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.

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Transition Findon . . . it has to start somewhere!

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Well, here’s what I decided. After helping set up TTW back in 2009, by the time 2012 began, I came to a point where a lot of things had changed.  For those of you who don’t know Renee and me, we had a baby daughter last summer. That meant that pretty much everything we did took a seismic shift. Attending TTW evening events and meetings immediately became a thing of the past, and all the time I’d spent previously on TTW matters suddenly disappeared.

For a while I’d been questioning the logic of constantly having to travel into Worthing (for me that’s a ten mile round trip to the centre of town) to do transition-related things. Neighbours in Findon were asking why we were doing Transition Town Worthing instead of something more local, and friends in TTW floated the concept of a Transition Findon on more than one occasion.

Six months after our baby was born, I decided to take a big step back and formally leave the TTW steering group. I couldn’t attend meetings and my work on Worthing’s Energy Descent Action Plan seemed to have reached something of a dead end. My priorities had shifted and I had to focus on what was really important to me and my family.

The thing was, I couldn’t detach myself completely from transition. As transition is about building resilience in your local community I thought why not just put a few feelers out exactly there. Findon is different enough from Worthing to give it a go (a village of 2000 people as opposed to a large dispersed town of over 100,000), and the essence of transition is that if you have an idea and some enthusiasm, GO FOR IT!

Where we are now is a Twitter account (@tr_findon), a blog: https://energydescentforbeginners.wordpress.com/and registering as a ‘muller’ with the Transition Network. Email: transitionfindon@gmail.com

Who knows what might come of it. I’m not planning anything at present, and it all depends who comes out of the Findonian woodwork. I still don’t have any time to set up events and run meetings, but there had to be a beginning to it. Bear in mind that TTW took almost a year from the initial discussions to the first event in September 2009, and that was with 6 or 7 very enthusiastic people involved, giving up substantial time to make it happen. So, this one is going to be a relaxed, slow growth (which is perfect for me at present . . . less is more and all that).

What we’d like to focus on eventually (2013 onwards) are things along the lines of community allotment or orchard, street-scale solar energy project, and heart & soul type activities. What we’d like to link in with that’s already going are the fantastic Angmering Community Supported Agriculture, and the Highdown Permaculture Garden. What we don’t want to do is commit to too much, get stressed about meetings, and over-complicate things. Keep it simple. Whoever turns up will be the right people.

So, there it is. A transition village on Worthing’s doorstep.

If not now, then when?

New Tricks?

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Last month I made a decision. In many ways, it was a tough one, although actually it was a ‘no-brainer’. I decided to quit the Transition Town Worthing steering group.

It was a tough decision because I was a co-founder of TTW in early 2009. Ever since the set up, I’d been deeply involved with most TTW things: writing the constitution, setting up the website, giving talks, showing films, supporting projects, running the monthly newsletter. Since 2010, my main focus was creating an Energy Descent Action Plan for Worthing, and the TTW steering group seemed like the natural route to make this happen. How could I let that go? TTW had been in my soul for three years, head, heart and hands.

It was a ‘no-brainer’ because in August 2011, I became a parent for the first time and all the time I’d previously dedicated to TTW vanished overnight. I suddenly had a whole new set of priorities to contend with and even if I’d had the time, I just didn’t have the ‘headspace’ to be part of the steering group.

Being a good dad to my little girl became my new direction. Sitting in meetings just didn’t work for me anymore.

I had various conversations with others in the steering group and had a vague idea of getting back into it after a ‘few months’ or maybe in the spring when the evenings would be lighter, but it didn’t happen. I set up an EDAP group within TTW back in the Autumn and made a little progress developing a second draft of the EDAP. What was clear to me were two things: one, I just didn’t have much available time to work on the EDAP; two, there was little interest within the steering group to make the EDAP happen. There was a real struggle to try and put the EDAP centre-stage rather than allowing it to become ‘just another TTW project’ in amongst the knitting workshops and social events.

The first point was an unavoidable result of becoming a new parent. The second point was unfortunate as we had agreed previously on several occasions that the EDAP was to be the priority for the steering group during 2011/12. What became increasingly clear was that creating an EDAP is a big task and one that needs input from a number of sources and co-writers. I had already had some excellent input from the local food group of TTW, some good ideas from our EDAP World Cafe event from June 2011, a few quality original cartoons, some great oral histories, and some degree of continuity with an introduction and resilience indicators.

With an EDAP (either working towards one or using one as a blueprint) a transition group has a coherence and direction about it; without an EDAP, there seems to be a real possibility of drifting towards being another vague ‘green’ organisation, well-meaning but ultimately without teeth or a USP. Transition’s USP for me is energy descent.

So, at present, the EDAP for Worthing is shelved until further notice. I’d still like to see it published, but only when we can find some real enthusiasm amongst TTW’s 300+ members. My feeling is that for a Transition initiative to produce an EDAP, several key factors need to be in place:

  1. A fully committed steering group, willing to devote their limited and precious time to it
  2. Three or four co-writers, alongside other contributors
  3. A programme of co-ordinated EDAP-related events to bring energy descent into focus for those beyond the steering group
  4. Good networking that allows EDAP to be presented and discussed with a wide range of key players in the the local community, as well as a willingness to incorporate EDAP into other local plans, and vice versa!

Now that I am a father, my interest in planning and/or addressing energy descent on a local community level has become heightened. I have a personal interest in a livable future beyond oil.  As a result, I will think differently about the future direction of this blog. We are still all beginners at this energy descent stuff and there is a lot to be thought about. Maybe some places and people are not quite ready for something as radical as energy descent (after all it is a concept totally at odds with ‘conventional’ thinking about the future), and as warm-hearted, inspirational, and positive as an EDAP.

I think this story is only just beginning . . .

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?