Cartoon Energy Descent!

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Well, it had to happen at some point. It’s all been a little full-on recently. Work pressure, parenthood . . . taking their toll on the old blog.

Anyway, I have been turned into a cartoon by A2 Geography student, Max, as part of a homework task on energy security. Not sure about my bug-eyed cartoon alter-ego, but some excellent questions dealing with the theme of peak oil and climate change.

The 'Guy from Texas' looking happy with the oil industry . . . for now!

The ‘Guy from Texas’ looking happy with the oil industry . . . for now!

Interesting take on the ‘business as usual’ approach of big business, as represented by the ‘guy from Texas’!

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Here’s the overview!

Thanks for the flattering hair situation . . .

Thanks for the flattering hair situation . . .

And finally . . . the rise of Green Man to move us onto renewable energy resources. Resistance is futile.

Future? What Future?

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My original interest in Transition was fired by thinking about the future. Not the future of doom laid out in dozens of Hollywood movies where ‘it’s all gone wrong’ or even ‘all gone’; this future was radical because it was more boring. Not boring in that nothing happens, but in that we don’t collapse/destroy ourselves/meltdown into some dystopian oblivion before it’s too late.

Having become a new dad in 2011, I have tended to shy away from watching those awareness-raising films which seem to to the job, but sometimes make you feel like you’ve hit overload. You know. There’s only so much reality you can take.

All that 2012 end of the world stuff. It’s enough to make you just want to turn it all off and wait for it.

Anyway, Transition Culture recently did a great top ten Transition films (complete with a cheesy countdown voiceover). It made me wonder how best to approach the awareness-raising issue within Transition Towns and other initiatives attempting to build local resilience. My own experience with Transition Town Worthing between 2009 and 2011 showed that people often turned up for a screening, but they were usually the same people, and ones who already knew most of this stuff already.

I recently watched a great little animation called There’s No Tomorrow. Well, I must say, when I first saw the title, I thought ‘Oh dear . . .  how depressing.’ Then I thought back to my reading of The Power of Now and thought ‘no, hang on, not actually a bad title’ and so began my renewed exploration of the state we’re in. We don’t experience a tomorrow, only a today.

A bit of searching brought me into contact with the superb, yet heavy The Crisis of Civilisation. Sometimes, I need a film like this to draw it all together. All the threads about climate change, economic meltdown, peak oil, and the general ‘grinding-to-a halt’ of things need a way of making sense together, rather than as loads of disparate items.

Finally, how about this one? Life at the End of Empire . . .

Having become switched on to the writing of Derrick Jensen in 2008, the themes of this film still hit a nerve, although it’s not an easy watch. Read Endgame for a shattering critique of mainstream environmentalism, and a glimpse at a radical alternative approach.

The thing is, gripping as these films might be to some of us, the ‘end of the world as we know it’ is not an easy message to stomach. My experience of a Transition Town is that people can be turned off by too much of this. So . . . my favourite film, balancing a message about ‘nasties’ with a look at lots of wonderful Transition projects has still got to be In Transition 1.0. It’s the one I can watch as the parent of a 16 month old and still feel optimistic for the future.

Why? It’s about beginnings rather than ends.

Car boot sales, airports, and the future

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A few weeks ago, I did a car boot sale with my good friend, Mark. The location was Ford Airfield, near Arundel in West Sussex.

Arranging our stall at Ford Airfield: roll up, roll up!

If the term ‘car boot sale’ doesn’t mean anything to you, my guess is that you’re either not from the UK, or you are too rich to notice that these highly organised markets of discarded personal possessions are all over the place. The idea is that you load your car up with your junk (the stuff you’d either want to ritually destroy, throw away, or take to the charity shop), drive to some field or other place (usually an expanse of unloved concrete), and haggle with strangers over pennies whilst trying to sell as much of your detritus as possible.

It depends on private car transport, roads, disposable items (numerous within a consumer society fuelled by cheap oil and labour). It also depends on communication, haggling, swapping, and a certain anarchic/independent spirit.

Typical car boot sale in the UK, circa 2011.

Well, apparently some people do this all the time. Some people make a lot of money. Some people love it.

I don’t think I’m one of those people.

Gateway to the skies! Ford Airfield’s iconic entrance: a defunct Hunter jet guards a defunct airfield. What does this mean?

Maybe it was just the doing of the car boot sale, but it felt like a little post-apocalyptic standing there behind an old wallpaper pasting table with the breeze blowing dust and litter across the wide expanses of concrete. My used possessions set out like a museum display of my life over the past few years (an old GPO telephone, used baby clothes, a fish tank, a broken dehumidifier), and passers-by examining items with semi-vacant expressions as they weighed up whether they had need of a free bag of disposable nappies (yes, I was giving them away free – well, they’d been given to us, but I know this is possibly considered some form of heresy at a car boot sale).

Getting in the ‘zone’

I couldn’t help thinking to myself several things:

  1. That this was not a great way to spend four hours of my Saturday
  2. That even if you said that you only wanted £1 for a push lawnmower, people would rub their chins deep in thought and say something along the lines of ‘hmmm . . . . I’ll think about it’ before moving on to ponder items on the next stall
  3. That this might be the future

A post-oil world might look a bit like this. Regular organised markets with the salvage of the industrial age being bought and sold, despite much of it broken and worn. As we struggle to maintain even the most basic infrastructure without sufficient resources to keep it working, how might our concrete and tarmac landscapes be re-used?

I read an interesting piece last week by Chris Martenson which touched on a similar issue: The Demise of the Car. The article looks at the escalating costs of the infrastructure needed for road transport and how the industrial system has massive overcapacity for car manufacture. The amount that governments have invested in developing this network for oil-based transport makes it difficult to let it go, despite increasing evidence that car sales have been in decline for several years in Europe and North America.

Well, the same could be said about airports. In the UK, the debate continues to ebb and flow over the capacity of airports around London to compete with European neighbours for an estimated increase in air traffic over the coming decades. Whether or not to build a third runway at Heathrow continues to gather newspaper column inches, culminating in George Monbiot suggesting in the Guardian that 28th August was ‘The day the world went mad’ as the record ice melt in the Arctic hardly registered in the UK press, compared with the airport expansion debacle. Fair point, George.

Anyway, back to Ford Airfield car boot sale. Ford was a functioning airfield between 1939 and 1958. Now it is predominently used as a site for selling old possessions out of the back of cars. Times change and I’m guessing that no-one in 1939 would have considered that 73 years later, the airfield would be used for a motorised flea market. Using the legacy of our oil-fuelled and built landscape will evolve as we move further into the 21st century, perhaps with some weirdly bizarre scenes and arrangements. I’m sure Heathrow runways would make substantial spaces for car boot sales in 2030, although maybe the cars will be slightly less than mobile by that time. Who knows?

Technology and the future at Ford Airfield, 2012

One thing I do know is that it’s going to be a while before I’m ready to embrace the magic of the car boot sale again. Mind you, haggling is probably one skill that might be handy in an energy descent future . . .

What’s peak oil? It’s time to know this.

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One of my previous posts commented on the need for greater awareness of peak oil. Well, where do you start?

Here are three videos with peak oil as a focus, but with vastly different angles. We’ll start with a gentle introduction.

I’m thinking that this might be a good one to show teenagers, rather than expecting them to sit through the whole of End of Suburbia, as I did last September with a group of A Level students. This one might also be the one I’ll use next time I’m giving a presentation about Transition and energy descent.

The other one I’ve shown before is the excellent Peak Oil: Visually Explained. This has a groovy-sounding soundtrack and some nice, clear graphics. It was also used in the film, In Transition 1.0 to great effect. It really is a good starting point for an audience who are totally unfamiliar with the concepts.

You could allow yourself a little chortle watching this next one. If you like cartoon characters straight out of The Sims with robot voices swearing at each other about the concept of peak oil, then this one’s for you!

Finally, if you feel like a dip into the archives, take a look at this clip from 1976, showing key petroleum geologist, Dr Hubbert, explaining peak oil with state of the art graphics . . .

So, hopefully some accessible ‘for beginners’ introductions to peak oil and energy descent to be found here. Clearly, I’m also anticipating the first Simpson’s episode to feature peak oil too!