Protecting Communities from Y2K CHAOS

By Glover, Paul | Earth Island Journal, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Protecting Communities from Y2K CHAOS


Glover, Paul, Earth Island Journal


If the world's computers fail when the 19th century ends on January 1, 2000, there's a good chance that disruptions of food and fuel supplies could bring us a colder, hungrier winter. But while the national economy depends on computers, resilient local economies could, with sufficient planning, carry us through serious disruptions of national supplies. Here's what could happen, and what your community can do to become secure.

Fuel

Without fuel, our food won't travel to stores, water won't move to hydrants or homes, telephones will silence, buildings will freeze, and cars will stop. If enough computers collapse, life will get very tough, because computers manage the extraction, refining, transport of and payment for fuels. They manage the manufacture of the myriad tools needed for these processes. Assuming our top priorities are to provide food, water and warmth, we can do several things.

Our prime effort (beyond weatherization) should be to superinsulate housing, which reduces residential fuel consumption by up to 87 percent. In my home town of Ithaca, New York, the Finger Lakes Energy Co-op could put dozens of people to work insulating homes.

In the absence of conventional electronic banking systems, workers could be paid in Ithaca Hours (Ithaca's basic unit of local currency, which is nominally equal to an hour of labor and is convertible at the rate of $10/hour.) Hours would be accepted by landlords and merchants and local governments could pay employees partly with Hours. We'd gain secure housing and create dozens of new jobs, while keeping millions of dollars in the local economy- money that would otherwise have gone to outside energy suppliers. These saved dollars would stimulate new business and job creation, which then expands local sales tax collection, which sustains essential public works employment.

Residents can prepare for a massive power failure by organizing to relocate to local buildings that produce their own heat and light, independent of the national energy grid. In Ithaca, the buildings of Cornell University are heated by an on-campus coal-fired power plant. The Cornell campus store, which was built underground, is a model of superinsulation. Larger stockpiles of coal (extending beyond the existing 45-day supply) should be laid in at such sites before Year 2000.

Food

Since most of our food is cultivated, harvested, processed, packaged, transported and retailed by large corporations that depend on computer linkages, food supplies could become irregular and prices could rise. We may no longer be able to depend on imported winter food from California and Mexico. In this part of New England, 80 acres of hydroponic double-walled thermopane greenhousing would be sufficient to grow enough winter vegetables for the entire population of Ithaca.

To make sure that everyone is fed, cities could create food storage facilities (granaries and root cellars) and contract with regional farms for part of their harvests.

Storage facilities could be operated by independent non-profits that also contract with local growers who sell food through farmer's markets. This is simply an extension of Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), which has already taken root across the US.

Home-built solar green-houses attached to residential buildings can both capture heat for human comfort and create decentralized spaces to produce food.

Public support for regional farms is the best investment we can make. Conversion of topsoil into suburbs is an attack on future generations. We can promote farmland retention by passing right-to-farm laws and by exempting from taxes all small farms (less than 100 acres) that market 50 percent of their harvest through local outlets.

Were a full food crisis to overtake the nation, local farms, community gardens and greenhouses, aquaculture and urban orchards could help to keep us alive. Every city should plant fruit trees and edible berry bushes in public spaces, along roadways and in vacant lots. …

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