Kelpie Wilson Interviews Jason Bradford
Jason Bradford is a PhD evolutionary biologist who studied the effects of climate change on cloud forests in the Andes under the auspices of the Missouri Botanical Garden and other institutions. But in 2004 he switched his focus from study to action by initiating a remarkable community organizing effort in his new home town of Willits, California, called Willits Economic LocaLization (WELL).
Kelpie Wilson: Jason, in a nutshell, what is the mission of WELL?
Jason Bradford: The official WELL mission is to foster the creation of a local, sustainable economy in the Willits area by partnering with other organizations to watch for opportunities and vulnerabilities, incubate and coordinate projects, and facilitate dialogue, action and education within our community.
The greatest challenge we, as a species, face right now is to create a way of life based on the energy flow of sunlight, not fossil or nuclear energy, to do so without destroying our soils, and to enroll others in this transition. We are under no illusion that Willits can tackle this alone, but hope that Willits can be an inspiration to others. If we can do it here, it is possible elsewhere.
Kelpie Wilson: How did you make the decision to switch from a career in climate change and biodiversity research to this hands-on engagement with sustainable living?
Jason Bradford: I became really frustrated and disillusioned as a researcher. I would sit in my office and read the flood of data about the climate system, habitat loss and extinction, soil and fresh water depletion, and the impending peak of global oil production. Then I would listen to the radio or look at the newspaper and these issues were basically ignored, meaning my work was being ignored...
Kelpie Wilson: In his Labor Day speech, President Bush addressed our "oil addiction" and said that the problem is that "dependence on foreign oil jeopardizes our capacity to grow." In your view, is the energy crisis mostly about our dependence on foreign oil from "people who don't like us," as the president said? Or is there a deeper problem?
Jason Bradford: It is extremely important right now to give people heartfelt honesty. The lies of Bush and Cheney make them bigger threats than those swarthy people they like to scare us with. Cheney said the American way of life is non-negotiable. In a bizarre sense that is true. The laws of physics and ecology won't negotiate and can't be unilaterally ignored. And those laws are telling us we need to change how we inhabit this planet very quickly or we may not be around that much longer.
I have an idea. Let's stop blaming others for our problems. The deeper issue is our addiction to growth. Oil has permitted astounding economic growth, and we have become dependent, both structurally and psychologically, upon not just the oil but the growth process itself. Instead of questioning our assumptions, we are going to war for oil and we are looking for substitutes that are very dirty, like coal, tar sands, and nuclear. And while I am in complete favor of developing renewable energy systems as quickly as possible, I don't believe it is either possible or wise to grow our economy using renewable energy.
The problems with growth are easy to understand, but the implications are hard to face. For example, I have two children, twin boys who are seven years old. For now and over the next dozen years or so I'll be happy if they grow. During certain phases of development growth is perfectly good. But our economy is now beyond any reasonable limits, and we are making ourselves sick with more growth - as a society we have obesity and cancer, and the vital organs are starting to fail. Suburban sprawl, highway expansion, military build-up, air pollution, climate change, and mass extinction of species - these all stem from our drive to grow the economy.
Ironically, there exists a counter movement to slow down in life. Enjoy quality rather than quantity. Many are finding that the pleasures of a beautiful home, neighborhood and community are rewarding enough. Spend time building relationships where you are instead of traveling afar and spending money on things. Less is more. Now that is truly economical.