I don’t think I’m alone when I say that our present economic and environmental state gives a sense of precariousness to life. If I stay in the present and I look at food, shelter, clothing, water, roads and police protection, it’s not so bad. Despite many complaints about government over reach, it keeps my life pretty comfy. But I feel like I’m in the heart of a dry forest and grey smoke is wafting through the trees. At the same time budgets are tightening, extreme weather events are bringing increasing amounts of precipitation or none at all. In addition, global oil is becoming harder to find and more expensive to extract raising the cost of everything we have trucked in and every vehicle Madison County runs.
Before the housing slump, land in Madison County was being quickly swallowed by expansive growth. The big challenge at times of expansion, is curbing and directing growth with the least harm and greatest benefit. The county has some good first steps with smart growth planning. But our smart growth plans rose up out of time when we were still figuring out if the recession and global climate change were for certain. At that time, unscrupulous developers were the looming threat to the future sustainability of the county. That threat hasn’t disappeared but, as we saw in the large precipitation events of the 2009 ice storm and the floods of May 2010, water treatment, utilities and roads can be quickly and critically damaged in a short period of time outpacing in time, breath and magnitude any shoddy developer.
As in most communities in the U.S., we rely heavily on federal funds to rebuild when natural disaster strikes. Earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association released data that showed that there was a record 12 disasters in 2011 that recorded losses of over a billion dollars each. Could competition for these funds soon be getting stiff? We have been fortunate so far that our infrastructure remains solid but with federal budget deficits continually running deeper and with more extreme weather events stressing federal coffers, can Madison County continue to depend on federal and state governmental resources for infrastructure construction? Does Madison County government have the financial stability to deal with increased expenses related to increased fuel costs? Do citizens have the wealth to pay for the ever more expensive basics of life? The growing numbers of families visiting local food pantries says that they do not. Future planning needs to flexible enough to plan for the unexpected.
There is a movement to help communities deal with increasing threats from global climate change, economic instability and decreasing oil supplies. Transition Network offers resources and strategies to help communities develop a variety of tools that integrate more flexibility into how towns can respond to unexpected challenges. It recognizes that our communities have become overly dependent on resources that are subsidized by large governmental systems and come from multinational corporations 1000’s of miles away at the expense of local economies. As the supply chains of far away money and goods become increasingly threatened, local sourcing provides another layer of support. Note that it is not the elimination of currently used networking systems but a strengthening and growing of local ones. It rises up from citizens who work both independent of as well as in conjunction with local government. Sustainable Berea has already begun this work and its benefits are spreading throughout the county. Follow the link for more information.