One of the most exciting developments in how using a Force Majeure and and Ecostructural perspective can have dramatic positive real world effects lies in the ongoing experiment in building a sustainable medium sized town in Central Ohio.

The city of Oberlin, Ohio and Oberlin College are trying hard to become a living example of a comprehensive approach to resource management that boosts community resilience, prosperity, and sustainability.

Other jurisdictions can make similar gains by adopting some of the specifics in Oberlin’s plan, supported by a theoretical superstructure that emphasizes democratic decision-making and a long-term, strategic focus.

Just Imagine…

By signing on as one of the 18 cities in the Clinton Foundation’s Climate Positive Development Program, Oberlin set itself on a course to become one of the first climate-positive communities in the United States, by driving its net greenhouse gas emissions below zero. By 2015, the city intends to reduce its carbon pollution to 50% of 2007 levels and derive 90% of its electricity from renewable sources.

“Imagine Oberlin in the year 2025 with a vibrant, 24/7 downtown featuring local foods, arts, and music, powered by energy efficiency and sunlight,” wrote project founder David Orr in the February, 2011 edition of the Oberlin College alumni magazine.

“Imagine a Green Arts District in which great college strengths in music, the arts, and drama are joined to those in the sciences as the backdrop for performances, exhibitions, lectures, and an ongoing conversation on the most important issues on the human agenda, all having to do with whether and how civilization might endure and flourish in radically altered biophysical conditions.”

Big Plans Need a Big Vision

The Oberlin Project’s specific goals include:

  • Shifting the city and the college to renewable energy sources, drastically improving energy efficiency, curtailing carbon pollution, “and improving our economy in the process”
  • Supporting local businesses in energy efficiency, solar energy, food and agriculture, and sustainable resource use
  • Conserving 20,000 acres of green space and supplying 70% of food demand with local production
  • Integrating sustainability into local education programming at all levels
  • Developing a 13-acre Green Arts District.

To support this kind of holistic, comprehensive program, communities need a multi-directional, curated focus that brings together all the knowledge, ideas, and tools at their disposal. Whether the goal is to mitigate climate change by sharply curtailing climate pollution, or to adapt to the climate effects that we’re already seeing, the far-reaching work under way in a city like Oberlin must be supported by an equally encompassing vision.

The Longer View

Much of that vision has to do with the first principles that guide day-to-day decisions and behaviors. 

The response to climate change is inherently long-term. 2050 is the usual target year for transformative reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The climate change adaptations we introduce in the next 10 to 20 years will have to last (or continue adapting) for decades or centuries. 

But sooner or later, almost any community project faces pressure to respond to a short-term, financial bottom line.

That’s a problem, because no community can make sound, strategic decisions when short-term constraints become paramount. Which means the success and long-term sustainability of a project like Oberlin depends on teaching ourselves new ways of deliberating, setting priorities, and making the decisions that will build resilience in an uncertain world.

It is this kind of complex multi-focused approach to complex problems that we need to nurture moving forward as we develop effective solutions to climate issues.