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The Monterey List:

Growing toward a sustainable future for ourselves and for the planet

*Now available in paperback!*

To purchase either the paperback or the Kindle edition, click the cover image at left.


The Monterey List originated as an actual list I made in a Monterey, California hotel room one November night in 1997 (hence the name). The items on the list were all short observations pertaining to sustainable living on this planet, couched as aphorisms, mostly made up on the spot. There were 112 of them. Over the next few years I rearranged the aphorisms into a coherent order, combined a couple of them with others (there are now 110), expanded them into essays, and collected them into a book. I am currently releasing the book on this web page - one essay at a time, once per week. This will take approximately two years. If you are impatient, you may purchase the whole thing from Amazon as either a paperback or a Kindle e-book by clicking the image at left. Then you will be able to read all of the essays without waiting. Otherwise....well, patience is a virtue, and anticipation can be sweet.


107. Work through communities.

Individuals and states know too little. Conforming a culture to the earth that supports it requires intimate knowledge of both the culture and the earth. The principal place where this knowledge can be found is in the communities that have accumulated it.

A caveat must be inserted here: it is functioning communities I mean, not simply groups of individuals. They must have been brought together by place rather than ideology, and they must be willing to work toward mutual goals rather than hiding behind money and private-property signs. They must also be open to newcomers and tolerant of other communities. Differences of opinion should be viewed as opportunities for learning for all sides. Debate is healthy. So is a moderate amount of skepticism.

Given these conditions, though - and it is really only necessary to approximate them, not to achieve community Nirvana - local communities are clearly the best level at which to work toward environmental sustainability. Being local, they know the locality; being communities, they have accumulate that knowledge through a pool of individual talents and interests rather than requiring each individual to find and understand all of it. If they see themselves as permanent - and most communities do - they have an incentive toward a long-term view of local resources which may be missing in individuals who see those resources as opportunities for personal gain or in nations which see them as raw materials for use in boosting prosperity elsewhere in the country. A community is unlikely to make either of these mistakes. Both individual profiteering and resource control by outsiders threaten the long-term stability of the community's livelihood. Many years ago, when I was still active in the Sierra Club, our local group was approached by the mayor of a small timber-dependent town a few dozen miles away. This man and this town had been highly critical of environmentalists, but now they wanted our help. The company that owned most of the private timberland surrounding the town had been purchased by a corporate raider from Texas, who was busily liquidating the trees to pay for his hostile takeover. The mayor and the town council - most of them working loggers - could see their future rapidly disappearing on loaded railway cars. They did not become environmentalists. They did become protective of the finite resources upon which their town's prosperity depended and, in the long run, that attitude will serve environmental sustainability at least as well.

Sustainability is a community endeavor, because it is communities that need to be sustained. We should make certain that communities do not sustain themselves at other communities' expense, but we should otherwise trust their instincts. The old rule about thinking globally and acting locally is still valid. Local communities have both the necessary knowledge and the necessary incentive to take care of their local environments. Others - individuals, states, nations - may have one or the other of these incentives, but almost none of them have both.

Next week: Section 108, "Be patterns, be examples."



CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE to obtain a free copy of the first ten chapters of this book. The 57 sections comprising the remaining ten chapters will continue to be released on this website at the rate of one section per week, but they will no longer be accumulated here; each will be available for only one week. To obtain a complete copy of the book for a modest price, please click on the image at upper left.