Archive for July, 2009

Summer heat

By Tom Read

Our garden is using less water overall, but going strong at 2:00 pm on this hot summer's day.

Our garden is using less water overall, but going strong at 2:00 pm on this hot summer's day.

Yes, it’s been hot and humid here on Texada Island lately. Just a few days ago we recorded 31 degrees centigrade (31C) in the shade on our front deck at 5:00 pm, a new high for us.  Friends about a mile west of us endured 38C in their house on the same day, while the City of Vancouver hit 33.8C, a new all-time high, apparently.  Do these numbers mean anything, other than some temporary discomfort?

While no particular heat wave should be linked to the concept of climate change, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility that our near-record snowfall and cold last winter and the current heat blast are part of an increasingly unstable climate pattern.  I’ve read somewhere, but can’t remember the citation, that climate change will manifest itself hereabouts as more frequent extremes: colder colds, hotter hots, windier winds, rainier rains, etc. “Extreme” is becoming the new “normal,” it would seem.

So how do we cope with greater heat than we’re used to?  Texada is fortunately surrounded by an ocean buffer that usually moderates weather extremes.  But for now we’re stuck in the middle of a vast heat-trapping high-pressure ridge, according to Environment Canada, that shows little sign of leaving soon. The major consequences for our homestead include the following:

—  Careful conservation of electricity, because the creek stopped flowing enough to make power some weeks ago. We’re relying on solar power during the day, and a nightly 2-hour generator run to charge our battery bank to carry us through the night and morning.

—  Careful conservation of water, because the level in our (shallow) well is down about 50% from two months ago. At the moment we can only pump for 30 minutes at a time, once a day, or risk running dry. I’m checking the well every few days.

—  Water our garden at more frequent intervals but use less water overall. This is possible for us because for the first time we’re using watering timers with our drip watering system. So far it’s working extremely well — we should have installed watering timers a long time ago.  By planting a diverse garden we’re assured that at least some vegetables are thriving (notably the tomatoes, beans and squash), while others bolt, particularly cilantro.

—  In addition to pumping well water, we’re using our pond as a backup source for watering the garden, chickens and pigs.

—  We work outdoors only in the mornings, up to about 11:30 am, then go indoors until after 7:00 pm. It’s not just the heat and humidity that compel this schedule, it’s the deer flies. These flesh-and-blood-eating tormentors can be held at bay temporarily with insect repellant, but they’re a very persistent  nuisance during warm days at mid-summer.

—  Rocky, our nine-year-old canine companion, has always lived outdoors and in his own insulated dog house no matter the weather. But his obvious suffering became too much for us a few days ago, so we’ve let him spend afternoons indoors with us, where it’s 10 degrees cooler. Our house’s straw bale walls, clerestory vents and ceiling fan provide ample “air conditioning” to keep us all reasonably comfortable.

—  Conversely, our feline companion Penny prefers to remain outdoors during the summer heat. She’s eating very little of the food we put out for her, but I’ve found the remains of several mice on paths near the house, so I’m sure she’s not lacking sustenance.

Another coping tactic is that we are keeping all this in perspective.  After all, 31C is actually perfect for many garden plants, even if it (temporarily) stresses us, animals and the surrounding forest. We’re fortunate to have enough water in our well and pond to see us through, at least for this year. But what about the future? Will 31C become typical for a Texada summer’s day in a few decades, or even sooner? “Don’t borrow trouble,” Linda tells me, and rightly so. But don’t take anything for granted, either.

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Seed-saving adventures

By Tom Read

My apologies for this focus-challenged photo I took today. We'll soon be awash in carrot seeds, even if they're a bit blurry at the moment.

My apologies for this focus-challenged photo I took today. We'll soon be awash in carrot seeds, even if they're a bit blurry at the moment.

Texada Island is a good place to grow carrots, once you dig the rocks out of your garden and if you’ve got enough good seeds. Given the converging economic, energy and environmental uncertainties besetting the world today, we do not take for granted our access to good vegetable seeds. So, last summer we grew a Nantes open-pollinated carrot variety from West Coast Seeds. One difference between carrots and some other vegetables is that you have to let carrots continue into their second year of life to harvest seeds. Thus, we over-wintered the best carrot plants from our 2008 garden in hope of saving seeds this year.

Meanwhile, our friend Fred gave us about 30 scarlet runner beans last fall after I made admiring noises about their colourful long seed pods in his garden in Van Anda.  After decades of saving these runner bean seeds, Fred has noticed a gradual darkening in their colour.  Before planting, I soaked all the seeds overnight in a bowl of tepid water, then the next morning I set aside for planting only the seeds that had sunk to the bottom of the bowl. I had read somewhere that if a seed floats, then it’s not as vigorous as one that sinks. This may be a mistake in regard to scarlet runner beans, but I’ve soaked other types of bean seeds before planting, with good results.

I’m no expert in plant genetics, but of the 30 scarlet runner beans I planted (some more black than brownish-red), only about half germinated, which seemed a bit low compared to the store-bought pole bean seeds we planted about two weeks earlier elsewhere in our garden.  The store-bought seeds showed an 80% germination rate and are already six feet high, while the scarlet runners are barely above knee level, so far. This is probably a result of sun exposure and weather differences in the different garden locations, and each variety’s planting time requirements. I should have tried some side-by-side same-time planting for a truer comparison. Maybe the scarlet runners will catch up by September.

My point is not that Fred’s generously donated scarlet runners are somehow deficient.  The point is that I haven’t learned how to run valid plant genetics experiments in our garden. This matters because if we don’t learn how to keep our own food plant seeds viable generation after generation, we will remain dependent on an increasingly tenuous seed supply from a shrinking number of reliable seed companies.

We’re not alone in thinking about this issue. The Powell River Farmer’s Institute co-sponsored a 2009 seed-saving venture, which was promoted on Texada by PR farmer Wendy Devlin. Last winter, Wendy visited the Texada Garden Club and handed out seed packets for several types of garden vegetables to anyone interesting in seed-saving. I took 15 Styrian pumpkin seeds provided by a volunteer in the Powell River region, which we have since grown into six rather happy pumpkin plants.  They’re perched on well-fertilized hills containing rotted chicken manure and seaweed, about five feet apart.  Growing like crazy in the mid-July heat! We’ll have Styrian pumpkin seeds to share come October, if all goes well.

But our attempt to grow pumpkins in 2008 utterly failed due to several obvious-in-hindsight errors which could have been avoided by doing more research or having guidance from an expert. Confirmed optimists like myself call that a “learning experience.”  This year we’ll make different mistakes, no doubt. I believe that you can’t truly garden successfully just from reading about it on the Internet or in gardening books; experience counts, especially hard-won experience.

Which brings me to another, somewhat sobering thought in closing.  After several years of gardening, Linda and I are still really novices. We get some pretty good crops every year, but we make lots of mistakes, too. What will happen when the global price of oil takes another sharp turn upwards, making store-bought food a lot more expensive, so that people with even less experience than us must try to grow their own? Yes, we can help each other, but that will amount to novices leading other novices. That, and sustaining vigorous seed genetics, gives us something to ponder as we continue our adventures in seed-saving.

Gone fishing

By David Parkinson

Daisies

It’s almost six months to the day since the first post went up here. Since then, I have published another nineteen posts, acquired a regular collaborator in Tom Read, and published a number of posts by other contributors. I still hope that this blog will find a niche in the local media ecology, and I’m prepared to hang on for the long term and see where this experiment is heading. I’m happy with the way it’s going so far.

I’m always gratified when people let me know that they’re out there reading and (I hope) enjoying what they read here. I welcome more contributions from more people who have something to say about what’s going on in their backyard, neighbourhood, region, country, and on the entire planet. There is enough going on to keep a whole gang of bloggers on the go; we just need to create that gang from whatever materials come to hand.

But for now, like most people around here, I’m going to seize the day and take some downtime. I’ll be busy with various projects through the summer — helping to run the 50-mile eat-local challenge and organizing the Exhibit Hall at the annual Fall Fair among them — and ready to come charging out of the blocks towards the end of the summer. I reserve the right to break my few weeks’ silence if something major happens. Otherwise, you’ll be hearing from me again sometime in August.

¡Hasta luego!

Pork and Chop or Spot and Pinky?

By Tom Read

Spot (obvious) and Pinky take a drink after some serious rooting in the grass.

Spot (obvious) and Pinky take a drink after some serious rooting in the grass.

They’re here! Yes, it is pig time at our homestead. A pair of two-month-old weaners born on a small farm on Vancouver Island arrived here at our place a little over a week ago and settled right down to rooting, snorting, fertilizing and, most of all, eating. This is our first experience raising pigs, so we’ve been getting advice from local veteran pig-raisers, plus doing some reading, naturally.

So far, so good. I’m quite pleased with the effects of rooting. What started as thick, tall grass now looks much like soil that I’ve dug with a shovel, except lumpier. After a bit of raking it should eventually make fine garden beds, no rototiller needed.

We generally do not name our food, so when asked if we’ve named these young pigs we make a joke out of it by saying, “well, we call ‘em Pork and Chop.”  Or maybe “Meat 1” and “Meat 2.”  But the truth is much more personal, at least for me. The surprisingly quick movements, wide range of sounds and aggressive rivalry of these pigs are quite fascinating. I can’t help but feel a familiar fondness for the little porkers. Our friend and chief animal-raising mentor, An, assures me that naming creatures in our care should be considered a normal part of animal husbandry. Perhaps every bit as normal as someday killing and eating them.

But for now I’m starting to think of “Spot” for her spots and “Pinky” for his complexion. I’ll keep you posted on progress with these two, since we intend to enjoy their live company for another four or five months.

Celebrating our successes and recognizing our failures

By David Parkinson

Rain on sunflower petals

Rain on sunflower petals.

Any chance of real global change must start at the ground level by correcting the true sources of the problem and spread virally.
(Jeff Vail)

When Giovanni and I returned from traveling in mid-2006 and started to realize that we needed a bigger change in our lives than just moving from an American city in the Pacific Northwest to its closest Canadian counterpart, we both did a lot of reading and thinking. I started to explore the internet for information about growing food, permaculture, natural building techniques, and other aspects of a more grounded and simpler life. Somehow during that time I stumbled across Dave Pollard’s ironically-titled blog How to Save the World, which continues to inspire and challenge me.

The subject matter of Pollard’s blog wavers between personal and spiritual growth, community development, civilization and its discontents, and the development of a more natural and localized economy — with many digressions and explorations along the way. He is one of the most fearless bloggers I know of; there are not many other people blogging who are as willing to expose their true selves so openly, to take such risks in an atmosphere of easy judgment and anonymous attacks. He talks about what he is thinking about and is not afraid to write very frankly, knowing that many people who read his blog might be put off or mystified or upset by what they find there.

There are so many good posts over there that I could point to, but one that caught my eye recently is closely related to the sort of thing that I have been trying to write about here at Slow Coast: namely, trying to understand where we are as a community, where we are trying to get to (or maybe where we are being led to whether we like it or not), and how to get from here to there. Like many of Pollard’s posts, it makes its point by embedding the information content in an imaginative thought experiment: in this case, as the title of the post suggests (“2110: A Dispatch From the Future”), the post is framed in terms of a reflection from the future back onto the present. Pollard uses poetry, short stories, dialogues, and other artistic devices to talk about very difficult subjects, and this is something that makes his blog a rare and precious thing.

The main point of the post is to set out what some of the measures of success might be for a community living in the post-petroleum era, in this case a hundred years into the future. I think a lot about how we as a society reflect on what we do, and for the most part I think we do a terrible job of it. Our notions of success and failure are so far off the mark at times that they come out looking backwards, and sometimes we would do better to reward what we see as failure and to punish what we see as success. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to develop and apply meaningful standards at all levels of our behaviour, from the individual on up to the society as a whole.

As we get closer to having a regional Sustainability Charter, and as we begin to develop a local Transition movement, it is helpful to look at all the possible metrics for a healthy regional environment, economy, and community. Here are Dave Pollard’s ideas for a vocabulary with which we can talk about what is going well and what is going not so well:

Individuals’ Self-Sufficiency and Well-Being:

  • Attainment and learning of valued personal capacities: is each individual in the community acquiring the capacities s/he thinks are important?
  • Self-knowledge: does each individual understand what drives him/her?
  • Personal health and comfort: is each individual physically and emotionally healthy and content?
  • Freedom from need, stress, and anxiety: is each individual free from unmet needs, stresses (including those caused by conflict, coercion and restriction), and physical and emotional anxieties?
  • Freedom of choice: is each individual free and unconstrained in being able to think, believe, do, and not do, whatever s/he chooses, provided that does not cause unreasonable harm to others?
  • Realization of, and time and space for, personal gifts, passions, and purpose: does each individual appreciate what s/he is uniquely good at doing, enjoys doing, and what is needed in the community that s/he cares about and the exercise of which gives his/her life meaning?
  • Connection with others: does each individual have deep and meaningful relationships with others in the community?

Community’s Self-Sufficiency and Well-Being:

  • Freedom from reliance on other communities for essential products and services: is the community self-sufficient such that if other communities failed, its well-being would not suffer?
  • Quality and sufficiency of our food, clothing, recreation, security and collective capacities: does the community live well and get what it needs, without extravagance or waste?
  • Innovation and diversity: does the community collectively surface, evolve and institute new ideas, and encourage and embrace diverse ideas and ways of being and doing?
  • Egalitarianism and generosity: is the community free from bias, discrimination, inequitable distribution of resources and wealth, and are all members of the community naturally generous and accorded equal consideration, respect and authority?
  • Peace: is the community at peace with and respectful of all life within its territory, and its neighbours’?
  • Self-management: collectively is the community competent at running its affairs and dealing with conflicts and challenges that may arise?
  • Leisure: does the work of the community allow generous time for pursuit of artistic, philosophical, non-essential learning and other leisure activities?

Community’s Sustainability:

  • Freedom from debt: does the community live within its means, never borrowing or taking from the land or others what cannot be immediately repaid or, within one migration cycle, replenished naturally?
  • Permaculture: do all gardens planted by the community consist solely of native or otherwise non-invasive species, and do they reflect permaculture principles of natural succession, variety and viability without the need for artificial fertilization, poisons or irrigation?
  • Freedom from illness: do the community’s practices help to prevent, quickly diagnose and effectively treat physical and emotional illnesses?
  • Simplicity: does the community live lightly on the land, such that no other life forms or future generations are adversely affected by its presence and activities?
  • Zero growth: is the community’s aggregate human population and use of resources substantially unchanged from year to year?
  • Adaptability and balance: does the community collectively know how to cope, and practice coping, with environmental changes and events, and work to stay in balance with all other life that shares the land to which it belongs?

Can you think of anything we should add to these?

Of course, some discussions along these lines are happening already, although some of them take place in dusty out-of-the-way corners of the community. And we are always plagued by the pervasive habit of trying to spin everything in a positive direction, even when we know that things need improvement or drastic change. Too often, if we try to start a frank conversation about the problems we face, we wil be accused of negativity, of not understanding the problem, of not knowing how things are done, of interfering in places that are none of our concern.

One of the real challenges for anyone who wants to change the world — or some little part of it — is to find ways to expose the real situation without turning people off and without being seen simply as a professional complainer. Sometimes it’s not worth sugar-coating your message, and sometimes it is. We need to get better at picking our battles and navigating the tricky waters between being honest and being heard.

Paradox in Paradise, Part II

By Tom Read

A sunset view of Davie Bay that I took at a social event we attended last summer.  This spot served as a log dump until the late 1980s, and still has old logging equipment stranded in the bush nearby.

A sunset view of Davie Bay that I took at a social event we attended last summer. This spot served as a log dump until the late 1980s, and still has old logging equipment stranded in the bush nearby.

Back in September of 2007, when the WestPac LNG proposal had Texada Island in an uproar, I wrote a Journal entry titled “Paradox in Paradise” that began with the following sentence:

Texada Island confronts a fateful paradox facing many rural areas of beautiful British Columbia:  corporate globalism and its allies in provincial and federal government seek to impose large-scale heavy industry upon a natural paradise and a strong local community.

In the paragraphs that followed, I noted that Texada has accommodated heavy industry for more than a century, particularly mining and forestry. Anyone visiting Texada today by ferry sees evidence of this history upon arriving at Blubber Bay, where Blubber Bay Quarry dominates the landscape next to the ferry terminal. As you proceed south, the presence of three working quarries and numerous old quarries and mines attest to Texada’s unmistakable identity as an established mining district.

But that doesn’t mean that Texada is exclusively an “industrial island,” as is often cited. The first thing many visitors notice, once they get beyond the ferry landing, are Texada’s spectacular views of ocean, islands, forests, mountains and distant glaciers. Closer examination reveals an abundance of rare flora and fauna, and a settlement pattern that concentrates most human residents in two villages, leaving lots of room to roam along the many miles of hiking trails and old logging roads. There’s very little old-growth forest or pristine wilderness left on Texada Island, but second-growth forests are beautiful, too. And anywhere you go along the shoreline or the mountaintops, the views are sublime.

Mining and forestry operations proceed mostly unseen and barely heard on Texada, at a scale that could last hundreds of years given current rates of consumption.  More than 75% of our 100-square-mile island is accessible for recreation. My conclusion from that 2007 posting: “Texadans proclaim their home an industrial island with the confidence that industry does not impose too much unpleasantness on daily life, while bestowing above-average local incomes and infrastructure.  Result: a fine balance, so far.”

But nothing stays the same for long in this world, or on Texada Island. The question I’d like to address here is: can an expansion in quarrying, such as proposed by Lehigh for the Davie Bay area, be accommodated on Texada without destroying the natural beauty and high quality of life enjoyed by its residents?  Let me give you a little background before answering that question.

When Linda and I first came to Texada in 1997, we noted the quarry at Blubber Bay with approval, because to us that industrial scene meant the local people likely enjoyed a decent standard of living. We were looking for a new home, so the quality of life in the island’s human community mattered to us. We had seen rural communities where the only outside income came from tourists and government handouts; such places typically lacked public infrastructure and suffered the negative social effects of too much poverty. Conversely, we had also seen rural places overrun by the absentee wealthy, where most homes stood empty much of the year.  What we liked about Texada was its social stability as a largely working-class community, where even most of the retirees were former resource industry workers, not urban professionals. We knew it might be a challenge for urban immigrants with soft hands like us to fit in, but we were pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome we received from almost everyone we met.

Before buying our property here, we studied the Texada Island Official Community Plan (OCP), which had previously been updated in 1987. We noted that the OCP favoured a lifestyle with minimal regulations. There were “land use designations” covering the island but very few restrictive zoning bylaws. The property we eventually bought, designated “Rural Residential,” is only about ¼ mile (1/2 kilometre) from Imperial Quarry, designated “Resource.” So we live a lot closer to a working quarry than most people on Texada, and it’s true that sometimes, if we’re outdoors, we can hear the sound of distant diesel engines, and the occasional warning siren and blast. If the wind is from the west, we might also hear Texada Quarrying trucks and blasts, but always rather faintly. This in no way bothers us, because we knew we were moving to a mining district when we came here, so a bit of background noise now and then was expected. It doesn’t reduce our enjoyment of our land or of Texada one bit to have working quarries in our backyard, so long as they’re not literally on our doorstep.

And that is really the answer, I believe, for the future of industry on Texada. If the proposed Lehigh quarry isn’t in anyone’s face, and if the mining plan has done everything possible to mitigate the inevitable environmental impacts of quarrying (also giving our community something to use to hold the company accountable), and if the proposal is on clear-cut and second-growth forest land designated in our OCP as Rural Low Density having a potential for quarrying, and if our community might receive a donation of land for a park at Davie Bay, then there’s really no compelling reason to oppose it. In a contracting global economy, we ought to be thankful for the additional decent-paying jobs, because we’ve already lost many such jobs on Texada. Bear in mind, also, that Lehigh could decide to back out if the global economy goes through another decline such as we experienced late last year or even if anticipated markets don’t meet expectations before they begin construction of their Texada project.

As for the Lehigh proposal, I attended both Lehigh’s presentation and the Texada Action Now public meeting. I’ve spent some time studying the mining plan and listening to the objections of those of my friends and neighbours who oppose this potential new quarry. After considering the data and different viewpoints, I believe that if the new quarry comes to pass, then life here will carry on pretty much the same, where mostly peaceful co-existence between industry and natural beauty has been the norm for decades.

Related post:  Making big rocks into little rocks

Monks and missionaries

By David Parkinson

Yarrow flowers in a summertime rain shower.

Yarrow flowers in a summertime rain shower.

In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable—which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and and utterly vast spaces between us.
(Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, p. 197)

A number of things I’ve read recently have made me focus more than is usual on how public discourse works — and more frequently doesn’t work — to open a space for honest conversation about where we are, how we got here, and what choices lie ahead of us. The latest epicentre of this is a fascinating conversation between Sharon Astyk and Rob Hopkins, with — the internet being what it is, a big sprawling free-for-all where everyone’s contribution is welcome and recorded for posterity — plenty of contributions and comments from kibitzers. The whole thing got started when Astyk posted a two-part post about permaculture, the Transition movement, and some of her concerns about the aspects of these two social movements which make them unlikely to connect with the mainstream population (part one here; part two here). Hopkins replied with a very civil post, and as of this writing there have been 72 comments to Hopkins’ reply. My guess is this conversation will reverberate around one tiny corner of the blogosphere for a little while, since it touches on some pretty important themes.

I won’t got through the whole she-said and he-said of it all. Anyone interested in Transition or permaculture, and particularly in the task of bringing these promising but (let’s face it) fringe movements more into the public sphere, should read the three posts. Many of the comments are also worth looking at, if only to give a lively sense of what some of the people are thinking who concern themselves with resource depletion, climate change, generalized economic uncertainty, and the real possibility of social decline or collapse (slow or not-so-slow).

The conversation between Astyk and Hopkins and the wider one among the members of the peak oil community has many threads, but the one I want to pull out here is: how can we be most effective at communicating the need to change, and how can we start making the change happen? (Or do we even bother?)

Viewed from one angle, the conversation boils down to a debate between two camps:

  • one which feels that collapse is so imminent, will be so drastic, and the general public will be so slow to adapt to changing circumstances, that the most effective response is to retreat and work on solutions for rescuing one’s own self or family;
  • one which believes either that the prognosis is not so dire, or that it is dire but that the most effective response is to engage the whole community.

Members of the first camp are sometimes referred to as ‘doomers’ or ‘survivalists’. (Some refer to themselves this way, so it is not a completely pejorative label.) There seems to be no agreed-on name for members of the second camp, but this is where Sharon Astyk, Rob Hopkins, and most if not all people in the Transition movement are to be found. Transition is very explicitly devoted to the idea that the resource scarcities and the economic upheaval which are expected to come with the end of cheap oil call for a coordinated response involving all parts of the community, from individuals up through families, neighbourhoods, organizations, businesses, on up to local governments (and maybe further). And it is devoted to the idea that this can work, even in the face of public ignorance, denial, or indecision.

A very important conversation lies in the tension between these two poles and in the subtle shadings of belief that lie in between them. Once we accept that peak oil is real, once we take climate change seriously, once we start to connect the dots and see how our actions contribute to the problems and can instead contribute to solutions, then we start to think about what action we can best take. And the two poles can be seen as corresponding to two strains in religious engagement with the larger community; hence the title of this post. Simplifying considerably, monks seek the salvation of the world through retreat and strict observance of religious dictates, and missionaries seek to save the world by direct and forceful recruitment of the whole community.

I see this dichotomy over and over in discussions of permaculture, Transition, and in many other little pockets of countercultural discussion on the internet and in the real world: one side wants to save themselves, pull the ladder up after them, and let the world go to hell. The other side wants to save everything, be fully inclusive, and let none be saved if all be not saved. And like all arguments which are based on very personal and primal views of human nature, there is really no resolution. Much heat, little light.

And it might sound academic, but much depends on having a clear understanding of what is at stake. Some prominent thinkers in the peak oil community believe that a social and economic collapse could happen quickly. If that turns out to be the case, what is the best course of action?

  • Do we retreat to small-scale action at the individual or neighbourhood level and take resources away from public education and recruitment? This might result in tangible solutions in a short period of time, but at the cost of a rip in the social fabric, with some people in the vanguard and others left behind. The risk is that this will worsen existing social unrest and create conflict within the community, endangering any progress made and (in the worst case) leading to survivalist enclaves and so on.
  • Or do we put our resources towards engagement in the community, the laborious process of dialogue, discussion, and consensus, before we feel we can head in any one direction? This might unite the community (accent on might), but at the cost of losing precious time when those who are ready to act are able to act. The worst case is that we spend our days and nights in conversation while the world falls apart around us.

Right about now, if you’re thinking that I shouldn’t even be talking in this way, then you’re experiencing another one of the roadblocks in our way. These are difficult and painful subjects to contemplate. We have made it difficult — socially unacceptable — to talk openly about the crises we face. To do so is to be a downer, to be the ghost at the wedding, the first grey hair that whispers of mortality.

If Transition is going to work, then we need to break through this conspiracy of silence. It’s daunting to think about making headway against such entrenched social norms. As far as I can see, most people out there are blissfully unaware of the seriousness of our situation. Who wants to be the bearer of bad news? When I consider what we’re up against with the local Transition effort — when I consider that a post of mine in praise of bicycles is interpreted as an attempt to make car-owners feel guilty — when I contemplate the degree and all-pervasiveness of denial and willed ignorance that we have made the hallmark of advanced industrial civilization — I can see the appeal of the monk’s position.

And yet that doesn’t sit right. I welcome the opportunity for us to change the equation, to see if we can’t creatively and compassionately open up a space in the region for a genuine and honest discussion of what is really happening. Too often we defer to those among us who are the least able to handle difficult or unhappy thoughts, but I suspect that we are coming into a strange new time when this deference will no longer be in our interest, and that we will acknowledge this to be the case. We may find ourselves having to deal with some tough realities, and no one’s interests are well served by pussyfooting around the truth and pulling punches.

It won’t be easy to change the public discourse. Next to that, the prospect of ensuring an adequate local supply of food, water, affordable housing, meaningful jobs, etc. in an age of declining fossil fuels looks like a walk in the park.


Post facto

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