Atlanta's new Chief Resilience Officer, Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, with Mayor Kasim Reed.
Atlanta’s new Chief Resilience Officer, Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, with Mayor Kasim Reed.

By Sally Bethea

Resilience is my new favorite word. I feel energy, strength and toughness whenever I hear it or read it.

I want to stand up straight and do something to make my community, my family and myself stronger, more adaptable to face the inevitable challenges ahead. I want to teach adult literacy, volunteer at a homeless shelter, march for human rights, work at a community garden, support visionary leaders, be kinder and take more long walks by the river.

Webster’s dictionary says that resilience means the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

In our personal lives, our communities and our nation, I believe that an active commitment to the principles of resilience is needed now more than ever, especially in the face of climate change.

We cannot simply hope with wishful thinking that we’ll be able to adapt to changing circumstances in the future, once social, environmental and economic crises have become intolerable; we must embrace change with resilient plans now to ensure healthy and prosperous communities for everyone tomorrow.

While meaningful policy related to climate change may be dead for the next four years under the new administration in Washington, there is cause for some hope given the role that cities, individual businesses and even a few states are beginning to take.

Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed is helping lead the way. He recently said: “There are so many things that cities can do that don’t have anything to do with state governments or federal governments. I really don’t think, as tough as the politics are nationally, that folks are going to stop cities from doing what we can do on climate. The weather is going to make the decision, not politics.”

Earlier this year, the city of Atlanta was chosen to be a member of 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) from more than a thousand applications submitted to the Rockefeller Foundation, which pioneered the initiative three years ago. The foundation’s goal: to help urban areas around the world become more resilient to growing challenges of the 21st Century.

100RC views resilience as the ability to overcome stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a daily basis, such as high unemployment, a poor public transportation system and chronic food and water shortages – not just shocks such as earthquakes, fires and floods.

In November, Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, the city’s director of sustainability, was promoted to the new position of chief resilience officer. In announcing Benefield’s new role, Reed said: “The idea is that you have someone who wakes up every day thinking about the short-, medium- and long-term response to stressers that impact cities.”

The Rockefeller Foundation provides selected cities with financial and expert resources necessary to develop a roadmap to urban resilience and a global practice of resilience in four key areas: health and wellbeing; economy and society; infrastructure and environment; and leadership and strategy.

We are fortunate to live in a city where leaders like Mayor Reed, Stephanie Benfield and others are working hard to help us all get ready for change. While they are busy with the big stuff, I’ll be in my backyard, replacing non-native plants with more tolerant native species and repairing the rock stream channel I built to handle the flooding when the rains return.

Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper , a nonprofit environmental organization whose mission is to protect and restore the drinking water supply for nearly four million people.