Op-Ed, 583 words

Leading the Way to a Smarter Future

People living in "transition" cities and towns are working together to make their communities more resilient to economic and environmental uncertainty.

Janet Redman

Moments of crisis offer two options: You can respond out of fear by hunkering down, arming yourself, and planning to shoot anyone that comes near your end-of-days outpost. Or you can embrace a smarter option by banding together and taking creative action toward a positive transition.

As our nation grapples with chronic unemployment and the growing negative effects of climate change, the good news is that the transition approach is taking off in more and more places. People living in cities and heartland towns are starting to work together, to make their communities more resilient to economic and environmental uncertainty by moving to end their oil addiction.

There’s a growing network of neighborhoods, cities, and states exchanging methods for weathering economic, energy, and climate shocks–and creating a better quality of life in the process.

Much of the transition movement is about “re-skilling,” or gaining expertise in areas that help families and communities meet more of their own needs. For example in Anderson, Ohio, locally organized workshops teach everything from how to raise chickens in your backyard to composting.

Participants have fun and strengthen relationships with their neighbors as they learn these skills. Community garden plots offer a way to not only eat healthier and potentially shrink food expenses, but also to reduce your carbon footprint, since you’re not buying lettuce shipped across the country. Learn how to pickle cucumbers from a neighbor and you’ll help save the planet at the same time.

These initiatives are also about building collective power. Employees of the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry in Cleveland, for example, are taking business into their own hands. With the support of Kent State University and other local institutions, the facility’s 50 workers have turned the laundry into a cooperative that will be Northeast Ohio’s greenest commercial-scale laundry and provide its worker-owners with fair wages.

And building local power also means engaging locally elected officials and state governments. To help shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources on a community-wide scale, Sustainable Tucson has assembled information on relevant local government offices. Together, stakeholders have developed concrete plans for a sustainable future, in everything from food and water to cultural expression and green building.

Similarly, the residents of Keene, New Hampshire recognized the impacts of climate change on their city–and did something about it. Keene has added an adaptation and climate resiliency action plan to its existing program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent from 1995 levels by 2015.

Americans are coming together to prepare for the inevitable changes in the coming century with imagination. It’s time that the federal government did the same. President Barack Obama has many opportunities to shape the transition in a positive way.

The United States should join together with other nations that are investing in renewable energy, protecting forests and rolling out low-carbon technology to slow climate change. Obama should also support proposals endorsed by several European governments to ensure that the worldwide costs of this economic transition are paid for equitably, including through a tax on Wall Street speculation.

Coming together as a global community to face the transition needed to survive climate change also simply offers a better way to live–one that’s more peaceful and fair.

When Obama meets with other world leaders at the end of this year, he should push hard for a global deal to combat climate change. And afterwards, wouldn’t it just be nice if he invited them all to the White House dining room to share canned tomatoes from the First Lady’s garden?

Janet Redman is co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network (SEEN) project at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS is a community of scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the U.S. and globally. www.ips-dc.org