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10 Steps to Localization

10 steps:

Step 1: Expand our horizons beyond the question of how we will run the cars by means other than gasoline. The TechnoMessiah will not save us from ourselves, nor will she magically create a substitute for crude oil. The mainstream media would have you believe ethanol is the savior, when in fact the most likely outcome of the ethanol craze is that we'll use our gas tanks to burn through the last six inches of topsoil in America's breadbasket. Biodiesel represents the most viable of the alternative fuels, but it requires a choice: We can use our farmland to grow food, or we can use it to grow fuel for our cars. Given the choice between eating and driving, I suspect many Americans would choose driving. But cognitive dissonance runs so deep, they'll choose to drive … to Burger King. This obsession with keeping the cars running threatens our lives and our species. Cars are not part of the solution, whether they run on fossil fuels, moonshine, peanut oil, or buffalo chips. Rather, they are very clearly part of the problem, and a large part at that. It's time to abandon the car, time to make other arrangements for nearly all the common activities of daily life.

Step 2: We must produce food differently. Industrial agriculture is destined for disaster, and will leave in its wake sterile soils and an agricultural model at a grossly inappropriate scale. Within the next decade or so, small-scale farming will return to the center of American life. Think of the Victory Gardens of Oil War II as a small-scale, temporary experiment. Say goodbye to the 3,000-mile Caesar salad to which we've become accustomed; say hello to locally grown food, recognizing that you might have to grow your own. In the near term, this situation presents many business and vocational opportunities for creative, hard-working people. First, though, we will have to retrieve considerable knowledge from the dustbin of history. And in arid regions such as Tucson, Arizona, we'll need to obtain our water differently, too. When oil becomes too expensive or too limited in supply, we won't be using it to suck water from deep in the ground. In the absence of fossil fuels, the human carrying capacity of the Tucson basin is approximately zero.

Step 3: We must inhabit the terrain differently. The American suburbs and the interstate highway system are designed for a culture that has no future: the misguided car culture. The suburbs in particular represent perhaps the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Our suburbs essentially require us to live far from our places of work and play, and also far from all consumer goods, from food to furniture. We will have to learn to inhabit differently, or not inhabit at all, most areas currently dominated by asphalt, concrete, and tall buildings. These include, for example, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Tucson. Our cities must contract. Our towns must be re-inhabited and the areas around them must be re-structured to accommodate small farms and the manufacture of goods to serve the towns. This entire process will require gihugic demographic shifts and is likely to be turbulent. When the trucks stop bringing food and the water stops flowing through the taps and the diesel-powered trains are no longer bringing coal to the power plant; when all this is happening and the thermometer reads 105 degrees and the calendar says summer's not here yet; you'd better get along with your neighbors, especially the heavily armed ones who take a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment. If you're looking for a job in the decades ahead, look no further than the brand-new fields of architecture, planning, and political leadership. The old versions of these enterprises are useless and must be abandoned. Consider our cities, as they currently stand: We have no sense of public space. Any small piece of beauty we might otherwise find between Wal-Mart and Target is obscured by the curvature of the earth. Our strip-malls are so ugly even winos won't hang out there. There's not enough Prozac in the world to make them seem nice. Are these places worth caring about? Are they worth defending? I'd guess there are at least 100,000 places not worth caring about in this country, and the number is growing. Actually, there might be 100,000 places not worth caring about in the Phoenix metropolitan area alone. When we have more places not worth caring about than places that are worth caring about, perhaps that day will come that we'll run out of young people -- people your age -- willing to spill their blood in the Middle East to defend our hyper-indulgent, non-negotiable way of life. That'll be a dreadful day for American Empire, but a wonderful day for the rest of the planet.

Step 4: We must move people and things differently. You've probably all seen the bumper sticker on about every fourth 18-wheeler on the interstate: "Without trucks, America stops." That's about right, at least with respect to economic growth. And the trucks are going to stop within the next half-decade or so. Shortly thereafter, the interstate highway system will simply collapse. Let's not waste our time trying to prop up our hallucinatory economy with its fatal dependency on cars and trucks. Rather, we could restore public transit. We could start with our railroads -- currently, we have a rail system the Bulgarians would be ashamed of -- and we could electrify our railways so they can run on renewable energy. Then we could move to the waterways, starting by ripping out the condos and bike paths from the inner-city harbors and then restoring the piers and warehouses (not to mention the sleazy accommodations for sailors). Numerous career opportunities lie ahead for those hardy individuals willing to put away their iPods and Blackberries long enough to chart the course.

Step 5: We need to transform retail trade. The demise of Wal-Mart is at hand. Personally, I think that's a nice silver lining, albeit in a large bank of very dark clouds. The national chains have used inexpensive oil as the foundation for predatory economies of size, and therefore as the springboard for killing local economies. Cheap oil is fundamental to the 12,000-mile supply chain underlying the "warehouse on wheels" approach to the just-in-time delivery of cheap plastic crap. Don't think for a minute that Internet shopping will replace small, locally owned shops in every town: After all, Internet shopping relies on cheap delivery, and delivery will no longer be cheap in the days ahead. In addition, Internet shopping depends on reliable electric-power systems. Electricity is a short-lived luxury because all sources of power are derivatives of oil; for example it takes a lot of oil to rip coal out of the ground, and then a lot more to deliver it to the power plant; it takes a lot of oil to construct a solar panel or a wind turbine, or even to maintain dams used to generate hydroelectric power. Again, there are plenty of career opportunities for energetic individuals interested in small, local businesses. In the locally owned shops of the future, even the much maligned "middle man" will be making a comeback (so, too, will the
lesser-known "middle woman").

Step 6: We have to start making things again. We will have far fewer choices when we go to the store, but we still will need clothes and household goods. We don't know how we're going to make things, or even what we're going to make, in part because we haven't made much of anything in this country for such a long time. But I'm counting on American ingenuity to light the way. If you're looking for a job, there's plenty that needs to be done because there's plenty that needs to be manufactured.

Step 7: We need artists again. When the power goes out, we won't get to decide between listening to Britney Spears and watching the latest rendition of American Idol. See, I'm full of good news! We're going to need playhouses and live performance halls, albeit without high-tech light and sound systems. And we'll need musicians and actors and playwrights and stagehands and theater managers. We'll need storytellers, too, to keep history alive when the publishers stop printing books. Again, the Internet is unlikely to save on-demand canned entertainment if the power's on the fritz. We'll be able to look back on the Internet as a wonderful piece of technology, if only because it unmistakably disproved the old expression: "A million monkeys at a million typewriters could reproduce Shakespeare."

Step 8: We must reorganize the educational system. Yellow fleets of school buses are on their way out. We have invested heavily in centralized systems of primary and secondary school -- most recently and disastrously in the form of "No Child Left Behind" -- and we will undoubtedly continue to invest in that centralization at the expense of true education. Such investment will slow the transition to a reasonable system of education that perhaps will grow, in fits and starts, from the home-schooling movement. More good news: It seems we will not be stuck with a public school system focused on churning out automata to serve industry. The current system was described by Jules Henry in his 1963 classic, Culture Against Man: "School is indeed training for later life not because it teaches the 3 Rs (more or less), but because it instills the essential cultural nightmare fear of failure, envy of success, and absurdity." Henry's scathing critique correctly pointed out that public schools eviscerate individuality and creativity, and therefore serve corporate America at the expense of Americans. The demise of corporate America will solve that problem. I suspect higher education is doomed to fail for myriad reasons, including terminal indifference of the academy to societal needs. But if you can write a coherent paragraph and do long division, you can already out-perform most college graduates. If you can teach youngsters to do these things, I suspect you have a bright future as a teacher in a post-carbon world.

Step 9: Our medical system must be completely reorganized, and I'll expand on this topic shortly. Without power-hungry high-tech tools, we'll need real doctors again: people who understand how the body actually functions. In the coming barter economy, they'll likely make house calls to work for a meal or a place to sleep. On the other hand, we'll all be eating less and exercising more, so my doctor will be happy about that. All in all, there will be less concern about blood pressure, cholesterol, and various pulmonary conditions. And, for people like you, there will be plenty of career opportunities in the near future.

Step 10: Our entire socio-economic and political system will become much more local. Every large system will fail. If you can find a way to do something practical and useful on a smaller scale than it is currently being done, you are likely to be well fed and even revered in your local community. Local politics will assume increasing importance as first the federal government, then the state government, simply fade from relevance. Neo-conservatism clings tenuously to life but, much to the dismay of Business Party I and Business Party II, will soon be dead. The collapse of American Empire will bring many opportunities for local heroes. I
can imagine one possible exception, one large system that may not collapse: the Church. Because religions deal in the transport of ideology, rather than Wheaties and widgets, I fear they might assume the same power they did during the last Dark Age. I fear the rise of the Church not because I am opposed to other peoples' spirituality, but because I believe the problems we face can be solved only with secular approaches, not with wishful thinking. That said, the worst possible outcome would be a battle to the death in a game of Last Man Standing. Our focus on the common good precludes a mentality of Us vs. Them; with the common good, there is no "Them."

There you have it: a thumbnail sketch of the agenda. I'm sure I've left out many important items, but take heart: any number can play, and there is so much to be done. We're sleepwalking into the future -- headed for a cliff of our own making -- and it's time to wake up.