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How to Build Resilient Communities in a Chaotic World

Chip Ward, TomDispatch
After the Green Economy, Green Security

… The future — the sustainable future where we survive — will not be created by those who invented the world we have just lost and are reluctantly giving it up, while salvaging as much of their privilege from the ruins as they can. It will be invented by people who have only each other to lose and understand that, in the coming era of chaos, collapse, and reconstruction, we will find support, security, comfort, and solutions within the context of communities — on the ground, online, overlapping, and emerging. While Washington salvages the past, citizens in unlikely places like Detroit and Moab, Utah, are building the future. “Think globally, act locally” has never rung truer. “Think security, act locally” will also be true and real security will be homegrown, not “homeland.” (Chip Ward introducing a post by Chip Ward.)

… Homegrown Security for a Cantankerous Future

Homeland security, post-9/11, has been highly militarized and focused primarily on single-event disasters like attacks or accidents, not on, say, the infection of critical grain crops by some newly evolved disease or, as is actually happening, the serial collapse of ocean fisheries. Unlike a terrorist attack, such disasters could strike everywhere at once, rendering single-point plans useless. If Miami goes down in a hurricane, FEMA can (we hope) feed people via trucks and airlifts. If some part of the global food trade were to shut down, hundreds of thousands of community gardens and networks of backyard farmers ready to share their harvests, not warehouses full of emergency provisions, could prove the difference between crisis and catastrophe. Systemic challenges, after all, require systemic responses.

Food and security may not be a twosome that comes quickly to mind, but experts know that our food supply is particularly vulnerable. We’re familiar with the hardships that follow spikes in the price of gas or the freezing of credit lines, but few of us in the U.S. have experienced the panic and privation of a broken food chain — so far. That’s going to change in the decades ahead. Count on it, even if it seems as unlikely today as, for most of us, an economic meltdown did just one short year ago.

… Here’s the interesting thing: Without federal aid or direction, the first glimmer of a green approach to homeland security is already appearing. It goes by the moniker “relocalization,” and if that’s a bit of an awkward mouthful for you, it really means that your most basic security is in the hands not of distant officials in Washington but of neighbors who believe that self-reliance is safer than dependence. In this emerging age of chaos, pooled resources and coordinated responses will, this new movement believes, be more effective than thousands of individuals breaking out their survival kits alone, or waiting for the helicopters to land.

Actually, relocalization is an international movement and, as usual when it comes to the greening of modern society, the Europeans are way ahead of us. There are now hundreds of local groups in at least a dozen countries that are convening local meetings as part of the Relocalization Network to “make other arrangements for the post-carbon future” of their communities. In Great Britain, an allied “Transition Towns” movement has sprung up in an effort to spark ideas about, and focus energies on, how to wean whole communities off imported energy, food, and material goods. With a rising sea at its front door, the Netherlands has taken a further step. Its national security plan actually makes sustainability and environmental recovery key priorities.

In the U.S., “post-carbon” working groups are beginning to sprout across the country. In my backyard, right in the heart of red-state Utah, a diverse group of citizens calling themselves the Canyonlands Sustainable Solutions have come together to generate practical plans for insulating the remote town of Moab, 200 miles from the trade and transport hub of Salt Lake City, from future food and energy price shocks and supply interruptions. Such local groups are often loosely allied with one another, especially regionally, through websites and blogs that report on the progress of diverse projects, trade ideas as well as information, and offer lots of feedback.
(26 February 2009)
Also posted at Gristmill and Common Dreams.

Philadelphia’s New Green Future

Paul Glover, WorldChanging
A Guide to Surviving and Thriving

… Philadelphia’s responses to global warming and market cooling, high fuel and food prices, health unsurance, mortgages, student debt and war will decide whether our future here becomes vastly better or vastly worse. Whether we’re the Next Great City or Next Great Medieval Village. Imagine Philadelphia with one-tenth the oil and natural gas. But to hell with tragedy. Let’s quit dreading news. There are Philadelphia solutions for every Philadelphia problem.

Imagine instead that, 20 years from now, Philadelphia’s green economy enables everyone to work a few hours creatively daily, then relax with family and friends to enjoy top-quality local, healthy food. To enjoy clean low-cost warm housing, clean and safe transport, high-quality handcrafted clothes and household goods. To enjoy creating and playing together, growing up and growing old in supportive neighborhoods where everyone is valuable. And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the planet. Pretty wild, right?

As crazy as it sounds, this vision is more practical than cynical. The tools, skills and wealth exist.

Mayor Michael Nutter foresees we’ll become the “Greenest City in the United States.” So it’s common-sensible to ask, “What are the tools of such a future?” “What jobs will be created?” “Who has the money?” “Where are the leaders?” “How will Philadelphia look?” “What can we learn from other cities?”

Some of the proposals sketched here can be easily ridiculed, because they disturb comfortable work habits, ancient traditions and sacred hierarchies. Yet they open more doors than are closing. They will help Philadelphia get ready for the green economy, and get there first.

From “Yes We Can” to “Now We Do”

As President Barack Obama says, “Change comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up.” Philadelphia’s chronic miseries suggest that primary dependence on legislators, regulators, police, prisons, bankers and industry won’t save us. They’re essential partners, but the people who will best help us are us. As stocks and dollars decay, most new jobs will be created by neither Wall Street nor government. We and our friends and neighbors will start community enterprises; co-operatives for food, fuel, housing and health; build and install simple green technologies to dramatically cut household costs. Then we can have fun. Music, sex, breakfast. Music, sex, lunch. Music, sex, dinner.
(24 February 2009)

For survivalists, the end is always nigh

Tim Elliott, The Canberra Times
THE end, when it comes, will be swift. A spiralling economy and diminishing oil supplies will lead to power outages, food shortages, a breakdown in law and order, and ultimately, complete societal collapse. “I anticipate that it’ll happen quite fast, like the bushfires,” says Tony, a 44-year-old ex-stockbroker.

… Tony (who didn’t want his second name used), is part of a new wave of Australian survivalists, a disparate group that includes peak oilers, permaculturalists and “transition teams” that are making plans for what they see as the coming apocalypse. Such people used to fret about nuclear Armageddon or Y2K: today, it’s more likely to be global warming, shrinking oil reserves and financial collapse.

“There has been a surge in interest recently,” says Simon Beer, whose website,, has practical tips in bush skills, fire starting and food gathering. “Climate change, peak oil, the economic situation – people are seeing we’re headed for catastrophic changes.”

… Most Aussurvivalist members are white and male: more than a third are ex-military or serving. There is a lot of discussion about guns, coupled with a lingering contempt for wider society.

However, Russ Grayson, co-founder of Transition Sydney, says: “We can accomplish more by co-operating in groups and communities rather than acting alone and heading for the hills”.

Formed last year, Transition Sydney has several hundred members, and affiliates in Brisbane, Adelaide and the Sunshine Coast, who are preparing for a post-oil world by developing local solutions to food production and distribution, clean energy, water harvesting and recycling.

“We develop prototypes that can be scaled up in case of emergency,” Grayson says. “Survivalists are usually on the fringe, but this is a mainstream movement. That’s the only way [we can] meet the challenges ahead, by working together.”
(28 February 2009)

City of Portland joins a bright neighborhood

Abby Haight, The Oregonian
The City of Portland has joined Bright Neighbor, the local interactive bulletin board that connects people who want to share skills, tools and time.

Bright Neighbor founder Randy White said Wednesday he will design private software for North Portland Neighborhood Services so that the 11 neighborhood associations can provide community projects — lending, trading skills, meeting neighbors, ride shares and events — for their residents.

Since launching in November, more than 3,200 individuals have joined the free service. But the city, which will pay $4,000 for the software, is the endeavor’s first real customer.

“There’s this revolution going on,” said White, a software developer who created Bright Neighbor at his Southeast Portland home. “What is happening is it’s a logistics revolution, with the community being able to work together with limited resources.”

Bright Neighbor’s members create profiles that describe themselves, the skills they possess and services or goods they’re willing to trade or lend. Someone might trade an hour of work in a garden for help with canning fruit, or loan an electric drill for the loan of a DVD.

The heart of Bright Neighbor is bringing communities together, White said. Neighbors helping neighbors grows more crucial in a troubled economy.

White will launch a Bright Neighbor tour of Portland’s 95 neighborhoods on April 17, to explain the service to neighborhood associations, business groups and individuals.

“We’re ready to expand to other cities,” he said. “We’re at the crest of something amazing.”
(26 February 2009)
EB contributor Randy White writes:
There was a misunderstanding in the interview. The City of Portland licensed the software months ago, and we are just now getting ready to implement it with the neighborhood-by-neighborhood tour, including supporting materials from the Portland Office of Emergency Management.