Let’s Change the News

(#295) — Earlier this week the front page of this newspaper featured a major article about  the rising rate of serious crime,  county health rankings at the lowest in the state, a crisis is foster care and the lack of funds to maintain necessary repavement of our roads. It also indicated the county was postponing appointment of a new Planning Commissioner and considering a restructuring of the Planning Department.  (I will come back to this point later below.) This article continues on page 3 with mention of a new effort to understand the high rate of long term unemployment. Right next to it is news of retrenchment at our college campus. Last week retrenchment at our major agricultural institution was the big story. The week before, agreements were announced to give more than $200,000,000 in tax rebates to outside investors to develop new tourist facilities.

These articles indicate that our current direction of economic development is not working in a socially or environmentally responsible manner. This is nothing new nor is it different than the economy at large in the nation. But, we can change our local economy for the better very quickly.

The core of our economic problem is the almost obsessive focus on economic growth of any kind. Growth as the goal must be replaced with the concept of economic sustainability. It requires an understanding that the economy lives on solar power and the ability of plants to interact with water, air and soil to provide food and a vast array of life supporting systems. It also requires commitment to develop an economic plan that sets local resources at the center of our investments.

Two local resources that should set the priority agenda for a restructured county planning department are energy and agriculture.

We spend several hundred million a year importing fossil fuels which continue the destruction of our environment and health.  Non-polluting solar energy is delivered free every day in quantities that are 6000 times greater then we can use. We have measured our wind resource. Our forests are very extensive and contain vast biomass energy. We have the programs, the expertise, and the experience to lead in a full built-out of a renewable energy economy that can provide our transportation, home and commercial energy needs as well as many good paying jobs.

We are also the closet food shed to a great metropolitan area that seeks more food than we can possibly produce.  There are tremendous agricultural opportunities waiting for development.  Growing vegetables and fruits in green houses that extend the growing season to 10 months or more is a proven and highly profitable industry.  Many areas of Canada supply New York, Boston and Philadelphia with such products.  Immediate investment in education and training programs by our college and schools would invigorate these institutions.  Local bonding authority to create large scale agricultural revolving loan funds could jump start local food enter-prises, and increase personal and environmental health.

Give a new Department of Planning priority funding for sustainability and agricultural development along these lines and the news of our communities and neighbors will change to reports of a good life being enjoyed by all.

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