What the snow teaches us about resilience

Transition Towns is all about building resilient communities, and this month’s snowfall has been a good demonstration of what lack of resilience means.

After the heaviest snowfall in 18 years this February, schools closed, public transport stopped, and millions of people struggled to get to work. The economy apparently lost £1.2 billion as a result.

While this has been something of an adventure, especially if you’re a child, it does bring home the fact that no matter how advanced our civilization, nature is still capable of throwing a spanner in the works. Six inches of snow, and suddenly nothing works any more. The schools shut down, rubbish lies uncollected in the streets, we can’t get to work or to the shops. The reality of our dependence on cars is suddenly rather stark. We’re far more vulnerable than we generally like to admit.

In 1950, the average UK citizen travelled just five miles in the course of a normal day, according to Professor John Adams of UCL. Today we travel 30 miles. Work, school, the supermarket, the gym, are all likely to be in different places and require a car journey. We are, to use Adam’s phrase, a hypermobile society, and while this has brought us all kinds of benefits and freedoms, it all exposes us to new levels of risk.

If we didn’t have to travel such distances every day, the snow would be no challenge. Those who walk to school or to work, who shop locally, will have coped much better.

The worst of the winter is (hopefully!) over, but let’s not miss the opportunity to stop and think a little about how robust our communities are. How well prepared are we for the future? How can we re-localize our lifestyles, and reduce our dependency on travel? Both peak oil and climate change require us to re-think our transport habits, and we’ve just had something of a wake-up call.

(Cross-posted at MWH)

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