Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: An Inspiring Response

Eureka Springs, AR, Sets an Example of What's Possible
by Sarah Anne Edwards, PhD

Eureka Springs, AR, is actively taking on a number of simultaneous efforts to address their eco-nomic challenges. While many communities have yet to respond or have gotten bogged down, this community is moving ahead, doing the very things we’ve been writing about here.

Planet Home, for example, is a volunteer group of concerned citizens who are calling attention to global warming and peak oil and busily enlisting folks to take action on many fronts. I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on one of their planning meetings where I was welcomed and inspired.

In just the one year since they came together, Planet Home has produced four brochures – Live Green, Drive Smart, Build Green and Buy Local. The brochures not only provide helpful information but also spur commitment to making specific changes in one’s daily life. Each brochure includes a “Did You Know?” section that presents a bulleted list of facts we should be aware of. For example, did you know:
· A dripping faucet or a leaking toilet can waste 20 gallons of water a day?
· 40% of energy used for electronics in your home is used while these devices are turned off?
· Since the 1950’s, new houses in the U.S. have more than doubled in size, while family size is shrinking?
· Building bigger creates more pollution and consumes more land and materials?
· An average fruit or vegetable travels over 1,500 miles, but only 56 miles when bought from a local grower?
· Farmers, on average, keep only 9 cents of every dollar spent at traditional food markets, but 80 to 90 cents of every dollar spent at farmers markets?
· Raising miles per gallon standards to 40 mpg for all vehicles would save more oil than we can get from the Persian Gulf, the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, and California offshore drilling combined?
· Improving standards to 40 mpg would save the average vehicle owner $2,200 at the gas pump over the life of their vehicle?

Along with a list of websites and other resources where one can learn more, each brochure invites readers to join others in committing to a Personal Yearly Action Plan of carry out up to a dozen specific, practical steps “Change This Situation!!!” For example:

· I/We will turn and unplug electronic devices when not in use, including AC adapters and chargers.
· I/We will use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
· I/We will reduce our home size by 20% or more.
· I/We will make use of natural shade and good ventilation to reduce energy used for cooling.
· I/We will survey local options first before using the Internet or corporate-based sources when considering a purchase.
· I/We will look for and favor local and regional products when shopping at supermarkets and others stores.
· I/We commit to driving less and to combining errands.
· I/We will drive smart by going easy on the brakes and gas pedal, reducing time spent idling and unloading unnecessary weight from the vehicles.
Participants who pledge to a yearly action plan of their choice earn 500 points for each action they complete and are awarded a special Planet Home Pin to wear at the end of the year. Though Planet Home planners were unaware of it this at the time they created this program, it’s an excellent example of social marketing and one of the first I’ve seen undertaken and implemented by volunteer citizens.

Planet Home has also established a well-attended farmer’s market and has a booth where they distribute brochures and raise funds by selling stainless steel water bottles and large cloth over-the-shoulder shopping bags made from recycled men’s shits. Easy-to-use patterns are available for those who would like to make their own recycled shopping bags.

To support local businesses they have conducted a Local Shopping Day, negotiating a special discount at participating stores for that day. They also sponsor periodic, well-attended film showings and presentations. In August, for example, they’re airing a film on Peak Oil. In September they’re holding an event to demonstrate a variety of energy-saving alternatives for personal transportation, such as motorized bikes or scooters. Folks will have a chance to try out the various options.

Now in the works is a Time Bank whereby local residents can exchange services without exchanging cash and a search is underway for a site where an eco-village can be developed.

While in Eureka I also met with Barbara Harmony, coordinator of the city’s Springs Committee, a group of volunteers working as a sub-committee of the Eureka Parks and Recreation Commission. Their mission is to develop community awareness and involvement in protecting, preserving and restoring the city’s namesake - the pure, clean spring waters that once flowed abundantly throughout the area. Growth of the city has dramatically compromised the springs.
The Springs Committee has developed a four-color Citizens Guide to the local watershed that provides both information about the springs and specific steps one can take to make a difference when landscaping, building, and dealing with stormwater runoff or sewage lines.

They offer a variety of protection workshops, have created a comprehensive database of information on each local spring, updated a complete map of Eureka Springs which includes spring locations, a water quality monitoring project, and attractive medallions for all city storm drains that read “Drains to the Springs.” Another example of effective social marketing.

Barbara and others had been working on local water issues well before the Springs Committee formed in 2005. In 2001, she was involved in the One Clean Spring project to restore at least one of the original natural springs. Concerned Citizens, another group of water activists she was involved with, organized in 1979 and later became the National Water Center, Eureka Springs. It remains active today cultivating and articulating clean water practices based upon appropriate use of technology and personal responsibility.

I found the enthusiasm and commitment of the volunteers in Eureka Springs and their many accomplishments most inspiring. I was especially impressed to learn that, unlike so many similar efforts in other communities that struggle to keep interest from waning and projects from stalling, this community’s level of participation is holding steady and growing. Most of the people involved in the founding of the National Water Center, for example, are still active in various issues. One explanation may be lie in how they approach achieving their goals. “To us” their website explains, “the process of cultivating clean water consciousness is just as important as the goal. Therefore, the primary parameter for our organization is to have "fun" while we carry on with the work.”

Patrice Gros, of Foundation Farms and Planet Home member, believes the reason they have been able to sustain their momentum and continue to generate large turnouts for their events is that they have a small core of very active, committed people who don’t go away, allowing many others to be involved more sporadically. “It’s like a growing a plant,” Gros explains. “If the root is there the plant can still grow once the weather changes.” He also points out that they had a very energetic, charismatic speaker, John Seed, come to Eureka to launch Planet Home and motivate people to get involved.

The example Eureka Springs is setting demonstrates how we can address the eco-nomic anxiety and concerns gripping our country by making simple changes in our personal lives and joining locally with others to preserve, restore, and create communities where we can live successfully in harmony with nature.
(c)Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008.


  1. This is really inspiring! Thanks for sharing Sarah.

  2. Terri, so glad you too were inspired by what they're doing there in Eureka Springs. I have sent it the members of our own local group. We've been wanting to do many of these same things and hopefully this will motivate us to continue working toward our goals.
    Cheers, Sarah