Jason Bradford, founder of the Willits Economic Localization (WELL) (transcript)

MediaJason Bradford, founder of the Willits Economic Localization (WELL)

David Room: This is David Room of Global Public Media interviewing Doctor Jason Bradford, founder of the Willits Economic Localization (WELL) on May 3rd 2005 in Willits, California.

Jason Bradford: I was trained as an evolutionary biologist, a taxonomist at Washington University in St Louis and the Missouri Botanical garden. And I chose a particular group of plants that I was doing taxonomic work on and that happened to live in cloud forests in the tropics and temperate forests in the Southern Hemisphere. During that work I got to travel around the world and became very interested in what are called tropical cloud forests. And so I became interested in the effects of climate change, the impacts climate change would have on these kinds of Eco systems. So after receiving my Ph.D in the year 2000 I put together a research consortium that would study in particular the influence of climate change on Eco systems and species in the Andes in South America. So I was then based at UC Davis where I was conducting that research while I was still employed by the Missouri Botanical Garden.

DR: You’ve been following climate change. Can you give us an idea of where things are at?

JB: Well the inter governmental panel on climate change had a major report in the year 2000 and they’re going to update that. It’s a governmental body that has thousands of scientists and politicians and economists who synthesize essentially the research on climate change that has gone on in the past few years, since the previous report and so they’re synthesis reports. They’re going to have a new one coming up and they’re organizing themselves for that. A lot has changed since the last report. The last report had nothing to do with, energy wasn’t an issue in a sense that there was no resource constraints related to energy for example. There’s also been changes in the understanding of the climate models. So there’s now the work about global dimming that is really fascinating. Essentially what it looks like is the influence of carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping element of the atmosphere has been under estimated. And the reason it has been under estimated is because pollution via aerosol. There are fine particles that are in the atmosphere are compensating in a cooling effect to counteract the carbon dioxide effect. After 9/11 when airlines stopped running for a week in the US the temperature shot up in the US. This then coincided with measurements that had been conducted of the change over the last few decades or so of how water evaporates out of pans around the world. There’s these experiments that they put out where they see how much water goes out of pans and it didn’t quite make sense. It was changing and no one understood why. It seemed to be because there was less sunlight hitting the earth and that’s why it’s called global dimming. Although temperatures have gone up only slightly, the amount of instance of sunlight hitting the earth has gone down dramatically actually. And so greenhouse gasses are trapping more heat even while there’s less sunlight hitting the planet. So in its essence global dimming means a lot of parameters that climatologists assume, not assume them, they try to measure them but they’ve missed the influence of the aerosols. And so they have then underestimated the strength of the carbon dioxide trapping of gasses. So even though peak oil and these sort of depletion issues haven’t gotten into the science of climate change, climate change could still be a massive massive problem because really there’s a whole new set of influences that haven’t really been taken into account yet.

DR: So this global dimming, it appears to be a negative feedback loop? Are there some positive feedback loops that we should be concerned with?

JB: Yes. You know if you clean up the atmosphere, the irony is that if you scrub pollutants out of tail pipes or smoke stacks you actually reduce the aerosols and then that may accelerate warming because you’re still pumping carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. It’s a catch 22. The other thing is glaciers are melting, icecaps are thinning, land surfaces are being converted and so some of the major feedback loops that are positive have to do with changing albedo. And so one of the big worries is that if you start losing the ice cover, which is happening in mountain regions and Polar Regions, ice of cause is highly reflective. And as that becomes lost the land surface tends to be darker and tends to absorb heat more. So that’s a major positive feedback for example, even though the aerosols are a negative feedback.

DR: It would probably be good for our audience to hear what exactly positive feedback loops are.

JB: A positive feedback loop is something that accentuates the trend in a sense. So if we think of carbon dioxide as a heat trapping gas, because of its heat trapping abilities it changes then something else in the system, in this case the albedo or the reflectance of the surface of the earth. And that change in the reflectance works to accentuate the influence of carbon dioxide by making the earth even warmer than it would be without this change in reflectance. So that would be a positive feedback loop. So it accentuates the change that the initial forcing is causing.

DR: How different might the IPCC’s new report look if they do take into consideration energy and oil peak?

JB: That was the question that I was really struggling with as a scientist. Because there are these models that the IPCC were using and my colleagues as climatologists were using and I looked at these models and I was trying to use these models as maybe a way to go about doing my own set of models with my colleagues. So I looked at the IPCC, as these are the folks who know how to do this kind of work. I’m going to read their stuff and I’m going to understand it and I’m going to implement it on a small scale to really focus down on the Andes and sort out how that system might change. So you’re sort of nesting. Now this is the global model, how do they do it? I’m going to nest in my little regional model and I’m going to use the same methods. When I looked at their methods I said “Oh my gosh they don’t even understand what feedback’s are in a sense.” They understand feedback’s within models, like within climate change models but they didn’t have feedback’s from the impacts of climate change to human economies, populations, all that stuff. Which then didn’t feedback then into the inputs for energies and resources. So I said I couldn’t really trust these climate change models. It was sort of garbage went into a model I thought might be good if there wasn’t garbage going in. Then what came out, it’s what do I do with that, and so it was really troubling for me. So in a sense I say we have no idea and until they start getting the model correct in the assumptions, I look at the assumptions of the model and the way it was structured. I’d have no idea then until they start looking at non pare econometric models, in other words price models for the abundance of fossil fuels, then they’re not going to get it either. The assumptions right now are if the price goes high enough all the tar sands and shale oils that we could ever want to extract will be extractable in some economically viable way at whatever rate we choose. So it’s really interesting. Humans control the resource base of the planet and there’s no influence of ecology or geology on our ability to do whatever we want to do. That’s the starting assumption. There’s no limits, there’s no limits to growth, there’s no limits to whatever. And yet when you look at the impact that climate change has it’s just dire and so the reports are completely schizophrenic. You have people saying there’s no limits, and no limits leads to these climate change effects which leads to massive refugee crisis and famines. And you go okay that looks like limits to me. But there’s no feedback from these conclusions. People are scared and worried about climate change, which they should be. But the starting assumptions are we shouldn’t worry at all.

DR: Tell me about the interdependencies between climate change, peak oil and the responses to these phenomena.

JB: Part of what I thought was this is great we don’t have all the fuel we could ever desire, but if you look at how much that has been pumped into the atmosphere already and the lag time it takes for these effects to really show up. And you look at them, and well we’ve only really pumped half the oil. We still haven’t peaked for natural gas, we still haven’t peaked for coal. Then if you look at the global dimming phenomena where, in a sense, we’ve underestimated potentially the influence of these greenhouse gasses. Boy it could be really hard to keep the change in the temperature below what is considered what is like a, there’s a threshold affect. If you get beyond 2 degrees Celsius, on average, global warming, it’s pretty catastrophic. It’s really hard to see how you do that given the lag that happens. I know that Richard Douthwaite is trying to work on really seriously confronting this and he talks to people in the IPCC, and I don’t, I’ve stepped out of that, but I’m really curious to see how that moves forward because it’s a lot worse than people imagine I think.

DR: Jason can you tell us a bit about your thoughts on the timeframe that we may see some impacts due to climate change.

JB: Well we’re seeing them now. If you look at the literature, I don’t do this much any more, but I was reading science and ecology and I was reading major journals and trying to keep up with this stuff. It’s a full time job just to read the primary literature, in fact it’s more than a full-time job, no one can do it. But essentially what we have now is really major shifts in flora and fauna in both how they’re moving across the planet and they’re trying to migrate and then the timing of when things flower, when things fruit, when organisms reproduce and so ecologists are seeing just major changes already. And then you have periodic crop failures for example. There are heatwaves and we’re already seeing a problem with food reserves declining precipitously. And I think a lot of this is related to stresses that ecosystems are under, compounded by somewhat chaotic weather conditions or unusual weather conditions. And these weather conditions that are unusual, that are happening now are exactly what is predicted by climate models. You have greater variance in weather, precipitation tends to fall in larger amounts in shorter periods, which is not as good for crops. It’s nicer to gently rain and extend the period in which rain falls, you don’t have many flooding problems, you don’t have intervening problems with drought, for example. So it’s happening now. But what is difficult to imagine and foresee are the chaotic effects of phase transitions or tipping points and this is what some of the big worries are about. You can imagine a rubber band where you can stress it and stress it and it behaves like you expect a rubber band to behave. As you stress it it has some sort of linear response and has a trend and expansion and then you stress it too much and it starts to tighten and then it snaps. And when that tightening and snapping happens you’re literally changing then the game, you don’t know what that rubber band is going to do or look like. That’s what happens to climate systems and we know that from historical records. So people are worried about shutdown of circulation of ocean patterns, major shifts in rainfall patterns etc. But it is very hard to know, for models to know, when things like that occur. It’s really just too complicated.

DR: Do you put much currency in the idea that the snapping of the rubber band could be something that brings us into another ice age?

JB: I don’t do that kind of research. So all I have to go on are the emerging data that suggest that has happened repeatedly in the past. It’s happened very rapidly and it’s happened in ways that we can’t really predict but the signs are showing salinity changes in the ocean that are similar to historic events that preceded such changes. So it sounds entirely plausible.

DR: You’ve mentioned that you were doing primary research in this field, now you’re not. What has changed?

JB: That’s a great question because that was a really difficult change to go through. Essentially I just lost institutional support. It was difficult for institutions to consider what I was talking about really. That the problem had to do with our entire financial system, our entire industrial system. That we really needed to change the entire way we conceived about our lifestyles and do the localization process. But how do you talk to universities about that? How do you talk to major research institutions about that? They are totally dependent on endowments and donations. It appears it is too complicated for these major institutions to conceive of changing like that. They’ve got plans and trajectories and that essentially assumes an extrapolation of current conditions and the status quo and I just ran up against my inability to convince anybody that this was something that needed to involve all these major institutions in one time.

DR: The extrapolation that things are going to continue as it’s going doesn’t take into consideration peak oil and it seems to be that one of the responses to peak oil will be to increase the amount of coal energy generation. What impact will that have?

JB: I haven’t kept up with what exactly our coal reserves are and how fast we can extract them. It’s been a really difficult question to get around. I know that there’s been some studies suggesting that if we try to make up for oil and gas depletion with coal, that coal will peak around 2030. It’s hard to compensate for very long with coal. Then the question that always comes is that coal is really dependent upon diesel fuels and electricity for running the machinery to extract it. The scenes of coal that were easily gotten out with historic manpower etc are gone and the quality of coal has declined so it takes more processing. So the energy involved in coal production has a poorer return now than it did. So how really fast can we get coal out? I don’t know if we know because the coal industry was somewhat overtaken by oil and natural gas because it’s not as high quality a fuel. So it’s hard to conceive how the coal infrastructure would deal with the kind of oil and gas depletion crisis that we’re talking about.

DR: Coal is one of the most carbon rich fuels. Is that correct?

JB: Yes well the fossil fuels are very carbon dense and coal doesn’t give as much energy output per carbon dioxide output as well. Its not as clean a fuel in terms of the emissions relative to the energy you get out as natural gas or oil is.

DR: We’ve talked a lot about the problem. What are you doing?

JB: I just felt that there was a need to figure out how to get communities to deal with this issue because I didn’t see the state dealing with it. I didn’t see the federal government dealing with it. I didn’t see the United Nations dealing with it. It paid lip service to it, but it’s astonishing how disconnected their assumptions are with their conclusions. I was standing up in conferences saying, “why are you talking about sustainable development meaning sustainable growth at a climate change conference.” People were telling me that we can’t really talk about this stuff. I said “My gosh, what is wrong.” Most people, my family, my friends didn’t understand this stuff and didn’t understand these completely insane contradictions and patterns. You see suburban sprawl happening while people are worried about climate change. The planning bodies are going on as if life as usual will continue, and they’re worried about climate change. They didn’t realize that what they’re planning is just going to make it worse. So I’ve really got to educate some communities about this and try to get them to accept responsibility for these issues and see that essentially we all need to change our lifestyles and habits and our culture. It’s really daunting to do but I don’t see any other way around it and I felt like I had nothing to lose. So if things are as bad as I thought they were, based upon reading the most recent scientific literature and having access to university databases, I could have access to any journal in the world practically, so I was aware of stuff that nobody seemed to be to be aware of and no media seemed to be talking about, except on page A10 in a few paragraphs. I’ve got to use some of my credibility that I have to let people know that this is real and you’ve got to take it personally, like I take it personally.

DR: And how are you going about that?

JB: Well first I just got up and showed the film “The End of Suburbia.” It’s just in introductory film to one aspect of overshoot really. That got people talking and it was a scary thing to deal with. Fears okay with me. Fears a good motivator. It’s not a reaction that we have because it’s not useful, but you don’t want to get trapped in it. You want to be able to respond based upon that. And so the next step was how is the community going to respond? How are we going to use our ingenuity to really react to this fear and create a more secure situation for ourselves? And in the meantime how do you pull in people who are just not going to accept this information and make it seem like the right thing to do anyway? So there are those who say this is something we have to do, and there are those who are saying we should be doing this anyway so why don’t we just do it. We should localize economies. Our economies have been trashed by globalization and a lot of people in these small towns know that. They’ve seen the jobs flee. They’ve seen the young people leaving towns and not coming back because what opportunity did they have here? It’s really an issue that crosses a lot of political lines. I think it’s not hard if you frame it right to get a real good part of the public behind you.

DR: You mentioned globalization and there are people that say that trade has been going on for thousands of years.

JB: It’s scale. It’s all about scale. You can trade in the non-necessities of things. I imagine in the future we’re here inland and we’ll trade with Fort Bragg on the coast for salt or fish or whatever. Nowadays no one knows how to make anything that they use. No one knows how to grow the food that they eat. No one knows how to manage local energy sources to do the manufacture of the food production. Horses. How do you use horses for transport? How do you use horses for draft? How do you make the tools that you need to farm? How do you make the tools that you need to repair and maintain infrastructure? How do you make the replacement part for that infrastructure? All that stuff used to be just part of village life. The theory is not that difficult. So you do the math and you say in places like the US where we are, here in Willits, theoretically you can this stuff. The problem is then the social change that happens and the lack of skill base. We need to really grow the skill base of people in this way. Computer literacy in schools is just the wrong thing. We should be having farming literacy and basic tool use literacy. That’s just not part of state education standards right now. It’s really difficult.

DR: Can you give our audience a sense of what Willits is like now?

JB: Willits was an agrarian community, then it was basically a logging community, then it became a light manufacturing community and now it’s a service and marijuana community. There’s some light manufacturing left, there’s some sawmills left. They’re usually importing their logs from far away. And the light manufacturing is for very specific niche markets. In general you can ask this about almost any town in America, “what do people do?” It’s hard to know what people do because there are so few people there that are part of the basic means of production anymore, land, food and the infrastructure that goes to support that. So it’s really hard to say what does Willits do? What is Willits like? You have artists and artisans and people make their living by commuting. Or they make their living by being in the government or being in restaurants or being in PG&E, the Phone Company or services like massage or horseback riding or hospitals. What is there for kids that are grown and raised in Willits to do? It’s very hard. They tend to leave after high school and not come back in many cases. The opportunities seem to be in the bigger cities etc. That’s really difficult for the demographic problems and family problems that result from that. It’s painful for towns to see that happen. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There should be plenty of opportunities for people to work here if you get away from the globalized economic system and really localize.

DR: Can you give us a sense of the size of the city and the scale and how it’s sprawled out?

JB: Willits at the city limits has just over five thousand people. The zip code, which encompasses a twenty-mile radius, has about fourteen thousand people. And then there’s a township called Brooktrails, which is not far outside of Willits, but it’s a sort of suburb and second growth Redwood and Douglas fur forest with a bunch of little lots and houses in a really hilly area. It’s really troublesome, the transportation issues with that. That has about 3700 people. And then there are people scattered in the hills around here. The county just carved out little parcels and roads went up through them for logging and then to support the real estate industry. And so there’s a thousand people that live over there and out this valley this way and up in the hills that way. I really worry about the transport infrastructure and the ability for the people to get in and out of town and find their basic goods and services. Then there’s the main freeway, 101, runs through town not as a freeway, it becomes Main Street. But the trucking traffic is immense. It goes back and forth. Most of the traffic is in town traffic but we have big logging trucks and trucks for Safeway and Rays Market that supply our food essentially and supply our fuels. Trucks come in to fill up the gas stations and the propane tanks that people have, so we’re totally dependent on that. A landslide every once in a while will take out the freeway and make that difficult so it’s not really a stable and secure situation even if you weren’t worried about fossil fuel depletion.

DR: You were just mentioning earlier that we needed to disconnect from the global economic system and relocalize. What did you mean by relocalize?

JB: Well one of the advantages that Willits has actually is that the population density in this area is relatively low compared to the rest of California. And if you look at arable land per capita it is potentially very good. And so Willits actually sits in a little Lake Valley, which has thousands of acres of prime ag land. It’s not used for that, it’s used for mostly for horses and hay and some grazing, but it used to be a major agrarian centre and it was one of the last valleys in California to lose agricultural self-sufficiency. Some of the people who have lived here all of their lives remember all the great potatoes that we used to grow here etc. So I think that localization around here should focus on being self sufficient in food. That also includes being self sufficient in the energy production and manufacturing needed to produce the goods required and the power required to grow that food and process that food and transport that food. So that’s what I mean in the sense of standard economics of localization that the production and the consumption happens within our locale here. It’s really that simple. But what it means is arranging for basic food production and then basic industry or manufacturing that supports that kind of lifestyle. So if you have farmers you also have to have the toolmakers to support the farmers and the food processors for example. That may seem wild in our day and age but that’s how most people live around the world and have lived historically. So really we’re the odd ones right now because we get our food from so far away and our energy comes from so far away and our manufacturing products come from so far away. That’s the bizarre thing actually, not what we’re talking about. Localization is absolutely normal.

DR: Can you tell me about the Willits Economic Localization?

JB: This is a new thing. We’ve only been doing this for eight months or so. So it’s just developing and it’s really hard to keep on top of developments in this because it’s picking up pretty good and nobody has a full-time job doing this. We’re all volunteers, we all have our own lives. So the trick is trying to figure out how to create something new while you’re still dependent upon the old and that’s very complicated. Essentially what we have is sixty or seventy people showing up for these meetings that happen one or two times a month and they happen at the community centre which is a great place and city hall gives us free space. It’s large and we can break up, we have the tables and the chairs, and we break up into study groups to understand how our food supply, energy supply, water supply, transportation infrastructure, basic goods and services, shelter: how that all works right now. And then contrast that with our vision of how we would like it to work if we were to go through with economic localization process. And that then sets up this frame of tension. This is the desired future verses the awful present in many ways. And we’re hoping then to be pulled towards that future via our planning and starting projects. So what you have is you have individuals who can take on something like I’m growing, here in the background is my garden. I’m learning how to grow my own food. I now know what rye looks like. I can distinguish between a carrot, seedling and weeds. Those kind of details, those practicalities, are very important. It may take me years to develop those skills. So we have to start at individual levels to do that. And then groups of people are getting together and forming clubs that help one another do these things. So there’s a club that will glean from orchards in the area for example. There are groups that are organizing community gardens. I’m part of another group that is working on developing community supported farming here. And those are longer-term things where, in my own life, I can rapidly do a strategic plan for getting my own garden in. I can sort out how it’s going to happen, I can just start doing it. But for these large-scale project it takes longer. So we talk about doing an inventory, doing a vision, developing a plan and acting on it. And those things happen at different scales and different time frames for all these things, whether they be food or energy or water. I built a solar cooker. I can do that fast. But how the city’s going to manage their infrastructure related energy is a much more long term complicated process. The other part of this is people need ideas and inspiration, how too really, because this is so difficult conceptually. We’ve lost touch with these basic skills and the whole idea of being local. There’s broad backing in the community for the idea, the concept. But there’s a lot of misunderstanding and inability to comprehend the how to. So we bring in outside speakers to motivate us and to give us ideas about how to go about localizing.

DR: Tell me about the structure of the organization.

JB: The structure is really evolving. Essentially it was all my thing where I was setting up the movie, I would lead a discussion. But it got large and I couldn’t handle all this. There’s a lot of responsibility. And it shouldn’t all be one person. You need a vast proportion of the community to get involved. So what started happening is we started breaking up into these focal groups related to food and energy and water and shelter etc. And leadership starts emerging within those, people start taking on responsibility for doing something. We also have a media group, an outreach group and they put together flyers and they think about how do we target messages to specific audiences. So you have these different cells emerging within this where people take on these responsibilities and become the leadership position in that. So I’m involved in farm projects as well or attempting that. I’m one of the leaders in that, but I’m not really deeply involved in some of the water or energy issues. And so it becomes a distributed group, but then the meetings are where we come back together and sort out what’s happened and interact and network and share information and ideas. If you’re going to talk about, say water infrastructure, there’s energy related to that. So they have to start linking these up. Then we have a steering committee. The steering committee meets on off Mondays. We have a Monday meeting for the community and then we’ll have on the following Monday, the steering committee will meet and then the following Monday the community will meet again. So at the steering committee meetings we try to get representatives from all these different groups and interests within WEL and feel out how things are going, where are we strong, where are we weak, what sort of threats are there to our continued momentum, what opportunities do we have to engage new people. There are a lot of debates, people are very lively about strategy. What’s great about these folks is that people here are incredibly good at tackling these things when they get a handle and learn how to organize. People’s egos get upset once in a while but we keep reminding ourselves that we all have the same values and goals. People may be mad for a day but then they go you know what, I’ve just got to let go of that, that’s not important and so you just have to roll with it once in a while, just let it happen and trust that people are going to stick with it.

DR: How do you start your meetings out?

JB: We have an orientation program now as well. I used to start out every meeting, and everyone would see this reminder of who we are, what we’re doing and why, and now I shift that to when we have speakers because then we have more people there from the broader public. Then I also do that for orientation. We typically have the breakout groups go off and do their thing and then we say, “who’s here to see The End of Suburbia and learn about what we’re doing and how and why come into this other room. Then I orient them with this talk. Essentially we have these big poster size boards that are painted really beautifully that explain who we are, what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Basically the message is that this is something for everyone in the community, everyone is a stakeholder, no one is isolated in this. This has to be something we all share and realize that this is a shared interest. Then I go to the next board and say here’s what’s going on in the world. There’s one image of the global economy essentially. And there’s a little Willits on planet earth with everything streaming in from China and from the Middle East and trucking from the mid west with our food and the pollution that that produces. So in a sense you’re seeing that we’re damaging the environment with this lifestyle. This lifestyle is fragile because it’s related to these depleting resources and the responsible thing to do is to localize. To do that is going to require a great deal of ingenuity and community mindedness. Then right next to this picture of the world there’s this picture of this vision of Willits in the future. That picture has all these different elements: local food production. Local energy production, clean air and water, a vibrant community with people walking and biking, maybe some railroad thrown in, local manufacture of things we need like solar hot water heaters and things like that. It is not only the responsible thing to do but it is the thing that will enhance our security and it will build the kind of community that we desire, a community where our children want to stay here and have a place because we have a diverse economy and there’s something for everybody really.

DR: When you say Enhance your security, what exactly do you mean?

JB: In the long term you can think about it as climate change, fossil fuel depletion, loss of soil fertility and top soil loss in general. You look at the trends and you look at why they’re happening and you know it’s related to the way we live right now. We’re all responsible for this in a sense. If you don’t know how to get out of it, this is like the machine that we’re trapped in in a sense. Because it’s unsustainable, what does that mean? Unsustainable means it’s not going to go on forever. Well if you’re relying on something that’s not going to go on forever and it’s damaging the very system of life you depend upon, the human economy is nested within the natural economy and if you’re damaging that then eventually the human economy is going to have a lot of problems. Enhancing your security means that you take care of your local environment, you do not deplete the soil, you do not damage the atmosphere, you are not dependent upon outside resources to maintain your basic lifestyle. So that’s enhancing security and that’s the responsible way to act. In the short term, we have a hospital here in town that is considered a critical care facility and gets special grants etc because the roads can wash out here. If anyone drives up 101, you see there’s bridges and rivers, the highway cuts into very steep geologically unstable slopes and every once in a while there’s a landslide. Apparently the town was isolated, because the bridge washed out, for several days once. The trucks didn’t show up at the store and the truck didn’t show up to deliver gasoline supplies etc. It can happen any time. It’s disaster preparedness. The greatest thing that we could do for homeland security is to localize our economy.

DR: You’ve mentioned that there’s broad support within the community, yet I still get the sense that you haven’t got to the tipping point. I’m wondering what that might be?

JB: Well here’s what you get. You get misconceptions about what’s going on based upon who’s involved. People make assumptions in the community about what this is about. People showing up, there’s a sign on the environmental centre, which advertises all our events: peak oil, End of Suburbia showing, localize the economy, and a lot of people walk right by and say this is something for those environmentalists and they’re doom and gloomers and they have nothing positive to contribute. And so a lot of people will just dismiss it right away. If you talk to people directly and you explain and I show them what I’m doing and why, they go this is not what I assumed. We have city council people, county supervisors, head of Chambers of Commerce, various ministers and officials in different churches, businesspeople; no one says this should not be done. Everyone said that this would be a great thing. So I’ve given talks at the Rotary club, we’ve had special meetings with community leaders and everyone is supportive. We’re hoping to reach that tipping point now and to really make sure that our message is that this is a good idea if you fear for the future or not or what your motivation for fear of the future is. It’s also just a great opportunity that we have to take control of our destiny and have a wonderful place to live.

DR: What’s the next step in municipal support that you’re looking for?

JB: The cities been talking about, just an example of their support for renewable energy, developing renewable energy infrastructure for city buildings and basic services. So the greatest use of electricity that the city has is for our water supply. It has to be pressurized to pump, the treatment plant requires electricity. So you have the bills for this. We know what the bills are, PG&E keeps track of these things and you can then say okay lights are minor relative to this stuff. The lights can go out but what you really want is to have clean and safe water and the ability to maintain that. So I’m hoping they put up renewable energy infrastructure that can maintain basic city services. There’s a committee forum that’s looking into that right now.

DR: In California local governments now have the option to begin getting some of their power from renewable sources through community choice aggregation and I’m wondering if Willits is considering that as an option?

JB: Apparently that’s one of the things being discussed and I don’t know the details of this yet and there’s a lot of questions that city officials have about this. So there’s this big educational need right now to air this out and to get good information about how this would work. I don’t know enough myself. I’m really trying to figure out how to grow food and so part of my issue is how much time do I spend figuring out the details of how the whole system works versus trying to be good at the one thing that I really am passionate about.

DR: Can you tell me what processes you’ve found to be most successful in this community organizing that you’re doing?

JB: The biggest thing is to be able to not necessarily have a plan that you’re going to run with because this has to be something that people agree is a way to go. I think that being very open to how are we as a people going to do this and have then a way of reconciling differences that is amicable. I think the key is to agree on shared values. That you are here all for the same reasons even though you may not all agree on the method to get there, but then that gives you shared goals as well. And then to say what processes are we going to decide work well for us. Basically the steering committee has an 80% consensus rule about making decisions. People propose that at the next meeting we do this instead of that or I propose that we spend this money to do this etc. And then people do thumbs up or thumbs down. We listen to what the critiques are for that proposal and everyone gets heard. But it’s not full consensus because you don’t have time necessarily for that and in fact it’s getting to the point where it’s difficult to make executive decisions. Sometimes you don’t really know; am I allowed to do this? I think that what we need at some point is some kind of core group that is empowered and trusted by everyone to run around and do everything and react quickly to circumstances. We also need to think very much about money. What happens when money gets involved and how do you decide who gets money and who doesn’t and do you run it through us or do you help support a community foundation and then your projects go to that to try to be supported? It’s a process that is really organic and ad hoc in a sense because we’re all volunteers and we’re learning how to do this as we go.

DR: You mention money. How does WELL get money?

JB: Right now all our money comes from donations that we usually get when a speaker comes to town. We split the net at the door with the speaker. We’ve had good turnouts. We get anything from 150 to 250 people at speaker events typically. We wrote a grant for the US DA for homeland security, food security and the county grants related to community development. A lot of small things right now and basically you’re using local institutions essentially as our partners in all these things. We’re brand new. We don’t have a track record and local institutions support us as fiscal sponsors and covering insurance for events etc. This is a small enough town that everyone knows what these networks are and who are the appropriate people are to talk about things.

DR: Can you tell what some of the accomplishments that you’d like to point out are?

JB: The biggest one is I guess on a personal level so many people are aware of what’s going on, more so than they were. And they feel empowered in some way in their own personal life as well as a pride in their community that, boy we’re really getting our act together in some sense. There’s a woman who went away to college in San Diego and she didn’t know if she would ever come back here. And now she’s emailing me saying that I’ve been reading about what’s going on and my friends have been telling her what’s going on and I’m so proud of Willits and there may be a place for me. So that’s really amazing, that there’s a sense of pride that’s developing. Local institutions are starting to use the volunteer base and the expertise base of WELL to help ask questions about things. So the city has a committee, the hospital is planning a new hospital building that they want to make a certified green hospital and so they bring together people from WELL to advise the architects on what is desired. So there’s a whole range of activities that are percolating through the town, waves of personal as well as group as well as institutional interest in what is going on. I’m also very proud of the energy group for just doing bang up research and sorting out the inventory and then also developing a vision for the future for energy here.

DR: Can you talk at a high level about that analysis and the vision?

JB: It’s just like the rest of the country. We’re completely dependent on fossil fuels. There’s ten tons of carbon dioxide emitted per person and in Willits based upon fossil fuel usage on average and I think the average commutes 25 miles a day, I think that 22% of medium after tax income goes on energy, and that’s of course outside energy. What if that money was instead focused on localizing energy supply? How much money that would be, how much resource we could devote here? It could be spectacular.

DR: What are the next steps for WELL? Where is it heading?

JB: That’s a great question. I foresee us moving into a phase where we have on ground projects showing localization efforts really accomplishing the things. Most people involved now are willing to go through the difficult process of planning these things and doing the hard work. These people are fantastic, they’re willing to take their own personal time out to do the hard work to organize this sort of stuff. And then when these things start happening and when we start promoting those things and it’s already happening. We’ve had events like visiting gardens. Then other people start turning out. People who don’t have the time to come to these meetings and do the planning but care about this and want to become involved. Then that’s going to attract broader interest. And then once we start getting the more complicated larger projects together we can then go to the community and ask for financial support to make it happen. So the futures going to be, I think, getting little demonstration projects related to localization of energy. Maybe demonstrations of solar photovoltaic and biomass co generation plant that’s related to local manufacture of something that supports a local farm. Then I think that you will get a lot of excitement and a lot of funding flowing into this.

DR: Do you see community supported manufacturing being a part of this?

JB: I would love that to happen. I don’t know a lot about the details of how to do manufacturing, but we have an incredible manufacturing base here that has really been eroded by global competition and depletion of local forest resources actually. But we have the potential. We have local biomass that uses latter fuels in forests around here. We have local institutions that know how to develop renewable energy through photo voltaics. We have factories that do precision cutting with metals and putting them together and welding. So you could think of a situation when you put together the kind of tools that are required for sustainable livelihood. You could build the solar ovens, you could build the solar thermal stuff, you could build the transportation needs; local transportation, lightweight vehicles, carts, build the pumps for any irrigation that you need. It’s all possible and it needs to be integrated that way.

DR: Tell me your vision for Willits 2020.

JB: Yes, 2020 vision for Willits. These are my hopes and dreams. I’m going to start with food. We have about forty community-supported farms out in the valley. These farms employ so many people, they’re working at these farms and they’re good jobs, dependable jobs, I mean everyone needs food. Job security is there. They are also the sort of jobs that put people in touch with the rhythms of nature, the natural cycles. They’re interesting jobs because we’re not growing mono-crop agriculture. We’ve got all the grains, we’re growing rye and wheat and barley and oats and winter beans and all the different vegetables you can imagine. And so learning about this, getting in touch with these wonderful creatures, raising chickens, I mean the animals are just so interesting. That I think is the basis. And imagine how interesting it is for kids to be raised in an environment where they see where their food comes from, you have harvest festivals. The kids may be out at school during the time when there’s planting or harvesting and the community comes to gather around that. And then you have the local manufacturing that supports all this. So again the young people, maybe the middle age folks who have lost their jobs if the manufacturing base has been eroded here, they are so needed. We say share your knowledge. Or even the older folks here who remember what life was like before the big roads came in. How did you guys live here? How did you get along? What sort of community events went on? There’s a whole culture, there was a loss essentially related to the rhythms of life surrounding harvest and planting and preserving and the changing of the seasons, and people having to interact with each other to get what they need. Right now you can be on the Internet and you can say ship me the food, ship me my clothes, ship me my entertainment. I don’t need anybody. That sense of isolation both from other people in your community and from the nature that sustains you is just appalling, and you wonder why kids don’t know what their place is in this world. You wonder why adults have depression problems, obesity problems and all kinds of problems with over consumption and materialism, they’re trying to find some pleasure in life. My vision of the future is that that’s not an issue. Life itself and the way we live it is something that is so satisfying, so that’s what we can do.

DR: You’re talking about changing the culture.

JB: Exactly. We have to change the whole culture.

DR: How urgent is it that we start now?

JB: It’s terribly urgent. People are creatures of habit. The habits that we have now are bad for us, they are bad for the planet, they’re bad for our kids, and they’re bad for our older generations. I don’t thing anyone is doing really well right now in a sense. We’ve got to break these habits, because if we don’t the prospects are pretty dismal. I don’t know how well all the different cultures, or different cities or towns in the world are going to deal with this. I just hope enough do it that there can be some really nice places left and that there’s peace in our time because without a change in the culture there is no peace. Who wants continued wars and who wants continued destruction of the biosphere. I don’t think anybody does. What we have to face up to that if we don’t change our culture and our habits, that’s what we’re guaranteeing, continuing to guarantee. It’s already happening.

DR: From where comes the optimism that allows you to continue this work?

JB: You get to a point where it’s not necessarily optimism but it’s in a sense what else can you do. You can’t be in despair forever, it’s not productive. I’ve got kids and essentially you just live your life day to day doing the best that you can and enjoying the process. It really focuses you into the present of your actions. And the other thing I guess is really enjoyable is that all of a sudden by coming here and talking about this, there’s a sense of hope and pride in the surroundings around me and that affects you eventually. So you create your hope and optimism just by doing what has to be done. When you come to the point where you say I have no choice, I have nothing to lose you relinquish a sense of control. You’re not afraid to say I don’t really know how things are going to work out and that gives you and the people that you’re talking to and understanding that boy you’re very sincere and you’re trustworthy. I’m not trying to fool anybody. I’m not trying to get something for myself in particular. To save myself means I’ve basically got to help everyone understand this and get along better and get along with the planet better, so what a wonderful thing to do.

DR: This has been David Room in an interview with Doctor Jason Bradford founder of the Willits Economic Localization.

MediaJason Bradford, founder of the Willits Economic Localization (WELL)