A decade or so ago I came across James Howard Kunstler’s 2005 book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century. Kunstler argues that the resulting unsustainability of our civilization, the one we live in, including globally — won’t manifest in one big crash, but will be many emergencies, each of which occurs as we attempt to recover from the others. Now, as I write on this gorgeous February morning in the North Valley, I feel the long emergency has arrived.
On my way to work in Butte Valley Tuesday, the buttes in the foreground were bright green and those just behind white with the freshly fallen snow. I so appreciate this beauty and the natural wealth of the land where we live. I can appreciate the beautiful morning while being a survivor of the Camp Fire.
As a survivor, I live in a limbo — and will for who knows how long — with grievances for myself and family. I grieve too for those who did not have insurance for one reason or another. My husband’s friend lost half a million dollars invested in his home and belongings — everything he worked so hard for, for decades — to the fire. How can he recover? His insurance company cancelled his home policy just weeks before the fire, and he did not find new insurance in time. He is not alone. FEMA’s help is a drop in the bucket, and he and his family are living with relatives like so many other families, packed into a single family home like sardines with no plan except to start over.
The local foundation that is collecting and redistributing money for the Camp Fire survivors is not taking grant applications from individuals. This is unfortunate. Instead organizations like the City of Chico have submitted grant applications and received money, such as Chico’s request for money for policing their “invaded” territory. That’s done, and there certainly is a need for policing; however, in the future I hope that local foundation will not grant money that way. Money should be going directly to Camp Fire survivors to rebuild their lives.
We are fortunate that there’s a delicious beer being brewed and sold to benefit the survivors called Resilience. (It’s in short supply as there is not currently enough to be available in many outlets.) Thank you Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada for organizing this nation-wide relief effort. The word resilience appears in many places lately.
In light of the long emergency it’s good to use this word resilience and to build on its meaning.
A few decades ago, at the founding of Paradise as a Town, the nation was thinking more seriously about things like solar energy, the population explosion, shortages, and crises. People were putting forth initiatives, like the solar system President Carter had installed at the White House to heat the water for showers. Since then there has been some progress with solar systems, but today the population explosion continues, the economy keeps growing along with national debt, and there are many related issues with water, soil, forests, species, and climate change. We’re undoing ourselves in a way the Romans could not have imagined. If they understood the demise of their empire was coming, it happened anyway. Just what are we facing?
Paradise’s motto In Harmony With Nature emerged at a time in our nation when we were more collectively attuned to the end of growth and associated problems. Let’s review and recall Paradise’s founding documents as we try to decide who we want to be now, as 2020 approaches, and how we want to rebuild. The Paradise General Plan update is a decade overdue, per California law, and Paradise will be working on this soon I’m certain. Opportunity abounds to make Paradise “All Its Name Implies”, but our mindset, financial situation, and time constraints put us on track to rebuild for a future that looks like what we were used to. It turns out it was not at all in harmony with nature. Yet, we were used to abundance in the form of relatively cheap and available water, energy, and food. In a time of a long emergency, our future is probably not going to be like it was pre-November 8.
Let our initiative be to build unconventional with homes that have grey water systems and cisterns for gardens, providing some food security in Paradise. Resilient systems have built-in redundance, in case, for example, the trucks stop rolling in the food from somewhere else. We should have naturally energy efficient homes, in case the electricity and natural gas stop flowing from our designated provider, PG&E.
Let’s seek out those architects and designers who know how to build a different kind of home than the current standard, and ask them to help us. Let’s find contractors who can build this way and train others in these skills quickly. Let’s rebuild even more efficiently than California requires.
If the emergencies do not end after we rebuild, as is predicted by the climate scientists and people who study sustainability, our only hope is in building for an unconventional future. Building for the new normal, that long emergency, is our best bet for surviving in the near future. Imagine a Town of Paradise that has a re-localized economy and community that can help us through whatever hard times come our way.
Resilience During the Long Emergency was published in the Paradise Post on Feb. 6, 2019.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.