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Sustainability and Renewability

Anna Jackson


Standing amid vast golden grasslands with a backdrop of stately frosted mountains on all sides, it is hard not to be in awe of the Crestone setting. However rich the scenery may be from ground-level, others speculate there may also be richness below. The potential oil reserves underground could be a small energy bank to help this nation carry on with its growing energy needs, but will leave behind a permanent scar on the land. We are forced to reassess ‘want’ versus ‘need’ and ‘present’ versus ‘future’. Our reassessments and decisions will affect far more people than those who are living today and far more things than just ourselves. A sustainable life is becoming increasingly more vital as we are exhausting the rest of our depleting resources. The community of Crestone is aware and concerned for the affect which they have upon the planet and their role in the future.

Cosmology and Connection to the Land

The Crestone community feels strongly towards the land and the environment of their homes. When talking to many members of the community, many say they were drawn to the area, that they immediately felt a connection to the land. The mountains hold power, and the area is said to be a vortex of energy that has been a sacred place for many peoples. Each aspect of the area is considered sacred by different groups in the community.

“We talk about the sacredness of the land here, the sacredness of the environment…We talk about the mountains here being sacred, as a container of a very rounded energy. The aquifer, which lies under us—the water element kind of rounds the energy here. The wind coming from across the valley picks up the water element, hits the mountains and comes back and circles back down.” –Ralph Abrams, White Jewel Mountain Center.

With so many different myths, theories, and stories about the land coming from all directions in Crestone, the community as a whole has strong cosmology which embraces an interconnecting relationship between all parts of the universe. Fiona Bowie writes on the importance of such a cosmology in relation to the treatment of the environment.

“A community whose cosmology represents the world as hostile to human interests, perhaps inhabited by ‘malevolent spirits which are nourished on the energies of their human playthings,’ could indicate a generally pessimistic view of the world and minimal expectations of a successful interaction with the environment. Conversely, a community with a cosmology that represents the world as hospitable to human interests is likely to have more positive interactions with the environment and perhaps a better chance of happiness.” ( Bowie, The Anthropology of Religion, 2006, 109)

Along with these cosmologies we form “cognized models” defined by Rappaport as “description of a people’s knowledge of their environment and of their beliefs concerning it” (Rappaport, 1979 from Bowie, 2006, 110). With this knowledge, we define what is called an operational model of our ecosystems and the way in which we use them. “Rappaport argues that it is not important whether the cognized model of a society fits well or badly with an operational model of the same environment, but whether it actually ‘works’ in a sense of sustaining that environment.” (Rappaport from Bowie, 2006). Hence, the way the cosmology of the community plays a large part in how the environment is

Struggle to be sustainable

The remote, secluded atmosphere seems to promote a deeper understanding of the relationship we have with the earth, however, creating a balance in that relationship proves to be a difficult undertaking. They find themselves fighting a battle against Lexam Explorations, but still using propane and gasoline in their daily lives. The idea of sustainability is romantic; the struggle to reach it is much less so. Joy Kells, a Volunteer Firefighter and a member of the Cottonhood Sustainable Co-op, speaks of the difficult contradictory fact many Crestone community members cannot ignore. They do not want the oil drilling to happen, however oil is essential to many of their lives. “I live off grid right now…and I use propane to heat my trailer. If I am going to use propane but I don’t want them to drill here then that makes me somewhat of a hypocrite and I don’t approve of hypocrisy. I think it’s wrong. I guess I say I am against the gas drilling because I don’t want it in my backyard. That’s all well and good but the fact of the matter is I am still using gasoline in my car and propane to heat my house. Now I am trying to move away from that... Our home is going to be all packed of an active solar so that we will not be needing propane for that. But we haven’t freed ourselves from that nipple. We are still sucking on it.” The dependency on oil seems, at this time, to be something they are not yet ready to break away from. As stated by Tamar Ellentuck, Buddhist practitioner and co-founder of Crestone Spiritual Alliance, “If I didn’t have a car that I put gas in, we wouldn’t need to be drilling for oil. I’m really part of the problem. But people like to, you know, say ‘oh it’s them, it’s not us, it’s them.’ So, you’ve got to include yourself in the whole picture as part of the problem and part of the solution.” Crestone is conscious of their place in the whole dilemma, a consciousness catalyzed by the immenent threat of Lexam Explorations. “We are working on getting in to sustainability. We pollute just by being humans, and the drilling made that more clear than ever. We are finding alternatives because we have to.” (Bon Dellegar) The Crestone community is forced to think about both the impact of the oil drilling in their own backyards as well as the impact their use of oil on a greater scale. “They are going to drill somewhere. If we chase them away from here they are going to go somewhere else. We are not going to stop them from drilling. They are going to drill no matter what we do. We are going to use propane, then we have to acknowledge its okay to drill propane because I want it, I buy it, I keep warm with it. How can I say get my propane from someone else’s backyard? There is no excuse for going on the way we have been going with this massive dependence on petroleum products and fossil fuels” (Kells)

Due to this awareness of their individual impacts, as Kells explains, “The word ‘sustainability’ is big in our community. It’s all about sustainability,” but it is difficult, she continues, “It’s a lot of work and a lot of land and a lot of effort and a lot of know-how...” Taking different approaches to sustainability, the community tries anything they can. Vicky from the Dharma Ocean Foundation describes one way in which the community works together towards a more sustainable life, “The economy is really hard here… it’s hard living here, people try to do sustainable living, and grow their own food, they rely on each other, they swap services…you have to give up a lot if you want to live here” The Crestone Mountain Zen Centre has taken steps toward having a more efficient system, but like others, has found it hard to completely break away from propane. Craig Hase describes their struggle, “We heat with propane, which is basically terrible. In our master plan we would have a central heating system that was water based with black boxes and some kind of burning pellets or something…So the ideal is to retro-fit the whole campus, put in radiant heating, have a centralized heating plan and be off propane. It’s like a drug we’re just addicted to. It’s pretty terrible… I would say that in terms of our vision for being environmentally sustainable, we’re not even close to being there. Nobody on campus likes the fact that we go through a couple thousand gallons of propane a year. First of all, it’s expensive, but secondly, it just doesn’t feel great.”

Sustainable alternatives to drilling

Perhaps sustainability at an individual level is not going to be enough. Crestone as a whole can contribute far more to a sustainable energy use than just individual efforts. Destroying the land to drill for oil that will be devoured in just a few weeks by the rest of the country seems inefficient and wasteful. With a rise in alternative energy productions, maybe now we can start to turn away from the exhaustible and look toward the renewable. Ralph Abrams of White Jewel Mountain Zen Center suggests alternatives available to the area, “This valley has also been targeted as one of the prime sources of solar energy…This valley also has incredible potential for hydro-thermal energy resources…It’s also known as the alternative building capital of the world, because there’s no building code in Sawatch County [so there are] experimentations in building style. So there’s this idea of Crestone and the surrounding area being cutting edge in terms of sustainability…and alternative building techniques. There is a strong movement to establish ourselves in that domain.”

Solar energy could be very effective for Crestone, “The technology is not new, but it is suddenly in high demand. As prices rise for fossil fuels and worries grow about their contribution to global warming, solar thermal plants are being viewed as a renewable power source with huge potential. On sunny afternoons, those 10 plants would produce as much electricity as three nuclear reactors, but they can be built in as little as two years, compared with a decade or longer for a nuclear plant. Some of the new plants will feature systems that allow them to store heat and generate electricity for hours after sunset.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/06/business/06solar.html?_r=1&st=cse&sq=solar&scp=1&oref=slogin) Perhaps with this idea, Crestone can make a considerable contribution in terms of energy production as well as in terms of taking part in the preliminary steps away from oil towards more sustainable energy uses. “[We are] trying to build something new and different for the next generation. We are trying to save whatever we can save of the earth for generations to come. Our children and their children and grandchildren”. (Kells) They are choosing to take only what they need, not all that they want and are thinking of the future above the present. Hopefully the rest will follow.

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