As Margaret Mead famously said,
- Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
The potluck didn’t happen due to the weather…a bit ironic to have a “transition” potluck cancelled because of extreme weather, eh?
This coming Monday, December 13, there will be a gathering of thoughtful, committed citizens, and you, dear reader, are invited. The event will be a potluck dinner, so bring a dish or drink that is, or could be, grown or raised here in middle Tennessee. Please note: while I am a vegetarian, this is not necessarily a “vegetarian” event. Cheese, eggs, turkey, beef, venison–if it’s your thing and it’s at least theoretically local, bring it. Sorry, no pineapples, avocados, or tuna casseroles! Catfish? Of course! Me, I’m bringing a bean dish. I’ve seen truckloads of Tennessee-grown beans, and I ain’t just talking soy.
The dinner will take place from 6:30 pm until 9:00 pm at West Nashville United Methodist Church (4710 Charlotte Avenue), at the corner of 48th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue. Parking is across the street in front of Richland Library. Enter the Fellowship Hall next to McDonalds. (McDonald’s! Oh, the irony!)
Nashville is a big city, and I think that ultimately it will take a great many neighborhood transition councils to really change the way we do things around here, but I’m not gonna hold my breath waiting for a mass movement. I’m just gonna do my best to get something started, and trust that we will inspire people who are more talented at community organizing and politicking than I am–and, believe me, that’s not a high bar to set–to take this idea and run with it.
As far as I can tell, one of my gifts, such as it is, seems to be an ability to grasp and communicate the big picture–so what follows is the big picture, past and future, of the transition movement. To the extent that I can translate that into specific examples, I’ll give you those as well.
It was twenty years ago today, you could say, that Tennessee’s two prize Alberts, Bates and Gore, first struck up the band on the subject of human-caused climate change and imminent resource depletion. Bates’ book, Climate in Crisis, published in 1990 with a forward by Gore, attracted notice mostly in the counterculture, although Gore did give a copy of it to every member of Congress. (It would be interesting to know how many actually read it!) Gore’s book, Earth in the Balance, which came out a couple of years later, became the first book by a US Senator since John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage to make the New York York Times Bestseller list.
Unfortunately, Gore’s early effort, like his follow-up, An Inconvenient Truth, failed to inspire a working majority of either the politicians or the people of America to get up and dance to his tune. The reasons for that are legion, but the bottom line is this: due to our collective failure to sufficiently change our ways, we are beginning to feel the effects of climate change, not to mention resource depletion, AKA “Peak Oil,”and for the rest of our lives, we will have to deal with an increasingly erratic but overall warmer climate, while at the same time the financial and material options available to us to cope with this change will narrow and diminish. Climate scientists have published reams of statistics and “big picture” predictions. What I am going to explore here is what that may mean for our daily lives.
Let’s start in the garden. It’s a good place to start, because we’re probably all going to be spending a lot more time there in the future. Our winters are overall going to be milder, but with the ice off the Arctic Ocean, there will be an increased possibility of heavy snow and extreme cold waves. At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive that a warmer Arctic will make our winters colder, but here’s the reason: open water evaporates more readily than ice, and so, if the Arctic Ocean isn’t frozen, it will generate stronger storms that will push further south and east. We’re seeing that now in the cold weather that is striking here, as well as northern Europe. Last summer, we were all hot and dry. Russia’s wheat crop burned in the fields, remember? First time ever.
Here in Tennessee, we are on the boundary between the “polar continental” climate region, where weather is driven by that Arctic pattern I was just talking about, and the Gulf region, where the weather is sub-tropical, generated by evaporation from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, Pacific,and the South Atlantic Oceans. As the planet heats up, they, too, are evaporating more, and all the water that goes up, comes down, in the form of tropical storms and hurricanes. Being on this boundary makes our weather in Tennessee especially difficult to predict, according to a NOAA meteorologist I once met.
This much is for certain: we can expect our summers to be hotter, with more erratic rainfall, and our winters, too, will be milder, but with more erratic cold snaps, like the one we’re currently riding out. Hotter summers may shut down some traditional summer garden crops like tomatoes and peppers, which won’t set fruit if it’s too hot. We may find ourselves planting these as spring and fall crops. More tropical species like okra, black eyed peas, and sweet potatoes should continue to thrive. Did you know that sweet potato leaves can be cooked and eaten? Overall warmer winters will make it easier to keep cool weather crops like spinach, kale, collards, and the many delicious types of oriental greens through the winter, especially with the aid of simple cold frames and hoop houses.
Our fruit tree menu may have to change somewhat. We are already near the southern boundary for successful apple growing, but pears, especially the oriental types, should continue to do well in Tennessee. Peaches, which bloom early, are likely to be even more chancy as our later winter/early spring weather becomes more erratic. Late freezes could be a problem for all perennial fruit crops. On the plus side, rabbiteye blueberries, which are native to north Florida, should continue to thrive, and if winter temperatures start to consistently stay above the 10 degree Fahrenheit mark, we will be able to add local figs, oriental persimmons, jujubes, and pomegranates to our diet. Yum!
More erratic weather patterns will not just be a hardship for local gardeners, however. As we saw in Russia and Pakistan last summer, entire countries may see their agriculture burned out or washed away. Here in America, we have not yet begun to feel the strain of food shortage, but I think that home gardeners would be wise to expand their production from “just” vegetables to staple crops—lots of winter squash, white and sweet potatoes, beans, and even grains. Field corn is fairly easy to grow, harvest, and grind. Diversifying your gardening efforts is probably the best way to insure that, whatever the weather, your garden will provide you with something to eat.
OK, that’s kind of “the good news.” Let’s factor in a couple of other likelihoods: a much-diminished economy, and increasing scarcity of oil-related products, which includes everything from gasoline to electronic devices to plastics and pharmaceuticals.
Our economy in this country is largely funded by money we borrow from China and the oil Sheikdoms of the Middle East. They loan us money so we can keep buying oil and manufactured goods from them, but they are growing increasingly uncomfortable with this arrangement, and we may wake up one morning to find they have decided to quit financing the American way of life and world domination. As I commented last month, even mainstream, middle-of-the road politicians like our Governor, Phil Bredesen, recognize this, although Bredesen and his interviewer didn’t explore its full significance. Here’s my short take on it:
It all revolves around one simple statistic. We Americans, about 5% of the world’s population, consume about 25% of the world’s resources. That’s five times our fair share, and we are buying it on credit. When we can no longer get that credit, the result will be an “adjustment”–a more equitable distribution of resources. To be blunt,we will probably be (barely!) able to afford only our 5% fair share of the world’s resources.That’s an 80% reduction in the average American standard of living. If those to whom we owe money push hard to collect on our debts to them and take possession of chunks of our infrastructure, real estate, and remaining resources in lieu of cash payment, we will have even less. For the wealthy few, it will not be so onerous, but for most of us it will be pretty severe, albeit hard to imagine from this side of the “adjustment.”
“The American Way of Life” will be over. It has been sacrosanct, declared non-negotiable by every President since Ronald Reagan booted Jimmy Carter out for the cardinal sin of proposing to negotiate it. (“The moral equivalent of war,” as Mr. Carter said.) Oops….We have all but lost the war to maintain American hegemony. It’s too late for negotiation, and it turns out the only alternative is unconditional surrender.
“Welcome to the third world, America!”
Ah, hubris…..must be time for a music break.
music: Steve Earle, “Ashes to Ashes”
Okay, enough with the current situation already. Looking in my crystal ball, what kind of future do I see?
I see that we are going to have to learn to get along better with each other, because we are likely to be living in larger groups and tighter quarters. With less income and higher costs to heat and light houses, people will increasingly move in with friends and family because their only other option is homelessness. As Robert Frost wrote,
Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
We will have to re-learn co-operation, and not just to grow our gardens and feed our faces. We will need to co-operate to create or obtain the goods we need for our every-day lives, because we won’t be able to buy Chinese goods from big-box stores any more. We will need to co-operate to educate our children and each other–because a whole lot of us are going to have to learn a broad spectrum of new/old skills, the house-holding and homesteading skills we lost when our cultural norm became going out and working for money and buying things instead of staying home and making do. And we will need to co-operate to take care of the ill and elderly, because hospitals and “assisted living,” along with most other medical care, will be out of reach of all but the very wealthy.
The good news is, more of us will be born at home, and more of us will die at home, and more of us will attain the maturity that comes from familiarity with birth and death. The bad news is, more of us will die earlier, from conditions that, currently, are rarely fatal.
We’re not going to have–and indeed, are already in the process of losing–universal access to private cars and the fuel, whether gasoline or electricity, to run them. Cities and states will increasingly lose the ability to maintain public transportation, highways, sewers, water and gas lines, and police forces. Warm weather and drought may curtail power plant operations–both nuclear and conventional electric generating stations require plenty of cool water to operate, and if they can’t get it, your electric stove, your air conditioner, your lights, and your computer will become increasingly unreliable. My lights, computer, and electric stove and water heater won’t work either. This troubles my sleep.
As I write these words, our government is watering down the value of our currency. They call it “quantitative easing.” This is just one of the things that is alienating the countries we borrow money from. If the U.S.’s credit rating and currency value drop much further, other countries will be able to outbid us for oil. If our economy loses access to the level of oil we are dependent on, America will come undone so fast it will take your breath away. Walking and bicycling will be increasingly important modes of transportation, but, to paraphrase Gary Snyder, the most appropriate thing for most of us will be staying home as much as possible, making do with what’s at hand and enjoying the company of our house-mates and neighbors.
Have some more blueberries!
Boy, that neighbor kid sure can play the guitar! He’s right proud of that guitar of his–weeded the woodworker’s garden all summer to pay it off.
First step in staying warm next winter–sharpen up the ax and the crosscut saw.
I’m gonna take this bundle of rags to the paper maker. Sure am glad we’ve got a neighborhood mule to tote ‘em for us.
Internet? Telephones? The U.S. mail? I remember when we used to have those! Man, we was living high on the hog in those days!
A pound of sugar? Wow, how’d you come up with that?
I hope I haven’t scared you half to death with this little rant, but it should be nothing new to my regular listeners and readers. “Transition” people are, understandably, a bit skittish about disclosing what it is we are transitioning into. It was Chellis Glendinning who wrote about needing a twelve-step program to break peoples’ addiction to consumer culture. One of the basic maxims of the twelve-step approach is “one day at a time,” and in this essay I have perhaps violated that precept.
Some may question what this kind of “doomerism” has to do with politics in general or the Green Party in specific. Here’s my response:
The Republicans and Democrats are completely unwilling to face these issues. Somebody’s got to point out that not just the Emperor, but the Empire, has no clothes, and that dirty but necessary job has fallen by default to the Green Party. Although we are still pretty much locked out of national or even state politics, we are slowly increasing our influence at the local level, which is where a great deal of what actually needs to happen to facilitate transition gets decided.
But you don’t have to sign up for the Green Party to join the Transition movement, which, among other things, involves a transition out of politics as we have always known it–along with the rest of the familiar, if deeply alienated, reality that we have become, however comfortably or uncomfortably, accustomed to.
One day at a time. Today, all you “thoughtful, committed citizens” who can make it are invited to a potluck dinner. That potluck dinner is Monday, December 13, at West Nashville United Methodist Church (4710 Charlotte Avenue), at the corner of 48th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue. Parking is across the street in front of Richland Library. Enter the Fellowship Hall next to McDonalds. (Mc Donald’s–remember them? They used to be everywhere.)
If you can’t make our potluck, maybe you can get together with your friends and neighbors and start your own ball rolling. That would be great. It’s gonna take a lot of balls to pull off a smooth transition. (Ladies, please don’t let my little joke put you off!) There’s a lot of insight, skill, and vision in this city, and sharing them only increases their power. It’s been twenty years since Al and Albert first raised a warning.. It’s time to let it grow.
music: The Beatles, “Sgt.Pepper>A Little Help From My Friends”