Imagining how the world will work plus three degrees sometimes feels like world-building for an apocalypse novel. Three degrees Celsius might not sound like much, but on a local and global scale, the changes will be era-defining. With that kind of increase, average sea levels could rise three feet by 2100 according to the IPCC. This would mean the displacement of 750 million people and iconic cities either submerged or with a landscape defined by flood defenses.
It’s hard to imagine life going on with the Olympic stadium in Rio submerged, Shanghai and Miami evacuated and The Hague a submerged tourist attraction, the human rights court operating at full capacity somewhere higher.
Flooding is only one of the issues the world faces looking out at this century, and indeed this millennium, but the reports from scientific communities are not Science-Fiction or Dystopia.
It’s hard to imagine a World +3 Degrees, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that we must.
“World + 3 Degrees” is a combination of an academic journal and student zine. Using simple, accessible language combined with a peer review and referencing system, students from across the UK have come together to create an exploration of current climate adaptation trends that everyone can understand.
For COP26, World + 3 Degrees is excited to present an interactive exhibit! Striving for the same collage-art style as World + 3, this vision of two worlds will be collectively put together by members of the public. We’ll be stationed at the COP26 Youth Hub at the QMU for the full two weeks of the COP. Come and do some cutting, picture-picking, and thinking about what future we want for our planet.
The following excerpt from “World + 3 Degrees” is an interview with Shareable’s Tom Llewellyn recorded in the Fall of 2020 and has been edited for length and clarity.
Izzi Thomas Horton: I was introduced to your work through your documentary about Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria. A lot of your work is focused on communities in the aftermath of a disaster. The Response (A documentary film produced by Shareable) documents a certain trend among communities that have suffered. You have called it disaster collectivism. Would you mind explaining a little what that term means and what you discuss in the podcast?
Tom Llewellyn: Over the years at Shareable we’ve documented things like tool libraries and time banks and worker cooperatives, and new systems of work. Back in 2018, we released our most in-depth ‘tome’ of sorts, called “Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons” following the year that had (at least in the United States) the most disasters on record with the most destruction, both in terms of loss of life and also in the destruction of property. There were over 4000 deaths, coming from [16 major] disasters, and over $300 billion worth of damages. Just in the US.
We began to see crises as peak opportunities for sharing. These are the situations where people really show up for each other.
That’s really what the podcast is about, and, indeed, this project in general. We now have the podcast, the film, a book, and an ongoing editorial series, all looking into how communities come together during crises. And that’s really what disaster collectivism is! It’s looking at that kind of reaction to adversity.
We talk about disaster collectivism, and how that brings people together, but we also look at how people use those opportunities of crises to reimagine their communities, and to reimagine their interactions with each other, to create a community fiber.
Moving forward, we want to see how communities that haven’t been struck by a major disaster can see the disasters happening around them start to take collective action together.
What is it about these kinds of climate disasters which trigger that kind of response? What is the thing which triggers everyday civilians to try and do things themselves?
It’s just a natural reaction. It’s a time out of time. The everyday activities are forced to stop. And as a result, so are the artificial barriers that we put up.
Normally you might just walk past somebody on the street and not acknowledge them at all. When you have a shared experience, that becomes a lot harder to do, and we’re also looking for that type of acknowledgment and connection from those that are experiencing something similar.
So I think it really is just that shared experience, coupled with some sort of a loss, or a major stressor. We look at disasters all over the world, and this is the reaction to acute disasters. It’s actually very different when we start talking about ongoing or chronic social disasters. But acute disasters really do bring people together.
Another major factor is a lack of institutional support, like the case of New York City, after Hurricane Sandy where the Rockaways neighborhood of Queens was largely impacted. It’s a lower-income area and official support was very slow to get there. And so, within that vacuum, there was a community response.
That’s where you get something like Occupy Sandy which was not an organization unto itself, it was more of an umbrella term for a lot of organizations that were working in concert. At one point in time, there were 60,000 independent volunteers. They were just people who showed up to offer their support because there was a need.
So there’s a collective experience and then also that vacuum that’s left when there’s a lack of kind of official support.
Occupy Sandy started in a fairly low-income area, and that seems to be a common trend in the places you cover. After the Grenfell fire in London, we had a similar period of people opening up their homes to the victims, and trying to help them out. People at the time said that it wouldn’t have been needed if the victims were wealthy, because they would have been offered more support (or, in fact, the fire never would have occurred in the first place).
Do you think these kinds of communities are more likely to pop up in low-income areas? If so, do you think that’s because these areas do seem to get less support?
Well, I think that areas that are chronically under-served are more likely to have alternative systems for meeting their needs: that may be alternative economies, that may be because they need stronger interpersonal relationships to survive. I don’t know the exact science and I haven’t seen enough of the studies to be able to say that this is the thing that determines where these communities emerge. But it does happen, and that’s kind of the thing that comes up over and over again.
I interviewed the chief resilience officer for the city of Paris. Just last summer they had the biggest heatwave in recorded history, and they’re expecting the temperature of Paris to be rising for the next many, many years to come. As they’re doing their resilience planning they’re looking at their infrastructure and that sort of thing, but they’re also really thinking deeply about how they are helping residents build and create additional social relationships.
Do you think government initiatives can help build those kinds of connections? You don’t really think of that as something that the government would be able to help with.
Well, one of the things that we are working on in the United States is the development of resilience hubs. These are spaces within communities that are both resilient in themselves, having things like food and water, backup power, and shelter, but that is also supporting the overall resilience of their neighborhoods through their existence.
And there’s a major opportunity there for governments to be involved in supplying resources and support. One of the new partners of the Northern California Resilience Network is the United States Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN). All the different sustainability directors in cities around the United States are also thinking about this, and the USDN has created a model for resilience hubs as well. So I think there is definitely a place for government in creating the infrastructure, and then with that infrastructure comes the opportunity for engagement.
If you’re a person living in a city who doesn’t know very many people, how do you start to build up that civic participation yourself?
This is one of the things that we’ve reported about on Shareable over the years. There’s an infinite number of ways to get involved but it’s really just showing up and finding things that you’re passionate about, and then finding the others who are passionate about it as well and building independent networks. We’ve published over 300 ‘How to’ guides for how to start various sharing and resilience initiatives.
The way I see it, by doing something, anything, whether that’s building relationships or creating a community project or infrastructure, you’re strengthening the whole in an incredible way.
It’s important to create affinity groups, especially if you’re going to be going to some sort of a protest or action. You have your pod, your group of people that you can trust and who will look for you if you’re missing, who knows to look out for you if you get arrested, and who have your contact information, and things like that.
It’s the same thing during a disaster, people fall back on their existing relationships. And so if you are very active in a co-working space, or you have started a tool library, or you’re working on a community garden, or Food Not Bombs or you’re part of some volunteer group, those are the people who you’re going to contact first.
So for those that are living in more urban areas that don’t have a lot of relationships, it’s important to participate in something, to develop any kind of relationship.
If you had a magic wand which you could wave on cities before a disaster to make them more resilient, what would you do?
Libraries are incredible pieces of infrastructure that attract all different demographics. They’re probably the most common denominator across all incomes when it comes to civic infrastructure.
Actually, building and modernizing our libraries is really important right now. Libraries are actually starting to see themselves as community centers.
Shareable released a free ebook about the libraries of things, which looks at libraries that are lending out tools or kitchen equipment or camping supplies, or even technology. There are libraries that have recording studios or are turning themselves into free co-working areas with free Wi-Fi. They’re adding cafes, and figuring out what other services that they can provide to continue serving their communities. I’m a very big fan of libraries!
Full disclosure, I co-founded a tool library in Asheville, North Carolina, a number of years ago, which is still going strong. So I was very passionate about them then and I continue to be very passionate about them now.
The last question tends to throw people a little bit for a loop because when we confront climate change, we tend to focus on saying that we need to stop it at any cost. Even if we are successful and emissions were to stop tomorrow though, we would still see some impacts. What is your best-case scenario, what do you hope to see if the world does warm?
I thought about this one a lot and I don’t think it’s an if. I think we are already heading that way. We’re only now feeling the impact of the carbon, methane, and other greenhouse gasses which were released 10 to 30 years ago. There’s a delayed impact, which is something that our species are really bad at understanding and grasping, and as a result, we struggle to moderate our behavior.
These more disparate natural hazards which are being increased; fires, floods, tsunamis, heat waves, and bomb cyclones and all these things are going to happen more and more often, and are going to be more extreme.
We’re going to start seeing communities that haven’t had to brace for various disasters beginning to face them. And, hopefully, we’re able to start to see these disasters as being related to each other in a way that we haven’t yet. Right now they’re viewed as disparate symptoms.
I do think that there is going to be some of the awareness that we need, but a lot of that awareness is going to build much slower than we need it to. It is going to take time, but we’re already starting to see things becoming undeniable. And with that realization, a number of things are going to change.
To begin with, there are a certain number of people that are incredibly privileged, who are going to build their proverbial bunkers or even their real bunkers, and they’re going to have their gated communities where they’re separated from us. And these are the type of people who are financing the climate-denying media while knowing full well what is occurring.
From what I’ve read and what I’ve seen those that are the most active in denying that there is climate change are essentially doing so to be able to maintain their privilege for as long as possible, so that they have time to set up their infrastructure to be resilient to this change so that they can invest in new businesses that are going to be able to survive into the future, investing into their own personal parachutes, essentially.
Claiming climate change isn’t happening is a method of maintaining a certain amount of dominance, and as we move forward that veil is going to become a lot thinner, and people are going to see through it.
There are always going to be a certain amount of people who try to grab as many resources for themselves as possible and fall into that fear narrative, but there’s going to be others that are going to think more about the people within their communities.
I think another really encouraging thing that’s occurred with the pandemic is that we’ve seen this rise in mutual aid. The general concept of mutual aid was on the fringe, but it’s now become much more mainstream. There are groups all over the world that are starting up mutual aid networks to take care of others within their communities.
This kind of community-based infrastructure developed for an acute disaster is going to be incredibly important in maintaining society, and supporting our health, and our species in general, as we face this more ongoing chronic disaster that is upon us.
Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. I see the next 30 to 50 years, really the rest of the century, as being really difficult.
There is going to be massive amounts of migration. We’re already seeing that. I think a lot of the migration that we’re seeing from the Middle East to Europe is a result of climate change. Yes, there is a war and other conflicts taking place, but a lot of that conflict is based on a lack of resources in the region.
One of the tactics that Turkey is using on the Kurds is damming up the rivers which are flowing into Syria. They are withholding water to a huge population of people and using that as a weapon of war. They’re threatening their survival.
We’re seeing a lack of freshwater across the world, especially along the equator. That’s contributing to migration. We’re going to see that in Central America, and we’re going to see that in Southeast Asia. People are going to have to move because where they’re living is no longer habitable and they’re not able to feed themselves.
And that is going to create a lot of conflicts.
For those of us who are in areas that are not impacted as much, how we deal with migration and whether we allow our fellow human beings into our communities is really going to showcase our true colors. It will show whether or not we are an ‘evolved species’.
Do you think we could see some light in this tunnel? It’s going to be tough, but do you think that we’ll see a change in communities, maybe for the better?
I was pretty negative, just a moment ago, but at the same time, with an acute crisis where systems break down, people strengthen their relationships, and can actually have incredibly euphoric experiences.
There will be a number of communities that benefit from this change. There is the opportunity to break down the systems of capitalism, which are incredibly extractive and harmful to many, many people. And so there will be some forms of harm which will be reduced.
It will provide an opportunity for people to build those relationships.
Even with the tragedy of COVID people in my community are interacting a lot more, sharing resources and talking, dealing with their issues more in that forum rather than just complaining about things on Facebook.
Neal Gorenflo, the executive director of Shareable, lives in a housing development with around 57 other houses. This neighborhood has begun to interact with each other and support each other in ways that he never experienced in the previous 10 years of living there. This is somebody that is trying to encourage sharing and interaction on the global level but who wasn’t having a lot of success in his own community. He has talked about how for the first time he feels like he’s living in a community.
The disaster of COVID has really brought people together.
The Pandemic is acting as a window into what the future could hold. It’s hard to say exactly how things that occur with an acute disaster (lasting a week or two in the initial destruction phase), will translate into something like this pandemic which could go on for years for some people. There has been a certain amount of attrition in mutual aid networks. People will really support each other for the first couple of months and now it’s gone on for so long that it’s been harder to maintain the sympathy systems.
The other great thing is that so many people during the pandemic have been organizing online. And once this lifts people are going to have strong desires to meet in or interact with the people that they were working with online in person. There’s going to be an opportunity to strengthen those relationships… I’m encouraged by the ways that people have reacted to this pandemic for the most part, and that gives me hope moving forward.