A merry dance of Catholic social doctrine, permaculture, distributism, and other odd answers to pressing questions

Relocalization in Tompkins County, NY

2008 Jan 12, 20:21 Sat tags:

Surely you've heard of peak oil. In the next couple of years (or maybe yesterday), we will peak in our global production of oil. Oil will get more and more expensive as it it becomes more and more apparent that there's less and less left. It doesn't take much imagination to see how gas at 30 bucks a gallon might make life tricky.

What does take imagination is figuring out what to do about it. In America, the average meal travels between 1500 and 2500 miles from the ground to your plate. Even if the trucks ran on solar power, this would be kinda weird, but the mainstream, well-funded proposals all involve thinking up new ways to keep doing this, using ethanol, electricity, even hydrogen. Maybe they'll figure out a replacement for cheap oil. If not, it's going to be a long walk to dinner.

There's another solution: relocalization. If gas is going to cost so much, why not just grow most of our food in our own county? That's county, not country. If it's going to be prohibitively expensive to ship refrigerators from China, why not make them here again? Every county has a history of local farms, but many also used to brew their own beer, build their own boats, and even make their own appliances. (It's time to end the silence on the old microfridgeries.)

No one should pretend that when the oil starts running out, we're going to have as much stuff, as cheap as we've had it. Ain't going to happen. But if we start planning now, we might just have better stuff. We might even have more fun. And we might not starve.

Interested? Check out the Tompkins County Relocalization Project Outline, a lengthy but quite readable and detailed introduction to the real problems and possible solutions facing us. When you read this, you think, Why isn't everyone talking about this stuff? Why indeed.

And you don't have to move to Tompkins County either. Not only are there other relocalization groups, there's even a web site trying to collect them all. There might already be one near you.

The proximity of the crisis of peak oil is still barely controversial enough to question. But since oil doesn't seem to be infinite, the crisis has to come sometime, and if we wait too long, we won't have enough cheap energy left to switch to better systems. More importantly, no one can deny the ridiculous fragility and waste of our current supply lines. Relocalization makes sense for all kinds of reasons.

Despite the stark possibilities at stake (did I mention starvation?) this stuff is, at bottom, exciting. Instead of focusing on low prices that could soon skyrocket, you start to look at what's actually right here, in your own county. Not so very long ago, people in your county did all kinds of different things to survive and flourish. What treasures and powers lie dormant all around you? What would it be to use them again?

"Don't you say a word against the 'Swiss Family Robinson,'" cried Innocent with great warmth. "It mayn't be exact science, but it's dead accurate philosophy. When you're really shipwrecked, you do really find what you want. When you're really on a desert island, you never find it a desert. If we were really besieged in this garden, we'd find a hundred English birds and English berries that we never knew were here. If we were snowed up in this room, we'd be the better for reading scores of books in that bookcase that we don't even know are there; we'd have talks with each other, good, terrible talks, that we shall go to the grave without guessing; we'd find materials for everything— christening, marriage, or funeral; yes, even for a coronation— if we didn't decide to be a republic."

"A coronation on 'Swiss Family' lines, I suppose," said Michael, laughing. "Oh, I know you would find everything in that atmosphere. If we wanted such a simple thing, for instance, as a Coronation Canopy, we should walk down beyond the geraniums and find the Canopy Tree in full bloom. If we wanted such a trifle as a crown of gold, why, we should be digging up dandelions, and we should find a gold mine under the lawn. And when we wanted oil for the ceremony, why I suppose a great storm would wash everything on shore, and we should find there was a Whale on the premises."

"And so there IS a whale on the premises for all you know," asseverated Smith, striking the table with passion. "I bet you've never examined the premises! I bet you've never been round at the back as I was this morning— for I found the very thing you say could only grow on a tree. There's an old sort of square tent up against the dustbin; it's got three holes in the canvas, and a pole's broken, so it's not much good as a tent, but as a Canopy—" And his voice quite failed him to express its shining adequacy; then he went on with controversial eagerness: "You see I take every challenge as you make it. I believe every blessed thing you say couldn't be here has been here all the time. You say you want a whale washed up for oil. Why, there's oil in that cruet-stand at your elbow; and I don't believe anybody has touched it or thought of it for years. And as for your gold crown, we're none of us wealthy here, but we could collect enough ten-shilling bits from our own pockets to string round a man's head for half an hour; or one of Miss Hunt's gold bangles is nearly big enough to—"

The good-humoured Rosamund was almost choking with laughter. "All is not gold that glitters," she said, "and besides—"

"What a mistake that is!" cried Innocent Smith, leaping up in great excitement. "All is gold that glitters— especially now we are a Sovereign State. What's the good of a Sovereign State if you can't define a sovereign? We can make anything a precious metal, as men could in the morning of the world. They didn't choose gold because it was rare; your scientists can tell you twenty sorts of slime much rarer. They chose gold because it was bright—because it was a hard thing to find, but pretty when you've found it. You can't fight with golden swords or eat golden biscuits; you can only look at it—and you can look at it out here."

With one of his incalculable motions he sprang back and burst open the doors into the garden.

G. K. Chesterton, Manalive.


The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of microfridgeries...

Rob Drapeau

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