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.

Peak Growth: now!

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It’s been raining where I live for the past few days. My neighbours even had their woodburner going yesterday . . . but it was cold!

That aside, we have hit the season of peak growth. The natural world’s peak growth, that is. The month between the middle of May and Middle of June is when plant growth peaks (in the northern hemisphere) due to the long and growing hours of sunlight up until the summer equinox on 21st of this month.

Once we pass this peak, we gradually have less growth because of a reducing number of hours of daylight. There’s nothing we can do to change that. July and August might be hot months (might being the operative word, especially if you live in Britain), but it is daylight hours that enable peak plant growth more than warmth.

So, that’s natural energy descent then, but at least we know that once we’ve passed the peak and have six months of declining light, it will all start increasing again next year. It doesn’t work like that with fossil fuels! Nature is the best teacher . . .

What about economic growth? When does that peak, or has it already happened? As I’m currently reading The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg, these sorts of questions are floating around. What comes after growth? How do we make the transition to a post-growth society? Conventional thinking would persuade us that once we get to grips with debt and deficits, we can return to (economic) growth, but so many factors seem to suggest otherwise, not least of which is the Eurozone’s virtual meltdown in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and now potentially Spain. Uncertain times indeed.

Big re-think needed. Economic growth has only occurred in the context of cheap, abundant and increasingly available energy (fossil fuels). We’re moving into new territory here.

The world economic system is insanely complex. Probably just insane is more precise, assuming ever-continuing growth in a system with limits (the Earth). So, whilst we mull that particular predicament over, why not go and enjoy the more simple and satisfying peak growth now happening in your garden/park/window box/other?

Babies don’t come with instruction manuals

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On Saturday 20th August, I became a new parent. A baby girl was born to me and my wife at home.

Wow!

So much change. Such a steep learning curve (vertical). The need to adapt everthing we thought we knew how to do, but now need to rethink.

I spoke to a friend yesterday and told them that despite reading books about having a baby, and going to classes to find out about breastfeeding or handling, nothing could have prepared me for the total onslaught of a 3AM unsettled new-born. Whatever I’d picked up from the books and classes just went out of the window as real-life gets pushed into your face. Reality.

Adapting to a new life is hard work, but it gives a very different perspective on things, and ultimately, is empowering. As parents-to-be, we felt pretty well prepared for parenthood. I’m just wondering what things might have felt like if we had done no preparation. Probably a bit of a nightmare!

Speaking to other transition people a few months ago, I was speculating on what the impact of having a baby would be on my work on the Energy Descent Action Plan. Would it get lost under a pile of nappies? Well, I feel that having witnessed a new life coming into the world, my determination to help create an EDAP is stronger than ever. Massive change is clearly what we are faced with as a society with the triple whammy of climate change, economic meltdown and peak oil.  Now, I’m not saying that having a baby is some kind of parellel to these changes, but the need and ability to adapt is a fundamental aspect to both. Bare minimum is that you need to get your head around the type of change you’re dealing with . . .

I think that the theme of adaptation and adaptability are essential elements for a successful EDAP, and is an idea that needs to be explored more. In Australia, the Sunshine Coast EDAP used the new term ‘edaptation’ to bring this into focus with five definitions (quoted in The Transition Timeline book, page 93):

  1. the act of a community adapting to climate change and peak oil by creating and actioning an EDAP
  2. the act of transitioning to a post-carbon future in a positive, pro-active manner
  3. (sociology): a far-reaching and widespread yet significant modification of individual and community attitude and behaviour
  4. the act of moving from oil dependency to local resilience community by community
  5. the act of personal attitudinal and behavioural change

If you accept that change is happening or coming then you can adapt. My guess is that it’s probably worth beginning this adaptation (or edaptation) before that change is on top of you ( or being sick in your lap, if you are still with the baby analogy).

My wife and I have had some fantastic support from mid-wives, maternity support workers, doctors, and relatives, although often with conflicting advice on how to do things. Eventually, we came to realise that we just had to make our own choices and decisions. The first lesson that we have learned from our new daughter is that we need to trust our own abilities and instincts. We can’t wait for experts to tell us ‘what to do’. Energy descent for communities will have to work like this too. We know our towns better than anyone else.

The past weeks have shown me that humans are very adaptable and can develop solutions and responses.  It helps, of course, when you have an idea about what’s on the way so you can plan, even if those plans need to be radically re-thought when the time comes. Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, and nor does energy descent. We need to work it out ourselves.

Now, where’s that clean nappy?