Preparing for a New Normal

Thirty-eight million people live in the metropolitan region of Tokyo, and even while the city (and surrounding area) have struggled over the past few years with the challenges that face any dense population (resource distribution, crime management, etc), they’ve managed to dedicate over two billion dollars and an extraordinary amount of human capital to a project that might once have been impossible to believe: a vast underground network of concrete tanks that protect the city from the existential threat of a warming planet.

An expensive, enormous underground water management system completed in 2006 will soon be tested by the changing weather and rising sea levels that surround the island nation of Japan. And these vast tanks and reservoirs—deep enough to hold the Statue of Liberty—push the boundaries of our imagination and help us accept a new reality; a major city that can survive, thrive, and continue to serve as an economic powerhouse and the wellspring of a flourishing culture while resting several feet below sea level. As the city sinks and the water rises, Tokyo has demonstrated a concrete determination (literally) to adapt to this new normal and continue to exist. Instead of yielding to a set of problems that occupy a bewildering overlay of physics, financial management and city planning, this city simply said: We can do this. The result: not a miracle, but a very human solution. Will it work? We don’t really know. We can’t predict every economic, environmental and culture event that might contribute to an answer. But the underground reservoirs exist. They have traveled the entire path from incomplete plan to real material change, and they are extraordinary to behold.

There’s a lesson in this for us as we work to lay the foundations of Just Atonement amid a flood of challenging news and shifting global events that require our full attention. As we read through bills presented to Congress and examine procedural details and committee rules, once stable global economies are rumbling beneath our feet and once quiet populations are shaking off the status quo and drafting their own destinies. Shared resources are running short, cultural shifts are happening overnight, and meanwhile, a changing climate is bringing new forces to bear on what were already complex ecosystems. How can Tokyo’s reservoirs help us make sense of these things? They can remind us that change happens a single step at a time, and if each step leads consistently to the next, vast new objects and lifesaving enterprises can appear in the world that weren’t there before. Action matters.

As we assemble our team and select specific cases from the disputes arising around us, we’d like to enlist your help! Each day, help us illuminate connections and find order in a disordered world with one small action, and then another, and so on. We’ll try to share an action with each blog post (we’re aiming for at least one or two each week) and our actions will become more involved over time. Here’s our action for today:

Read the list of ingredients on everything you eat today. If you don’t understand or recognize a certain ingredient, spend just five minutes looking it up. Learn at least one new thing about the food that sustains you and gets you through the day. An easy start! Later we’ll talk about food distribution, a topic that’s laced with intersections—links between disciplines, populations and economic drivers that constantly surprise us.

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