Consequences - It seems there are two groups of issues to look at. The fairness or justice of this situation and the problems that arise because of the imbalance. Most people in America value justice. I find it disturbing that I am a part of this injustice. We have the largest military budget in the world. How much of our military need arises to make sure that we get the resources to live at our present level of convenience? Illegal immigration is a growing political issue. The ecological footprint of the people of Mexico is 6.42 acres per person with only 3.46 acres of ecologically productive land per person. If you were afraid your children would starve wouldnt you consider risking illegal immigration?
The social problems that arise out of the fairness or justice issue are but childs play when you consider the consequences of overshooting the carrying capacity of the Earth. When the fossil fuel runs out if we dont have methods in place of living sustainably for the level of population we have, literally billions of men, women and children will die. Can you imagine the wars and suffering that will occur as countries compete for the meager resources?
Will this happen in our lifetime, our childrens or our grandchildrens. We dont know. We seem to be trying to export our lifestyle and consumer products as fast as we can, everywhere on Earth. The more over consumption the faster the crisis approaches. Earths support system could falter due to imbalances humans have created by our activities. We might consider that that crisis has already begun with famine in Africa due to climate change or with increases of children with lung disease in Los Angeles.
So what can we do? We can begin by consuming less, raising some of our own food, adjust our work activities so that they are sustainable and make solving this problem part of our daily responsibility.
We really dont know if our cities can become sustainable. Will our neighborhoods work as fossil fuel diminishes? Its time we begin doing our research and development while we have fossil fuel to power it. Its time to try things and see what will work. When the crunch arrives it will be too late for anything but blind reaction.
Block Centered Sustainable Community Building - The Heartland All Species Project has been working for three years on Block Centered Sustainable Community Building. That might be defined as getting to know your neighbors and working together to keep the block safe and economically and environmentally healthy. In addition to the issues most neighborhoods focus on, the environmental perspective asks us to think in terms of global systems and direct our local actions accordingly. The block-based component comes about in the attempt to wean ourselves from the automobile. Not only is the automobile a serious environmental problem, but our total acceptance of it has really hurt neighborhoods. With the use of the automobile we can fulfill all our needs without ever having to talk to a neighbor. Huge malls with acres of parking have put most of the mom and pop neighborhood stores out of business. We probably wont see our neighbors at the mall and mall owners dont have much reason to contribute to our neighborhood as mom and pop did.
The smallest social unit is the family or the household. Sometimes households are traditional families. Other times theyre not. Way back when, our ancestors lived in extended family groupings, or tribes. We all relied on each other for food, protection, education and recreation. Even though we live in modern cities we still have some needs to have the support of our tribal community. But we dont have closely related people to work with. We have city blocks with a diversity of genes and values. As we feel the grip of energy and food prices go up as they surely will. We will be put in situations where we will have to learn to share to a much greater degree than we do now. At a time when companies are moving away from responsibility for the well being of their employees and the communities that support them, it might be a time for us to get to know each other, to form neighborhood groups that reinvent employment. Perhaps we could form cottage industries of several neighboring cottages. How many of our needs can be supplied by neighbors, eliminating the need to travel across the city?
A year ago when we had five or six garage sales on our block there was a buzz of excitement in the air on Saturday morning. Neighbors were shopping with neighbors. Some neighbors went together for the sales. People got to know each other better. A number of other block residents are ordering food from a natural foods warehouse. In the process they talk to each other a couple of times per month. On another block four households share their yards by gardening together.
At a time when cynicism seems to be a national disease and mistrust prevents us from looking each other in the eye, we have forgotten the supportive feelings that community can bring. Perhaps we remember. Maybe were afraid that reaching out to help or for help is a thing of the past. I know how powerful the support and caring of a group can be. In graduate research on encounter groups I found that group members discovered a sense of community that made them come alive. Many did not want to go home. It is not easy to maintain that level of trust but it is possible. Why not?
What About Your Block? - Each one of us can take some small step to improve community relations on our block. Block parties, open houses, shared gardens, even throwing your neighbors newspaper on the porch when they are out of town is a step in that direction. We will have to be patient in building community. Community takes months, even years, to build. Trust must be developed and that takes time.
If there is some way that you would like to reach out to your immediate neighbors, some idea you have, and you would like to get an opinion of how it might work please call. I have been thinking about this for a long time. I have passed out flyers on my block for three years and organized several projects. Some worked and some didnt. I offer my help to you but I also really need your thoughts, suggestions and help. Have you been part of something on your block that worked? Would you like to meet with others who are interested in building strong blocks? Please give me a call at 816/361-1230,
or write your comments on the All Species Forum at http://www.allspecies.org/bbs1/. My address is 5644 Charlotte, Kansas City, MO 64110.
Specific sites: How to do a block Earth Day, http://www.allspecies.org/neigh/block.htm or 49/63 EcoKids program, http://www.allspecies.org/ecokids/index.htm
Ecological Footprints of Nations http://www.ecouncil.ac.cr/rio/focus/report/english/footprint/ Mathis Wackernagel
"Our Ecological Footrint: Reducing Human Impact on Earth, by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees. Gabriola BC and Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers (1996).