Having completed our series on events and alternatives at the planetary level, it is now time to explore alternatives at the local scale.
The Importance of "Localism"
One of the recurring themes in the World Planning Series is the incredible inertia inherent in global industrial civilization and the extreme unlikelihood of directly altering its course. At smaller scales, however, there remains a much greater possibility of pursuing dramatically different courses of action and potentially arriving at different results. While the economic, environmental, political and social conditions dictated by global industrial civilization will have tremendous impact on local conditions, there still remains the option for local communities to prepare and react to those conditions in different ways.
As we have seen, the collapse of industrial civilization powered by fossil fuels will inevitably result in the breakdown of large, complex organizations of humans into smaller social groups like those we initially evolved to participate in. This holds true whether we follow the Most Likely Alternative path and accelerate consumption of resources and growth of complexity, or whether we elect a "Transition" approach and attempt to intentionally deconstruct civilization as it collapses. At the tail end of collapse, all remaining humans will be functioning at very localized levels, where power and control only extend as far as one can travel.
It stands to reason that a prudent populace would be best served by making preparations at the local level, regardless of what is happening at the national and global scale. We would expect that those who have the good fortune of living in areas that have made better preparation for a collapse environment will fare better and live more comfortably than those areas that are poorly prepared. Naturally, these efforts could be greatly assisted if the world followed the Transition approach and aggressively allocated resources to building local resilience, but we cannot expect that this will be the case.
A New Vision
Here we encounter a similar precondition to success that we encountered in the Epilogue to the World Planning Series: to arrive at different outcomes at the local level, we will need to assume a different vision and different objectives from the BAU path. We can no longer focus on just today, we have to approach our activity as if we were time travelers.
What I mean is that we have to project ourselves into the future and imagine ourselves living in a post-collapse environment. Then, we must work backwards and think, "What can we do today that will provide those future people with what they need to survive?" In a way, this becomes the new vision: maximizing the survivability and quality of life of people living in our location in the future.
To achieve our vision we will develop an action plan not based on our current needs and desires but rather the projected needs and desires of our future selves. As wise and benevolent benefactors of these future people, we have the opportunity to use our cheap and abundant energy today to leave treasures of immense value tucked away for their use.
At the end of the day what this means is that we have to actually plan, instead of just drawing a trend line of our past success and growth into the future and calling that "the plan." This way is much more difficult, but is clearly the only model that makes sense when the future no longer reflects past trends. This series will attempt to explore this perspective and provide a blueprint for local communities that elect to truly position themselves to weather the dangerous times approaching us.
Defining the Study Area
One of the challenges we will face in this series is that local planning processes are highly dependent on the unique geographic, economic, demographic, and climatic conditions that define the study area. For our purposes, we want to keep this exercise abstract and general enough to be translatable to many different circumstances, but not so abstract that it loses bearing on the real physical world around us.
To help address this challenge, we will define a study area that is an abstraction based on real places with characteristics that are common to many population centers in different regions.
Our study area will be a mid-sized American town (perhaps 100,000-250,000 people). This town serves as a regional center of sorts, but there is a much larger major city (million+ population) 50-100 miles away. The town is located near sources of fresh water (rivers, streams, or lakes). The local economy is diversified, with a mix of blue and white collar jobs. Perhaps there is a university in town, or at least a substantial community college. A few major employers are in the area, with factories and offices where they produce mostly high tech products, with little real heavy industry. The town has a mix of neighborhoods, from extremely wealthy gated subdivisions to run-down areas of historically oppressed minority populations.
Various natural resources are available within a fairly short distance (forests, some oil and natural gas wells, maybe an abandoned coal mine): but nothing of state or national significance like major mining operations. Aside from the city population itself, there is a fair amount of suburban/exurban development on the fringes of the community. Beyond these suburbs, there is farmland, both in smaller plots as well as large commercial operations. Some infrastructure is in place for getting around by foot, bicycle, or bus, but the vast majority of the town is automobile dependent. Large swaths of land are taken up by wide roads and parking lots. The climate is generally agreeable under current conditions, with a few very hot months in summer and a few months of bitter cold in winter. There is some possibility of natural disaster which we might expect to be exacerbated by climate change in the future.
These are some of the general characteristics that define many hundreds of unique places in the US (or in many other countries in fact). While we may take some artistic license with the particulars, this is how we will define the study area for this exercise. Obviously, our recommendations and observations will be different than if we were studying New York City, or Podunk, Alabama, but those highly urban or highly rural locations are really the exceptions and not the rule. Our mid-sized city model ensures wide transfer-ability.
Organization of this Series
Roughly, I anticipate this series to include the following topic areas. As this is an evolving process, we may discover the need to add or remove subject areas as we proceed. By now, these general steps in the planning process should be familiar to the reader:
Inventory of Existing Conditions: specifically with an eye towards what may be useful in the future.
Projection of Future Conditions: what will things look like in our little community in 10, 20, or 30 years?
Development of Alternatives: what approaches are available to us to prepare for that future?
Alternatives Evaluation: weighing out the pros and cons of our various alternatives.
Selection of Preferred Alternative: choosing our ultimate course of action.
The next post in this series will proceed with an inventory of existing conditions to further define the local conditions as they exist today.
How to Read This Blog
HOW TO READ THIS BLOG:
To get the most out of this blog, I recommend beginning with the earliest post and proceeding in chronological order. For the most part this blog, like a planning document, builds on data and rationale in a linear manner. You may find value in individual posts taken in isolation, but I suspect your experience will be richer if you follow the intended progression.