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April 24, 2008

Sustainable Woodstock

Maybe this is how it will happen.

In the absence of leadership on energy policy and global warming from our elected leaders, individual communities will turn inward, to their own resources of creativity, camaraderie and intelligence, and begin to right the ship. Town by town, city by city, they will put their shoulders to the wheel and make minuscule but measurable corrections of course.

Something like this is happening in Woodstock, and it is heartening to see. On the night of Earth Day, a new community group called Sustainable Woodstock (the name says it all), organized a celebration, and a sort of coming out party for the group, at the Town Hall Theater. The house was packed with young and old, and everyone was buzzing with curiosity, a rare energy for an otherwise sedate citizenry. I couldn't stay for the whole show (our six-month old daughter was getting a little too vocal), but I liked what I saw.

The program started with two well-known local jazz musicians playing a kind of somber, almost elegiac duet, while the big movie screen behind them showed clips of diverse fauna doing what they do — a tiger stalking through the jungle understory, a suburban squirrel leaping from a branch, a pack of elephants plodding over a dusty savannah, a lone polar bear navigating an arctic ice-field. It made me think of what I read earlier in the morning: an essay by David Quammen called Planet of Weeds, which appeared in the October, 1998 issue of Harper’s and is in American Earth, an anthology of American environmental writing, edited by Bill McKibben and in stores now.

The gist of it is that the Earth’s plant and animal species are succumbing to extinction at an alarming rate, for numerous reasons, mostly having to do with human development and industrialization. What Quammen posits is that the biosphere will soon be too harsh and unpredictable for all but the most resilient, adaptable species, such as rats, cockroaches and, yes, humans — the weeds of the world. Biodiversity will be an anachronism, unless we do something. Pretty depressing stuff.

But the duet ended just in time and the hopeful inheritors of the Earth — students from Woodstock Elementary — piled on stage and sang a climate change anthem written by Woodstock High School’s band teacher, Michael Zsoldos, entitled “Save Us a Place.” You want inspiration to do right by the blue dot that we call home? Listen to a chorus of imperfect and angelic voices entreating you to save them a place to grow.

The last segment we got to see was a mini-movie called “The Story of Stuff.” It’s a fast and furious tour through the usual life cycle of the inanimate objects that populate our homes and offices; all together, the “materials economy.” The problem is that the system of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal is linear, but the planet’s resources are finite. The solution, broadly stated, is sustainability – zero waste, closed loop production, renewable energy, local economies, etc.

Now, about making that a reality…

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