Two New Flavours: Pre-silience and Post-silience

Volatility and resilience have entered the lexicon of politicians and economists over the last seven years. It is not uncommon to hear these words uttered by John Key, Tim Groser, Andrew Little, Russell Norman, or Metiria Turei. I have not heard Winston Peters specifically use these words, but I assume he has because he’ll say anything.

Gareth Morgan, Shamubeel Eaqub, and journalist Rod Oram appear to recognize market volatility and the importance of building resilient industries and communities. Parts of the recent regional growth study recognise these as well.

As a risk averse, conservative thinker myself, I spend a lot of time pondering volatility and resilience, and have come to divide what we commonly hear about the latter into two categories: pre-silience and post-silience.

Pre-silience is about being proactive and trying to avoid something bad from happening. When it is successful, no one notices. It’s like when Child Youth and Family does a fantastic job 99% of the time we never hear about it. It does not make the news. In other words, pre-silience is critically important but low profile.

During the renovation of our Castlecliff home, pre-silience was about adding lots and lots of insulation, installing curtains properly, and shifting windows around. This is not sexy stuff.

On our farm, pre-silience takes the form of building soil fertility, improving drainage and water storage, planning and planting windbreaks, and protecting vulnerable slopes. This is not sexy stuff.

Post-silience, if not sexy, is definitely “news worthy.” Post-silience, or lack thereof, pops up suddenly after volatility rears its head be it geological, climatic or economic. For example, the Christchurch earthquakes exposed weaknesses in some families’ and communities’ abilities to respond to the disaster. Poo is a great example. What do you do with it when the sewer lines are broken? Two of our friends in the permaculture movement made it their mission to build and promote composting toilets as a viable solution to post quake sanitary human waste management.

Post-silience was front and centre in our own community during the aftermath of the June floods as thousands of volunteers joined in the effort to support affected families and clean up silt from roads and sidewalks. People are great at rallying in a pinch, and post-silience is much more photogenic than pre-silience.

Economic volatility – especially in global dairy markets – has slammed farmers who are also suffering from climatic volatility. I was gob smacked recently when I heard talk of severe drought on the horizon for some of our farming regions. Too much water and too little water: this is the future of farming in Aotearoa: the land of the long white cloud. Indeed, scientist tell us we will be seeing more heavy grey clouds, cumulonimbus, and weeks on end without a cloud in the sky. How do you say that in te reo?

Well over half the work I do on our farm is in preparation of increased extreme weather events. The bad news is that all of this investment provides no financial return in the short run. The good news is that all of it protects financial returns (and minimises losses) in the long run. A thriving, pre-silient farm is my life insurance policy for my children.

But it is not all digging ditches, aerating soils, making compost, and planting trees. We also embrace low-energy technology that contributes to both pre- and post-silience. Two great examples are solar cooking and rocket stoves.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 11.18.21 am

Both are highly energy efficient and do not rely on mains power, gas, batteries or LPG.

We have been solar cooking for nearly a decade and rocket-stoving for half that. A power loss due to earthquake or windstorm would have little effect on our culinary abilities. We often do our Sunday roast on the solar cooker and recently our interns Patrick and Kelly brewed a Kiwi IPA on the rocket stove.

They will be demonstrating their skills from 11 to 1 today along the riverside near the Silver Ball sculpture as part of the 3rd Annual Whanganui Permaculture Weekend. If you are curious about permaculture design, there will be an introductory workshop at 1 today. Meet at the REBS Market stall. Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 11.18.37 am

The full programme can be viewed at the Permaculture Whanganui Facebook page or at the REBS stall. It was also published in full in last week’s River City Press.

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