Retired Army Lt. Col. Scott Womack anticipates a ‘new frontier’ that will require resilient people and communities
SWEET SPRINGS, W.Va. — Retired Army Lt. Col. Scott Womack teaches English, French and journalism at James Monroe High School in Monroe County in southeastern West Virginia. From 2011-2017 he started and ran the Junior ROTC program at the school. In 2018, Womack, who has a doctorate in education, switched to the subjects he is now teaching. The veteran served much of his duty in sub-Saharan Africa and also taught French at West Point.
At 55, he could be doing any number of things with his “spare” time. Womack chooses to spend his time and effort preparing for a new frontier, when we will find ourselves living much like our ancestors did in the pre-industrial age.
He is so convinced that unprecedented societal stresses are inevitable — and possibly quite soon — that he is a prophet of preparation.
Womack will be speaking at the Sweet Springs Sustainable Living Forum set for Aug. 16-18 here. His topic will be “Rediscovering Resilience on the New Frontier.” He is scheduled to speak Saturday morning during the 10 a.m. session devoted to ensuring the safety of vulnerable people, food and water. He will speak about the necessity of preparing for and learning how to navigate that “New Frontier” and about the longing that many people have begun to experience living on a more basic level.
Womack said any number of circumstances or combination of events could lead humanity into a spiral of change for which it is not prepared. He pointed first to climate change, but said, “I am concerned not only about climate change, but also our habits of consumption.” He explained, “There’s this premise of an ever growing pie. Climate change notwithstanding we’re going to reach a point that is unsustainable. We will experience societal stress and the disruptions that would cause.”
Hence, his message is one of developing resilient people and communities. “What is going to emerge — because it’s going to have to — is a more localized and resilient sense of community than we currently have,” argued Womack. He continued, “At this point, the state — and by that, I mean local, state and federal governments — is able to handle most problems people have. So people tend to turn to the state for solutions rather than like it was if you were living out here in the late 18th century or were a Native American. Then, you would look to your local community.”
He added, “So, we need to look in our community and ask what every person can bring to the table. Even with the technology we have, we are going to reach that point. It could be climate change, it could be not having any more technological tricks for our problems. Also, the consumption and production we want can’t be sustained because we will run out of resources.”
Womack argued, “That will change the role of government and money. We will be back to a day where skills and a resilient community are more important.” That, he says, will be a fundamental shift, as we will be living as in the pre-industrial age. “Technology will still be around, but we just can’t depend on IGA delivering our produce from California. We are going to have to produce it.”
People are going to have to toughen up, insisted Womack. “Physically, people are going to have to learn how to walk again. We’ll be in a time when we’re not going to be ride around anymore. Being able to work is going to be prized. I’m not sure our population is ready. We’re going to have to get in shape quick.”
We also need to change how we think, argued Womack. “We need to stop and think about things like where does food come from? Even in a rural county like this, we’ve lost touch. Because of air conditioning and central heat, we’ve lost touch with nature. We’ve lost touch with the night sky.” He continued, “Intellectually, we are greatly diminished. We are going to need to focus on intellect again.”
Spirituality, too, deserves greater attention by society, argued Womack. “When I talk about spirituality, it’s about the idea of humankind’s relationship to the planet. We have to consider if the planet was made for us to dominate or if we were made to part of the ecosystem. Knowing our place with plants and animals on the planet is a spiritual question. It is a shift in thinking.”
To prepare, Womack recommends that communities gather their citizens and “ask questions such as who knows how to smith? Does anybody know how to work leather, tan a hide?” He explained, “These things that are craft oriented that we do now for fun, will be important. Communities will need to know who does what. What skills are there, who has land, who has a horse, who as an electric car — if they have solar panels? Communities are going to have the knowledge of the resources within them. That’s lost now because we are a money economy.”
He concluded, “The overall idea is being able to be resilient in a changed environment. To prepare your community for what it is able to do.”
Climate change is not the only threat the planet faces, said Womack.
The use of nuclear weapons is a probability at some point, he said. “It’s a chaos theory sort of thing. If you’re in a really complex system and make what seems a relatively small change to the system, there can be significant unintended consequences good or bad down the road. It’s called sensitive dependence on initial conditions. From all levels from the micro to the macro. That’s how I feel about nuclear weapons.”
He said the use of tactical nuclear weapons is a short step from the munitions the U.S. military has used in our recent and ongoing wars in the Middle East. While he said the munitions we have used during these wars are not much different in destructive capability than tactical (battlefield) nukes, the use of nukes is certainly more troubling. “Once the bottle is open, anytime you use a nuclear munition, you are poisoning the people and the environment.” He declined to give odds that nukes will be used for the first time since World War II. “It’s too complex.” He added, “I’d just as soon the things be gone.”
The Sustainable Living Forum is open to the public and free of charge. Primitive camping at the venue is free. Food vendors will be providing breakfast, lunch and dinner options at reasonable prices. Additional attractions include craft vendors, historical stations and hands-on demonstrations.
For additional information about the Sustainable Living Forum program or about the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation, call 304-536-1207, check the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation Facebook page or the Events page of the Appalachian Chronicle. To get there by GPS: 19540 Sweet Springs Valley Road, Gap Mills, WV 24941.
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