Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"A Water Ethic: Cure for the Coming Crisis"

"A Water Ethic: Cure for the Coming Crisis" is the title of author
Kirpatrick Sale's June 2nd lecture for the Great Barrington Land
Conservancy. Mr. Sale will speak about how for centuries humans have
attempted to have control and dominance over the forces of nature, most
especially of water, but in the 21st century we have come to the point where
our control and use of water has reached a crisis. We depend upon water even
more than we do oil, but what isn't being polluted and defiled is being used
up, in this country and around the world, at a disastrous rate. It is no
exaggeration to say that the wars of the coming century will most likely
about water, and when they are over there still won't be enough to go

"The only way we can escape from the coming crisis is by developing a 'water
ethic,' similar to Aldo Leopold¹s land ethic, but about this precious and
vital resource."

Mr. Sale's talk is part of a weekend of festivities dedicating the William
Stanley Overlook on the Great Barrington River Walk (www.gbriverwalk.org).
The Observation Platform for the Overlook is directly across the Housatonic

River from the site of the historic Horace Day rubberwear factory. It was
here in 1886 that Stanley successfully transmitted high voltage alternating
current electricity. Interpretative signage tells the story of Stanley¹s
experiments and his role in Great Barrington¹s industrial history.

Great Barrington is proud of its River Walk, which also features the W. E.
B. Du Bois River Garden, honoring Great Barrington's native son. The River
Walk is demonstrating the potential for developing riverfront access along
trashed and abused areas, so that more pristine riparian areas may remain
forever wild. River Walk has shown how public access need not compromise
river ecology and water quality, by creating vegetative buffers of native
species, mitigating non-point source pollution with drop inlets, installing
a rain garden and permeable trail surfaces, and addressing degraded soils
with "compost tea". Most important, the process of building the River Walk
trail (now counting over two thousand volunteers) continues to strengthen
Great Barrington's own "river ethic". It is appropriate that Mr. Sale's
Water Ethic address will be made in our town!

Kirkpatrick Sale is a contributing editor for the "Nation" and the author of
nine previous books, including "Human Scale," "Dwellers in the Land: The
Bioregional Vision," "Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and
Columbian Conquest," "Rebels against the Future: The Luddites and Their War
on the Industrial Revolution," and "The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton
and American Dream." He was named by "Utne Reader" as one of the 100 Living
Visionaries. He makes his home in Cold Spring, New York.

In 1980 Mr. Sale was appointed a founding board member of the E. F.
Schumacher Society. He was responsible for suggesting the creation of the
Schumacher Library with its stellar collection of books on local economics.
Mr. Sale's essay "Economics of Scale vs. the Scale of Economics" is printed
below for your information. It was first published in the February 2006
"Re-inventing Economics" issue of "Vermont Commons," guest edited by Susan
Witt. Additional essays by Mr. Sale may be read online at the publications
section of the E. F. Schumacher Society's web site

Best wishes,

Staff of the E. F. Schumacher Society
140 Jug End Road
Great Barrington, MA 01230

* * * * *

Economics of Scale vs. the Scale of Economics:
Towards Basic Principles of a Bioregional Economy
by Kirkpatrick Sale
from "Vermont Commons" (www.vtcommons.org)

Economics of scale is what conventional industrial economies are all about,
finding ways to more profitably and efficiently exploit nature. But the
scale of economics is what the new economies of the future must be about,
finding the ways to live so that healthy communities may foster a healthy

There are only two essentials to consider in coming at the problem of the
optimum scale for an economy to produce and distribute goods and services:
the natural ecosystem and the human community. An economy that does harm to
the natural world‹depleting resources, extincting species, maltreating
animals, producing pollution, piling up wastes‹has grown too large; an
economy that is out of democratic and humanitarian human control‹where
decisions are made by a few distant corporate individuals and a polity whose
choices are beyond individual influence‹has grown too large.

Let us take the economic scale that is optimum for the earth¹s systems. It
would be based on conservation, stability, sustainability, recycling,
harmony. That means, for starters, an economy at a bioregional scale‹that
of a watershed or river valley, or a mountain system, or a lakeshore‹for it
more or less dictates the economy appropriate to it: an economy based on a
watershed, for example, automatically considers downriver populations as
well as headwater ones. The human constructs would adapt to the environment
rather than be imposed, and human uses would be confined to those the
bioregion allowed.

In Vermont terms, it would be possible to think of the western watershed of
the Connecticut River, with all the rivers running eastward from the Green
Mountains, as a bioregion (though it would of course demand cooperation with
the New Hampshirites, who share the Connecticut). Another bioregion would
encompass the watershed to the west of the Green Mountains, to Lake

In this case, dairy and general truck farming would naturally be at the
heart of the bioregional economy, although if a truly ecological sensibility
informs it, those farms would not allow the disastrous sort of waste runoff
that now so badly pollutes Lake Champlain and other waterways. Nor would
they use artificial chemicals and fertilizers. Nor would they have factory
farms of 1,000-plus cows and 100,000-plus hens. An ecologically based
agriculture would depend on solar power appropriate to the region, on
human-powered machines, on organic and pest-management systems, perennial
polyculture and permaculture, with markets geared to seasonal and regional

And the economic scale desirable for the human community would be one in
which decisions about the economy‹what is produced, from what resources, by
whom, for whom, how distributed, how recycled‹are made democratically by the
various units, from towns to bioregions. Most power would locate at the
level of the community, and it is there that we can imagine effecting some
basic economic justice‹specifically, practices of workplace ownership by the
employees, workplace democracy for decision-making, and workplace commitment
to the immediate surrounding populace‹all of the things that are impossible
with large scales and distant chainstore corporations.
And here we come to an essential element of a stable economy that dictates
much of its scale: self-sufficiency. If the farms of Vermont were part of a
self-sufficient economy, feeding the 620,000 people within its borders as
its primary mission, there would not be such a concentration on dairy farms
(and the resultant pollution problems) and there would be a far greater
diversity of animal products and crops, ultimately to the health of the

Self-sufficiency is operable only at a limited scale, where humans are able
to understand the resources at hand, can perceive and regulate the variants
in the economy, and be sure that production and distribution is made
rational and systematic. It is certainly possible at a bioregional scale,
at least bioregions conceived as no bigger than 10- and 20,000 square miles
(depending on the size necessary for resource variables), and in fact state
governments right across the country even now calculate much of their
operations on geographic areas of such a size, though they usually think in
terms of watersheds or forests or deserts rather than bioregions. (Although
in fact the Federal government has begun to calculate at this scale, with a
bioregional map recently put out by the Bureau of Land Management.)

In terms of population, too, there is a limit at which rough
self-sufficiency can be achieved. I did a lot of analysis of this for my
book Human Scale some years ago, and I found that historically
self-sufficient communities with economies of some complexity tended to
cluster in the 5,000-10,000 population range‹one urbanologist, Gideon
Sjoberg, has said that ³it seems unlikely that, at least in the earlier
periods, even the larger of these cities contained more than 5,000 to 10,000
people, including part-time farmers on the cities¹ outskirts.² Medieval
trading centers commonly held up to 10,000 people for centuries, and even
when larger cities grew in the 13th and 14th centuries to 20,000 or even
40,000, they were typically divided into quarters--literally four parts‹of
5-10,000 people.

On a modern American scale, then, we might imagine a mixture of somewhat
self-sufficient cities within more self-sufficient counties within mostly
self-sufficient bioregions within a totally self-sufficient state, and then
the economy of self-sufficiency might be quite complex indeed. In terms of
Vermont, this might be a mix of relatively self-sufficient cities (Barre,
Bennington, Brattleboro, Burlington (divided into quarters), Essex,
Hartford, Middlebury, Milton, Montpelier, Rutland, South Burlington, and
Springfield are obvious candidates), within ecologically determined more
self-sufficient shires (an Otto River shire, say, and shires for the West,
Black, White, Winooski, Lemoille, Passumpsic watersheds), within the two
self-sufficient bioregions on either side of the Green Mountains, within the
state‹whose economy, if independent, could be just as self-sufficient as it

Such self-sufficient units would need to be guided by certain maxims to
provide a full range of goods and services, and they would need to adhere to
them with some ingenuity. But the maxims are all simple and thoroughly
practical. They would include the principle of sharing, at the community
level, an adherence to recycling and repairing (or at a more complex level,
remanufacturing) almost everything, an emphasis on handicrafts and bespoke
production rather than manufactures and mass production, a commitment to
using local raw materials instead of imported (and especially local foods,
cheaper, fresher, safer, better-tasting, healthier), a nurturing of local
ingenuity without patent and copyright restrictions, and an agreement to
abandon as unnecessary and undesirable almost everything manufactured at the
factory level anywhere and anyhow. All of which is no more complex than the
old New England adage:

Use it up, wear it out,

Make it do, or do without.

* * * * *
The E. F. Schumacher Society is a tax-exempt, educational organization.
Membership donations support the Society's programs. Donations may be made
on-line at http://www.smallisbeautiful.org/membership.html


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