Reality Check

The Road to Resilience

 At the recent town hall, Congresswoman Jayapal said that, among her constituents, Vashonites were probably way ahead in addressing climate change.  It seemed to me at that point that, if that is true, then we are in big trouble.  Don’t get me wrong:  most of us are clearly very aware of climate change and the kinds of things we need to do to address it.  I just don’t think that we understand the magnitude of the changes we as a society need to make.  Reduce, reuse, and recycle is a mantra that most of us are working on.  The problem is that it implies that adjustments to the way we live will be sufficient to bring our carbon footprint down and to give our community the resilience it needs to maintain a semblance of the lifestyle we are now living.

I will say again that we in the US are 5% of the world population yet we use 25% of world’s resources.  That means that we would need 6 more Earths if the rest of the world lived the lifestyle that we live.  In order to truly address climate change, we need to look to simplifying our lifestyle.  Our lifestyle is a compendium of habits, and habits are hard to change, especially if the change means learning to do with less.

Let’s take a look at our lifestyle.  We are highly dependent on the larger society for the things we need to survive.  How many of the things that you depend on can you grow, make, or repair yourself?  We probably have more vegetable gardens per capita than most places in the country, but the fact is, many of us would be at a loss if we were to have to produce our own food.  On Vashon, it has been estimated that we produce about 10-15% of the food we eat.  That is actually an encouraging statistic.  If you consider that probably 80% of us grow very little or none of our food, then 10-15% overall means that those that do have extensive vegetable gardens are growing most of the food they eat.  That means that if the rest of us applied ourselves to vegetable growing, and adapted our diets to what we could grow, we could probably grow sufficient food to get by if our food supply from off island became disrupted.

Now, 85-90% of our food comes from our grocery stores, which have a steady stream of semi-trailers arriving daily to keep the shelves full.  Vashon Be Prepared estimates that we have about a three day supply at the stores if food shipments discontinue.  The uncertainty of how climate change will affect the larger society in general or the economy in particular is enough reason to become more self-reliant, but there are more reasons.  The industrial agricultural complex is heavily fossil fuel dependent, owned and controlled by a mere handful of corporations, and so specialized and concentrated that it is not at all resilient to any disruption.  A border dispute, a drought somewhere, a fuel shortage, social unrest somewhere, or any number of other reasons could stop the flow of food to our stores.  My recommendation:  grow an extensive vegetable garden, learn how to cook and preserve your crop.  In addition, you can buy 25# bags of staples such as beans, rice, flour, and rolled oats at Minglement.  Keep them in a steel garbage can in your pantry.  If you learn to eat from your pantry, you could have several months worth of food.  You could start storing cases of canned food like a survivalist, but you are more resilient if you grow some of that food rather than have to buy it somewhere.  The idea is to change your lifestyle.  Don’t cut yourself off from oranges and chocolate if they are available.  Enjoy your life, but be smarter and more resilient about your food supply.

Our progress toward smarter energy choices here is more encouraging.  There are a lot of solar panels, heat pumps, and electric cars around.  However, in the larger society, the continued production and marketing of fossil fuels could bring about catastrophic climate change that would drown out our best efforts at the local level.  For this reason, focusing on improving our local resilience without actively working to shut down the fossil fuel industry could be a case of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Localize, but keeping your eyes on the horizon is maybe even more important.

Something you can do now is attend the Carbon Free Vashon presentation this Saturday, Feb. 3, 10am-12pm, at the Presbyterian Church.  If you missed the articles in both the Loop and the Beachcomber, the purpose of the presentation is to inform you on how you can steer your electric utility, Puget Sound Energy, away from using coal and new gas-fired generation, and toward 100% renewable energy.  Find out that it is a completely feasible alternative and their request for a rate increase with the State Utilities and Transportation Committee is the perfect time for us to apply leverage.  You will be able to submit comments to the WUTC at the meeting.