Friday, October 7, 2016

Growing Pains

At one of our county's workshops for updating the comprehensive plan, a survey of the audience indicated that growth was perceived as the greatest challenge facing the county. Most, if not all, of those who gave this answer were implying that we should be making extra effort to ensure that the county grows economically. My own view is that economic growth is not in the cards, as our nation is already stagnating and the fuel for its growth (cheap oil) is past peak production. There are other ways in which growth is possible, but if the majority insist on government banging their heads against the glass wall of making America great again, efforts to collectively grow in more sublime ways will be foregone

I was prepared to read a speech detailing my vision for the county's future up to 2040, but it turned out that the workshop was not structured as an open forum. Nonetheless, I emailed a link to the transcript, which follows, to the planning department for consideration.

By sometime in the next decade,
Neither the population or the county government grow. Emphasis has shifted from building a strong local economy to building a resilient one.
The ambitious economic benchmarks in the earlier plan are laid aside in order to accommodate the new realities of zero growth and to recover from the geopolitical and economic trauma of recent decades.
Federal government employment remains strong, but most Federal employees in our county telework more often than they commute.
We selectively abandon maintenance of roads, as ownership and ridership in motorized vehicles dwindles in the post-fossil fuel age. For long distance travel, we begin to use waterborne transport and a railroad built over one side of route 4, with the other side a two-way road for small vehicles and light trucks.
The Cove Point gas plant gets converted into a farm of climate-controlled, giant greenhouses fashioned out of the frames that once supported the dozen or so huge tanks that never found a use as the natural gas fracking boom quickly petered out. The biomass output of these greenhouses dwarfs anything that could be produced from conventional farming and serves as raw material for several indigenous industries, as well as for food. The nutrients for the rapidly growing crops in these greenhouses comes from thermogenic composting of treated sewage at a facility co-located with the Appeal wastewater treatment plant.
From the inception of this updated plan, our efforts turn to transitioning to a prolonged period marked by simpler living. Consumerism is out. Working in step with nature is in. Our most popular pastime shifts from going shopping to staying home making. Entrepreneurs organize ten-acre farms instead of cell phone game companies. Able-bodied citizens engage in physical labor instead of watching television. Local government and developers replace our expanding suburban wastelands with compact, walkable towns. We conduct more plays, concerts, sing-alongs, and puppet shows and put aside national television extravaganzas and world-wide web entertainment. We learn to make things of quality by hand instead of buying car loads of stamped out plastic widgets guaranteed to fall apart by next week.
Environmental restoration, including greenhouse gas reduction, becomes everyone's concern.
We realize that holding back the rising ocean is infeasible. We become proactive in moving away from coastal development in areas at risk from inundation or erosion by the bay and tidal waters. Investment is channeled, instead, to upland areas, while low lying waterfront properties grow flood-mitigating living shorelines that will gradually migrate inland, keeping pace with the rising tides.
Calvert County's landscape is characterized by forests, fields, farms and villages, surrounded by a healthier river and bay.  Habitat destruction by new land development is stymied by government-imposed barriers and enforcement of laws and regulations allowing no net loss of forests.
Cottage industries emerge to serve local needs in ways that are ecologically compatible. Many of these are in the realm of agroforestry, meaning forest garden ecosystems sustainably supply a large portion of all of our products. In addition,

* Agriculture has been transformed from its former industrial mode, though some of the new forest gardens approach farm scale as they grow
* Flowers bloom all over the place
* Fruits and nuts swell on trees everywhere and other foods grow along your path - you even know all their names and how to use them
* Citizens are educated and active stewards of the land and surrounding waters
* Fishing is better
* Previously isolated forest fragments are linked to each other
* Our habitations and surroundings are starting to look, feel, and function more naturally, enabling us to feel healthier, more alive, and more connected than we had for generations
Holding onto the elusive dream of continuous growth hurts our future environment because decision makers give a back seat to changes that don't have the imprimatur of progress. It is difficult for them to accept that diminishing returns are beginning to fall short of increasing costs to upgrade or build traditional infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plants or dams, especially if one factors in the historical costs of failure under stress. By holding onto these flawed architectures, they only close off opportunities for better, albeit less sophisticated, solutions such as humanure composting and wild rivers. Such regressive measures are considered defeatist and are rejected out of hand, even if that leads to ruining the environment and the economy.

The spike in sewage overflows caused by Superstorm Sandy may have to be experienced again in Hurricane Matthew, and more storms before someone with enough common sense makes a decision to avoid such spills in the future by recycling this valuable waste without dumping treatment chemicals into our bays and rivers.

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