Preparing for life, not war, in challenging future

The chipmunk statue at the Wa-Ga-Tha-Ka Resort on Lake Wabana. (PHOTOS: left, Christina Brown, and right, Wa-Ga-Tha-Ka Resort social media)
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Mesabi Tribune.

The wooden chipmunk statue in front of the Wa-Ga-Tha-Ka Resort stands as one of the defining landmarks along the Wabana Road in rural Itasca County. It’s been there for decades. But in recent years this whimsical woodland creature has quietly and quite unintentionally become a harbinger for the climate future of northern Minnesota.

Each spring, the furry critter emerges from its tarp wrappings with a sly grin. The owners decorate it for the Fourth of July. Then, come late fall, the chipmunk returns to its tarp cocoon for another winter. Sometimes, around Halloween, the tarp becomes a ghost costume.

But last year the chipmunk wore a face mask to emphasis public health safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A sign warned passing motorists to “Wash your paws, you filthy animals.” Again, cute. Funny. But a little jarring if you expected your normal chipmunk experience. 

This year the chipmunk is dressed head to toe in firefighting gear. The sign reminds of the fire danger this summer as we contend with the worst drought I’ve seen in 16 years of living near this anthropomorphic rodent.

With folksy charm, the chipmunk is telling us about the challenges we’ll face in the 21st Century. No, there’s nothing new in lamenting climate change, new pandemics, and rising economic inequality. Writers bemoan these issues in commentary pieces across the internet.

But most folks I talk to sense real changes in our society, even and perhaps especially out here in the woods. There’s a reason for that.

In 1972, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study predicted a potential societal collapse by the mid-21st Century. The study concluded that the world’s resources could not support the level of economic growth that was coming. This year, a researcher revisited the study, finding that the benchmark predictions made then have largely come true, so far. 

Nafeez Ahmed explored this in a July 14, 2021 story for Vice magazine. He writes:

“Study author Gaya Herrington told Motherboard that in the MIT World3 models, collapse ‘does not mean that humanity will cease to exist,’ but rather that “economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living… In terms of timing, the [worst case] scenario shows a steep decline to set in around 2040.’

With this comes the expectation of social unrest, something easy to imagine given the last few years of political and cultural discord here in the United States. As powerful people count on continued growth to support their institutions and lifestyles, and as everyone else hopes to snatch a piece of the pie, we chase a hard fall.

When I hear people talking about this sort of thing, I tend to hear two responses that seem inadequate to the situation. Some speak harshly of gun and ammo, militarized police protection and overwhelming force to put down all perceived threats. Others tend toward a Pollyanna view, that everything will work out just fine if we remain faithful and optimistic. 

I hold a different view. Dire predictions can be mitigated by planning. But instead of imagining a fight, we might instead envision how to live comfortably with fewer resources. 

The last years have been heavy, but they’ve also been educational. We taught ourselves how to drive less, work from home, do more projects on our own. We had to, and we will have to do so again. 

Here in northern Minnesota we have many advantages. They include water and natural sources of food. We may not be a large scale agricultural region, but we can make small scale agriculture work. We can manage forests for wood and use technology to generate electricity on our own rural properties.

Are we preparing for life or war? Life means sustainable society. War means death. Preparing for life is the right thing to do and the only morally defensible position. It’s also the only practical and profitable path for humanity to survive.

So, listen to the chipmunk. Think about healthier, safer living. Store nuts, not guns. Enjoy the good life still available to us if we preserve it.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 25, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. David W Kannas says

    Yup, well said.

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