Thursday, February 2, 2012

Since You Asked...About Greening in the Red Zone

The new year isn't even a month old, and communities from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South have already experienced severe—in some cases, deadly—weather disasters. Besides causing devastation to property, major extreme-weather events can be emotionally traumatizing. I know...I've been there.

In many ways, extreme-weather events, from ice storms to tornadoes to you name it, resemble armed conflicts and other man-made catastrophes: a major disaster of any kind has the capacity to alter lives and leave debilitating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder strewn in its wake. And as 9/11, post-Katrina New Orleans, and post-tornado Joplin so vividly showed up, this can be a community-wide issue.

So I decided to chat with Keith G. Tidball at Cornell University, about his groundbreaking work (with co-editor Marianne E. Krasney)Greening in the Red ZoneDue out this spring, the compilation book draws on the expertise of numerous experts—including Keith himself—to explore the psychological and emotional benefits of greening projects in the wake of natural or man-made disasters.

Courtesy Keith G. Tidball
 Q. Keith, what was the inspiration for Greening in the Red Zone?

A.I spent time as an infantry officer (USAR ) and later in the US Foreign Service (USDA). In my travels throughout the world, I was struck with two things: First, how so much of post-conflict and post-disaster response by institutions and militaries ends up being counter-productive in terms of the host society and their morale, their social and natural capital, and their resilience. Second, how often people recovering from war or disaster gravitate to interactions with "nature" as an important part of their recovery.

So, linking those two things became obvious to me, especially as I watched my friends and neighbors after 9-11 resort to greening and other human-nature interaction as important ways to cope with the disaster, the tragedy, and grieving.

So I hope to stimulate greater efforts by the research community to document through empirical work the phenomena of greening in the red zone. And I hope to influence policy makers and planners to incorporate elements of greening in the red zone in post-conflict and post-disaster response. This is of great importance as we look ahead to the necessity of navigating the hazards of climate change and related disruptions.

Q. Thanks to population growth and climate change, more and more destructive extreme-weather events are striking urban areas. How important is organized re-greening following a major natural disaster such as Joplin or New Orleans?

A. My research in those places indicates that it is very important. Not only does organized re-greening replace lost landscape elements such as trees, but it also replaces lost or damaged "sense of place"—and with that comes further investment in social and natural capital. So organized re-greening is important after major natural disasters for what it represents itself, and for the social and ecological processes and feedbacks it serves to restart and enhance.

Q. How important is the individual in a neighborhood or community-wide re-greening effort?

A. Each individual human is important, just like each individual tree is important in a forest. Yes, in large movements or large populations, individuals can seem to matter less. But that does not make them less important. I like the idea of Ubuntu in this sense, as described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "A person is a person through other persons." This is especially important to understanding our interactions as humans, and as members of social-ecological systems.

Q. Ten years down the road, what do you hope to have accomplished with Greening in the Red Zone?

A. It is my hope that national and international institutions and organizations will include in their post-disaster and post-conflict planning and activities, as well as in more general "development" planning and activities, the idea that persons' relationships with the rest of nature are of fundamental importance to their security, to their recovery, and to their resilience.

I want to see this important notion influence the way we do business, and then to see this idea percolate further into the consciousness of diplomacy, of markets, and therefor humanity.

1 comment: said...

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