Moving Forward

The tragic tsunami in Japan last March revealed the persistent dangers of nuclear power. Communities called transition towns are finding ways to bypass dangerous forms of energy—creating their own biofuels, growing their own local food supplies and relying on shared community skills.
The tragedy in Japan last March—in which a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami devastated cities and towns and left 28,000 dead or missing—was a human and environmental catastrophe of the highest order. The 46-foot-high wall of water that crashed over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant caused explosions that led to large quantities of radioactive water leaking into surrounding seawater and making Tokyo tap water unsafe for children to drink. It was a chilling reminder of the consequences of nuclear power. While supported by Obama as part of a clean energy mix, nuclear carries ramifications that solar and wind do not—namely cancer-causing radioactive waste and spent fuel. Dangerous byproducts, it should be noted, that require safe storage for the next 100,000 years.

Some communities across the country want to move away from dangerous sources of power and to live more sustainable and self-sufficient lives. A feature in this issue of E looks at residents in so-called “transition towns” who are sharing carpentry experience, gardening skills, transportation know-how and crafting abilities. The transition movement started in Britain, and the idea is this: Reduce fossil fuel use and prepare for an oil-free future by shifting production of food, energy and other necessities closer to home. There are now 85 transition towns in 29 U.S. states—and 360 such towns across the globe. In the U.S., you can find transition towns in Laguna Beach, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Putney, Vermont.

There are no official transition “leaders,” but a lot of collaborative groups figuring out ways to raise and maintain a secure, local food supply beyond the conventional community garden; how to teach skills in folk arts like timber-frame building and cheese-making and how to develop local biofuels. There are seed swaps, tool libraries and local currencies that encourage residents to spend money in their communities where their dollars make a difference. If it all sounds a little too faux-utopia-esque, consider this: By most accounts we’ve already hit “peak oil” (the height of oil production) and the Pentagon reports that we may be running short on oil by some 10 million barrels a day as early as 2015. Transition towns are as much about preparedness for the inevitable oil-free (or significantly oil-reduced) future as they are about spiritual enlightenment.

And while learning to wean ourselves off oil is one of the best ways to begin mitigating climate change, taking a closer look at how we raise our pets can make a difference, too. In this issue, we explore the environmental impacts of Frisky and Fido, from the food they eat, to where their poop ends up (and how it’s bagged) to the combined effect of all those doggie and kitty outfits and accessories. We look at ways to reduce their impact with natural litters, special composters and even proper burials, and detail the rise of the online shelter-pet-hookup-site Petfinder. The Humane Society of the United States reports that some 4-6 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year—and 68 million are annually sent to shelters. In matching these shelter animals with “forever homes” across the country, Petfinder is doing work that’s as environmental as it is humane.