Greening the Rust Belt, and more

Alex Steffen of WorldChanging talked with Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing about what kind of heroes we need to deal with the changing times, with climate change and peak oil.

Many people will be losing their jobs. Some won’t get new ones in a green economy. What happens to them and to the communities they live in?

That’s where the heroes come in.

Abandoned people and places are sometimes the ones who most need radical innovation; that, these days, new tools and models are practically scattered all over the ground, just waiting for people to pick them up; but that those who most need them are those who least know how to find them.

It’s also really important to listen to them because they will know things you have no clue about.

What would it be like, we wondered, if folks who knew tools and innovation left the comfy bright green cities and traveled to the dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities and started helping the locals get the tools they needed. We imagined that it would need an almost missionary fervor, something like the Inquisition (which largely destroyed knowledge) in reverse, a crusade of open sharing, or as Cory promptly dubbed it, the Outquisition.

Bad name, great idea. Take the ideas and spread them. Be optimistic. Help others. Work together. Listen. Got a rust belt city? Transform it. Yes, it can be done. But only by people willing to try.

This would not be lone stragglers wandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape. As we’ve said again and again, worldending is a fool’s game, and what comes after will not be an adventure. Nor would it be the fantasy of a localist retreat to 19th Century farming communities that folks like Jim Kunstler hold so dear (I mean, for Christsakes, no one really wants that life — our ancestors all had that life and they fled it as soon as they could in great teeming masses)

Thank you. That’s precisely the problem with Jim Kunstler and his fellow doomsters. They want to retreat to rural farm life, make things by hand, like that would be any solution at all.

BTW, The Greening of the Rust Belt is already happening.


  1. Is that last paragraph snark? There are some who hold that sense of community and simplicity in very high regard. Who knows what kind of happy society could have been formed of a mix of tribalism and “modern technology” if the indigenous people and their traditions had been left in tact. What’s wrong with having options? Can you imagine a structure that contains both? If not , I urge you to reconsider. BTW I really enjoy this site and visit often. Thanks for your wonderful effort. B. Rabbit

  2. Check out for more postings about greening the rust belt. We, in Youngstown have been moving forward with community supported agriculture, urban gardening, urban reforestation etc. Youngstown Ohio is having its first “Grey to Green Festival” September 13, 2008 in Wick Park on Youngstown Ohio’s north side. Greening the rust belt is no longer just a dream, we are working to make it a reality. Braddock PA is leading the way. They rock!

  3. It wasn’t meant to be snark, just that I don’t see it as a long-term solution nor do I think most would be happy in a 19th century lfestyle.

    Am posting Moxie’s comment. Inspiring!

  4. What happens when an empire falls? Life doesn’t end– but it becomes more chaotic and challenging. During the so-called Dark Ages following the fall of Rome, great women leaders emerged. In some places art and spirituality thrived. In others, life was “brutish and short.” (As it is, BTW, in much of the world today– we in the industrialized nations remain the privileged few.)

    Reality lies somewhere between Kuntsler’s doomsday view and the optimistic panacea of some others. The one thing that is certain is: nothing in life will be certain. Welcome to the reality most humans experience.

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