Why Transition, Whatcom?
Written for Whatcom Watch by Rick Dubrow & David MacLeod
"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction."
— Albert Einstein
Part 1 (July 2009 Issue)
As readers of the Whatcom Watch well know, environmental scientists in the latter part of the last century warned humanity that barring profound change, we would likely soon find ourselves in some degree of hurt. Are we there yet? It seems that we are finding ourselves amidst the perfect storm of some very compelling problems: global warming, peak oil, global economic instability, overpopulation, declining biodiversity ... and the list goes on.
These problems are due largely to the fact that we live in the oil age. This has been a time when cheap and abundant energy sources have fueled not only this culture's growth and expansion and provided us with an endless array of consumer goods, but has also provided an endless array of detrimental effects. We are, as George Bush has famously admitted, addicted to oil.
We find ourselves in a spot where we have to concern ourselves not only with out of the tailpipe emissions, but also worry about our into the gas tank supply. Worthy of our attention is the need to recognize that, like it or not, a global economy addicted to oil will find petroleum more scarce, and therefore more expensive. How shall we then live?
Many questions arise. What to do? They’re working on it, right? And who, exactly, are they? Will government respond in time … maybe if we yell loud enough? Are there more petitions we can sign? Do we need to dig deeper and come up with more money to donate to our favorite environmental organizations? Are the solutions being touted in the media appropriate, and do they match the scale of the problem? And how do we keep our spirits up without turning away and trying to forget about these issues?
David MacLeod: My Story
In late 2004 and early 2005, a small movement began emerging in various parts of the world — community organizing as a response to peak oil and climate change. In the U.S. and Canada, much of it was formed around the Relocalization Network of the Post Carbon Institute. I got involved with that network here locally. Across the pond we were watching the work of Rob Hopkins and his students in Kinsale Ireland.
When Hopkins became aware of the peak oil problem in 2004, he was teaching the world's first two-year permaculture course in Kinsale. He immediately began looking for answers to the "What Shall We Do?" question. He found lots of books about the data surrounding the issue, and why it was definitely a problem of enormous scale.
What he didn't find was very much material on reasonable and effective response plans — with the exception of some initial thinking by the Post Carbon Institute and the books “Powerdown” by Richard Heinberg and “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability” by David Holmgren, which Hopkins calls "the most important book of the last 15 years."
Hopkins and his students then set themselves to thinking about how to apply permaculture principles, as well as the information gleaned in the previously named books, to the peak oil problem.
They ended up with "Kinsale 2021: An Energy Descent Action Plan" — a 53-page report that looked at how the town of Kinsale could navigate the transition from being a high-energy consumption town to a low-energy consumption town. They first set out a clear vision of how a lower-energy future could be, and then identified a clear timetable for achieving it.
Hopkins had also begun a blog titled "Transition Culture" which became popular quite quickly (http://www.transitionculture.org
), with insightful postings relating to resilience, relocalizing and planning for energy descent. Moving back to the UK, Hopkins further developed his ideas by establishing a local community organization, Transition Town Totnes.
Soon other Transition Towns began springing up, as well as the Transition Network to help organize them. There were a lot of parallels between the Relocalization Network here in North America, and the Transition Towns spreading in the UK, but the Transition Towns seemed to have something a little special — the transition model was "going viral!" When the Transition Handbook was published late last year, it all seemed to come together.
A clear path, with steps laid out ... yet constantly open to feedback and the situation at hand. Flexible, yet with a clear goal — an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP). There's a place for thinkers and a place for doers. A place for the intellect (the head), an acknowledgement that effective transition means engaging all of our inner resources (the heart), and definitely a place for practical action (the hands).
This seemed to be such a well-thought out process, with many great ideas, and yet grounded in practical experience. I felt enthusiastic for the potential this approach provided, thinking it would help us take this community work around building resilience and self-reliance to the next level. The Post Carbon Institute also recognized the power of this model and organization. When Transition United States established itself, the institute closed its Relocalization Network, and threw its support and resources behind Transition U.S.
Local Peak Oil Task Force
Rick Dubrow, Tom Anderson, Kate Clark, and I (David MacLeod) began serving on the Energy Resource Scarcity/Peak Oil Task Force of Bellingham and Whatcom County at about the same time as Rob Hopkins' Transition Handbook was published. After reading copies of the handbook being passed around, those of us on the community education sub-committee of the task force quickly came to the conclusion that local Transition Initiatives offered a compelling format for community engagement around energy issues. We were hooked.
In early December, Kate Clark and I attended a two-day Transition Training in Portland, and in late December Rick Dubrow and Cindi Landreth attended six days of training (to become trainers themselves) in San Francisco. In early January of this year we came together to begin developing our local initiating group, which we affectionately refer to as "The TWIG."
"The TWIG" is the Transition Whatcom Initiating Group. Note that this is called an initiating group, not a “steering committee.” The task of this group is not to come up with all of the ideas and all of the solutions, but rather to "drive the project forward during the initial phases." This is Step 1 of the 12 Steps of Transition. Instead of providing all of the answers, transition seeks to engage the entire community in the process, and to “unleash the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent.”
Our initiating group consists of Tom Anderson, Kate Clark, Rick Dubrow, Sandy Hoelterhoff, Cindi Landreth, David MacLeod and David Marshak. We are a small collection of motivated individuals living here in Whatcom County who came together with a shared concern: how can our community respond to the challenges and opportunities of peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis?
In February, Transition Whatcom was recognized as the 17th community in the U.S. to receive the honor and support of being designated as an official Transition Initiative. We are excited about all of the possibilities that lay ahead using this model!
The Transition Response
The transition movement recognizes that many responses to peak oil — coal to liquids, tar sands and non-conventional oils for example — do not necessarily help us address global warming. Why? Because ramping up production of many of these alternatives will require the generation of enormous gasses that will aggravate global warming.
Simultaneously, it’s readily apparent to those studying our energy needs that the sum total of everything that’s green will come nowhere near meeting the energy requirements to sustain the standard of living we’ve grown accustomed to. Ted Trainer has summed up the problem nicely with just the title of his book, “Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society.” Renewable energy certainly has an important role to play, but we simply must address issues of energy consumption.
Which impels us to ask an important question about what has, for many years, been an unquestionable dogma: Can economic growth continue forever, or will it be unfeasible in a lower energy world?
Therefore, the transition movement encourages responses, which simultaneously address the three compelling constraints of our time. It's not about trying to keep everything going as it is, but instead learning to live within realistic energy constraints. Simply put, the transition movement in general, and Transition Whatcom in particular, seeks to participate in redesigning for a far lower energy world.
Here … locally. With similar Transition Initiatives, as they’re called, growing up elsewhere; everywhere. As it is stated on the http://transtitiontowns.org
Web site, "Climate Change makes this carbon reduction transition essential. Peak oil makes it inevitable. And Transition Initiatives make it feasible, viable and attractive (as best we can tell so far)."
Transition does not take on the typical environmental organization’s attitude of “fighting against this or that.” But it does have an attitude! A positive attitude that says this:
• Energy scarcity is approaching.
• Roughly speaking, this energy descent curve can be graphed.
• Doesn’t it make sense to proactively power down our energy needs, following a similar descent curve that tracks the available supply?
• And given enough time (if there is enough time!), can’t we have some fun with this?
• Could it be that a post-petroleum lifestyle might even prove more fulfilling; more restorative for family life, for life itself, for self actualization?
In order to power down, though, we realize that we’re the most unskilled group of humans in history in terms of addressing our basic needs. Can you make your own clothes; grow and store your own food; build and maintain a shelter? How, then, can you be resilient enough to survive the coming shocks of energy scarcity?
So transition is all about re-skilling ourselves for basic human needs. Gardening. Food storage. Renewable energy. Natural building (a giant step beyond green building). Basket making. Pottery. Animal husbandry.
A step back in time? Some imagine that we’ll be able to avoid this step, calling it a step backwards. We cannot go back, and we do not want to go back. It is wise, however, to learn from the past what we can adapt for the future. As Hopkins writes, "we can adapt our culture to a more local context with creativity, and the results will be beyond our current imaginings."
Transition Whatcom hopes to help you and yours achieve resilience to survive, in fact thrive, amidst these potential and probable shocks.
The Transition Primer
The Transition Primer (http://transitionnetwork.org/Primer/TransitionInitiativesPrimer.pdf
), a great overview resource for the Transition model, describes a Transition Initiative as “…a loose set of real world principles and practices that have been built up over time though experimentation and observation of communities as they drive forward to build local resilience and reduce carbon emissions …”
“Underpinning the Transition model is a recognition of the following:
1. Climate change and peak oil require urgent action.
2. Life with less energy is inevitable and it is better to plan for it than be taken by surprise.
3. Industrial society has lost the resilience to be able to cope with energy shocks.
4. We have to act together and we have to act now.
5. Regarding the world economy and the consumptive patterns within it, as long as the laws of physics apply, infinite growth within a finite system (such as planet earth) simply isn't possible.
6. We demonstrated phenomenal levels of ingenuity and intelligence as we raced up the energy curve over the last 150 years, and there's no reason why we can't use those qualities, and more, as we negotiate our way down from the peak of the energy mountain.
7. If we plan and act early enough, and use our creativity and cooperation to unleash the genius within our local communities, then we can build a future that could be far more fulfilling and enriching, more connected and more gentle on the earth than the lifestyles we have today.”
Get Involved With Transition Whatcom
The first thing you can do is visit our social networking oriented Web site at http://transitionwhatcom.ning.com/
. Please consider joining the site, after which you'll get a welcoming email, and receive regular updates on what we're up to, events you can attend and projects you can join. You'll also have the opportunity to interact with our wonderful online community.
If signing up with online groups is not your cup of tea, please email David MacLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us of your interest. Once you're in contact with us, we can explore how you might contribute to this community project. You'll have opportunities to attend “Training for Transition” workshops, create or join a Transition Initiative in your neighborhood, or get involved in a working group exploring a particular issue.
These are just a sampling of the many ways for you to contribute to Transition Whatcom! Remember that Transition Initiatives are all about unleashing the collective genius of our community, and that includes you!
On the Web:
• Transition Whatcom: http://transitionwhatcom.ning.com/
• Transition United States: http://transitionus.org
• Transition Network (UK): http://transitionnetwork.org
• Rob Hopkins’ Blog: http://transitionculture.org
• John Rawlins' excellent articles on peak oil in Whatcom Watch. First the "Fossil Fuels at Peak Series" that began in 2006, and then the Rabbit on the Roof series beginning in 2008: http://www.whatcomwatch.org
• For regular updates on the peak oil issue, as well as other resilience and sustainability issues, visit http://www.energybulletin.net