Friday, April 4, 2008

Practical Steps Toward Relocalization: Part Three of a Three Part Series

Among the initial steps toward relocalization is agreeing to the necessity, and desiring the benefits, of this process. Hopefully, it's become clear from the first two installments of this series that reconnection and relocalization go hand-in-hand, and that they provide a blueprint to remedy what's wrong in the world today.

Relocalization provides the concepts and process for making positive changes -- but what about the power? We only lose the power to make new choices if we willingly give up that power or believe the assertion that we don't have it in the first place.

It's also important to realize that the shift to a sustainable future through relocalization can start first thing tomorrow morning. There is absolutely no need to wait for a new technology to become invented or widely available. We don't have to wait ten generations for our consciousness to evolve to a higher plane. All we have to do is remember that whatever we call the wise, nurturing power that created sustainable ecosystems, created us as well. We embody that wisdom and power. It is lying there dormant, just waiting (crying out, even) for us to tap into it.

It's now clear that we will be dealing with catastrophic climate destabilization at the same time Peak Oil impacts our lives. What does this mean for future energy demands? How will this effect the entire concept of industrial production as the means to prosperity? What are the implications for a cultural identity dependent on economic and material growth? Environmental degradation and resource depletion in dozens of other areas also make it clear that even without global warming and Peak Oil, things must drastically change if we're to have any hope of creating a sustainable future.

Things are starting to fall apart at an accelerating pace. But instead of panicking or giving up, let's take a deep breath and look at reality. The fact is, a major part of what's falling apart is a growth economy which isn't real in the first place -- although it worsens other global crises like Peak Oil and global warming. We can produce what is actually needed to live sustainably with current renewable energy technologies and a dramatic reduction in production capacity. We possess the knowledge to produce efficient, high-quality, lasting goods. What is quickly being lost are the skills -- the craftsmanship -- to do so.

Even if everything we think we know about Peak Oil and global warming turns out to be false, if we start changing the way we do business and re-order our relationships to be in harmony with the natural world, the worst outcome is that we'd leave a healthier and more vibrant world for our children.

As mentioned last month, relocalization has some broad agendas. One of these is to empower and prioritize local decisions on land use and natural resource management based on a regional framework of sustainability. We can rebuild groups of neighborhoods to be friendlier to people and the environment than to cars, and reallocate the money now going to more and wider roads (and other sprawl enablers) to meet peoples' needs for right livelihood, community security, and ecological integrity.

Further, we can rely on local investment where returns are measured in increased quality of life instead of merely profits, and wake up to the fact that growth increases everyone's tax burden -- and beyond a certain point actually decreases quality of life indicators.

We can begin this exercise in rethinking community and economic development by connecting some dots and seeing what picture emerges with just the above two aspects of relocalization.

A relocalized, human-friendly desert community that must reduce sprawl will increase the use of bicycles, other human powered and public transportation, water harvesting, greywater systems, and solar energy. These will synergistically work with the need to quit drawing down and begin recharging the aquifer, and to minimize the energy expended to obtain, deliver and recycle water.

Our community can manufacture waterless composting toilets, bicycle frames and trailers, and water cistern systems. This will involve building a manufacturing base requiring skilled jobs in design, production, and installation. We'll need new skills in urban planning, public works and community health; renovation and redesign of the built environment using environmentally friendly products; and research and application advances in clean production and zero waste techniques.

The waterless composting toilet itself 1) provides ancillary jobs in retrofitting existing infrastructure and solar power installations for the toilet fan and heating element; 2) encourages complimentary production of passive solar devices and other cooling, heating, and energy efficiency improvements; 3) decreases wear and tear on public water and sewer systems; and 4) provides finished compost for neighborhood and community gardens to rebuild soil -- since soil is what actually feeds you. Just this one change provides many opportunities for education, training, and employment in numerous and diverse green collar jobs.

As we shift toward a relocalized economy, we will come to realize that meaningful work doesn't require 40-50 hour work weeks. Human ingenuity and existing technology means that no one must work more than 15-20 hours per week (which could be six months of 40 hour weeks). This would allow technology to deliver on one of its promises -- increased leisure time. Instead of time spent exhausted in front of the television, this can become quality leisure time spent being in community, furthering education, engaging in creative pursuits, and reconnecting with the natural world -- inherently sustainable desires expressed by the majority of people once basic needs are met.

Protecting the poor and middle classes from increasing energy and commodity costs and the effects of global warming begins by creating the process to ensure these basic human needs. This necessarily includes the desire to be a responsibly contributing member of one's community. This can be accomplished without increasing energy demand, or increasing industrial productivity and efficiency (widgets produced per unit of time) as the only true measure of prosperity and progress. The only downside to any of this is that if done sustainably, it doesn't protect a growth economy, and helps clarify why reliance on infinite growth is more accurately described as economic cannibalism.

This fits in with a vision of relocalized, sustainable, environmentally integrated cities that are self-reliant, resilient, and vibrant. It is part of the path toward cities that contain greenbelts among and between neighborhoods, smaller and fewer roads built with permeable surfaces, public transit between neighborhoods and regional centers, electric vehicle co-ops, locally produced food, decentralized renewable energy, sustainable (clean, zero waste) manufacturing, fewer work hours, and full employment. This all leads to people wanting to responsibly contribute to their communities because doing so increases their opportunities to maximize their potential. Social stress and alienation decrease because people know they have something to look forward to -- purpose and meaning returns to daily life.

A future built on the principles of ecological wisdom and social justice may sound utopian, but utopia means "no place." What I'm envisioning by using relocalization as the process to become sustainable is a realistic, pragmatic whole systems view that works the same way nature does. Instead of enriching a small minority at the ultimate expense of all other life, it is more in keeping with true human nature and better able to meet people's needs and desires instead of constraining, limiting, and creating addictive substitutes for them.

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