Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Community Powerdown session 8

Tonight was an interesting session, mainly focussing on the Transitions Towns movement. We read an article by Rob Hopkins, Designing Energy Descent Pathways. Rob is a permaculture teacher who used to live in Cork and teach permaculture there. They had built a beautiful house there made out of cobb and sustainable materials, it was a big learning project that many people worked on and that took years to build. When it was almost finished, it was attacked and burned to the ground. When I read about this happening a few years ago, I felt extremely upset, even though I only had heard of his house The Hollies, I had never been there or met him. It seemed so visceral, so painful, so pointless, someone who had given so much, the fruit of so many people's labour trying to do something good, and it seemed that someone was so vicious that they angrily destroyed it. I don't know if that was ever confirmed, but it appeared not to be in question that it was arson and was being investigated as such, due to the nature of the fire and another building or store of theirs nearby that was also destroyed. At the time I don't know if Rob had yet started the Transition Towns with Kinsale, but he left quite soon after this and moved back to England, and I always wondered if that was because so much of what he'd worked for had been destroyed. I don't like to write about what must have been a very personal pain for someone else, but he did write about it publicly on his website, so perhaps it is a pain that he is willing to share. And ultimately it showed that out of pain can come renewal and new life.

The continuation of the story is that he started the Transition Town in Kinsale, and then went on to found Totnes in Devon as a Transition Town, and this has now become an incredible movement where in just a year or so over 100 towns and communities are using his system to plan their energy descent. It has become a big movement and is really powerful. That was what the class was focussed on - there are 12 steps by which local communities can plan for a life with less energy.

It starts with the principles that life with much less energy is inevitable and it's better to plan for it, that communities have lost their resilience to shocks and need to rebuild it, that we must act for ourselves and act now, and that we should 'unleash' the collective genius in our communities to design more enriching, sustainable, enjoyable ways of life. I liked the idea that you start with the present, where you now are, and then the vision, what it will be like when you are where you want to be. In the 12 steps were important things like start your steering group with a plan for its demise, bringing in groups, allies and networking with others, and developing visible, practical demonstrations of activities - like planting walnut trees around the town, or having schools grow their own food - which must be tangible, not just a talking shop, but also in line with the ultimate energy descent plan, not things that have no place in it. I liked that it talked about honouring elders and their ideas and experience of living with less energy, but it's not about 'going back' to an earlier time.

I like the transition town movement and I think it is very important to do something practical, and indeed do something at all, not just think all the time. You have to do something in your home, and something that sustains you personally, where you live. And we will need to live in a much more locally dependent way as peak oil and climate change take effect.

My main concern was that there is not a sufficient focus on the global. And the world can get neglected and indeed destroyed while we focus our energies on our neighbourhoods. We need to do both, and my focus would be more on the global. The facilitator pointed out that a lot of the people who were active in the global social justice movement a few years ago are now focussed on relocalisation and local projects, and working with mainstream community groups, which is a great move. However, my concern is that we still need that global justice, and that indeed major powers will destroy the local efforts, or indeed a single attacker can do a lot of damage, if we're not watching out for that too. Not living in fear and definitely not being controlled by suspicion and despair, but also not turning away from the global issues and the giant questions. Asking this to the course leader afterwards he suggested that in a transition town, which always has lots of sub-groups, I could start a sub-group that would focus on the global issues, how we ensure that's not forgotten. But I think my focus is the other way round - in a movement focussed on the globe, I'd like there to be a local sub-group. The world is our locality. And it's where I'd like to keep living.



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