By Susan C. Strong, Executive Director, The Metaphor Project
As the wheels of D. C. slowly crank out top-down, compromise solutions for our problems, out in the grassroots some people are taking matters into their own hands. When Republicans decide to make life more miserable for the hardest hit Americans, who dares rely on D.C. alone? Some communities are getting more interested in urban gardening, local cooperatives, or trading and bartering events. (1) Others are banding together to assist those who have been foreclosed out of their homes. (2) Add to this the city and county greening projects already going on, far below the national radar, and you have a burgeoning unreported national trend.(3) And these are just a few of the many bottom-up citizen initiatives possible.(4)
It’s high time the media, online and off, and our government took notice. This could be the biggest recovery story of all. Reporting what’s happening now as a national trend will also help it gather speed. And speed is what we need. Although Washington means to use the economic crisis to jumpstart a green recovery, we’ll need a lot more than top-down efforts to succeed.Fostering bottom-up grassroots solutions is also sound science. Modern ecosystem research shows that collapse can lead to a much healthier order of things, starting close to the ground. Reporting in the latest World Watch magazine (March/April 2009), Thomas Homer-Dixon notes that collapse in nature “liberates. . .enormous potential for creativity and allows for novel and unpredictable recombination.” The emerging pattern is “far less interconnected and rigid. . .and far more resilient to sudden shock.” It encourages “new behaviors and relationships.”(5)
History shows that human societies follow the same pattern. Our propensity to experiment and invent has always been the key to our survival. But we must actively foster that kind of reorganizing now—before a deeper collapse wipes out what we’ll need to shape a new way of living. (6) We know there are much bigger crises ahead– the end of reasonably priced oil, major global warming ravages, and the onset of serious resource overshoot.(7) If we get going with a vigorous grassroots transformation now, we’ll be able to ride those storms out too.
At this point though, the most important thing is the story: collapse can lead to rebirth in more resilient form. Including the grassroots piece of the story is vital. That bottom-up path calls on some of our best national traits too–our innovative, pragmatic, can-do, roll-up-your sleeves style, as we work together, close to home, helping to reinvent a new and healthier economy.
1. Three good sources for information about this kind of project are Yes Magazine, (www.yesmagazine.org ), The Sustainable Communities Network, (http://www.sustainable.org/), New Village Press (http://www.newvillagepress.net/index.php), and New Village Journal (http://www.newvillage.net/Journal/pastissues.html)
3. Information about projects run by cities and counties is available at: http://www.iclei.org/… In the San Francisco Bay Area, three major cities, San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland have just joined forces in a regional greening agenda. San Francisco Chronicle, “Thinking Globally in the Bay Area,” March 6, 2009. Many American universities house institutes devoted to sustainable development at the regional level.
4. Other people who have already been working hard to prepare for those larger crises can provide us with good ideas and examples that we can easily adapt for the current wave. Some of those include the Transition Towns phenomenon (it’s worldwide, but here’s the U.S. url: http://transitionus.ning.com/ ) and other groups like it, such as Community Solutions (http://www.communitysolution.org/talks.html). There are also recent books like Small is Possible, by Lyle Estill, about work in Chatham County, NC, and Plan C, by Pat Murphy.
5 Thomas Homer-Dixon, “Our Panarchic Future,” World Watch, March/April 2009, p. 15. http://www.worldwatch.org/…
6. see Note 5 above.
7. More information about Earth Overshoot can be found at the Global Footprint Network’s page on this topic: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/…
Susan C. Strong is Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project