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Willits getting attention for taking sustainability seriously

The work of turning the Willits area into a community where necessities are produced and consumed locally has been attracting national attention:

* In June, participants at a national economic localization conference in Great Barrington, Mass. knew all about the Willits effort.

* In mid-August the Willits Economic LocaLization (WELL) group made the front page of the North Bay Bohemian under the banner Peakocolypse Now! a reference to the arrival of peak oil, the maximum amount that can be extracted affordably.

* At the end of August, an article on the subject in The Willits News was reprinted on the website of the national Energy Bulletin:

Sounds like a chapter from Ecotopia Emerging by Ernest Callenbach, commented the Bulletin editor. The book describes how the West Coast, horrified by the anti-environmental and militaristic direction of the rest of the US, seceded to form the green nation of Ecotopia. The first signs of the movement were in the small towns of N. California. More power to Willits!

* At the Sept. 26, WELL meeting, seven people carpooled up from Berkeley and four from Sebastopol to hear an overview of the energy problem and possible solutions by WELL founder Dr. Jason Bradford.

In the short term, Bradford told them, the recent hurricanes have put 27 percent of the nations oil refinery capacity out of commission. In the long-term, going over the peak of readily available oil eventually means investing more money and energy in oil extraction than the product is worth. Similarly, he said, the energy required for industrial farming, including petroleum-based pesticides, fertilizers and gas-powered equipment, will outstrip the value of the resulting food.

We have already gone over the earths capacity to support us, Bradford said.

The illusion of plenty at least in the United States is being maintained by reserves and government subsidies, he said. The federal governments new energy policy, which calls for more subsidies to extract remaining oil supplies, and the promotion of coal and nuclear power, isnt helpful, he added.

Encouragement of coal-based power, Bradford said, would only delay the inevitable depletion of resources and add to the greenhouse gases warming up the planet, a possible cause of the intensity of the recent killer hurricanes.

Building new nuclear power plants when decommissioned plants are still on the nations Superfund cleanup list, could spell even worse environmental disaster, he said.Others have pointed out nuclear power plants provide a relatively easy target for terrorists seeking mass destruction.

Total delusion is not uncommon in groups, Bradford added.

Founded 11 months ago, WELL has been working on safer solutions.

The first fruit of the effort was an energy audit showing that non-sustainable transportation accounts for half of all the energy consumed in the 95490 zip code. Industrial uses and home heating, cooling and cooking make up most of the other half and are heavily dependent on increasingly expensive natural gas and petroleum-based electricity.

With the audit as a guide, the City of Willits has joined forces with WELL to find ways to power city operations with a combination of renewable energy and conservation and promote that option for private homes and businesses.

The City was also the first to sign a declaration supporting sustainable localization. Since then, at least nine organizations have signed on, including the Willits Chamber of Commerce, North Coast Opportunities, the Workforce Investment Board, the Mendocino County Youth Project, West-Co, the Renewable Energy Development Institute, the Willits Action Group, the Mendocino Land Trust, and WELL.

Various subgroups of WELL are attempting to establish car shares, transit systems based on renewable energy, a sewing collective, and cooperative ownership of farms producing necessary food and fiber for local markets.

WELL members and other volunteers have forwarded recommendations for changes to the countys general plan that would promote sustainable localization of goods and services.

The work is ongoing, with workshops or presentations generally offered from 6 p.m. alternate Mondays at the City Hall Community Center. More on the WELL effort and events can be found at

Editorial Notes: Few of the ideas mentioned above are in themselves unique, but the success to date of their multi-pronged, community-wide initiatives is great news.-LJ

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