Social networks during natural disasters

The Value of Mutual Aid in Creating a Sustainable World

Author: Mei-Ling Patterson

I have been passionate about sustainability since I was in high school. Sustainability is often discussed but solutions have been slow in coming.

For example, prior to the pandemic, thousands of people would commute to downtown Toronto for school or work on a daily basis, many of them driving their own personal vehicles. This creates large amounts of carbon emissions and air pollution, increases  the effects of the urban heat island, and contributes  to global climate change. This issue could be solved in part by an investment in public transportation. If Toronto were to improve upon this system it would likely reduce the amount of cars on the road and be a step forward in sustainable development.

Issues like these inspired me to choose my program of Environment and Urban Sustainability at Ryerson University. Wanting to take more personal action and to make a difference, I volunteered as a researcher for CREW.

Mei-Ling Patterson
Mei-Ling Patterson

Extreme weather events are on the rise across the globe and the impacts of climate change will require communities to come together to overcome the devastating effects. Over the past few months I have been looking at different mutual aid groups across North America that would have the capacity to function and provide support for people throughout the climate crisis and other environmentally-related issues. I found many initiatives and neighbourhood groups that provided meaningful help to others.

I read about the COVID-19 Coming Together (Vancouver) Facebook group based out of Vancouver, BC in an article by Naoibh O’Connor. This piece sparked similar initiatives in urban areas across Canada. The Facebook group showcases how much social capital can help people living in urban areas and has clearly been a success as there are now almost 34,000 members! I could easily imagine that the members of this Facebook group would be willing to provide mutual aid and support to members of their community in case of climate emergencies such as a flood or heatwave. Another significant achievement of this Facebook group is that they created a gofundme page and raised over $60,000 to provide financial support for those affected by COVID-19.

Another group that I really like is the Alberta Food Drive. It is run entirely by volunteers and provides food donations to families across various towns in Alberta and is a great example of how mutual aid is so impactful for communities.

The last group I’ll mention here is one that I love. I found it in an article by Cassie Morales. Their Google Docs lists multiple different mutual aid groups, services, and community support organizations across different neighbourhoods in New York City. This is one of my favourite initiatives as it could so easily be adapted for other risks and hazards such as extreme weather events like heat waves or snowstorms. The page also serves as a great inspiration for other cities and urban areas across North America. As I explored the page I found this notable story from an organization called Invisible Hands: when a volunteer delivered groceries to someone who needed help they started talking and ended up becoming good friends. This story highlights how mutual aid goes beyond the act of kindness. It can also result in meaningful relationships between strangers who would have probably otherwise never met. It demonstrates the importance of community, even in a large metropolis like New York City.

As someone with a background in environmentalism I am aware that if we do not rally together to take action on climate change then we will find ourselves living in a world that is going to become increasingly unstable with a large rise in climate emergencies such as floods, forest fires, and tornadoes, all of which amplify existing social inequities in our society. This research has made me realize that there are already so many people who want to bridge the gap in their communities and who would like to help others in times of need through mutual aid groups. I also learned how quickly new mutual aid groups can be set up and organized in times of crises. This proves to me that we will be able to get through future crises as long as we band together and continue to pay it forward whenever possible.

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Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW)

Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW) explores ways of communicating and promoting community adaptation to the rapidly increasing risks and hazards of extreme weather and the public health impacts.

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