Future? What Future?

Leave a comment

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.

Advertisements

Are We There Yet?

Leave a comment

Awareness raising has been the first priority of most Transition Towns, coming before setting up projects, because there is a huge need for some information on the clear and present challenges we face.

There remains a massive disconnect out there, despite growing evidence, about the reality of peak oil. Many institutions, including local authorities, have failed to consider the impacts of resource depletion in the near term, and most development plans assume the growth of available energy (along with the growth of all other indicators). One key global institution which falls into this category is the UN, as outlined on the Post Carbon Institute website today.

On discovering this video today on the Post Carbon Institute, it struck me that the history of the 20th century is also the history of oil. Any of us could tell a similar story based on our own family histories, whether or not we are American. All of us, and our immediate ancestors,  have benefitted from abundant oil and the economic growth that it permitted. The 20th century was an unprecendented era of energy ascent. Where we are today could well be at the top of a peak in oil production. It is well documented that US oil peaked in 1970 and the UK in 1999. What happens next is uncertain, but amazingly, little discussed or even considered by the majority of us.

It is incredible how the role and future of energy is underplayed, and this suggests that there is still plenty of awareness to raise, not only amongst communities, but also within even the largest and most global of institutions.

This video helps to make the link between energy and the economy. Most of us are ignorant of this link. Cheap energy has resulted in creating our ‘normal’ way of life; expensive, less abundant energy will result in a new ‘normal’. The new normal is likely to be radically different. It’s probably worth thinking about this now and doing something. The first thing to do is become aware. The second thing is to act on that awareness.

My own ‘doing something’ was to start up a transition group where I live. Time to get ready for the journey.

Woodland for Energy Descent

Leave a comment

‘Trees have the capacity to rise to the heavens and connect us to the sky, to endure, to renew, to bear fruit, and to burn and keep us warm through the winter . . . When W.H. Auden wrote “A culture is no better than its woods”, he knew that having carelessly lost more of their woods than any other country in Europe, the British correspondingly take a greater interest in what trees and woods they still have left’

Roger Deakin, Wildwood (2008)


A Google search for woodland in Worthing brings up street names, guest houses, even a stables. What is missing is real, living woodland. Places are often named for the natural world they have ‘displaced’ (destroyed). The fact is, Worthing has little in the way of woodlands.

The Woodland Trust recently started an initiative (‘More Trees, More Good’) which suggested that no-one should live more than 500m from an area of accessible woodland less than 2 hectares in size. For Worthing, only 0.1% of people live within 500m of such an area. This compares with an average of 14.5% in West Sussex and 15.6% nationally.
Woodlands are an essential element in the transition to a low carbon, post-oil future. In fact, a community with healthy, sustainably managed woodlands could be regarded as one which is more resilient and able to respond to external shocks such as resource depletion and climate change. Not only does woodland provide a crucial green lung for urban communities, it also offers a source of renewable energy, building materials, food in the form of nuts and fruit, as well as opportunities for countless crafts, skills and opportunities to reconnect with nature. Beyond this, we could add that woodlands play an important part in the carbon cycle . . .

Other Transition communities in the UK are involved in woodlands: Lewes is running a Woodland Skills youth training programme and a Living Willow project, Totnes are planting 4000 native trees by the end of March 2011 creating a coppice, they are also attempting to become the ‘nut tree capital of Britain’ with sweet chestnut, walnut, almond and hazel trees being planted, Ladock-Grampound Transition in Cornwall is creating an’edible woodland’ area. (There are many more: check the internet!)
For TTW, we already have well-established groups looking at Local Food, Energy, Re-skilling, and Heart & Soul, whose members may find in very worthwhile to consider woodland as part of Worthing’s future and think about how we can enable this to happen. We are making the first moves towards developing an Energy Descent Action Plan, investigating what is possible and needed in Worthing to break our addiction to oil, adapt to climate change, and create a thriving local economy over the next few decades. How might woodlands be part of Worthing in 2030 and beyond?

A local site is being considered as a possibility for woodland regeneration. It was formerly used as a landfill for many years, but could be brought back into use as a productive woodland, subject to various checks and agreements. We clearly need to identify more potential sites for this purpose.

Part of Worthing’s EDAP vision for 2030 desperately needs to include new areas of woodland, and this will go beyond purely recreational space. Seeing woodland as a living natural, renewable resource and relearning all those skills such as coppicing and pollarding that enables managed woodland to be one of the most productive relationships between people and nature. In addition, we will need to make fuller use of existing spaces where new trees can be planted. Roadside verges and roundabouts for a start. How about the Offington Roundabout planted with a copse of sweet chestnut? Or the huge car parks at Lyon’s Farm dug up and native tree species planted on the edge of the Downs? All that land we’ve previously used for the car will be looked at with fresh eyes when cars are just too expensive to run.

So, Worthing in 2030 will contain more woodland than it does in 2011, but trees don’t grow overnight! If we want a ‘wooded Worthing’ for the future we will need to work out how this can happen. What are the steps necessary? There is a long list for ‘backcasting’ for woodland as part of an EDAP: land availability; partnerships with existing organisations; council support; volunteers; and so on . . .

There is a Chinese proverb which says ‘the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the next best time is now’ Well, I guess we’ll have to go with ‘now’ then!