A friend asked me to explain the reasoning behind the letter. The broad answer is I'm shifting tactics. In the past I've spent time making fun of the sheer ignorance and willful disillusionment of the general public regarding the problems we face. I've also been know to decry the lack of real leadership on real issues at all levels of government. And I've burned more than a few hours angrily describing the efforts of major social institutions (mainstream media being a favorite target of mine)to infantilize the US population. All of this is great fun of course and therapeutic at some level. It's also unlikely to bring about any change.
My new tactic is to find people in the position to bring about positive change, or more accurately, to identify opportunities for positive change and find the people mostly likely to get that change going and help those people, push & prod those people, lean on them or give them a shove. I've found plenty of work to do both locally and beyond. But I think I can also help others to make the leap.
God knows there's plenty to do. Others are starting to recognize that she's right.
Ok now for my letter.
January 20, 2009
Mr. Kevin Grant
P.O. Box 707
Dear Mr. Grant,
I'm pleased to know that my local government has solidified its commitment to the future of this county and its citizens by hiring you as the first Sustainability Manger of Cabarrus County. Congratulations. Over the past few months I've deliberated on a few ideas I think will strengthen any attempt to establish this county as a leader in the effort to become a more sustainable place to live. It is becoming obvious to many more people that we must consider not only the future of our children and grandchildren who will inherit the decisions we make regarding our care and stewardship of this county but also the health of the local ecological systems on which we all depend for clean water, air and all other aspects of life. I want to share these ideas with you in high hopes they might prove useful to your efforts.
A short side note before I begin. Plenty of people fail to associate the current economic crisis garnering attention across the nation with the crises of energy and environmental issues facing this country. These three are actually more closely linked than might appear at first glance. Our diminished supply of natural resources, most notably our dwindling domestic supply of petroleum, has forced us to switch from a nation that grows stuff, builds things and actually produces objects of real value to a nation with an economic system based on financial speculation using credit to prop up the notion that we’re real not citizens but simply consumers. Hence we’ve been told until mostly recently that oure most important role in society is to shop. Petroleum production peaked in the
Global oil production has been leveling off for the past several years for mostly geologic reasons and likely peaked worldwide in production in mid 2008. However the recent drop in the price has caused many oil and natural gas companies to suspend new projects necessary to offset the coming global oil production decline. As an example I offer
Similarly, other resource depletion issues, perhaps most notably water availability, are likely to shape the future of this county in ways that seem unimaginable to many of the citizens living here today. The attached report shows the enormous amount of money the natural forest systems of our county previously provided for free, especially in terms of storm water absorption. It would be in our best interests to recognize that what many people think of as purely environmental issues or energy issues are also issues of great financial interest to the citizens of
Ok I'll jump down off my soapbox now and suggest three projects ready for implementation by you the new Sustainability Manager of
1. Create a Sustainability Task Force. Call it whatever you'd like, but put together a group of private citizens and formally commission them to envision a more sustainable Cabarrus County both out of imperative and to increase the local quality of life. There are several reasons for creating such a group by selecting citizen volunteers.
The first is that of economic benefit. There are many
The second reason is because no major change in the operating procedures of county government or suggested change in the way average citizens live their lives will be accepted without significant public buy-in. If the basis for change comes from a group of average citizens, the general public will be more likely to receive the changes with favorable opinion. If you receive a call from an angry business leader who doesn't understand why a change in policy has been made you'll be able to direct him to a member of the task force who is herself a businesswoman and can help explain the reasoning behind the decision.
Which leads to the third reason for a private citizens’ Sustainability Task Force, political cover. No doubt any sensible outcome from this task force will contain controversial suggestions. The status quo will not cut it moving forward. Politicians and even county employees will not want to take the brunt of the backlash related to particularly controversial suggestions. But if they are able to point to the task force and explain that these changes are part of an overall plan envisioned by citizens themselves, the politicians in particular may be more willing to support the overall plan politically and give it the necessary support such a plan will need to move forward and prove its worth. It’s important to note that because such a task force isn’t directly beholden to the citizens of
The fourth reason for using such a private task force is probably the most germane. I believe average citizens are capable of great accomplishments if given the space and the knowledge necessary to face the challenges of our county and our country at this point in history. Any plan for change should take advantage of the wealth of knowledge, experience, and willingness we have here locally! The key to success is to include a diverse group of citizens. I recommend a group of between 15 and 25 individuals. Represented among them at a minimum of diversity must be Black, White and Hispanic men and women ranging widely in age. I highly suggest at least one college student and one high school student. One middle school representative would be excellent. Young people are less encumbered with the so called realities of life. The decisions made by this task force will also disproportionately affect young people more so than those who are older. Having said that, the wisdom and understanding of our older citizens should definitely be included. I know of several older citizens very interested in these issues. You should include business people, public employees and average workers in the private sector as well as those working in the not-for-profit sector. A wide spectrum of household incomes should be represented as well. If you hope to make substantial change this group will only be effective in doing so if it represents more than a small minority of the citizens whose future such decisions will affect.
I recommend the Transition Handbook as a guide to making changes with sustainability in mind. It could help to give structure to the process of envisioning change and organizing those visions into a successful plan of action for the community. Let me know if you'd like to borrow a copy.
2. Create a Complete Streets program. When my wife and I first moved home to
Such a program could be modeled after the Cyclovias of Central and South America or the similar “Summer Streets” program which debuted in
This would provide not only wonderful recreational opportunities on a periodic basis but would also help encourage public support for more complete roadways designed to foster automotive traffic and cyclists and pedestrians. As someone who has cycled throughout the county and has commuted to work on a bicycle in this area I can tell you first hand that most of
3. Transition away from the landscape maintenance programs that include synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. Certainly this is a water quality issue as a large percentage (more than half) of the synthetic Nitrogen used to fertilize playing fields and the chemical pesticides used on municipal recreational landscapes, ends up in local creeks and streams. This is also a human health and wellness issue in that a disproportionate number of the people using these facilities are developing children and what parent wants their kids running, jumping and sliding in chemical agents known to be harmful to humans. But it's also an economic dead-end. The use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides locks the county into a never-ending cycle of nourishing the dead soil of these recreational areas and killing the weeds that take advantage of the weak plants and turf associated with a synthetic chemical-based landscape maintenance program. The cost of these fertilizers and pesticides continues to increase meaning an ever-increasing percentage of the budget needed to pay for such maintenance. The result by the way is a lackluster landscape that struggles to survive.
The alternative is to promote healthy, living soils at county facilities that not only look beautiful but out perform conventional synthetic-based maintenance programs. The healthy soils created by such a program will also be much more drought tolerant, a bonus in our area. Such a program would focus on returning carbon to the soil and reestablishing the naturally existing microorganisms that make healthy topsoil the most densely populated ecosystem on the planet. The most wonderful aspect of such a system is that over time, less and less of the organic inputs necessary to start the process will be needed. Each year the county would use less of such products and therefore spend less money each year on landscape maintenance. I suggest this change in county policy because it would reap rewards in terms of a better looking and better performing landscapes, it would provide safer and healthier surfaces for our children to play on and it would greatly reduce the amount of pollution cause by current landscape management practices all while saving the county an increasing amount of money in the coming years. That sort of synergy seems to make such a change unquestionable.
It is these synergies- these overlapping benefits that I think should drive the choices made as
I hope these three suggestions help in your efforts to make
Peak Oil http://tinyurl.com/cdzkz
Resource Depletion http://tinyurl.com/8wth4u
Transition Handbook http://tinyurl.com/7j8dh8
Summer Streets http://tinyurl.com/67nvk3