From the Executive Director
For eight of the last nine years, Suzanne and I have spent a week or two in July camping in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We've found the wonderful Frisco Campground in the dunes of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It is an awesome and rugged environment, separated from the mainland by the 30 mile wide Pamlico Sound.
Many of the struggles humans are having with the environment are in evidence there. We've had to evacuate the campground for an approaching hurricane. Other hurricanes have washed completely over the narrowest parts of the island, threatening its existence. Maintaining the dunes is a major activity. Over the years we've been there, the conflict between park service efforts to protect sea turtle nests and the folks who want to drive on the beach has been escalating.
While there we have the opportunity to do a lot of reading, and most summers I've taken books by big thinkers to help me put CT NOFA's work into context.
In 2005, I read James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency. He predicts how quickly our energy intensive culture will fall apart as we come up against peak oil and the effects of climate change. About a month later Katrina hit and the media described real life scenes very much like those in the book. The next year, Kunstler gave the keynote presentation at the CT NOFA Winter Conference.
Another summer, I read Collapse by Jared Diamond. He writes about how quickly past civilizations have collapsed, often just as they are creating their biggest or most complex cultural artifacts. The NY Times reported that month about the world's tallest tower being built somewhere in Asia. (See below for a list of other good books on this topic.)
This summer I read The Great Disruption: How Climate Change will Bring an End to Shopping and Create a New World. Between hearing Bill McKibben talk this spring, paying attention to the struggles of those around me and watching the political disfunction in Hartford and Washington (and major changes around the world) the title resonated with me. In the first half author Paul Gilding not only recaps some of the facts many of us know about energy supply, climate change and other environmental stresses, he also brings in the economic factor. He thinks we are not only hitting the wall of energy and environmental limits, but because of those, we are also fast approaching economic limits. He thinks we'll soon see the end of growth. He believes that learning to understand that the end of growth is real and permanent, and what that means for the future, will be very difficult.
If you listen to the talk in legislative bodies around the world, you often hear that things will be fine once growth gets going again. For example, we hear that can grow ourselves out of the debt crisis or help the world's very poor achieve better lives by growing the global economy.
What if that will never happen because we have hit the limit, as predicted decades ago in "The Limits to Growth?"
Gilding predicts that that will be very hard to adjust to. (That humans are currently using 40 percent more resources than the earth produces each year and that the US government borrows 40 percent of everything it spends give an indication of the similar nature of the environmental and economic overshoot we've accomplished.)
Returning on August 2 to the disfunction in DC and the subsequent financial volatility made Gilding's book more believable.
Fortunately, Gilding is hopeful that at some point, before too long, we'll realize what an enormous challenge Climate Change presents. We'll understand that we have to address the climate with an urgency and unity that will dwarf that when the US entered World War II.
Many countries will begin to work to quickly reduce emissions and to adapt to the problems of a changed climate. The problems already seem nearly overwhelming. Recently, the Times carried separate stories about the effects of record drought on infrastructure in Texas, on the very long cleanup in Alabama and Missouri from the tornados that hit there and on the effort to dispose of sandbags from the flooding in South Dakota.
The enormous fires across the Southwest and the steep decline of the lobster population in Long Island Sound are other current events influenced by what we've done to the climate.
For this year's heat records, see http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/2011-heat-superlatives_2011-07-15. Then remember last winter's snows and the problems they caused. Warmer air holds more moisture and a warmer Arctic changes global air movements.
Bill McKibben says this is the new normal weather. We better get used to it. And this kind of weather creates a worrisome feedback loop. Higher temperatures cause more people to use more air conditioning which releases more greenhouse gases which makes it hotter which causes ......
The melting Arctic ice causes the polar water to absorb more heat from the sun and melt more ice, and absorb more heat and...
Melting permafrost releases methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas which worsens climate change, melts more permafrost, releases more methane, ...
Before we left on vacation, Deb, who creates this wonderful Gleanings, gave me several books to read, including The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk. I'm not finished yet, but it seems very prescient. It was written in the 1990s and is set in California, in 2050, after many of the environmental, economic and political scenarios evolving now have played out.
The people of the North who live in and around San Francisco hold four things sacred, to be used but not owned. They are air, fire, water and earth. The fifth is spirit. The society described reminds me of NOFA. Water and food are very important and are available to all. The people there are very diverse, loving and accepting, with a variety of life styles. There are lots of committee meetings to achieve consensus and get things done. And lots of work cleaning up a very polluted environment.
They are cut off from the rest of the world, which in the novel is southern California where the Millennialists and Stewards have taken over and established the four purities. Some people there have large houses with pools and lawns while water shortages and rationing are the norm for most of the people. Obedience to the government is controlled through drugs. There are breeding pens for soldiers who are born without souls due to minor offenses by their parents.
Although this was written nearly two decades ago, it seems so believable given today's reality . It is not so far from the tea party and religious fundamentalist attitudes and intolerance and pharmaceutical industry pill a day approach so common today.
I'm looking forward to how it turns out. Right now, with the Sewards having invaded the North and taken control of the water and stopped the free-flowing streams, it doesn't look good.
I think that we are in for very challenging times for the rest of our lives. However, we know that food, air and water are going to be very important, and the way to get our food with the least effects on climate and the environment is from nearby using organic methods.
I appreciate your thoughts.
Other books I recommend for summer reading: they all speak to the importance of our work.
The Diversity of Life, by EO Wilson
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann
1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies
EAARTH: making a life on a tough new planet by Bill McKibben
Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble by Lester R. Brown
photo credits: Bill Duesing
Top to bottom:
~View of the campground from the top of the ocean side dune. The campground is usually half empty and half of the people there are from Canada.
~Our Frisco Campground campsite
~Beach at campground looking toward Hatteras Light