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“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.
Sir Winston Churchill

WE ARE NOT DINOSAURS

For weeks, maybe months now, I’ve been trying to put into words my feelings around the impending effects of Peak Oil and Global Warming in the years to come. It comes from fear and perhaps desperation as I watch most people act like nothing is wrong or out of the ordinary. Heads of state, religious leaders, friends, the TV and print media, and about six billion people on the planet earth are moving across the world stage, saying their lines, and acting out their scripts in complete oblivion of the pending catastrophe. And yet for those of us who can see the handwriting on the walls, we not only fear this dance with immediacy, but also the shadow of what’s to come. It’s as if there’s a worldwide energy party going on, and almost everybody is drinking up the oil as fast as it can be served out of the ground.

Simultaneously, around the world, small groups of people have been sobering up. Not enough individuals to change the tempo of the party, but enough to be annoying to the festivities.

The downtown Blaine of today, like so many other communities across America, is a remnant of its past. It struggles to find a future that will pay its bills, and yet usually seems to come up short of the mark. There are probably an equal number of reasons why Blaine can’t find lasting community-wide success, as there are reasons why it should be able to find these elusive ingredients. A gated community far away from the downtown, the loss of large portions of the Semiahmoo Spit to development, the building of a mall with all of the necessary products for a vibrant downtown separated from the shopping street by distance and a freeway, and empty buildings with no sign of a sale pending.

When the fish, timber, and the need for booze and girly magazines for Canadians came to an end, Blaine was left to flounder around searching for an identity that would give it regional cache. In fact, downtown Blaine is still looking for a reason to exist, and has not found anything that will sustain it which is affordable at this time.

To add to the challenges, which Blaine will face as fuel/energy costs escalate in the near future, the train and bus lines that once stopped in Blaine have been discontinued. This further isolates Blaine from outside communities and will raise the price of food, materials, and services, which must be imported into Blaine.

It is my belief that all is not lost if Blaine will take some difficult steps while there is still time and energy (fuel) to do so. The suggestion that a hotel and other facilities might be built in or near the downtown and the marine area has merit as it would be a hub for visitors. There is so much recreation potential in the Blaine area, and a car would not be needed if the train and bus were to stop here again, especially if local transportation could be provided. In fact, Blaine is in a better position than most small towns to meet the challenges of the mid 21st Century and the issues of Peak Oil.

In recent history, Blaine’s City Council has suggested that a 1900’s theme might serve the town well. I agree, except that they’ve been too passive in their approach to implementation, and too limited in their vision. Suggesting that all building facades have a 1900’s motif is not going to turn the town around, and may only cause developers to try to get around the concept, as they may not see the need for the added expense for their projects. If the theme does not bring investors and shoppers to the town, why would developers embrace the change in theme and the extra costs necessary to implement them?

The secret of turning Downtown Blaine into a town from the 1900’s with a 21st Century twist is manifold. It should start by researching what were the most important businesses and products made available to people in the America of 1890 to 1920. The next step would be to work with developers and building owners to move towards an infrastructure that would facilitate the creation of a working historic town. That may be a problem, as the current building owners have shown no interest in doing something creative with their empty buildings. I would suggest that the city council impose an empty building tax on any building that does not move towards the town’s goal. I would also work on grants for buildings that would fill the empty spaces. I would encourage zoning that would open business in the downtown. I would solicit for artists, craftspeople, and business minded citizen’s to open working 1900’s establishments in Downtown Blaine by offering tax incentives and other supports for stores that fill the bill for businesses that were researched earlier. I think that a blacksmith, leather worker, finished carpenters specializing in beds, chairs, tables, and cabinets, a boat builder, weavers and felters, broom maker and chair caning, a brewery, a candle maker/ soap specialist, etc., are not out of the question. I would place a special emphasis on any business that can supply a need in downtown Blaine such as non-restaurant food. To this end, I would encourage the food manufacturers and food based businesses to work together to open a discount retail shop for Blaine residents and visitors.

The use of a resident’s discount card for 98230 and 98231 zip codes could facilitate this project with published discounts for local people (there are 10,000 postal drops in these two zip codes). In fact, every store in Blaine should participate in supporting the local community as a sustainable entity with discounts for Blaine residents. When the price of fuel goes up, and the cost of transportation increases for wholesalers and tourists, the local community will become the prime audience for products and services. It wouldn’t hurt to start building positive relationships with the locals now. Additional steps that would benefit the community are the Gardeners Market, perhaps a return of the Blaine local currency (Blaine had its own currency in the 1930’s), and the development of a Blaine Coop that would allow for bartering.

Next, no matter what it takes, I would find a way to MAKE THE TRAINS STOP AGAIN IN BLAINE! It is critical to the theme that the train returns to Blaine. I would also join all of the other parts of the Blaine community to the downtown core with boat and bus transportation, and continue to move forward with a bike trail from east and west leading to downtown Blaine, and the connector to Birch Bay.

There are multiple rewards for making these changes. First, it will give downtown Blaine a reason to exist. Second, it will make Blaine whole again. And third, it will put Blaine ahead of the curve as a sustainable town that is locally based and prepared to survive anything that peak oil, climate change, earthquakes, or world problems can throw at it.

In short, if Blaine continues to stagger along reacting to its environment instead of generating its environment, it will eventually suffer the same consequence as the dinosaur. As everyone knows, those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. There is time, we can learn, we can move away from a consumer based path to one that is based on relationships and local resilience, we can flourish as a community.

Ron Snyder
The Circle of Trees Learning Center
(360) 332-8082
circleoftrees@mac.com


The following videos and books are Available At The Blaine Library.

Videos:
1. A Crude Awakening, The Oil Crash
2. The End of Suburbia, Oil Depletion and The Collapse of The American Dream
3. Peak Oil, Imposed by Nature

Books:
1. Power Down, R.R. Heinberg
2. Peak Everything, Waking Up To The Century of Decline, by R. Heinberg
3. The Long Emergency, Surviving The Converging Catastrophes of The Twenty First Century, by J.J. Kunstler
4. The Transition Handbook, From Oil Dependency To Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins
5. Permaculture, Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability, by D. Holmgren

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Comment by Heather K on November 2, 2009 at 12:43am
Ron & Cathy, I just love that you intend to keep the Blaine market free so small gardens, kids & seniors can participate! I'm one of your fans! Blessings!
Comment by David MacLeod on November 1, 2009 at 9:07pm
Excellent essay Ron, thank you for posting this!

This morning I was reading Holmgren's chapter "Use Small and Slow Solutions," from Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability."

He writes, "The evidence that small is beautiful and slow is sane is all around us. The more we come to terms with the implications of energy peak and descent, the more we can recognize giant systems as dinosaurs of the era of fossil fuel abundance. As we accept our fallibility and mortality and tune into nature's patterns, we see that slow and steady does win the race.

"When an adolescent sense of immortality and values of speed, novelty and endless growth define a whole civilization, I think we are close to its demise and the birth of a new cultural paradigm. Watch it slowly unfold."
Comment by Ron Snyder and Cathy Taggett on October 20, 2009 at 3:11pm
Hi Walter,

Thanks for the suggestions. In our first year we went from 13 venders to 26 on our final market day. We averaged 250 to 300 people per day and that is 10% of the Blaine population, not counting Semiahmoo. It also looks like the City through the hotel/motel tax money is going to get behind the market with substantial advertising support. The current plan calls for a meeting of interested parties in the near future, and the development of a market committee(s). Currently under consideration is an every Saturday market. At this time we are one of the only totally free markets on the west coast, and we intend to stay that way. It allows kids, seniors, and especially those who only have a small garden to fully participate, thus maintaining the notion that it is "the community's market. That's why we're called the Blaine Gardeners' Market and not a farmers' market.

Thank you also for the library suggestion. We intentionally chose to put only a limited selection on this essay as it was intended originally for a very specific audience and the videos and books on this list were sufficient to get them started. You are right, there is so much more out there and more being printed all of the time.

Thanks again Walter for reading the essay and for the great suggestions,

Ron

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