Transition Whatcom

Here is a speech in 4 parts by Dana Meadows, the mother of permaculture.  Very inspirational and made me re-think our direction with the ARC - or maybe there needs to be another arm sprouting out of the EDAP?

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Thank you , Monica.  I just watched the speech and does give strong arguments for starting with a shared visioning process before jumping to solutions.  Dana Meadows mentioned Peter Senge and I noticed the local libraries have some of his books.  I'll try to read up on his theories.

Thanks Monica.  The presentation was indeed worth watching and relevant to our work.  I agree that a vision for our community, one that is consistent with Transition values, would be useful in several respects as Dr. Meadows explained.  I also appreciate her point about how the money or tools or technology or steps for implementing a vision don’t need to be available right from the start.  In other words, a vision does not need to be entirely realistic to be effective.

What causes me some concern is the part where she said that a vision needs to be “responsible”.  She used the example that a vision which included jumping out of treetops  (unassisted human flight) would not be responsible.  I presume that’s because such flight is contrary to various well established principles of physics. Later, she listed off a bunch of other things including a “constant or declining population” as an element of her vision that she said was obviously necessary for a sustainable world.  I don’t disagree with any of the things she said were obviously necessary – but I suspect some people might.

So, on the one hand, we are free to include all kinds of blue sky ideas that may not seem practical at the moment, but on the other hand, the vision has to be responsible and fit within certain constraints.  It occurred to me that a person like Dr. Meadows, with lots of technical training and decades of experience working on sustainability, probably has a much better grasp of what those constraints are than someone like myself, for example.  So a vision produced by Dr. Meadows could be refined into something useful through discussion with colleagues and friends pretty easily. That might not be the case for a vision conceived by untrained and inexperienced people - again like myself.

Another concern I have about visions in general is the number of people who have to “buy in” to the vision to make it really useful.  I think the convention for EDAP documents is that there is a single vision comprising a number of features of a desired community.  So if we were to follow that approach, how many of the 200K residents of Whatcom County would need to endorse that single vision for it to be meaningful? 

I don’t think a vision crafted by ten gifted visionaries would be all that representative.  Existing EDAP visions have been created with the participation of hundreds of people  in communities of a few thousand.  Even that seems like pretty narrow support to me.  So we might be talking about engaging thousands of people in a vision creation process to come up with something for Whatcom County.  That means that all those people would have to be educated and convinced to accept the same constraints in order for the vision to be “responsible”.  That sounds like a long, expensive, and challenging project – not to say that it isn’t worthwhile all the same.

My guess is that Dr. Meadows and her colleagues, like the CASSE folks for example, are mainly trying to spread the message of   sustainability to a public that, so far, hasn’t been all that receptive.  I can see where a compelling vision could be an important tool for people with that objective.   And certainly, visions for businesses are important to help guide the efforts of employees.

I believe our objective is somewhat different.  While we also want to attract a large following and are more than willing to tell our story to all who will listen, our main objective is to identify practical steps leading to resilience and start taking them.  People will jump on board when they wake up to the need to do so.  In that case, I think the vision, while important to both us and people like Dr. Meadows,  is less important to us.

If someone wants to start a TW vision project, it’s fine with me.  But the reason I prefer the  existing proposal is that it is closely aligned with our main objective, encouraging resilience.  Our existing proposal also seems a lot more achievable in a reasonable period of time and with the resources we actually have.  And it doesn’t require a lot of discussion and agreement over what constitutes reasonable vision constraints – a discussion that could go on for eternity if it must involve thousands of our neighbors.

Perhaps Linda's  research will shed light on some of these issues.  I'm happy to postpone judgement until I understand more about how a vision might facilitate work such as ours.  And, in particular, whether it might be worth the effort at this point in the life of TW.

What a wonderful video! Thank you for posting it.

In a TWOG meeting recently we were talking about how what we are really trying to create in TW is a new culture, and a pathway from here to that culture. This video speaks to what came to me at the meeting -  that imagination is what we need first. If we can imagine that we are already in sustainable Whatcom County, well into the transition away from fossil fuels, then we can "look back" and imagine what path we took to get there. At that point we may start to have an idea about what questions we need to answer. Hopefully, then we get our entire community (not just TW) involved in conversations that bring forth our collective knowledge, enthusiasm, and resources to figure out the details. I think that this is a very important part of what the ARC group might facilitate. This is not a short-term process, and that's okay with me, even though things seem urgent. We are in this for the long-run.

Tris, I don't think that there is any conflict between the visionary aspect of the work of the ARC, and  the very practical idea to start a wiki-site. The gathering of information for individuals and neighborhoods is a great idea. Visioning will help us to see how that fits in, and what else might be helpful.

We need imagining first and throughout the process.  I think including both visioning and practical tools is essential.  There are people who have already envisioned some aspect of a future sustainable, resilient life they want to have and are pursuing those goals. We want to highlight these, both their vision and any successes they've had.  Hopefully we can recruit a group to facilitate a visioning process as well as groups to cover the various categories. This visioning group, within the ARC group, would work to expand the visioning to as many people as possible and help to tie the visioning to the practical work being done.


As I mentioned in another discussion (ARC Process), I see us answering 3 questions for the ARC as a whole, for each category and for each topic - What, Why and How To.  The What and Why encompass the vision.  What is the ARC and Why does it exist?  What is the Finances & Economics category and Why is it included?  What is an alternative currency and Why does it exist?  Or say under an Education category, What is the Whatcom Folk School and Why does it exist?  Or under Food, what is the Whatcom Food Network and Why does it exist?  The How To is the practical steps, tools, lessons learned, contact info, etc. 


That's how I currently see us proceeding.



Thanks for posting this important piece.  I appreciate all the insightful comments as well.  I think visioning can be included, and I think Tris's important concerns can be addressed.


Without a staff and budget, there will be limitations in what can be accomplished within a reasonable time frame. Perhaps we can see the ARC process as one step beyond the ERSPO report, and laying groundwork for whatever step would come next.


As I've mentioned before, for me this project is partially about learning to work well together, and finding better ways to engage the larger community.  I think we want to engage the community in awareness raising and reaching for more inclusion.   At the same time, I think it needs to be clear that the vision used in the plan will come out of a shared understanding and perspective of TW's Vision, Mission, Principles, and Guidelines (of course always being willing to revise those documents when appropriate).



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