The work behind the work

Project Drawdown presents a vision for a climate restored to balance. It seems daunting, but the research shows that if we implement Drawdown’s solutions at scale, we can restore our climate by 2050. But Drawdown just provides a blueprint. How do we do this work? I think what it will take is a shift in our sense of ourselves, how we each see our role in the world. We need to see ourselves as a collective, not as individuals.

When starlings flock, when fish school, when wildebeests stampede, they follow similar behavior patterns. Collective animal behavior like this boils down to three simple rules:

  1. If I am too far from my neighbor, I move closer.
  2. If I am too close, I move away.
  3. If I am at optimal distance, I mimic the movements… of my closest neighbor.

That third rule is what’s most interesting to me. There is no leader. Everyone is more or less working to be in step with the ones closeby. If they head in one direction, the birds/ fish/ wildebeests toward the (temporary) front of the flock/ school/ herd are the ones who more or less guide the group’s movement briefly, but as soon as the group turns, new individuals lead. I love thinking about that. Everyone can lead for a few moments. It’s not a hierarchy, it’s a dance. When we work as a swarm, we can be far more powerful than we are as individuals — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s what I like to think of as the work behind the work: remembering that when we work as a system, we have more power than we know.

A flock of starlings in autumn. Photo: Andreas Weith

This work behind the work, this idea of the power of collective action, is what inspired me to start Drawdown WNC. After learning about Drawdown and regaining a sense of optimism and determination, I wanted to join with others working on these efforts in the Southern Appalachians. With our beautiful temperate forests, so many small farmers practicing regenerative agriculture, and so many caring people in our region acting on climate solutions already, I figured surely there was a “Drawdown WNC” of some kind. There wasn’t. Because it seemed there should be, I took the first few steps toward forming this nascent group.

And just like the breathtaking flocks of starlings known as murmurations, I was suddenly surrounded by people moving with me, in harmony, each tilting in a slightly different direction, but more or less moving toward a common goal. So far it’s been a graceful, spontaneous ensemble, with different individuals leading at different moments. And our numbers! I can almost hear the wild rush of our wings.

– Nancy Lowe

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