Transition New York City Bioregion
Preparing Our Island City and its Bioregion for A Bright Green Future
As Hurricane Sandy clearly showed, we are living in an age of unprecedented violent change. It is an era in which three highly disruptive crises --global economic instability, climate change, and peak everything -- are converging insidiously to shred the fabric of society.
The coming shocks: international financial collapse, epic flood and drought, energy and natural-resource shortages, and extreme price spikes, are likely to be catastrophic if we do not prepare. The New York City Bioregion -- an area covering parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania -- is especially vulnerable to these disruptive changes.
Economic Instability: The "old" economy of the last century is proving itself to be a flimsy house of cards, sustained largely by the illusion that our financial system can operate without ecological, economic, and social limits or foundations. The 2008 housing-bubble collapse, the meltdown of big banks, big insurance, and Wall Street, all made it abundantly clear that the prosperity of our Bioregion remains largely dependent on and vulnerable to the well-being of the financial industry. Any number of future financial shocks -- the collapse of the European Union, a major Mideast war, fear over the federal debt, or any other unforeseen economic panic -- could shatter Wall Street and big finance, toppling the dominoes of the New York City financial, real estate, insurance, restaurant-hotel, port, tourism, and service industries.
Peak Oil and Peak Everything: Our metropolis produces almost none of its own energy, food, or natural resources to provide for people's basic human needs. This puts our city and surrounding communities -- more than 15 million people -- in serious jeopardy. Rather, the New York City Bioregion is connected to the rest of the world by thousands of fragile lifelines, including a war-threatened oil supply; an aging and increasingly failure-prone power grid; an aging and leaky water system; and a vast network of roads, rails, shipping and air routes that rely exclusively on increasingly costly fossil fuels. Like a patient on intravenous life support, any major interruption in the flow of energy, resources, food or water to our Bioregion could hamstring or permanently harm its economy and people. With global production declines, shortages and price spikes forecast for everything from oil to uranium and rare earth metals vital to our techno economy, this collapse becomes not a question of if, but when.
Climate Change: The impacts and recovery from the "new normal" super-storm Sandy are unfolding as I write. First estimates say Sandy's costs could top $50 billion. But that's nothing compared to the deaths caused directly and indirectly by the storm; the suffering of 8 million left without power; tens of thousands left homeless; and seniors, the sick and children forced into evacuation centers. Compare that $50 billion price tag now with the more modest $10 billion to construct wetlands and oyster reefs, enforce flood-hazard building restrictions, plan for a retreat from flood-hazard areas, and appropriately place sea gates needed to protect New York City's vulnerable infrastructure. Other major cities around the world have implemented these protections but not here. New York City, being an island metropolis, is projected to be one of the five U.S. cities hardest hit by climate change and most vulnerable to rising sea levels. As the Northern Atlantic warms and rises and extreme weather worsens, we can expect to see storms like Sandy or worse coming ashore regularly. But don't expect the Tea-Party Congress to protect us. They won't vote for "more government" to mitigate climate change or even harden our infrastructure or our energy, transportation, and communication systems against an unimaginable future we know is coming. So much for "National Security."
What is certain is that these already rapid, violent changes are accelerating. With government, big business, and the media doing little to address the unfolding crises, the opportunity to make our Bioregion more resilient in this time of turmoil could easily be lost. We must act now. The incomprehensible tragedy caused by the "new normal" and super-storm Sandy must be a wake-up call for our Bioregion. Sandy's unprecedented destruction stands as an indisputable fact to convince and move even the most apathetic, complacent, and skeptical among us to action.
Of course, the critical and immediate question is -- what exactly should we do: How can the New York City Bioregion respond productively to so many seemingly insurmountable crises? Also, how do we finance the major enhancements that must be made to the natural and human landscape for our Bioregion to survive and prosper? Finally, how can you and I, and other private citizens, join together to hospice the decline of the current system, and midwife the transformation into A Bright Green Future for the New York City Bioregion?
Choosing sustainability is clearly a first vital step away from "business as usual," but it is only the first step leading us to true Transition. To become a working Bioregional community, we will have to relearn to survive and thrive on our own local resources, to create a democratic, fair, and equitable society in which both people and nature benefit.
Any vision for A Bright Green New York City Bioregion must be built on three pillars:
* Redevelopment for resilient economic prosperity -- We must quickly create a locally focused process for continuous improvement by design to natural, built, economic, and social systems, enhancing resiliency and productivity; increasing efficiency; using renewable resources; and eliminating waste. We must learn to stretch every gallon of water, joule of energy, and pound of materials to meet our needs, while localizing our energy supply and achieving zero waste.
* Social justice -- Any plan for a resilient Bioregional economy must insure that everyone has fundamental needs met for nutritious food, shelter, healthcare, education, and ecosystem services as a non-negotiable condition. This means such things as converting urban brownfields to greenfields, ensuring affordable housing, improving work opportunities for disadvantaged groups, and allowing seniors and children to play useful civic roles.
* Human and ecological health -- To be truly sustainable we must be responsive to the finite limits of ecological systems, while fostering the limitless opportunities of democracy in which all people are allowed to contribute ideas and effort. This future vision includes a major role for creative entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and government. One key to ecological resilience is a self-contained economy with resources -- especially food -- sourced largely within the region.
A society built on these three pillars will result in a New Economy that produces the highest possible quality of life for the most people in the best possible environment. It will be driven by innovative new tax and investment structures and incentives meant to promote resiliency, democracy, and equality. A Bright Green New York City Bioregion may sound like an Ecotopianvision, but it is not. It is a necessity if we are to thrive in "the new normal." If we can agree on a way forward, and cooperate, our Bioregion can thrive in a time of global crisis.