What are the priorities for a sustainable and resilient Albany?

Screen shot 2012-09-28 at 11.47.59 PMThat was the question posed to me by Sheri Spellwoman when she was running for Albany City Council in 2012.

And this is the answer I sent her:


As Yogi Berra famously said, “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.”

Let’s start by agreeing on a fully-responsible frame of reference that doesn’t shrink from the facts:

  1. The human race has to stop using planetary “resources” at a rate that is destroying habitat, causing the Sixth Great Extinction (see National Geographic article), and producing greenhouse gases at a scale that threatens to heat the global environment beyond the tolerance of plant and animal life.
  2. Going small and local will not only mitigate our effect on the planet, but help prepare us for when these “resources” run out – in the foreseeable future, and almost certainly within the lifetime of the young – so that we, and all our (human and non-human) cohabitants on the planet, can continue to meet basic needs and live with dignity.
  3. The global economy – based on extraction of limited resources yet demanding constant upward growth – is bound to fail, either quickly and dramatically or slowly and painfully, and we need to prepare for that by putting in place localized, alternative ways to get our needs met.

So what should our priorities be in Albany? At this point, “Sustainability” seems almost out of reach. “Resilience” might be a better goal as we adapt to an uncertain future – but these are just my thoughts. I strongly believe that we have the ingenuity right here in our own community to come up with effective solutions.

1. Grow More of Our Own Food
Put all arable land (lawns, vacant lots, median strips, Ohlone Greenway) into production of vegetable and animal food products. Eliminate the $160+ permit fee for people who want to introduce chickens or bees into their yards.
Clearly, since water will become even more of an issue than it is now, more urban farming will require meaningful conservation of rainwater, in the ground (rainwater gardens), cisterns, or tanks, and planting perennial food crops (see this article from the SF Chronicle) that grow deeper and more resilient root systems.
We also need green areas for our own relaxation and recuperation, but the two need not be mutually exclusive.
Continue to support farmers’ markets that bring in humanely grown meat as well as organic vegetables and fruits from surrounding organic farms.

2. Build a Community of Sharing, Reciprocity and Equality
As the gravity of the world situation becomes less easy to sweep under the carpet, the tendency to sit in front of one’s own TV can only contribute to a sense of isolation and despair. In the same way that (some) neighborhoods have organized around earthquake preparedness, we need to encourage every neighborhood to pull together at the level of sharing food, services, transport, tools, expertise, kindness, time.
Let’s also address the poverty in our own community and support those who live on the Bulb (many by choice), instead of calling them a problem. Let’s find more ways to accept into our lives those who are reduced to requesting food stamps, free school meals or living in their cars.
Repeal the fee (!) for having block parties. Neighbors that eat together will do a lot better in any situation than those who don’t.

3. Reduce Energy Consumption …
Solar panels/hot water heaters on every roof and Albany windmills are a sexy proposition, but first comes reduced energy consumption. Blocking drafts, installing double paned windows and proper insulation, using a drying line, or wearing a hat and another sweater on a cool day inside the house is a lot cheaper in every sense than turning up the gas or electric heater.
Ban leaf blowers!
Initiate our own carbon tax?

4. … And Produce More Essentials at Home
It’s a well-known fact that Americans (5% of the global population) consume 24% of the world’s resources – through rampant use of energy, insisting on the latest electronic gadgets, cars, and other fads, buying products that have been manufactured thousands of miles away …
Big box stores encourage consumption (duh!). We need to remember how to be a community of producers. How many of our own basic needs can be met here at home? What local businesses can we encourage and support that meet real needs? Where is our local shoe maker, for instance? Let’s provide classes, apprenticeships, incentives for those who find themselves out of work so they can go into business producing stuff we actually need while making a good living. Let’s encourage worker-owned cooperatives. We need to reexamine our economic model. Steady state economy, anyone? (Read Charles Eisenstein on the subject in The Guardian last month).

5. Develop a Local Low Energy Transportation Network
Some people are never going to ride a bicycle and/or cannot walk to the end of the block, so we need alternatives to the private car: “tuktuks” on call? electric tricycles? For those who can, let’s make the roads much safer for bicycles (thank you, Albany Strollers and Rollers!), and make it sexy to get on a bus, for goodness sake… And the ordinance that requires two parking spaces for every new dwelling unit is so 1990’s….

6. Create a Variety of Local Exchange/Currencies
There were 400 alternative currencies in the US during the Great Depression. The more ways a community has to exchange goods and services, the more vibrant and resilient the local economy becomes. If dollars are scarce, I can pay my rent with Bay Bucks (see CNN article here) earned by weeding my neighbors’ vegetable gardens (an alternative currency for the SF Bay area is about to be rolled out to the business community as a first step). If I need a coat, I can find a tailor through the Time Bank, where I have built credit by canning plums for people with surplus. I can buy potatoes from a neighbor with eggs from my hens.

7. Consider the Community Choice Aggregation Model
CCA – locally produced and controlled renewable energy – is a model that “can advance renewable energy generation” (EPA workshop blurb). EBMUD is working on it. Let’s go for it.

If these measures are put in place, we may well find that we have exceeded the goals of Albany’s rather weak Climate Action Plan without even trying. All we are waiting for is people from the community to step forward and help bring these ideas to life.

A Brit who came to the US in 1988 and found California and the Transition movement to be a perfect fit. Now my life is replete with a dear husband, a small but productive permaculture backyard, a loving family and a very full calendar of work I love.

Posted in Community Building, Economy, Energy, Food and Agriculture, Resources on February 21, 2013