Overall I thought it was an excellent event, that succinctly presented the important issues about peak oil and climate change and the importance of responding to this problem now rather than waiting a decade or more when a response will be too little too late.
I have read many sources on these issues and it is always difficult information to take in. Since reading is a solitary act, the anxiety of this information can be mostly internalized. However, in a group setting, hearing or re-hearing the basic problems can result in a sort of collective sense of doom despite the efforts at the meeting of several Transition Whatcom members to suggest that we can achieve a positive outcome to this dilemma by working individually and collectively to solve it.
One thing that I was surprised to hear at this meeting occurred during the question and answer phase, when several twentyish adults spoke of their despair at the world they are inheriting. What I found the most provocative and disturbing, was the sense that this despair about the future, should be channeled toward an anarchical response that targets older generations and the wealthy. To me this is an unaddressed aspect of power down that the Transition Movement needs to examine. Reacquiring long lost skills and working together in a cooperative fashion sounds wonderful. However, not everyone will be eager to join in the power-down adventure. Also, as we become more localized, the broader structures that currently organize our economic and social life may not be able to adapt. I'm thinking of the economy controlled by multi-national corporations and their well-rewarded elected officials, whose task it is to keep these corporations in power. Will these forces take kindly to "localization" if it means their own extinction? What about the millions of jobs and thousands of other smaller businesses whose economic health is intertwined with these corporations?
We are seeing an advanced preview of this power play in the current Healthcare debate. The masses want affordable healthcare, but the giant health care corporations are spending millions in congress to fight it. At the end of the day, the Healthcare Industry will walk away with a larger profit, still decide who does and who does not receive treatment, and a token few will have a bit more access. However, the industry will walk away as a winner, and the US will still be at the bottom of the industrialized world in terms of healthcare.
If we have one-fifth the energy inputs in 2030 as today as was suggested in the presentation, what will the workers, managers and businesses that comprise the missing four-fifths of the energy picture do? To be simplistic, think of five people who are employed (including yourself). Now imagine four of them unemployed. Consider yourself one of those unemployed. Currently Rep. Jim McDermott is trying to get a bill passed to extend unemployment benefits, because in Washington state, there are six unemployed for every job opening. But in this power down scenario, those other jobs are not temporarily gone due to recession, they are gone for good. Powering down whether planned or forced, will have catastrophic impacts on our lives far beyond trading a car for a bike, or growing most of our fresh vegetables. As our state government currently struggles to balance its budget through program cuts, can we imagine a powered down world where the funding has dried up, our state, county, city governments have capitulated and no longer exist? What will enter the power vacuum? Friendly neighborhood organizations committed to helping one another? Or the playground bully and his gang.
As much as I am energized by the Transition Movement's ideas, I am really worried by the flip-side of powering down: economic and social turmoil, hunger and starvation, class and inter-generational warfare. I think this is one aspect of the transition that needs a lot of attention.