I come from the South. And while I think overblown stereotypes of Southern culture and Southern people have misrepresented the region of this country I call home, there is a little truth in every lie (or so the saying goes). If you read any of what I would describe as the currently conscious descriptions of our country than you will have no doubt stumbled onto news of our coming energy crisis. Many who regularly discuss this impending paradigm shift in our nation believe that the South will not be a safe place to live when the gas runs out. Recent fist fights in Charlotte associated with Katrina-induced gasoline shortages seem to bear this out. Also religious fanaticism and hyper-individualism have taken root in disproportionately larger numbers in the Bible belt. This is hard to argue against. Perhaps no where I have traveled domestically is the idea of the individual more important than that of the community than in the Southeastern United States. In addition, owning a weapon is considered not only a right but an honor.
But what about Southern hospitality and the small, rural towns of close knit neighbors and dependable friendships? Perhaps I too have submitted to the oversimplified idea that anyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line is more likely to shoot you than to feed you. “Where you goin’ city boy?” This is an idea for all of us with ties to this region to ponder as the global peak of oil production begins to make itself known to the greater population. More importantly though I am interested in an idea I trust is not foreign to the South or to any part of the world inhabited by those people who believe in each other- that believe in the power of caring and giving and sharing as not only their duty, but as a way towards a better tomorrow. I believe that innate in all of us is an understanding that no man is an island. We all need friends and loved ones on whom to depend and with whom to share the good and the bad. The idea that we can do it alone is juvenile bravado, fostered currently not only by history but by a culture increasingly supportive of and fascinated by entertainment based on overly simplistic ideas of macho emotional highs. Rambo can kick everyone’s ass and you can too. Rambo doesn't go home at night and rest on the couch. He does not stop at a friend's house on Friday for a beer. He does not need to borrow his neighbor’s wheelbarrow. He is his own man; capable of everything he needs to be. What a dangerous idea. If this thought pattern once found its home more often in the South than in the rest of the country, I’d venture to say it has since spread.
Over zealous individuals ready to use violence to enforce their ideological convictions on others have also historically found home in the southeastern portion of America. And not just those of religious differences but also the idea of racial and other physical differences defining the worth of a human being. Southerners have struggled to come to grips with the horrible history of slavery in their region. Sadly though I must venture to state that these morally base tendencies of human nature are found in people throughout our nation and the world. They regularly manifest themselves in areas outside of the Southern U.S. It is with hope though that I can report that with each new generation I see growing understanding among those of us here in the South that this world is made up of all sorts of people and that prejudgment based on colour or creed or any other difference is useless and debilitating. In short, I know plenty of open-minded young Southerners and plenty of Bigots from elsewhere.
So what are some of the strengths the South has to offer in light of a future in which energy consumption and all the trappings it provides will be dramatically reduced?
The weather is a definite advantage of this area. Perception fluctuates widely but as a whole the South gets ample rainfall. Here in NC we average 40 to 55 inches annually with rain occurring regularly- 95 to 105 days a year. Temperatures are also fairly mild. Our mean daily average temperature is 60 degrees which is one reason why, I suspect, there are so many moving here from the Northeast. Having spent more than 25 winters here I will tell you that it can get cold but seldom do we spend more than a few days with daytime temperatures in the 20’s. Our warmer temperatures do make for some hot summers, but going without air conditioning is much easier to do on a 95 degree day than going without heat on a 5 degree night. To be sure you need a heater to live here, but I fear for those who require large amounts of fuel in the north when heating oil and natural gas become less available. Sunlight is another plus. We average 214 sunny days a year. I think it is also appropriate to look at the three regional conditions discussed above when considering food production. Our warmer temperatures allow us a longer growing season. I’ve read about four seasons gardening in greenhouses in Maine but it’s a whole lot easier to provide for large numbers of people if you don’t have to worry about frost from April until November. And try growing cotton indoors.
This region has other resources. Even in a city the size of Charlotte (1 million or so) you can still find agriculturally viable land within several miles of the city. We have reasonably sized forested tracts for wood and all the red clay for building you could ask for. In addition, there are plenty of small, rural communities, many of whom were established before the automobile was invited. This means that at their core they can do without the large amounts of fuel required to inhabit sprawling suburbs. They can also provide appropriate templates for similar development patterns to begin again.
I believe that in the real world humans need each other. Competition sharpens the axe but cooperation provides the occasion for humans to thrive in every sense of the word. Never could we be more in need of a cooperative, communal spirit than when our species is most challenged. As the most prolific energy source ever discovered begins to show up in smaller amounts it will be community and our willingness to rely on others and allow others to rely on us that will either foster in a new era of understanding among us or, lacking this grace, divide us like never before. I truly hope balance prevails here in the Southeastern United States as well as throughout the rest of the world. Can we here in the South come together and set aside historic differences of opinion for the sake of the greater good? Or are we doomed to fight it out and renew our subscription to idea that the individual above all is more important than the group.
I can not do it alone. I will need your help.