Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This is the year of change for us

From John Robb's latest post...

The Resilient Community Alternative
The option for those not interested in advancing economic interests through the projection of violence, is to disconnect or firewall your community via efforts at resilience. The most critical element of that effort in the short term is a tremendously difficult judo move:

How do you prevent the undertow of the failing global financial system from gutting your community via foreclosure/bankruptcy and debt (and thereby driving the development of global guerrillas) while at the same time building alternative forms of local commercial and/or cooperative endeavor? That's the big question.

Indeed. I was at our local Foster Chamber of Commerce & Industry meeting last night (I'm secretary) where we discussed among other things the impact of the huge fires on our local economy. We are being hit here from all sides. The global financial crisis has been slow to impact us: people talk about it but so far it's just been TV news. Not so the effects of climate change. At the end of last winter someone I know who works in Wilsons Promontory National Park, our biggest tourist drawcard, told me moisture levels in vegetation at that time were typical of the end of summer, not the end of winter. Now a huge area of the Prom has been burnt by a fire started by lightning several weeks ago. As the winds blow from all points of the compass the fire drives this way and that, pushing into all corners of the park with the exception so far of a patch of rugged and damp mountain forest right in the middle. There is no sign of the end of this fire and we have some extreme heat and wind coming up on Friday.

Naturally the park is closed. Melbourne has been blanketed with smoke from the fires for weeks. The result has been that the tourist industry down here has stopped dead. Schools are not booking school camps. Other accommodation providers are likewise without customers. The park will recover, but it will take a few years.

While tourism is important here we are fortunate in having other types of business. Agriculture has always been the main one, plus fishing and the oil field service port at Barry's Beach. However dairy farming has suffered through the international crisis killing demand, and prices have fallen steeply.

There is no doubt our community is going to come under a lot of pressure. Our great weakness is our dependence on international markets for dairying and for the imports of oil which everyone seems to take for granted still. We are a long way from being a resilient community.

Like organisms living on a coral reef, our small businesses depend on the economic currents carrying the nutrients we need to within our grasp. The great international current is faltering. Can we generate enough local capacity to (a) employ people living here in activities which they find sustaining enough to stop them leaving for greener pastures and (b) gather from local sources those economic nutrients which have always come from elswhere?

Whatever happens we are also going to have to take the effects of climate change into account. The gradual drying out over the last twenty years has created the conditions for these devastating fires. They will continue each summer until all that can burn has been burnt. Then a different type of ecosystem will grow up which can cope with the changed conditions.

I don't think the kind of Mad Max world of violence which John Robb talks about is what we need to guard against here — not yet anyway and if we do have security issues they will not be as extreme as in a lot of other places. Our big issue is how do we live in this land? How can we transit from being a European colony treating the land as a resource to be mined with the products thus produced sold to far-off strangers in return for the goods they send us in return, to a semi-closed system where most of what we need come come from local sources in a sustainable way.

This is a project which will take more than one generation.

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