Earlier this month, a great many new ideas emerged from the Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro. But one theme dominated the three-day conference: the way that the United States currently organizes its economic activity is no longer sustainable and a new path is needed.
With long-term unemployment and home foreclosures remaining at levels not seen since the 1930s, it’s tough to argue that the economy has recovered from the collapse of the housing bubble of 2007-2008. Eight million jobs have disappeared since the start of the current recession.
With the number of billionaires growing by the year, and the gap between rich and poor at the highest levels since the 1920s, it’s tough to argue that the United States has a fair and equitable economic system.
And with the double whammy of climate change and peak oil looming over a nation totally dependent on cheap energy for nearly every aspect of daily life, it’s tough to argue that our nation can continue to live the way it’s been living — or that a radically altered climate will make it easier for us to survive.
These are the reasons that there is a great deal of buzz about finding ways to build resilient local economies. And that buzz has grown exponentially over the last couple of years.
Windham County has played its role, as organizations such as Post Oil Solutions and Transition Putney have not just talked about the need to change the local economy, but have also done something about it.
From canning workshops, to community gardens, to farmers’ markets, to grassroots organizing concerning food issues, the two organizations have done tremendous work.
But, the people involved with post-oil planning don’t see the same energy, or the same sense of urgency, from local government or the local business community.
That was the takeaway from the June 7 Brattleboro Selectboard meeting, when a proposal from Post Oil Solutions to start a sustainable community task force was met with relative indifference.
Supporters of the task force say that, while the work that has gone into the new Brattleboro town plan and the Southeast Vermont Economic Development group (SeVEDS) has been useful, neither the town Planning Department nor SeVEDS have fully acknowledged the economic and social disruptions that lie ahead in a post-oil world.
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Getting municipal governments involved isn’t a radical new idea.
More than 600 towns around the nation, including Montpelier, Keene, N.H., and Northampton, Mass., have made significant commitments toward climate protection and sustainability.
Why not Brattleboro?
Post Oil Solutions wasn’t asking for money on June 7. It merely asked for a study committee to look into forming a task force, and for the town to collaborate with the nonprofit on developing a community-based food system.
The Selectboard wasn’t interested, saying that the present town boards are in a better position to deal with the problem.
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We have room for compromise here.
Town boards need to think about the probability of a future that is drastically different from the present. They need to think and respond creatively, and work with willing and engaged volunteers who are committed to the civic process. Particularly given Selectboard member Ken Schneck’s work toward engaging more people in town government, the board should be making every reasonable effort to say “yes” and encouraging such activity..
And Post Oil Solutions needs to recognize that just because they happen to be convinced that their ideas are right, it doesn’t mean that people will automatically follow along. People don’t respond well to being lectured.
Vermont is in a much better position than most places to make the transition to a new economic future.
But this journey must be collaborative, not confrontational, and it must involve the whole community, not just those who agree with the post-oil perspective.
There will be skeptics and people who don’t necessarily agree.
We must avoid pointless fights over process that take energy away from building coalitions and developing ideas that work.