How to wean ourselves collectively off oil, gas and coal as soon as possible, and start living in a sustainable, circular way, instead of using up all forms of non-renewable resources?
In 2005 I picked up a copy of the New Statesman, a magazine I hadn’t looked at for years, because its cover caught my eye. ‘The Long Emergency’, it said, and for some reason I was intrigued.
The article blew my mind.
For the rest of 2005, I went around wondering when the world would end. I read the book, by James Howard Kunstler, and other books and websites on peak oil. It was clear to me that we will run out of fossil fuels, much, much sooner than later, and then our whole way of life will have to change.
However, although there certainly were plenty of others out there worrying about the same thing, I couldn’t find anything about what to do about it: what, that is, we will do to survive the end of oil. I could see there was nothing to be done to halt the end.
So gradually I stopped reading so much about it, we moved to Sydney, I got involved in a Buddhist group. I had a new and fairly challenging job, in a new country. Life seemed to go on.
Then in early 2008 I was working with a new team, and in the lift up to our floor one morning one of my colleagues was talking about peak oil. I asked him what he was doing about it, and he introduced me to his Ozzie network of interesting if fairly techie late middle aged men. (Actually, there was at least one other women involved – also a techie.) They still weren’t talking about what to do about it.
So one weekend I determined to go on line and not stop until I’d found someone, anyone, who did want to talk about post-oil. The local Green Party – I am sorry to say – was typically only active around elections. But somewhere in the environmental web I found reference to two women up north on the Sunshine Coast, and their web site pointed me at Transition Towns.
Although there was no-one on that network near me – Transition Towns was started in Totnes, and although international is really quite British – I volunteered to be the contact in Sydney for anyone else who found their way to the Transition Network website. A couple of weeks later I was sent the names of two people. We met up - and decided we had to meet up every week until we had really sorted it all.
Transition Sydney wasn’t really local, since Sydney is not a town so much as a sprawling metropolitan area. But through it I met two other wonderful people, long-time ’permaculturists’, although broad-minded permies (they aren’t all). The Transition Town movement was in fact started by a permaculture teacher, Rob Hopkins, and it’s not just about running out of oil but also – of course – about what the continued use of fossil fuels will do to the climate. It would be a very good idea to wean ourselves off them as soon as possible, and start living in a sustainable, circular way, instead of using up all forms of non-renewable resources.
I still think Transition Towns are a great idea, very much in the same spirit as CC, but with a specific focus on local ‘energy descent action plans’. That is, local, collaborative, bottom-up ideas and actions for moving beyond fossil fuel, including locally controlled renewable energy sources and community food gardens. In Sydney, for example, my mates Fiona and Russ not only work in community projects but run a wonderful, large, demonstration park, as well as running courses for sustainable life.
When we left Sydney to come home to grandchildren and to live around the corner from my 87 year old mother, I immediately signed up for Transition Town Leamington, which met round the corner from us. There I found two other wonderful people, Juliet and Gita, got involved in community actions – including a recycling charity and a community farm – and networked with other Transition Towns, including a particularly active one in Stratford upon Avon.
Transition Towns are an interesting magnet for not only people already involved in environmental action (actually, not all of them are that keen on this ‘upstart’, or indeed in anyone very different from themselves – I am sorry to say), but also, yes, late middle aged techie men.
For me, life happened: my mum died, a very silly man tried to take over Transition Leamington, I got a full time job and moved away to somewhere without an active group; the USA found whatever it is they dredge up for low grade oil sources, and renewables started to really impact on power. I now have swung to think climate change will kill us before we run out of oil, although I would not count on the weird oil sources to continue very long.
What's happening with Transition Towns now, ten years on? - I am not entirely sure. But it is an idea we should pursue.
An interesting concept. I have been invited to a workshop to define the scope of what is called by our Local Councils a Joint Local Plan, it covers everything from Housing Development, Business Area Development to Transport and Infrastructure.
Fossil Fuel dependence is at the heart of all the current planning, a Solar Farm which would have been the largest in UK on land unsuitable for farming in the sunniest part of the UK was rejected by planners on the dubious grounds that it would be a change in use from Agricultural land (this is despite the land being too stony for crops and the solar farm planning to use the ground for free range chickens or pigs). The solution to traffic congestion is to build a new road bypassing the town across our Water Meadows, ironically the economic benefit is gleaned by building a new Industrial Estate or Business Estate on previously Agricultural land.
In short we have planners stuck in the Car Age. I look forward to, alongside the green activists invited, pointing out that a 20 year plan needs to have the area less fossil fuel dependent at the end than the beginning. It should be an interesting discussion.
Yes- your local planners probably have friends here in Newcastle upon Tyne... 'growth' = building new housing estates outside the city on green belt land without cycling/ pedestrian/metro access and in a flood plain (really!)
Where to start.....
I did Transition Towns Training in Totnes in 2008 and this encouraged me to organise a gathering of my local community, ( live in an isolated rural hamlet in Devon) which is still bringing benefits. I didn't like the way that Transition was put into practice specifically a 'Transition Network' was set up that was effectively a tightly controlled consultancy, the personality of Rob Hopkins was too dominant and there was initially an absurd focus on one of his ideas as a manifestation of Transition- that of producing an 'Energy Descent Action Plan'.
So I just carried on doing what I do in my local community, except that I also joined my nearest Transition affiliated group, which is Sustainable Crediton (https://sustainablecrediton.org.uk/). I help run a 'Woodland and Hedgerows' group here and this provides part of the fuel for my central heating.
In common with many other Transition groups, SusCred is going through a low patch, (although my little sub-group is thriving). Why is this ? I think that people no longer think that there is a crisis and have gone back to their bourgeois, middle-class lives , helping to burn up the planet whilst whinging and whining about it at the same time. Fracking and oil sand extraction have temporarily delayed peak oil and the cracks in the financial system have been papered over. My own view is that the 3 systems, Energy, Environment and Economics are all in 'overshoot' and the bubbles will burst (see Martenson's Crash Course - https://www.peakprosperity.com/crashcourse). The only question is 'when?' and experience tells me that things keep going until they can't any longer - i.e. the bubbles get blown up as much as possible. till they burst big-time. I note that others in Campfire Convention, such as Brian Eno, have a different take on the future in that they are optimistic of a 'technical-fix' for our problems - well 'good luck with that' - it all depends on resources (energy) you know, (google 'biophysical economics').
Personally I don't think Transition was very British at all. In its original incarnation the sort of obedience required to the rules laid down made it more suitable to cultures that valued that sort of behaviour. I won't incriminate myself by giving any more details here. There is now a movement to re-create the idea 'from the bottom up'. I believe there have been meetings in London and one is certainly planned in Exeter late September. There are also similar moves in the U.S. and maybe look up 'Transition US' or resilience.org for this, maybe start here - http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-08-21/deconstructing-transition/.
My own views are published here:
Boy am I fed up with people with middle-class lifestyle complaining about climate change! I've spent enough of my life listening to you all. I don't care if you are an 'innovator' (substitute therapist, writer, guru, academic or whatever) - are you a welder?, because that is the sort of skill your children will need.
I'd encourage anyone to read the Transition Handbook (http://transitionus.org/sites/default/files/TransitionHandbook_freeeditV...). It contains valuable generic ideas. Also permaculture stuff - try David Holmgren (https://www.holmgren.com.au/about-permaculture/)as an author (and 'yes!' be very wary of evangelist permaculturalists, they will have you paying a couple of hundred quid a week labouring to instal their roof). Essentially Transition is a huge permaculture project. An obvious possible overlap between Transition and Campfire is the idea of a Beacon as a locality specific focus.
In essence, decide if you think any of the 3 systems - Energy, Economics, Environment, are going to collapse. If you think any are then take appropriate action. If not, then 'good luck' to you and any offspring and please don't contact me. On the other hand, if you agree with me...
All the best