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Articles in "The Road to Resilience"

It’s Christmas time and, once again, we are being encouraged to mindlessly spend our way out of the recession. Some of us experience anxiety trying to come up with meaningful gifts for a dozen or more people in just a month.

No doubt, you have noticed a bit of conflict here recently. Whether it is over a performance hall, sports fields, rumble strips, the community council, the K2 plant or you name it, we have our plate full. 

Although Hurricane Sandy has given us ample empirical evidence that something extraordinary is happening to the weather, scientists have been reluctant to attribute causation to climate change.

Every so often, I need to explain what exactly we mean by transition and why we are urging you to help bring it about in our community.

I would like to thank Emily MacCrae for the wonderful lead in sentence last issue. It referred to air, water, and soil as the "holy trinity of life." Having talked some about soil as a prelude to The Symphony Of Soil that was shown here recently, I’d like to talk about water.

Soil is the least appreciated aspect of the holy trinity of life on this planet. In fact, soil suffers abuse as well because, unlike air and water, its value to us is not readily apparent. First there’s our common name for it. Dirt is supposed to be on the ground, and when it shows up anywhere else, that place or object is said to be "dirty" and unacceptable until it has been "cleaned". Most of us also know that dirt is a medium in which things grow and that it is made of sand, clay and some black stuff. Dirt holds water and the nutrients we put in it around the roots and supports a plant so it can grow toward the sun. Many of us think that dirt could be replaced by just about anything that has the same general physical characteristics, as hydroponics has shown. 

In past articles, I’ve always stressed the importance of being resourceful. That means being actively and creatively involved in arriving at solutions for all the problems and situations that arise in your personal world. It requires a lot of curiosity about how things work, knowing how to use tools to fabricate things, how to think "outside the box". Buying just the right thing to serve a need or provide a service is the bare minimum. Growing or devising something from your immediate surroundings is better, and making something useful from something that you were about to pay to dispose of may be the best. Sometimes solutions have a simple elegance that is beautiful to behold.

In 2006, we on Vashon had the opportunity to vote on establishing a local Public Utility District (PUD) to finance and manage energy conservation improvements along with local renewable energy production. The lofty goal was to lower our energy needs by two thirds, and to eventually provide all of our power from locally produced renewable energy.

For any number of reasons, most of us are pretty dissatisfied with the status quo, at least outside of our little island paradise. During this election season, we are mostly pointing our fingers at our elected officials at the national level. Whatever the problem, we expect that enacting the right laws and policies will solve it.

There seems to be a consensus among the purveyors of opinion that the failing economy is the most important crisis facing civilization. I tend to think that the availability of water and food rank a bit higher than jobs and discretionary income. I’d like to talk about some factors to consider that affect our personal, community, and global food security. Growing method, farm size and location, and marketing all affect our personal health as well as the health and resilience of our community and ecosystems we rely on to grow food.  

Last time, I published my reply to a climate change doubter. In it I stated that it is not difficult to find support for any position if you search the internet. However, as a friend recently pointed out, the validity of a position or opinion must be weighted by credible evidence, and agreement with that evidence by the greatest number of credible experts.

During the past year or so, I have received a number of comments from D Carroll, mostly disputing my assertions about peak oil. (S)He has sent me evidence that fossil fuel production in this country has in fact stepped up recently due to advances in extraction methods such as "fracking" and the pursuit of less accessible sources such as oil shales. I dispute the wisdom of pursuing those courses.

Climate change is so not interesting. First of all, nothing is supposed to happen until 40 years from now. Couldn’t somebody come up with a fix sometime before then? And there are the people that don’t even think it is happening or, if they do think it is happening: "hey, what’s wrong with a little more heat?"

All eyes will be on California as they campaign for the first-ever initiative vote on whether to label GM (genetically modified) food products. Regardless of opinions about their safety, according to a Thomson Reuters poll in 2010, 90% of Americans think that GM foods should be labeled.

You come out in the morning to see a bright and shiny finely designed, streamlined machine. You click your remote and the machine responds with a flash of the lights that signals the vehicle is now accessible for your entry.

Last week, Mary Shackelford wrote a great article about how pesticides and herbicides are poisoning our bees. One more caveat, which I think is mentioned on many products, is that even organic poisons must not be applied to plants when in flower, and that, of course, is because bees will be visiting those flowers.

As with a car or any democratic organization, the direction it takes depends on who is in the driver’s seat. Among the couple dozen or so organizations that concern themselves with some aspect of the general welfare of the Island, you tend to see a lot of the same individuals. Why is that? Some of the more obvious reasons are: they have the time, they really care about the community, they like the social outlet, they have a vision for a better future, or maybe they just like to control things. Almost all of us fit into one or more of these categories, yet only a few serve.

The need for continuous economic growth is one of the main forces driving our planet to crisis. As we face the need to drastically reduce our carbon footprint, we are beginning to realize that our current and foreseeable clean energy sources will never be able to supply the ever growing energy demand of our growth dependent economy. When our economy is not growing, we are in "recession", and we all recognize that as a bad situation: loss of jobs, faltering tax revenues, higher prices, and a sea of tepid consumption.

As the ferry service has improved in capacity and convenience over the last 60 or so years, we’ve come to take it for granted and have built our lives around it. With the imminent threat of losing that service, we are now being asked again to demand that the State maintain what we have. Like many of you that work on the Island or are retired, I can often go for a month or more without setting foot on a ferry.

A month ago, I wrote about the coming All Island Forum event, Vashon: What matters to you? The meeting on February 27 was attended by about 65 Islanders, a nice mixture of new as well as familiar faces. All the participants were asked to write on a large piece of paper their response to a set of questions concerning a current assessment and future vision for Vashon. I found quite a few of the comments quite thoughtful and poignant. The questions and all their responses can be viewed at

The Nettles are coming up, the pink plum blossoms are out, and it’s time to start preparing for the gardening season. Although I love the beauty of flowers and shrubs, I’m really in it for the food. I’m a really big proponent of food. We go way back and I relish having some everyday. That’s why I like to be sure I have a sufficient supply of the very best.

Living in an unincorporated area, especially with 3 miles of water between us and the governing body, can be seen as both good and bad, depending on the government activity your talking about and who you are talking to. Generally speaking, if it has to do with regulation or oversight of your activities, distance makes for good relations. If it is about getting services or making complaints about things, getting overlooked is a bad thing. I’d like to put forth the premise that we do a lot better when we do for ourselves. Doing for ourselves, though, is not as easy as it seems, so we have been willing to put up with "one size fits all" rules and regulations from the county, even though more elegant solutions might be had if we applied some creative effort to it.

In your ideal life, you may picture yourself as a miller or a cobbler, selling your products for Vashon currency that you can exchange for all your needs. The fact is, though, we don’t have much of a market for those occupations just yet, and you won’t be able to pay your mortgage or other debts with Vashon currency. Since we produce very little out here, most of our income comes via those of you that commute to the mainland everyday. So how do we get from this "business as usual" world to a saner one we would like to live in?

This issue, I’d like to talk about an element of personal resilience that, happily, we can all put in place. You will probably recall a few times in the last two winters when the roads were covered by a sheet of ice. If you didn’t have a fire-breathing, snow-eating four wheeler, you may have been a bit wary about venturing out into what could end up being an all day harrowing experience or worse. Your vehicle could end up joining the lost souls in the roadside snowdrifts at the bottom of one of our hills. We would have stayed home if there were nothing we needed to get. It may have been batteries or candles if the power was out, but, most likely, it had to do with food and water.