This paper has been a long time in developing, ( I wrote the first version just before the Co-alition came to power) but the need for it has become increasingly relevant in my opinion, first as a result of the Thunberg and Attenborough wake -up calls of 2019 and for me reading The Uninhabitable Earth by Wallace-Wells.
Finally, the covid-19 catastrophe of 2020 has placed us as individuals and as a society at mortal risk. Added to this when I had written this paper and was about to send it out to ANVIL associates and other friends for comments, I also read Oliver Letwin’s book, published just pre-covid, Apocalypse How. In it he confronts the dangers we face in adopting increasingly interconnected technologies which while giving us great advantages, also lay our whole culture open to potential collapse caused by “space weather” and cyber attacks. He writes having been responsible under David Cameron for trying to understand, prevent and combat such “black swan events.”
The paper below has sparked, discussion, criticism and support from ANVIL associates and friends and I am very greatful to them. As it stands however, I continue to feel that we have a real need for adopting a deep change in the way we do things and I hope this paper may help that to start happening.
A Resilience Service
The aim of this paper is to encourage the setting up of a national resilience service to prepare for and deal with pandemics and climate change. If you think this idea could be useful, please be in touch with John Baxter.
There will be no return to business as usual. Covid-19, flooding, drought, extreme weather, air and plastic pollution, all threaten our lives, health, and work. Covid has rudely woken us up to the fact that we face a radically different future from anything we have known, imagined or prepared for, despite the warnings scientists in many fields have been giving us for years. Like Covid-19 climate change will bring a future in which our “normal” lives will be disrupted, often suddenly and unpredictably. These disruptions will of course be repeatable. There will be more droughts, floods and viruses, while the catastrophes that take place mainly abroad (we hope!); wars, famine, disease, pollution, environmental degradation, mass migration etc, will also have consequences here.
Like the threat of war or imminent invasion, these threats can also stir us to develop the abilities and the spirit we need to face them. They can spur us to work with and for others, to co-operate, accept risks, challenges and difficulties and get involved. In short it can help us develop, through practical action, a vivid sense of our mutual interdependence and common humanity.
In the face of this politics needs to change. Like the setting up of the NHS, setting up a National Resilience Service to prepare for and respond to life-threatening national emergencies should trigger a significant change to the political landscape. It would need wide social and cross-party support. Still, while we are a long way from beating this pandemic, the response of scientists, academics, NHS workers, and the 750,000 volunteers to deal with Covid-19 has already given us hope and examples of how many wish to respond to the challenges that face us.
Possible Aims for a National Resilience Service
1. Provide a body people can join with local, regional and national membership for all who want to do what they can to prevent and respond to catastrophic health and climate change emergencies
2. It should train and provide a large number of volunteers with a disparate range of practical skills and relevant understanding so they can be called up to serve full time or part time with relief work. Rather like the Territorial Army and the Fire Service the Resilience Service should be seen as a valuable form of national service. Those called up to serve during an emergency should have employment protection. In return it should provide valuable skills and training for those preparing to enter the world of work, or to those who have lost their jobs as a result of climate change or covid infection.
3. The Resilience Service should seek to recruit:.
Military, civil service and business specialists in people and logistics planning and management including.
Academics and students involved in the study of pandemic or climate emergency projects
Doctors, nurses, health professionals and carers.
Teachers, education professionals, youth workers and social workers.
Architects, engineers, and builders, to be ready with rebuilding and strengthening plans.
Skilled construction workers, electricians, earth movers, flood and fire equipment users.
Religion and World-view leaders. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Humanist to encourage support and volunteering.
Cross-party political support from the start.
4. The Resilience Service leadership and senior management should co-ordinate and prod the various branches of government (central departments and local councils) to work closely to both pursue sustainable policies and prepare for emergencies.
5. The Resilience Service members could also be used to speed up and carry out surveys on local environmental risks (flooding, storms, etc) and for promoting energy conservation and renewable energy projects in order to reduce the impact of climate change emergencies on local communities.
6. The Resilience Service should back and promote the findings of specialist scientific research groups (SAGE) and their suggestions for public policy.
7. The Resilience Service should help organise and encourage a network of local neighbour support groups for the disabled, elderly, quarantined, flooded or burnt out in times of national or local emergency.
8. The Resilience Service could be run as a form of National Service for all school leavers. To be a mixture of education about Pandemics and Climate Emergencies and practical work on climate emergency projects. Awards for courage and achievement?
9. The Resilience Service should provide an opportunity for personal challenge and for experiencing a deeper sense of belonging to British society. It should be an integrating force which should work across social, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and gender divisions in providing volunteers with a wide range of opportunities to be of service for:
Immigrants and new citizens
Those retired with useful social, befriending and practical skills
Long term unemployed and school evaders.
A proportion of those sentenced to carry out Community Service.
10. Service in the Resilience Service should become a source of pride for participants and something that employers will value in employees and prospective employees as showing a commitment to service, the capacity to work as part of a team and the ability to develop practical, organisational and leadership skills.
The Resilience Service will need a skilled, recognisable and charismatic Director General to lead it, get it going and speak to government with authority. The DG will also need a dedicated, high calibre management team. It will need to be non-partisan and get cross-party and government support, and develop a co-ordinating and leadership role across government in promoting the adoption of Resilience policies.
Inevitably as it develops the service will require substantial funding, but compared to the costly alternative of not investing in resilience – an unprepared public rushing around like headless chickens after each costly crisis or suffering passively while not knowing what to do, it should simply come to be seen as saving lives, property and our community, and the sensible way to prepare for the future.
In the face of this terrible pandemic we need to recognise the inevitable speeding up of climate change. Disasters such as flooding, drought, hurricanes and extreme weather will not wait for us to “solve Covid-19”. Political and social leaders regardless of party should campaign for the setting up NOW of a National Resilience Service.
John Baxter Organiser of ANVIL. (see www.johnbaxter.org )