Community Articles
Go to Site Index See "Community Articles" main page
General News · 7th September 2009
norberto rodriguez dela vega
Have you wonder how self-sufficient and sustainable is our community?

For a long time I have been saying no, we are not !

Let me share an unsophisticated, non-scientific exercise to make my point.

Ranking Sustainability and self-sufficiency in a small community

by norberto rodriguez dela vega

The idea that all small, rural communities are sustainable, resilient and self-sufficient is not necessarily true.

Let me present the case of a few small communities in the West Coast of B.C., mainly in the Gulf Islands. I will rate the sustainability level of these communities using a simple exercise.

I will use the conventional categories Social, Economic and Ecological to group all the issues and opportunities.

For the Social component I will include food security, fresh water, health and education facilities, housing for all, waste and transportation. Maybe this is the weakest area of all for these islands, since we import the majority of our food; our fresh, underground water is limited; our health and education facilities are very limited; affordable housing is an never-ending issue; we export all our waste; public transportation is non-existent and the chances to have any is almost null, since our populations are so small that we donít qualify for any provincial help in that area.

This means we are highly dependent on importing goods and services. At the same time, young families need to move to larger cities for higher grades of education for their children, and Seniors need to travel or move for medical reasons and other facilities and services lacking in the small islands.

The biggest concern is that many of these elements may be considered as "basic needs for survival".

On the other hand, we can also include in the Social area a very important component I like to call "the caring component". These are things like community spirit, spiritual and cultural feelings, sharing things and helping each other. Without a doubt, we are very strong in these matters.

The Economic component is also weak for these communities, since local industries and job opportunities are quite limited. The biggest industries are aquaculture and tourism. Forestry used to be very important, but it has decreased tremendously in the past few years. The problems with tourism are that it is not a year-round business and it causes some distress in many of these small communities during its peak Summer season.

The strongest economic component for these small islands may be the unpaid, or underground, local economy, mainly in the form of trading and volunteerism.

It is obvious the Ecological category is fairly well covered in these islands: we care a lot about Nature; we respect and try to protect the forest lands, ecosystems and other species; we have a fairly decent understanding of our inter-dependencies with Nature, and overall, those who live in these islands in a permanent basis try to have a small footprint.

However, if we also include the impacts of climate change in this category, the situation is a bit different, since we have a large carbon footprint as we produce lots of greenhouse gas emissions driving our cars and trucks everywhere; the lack of public transit; our ferries; the very large food-mileage of our food, and yes, many of us fly to warmer places in Winter.

Therefore, if want to grade the above components we may end with something like this:

For the Social component we get the following grades:
- Food security we get a D;
- Fresh water we get a C minus;
- Health and Education we get a C;
- Housing we get a B minus;
- Waste management we get a D;
- and for Transportation we get an F.

However, for Caring we get an A plus.

For the Economic component we get:
- Industries and Jobs, we get a C;
- Underground we get a B.

For the Ecological component we get:
- Nature we get an A;
- Climate Change we get a D.

This doesnít look that good, does it? Overall, we have a failing grade and we can conclude these islands are not sustainable, not self-sufficient. At the same time, we can say we are Caring Communities.

Even if we want, there are physical limitations in these islands; there is no proper infrastructure for things like education, health and public transportation, and probably never will.

However, it is possible to work towards improving areas like Food Security by growing year-round food, to create alternative housing opportunities and to diversify our local industries and reduce our carbon footprint. At the least, the above efforts will help to improve our resilience level.

Most of all, we need to understand and accept this truth, we need to recognize the need and urgency for change, and we need to start taking actionÖ yesterday!

Originally pubished at

Bottom line: we have to recognize that are not a sustainable community, nor a self-sufficient community. However, we are a caring community..!

Relocalization and Caring Community
Comment by norberto on 9th September 2009
thanks to Ron and Robert for your comments.

Let me answer.

To Ron:
The simpler way to answer to your question is ďthink relocalizationĒ (where relocalization is a strategy that aims to build societies based on the local production of food, energy and goods, and the local development of currency, governance and culture )

Let me pass a few practical ideas that may help:

- Buy local food as much as possible (where local is first Cortes products, then B.C. products, then Canadian products); avoid all products from far away; grow our own food; join the Linnaea CSA program;

- Reduce all our consumerism; buy second-hand; buy durable items (avoid all trendy electronic gadgets with designed short-life-expectancy); reject consumption as leisure;

- Live closer to work; walk more and drive less; buy a bicycle; avoid flying for pleasure;

- Avoid waste;

- Limit the size of our families;

- Re-skill ourselves (in things such as growing food, winter gardening, canning and storing, livestock raising, wild food, herbs and medicines, cheese making; water conservation, hand pumps, composting toilets, reusing our waste, bike and horse carts);

- Use local building materials; use recyclable materials; avoid exotic materials from far away;

- Participate in all local efforts for sharing goods, services, tools;

- Support collective industries and trading; work together for common community causes, without being afraid of making mistakes

- Thinking in opportunities and solutions, instead of problems

- Stop whining, stop being apathetic and take action

As I said before, I donít think our community may be sustainable, nor self-sufficient. All of the above ideas will help us with improving our resilience level. And as a reminder, resilience is about continuous renewal: in our behaviours, our homes, our communities. Resilience is about being able to understand and adapt to the never ending changing cycles of life. Resilience is a capacity for continuous reconstruction.

To Robert:
I understand your point of how much we have already abused this land. That is old history and we canít change that. We all come from cultures of domination and control, and it is obvious, and so sad, to realize how many people in the world still enjoy that kind of behaviour.

But it is also in our hands to create a new story for our community.

And this is why I think the caring component is so significant for any community. If we donít understand the importance of caring, we perpetuate the domination culture. If we donít care about each other, if we donít care about the future for our children, about Nature and other species, then how can do anything right? If we donít care we will be acting as robots, like machines following directions given by our masters.

As far as I understand it, caring means to respect, to love, to be concerned, to be interested, to be responsible.

Then, a caring culture, a caring community is key for creating a better story, a better future for all. A caring community work together for common community benefits.

How About No Grades
Comment by robert carter on 8th September 2009
Don't see how we can get an "A" for nature. We've allowed Cortes to be clearcut time and time again. The only way we could give Cortes an "A" for nature would be if humans had never settled there. And we can't really give ourselves an "A" for caring. How do you measure that or is it just a 'feelgood' assessment thrown in to make us look better than our grades suggest ?
thanks for your opinion
Comment by ron lund on 7th September 2009
could you give us some examples what you do to make your life sustainable and self-sufficient.

maybe some ideas what else you could to to be more so.

that would give others some ideas what they could do to.