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Upstream, Upwind, Upland

by Cynthia Beal

Dear friends:

The following essay, "Upstream, Upwind, Upland", is in response to Jim
Lord's recent September 8th essay, "Y2k and Environmentalism", housed on
Westergaard's page,

I challenge the environmentalists who read the Lord essay below to be
extremely careful about allowing any kind of personal reaction to his words
come forth that does *anything* but move your community forward to safety
and a foundation of peace in the coming century.

I know Mr. Lord - he is a very good man, and in this article I think he
correctly (!) points out that the natural antagonistic tension between
environmentalists (many of whom are very dependent upon computerized
infrastructures) and resource extractors (many of whom *are* operating
potentially hazardous technologies that are safe in the government's eyes
because of current, but not verified y2k-compliant, computerized monitoring
and reporting systems) will be exacerbated as the year 2000 problem begins
to register with the general public as a whole, including those who have
been active on behalf of environmental issues.




"Upstream, Upwind, Upland"
September, 1998
by Cynthia Beal

Just as we should be preparing ourselves for physical interruptions in
goods and services with respect to the Year 2000 Problem, we must also
prepare ourselves for the fanning of social and psychological flames that
now simmer like coals throughout much of our society.

As Margaret Wheatley, et. al, write in "The Year 2000: Social Chaos or Social Transformation":

"All of us need to become very wise and very egaged very fast and develop
entirely new processes for working together. Systems issues cannot be
resolved by hiding behind traditional boundaries or by clinging to
competitive strategies...Our only hope for healthy responses to y2k-induced
failures is to participate together in new collaborative relationships."

The temptation to exploit this issue for anything other than the broadest
social good that still meshes with your neighbor's well-being can easily
spell disaster for preparedness and can utterly doom self-reliance and
community harmony. Such egotistic selfishness on the part of a few
demogogues (and you *all* know this is possible, aka the loudness on some
of the y2k lists - imagine this same thing night after night in your
community group?) is entirely possible, and solid mechanisms to keep these
tendencies in check can be difficult to craft and maintain without
grounding in some principal that is almost always successful in uncovering
the Common Good.

Such dissension can deteriorate your well-knit civil group into a loud and
angry might-makes-right situation that will fragment into small,
less-resilient bickering factions unable to attract commerce, resources or
alternatives that will lead to quick recovery and longer-term community
health. There is no acceptable "delete key" on your neighborhood level that
will work for very long without backfiring.

Obviously, there's a large social disagreement worldwide about the proper
balance between too much and too little technology, with all its attendant
benefits and impacts. And, if the y2k glitch is globally rough, the current
competition for resources will intensify, driving communities, corporations
and nations into riskier behavior in the name of corporate or civic
survival (rarely the same thing, I might add).

Jim Lord's article suggests one place where that painful discourse will
soon begin rearing its head - along the battle lines already drawn between
environmentalists and corporations that engage in potentially lethal
technologically-run resource extraction, production or storage activities.

The past argument for the corporate continuance of the most lethal of these
has often been the financial threat to the local/global economy if they are
not continued - a hostage situation that has often left towns and less
powerful communities irrevocably tied to a single industry dominator that
may not necessarily be the best thing for the local economy, but may be all
that the globalized economy has had to offer.

As y2k adjusts this potential (such dominators may not be y2k compliant,
and may not provide paychecks in the future), and as it begins to affect
many peoples' minds about the likely future immediately ahead, a great deal
of rethinking on all sides is possible.

Will the folk who've been extremely loyal to potentially dangerous
technologies find the will to join the environmentlists to look at the
machinery in their own back yards and insist on the testing and
pulling-the-plug in the last few months of 1999 that may be necessary to
prevent soiling their own communities or the world around them? Or will
they continue to miss the particular timebomb they have influence over,
while saying "I don't care what happens to Those People?"

Will the folk who've been single-mindedly devoted to pulling-the-plug on
certain technologies no matter what the cost to their neighbors or their
families find the will to examine their own frail foundation of existence,
and admit their own current dependence upon our critical shared technical &
economic infrastructures that may be necessary to prevent destruction of
the social fabric around them? Or will they continue to miss the particular
timebomb *they* have influence over - the cultural connectivity that their
own alienation and denial can severely threaten at times - while saying "I
don't care what happens to Those People?"

Some technologists may wish to live outside the bed of a closed biosphere,
and even think it's possible, but they don't. Some environmentalists may
wish to live outside the bed of a currency economy and the technical boosts
of fuel, electricity, and food grown by others, but they don't. Wishing to
be someone else doesn't make it so.

Will we be able to drop the term "Those People" from our vocabulary?
Perhaps not until we all see ourselves for what we truly are, today, and
not how we think we might be if things were more how we wanted them.

Until we stop seeing ourselves as something other than what we are (i.e.,
independent, a victim, powerless, in control - take your pick here), and
end our habit of seeing ourselves as someone "else", it may be impossible
for us to see others as they truly are. And if we can't figure out who we
truly are, then we won't find all the resources we have collectively at our
disposal to minimize the harm caused by this frustratingly stupid technical
blunder that too many of us have missed.

Real community preparedness must, in a very short time, make the jump from
physical and short-term survival to longer term participatory community
process and the mending of differences. This can be done temporarily in a
crisis when the common ground of all sides is uncovered, and y2k is a
useful template for this. But we have an opportunity to make it deep and

A process I'd like to suggest for us all is to take a few infrastructures
we value and are preparing for interruptions in - water, power, food - and
look around our communities to see how those technological infrastructure
discontinuities could also impact the natural infrastructures we depend
upon for survival.

A quick scan up and down your community's waterways may reveal a factory
upstream that has the potential to contaminate your water supply if its
embedded HVAC systems or emissions monitoring systems fail. No matter what
the value of the factory to your economy, if you lose your water supply,
all your community and family preparedness is worthless, and you may find
yourself a refugee, forced to leave your garden and your careful
preparations behind.

The same is true of those who live near any of a number of
chemical-intensive manufacturing operations. Look upland and upwind, as
well as upstream. Class I soil, the best for agriculture, is already rare
enough. The land shed is just as precious as the water shed. A chemical or
waste spill that contaminates the farm land you're counting on for a local
food supply will be devastating and, again, all your preparations may be
for naught should such an accident happen.

Upstream, Upland, Upwind - look up above you and make sure those you depend
upon to be safe and prepared really are. The environmentalists know how to
look upstream, upland and upwind. Think of them as Contamination Trackers.
The technologists know how to look at the machinery and find the things
that might pop and must be shut off and re-started mindfully, if at all.
When our collective self-interest is finally and fully engaged, between
these two groups are the will and the skill to keep the bugs in the bottle,
and we won't have as much spill to clean up after the dust clears.

And so, as this issue heats up (and it will), please try to hold that voice
of reason that says we all need to work together. The folk we have the
biggest rubs with may turn out to be our best partners.

"We all live upstream" deepens in meaning for me every day.

In Community,

Cynthia Beal