Culture Change e-Letter #6
The Nature Revolution
by "Depaver Jan"
One day some townspeople walked from their homes to a church. They werent all members of the flock, but they knew there were some active citizens there who had authority, property and social connections.
Meanwhile, a few more groups of citizens were spontaneously convening in similar circumstances not so far away, in the oak country near the west coast of north America.
Some said, "Its time to do things differently. Species are dying around us and were next." They were saying something like that to their families and anyone they met. The assembled crowds stood together and nodded their heads, and decided to sit down and take the time to discuss their suddenly deteriorating circumstances. No one was in a hurry, maybe because all of their past hurrying had distracted them from paying attention to the growing dilemma.
A year before, most people had been preoccupied as usual with making their money and trying to get ahead or keep up. The economy was still tied to corporate expansion and massive consumption. Oil prices appeared affordable, although most people couldnt identify the subsidies that hide the unknown, true price. American flags or pictures of them were wide-spread, and the U.S. government was still bombing, destabilizing, and arming countries around the world. Meanwhile, economic casualties were growing at home, such that there were more and more homeless people. There were more and more people in prisons, and in temporary compounds for terrorists real and accused or framed.
Now the hard-working people, the ones who had been thinking they had no choice but to close their eyes and ears to the diminishing freedom and to the less fortunate, felt their time was up somehow. Society was still functioning, and the stock market bubble-burst had not stopped the economy. There was widespread belief that things could continue, or growth could resume, despite so many problems and crises piling up as had been happening for decades. Yet:
"Sudden Oak Death has killed the hillsides. Not only trees of oak are infected. So many animals, birds and fish have been going extinct," said somebodys grandmother to the church people before the regular sermon was to begin. Everybody knew the ecological crisis was now in high gear, in a manner of speaking. It was like a nightmare, or movie, when time stops because it is too late. The sermon was skipped in favor of a community meeting.
For several months the news about global warming was getting more alarming, and fires from drought were causing smoky skies and reduced sunlight. Photosynthesis was at reduced levels. But no one seemed to stop driving their cars as a result. For if they ceased, it would mean no more job or shopping or school. One fear was that without ongoing car sales, most of the economy would soon collapse.
"We must tell the cities we are changing our ways and they must too," said somebodys neighbor. Then someones uncle responded, "They know about the oaks and the smoke. They dont care. Our town is connected to our own hills and mountains. What do you think the big cities are going to do, abandon their cars and turn off their electric power?"
A young woman with no makeup and wearing secondhand clothes asked, "Cant we start here and now? Enough of us can agree to basic changes in our behavior, especially if we start helping each other the way people did over a hundred years ago."
An earnest middle-aged teacher suggested, "Lets make a new law on top of all the old laws: To make it legal to protect nature above all else."
And so the Nature Revolution began in the towns and countryside of the inland and coastal valleys and foothills of the western end of north America.
One town after another realized that there was no future in maximizing the business-as-usual forms of working and expanding development. The cooperation people needed to utilize was right at hand. People began to shy away from needless highway travel and building the towns ever outward. Instead, bands of people began creating gardens in former parking lots, sharing their kitchens to lessen individual household appliance usage, and they undertook restoration of nature areas. These and other activities, such as helping people with child care, were supported by almost everyone because they were scared. But, people also began noticing a joy in feeling, for the first time, a community of friends and collaborators.
Even local government officials and bureaucrats cooperated, as they gave up their tired old defense of the status quo as to expediting pollution. Elevated to the top of peoples daily purpose was the healing of the land: saving trees, growing food, cleaning the streams, and walking away from pollution work that wasnt helping nature. Such activities were encouraged and supported, such that people were fed for free whenever they joined in contributing to the new conservation ethic.
Some groups of people agitated to bring about even swifter change, and they attacked those going slowly or doing nothing. "I told you so!" was heard from the mouths of those for and against rapid change. Some affinity groups, who kept their numbers low and their plans secret, struck at night in dismantling pollution systems. Individuals actual work trucks were left undamaged. Meanwhile bikes and bike carts were proliferating. Cars that were fuel wasters or for recreation were disabled. This kind of activity was short lived, as support rapidly became almost universal for all attempts at super imposing natural living over old ways.
A feverfew bush was sprouting through the pavement when its life was enhanced by the removal of concrete, without any official approval.
Car pooling became essential, but the town was quickly becoming pedestrian- and biking-oriented. Buses were not plentiful enough to run frequently, but attempts were being made to get makeshift vehicles into service, as well as trying to obtain alternative energy propulsion. Railroad tracks were looked upon as existing investments that involve using one tenth of the energy that trucks use.
Private property was opened up voluntarily for improving the health of the land and to help feed the town and rural citizenry. Land owners appreciated the free work they received and they expected to share in the results out of the ground. Housing made of natural local materials sprouted up, and people held well-attended workshops on handcrafts.
The rich found themselves cooperating with neighborhood and community projects when it was clear that perhaps the arrival or existence of a new generation of people was questionable, or could be the last one ever.
The terms "landlord" and "landlady" became unpopular labels. It was pointed out that the native Americans had a most limited concept of private property. When their concept of sharing was applied to the land, it helped keep their societies low in numbers and respectful of the whole web of life.
Some large corporate holdings of land, that had seen their parent companies go bankrupt, were taken over by local citizens. As months passed, less contribution to local resource consumption "needs" from the outside put pressure on the fledgling self-sufficient economies. Volunteers posted themselves in the woods to monitor the harvesting of trees and to keep it limited to actual thinning of small, closely packed trees. On the black market, logs of all sorts were fetching high prices, so highways were interdicted and disabled, and questionable traffic plummeted.
The Cities Under Strain:
In the cities, meanwhile, people were up against crowding and lack of green space as always. The difference was, food was beginning to become less abundant. The oil was still available for trucks coming to the supermarkets and restaurants, but rural areas were starting to keep their own food. Small towns were concentrating on feeding their own people.
Martial law had not yet been declared, but many security measures had been taken for decades in the name of urban law and order. With curfews and violent repression of gatherings and protests, people were made to feel fortunate to be left alone by the authorities in people's daily activities and errands on the streets. Rich people and those with connections outside of big cities and abroad were leaving permanently. Things were still considered "normal," however, especially if one judged by the nightly TV news or the morning newspaper.
Such was the State of the non-Union in 2004. Much of the nation, outside the megalopolises, was free, undergoing change voluntarily. Decentralization continued almost everywhereexcept for in the big cities.
The megacities had too many people engaged in strife to implement by consensus or fiat an orderly shift to a "sustainable future." Some cities attempted conversion to sustainable living in piecemeal fashion, and exercised as much freedom as possible for citizens who emulated the rural and small-town Nature Revolution. "Ecovillages" were established in scattered sections of Los Angeles, Berkeley, and Portland.
However, those attempts could not feed the millions. Urban farming was begun, and immigration to the U.S. and between U.S. cities was cut back. But it was too late. The melting pot had boiled over and the bottom burned out of control.
When the downturn in the national and global economy began to accelerate, demand for energy went down too, but energy companies had to remain profitable or go broke. The latter prevailed, adding to joblessness. So government agencies such as the National Guard and police tried to keep up the massive energy flows to the teetering economy. This did not last long, as the guards and cops deserted, as they had to defend their own familieslocated in non-community neighborhoods of strangers who had mostly commuted. Gangs of regular citizens, even neighbors, were breaking in homes to seize foodexcept in tight-knit, small communities.
The national debate on what direction to take on energy and economics was not joined by all. Left out were the suffering urban poor and the increasingly autonomous rural areas and small towns, to the chagrin of policy elitists who soon saw the lack of mass support for modest reforms. The feds, the governors, and major media outlets were preaching calm, order, andlike an old, broken recordincreasing consumption. But they had no clue as to how to integrate the still deteriorating environmental crisis to the unwieldy economy.
Major corporations had gone bankrupt in increasing numbers since 2001, with ethical and legal lapses serving to undermine remaining faith in business. Business people had, therefore, almost zero credibility, and their politicians including the President and the Vice President enjoyed little respect. The dwindling hope for national change that would involve small communities nullified the potential for a new start, via party change, at the White House level. It seemed clear that no president could alter the reality of ecosystem collapse, urban despair and police-state control.
Wars over oil had worried the helpless public at times, but had not changed the dwindling oil reserves picture. War aggravated prices of petroleum products and tightened supply, and generated attacks on U.S. property in the homeland and abroad. So the U.S. government and its oil connections could only manage to keep control of certain cheap Persian Gulf oil, and distract the public with warnings on terrorism that sometimes came true.
The Nature Revolution
The rural and small town revolution had spread east, with sporadic success. Yet, much land was unusable or fenced off. Passports for domestic travel were made necessaryunderstandable with the population approaching 300 million nationally.
First one major city and then others were closed off: few people were allowed to leave, and almost no one wanted to go in. City dwellers were warned, falsely, of complete famine and lack of fuel outside their cities. It was truly hard for the reduced distribution system to serve large areas, so it was a small towns main concern, on behalf of the farms and forests, to keep hordes or people from entering.
With most every person "of substance" (with important connections) gone from the cities and surrounding suburbs, the first massive die-offs in cities were suspected to be engineered. They took place quickly and efficiently so that people could not react by spilling out into the countryside, whence the elite still in the U.S. had escaped.
Exactly how the urban/suburban populations were reduced seemed to vary, from sketchy reports from various cities. Rumors were spread that terrible diseases, and terrorists biological and chemical weapons, had taken everyone by surprise. However, most higher-ups who were garrisoning and managing the big cities seemed to find reason to evacuate quietly before the mass deaths. Rooftop helicopter departures, a la Saigon 1975, were constant. Cannibalism and mass suicide had already become rampant. Over several weeks, every city larger than Eugene, Oregon was almost entirely depopulated. Refugees were relatively few, and were either corralled or allowed to pass through roadblocks, if not too numerous.
Years later, many of the big old cities were partially resettled, but not as a centralized single economy. By that time, the global corporate economy was but a memory. There was still considerable oil in the ground, but the true cost of extracting it was determined to be not worth the trouble or damage. The easily pumped, low-sulfur and low-viscosity oil had long ago been burned and spilled.
By 2007, despite sea levels rising gradually, and fisheries barely returning to a semblance of prior healthy numbers, it was clear that The Nature Revolution had succeededjust in time. Enough intercommunity and even global communication and cooperation endured to care for the nuclear weapon/waste facilities, to prevent massive accidental contamination. After the partial nuking of an east coast city in 2003, the global nuclear disarmament movement made such rapid progress that no national leaders or aspiring leaders could be anything but pro-peace and against nuclear power, forever.
The elders of the old church in the newly federated Land of Oaks smiled as they looked out on the festival along the river. So many changes. Oak trees were few, but a revival was detectable. Staple diets were unrecognizable compared to a few years before. No more television, no more fear mongering about CIA-backed dictators on the other side of the world. The old church was now a community center open to any form of worship or belief, and along its vinyl aisles children still played with toy cars and trucks.
July-Sept. 2002 Copyright in U.S. by Jan Lundberg
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