In case you hadn’t heard the times, they are a changing. I just reread a piece I had written a few weeks ago at the beginning of the Economic Turmoil. Since then I, like all of us, have spent a lot of time talking to my co workers and neighbors about it. Those groups run the gamut from sound advice (don’t sell now!) to indifference to emotional reactions of rage and frustration. Very few people are doing anything other than a few tightening up their belts. I contrast that with what happens when I talk to my sustainability minded friends. They still have the rage -actually alot more- but dammit many of us are getting busy. And we really don’t even realize it.
First clue was last week at my first Community Supported Energy (CSE) meeting. We’ve talked about this for a year now, and the simple act of calling it can be attributed to recent events, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I had expected 4 people and I got over 15, many of whom I didn’t know until then but had heard about it through friends -and these people are motivated and energetic. We reach consensus quickly and volunteers for action items are easy to find -very, very different than 3 months ago. The next clue was when I kept bumping into my farmer friend on odd corners of his land -we were tilling under fallow land and sowing cover crop like mad. Then a day later I started getting calls to hire my tractor to help other friends till more land under. Granted, my eco-peer group are a bunch of doers; 501C3’s and CSA’s don’t start themselves. But we are doing ALOT these days. Certainly there is some psychological coping mechanisms going on here -we feel helpless and are trying to just do something. But I also think it is more than that.
We have spent the last 2 years in educating mode – getting the word out, holding study groups on The Natural Step, going to Village Meetings, and holding talks at conventions and rallies. Our group has put over 250 people through the study groups, and as we “train the trainers” we have contributed to another 500-750 more going through Natural Step training in SE Wisconsin. Our little group has seeded much larger areas like the Greater Milwaukee Area with Big Ideas. At MREA we talked to thousands and are still getting call backs, and have held breakouts at several other events. We have made real progress in Being The Change. But in the past month, I have heard less of us talking about educating – we have made a steady, inexorable change to spend our time doing.
Without even discussing it, my farming mentor and I had decided to double our tilled land -even if we don’t plant it this year we had both decided to get it under cover crop to start stunting the perennial weeds. We both have the strong suspicion that we may need those extra acres. The CSE project went from esoteric musings to talks about business plans and zoning in less than 2 weeks as the DOW tanked and Iceland neared bankruptcy. Talks of community sized root cellars began to happen as did shared conversations of harvestable stands of timber in our collective’s property. As Paulson was talking bailout, we had begun thinking in terms of “lifeboats” and directing resources accordingly.
“Lifeboat” is a great term to describe what we are doing. Our guts are telling us the “ship” is sinking – we spent the last two years bailing and trying to patch the hull by building grassroots support and spreading skills in Systems Thinking like Permaculture and The Natural Step and the Earth Victory Garden. Now we are shifting resources to swinging the boats over to the side in case we need ot cut loose when the ship falters. We are actively building infrastructure to keep us afloat: Roots Cellars, Energy Production Systems, tillable acres of living soils, harvestable timber plots to be managed, partnerships with grain farmers to work in oilseed crops in their rotations. We put in for our first grant today from Google. For $2,000,000. That much would let us build a CSE in every county in Southern WI and run them for 3 years. Crazy -damn straight! But ideas that make alot less sense than this have gotten more money.
If the ship stays afloat, even if only to falter to shore, all the time we put into our lifeboats will not be wasted. Root Cellars for year round eating of locally produced food, producing hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel from local waste products while producing dozens of tons of fish protien make sense no matter what size boat you’re on. The Funnel is still closing, we are still using resources faster than they can be replenished – even if we stop the Economic Leg of the Sustainability Stool from wobbling, the other two need some serious help.
I guess psychologically I am still in a twilight phase right now -but am hopeful enough still that it is dawn and not dusk. Or maybe I am somewhere between Billy Oceans “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and Margaret Mead’s “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” with a healthy dose of Emersonian “Self Reliance” thrown in for good measure. Americans are fantastic about rising to a challenge, we just need help seeing the challenge. This time I just hope it doesn’t take Pearl Harbor.
Be the Change.