Predicting the future is impossible

Rousing the Rabble by Grand Forks Gazette columnist Roy Ronaghan.

What if the Kettle River Review Committee and the author of the report had begun their work by asking different questions? Would their conclusion have been the same?

What if the committee had taken the advice of Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer who says the only questions we have a right to ask are, “What’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?”

Berry is well known as a writer of novels, short stories, essays and poems. The Unsettling of America is one of his best known books where he argues that good farming is a cultural development and a spiritual discipline and that agribusiness takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. The result is that people are more estranged from the land they live upon, have little knowledge of how to take care of it, and whether it is healthy or in need of some form of treatment.

Berry and his wife have lived on a 50-acre farm in Kentucky that he purchased 50 years ago and during his five decades on the farm, he has accumulated a wealth of knowledge that he willingly shares through speaking engagements and his written works

The Berrys are committed to living a simple, agrarian lifestyle and anyone who is searching for a model of how to live in harmony with the land, might emulate them. Passing on their knowledge is a thrill for the couple.

In response to a recent request from Yes! magazine that he write a narrative for the future he responded with a two-part essay with the title, Revolution Starts Small and Close to Home.

Berry’s reply to the request was: “So far as I am concerned the future has no narrative. The future does not exist until it has become the past. To a very limited extent, prediction has worked.The sun, so far has set and risen as we have expected it to do. And the world, I suppose, will predictably end, but all of its predicted deadlines, so far, have been wrong.”

Berry also stated, “Only the present good is good. It is the presence of good╤good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places╤by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future.” He also stated, “I believe, because all we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is to do the right thing today.”

If we take Berry’s advice, what are the right things we should be doing?  He tells us that we should forget about planning for the future and begin backing away from doing so and into the present. We should remember our history and the history of where we live because both will have an influence on how we go about our lives in the present. We should be concerned about land abuse both where we live, near where we live, and around the world. We should back out of the environment and let it take care of itself.

The Kettle River Watershed Management Plan that has been five years in the making is a future-oriented document prepared under the auspices of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB). It was developed to fulfill the vision of the watershed planning committee as “a healthy, resilient and sustainable Kettle River Watershed, which functions to meet the needs and values of its communities, who in turn act as stewards of the watershed.”

Is the vision achievable? Will it become a reality in a couple decades because people respond to the management plan or because they begin to do the right things? Will they have to be told by way of the plan what the right things are, or will they inherently know what they must do?