Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sustainable St. Croix,
part of a continuing series
Anthrpocene--anthropocentric?

Late yesterday afternoon we had fun participating in an IMAGININGS exercise focused on the Lower St. Croix and what we want our communities to be like in and by 2034. One way to summarize the outcomes is to say that most want to see more arts, more participatory democracy, better, more effective integration between schools and community, more organic food. I felt almost as if I were back among my hippie friends in Mad River Vermont in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were about 30 or so of us that actually participated in the IMAGININGS development, and then we trouped off to open a Music on the Overlook evening where there were about 150 or 175 folks in the audience.

view from the Overlook, St. Croix Falls
Photo by J. Harrington

Several things struck me about the event, the participants, and the audience:
  1. There was a lot of local creativity with minimal use of professional jargon. That made the activity much more inclusive.

  2. The focus was on building on current assets, not overcoming deficits, although no one used the phrase "asset-based community development." (See item #1. Remember "the map is not the place.") 

  3. The questions from the audience reflected an awareness of major (local) themes that warrent responses now and in the future:

    • How much water will there be (in 2034)?
    • How much education will take place via the Internet?
    • Will the (St. Croix Falls-Xcel) dam still be there? (I interpreted this to reflect an awareness of growing reliance of renewable energy. Perhaps I'm wrong.)
 Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)   invasive
Photo by J. Harrington

Not once did I hear the terms Anthropocene or invasive species used. I hope this may be a case of crowd wisdom implicitly dealing with a reality that professionals haven't yet given enough consideration. One example comes to mind. I think we need a broader consideration of potential benefits from "invasive species." I found my wish for more of this kind of creative thinking reinforced this morning as I was reading Wisława Szymboraska's wonderful poem PSALM (1976). If, indeed, we have created the Anthropocene age, then Stewart Brand is partially correct when he claims "we have become as gods and have to get good at it." However, I vehemently disagree with the implication that we humans have the knowledge, and I'm sure we certainly lack the wisdom, to play gods at a planetary scale. First we should demonstrate we can be successful at the strategies and scale described by Bill McKibben in Deep Economy and E.F. Schumacher in Small Is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered. I hope yesterday's event proves a meaningful start in that direction for the people and communities in the valley and the two states it joins. IMAGININGS holds great promise, I think, since it is artists who help us become aware of "the gift," something else we need more of, rather than the hubris that enables us to think we could manage a planet when most days we demonstrate we can't even manage ourselves very well.

Finally, we left the event with several plants for our property that will help support any local monarch butterflies in the neighborhood. If we accomplished nothing more than receiving those gifts, plus meeting and working with some fine people, and having some fun, the exercise was entirely worthwhile.

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