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 . . .


Woodland for Energy Descent

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‘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!

Can You Imagine Worthing in 2030?

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Creating an EDAP is all about writing a new story for the community.

Transition in Action, the Totnes EDAP, has a section called ‘Why we need stories’, and it is all too easy to overlook the power of storytelling as a way of shifting perceptions. The crucial aspect with stories is that they fire the imagination like nothing else. Both writing and reading (and listening to) a good story can create some vivid images and visions of a place, however mundane or fantastic.

As has been discussed in various Transition books, stories shape our ideas and beliefs. We may feel that this is a little far-fetched, but take a look at the work of eco-psychologist, Joanna Macy. I first encountered her ideas in May 2009 in Brighton during Training for Transition. One idea that was explored was the Assumptions of the Industrial Growth Society. In other words, what are we compelled to believe on a daily basis about civilisation based on images, advertising, the news, the media and everyday conversations. The stories we tell ourselves revolve around ‘economic growth’, ‘growth is good’; ‘survival of the fittest’; and ‘business as usual’ as a few examples.

As these ‘stories’ show themselves to be well past their sell-by dates, they are still up there and accepted as ‘how it is’. Writing a new story for the community means using some creative ideas rather than using the same old ones, endlessly recycled and dusted-off.

Where better to start writing a new story for the community than inviting people to put pen to paper and come up with a vision of a positive future, beyond fossil fuel dependency, and based on our town as it could be in twenty years time? So, a creative writing competition asking for short stories, poems, spoof news articles and advertisements. How about an agony aunt column as it could be in 2035 when although the town’s population has generally come to terms with energy descent and embraced it, a few die-hard oil addicts find ways to indulge their habits, much to the despair of their spouses?

TTW’s Story Writing Competition is running until 21st October 2011