Top-down vs. bottom-up action - Interesting dialectic

I am having an interesting dialectic that I need to parse out. As someone who came from the Northeast but has lived in the far corner of the continental U.S. most of my life, I have developed and practiced a regionalist approach. I have been a bioregionalist with a strong Cascadian identity, and that crosses the border into BC. That grew out of a set of thinkers who strongly influenced the 70s and 80s, E.F. Schumacher, Kirkpatrick Sale, and their predecessors, including Leopold Kohr and Lewis Mumford. I am a decentralist at heart, believing significant innovation always starts from the bottom up.

I was early into the sustainable cities movement, there by the late 1980s. The group I helped found in 1998, Climate Solutions, had as its original vision to make the Northwest a global warming solutions model. Acting at the local and state level on climate was an outlier idea when we started. But when Bush came in, it became quite the vogue. Our group even had a little to do with warming the waters for California AB32. That idea, modeling solutions at the local and regional levels, has driven my work. Even now, my practical organizing through 350 Seattle is about hatching a Community Solutions campaign that builds community power and climate justice through rebuilding the commons – community-owned energy and housing, much improved and more accessible transit.

So there is a natural tension with the federally-oriented, dirigiste approach of the Victory Plan. Not tension in the sense of opposition, but in the sense of coming at the challenge -from different directions. At this point, we are so far beyond the danger point in climate that we need the kind of actions contemplated in the Victory Plan. At the same time, it is those kind of centralized actions at the federal level that draw the most resistance and are most politically difficult to achieve.

Are there ways to launch the actual mobilization from the ground up, actions that can be taken by state and local governments, by individuals, enlightened businesses and the nonprofit sector? The increases in renewable electricity goals recently enacted in California, Hawaii and Oregon might be one example, though only Hawaii goes 100%, and that by 2045. In Washington state, the forces associated with the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit here are pushing legislation to have the state adopt carbon limits indicated by the Jim Hansen science team backing them, admittedly less ambitious than the TCM 10-year goal.

Ultimately, getting down to the practicalities of actually ramping up mobilization scale efforts in Washington state and Seattle, it's about the money. Most state and local governments are fiscally limited. So ultimately a big federal pull is required. Could we push state energy planners and regulators to begin doing Jacobson-style plans for fossil fuel phase out with a 2025 parameter? Could we push legislation and initiatives to do this? I know we'll be thinking about it out here.

So the need to begin action at local and state levels would be my main comment and challenge to the Victory Plan so far. What does that look like? I would not want to divert to half-measures and gradualism at state and local levels. Actions would have to be consonant with the science. But it seems that this approach broadens organizing opportunities when it is placed in the context of pushing national and global action. Again, an interesting dialectic.


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