top of page
Recent Posts
  • Lea Sabbag

Part 1: Catalyzing Transformative Change: One Military Leader and Pope at a Time

(Above: Pope Francis, source:

Getting people to not only think about resilience but also advocate for transformative change is extremely difficult. Whether it be long term planning or rapid disaster recovery efforts, resilience thinking is often times a subsidiary notion. Victims of Hurricane Sandy and last year’s tornado in Moore, Oklahoma prioritized a fast-track rebuilding effort over a longer, more strategic recovery. And who can blame them? When communities are flipped upside down, the first thought for most is to rebuild as fast a possible. Families need to get back into their homes and businesses need to reopen so that the economy does not falter.

But what happens when the threat of additional disasters is ongoing? Last year was not the first time a tornado hit Moore, and hurricanes will continue to plague the East Coast. Should we continue to rapidly rebuild time after time, or is it in our best interests to think strategically and promote measures that build community resilience? The latter option is likely a more efficient and cost effective approach, however, transformative change involves diverse engagement as well as compromise. While this comes easier for some than it does for others, the process for catalyzing resilience must be done in a way that appeals to the community’s sense of self.

And that is the tricky part. People are motivated by a variety of things and what propels change in behavior or thinking in one person may be very different from that of another. But it is possible to catalyze resilience, and it does happen.

Just in the past few weeks, several unlikely events unfolded that brought a breath of fresh air to the somewhat stagnant dialogue around climate adaptation and community resilience in America. No, I’m not talking about the study documenting rapid ice melting in Western Antarctica, or the apparent shift in ENSO and the serious impacts this could have globally, or even John Oliver’s hilarious comedy show on the climate change debate. Rather, what I’m referring to involves U.S. military leaders and the Pope himself.

Last month, a group of retired U.S. military generals and admirals released an updated report outlining the accelerated risks of climate change and the potential impacts it could have on national security. These sixteen military leaders, who form the CNA’s Military Advisory Board, addressed both global and domestic implications of climate change and urged for collaboration, cooperation, and change.

According to the report, they were “dismayed that discussions of climate change have become so polarizing and have receded from the arena of informed public discourse and debate. Political posturing and budgetary woes cannot be allowed to inhibit discussion and debate over what so many believe to be a salient national security concern for our nation.”

Also happening last month was the joint workshop held by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences (PAS/PASS) titled, “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.” Attended by members of the Academies and invited experts, the workshop focused on the roots and history of mankind, the scientific basis for the impacts of development, and the potential risks of human innovations and ensuring long-time sustainability.

According to the PAS, the attendees “paid particular attention to indicators of a climate shift due to a number of introduced technological applications, such as the use of coal and fossil oil as sources of energy” as well as measures that “contribute to mitigating the role of a continued anthropogenic climate change.” In the workshop’s closing statement, Pope Francis addressed the crowd by saying “We are Custodians of Creation. But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us…Safeguard Creation. Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!”

So why are these two events important and will they catalyze resilience building? In isolation, probably not. However, what these events accomplish is that they may act as a better avenue for promoting resilience thinking for traditionally conservative groups.

Why, you may ask? Well, because they’re rooted in conservative values and, in some cases, even identity, such as religion and the military. Motivating people to think differently and advocate for transformation is only possible when you consider the interests of the people themselves. Honing in on a specific a group’s values, such as national security inputs from top military officials and teachings from religious leaders, may be the best approach to catalyzing resilience on a larger scale.

bottom of page