By Puja Dhyan Parsons, Owner & CEO
Today, in June of 2011, a time of economic downturn and environmental degradation, it is difficult to watch the news. The kinship and symbiosis of community seems sometimes lost in our diversity of needs and interests as well as the focus on survival and livelihood. The loss of value to property, the banking crisis, the effects of environmental changes to weather, and the problems with poisoned land and food give us plenty to work on. People learn the word “sustainable” wondering if it is possible to sustain ourselves individually let alone collectively. The idea of “going local” is a natural response, as we tighten our belts and look for the ways to find opportunity in challenges.
One can choose to see the cup half FULL rather than empty, and I notice that this GOING LOCAL movement arising around the world is a way of affirming the old values of social capital, entrepreneurial capital, farmer, financial and intellectual capital, to create the possibilities and solutions of a neighborhood response to local needs. GOING LOCAL is a grass roots movement that we are lucky to see, as our Growing Domes® provide the centerpiece for many efforts. Growing local food and keeping money local are ideas that are well founded in the experience of neighbors like Paonia, Montrose, Rico, Salida and other small Colorado towns.
The Geothermal Greenhouse Project (GGP) in Pagosa Springs is to be a focal point for local efforts to redefine, name and develop ourselves to be a sustainable community. The development of a new identity, based on the gifts of a substantial geothermal resource is timely, wise and perceptive. I see it as a gateway to the eco-destination we could become, not only for tourists, but for students, businesses, sciences and the professional intelligence emerging around the world to find solutions for our current times and increase quality of life. Add that focus to the beauty of the place and you have a natural magnet that educates and celebrates the ingenuity of the human spirit.
Last year we visited the Eden Project, in England, which is another amazing story of a similar effort in a remote village. It has become the vacation destination for millions that want to see their amazing dome-shaped greenhouses and international gardens. Through demonstrating our dependence on plants, they became the foundation of much more. Eden too, began in a time of economic downturn and has consistently attracted support and interest that is known now as a phenomenon.
Years ago, I experienced very personally and directly the effect of Vision on a small mountain town. I was privileged to sit with Elizabeth Paepke, in her 80’s, each morning as she told me the memories of her “forties”, founding the famous Aspen Institute and the Aspen Ballet and Music Festival with her husband Walter. She told me stories about redecorating the old Jerome Hotel and the migraines that she suffered then. She spoke about turning down the 1956 Olympics as the “voice of the sewers” because she knew the old pipes of a mining town built in the late 1800’s wouldn’t stand the onslaught of so many tourists. I was in awe as she remembered my hero, Albert Sweitzer waking the household by playing Bach on her grand piano in the morning when he came from Africa to be in her Music Festival.
As her caretaker and companion for two years I watched her move through event after event speaking about the importance of our natural environment. She loved her garden and pine trees above all things and as she watched her town become more and more about glitz and celebrity, her sadness over the changes ledled her to primarily focus on supporting The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. It was right down the hill from our backyard and Jack Nicolson lived next door on the other side. Like the wounded animals in this wildlife sanctuary she felt protected but no longer wild and free in her sadness as a Founder. Her creative vision was now juxtaposed with the fame and exposure it had led her into, like the celebrity next door. She maintained her rebellious spirit in her contemporary attire of blue jeans and a fancy scarf to bridge both worlds. Even in at 85, her womanly beauty and stubborn values inspired me.
Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke were motivated at the end of WW II to change the attitude and prejudice that came with wounds of war, by creating a Salzburg-like center for art, science and renewal. They succeeded. Though only a small Rocky Mountain Town that was discovered in the 1950s, Aspen became one of the most attractive community cultures in the world for visitors from many streams of life. Before it was known, the great minds of creative entrepreneurs and artists were drawn like me to this beautiful place. When Udgar and I lived there in the eighties, the culture was so alive with creativity and health; we felt we lived in paradise.
In his new book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came in to Being and Why No One Saw it Coming (Viking), Paul Hawken deciphers the history of the environmental movement and predicts its future. Contemporary environmentalism, he argues, is “nothing less than the fruition of a long global uprising to reclaim basic human rights.”
In order to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration, organizations like Slow Money have emerged. The GGP in Pagosa will be a beacon of this kind of effort, right in the central downtown core of Pagosa Springs.
Our excitement about the Geothermal Greenhouse Project is its potential to develop a new direction for economic development that rests on the natural gifts of Pagosa Springs and its history. It will help to navigate the diversity of talents and interests here for finding our internal strengths as a community. This is an effort of many diverse people and interests and is a part of a growing movement that has no leader or creed, but is happening naturally all over the world. Indeed, as stated by Jim McQuiggin in the Pagosa Sun article of March 4, 2009, “the GGP would be growing more than plants.”