Instead of focusing our efforts on how to hunker down and just 'survive' the challenges we know are ahead, can we please have a conversation about how we can prosper and thrive?
By Jason Allen
Published February 16, 2011
I have been reading Eliot Coleman's fantastic Four Season Harvest recently, and his wonderful instructions about how to harvest fresh veggies all year 'round.
It has me thinking quite a bit about the hardiness of various plants, especially in light of Coleman's assertion that with simple protection from the wind and bitterest cold, we can grow many vegetables that are popular in the south of France.
Hardiness is an interesting term in the agricultural world. It speaks not to whether or not a plant will survive in a given climate, but whether or not it will thrive.
That's the discussion I feel we need to be having in Hamilton right now: With all of the changes that are certain to come, how will we escape the bunker mentality that is so prevalent in peak oil/climate change thought? How can we turn our attention to how we can thrive and become a desirable, attractive community in the face of the 'trifecta?'
The first step is, perhaps, to list our assets.
It is widely acknowledged that as fossil fuels increase in price, and decrease in availability, certain forms of transport will quickly trump the current method of loading everything worth moving into Transport trucks.
When it comes to rail and water transportation, Hamilton is almost uniquely suited in Canada in terms of not only access to the largest market in Canada, but relatively easy access to the largest markets in the U.S.
Make no mistake: even if stock indexes take a serious tumble, the price of gas shoots up and all manner of calamaties are made manifest, we will still be trading. We will still be producing goods and services of real value - in fact, if Jeff Rubin is at all correct, we may be producing more of them.
People have been trading between communities in some form or another for the better part of 10,000 years. No matter how bad you think things will get, it is foolish to think that every community will suddenly have to become totally self-sufficient.
So then what can we produce for these markets to which we will have almost uniquely easy access?
The first, and most obvious, is food. We live in the heart of one of the greatest agricultural areas in North America, and yet many of the 'local' food manufacturers - Kraft, Smuckers, etc, source virtually all of their raw materials from Mexico or California.
Don't even get me started on the ripping up of Peach Orchards after the biggest cannery in Niagara closed.
Local food, in an era of an unreliable power grid and high transport prices, may not necessarily mean local fresh produce, and we need to start thinking about how we can preserve, can, and otherwise process all of our local produce for consumption over our long, cold winters, and those of our nearest neighbors.
Some producers nearby are doing a great job of this; others are hamstrung by contracts with local grocery stores that demand prices lower than what Canadian labour laws will permit.
Even Mayor Bratina recognizes that food processing is a large, and largely neglected part of Hamilton's economy, and yet the list of tangible wins for helping home grown producers to develop those opportunities is rather short.
City Hall needs to be working closely with local farmers and growers to help them find local processors for their products, to get them into Hamiltonian's cupboards, and not just their crispers.
Next, Hamilton has an enormous amount of built infrastructure that we need to keep in good repair. The steady decline of our electrical infrastructure and the ongoing problems with waste water and sewage in the East End are glaring examples of what happens when we don't maintain what we have.
It is always important to maintain the infrastructure that supplies the services on which your citizens depend. But to neglect their repair at a time when the cost of repairs could double or triple in the next 10-15 years is worse than irresponsible, it's reckless.
Finally, Hamilton's leaders need to stop spending so much of their time and energy on attracting big employers and large factories to our city, who's loyalty expires minutes after the tax breaks are amortized.
The focus of our economic development team needs to be on supporting local companies that produce things people really want and need - and in the process re-skilling our community to be prepared for when those things are no longer available for $1.99 from Thailand.
Retail businesses and consulting firms are all fine and good, but there needs to be a renewed focus on small businesses that are producing tangible goods, and in the process relearning skills that will be vital in the near future.
This focus on the big 'front page' hit of employment opportunities is probably the first thing that needs to change.
I guess it's the comment stream in my last post on Raise the Hammer that set this whole little rant in motion.
The bunker mentality for dealing with the future - how will we survive? - isn't a very big tent, and not many people want to huddle under it. I know that many people think that WTSHTF everybody will come running to them for help, but Millenarians have an atrocious track record of accuracy.
While things will certainly be difficult, the comparison of what is to come with a Zombie invasion is not helpful at best, and alienating at worst.
So instead of focusing our efforts on how to hunker down and just 'survive' the challenges we know are ahead, can we please have a conversation about how we can prosper; how we can thrive; how we can be the best place to live, work, and raise a child? Even in the face of triple digit oil prices?
This article was first published on Jason's website
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