Challenge and Change Bring Opportunity

Picture of Justine Quealy

Justine Quealy

Project Manager, Climate & Energy

Communities in the Sierra Nevada have weathered many storms over the years, most recently the local impacts of climate change, catastrophic wildfire, drought and reduced snowpack, Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events, wide-sweeping homeowner insurance policy cancellations, closing businesses, and a devastating global pandemic.

When we take a look at the ways in which our communities have responded, though, we see what they’re really made of, and we realize that there’s nothing quite like a monumental crisis to demonstrate how resilient we really are.

Adversity and crisis also reveal where there are gaps in resilience, where a community has the potential to grow, strengthen, and improve. Consider, for example, how the collective chaos of 2020 led to the scale of the current social justice uprisings, which in turn led to the much-needed and more widespread awareness of racial inequities and police violence in Black communities.

The truth is that every crisis, while deeply upsetting, also contains the seeds of opportunity and shines a light on what a community actually needs. If I have learned anything weathering these storms together with my community, it is that perseverance is rooted in our mindset. Building mental strength and flexibility to overcome mishaps or catastrophes creates the mental fortitude needed to lift each other up to seek solutions instead of dwelling in despair.

Consider this – nearly every opportunity that later transformed into a successful endeavor was first found in a moment of adversity or to fill a need. Right now, in this moment, there are opportunities waiting to help you transform yourself and the world around you into something you have until this point only dreamed about. The real trick is recognizing the chance while you’re looking at the adversity you face, and that can be done by considering these three questions:

1. How can we cope with and immediately respond to the current crisis? (hint: there are likely experts answering this question shortly after said crisis occurs)

2. What opportunities does this crisis create? (hint: it’s probably part of the answer to Question 1 with a sprinkle of your own creativity and innovation)

3. How can we be prepared in the future to respond rapidly and effectively to a similar crisis? (hint: your ideas from answering Question 2 are probably excellent long-term solutions)

The great news is that we’ve already seen examples of this in our communities across the Sierra Nevada. Neighbors are coming together to support each other, small businesses are pivoting and adapting, and local governments are fostering partnerships with local community organizations, all in the name of creating solutions to the problems we face in these times of crisis. Here are some examples of resilience in our region:

  • Many snow recreation businesses faced loss of income during the recent drought years and reduced snowpack, especially when the snow season was shortened and they were creating snow to offset the lack of snowfall. A number of ski resorts in the region took this as an opportunity to offer a different recreation activity that people could enjoy without snow and successfully bolstered their business so that they could weather the changing snow levels and years of drought.
  • The small business community in our rural region has an important role to play in fostering local forest health and community well-being. They are a foundational piece of our community’s economic sustainability, but small businesses can be the most vulnerable to disasters, including climate-related events like extreme wildfire and flooding. The Business Resilience Initiative project came out of the vast need for our local businesses to increase their resiliency in the face of disaster by providing information, resources, and methodology to prepare a customized resiliency/disaster recovery plan.
  • During the PSPS events in 2019, we saw neighbors coming together to make the best out of the situation by sharing resources, co-hosting block parties, and finding creative ways to get through those difficult days. While those power shutoffs revealed how devastating it can be to go without power, it highlighted the important benefits of energy independence, procuring energy from renewable resources, and relying on battery backup power to fill in as needed. Local renewable energy experts have been busier than ever helping residents and businesses take advantage of solar+battery backup packages, and increasing overall community energy resiliency at the same time.
  • It’s undeniable that the coronavirus global pandemic has and will continue to be devastating for everyone across the globe. We are facing unprecedented adversity and hardship right now and the number of unique and varied challenges are growing every day. It can seem daunting to even think about finding opportunity in the midst of this crisis, but with a little creativity and mental strength, we can figure this out, we can do hard things. I’ve seen this already take shape across the Sierra Nevada as residents and businesses find ways to make it work, as communities come together to support each other, and as friends and family help each other get through each day. Most recently, our Sierra SBDC co-hosted a crash course for local small businesses to pivot from brick and mortar retail to offering their goods and services in the e-commerce online retail space. While adding online sales is critical to continue business operations in a world where in-person activities are limited, the process actually revealed that some Sierra Nevada businesses have an even wider market. Some shops have shared that they are now serving customers nation-wide, and some even internationally – what a lovely unintended benefit of pivoting their business in this crisis!

These examples are just a snapshot of the many amazing opportunities Sierra locals have taken during times of adversity and crisis. Each shows that by taking action and seizing an opportunity in times of need, we set ourselves up not only to make it through the current crisis but to increase our adaptability and resilience, and to weather future storms with tenacity and hope.

There are so many more stories to share about the strength of Sierra communities. After all, it takes grit and kindness to live, work, recreate, and thrive here in the Sierra Nevada and we are lucky to live in a community where people come together and support each other.

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