Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Better to shape change than to react to it

Change is a natural condition of life, but it seems to me that the social and environmental changes we are confronting currently are huge and out of the ordinary. School structure and consolidation, population changes, and the impacts of climate change are some of the big ones I have been thinking of lately. We nibb around the edges and making tweaking adaptations as school populations decrease, and rain events increase. What if we took several steps back, and considered these problems more holistically? What if we undertook some big changes, as a community, to better enable us to live in a more sustainable fashion, prepared to deal with the impacts of climate and to also rebuild community in a new way. What if we chose to think and act way out of the box? What if we took this as an opportunity, to Resettle and Rewild Addison County? What might Resettling and Rewilding look like? Here are my first thoughts:
Resettling would mean changing, over time, where people lived. Two or three towns/areas in the county would be chosen which to be centers of settlement, with homes and businesses, arranged for easy biking, walking, public transport, and the location of the county schools. Most of the county’s population would live in the settlement areas. Other areas might remain as farmland. A third segment would be set aside to Rewild and return to a more natural state. Larger land areas, forest, wetlands, some fields, left to their own natural processes and functions would be better able to adapt to, even mitigate some impacts of climate change. These Rewilding areas could be owned in common by the community who would benefit from their ecosystem services…cleaner air, water, habitat and more. Humans and all of life depend on healthy ecosystems and we will need more, not less, large areas of forests, wetlands, and fields and rivers to enable adaptation to climate change. Farmed areas could include homes, or farm workers could commute, as is often done in other countries, but schools and most businesses would not be located in those areas. Children from the non-settlement areas might board in the towns ( as was done in the 1800s…) but populations would largely be clustered in the settlement centers. As climate refugees begin to arrive (some are already here….) they would be directed to housing in the settlement centers, preserving the farmland and wild areas. These changes would be phased in over time, but with the goal of having areas of focused human impact, including efficient transportation and education services. Clearly, this would mean redefining the communities of the county, and some would be lost, a painful adjustment and change.
When Addison County was settled by Europeans, they assumed the land and natural resources were endless and there was plenty for all to do whatever they wished with. (unfortunately crowding out the indigenous peoples who were living sustainably on the land…) We know now that the ecosystems upon which we depend for life are not infinite, that human activities impact those systems, most recently in ways which are damaging and degrading. Choosing to live in more sustainable settlement patterns and acknowledging the restraints which will preserve the natural world is a key to our species being able to live on in to the future.
Would Resettling and Rewilding be challenging? Would it require significant changes and sacrifices? Undoubtedly! How would we make the needed decisions and choices? What would the time frame be? Are we able to place the common good and the good of those coming in the future before our own short-term customs, comforts and conveniences?
But change is not coming…it is here. Will we shape the change, where that is possible? Or react to it in a haphazard fashion? Will we face these challenges as a community, or as individuals? Will we spread out the pain of change and sacrifice so it is shared by all? Will we think, together, outside of the norms of the past, or be inhibited and trapped by those past customs and practices? This is just one suggested path to consider as we anticipate a turbulent and challenging future. I hope it adds to the thinking and discussion, and that together, as a community, we can forge a path to a sustainable future.
Heidi Willis
Salisbury

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