Citizens Network for Michigan Food Democracy  
  Citizens Network for Michigan Food Democracy  
  Citizens Network for Michigan Food Democracy  
Citizens Network for Michigan Food Democracy
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Changing Direction

We desperately need to change the direction, structures, and practices of modern industrial society. The essays in this section critically analyze the key structures, trends, and areas where change is crucial and outline the kind of long-term strategic approaches that are needed to facilitate those changes. The individually or jointly authored essays found here are aimed at providing an understanding of the larger U.S. context within which - and sometimes against which - we need to pursue our efforts in Michigan.

The What's It Going to Take section will focus on Michigan. It will offer essays which outline the more specific strategies, plans, and policies that are needed in Michigan, its different regions, cities, and sectors.

Essays in both sections are meant to stimulate creative and adaptive responses to the various crises we face. They will be added as we are able to write, solicit, or reprint them. Feel free to send us your ideas and suggestions. Contact: essays@mifooddemocracy.org.

The first essay in this section, Goals and Questions to Guide our Transition to a Post-fossil Era, identifies five fundamental goals:
We must decentralize, strengthen democracy, reduce resource intensity, and enhance cultural and biological diversity - all within a worldview of healthy creatures, habitats, and relationships.
It argues that a process of constantly asking and seeking answers to the five fundamental questions these goals suggest can help regenerate and transform U.S. society. This by simultaneously strengthening our adaptive capacities - like democracy - and reducing maladaptive practices, such as the unsustainable exploitation of nature and the public by powerful, but democratically unaccountable complexes. Culturally, there must be a general recognition that post-fossil fuel societies will necessarily be integrated more into nature and must work within its limits and evolutionary processes. Such a recognition will help cut the institutional Gordian knots that restrain us.

Essays to follow will explore the implications of the five goals for U.S. food and farming, democracy, ecofederalism, health, economics, cultural change, global warming approaches, etc. and will discuss the long-term strategic approaches and analyses needed to facilitate their transformation.

Goals and Questions to Guide our Transition to a Post-fossil fuel Era

by Ken Dahlberg

The increasing spread of modern industrial society around the world has generated a series of crises: loss of cultural and biological diversity, global warming, losses of arable land and fresh water, and general environmental degradation and destruction. It has also magnified traditional ones, such as wars and cultural conflicts.

Much has been written about each of these. Unfortunately, most analyses are based upon Western assumptions and beliefs that helped create the crises in the first place. These include:
  • deep cultural and religious-based convictions that humankind is separate from nature and holds dominion over it;
  • a strong faith in the superiority of Western civilization;
  • the modern belief that science and technology are the source of social progress, but that technologies are neutral;
  • unquestioning confidence in the value of the division of labor, individualism, the functional specialization of society, and standardization;
  • ideological beliefs in the autonomy and absolute value of markets, competition, "free" trade, the "efficiencies" of large scale infrastructures and organizations; and most recently;
  • an optimistic faith that globalization and its various manifestations - the mass media, consumerism, cheap food, easy and inexpensive mobility, etc. - will eventually benefit all.
Typical responses to the growing awareness of how our actions threaten the earth and the survival of humankind (besides denial) have been to try to promote research and to try to extend the life span of industrial society by developing individual technologies that improve efficiency in narrow terms that require little individual or institutional change and often reinforce maladaptive practices. A prime example is the development of ethanol and biodiesel fuel plants and cars. Instead, we should seek broader and more basic changes by planning for easy spatial access and public transit (rather than individual mobility) and developing local food economies to reduce food miles.

The growing interest in sustainability is important, but still includes little of the broad, integrated, and strategic guidance for making those choices and structural reforms that will enable us to make the transition to a more sustainable post-fossil fuel era without widespread disasters and chaos.

In terms of changes in cultural beliefs, some suggest using traditional sources of wisdom, like native American Indian traditions of asking what the impact of potential decisions will be on the seventh generation. But, that presumes an ongoing tradition-based community that reveres its fore bearers as well as has a deep concern about its great, great, great, great, great grandchildren. A recently developed concept - the precautionary principle - raises similar questions, but from a more universalistic, and sustainability-based perspective.

Whatever the approach, it is clear is that the transition to post-fossil fuel societies will require new understandings of religion, progress, science and technology, political economy, and democracy. This will be a challenging and creative arena where adaptive values relating to cultural and biological diversity - especially as they involve local and regional foods and cuisines - need to be strengthened.

In addition to addressing underlying cultural beliefs and assumptions, we need to identify and critically analyze the types of structural changes that are needed - and how they relate to the U.S. political economy.

We must address the accelerating construction of massive fossil-fuel based infrastructures and organizations that have tremendous momentum - something symbolized by crude oil supertankers. "The emerging "supertanker of globalization" must not only be slowed and redirected if we are to avoid a catastrophic collision with the natural world’s responses to our abuses. It must also be progressively dismantled, dispersed, and restructured into a diversity of cooperating societal ships sailing in different regions, each responsibly integrated into its environment and relying largely on local renewable energy and resources.

The underlying flaws of industrial society are most visible in the threatening and maladaptive trends that they generate. Four are fundamental:
  1. The increasing size and global spread of centralized infrastructures, institutions, and organizations that require massive energy and material inputs for their construction and operation. Besides being a major source of global warming, the growth of these centralized systems in turn reinforces:
  2. The loss of democratic control at all levels, especially the local, because of their large scale, power, and the vested interests associated with them - all of which threaten basic practices of justice, fairness, and equity;
  3. The ever-increasing resource intensity of our lives and an increasing dependency upon long-distance supply and support systems; and perhaps most seriously,
  4. Destabilizing losses of cultural and biological diversity caused by the global spread of Western cultural-based monocultures in mass media, organizational structures, and technologies, especially those increasingly dominating farming, forestry, and fisheries.
The growing momentum and structural rigidity of these large-scale systems, plus their resistance to change, make the larger social and political adaptations that are so needed extremely difficult.

To slow and reverse these threatening trends, five cardinal and regenerative goals have been identified that, like the stars for earlier seafarers, will help us chart the new courses as well as find the new adaptive approaches and practices required.

We must decentralize, strengthen democracy, reduce resource intensity, and enhance cultural and biological diversity - all within a worldview of healthy creatures, habitats, and relationships.

To effectively pursue these goals it is proposed that in making choices and decisions each person, family, neighborhood, city, state, and national government - as well as corporations and civic organizations - constantly ask and seek answers to five basic questions:
  1. Will this choice or decision help decentralize industrial infrastructures, institutions, and organizations?
  2. Will it strengthen democratic principles, processes, and practices, as well as help to deliver greater justice, fairness, and equity?
  3. Will it reduce the resource intensity of our lives and reduce our dependency upon long-distance supply and support systems?
  4. Will it maintain and enhance our local, our region’s, and the world's cultural and biological diversity?
  5. Will it maintain and enhance healthy and adaptive cultures, societies, and relationships?
Asking such questions will help to educate and deepen awareness of the fundamental value and need to fully integrate our culture, lives, organizations, and technologies into nature and our local habitats.

One way to begin doing this is to develop a nested set of procedures - "Assessments for a Healthy Earth" - to help organizations at each level of society to develop their own decentralized and locally-contexualized responses. In an essay to follow, suggestions will be made on how Michigan could lead the way in state-level efforts.

These assessments should be part of a larger effort to strengthen and deepen democracy - one of our historically adaptive institutions - by broadening federalism into a new ecofederalism which would fully integrate, respect, and represent natural systems and habitats as basic elements of governmental systems. Such legal and political reforms will need to co-evolve with, and reflect a deepening cultural valuing of the ongoing health and well being of our fellow companions on this Earth and the air, water, soils, and habitats that support all of us.

Seeking out and pursuing these new paths and reforms will be challenging. There will be no easy answers. There never have been. However, we face a stark choice. "We can follow our current direction - where the current momentum, exploitative practices, and hazardous wastes of the "supertanker of globalization" will transport us more and more into a world of chaos and disaster.

Or, we can seek out new directions by developing new visions of regionally and culturally diverse societies. We can focus our thinking and actions on reducing, as much as is possible, the threatening and maladaptive trends of industrial society. We can pursue significant degrees of decentralization and relocalization, while simultaneously creating at all levels diverse and ecologically responsible cultures, institutions, and technologies that rely mainly on local natural and renewable resources.

Only by restructuring the "supertanker of globalization" and creating many local and regional sustainable sailing ships will we be able to calm - and weather - the increasingly rising and turbulent oceans and the destructive hurricanes of industrialism. Only then, will we truly find our place in nature.