For anyone who pays attention to even the mainstream news these days, it is becoming painfully clear that our planet’s ability to sustain us, and provide the ecosystem services that we rely on, is becoming severely compromised. From the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, to the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s new initiative, to our own National Climate Assessment, there is little good news on the future prospects of this planet to sustain life as we know it for our children. The smartest people on the planet are sounding the alarm loud and clear and yet it falls mostly on deaf ears, especially in our own country, which leads the industrial world in greenhouse gas emissions per capita.
Challenges of a Changing World
In addition to the challenges of climate change, we face the rapid depletion of easily extracted fossil fuels, agricultural soils, major aquifers, rare earth metals, mined fertilizers and other important resources on which we have built our economic system. Sometimes it can be hard to fathom our collective inaction to radically change our economy to fit within the ecological footprint of the planet, if that is even possible at this stage of the game.
While the feasibility of supporting 9 billion souls on this planet by 2050 is grounds for endless debate, if we care about our children, and theirs, we have no option but to roll up our sleeves and try. Many possible solutions have been identified, but all are far from being deployed at the necessary speed and scale to avert a crisis.
The European Union’s shift to distributed, clean, renewable energy using smart grid technology, EVs, and hydrogen storage is overwhelmed by the burning of coal in developing nations, all hungry for modern convenience, and the staggering lack of climate action in the US.
The Rodale Institute, the carbon farming movement, agro-ecologists, and permaculturists increasingly demonstrate the ability of organic no-till, intensive rotational grazing, perennial polycultures and other low-input systems to rival or exceed conventional agricultural yields, while sequestering carbon, regenerating worn out soil, and most importantly, providing higher quality nutrition. Yet our industrial food system is mired in a genetically modified, chemical and petroleum cesspool that poisons our air and water (and us), while depleting precious soil and other resources at an alarming pace.
While some places like Portland, Oregon are experiencing a revolution in bicycling and public transport, our overall transportation system favors the gas-guzzling automobile, leaving people afraid to ride or walk the few miles to school, work, or the market that compromise most car trips. Public transport is non-existent in most rural and suburban areas, forcing the working poor into poverty just to own and operate a car.
Advances in efficient shelter continue to develop, from eco-friendly, cob, straw bale and earthship homes, to hyper-efficient Passive House, LEED certified, and other high-tech systems. Yet our existing housing stock is oversized, inefficient, and economically out of reach for many, while zoning and other regulations often prohibit tiny houses, clustered development, and other solutions to the housing crisis.
An Ecology-Based Economy
If I sound frustrated, I guess it’s because I am. When solutions to pressing problems are being developed, yet not implemented, while vested interests fight to squeeze every bit of profit from the status quo, and so many of us are just too busy keeping our heads above water to think about it, or just plain fear change, it makes you want to drop what you’re doing and take action.
Of course this is almost never easy, and even knowing what action to take if it was, is a daunting prospect. And of course there are multitudes of worthy paths, each unique to the person treading it. But act we must. For my part I have joined with many others in my community to work toward building resilience to the unavoidable consequences of our collective actions, while trying to do our part to restore the earth’s ecosystem for those to come. We call our effort the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy, using the word economy to mean both our system of trade and the act of being economical.
We’ve started with some demonstration projects in four areas that we call perennial needs: Food, Shelter, Energy, and Transport. We are also concentrating on building awareness of the challenges and opportunities that face our community, and really all communities in one form or another, as we confront an uncertain circumstance. I hope to explore these issues on these pages in the months ahead, share our journey, and create a dialog so that your communities might benefit from our experience, and we from yours. It will only be through our collective knowledge, ingenuity and perseverance that we will all move toward a future of hope and abundance on this amazing blue planet.