Friday, February 13, 2009

Last night's meeting

There were ten of us at the meeting at Foster Community House last night. Here is the gist of my talk, which was followed by a wide-ranging general discussion. Firstly there was some correspondence. Dr Barbara Hoare had emailed me with some concerns:

I have been finding that quite a few people are unable to access services in this area as they have no transport to get from town to town. It would be very useful in terms of public health (access to mental health & other medical services) as well as community cohesiveness & environmental savings to have a co-op of some sort which could coordinate car pooling, sharing of home-grown foods & sharing of skills. This is what's happening in the transition towns already but I wasn't sure how it was all funded & whether there are any problems with insurance eg for car pooling.

I'm involved with an initiative of the South Gippsland Shire Council, the South Gippsland Transport Connections project, where I'm a member of the Advisory group as a community representative, and with the Partnership Group which oversees the project. It is attempting to address some of the issues which Barbara mentions. We're working with V-Line which are conducting a review of current coach services from Melbourne to the area with a view to doubling them. Our main task is to find ways of using existing resources to set up a public transport network throughout the area. This involves utilising the existing school buses in their downtime and also those which have the space to take on public passengers during their regular school pick-up runs. We are also trialing public services in various locations. One has been the recent bi-weekly bus from Yarram to Wilsons Promontory and another is to be a service between Venus Bay and Leongatha. There are also town services for Leongatha and later Korumburra in the pipeline.

There is a web-based car pooling scheme, My Spare Seat, which has the potential to be a great resource — check it out.

I'm going to be attending a workshop in March conducted by Todd Litman, a Canadian expert in the economic benefits of sustainable transport, so I'll report back on what I learn there.

Juneen Schulz, who is in charge of the Community Garden being established behind Foster Community House and who also has gardening programs running at the local schools, emailed me with this...
I'm not sure if I'll be able to make the meeting but with the sharing of home-grown foods and skills, there has been some discussion along these lines amongst the community garden members and Community House members. A LETS program has been successful in other towns and this is something perhaps we could do again. Apparently Foster had something similar many years ago [I was one of the founders of this! It eventually fizzled out for a variety of reasons. Lloyd]. I agree with Barbara in looking at these issues. Thanks Lloyd. From Juneen.

We had a discussion about a LETS scheme and agreed it was something we needed to look at again. Geoff Montague agreed to talk to a lady he knows in Leongatha who has been running a successful LETS scheme with a view to seeing if she could help us. We also had a chat about Permablitz, which Greg Bull said his wife Barbara (sender of the first email) has been involved with for some time. Permaculture designer and teacher Cam Wilson is running a permablitz on the 10-acre Southern Cross Permaculture Institute of Rick and Naomi Coleman near Leongatha, South Gippsland this Saturday 14th February.

Having dealt with correspondence, we then moved on to my main talk. Events are moving very quickly in the wider world, and I think the time is ripe to look at the specifics of the kinds of changes we will need to take into account in our personal, community and business life in the next five or so years. I outlined what seems to be the likely course of events at the macro level and then we discussed how it may affect us individually and as a community.

The stimulus package which is our government's response to the crisis will fail to restore business-as-usual, but the government really has no choice but to try, given the political realities. Until the power of the dominant groups and institutions such as big business, the banks and big unions is broken by the unstoppable tide of events, they will continue to dominate decision making however unsustainable their favoured policies are. Unfortunately no matter how much money is poured into the car industry, if no-one buys cars it will fail. This is because frugality is going to be the new paradigm. Citizen will no longer equate with consumer. The shopping centre model is dead, here and everywhere.

Deflation is now the dominant force in the stock markets and property markets world-wide and it has got a long way to go yet. It will end with the destruction of most accumulated wealth. Property prices have only begun to crash in Australia, but will have been given a big kick along in that direction by the recent terrible fires.

With the shrinking of the consumer economy and a corresponding precipitous drop in GST revenue for the government, coupled with a fall in tax receipts from land tax due to property valuation declines and falling income tax due to rising unemployment, the obligations of the state and federal governments will become very burdensome. Social Security payments, public service wages and government debt will be impossible to maintain at their current level. What will the (federal) government do? There is only one practical recourse: print money and thus inflate debt away while effectively shrinking payments to social security recipients, public servants, the medical system and school teachers.

We face two kinds of change: slow, gradual change and sudden abrupt change. The slow changes will be in the economy and in politics. They will play out over years and decades as institutions fight tooth and nail to survive and slowly buckle under the strain. The consumer economy will gradually shrink as demand slows and inflation slowly cuts disposable income. But sudden abrupt changes can happen too, in areas unconstrained by institutional and political inertia.
Such changes can take place in the thoughts and sentiments of large sections of the populations virtually overnight under the stress of major events. The attacks of September the 11th are one example and so are the fires which swept across many rural settlements in Victoria in the past week.

One effect of the fires will be an immediate plunge in the value of dwellings on bush blocks in rural areas, and we are talking about huge numbers of people and a very large prior investment here. This will represent a very serious and sudden deflation spread across the whole of Australia. The resulting forcing of demographic change will play out over a longer time scale.

Another fairly sudden shock was the huge rise in fuel prices last year. It may have only been temporary and because of this many people may have gone back to sleep on the issue, but those planning long term will not have forgotten and we can look forward to more fuel price volatility coupled with possible shortages in the future. Once this has come to be accepted as an enduring reality by most people, many things will change overnight.

Following my talk, discussion ranged very widely over the issue of how to build a resilient community and there was an exploration of our local area's strengths and vulnerabilities. Various participants were able to discover interests they had in common and some important connections were made, which was a very positive outcome despite the small size of the meeting and the somewhat restricted age range of the participants! No date was set for a following meeting but my feeling is we should have one within the next two months.

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