Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bill McKibben's Answer

On Wednesday night the Green Mountain Girls joined community members and students in Norwich University's Dole Auditorium to welcome Bill McKibben as the first speaker in this year's Todd Lecture Series. McKibben's talk, "Large and Small: Human Scale and Human Power in a Fast-Changing World," began with an examination of genetic engineering on the human scale, making the point that human nature is fragile, and segued into conscious versus inadvertent change, as McKibben stressed that climate change, which alters the fundamental makeup of the world, is the most radical thing humans have ever done.

As he spoke, McKibben outlined the science behind climate change and illustrated some of the steps that have been taken to counter it, such as the work of, an organization that orchestrated a global day of political action and awareness of climate change. He did a spectacular job of emphasizing the enormous scope of this problem, but when Q&A time came at the end of his speech, I had a question. (Before I go on, let me say that I graduated from university with a degree in Environmental Studies and English, and a minor in Outdoor Studies; I've spent countless class hours dissecting the science and social effects of global climate change and I am not a skeptic. That being said, the language to talk with people who are skeptics remains part of the big picture, and it can be challenging to show others how this will effect them directly; also, it is easy for a person to give money to an organization and then separate themselves from the problem and greater solution). So my question was this: how do you take a global problem, which can be very overwhelming, and make it a local issue?

McKibben responded that you can work on issues in your own community, like local agriculture, which is extremely important for a place like Vermont. As climate change worsens, land will either become more arid or will be prone to flooding, insect pest numbers may increase, and as a result food scarcity is likely to rise. Creating a strong local agriculture movement is essential to food security and the overall climate change solution, as food that is grown in one's own community is not shipped thousands of miles before it reaches the table and inherently has a smaller carbon footprint. You can support local agriculture by going to Farmers' Markets and buying food direct from the farmer. He concluded that you must not dismiss global action, but mix your efforts so that perhaps 80% is local and 20% is global in scope. As I listened to his answer, the words that leapt out at me were community, neighbors, and interconnected, and I realized that these are some of the same words Mari and Laura use when they discuss their business plan.

A couple of weeks ago, my family had dinner with the Green Mountain Girls, and they told us that their goal is not to be a main producer for Vermont, but to sustain 20-30 families in the Northfield region. They described how the two words at the core of their mission, happy and healthy, reach beyond animals and food to the farmers, the land, the farmshare members, and the larger community. McKibben said that we need to "understand how interconnected our actions are with every corner of the world," and by physically cultivating and employing organic methods, the Green Mountain Girls are able to do just that. Through this process, they are also cultivating relationships with people and finding a sustainable balance in the natural world.

This past summer, Mari and I went to a raw milk processing workshop at Earthwise Farm and Forest in Bethel. Lisa McCrory, while describing how she quickly switched over to an electric blender from a hand-crank butter maker, said, "I'm not doin' it for the romance. I'm doin' it because I like good food." This statement has stayed with me, and I see now that the vision of back-to-the-landers and small organic farms is not one of romance. It is much simpler than that. We do it for good living, for happiness and health, and the direct result is a lighter tread on the earth and a deeper, positive impact on ourselves and our communities.

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