A few weeks ago, I was in Iowa and South Dakota and saw first-hand the fields of stunted, parched corn that are the result of the worst U.S. drought in 56 years. Sioux Falls had .01 inches of rain in July. It was on everyone’s mind.

I spent some time with my brother-in-law who farms corn and soybeans. He told me that the local economies across the Midwest, especially farming communities, were going to take a big hit. And he noted that national food prices will rise significantly at a time when low- and middle-class people in our fragile economy can least absorb them.   

It’s no secret that we face a future that will feature more instability due to climate change, peak oil, and the evolving grip that the ultra-wealthy have on our society.  

Unless I’ve completely missed it, our local discussions and efforts to improve our economy seem to exhibit no significant discernible theme of prioritizing economic development strategies that increase our odds of weathering the turbulent transition years that are upon us.

Chatham County recently celebrated the ground-breaking for a Walmart just south of Chapel Hill. Setting aside the many documented damaging externalities that come with these sales-tax-generating behemoths, there has been no consideration of how a Walmart affects our sustainability and resilience.

We know that fuel costs will rise. We know that climate change will mean higher food prices, as will rising fuel costs. Aside from child labor and cruelly low-paid overseas workers, Walmart’s success has been built largely on transporting products extremely long distances and taking advantage of the high yields from agri-business.

Communities that have consciously grown their local agriculture, promoted alternative energy including biofuels, and retained control over their local water will have the most vibrant economies in the next couple of decades of stormy transition. Local business leaders are understandably anxious about how to pay for community essentials in the face of the betrayal of leadership and loss of support from the greater society. However, if we are not careful, we may have short-term success with a few “silver bullet” solutions, yet find ourselves ill-equipped to meet the unique challenges that only a self-reliant, community-based economic system is capable of doing.