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This draft document is the first piece in what we intend will be a Community Resilience Plan for the Santa Cruz area. Transition Initiatives focus on building local resilience, the ability of a community to survive and thrive in the face of challenges and crises. Throughout the history of human habitation on earth, communities have had to adapt to environmental and social stressors. Human culture is full of wisdom that communities have developed that allow them to thrive. Much of that wisdom has undoubtedly emerged out of the experience of painful failures.
This document is an attempt to assemble the community’s wisdom to address our local water challenges. We study our local problem with an eye on the root causes. Our society has inherited cultural habits that have led our us to degrade the natural world on which we depend. In our small corner of the planet, those cultural habits have led us to the point where salt water is intruding into our aquifers and native fish are becoming extinct in local streams.
Transition Initiatives recognize that we cannot resolve our problems simply through technological advances. We need to restore values that have provided human societies an abundant and sustainable livelihood within nature’s limits. We need to implement practices and technology that flow from those values.
The process of clarifying values and altering our cultural practices is, if it is to be successful, a group process. Transition Santa Cruz seeks to partner with other groups and individuals in our community in drafting and implementing a Sustainable Water Plan for our community. Articles in the plan are posted online and you can make comments there: http://transtionsc.org/water-group. At that website you can sign up for newsletters and learn about community meetings in which we gather input on the plan. And if you want to participate further in developing and implementing the plan, contact the Transition Sustainable Water Group. After a round of community input, we will revise this draft and add to it. The Plan is intended to be a living document that continues to develop.
Levels of Resilience: A Tale of Two Cultures
The challenges that Transition Initiatives address result from a system of economic activity that degrades the environmental basis for our sustenance in two ways:
1. Depleting and exhausting the resources in the natural world that we depend on. An example of this is the depletion of petroleum and minerals, non-renewable resources. Another example is the degradation of forests, farmland, aquifers, and streams---all renewable resources. These latter resources can be damaged beyond repair, as when topsoil is depleted, or when over-pumping water from an aquifer causes the ground to subside.
2. Creating through our economic activity a waste byproduct that damages the natural world. An example of this is the carbon dioxide that we burn into the atmosphere, or the sediment from logging operations that is discharged into our streams, causing our fish populations to decline.
The historical record of humans changing course when human activity results in resource depletion and destructive byproducts is mixed. Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, documents some of the failures of human settlements to successfully adapt to their environmental challenges. These communities lacked sufficient resilience. Diamond tries to analyze the cultural beliefs in societies that cause them to fail to respond to feedback that their environment is suffering irreparable damage. A Polynesian settlement completely deforested Easter Island over just a few hundred years. The violent collapse of Easter Island society coincided with the collapse of the environmental conditions that could support it. What is disturbing is the failure of Easter Islanders to read the writing on the wall and change course towards a sustainable way of life. The deforestation on Easter Island was a function of the Islanders’ main public works project, the carving and transport of large stone statues from the quarry to their placement on the coast. The carving went on right up until the last trees were cut down. In fact, the largest carvings ever attempted were those that were unfinished when the society fell apart. Diamond posits that the Easter Islanders’ rigid hierarchical structure impaired them from responding to feedback from the environment.
A Teduray swidden that is ready for planting
An example of a society that successfully employed sustainable practices comes to us from Santa Cruz resident, Stuart Schlegel, a UCSC emeritus professor of anthropology. For two years in the 1960’s Stu lived in the rainforest of Mindanao with a tribe of Teduray. The Teduray lived essentially the same way that they had lived for centuries or perhaps thousands of years. The main change due to their contact with the modern world was their use of metal blades instead of stones for knives and axes, and metal cooking pots instead of bamboo for cooking rice. The Teduray were a people who straddled the distinction between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists. Hunting and fishing was essential to their way of life. So was swidden agriculture, the annual clearing and burning of a section of the rainforest to plant their rice and other crops. Such a dramatice impact on the rainforest would necessarily have to stay within strict limits if the rainforest were to survive. The Teduray discovered how to live within those limits---and thrive.
The Teduray developed the wisdom to choose a site for their swidden where the forest had completely recovered from its previous clearing, a process that would require over 150 years. Had they not heeded the signs of the rainforest’s regeneration, the forest would have eventually given way to grassland, irreparably harming the source of their sustenance. The Teduray also developed an important technology that prvented them from growing beyond their ecological limits---the use of herbs for birth control.
The Teduray practiced what E.F. Schumacher described as “appropriate technology”. They declined to import technology from the outside world that didn’t fit with their way of life. Chain saws, for example, might have lightened the arduous task of felling giant tropical trees. But embracing that technology would have made the Teduray dependent on the outside world for the tool and its fuel and repair. Had they chosen such import-dependency, the Teduray would likely have discovered that they were spending more time cutting and transporting rattan, their “export”, than the time saved chain-sawing the trees. The rattan in the jungle may have become more scarce, requiring more time to locate it. This would have made it more difficult to earn the foreign exchange that they depended on for their highly-prized cooking pots. Their avoidance of excessive dependency on inappropriate technology and external markets allowed them to avoid the “rat-race”.
What we learn from Schlegel’s book, Wisdom from a Rainforest, is that the Teduray enjoyed lots more leisure time than modern Americans. They played string and percussion instruments and spent many hours dancing and singing. This is typical of indigenous cultures.
Teduray culture was egalitarian. There were no chiefs or high priests. Men and women had an equal voice in the affairs of the community. This is in contrast to the hierarchical Easter Island society described by Diamond. This supports the Transition Initiatives’ assumption that the creativity we need to pursue a new path cannot be attained without democratic participation.
Transition Initiatives seek a change of course towards a sustainable way of life, not by invoking images of environmental collapse, but by inspiring people to choose a way of life that is more leisurely, congenial, and mutually supportive. Transition reminds us that our economic well-being rests on the quality of our community’s value for mutual support and the sustainability of our ecosystems rather than on the passing sugar-rush of economic growth. Economic growth cannot continue indefinitely on a finite planet.
In Santa Cruz County, the limits of our water supply porends other limits that we will be facing, including the limits of cheap energy. We hope not only to arrive at a resilient solution to our water needs, but to learn how to get there together in a harmonious way.
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