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Finding Common Ground in the midst of Rising Waters

This blog post was written by Walt Vernon, a member of Sextant's board of directors and the CEO of Mazzetti.



A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my trip to the Bahamas. One of the things I have thought about a lot, as we work to help the hospital and primary care clinics to return to normal operations, is the certainty that this is not the last time this island will be battered by significant storms. Maybe, whatever we invest in rebuilding now (especially replacing wallboard and ductwork that is full of mold after being flooded) will suffer a similar fate during the next storm, thus destroying whatever we do now. After all, we can replace the wallboard, but we can't relocate the hospital to a location impervious to storms.

This issue of resilience is terribly important here, and now, in much of the world. What is particularly concerning to me, in this case, is that places like this island country have so few resources. They have a hard time finding the resources to build a hospital once; if we re-build it only to see it destroyed during the next storm, it will quickly exhaust the available resources, and so, it must be done so as to be resilient for the long run.

I was so conscious of this issue while we were in the country, I spent time talking with some of my fellow volunteers about it. I was surprised that one of them, a very intelligent person who I learned a lot from, told me he had studied the science, and he had concluded that it is clearly true that the climate is changing; but, he had also concluded, these changes are due to natural forces, not to human activity. He agreed that we needed to do something, just not that we needed to worry about human activity causing the problem.

This really surprised me, but I was happy to find that our differences on this issue did not stop us from working together to help the Bahamian people, and to look for ways to restore the hospital to operation and to think about how we might be able to help it be even a little bit more resilient in the future. Indeed, what was particularly gratifying to me about this exchange was that I was able to build a new friendship with a person of different political views from me; something I preach in a philosophical sense but was able to make real in this very present circumstance.

I read the other day that a local government someplace in Florida had decided to stop paying for a subscription to the New York Times because they thought it was "fake news" because it was not supportive of President Trump. I also read recently that more conservative people in California are leaving for Texas; and that more liberal people in Texas are leaving for California. I think this sorting is, frankly, tragic. We are Americans, we are human beings, we are on the same team, and we win when we remember this and focus on common ground, instead of difference

Scientific American recently published a study that said that people are more able to rally around the idea of climate resilience than around climate mitigation. I think this is because of the inherently negative connotation of mitigation (think Jimmy Carter's sweater) and the more hopeful, forward-looking idea of building strength for the future. Either way, thank goodness there is something that can bring us together.

We need to learn from scientists, and my new friend. Together, he and I are able to listen to each other, respect each other, and work to accomplish something that will make us, and our island neighbors stronger. We are better together than we are in our separate states.

Resilience is not just about the buildings we build. True resilience comes from building community; division leads to brittleness.

If I may ask, please remember to support the Sextant Foundation, and its work in the Bahamas. We are better together.

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