by Michael Brownlee
Regular contributor Michael Brownlee gave a brief and superb speech at Boulder’s Step It Up campaign. He nails it on the head as to what we need to do and Going Local is a major component!

For a Global Warming Rally presentation on April 14, 2007, part of the National Day of Climate Action, Step It Up.

renaissance_local.jpg We were asked to wear a costume today representing our favorite endangered species, so I have come in a very human costume, for we forget that with what we have done to our biosphere, we have placed ourselves firmly on the list of myriad species that could go extinct in the next few decades.

It is useful to consider that, in this convergence of global crises that we have created, it is not a given that we will survive as a race. We are at an evolutionary threshold now, and our future is very uncertain.

There are a few things I feel need to be said at this historic juncture.

If we have been paying attention to the mounting evidence — and to what our hearts are telling us — it is by now clear enough that the impacts from global warming are going to be far more severe and arrive far more quickly than almost anyone has thought. We now know that not only must we cut our carbon emissions dramatically, right now (2050 is far too late), we must also prepare for the devastating impacts of the damage we have already unleashed. We’re in for a rather bumpy future.

We might as well face it, global warming is not a problem that we can solve. It is a tragic consequence to which we must adjust with a profound change in the way we live upon this planet.

Many associate the work of Boulder Valley Relocalization primarily with peak oil. This is not entirely accurate, as will become evident in the coming months. Nevertheless, clearly the peaking of global oil production is hardly unrelated to global warming. Let’s be candid. Peak oil may not be as vast a problem as global warming, but it will hit us sooner, and it will hit us hard — for our entire global economy is based on the wide availability of cheap fossil fuels and the ability to freely dump our wastes into our increasingly fragile biosphere. This economy is well on its way to self-destruction (does anyone really doubt this?), and none of us is prepared.

In Boulder, we’re proud to be thefirst city that has passed a carbon tax to fund our climate action plan, our commitment to get our carbon emissions down to 7% below 1990 levels, in alignment with the Kyoto protocol. But our carbon emissions in Boulder County have increased more than 75% since 1990 and will have doubled by 2012 or so. How can we possibly reduce our carbon emissions so much, so soon? Sadly, there is no clear plan for this, not here, not anywhere. Carbon credits are not the solution. Alternative energy technology is not the solution. These are all necessary, and they will help, but they are not the solution.

Isn’t it obvious that we must begin by dramatically reducing our consumption of energy in every way we can think of? I am convinced that we should be demanding of ourselves an 80% reduction in energy consumption by 2012, not by 2050. I realize that this will not be a popular notion, but I think enough of us have learned enough by now to declare that this is necessary — whether we like it or not.

With less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. produces nearly a third of the world’s greenhouse gases. That’s astonishing, horrifying, and deeply embarrassing. And it is no coincidence that we consume more than 25% of the world’s petroleum resources (and we’re importing two-thirds of what we consume). There is a very direct relationship between oil and global warming, isn’t there?

At the moment, the U.S. is by far the world’s biggest contributor to global warming. But soon we are likely to have serious competition in this dubious position from China and India, who together comprise more than 1/3 of the world’s population. They don’t want to ride bicycles any more. They want the same profoundly unsustainable lifestyle we have created for ourselves, and they will never be able to have it, and we will never be able to keep it.

If we believe that technology will solve this dilemma, that we can continue to fuel economic growth by some other means, then we are being seduced by precisely the same fundamental error that has produced this conundrum. We must come to see that the solutions are not technological, but human.

Here’s what we must reckon with: Economic globalization has devastated our most precious and now most endangered resource on the planet: community.

We must learn to reweave the fabric of fundamental connections and relationships that have been at the heart of human civilization from the beginning. We must learn to reconnect with the earth, with the seasons, with our biosphere, with each other. We must rebuild our relationships with those who live in our neighborhoods, with those who grow our food, with those who produce the goods we need, with those who supply the services we require. And we must do it all locally as much as possible, rebuilding local living economies. Only through such profoundly local living can we curtail our profligate consumption, end our contribution to global warming, and restore balance and sanity to our planet.

We are calling for our communities to quickly become largely self-sufficient, to develop the capacity to produce locally our most essential needs in food, energy, goods and services. Such relocalized communities will naturally trade their surpluses interdependently with surrounding relocalized communities, forming self-sufficient bioregions that trade surpluses interdependently with each other. This will be a radical and welcome shift from the tangled web of codependent relationships that we call a globalized economy.

This transition to a local living economy will take some time, even though we don’t have much time. It is our man-on-the-moon project here in Boulder County, and we anticipate a ten-year transition. Our message is simple, expressed in a series of themes or memes: Buy local first. Eat local. Grow local. Produce energy locally. Develop local currencies. And in the process, rebuild community. It’s all part of a renaissance of local that is rising up among people everywhere.

People respond intuitively to these memes, and they are gladly and rapidly joining us here in a county-wide BOULDER GOING LOCAL! Campaign. What is far more difficult to communicate is just how urgent it is that we do this, and how vital it is that we join in this effort together as a community of communities. Human unity, collaboration, cooperation, partnership — these are our most important and most urgently needed technologies.

Furthermore, as activists, we must recognize that we are all working toward one common goal: to establish and expand human sovereignty, human freedom and human responsibility. With this recognition, we must learn to unite our efforts, or we will fail.

I’d like to close with the poignant words of Paul Hawken from the most recent Bioneers conference. “We must stop importing our lives in the form of food, fuel and fundamentalism. Life is homegrown, always has been. So is culture. And so too are the solutions to global problems.”