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Articles in "The Road to Resilience"

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.

The world climate summit, recently held in Durban, South Africa, illustrated once again how difficult it is to get the biggest carbon emitters in the world to take serious measures to curb their output even in the face of threats to their very existence. The summit was saved, sort of, from abject failure by a last minute agreement to meet in 2015 to discuss binding limits by 2020. What made it happen was the agreement of China and India to sign on, which made it safe for the US to sign on.

As a harbinger of hard times to come, writing a hopeful message of  “good tidings” as is appropriate to the season is a real challenge for me.  In fact, I already wrote a first draft and am back to square one because it was too preachy.  So, giving the Grinch a vacation, I’m going to try to talk about what is hopeful for me and what I try to do to be the change that I think will help us survive in the future.

Although there are a lot more aspects of transition to discuss, I’ve decided to rerun the first introductory article from almost a year ago. Many of you may have missed it and the rest probably forgot it (I know I did). It provides a good comprehensive look at the peak oil predicament we are in and why we at Transition Vashon are trying to foment some urgent action to meet it. Please note that it doesn’t touch at all on last week’s topic: climate change.

The predictions for climate change in the Pacific Northwest are relatively benign compared to most of the rest of the world.  According to Cliff Mass, climate scientist at the UW and weekly commentator on KUOW, the increase in water vapor in the atmosphere due to higher average temperature, will mean a predominance of offshore marine air for us here in the Northwest.  That means cooler and wetter weather.  The only change for the worse might be that the increased rainfall we are expected to get will fall more in shorter, harder rains.  That means that it will not be able to percolate into the soil as readily as our lighter rains do now.  Another possibility is that we may not be able to maintain adequate snow pack during the summer leading to summer shortfalls.  We on Vashon, having a sole source aquifer, supposedly do not access water from snow pack, so that doesn’t affect us. 

Time to check in on the state of things. As you know, we are in the third year of a great recession that was supposed to be mostly over in two years. I think that initial forecast was due more to wishful thinking than a studied assessment. Estimates now call for 4-6 years, and that is definitely wishful thinking. As much of our resource base is depleted or severely strained, we can’t go back to the world we knew before 2008. I’ve noticed again this year the reappearance of the moronic speculation as to whether we will consume ourselves out of the doldrums with an orgy of Christmas spending. Spend what? Our future earnings, I guess, when we get the job that was created by the debt we just put on our plastic. The scary part is this sort of thing is the best they can come up with. I think the only stable economies in the world right now are in the pockets of traditional subsistence farming that we haven’t managed to mess up yet.  

As the election circus revs up once again, it is clear that we are way too busy fighting with each other to even begin to deal with some very serious problems.  At a time when our very lives depend on quick and decisive action, we are instead completely absorbed in finger pointing and name-calling.  As the rest of the world looks on and shakes their collective head, the question is:  will the people of the United States be able to shake off this insanity and begin to act rationally or will they drag the world down in flames?  In terms of priorities, the very real and serious problems we face must defer to the problem of our inability to act. 

Most of you are aware of Occupy Wall Street going on now in New York and the hundreds of similar activities around the country. It is all about the undue influence of wealth in the politics of this country, and the resultant laws and policies favoring the wealthy and the large corporations that have resulted in the huge income disparity we now have between the wealthiest 1% and all the rest of us.

I went to talk to T Yamamoto about her sustainable sheep breeding program, but came away with a larger perspective.  The ideas in this article do not represent a consensus of the Transition group, but I feel that we need to have a conversation about this.  T is a founding partner of Wolftown, a non-profit wildlife rehab center here on Vashon, now in its fifteenth year.  She has also been working to breed a tough and resilient sheep that is adapted to our mild and moist environment.  

Michael Laurie, Island water and home energy efficiency specialist, had some valuable comments on part of what I wrote last week that I now realize was misleading.  For the purpose of clarification and to get the benefit of his knowledge and insight on the tools and theories that are already out there, I include his comments here.

“I completely agreed with almost everything you wrote in your last article in the Loop, but I disagree with some of the following statements in quotes: 

In some discussions I’ve had recently, it has become apparent that it is time to restate the reasons I started writing this column in the first place. We humans have put ourselves and much of the world in grave danger by refusing to live according to the rules that billions of years of evolution have established. We counter our problems with solutions based on our own version of reality. I, and many others, see that the source of our problems is our version of reality itself. So, as we speed toward the precipice, the only thing we can think to do is to step on the gas pedal!  

I have an obsession that few of you who have been reading this column will find surprising.  It is a bit weird, but since I live on Vashon, that should be okay.  I have a hard time parting with stuff that is generally considered garbage.  It goes like this:  When I’m confronted with a “useless” object, say a slightly bent nail, and am considering its fate, I put myself in the hypothetical situation of being 50 miles into the wilderness. 

As you now read this, the fate of our monetary economy will be known, but as I write this on Monday morning, I am still in suspense. As important as that is, I’d like to remind you that there is much more than money that keeps our society healthy and functioning. In previous articles, we’ve touched on aspects of the non-monetary economy

Sometimes, something is so pervasive that you forget it is there.  A new book that my wife, Elizabeth, showed me, All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, has given me another way to frame the issue of community building.

In addition to our personal and local work, we need to keep pushing for the creation of a sustainable, low energy economy. I’ve been wanting to write about why we, as a species, fail to plan ahead, in the light of the very probable disastrous consequences of climate change.  A little story might help you see it the way I do.

Recent changes made or proposed for our public transit system reflect trends that are likely to continue as our production of fossil fuels decreases and prices rise. 

As of June 11, Sound Transit Route 560 (Fauntleroy/Seatac) no longer serves the dock between 9AM and 3PM or after 6PM.  

The bicycle is the simplest, most efficient, and elegant machine ever invented to move people over land at the local level.  Biking is the predominant mode to transport people in the world. 

I recently received a response from a reader wanting to know what I mean by resilience.  So, I decided that I would give you the whole nine yards.  Don’t stop reading!  There is actually some interesting stuff to know about this concept. 

In  last week’s column on Local Currency and  in previous ones, I’ve called for the relocalization of our Vashon economy as a hedge against the economic disturbances to come as a result of diminishing resources.  I’d like to continue that discussion.

Islanders responded to the recent opening of Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union by opening accounts already totaling more than 2 million dollars. Clearly, many of us consider it important that our money be invested exclusively in our community.

As we approach the growing season, remember that one of the best things you can do to sustain your family in an uncertain future is to grow a vegetable garden.  This week, I’m deviating from the usual format to bring a timely message.  If you are considering buying seeds, I have some important information for you to consider before making your purchase.