Depending on money for everything is expensive!!

• Portability. Obviously some professions and essential activities require heavy tools but even if the tools of your trade are much larger than needle and thread or even shovel and sickle, there are ways to be pretty portable if you cultivate sharing networks.

• A deep relationship with the place you are in. A sense of responsibility and love and caring for that place — even if you know you are only there temporarily; and even knowing that you might have to permanently evac even if you had intentions of being there for life. Check out the writings of Wendell Berry, Mary Dejong.

• Fruit trees, nut trees, overstory trees, and other trees. Perennial vegetables. Locally adapted seeds. Healthy soil. Rainbarrels, solar ovens, and other tangible durable goods. Even knowing you would not be able to take this stuff with you if you have to move, the experience you gain in the meantime by building these natural forms of wealth will be portable and adaptable to any place.

• Tools, cookware, durable food containers, general household implements. Choose good quality (often available from garage sales and thrift shops), and avoid the temptation to stockpile more than you need. This can be challenging I know. But when I start seeing extra cookpans and other stuff I didn’t remember that I had, I know it’s time to reassess and possibly give away or sell some things.

• Family. (Even if you and your family members live far apart, you can still be emotional wealth, experiential wealth, practical support, and possibly also material wealth to each other.)

• Friends. (Same comment as for family.)

• A neighborhood with a sense of connectedness, where people look out for each other (no need to be best buddies or super-likeminded; it’s just simple basic mutual aid and concern).

• Ability to connect with people across different views, ages, backgrounds. Conversational fluency in at least one language other than your own can be a great asset here. But even with few words, or without speaking at all, we can expand our connection skills.

• Having some money (or labor, or both) invested in a regenerative business enterprise (permaculture farm, local composting business, micro-kitchen, teaching enterprise, toolmaking shop, bicycle repair shop, micro-publisher, etc.) without expecting any financial return on your investment. Investors’ expectation of reaping a financial return undercuts the longterm viability of regenerative enterprises, and keeps us stuck in the mode of economy where everything is financialized. It’s a sick economy, expensive in many ways for us all. And we really need all the regenerative enterprises we can get. Together with the socially connected neighborhood, regenerative enterprises are a building-block of resilient households and communities.

• A place where you’d be welcome to go to live if you have to leave your current place. Important note: I am not talking about a vacant piece of land, or an unoccupied extra house you are stockpiling as your backup place, where no one is living unless and until you move there. (That kind of hoarding creates real-estate price pressure and other suffering in local communities.) I’m talking about land or a house that is already occupied by fulltime resident(s), who have a knowledge base of local skills and connections, and would welcome you to join their household – community.

• Having such a place to offer other people.

• Physical health.

• Mental health. Including tools/practices for integrating past trauma, processing emotional reactivity, being emotionally stable (which does not mean we’re not going to have strong emotions; just means having healthy ways to face and process them).

• Spirituality; some kind of belief in transcendance; interconnectedness of life.

• A sturdy acceptance of your own mortality, and of the reality that risk is always present in life.

• Books – not only practical manuals but also stories — worth investing in even knowing you might have to evac without them.

• Education; learning. Whether academic or hands-on; formal or self-taught. In Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison said education is the most portable and flexible investment we can make. And my mother said, “Education is never wasted.” I could not agree more. I have had the blessing of many different kinds of education, and have used it all extensively, even my supposedly “useless” major in English Lit and minor in Sociology have proven absolutely indispensable. My alltime best investments in education have been Permaculture Design Certificate courses and The Avatar® Course.

• Earth-based skills merit a category by themselves: Knowing how to grow, forage, hunt at least some food. How to catch and use water. How to turn “waste” into compost; build soil. How to passively catch and use solar energy. And so on and so on!

• Hands-on experience living & working in many different climates, bioregions. And places with different social climates.

• The ability to live happily and peacefully in very close quarters with other people.

• Sense of humor and the ability to make people laugh, cheer people up.

• Flexibility and adaptability in general. This is probably the #1 most durable form of wealth. It’s available by training your mind. Flexibility and adaptability of the mind will lead to ability to navigate change in your physical surroundings and external circumstances. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is treating resilience as a purely material gig. It’s quite the opposite.

How about you? What’s in your “portfolio” of climate-resilient wealth?

P.S. Almost none of the above kinds of wealth are things you have to be born with or luck into. Almost all can be deliberately developed.

P.P.S. You might have noticed I don’t have money, gold, stocks, mutual funds, or investment properties on this list. That’s because no amount of any of these things will make you more resilient. They can actually make you more vulnerable. And furthermore, because of the opportunity cost of amassing and protecting these things, they can actually undermine your efforts to build true climate-resilient wealth. I’ve written about this before and will doubtless do so on many more occasions in future. (Not that it’s necessarily wrong to have or want these things; just that 1) we can’t afford to keep putting them ahead of community and the other stuff we really need — the stuff we are so tragically deficient in; and 2) money is less durable than most of the things listed above, and if you have even a few of the kinds of wealth listed above, you might be surprised at how little you feel the need to stockpile financial assets.)

Further Reading:

• “Are You Thinking in Sustainable Stores of Value?” (Laura Oldanie, Rich Resilient Living.) “As I progress in my wealth building journey, I find myself drawn more and more to resilient and tangible forms of wealth. Not only do many of them seem more sustainable to me, they also bring me more joy and meaning, while simultaneously helping me further distance myself from the extractive, life-depleting, soul-sucking economy within which so much human activity takes place. This has led me to focus on cultivating stores of value. I was first exposed to the concept of stores of value (at least it was the first time the idea stuck!) during my permaculture design course (PDC) about ten years ago. …” Laura, a friend and fellow Florida permie, always offers a “wealth” of tips and inspiration on how to live abundantly yet simply, while cultivating economic resilience and being part of the solution to major world problems.