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LJWorld.com weblogs On the Transition to a Sustainable Paradigm

An Open Letter to Our City Commissioners: We Need Visionary, Creative Solutions to Old Problems

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Today's LJWorld editorial about voter apathy got me thinking. I also find our abysmal voter turnout deeply troubling, and I think I may have a solution.

If we want to inspire more people to go to the polls, they need something to get excited about. We're going to be facing some serious challenges in the coming years, and this can easily get pretty depressing to think about. Simply trying to figure out how we can get back to the 'good old days' (pre 2008 financial collapse) isn't going to get people jazzed up, because frankly I think most people know those days are long gone.

What we really need right now is a city commission that can see ways for Lawrence to become a vibrant ecological city as we transition into an era where climate change and peak oil are major realities. Our city commission has done some great things so far. Forming climate change and peak oil task forces were both a great start, and hiring a dedicated sustainability director was a great move. Now it's time we move from these foundation-building efforts to start implementing some really bold actions.

If we can get ahead of the curve now, we have the potential for Lawrence to thrive and attract people and jobs to our city when times get tough, because we spent time preparing while other cities floundered with the status quo.

We have to look at peak oil the way any innovative company would: identify the challenges that $150+ barrel oil is going to bring, understand how that's going to negatively impact your current business model, then think of ways that you can change these negatives into positives, especially considering many companies are going to be blindsided by this change, since they'd prefer to milk short-term profits. Understanding the geological certainty that conventional crude oil has now peaked and is going to get increasingly more expensive is the same as getting a sure-fire stock tip that gold is going to double or triple in the next several years, so dump the Enron stocks before the bubble bursts and make your investments in the coming low-carbon economy now.

All this labors one single point. What we need is vision - a comprehensive view of an alternative paradigm that is better than the one we have now, and which takes the science of climate change and peak oil seriously.

I personally believe that a world with expensive oil could be preferable to a world with cheap oil, if we have the vision to see it.

For example, the end of cheap energy is going to cause globalization to reverse: Wal-Mart's business model is going to stagnate, and local businesses will thrive because the cost of long-distant imports from China, for example, will no longer be subsidized by cheap transport fuels. Local is going to become competitive again.

Relocalization is going to be an essential strategy for cities to thrive in the future - fostering the growth of a fully functioning local food economy, and cottage industries providing essential goods and services. We also need to create incentives for businesses and individuals to start investing in local renewable energy sources and for the city to rapidly support alternative transportation. These options may not be used immediately, but will once gasoline costs more than $5 a gallon (and it's already this expensive in many countries around the world).

What a more localized world means to us as citizens is the re-birth of community. It means strengthening local relationships, and finding happiness in people more than things. It means growing food with your neighbors, slowing down our overly stressful schedules and enjoying more time with our family and friends. There's a new film out called "The Economics of Happiness," and it lays out beautifully how globalization isn't actually making the world happier past a certain point, and that a new economic paradigm based on local community is providing a more promising alternative.

Acknowledging peak oil and climate change does not necessitate a gloomy outlook - it simply means acknowledging the trends of the future and finding creative, positive solutions to adapt to these new realities.

No matter who wins this year's election, I hope all of our commissioners will seize this moment to think creatively and differently about our economic problems, and not rely on the advice of the old economic strategies of the past. They certainly worked once, but it's clear we need to start thinking outside of the Chamber of Commerce's playbook (I can't speak for the local chapter, but the national organization didn't even recognize that climate change was real until very recently, and to my knowledge they're still not even mentioning peak oil).

With a fresh perspective, we can stop trying to make the future less bad, worrying about what we might have to lose; we can start thinking about everything we have to gain from imagining a way of life that's even better than the one we have now.

To jump start this conversation, I want to outline 7 policy positions that I hope all five of our next city commissioners will adopt as a common platform to help inspire and give direction to their time in office:

1) In favor of adopting the Environmental Chapter of the Horizon 2020 Comprehensive Plan, which would ensure that prime agricultural soils around the city would be preserved http://www.lawrenceplanning.org/documents/Environment_Approved.pdf

2) In favor of significantly increasing bike lanes - also known as "Complete Streets" - in the city http://www.completestreets.org/

3) In favor of mixed-use, high-density development - also known as New Urbanism http://www.newurbanism.org/

4) In favor of creating a city feed-in tariff to spur solar power growth by individuals and businesses http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed-in_...

5) In favor of passing a Food Sovereignty Bill http://www.filmsforaction.org/News/Maine_Town_Becomes_First_to_Declare_Food_Sovereignty/

6) In favor of adopting a Zero-Waste strategy that will aim to reduce landfill waste by 90% by 2040 http://www.garyliss.com/id18.html

7) Supports Richard Register's vision of creating ecologically healthy 'eco-cities' http://ecocitybuilders.org/

Cheers!

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