Joanne Poyourow's blog

This past week at the Transition Network Conference 2010 in the UK, the speaker Stoneleigh rocked everyone's paradigm with her talk "Making Sense of the Financial Crisis in the Era of Peak Oil"  An audio of this talk is available online, but at this time, regrettably, her slides do not appear to be available.

Within growing Transition Initiatives, we are accustomed to showing paradigm-rocking films such as "End of Suburbia" and holding a community discussion of people's reactions.  Hopkins even describes the "End of Suburbia Moment." (page 83, The Transition Handbook)

How might one best manage the feelings of overwhelm, devastation and defeat that can accompany your 'End of suburbia moment.' the point when your really 'get' peak oil and its implications?  The first point is to realise that feeling like this is natural, indeed it is far more natural than feeling nothing or blanking it out.  It is a healthy response. ...

We often remind Transition leaders not to simply send someone off to watch a film like this alone; we show it in a group and get the discussion going so that people can begin to process their inner feelings.  Group leaders might channel those feelings into positive outlets such as the Post-It Note tool (page 155, The Transition Handbook)  Perhaps we should consider staging similar events for people to listen to Stoneleigh's talk in groups so that people can talk about it, begin to process their emotions, and direct their initial reaction into positive channels.

"Walk your talk," I've written here and elsewhere.  Even as we work to "change the world," we must still be rethinking and changing our own lives too.  And in that vein, two weeks ago our family took yet another (major) step along the path by bringing 4 young chickens into our lives!

I say "major" step because in the first few days we novice chicken owners have had to learn everything from how to clip wings (thank you You Tube!) to how to prevent severe pecking.  I'll recommend City Chicks by Patricia Foreman -- her book deals specifically with the issues we encounter in the city that country folks probably don't have to bother with.

First off, realize that we do indeed live in the city.  My house is about 6 blocks from LAX international airport.  Yes, you can have chickens in L.A. ... hens, that is.  (There is a city ordinance that supposedly "allows" a rooster, but when you read it you'll discover that basically nobody has a property big enough to qualify).

Within the body of Transition movement literature, I don't often see references to the Simple Living or Voluntary Simplicity movement.  Perhaps the Voluntary Simplicity movement is less active in the places that Transition founders Rob and Naresh have lived.  Perhaps it is because at its origins, Voluntary Simplicity focused more on individual choices and individual changes than on community-centric and societal-transformation ones.  I can only speculate.

This week I picked up a small book at my public library, Less is More, edited by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska.  Its collection of essays focus on "Simplicity," but they are (as our British friends would say) "spot on" about the inner journey of Transition.  I strongly recommend this book as a part of Transition literature.

In her Commentary and her Critique of the Transition Initiative/Network, Lorna Salzman questions the role of government and Transition.  Ms. Salzman asserts that the Transition approach omits government.  As I will attempt to explain below, our approach is far from that.

Rather, the difference between our approaches is one of whether we believe that government is the answer.  Do we trust that government will solve peak oil + climate change + economic contraction?  Do we believe that government will prepare the citizenry in time?  In a word: No. 

Ms. Salzman, on the other hand, seems to trust quite solidly in our government's ability to handle these issues.  Her belief in government -- and its power to create change -- goes so far that at two points in the past she personally ran for major public offices.

Within the Transition movement we assert that, at a minimum, preparing for the effects of peak oil + climate change + economic contraction will be a top-down-plus-bottom-up process.  Taking that a step further, we aren't planning to sit around and wait for government to do it for us.  We don't believe that they will take the lead in this matter (for a variety of reasons, some of which Ms. Salzman has already named).  In fact, we operate with the understanding that in most cases, our government will likely be a latecomer to the action.  It's up to concerned citizens to get the ball rolling.

A bit of backstory here:  In the May 3 issue of The Nation magazine, Lorna Salzman ran a full-page advertisement critiquing Bill McKibben and 350.org for not telling us HOW to reduce CO2 concentrations to 350ppm.  (read the letter here)  I wrote a reply, "How to get to 350ppm," in which I pointed out that McKibben and 350, like Al Gore, are all in the business of awareness-raising, and that it is other organizations -- namely Transition Initiatives -- which are shouldering the burden of How To.  Below is Ms. Salzman's second piece, "A Critique of the Transition Initiative/Network," posted with her permission. My reply is here.

A Critique of the Transition Initiative/Network

   Like me, most of you probably never heard of The Transition Initiative or Transition Network or Transition Towns, founded in the UK by Rob Hopkins, a permaculture advocate and decentralist. The TI has indisputably important aims: guiding communities through the soon-to-end fossil fuel era into an era of self-reliant sustainability in which the means of survival devolve onto small communities.

A bit of backstory here:  In the May 3 issue of The Nation magazine, Lorna Salzman ran a full-page advertisement critiquing Bill McKibben and 350.org for not telling us HOW to reduce CO2 concentrations to 350ppm.  (read the letter here)  I wrote a reply, "How to get to 350ppm," in which I pointed out that McKibben and 350, like Al Gore, are all in the business of awareness-raising, and that it is other organizations -- namely Transition Initiatives -- which are shouldering the burden of How To.  Below is Ms. Salzman's first piece, a commentary on my "How to get to 350ppm." (Ms. Salzman's text is posted with her permission.)  My reply is here.

Ms. Poyourow's response to my Open Letter to Bill McKibben is well taken inasmuch as there is nothing in it that I would take issue with,  per se. Nonetheless, my experience as an environmental organizer and activist has brought me into this issue from an entirely different direction. Furthermore, I suspect that McKibben's own areas of expertise, mainly writing and lecturing, brought him in from a different direction.

Building resilience is the cornerstone of the Transition Movement. By “resilience,” we mean our ability to flex and adapt through the changes ahead. Specifically, this means the ability to adapt to peak oil and climate change, simultaneously, combined with economic circumstances that will render large-scale capital investment unrealistic.

When considered separately, peak oil and climate change each have a set of possible solutions. Yet many of the possible solutions to peak oil – switching to coal, for example – are unthinkable for global warming. And many of the proposed solutions to global warming – switching to electric cars, or the “hydrogen economy” – are severely constrained by how much cheap oil we will have on hand to put the infrastructure in place and whether we will have sufficient economic support for the massive conversion.

Taken together, the “triple header” crisis dictates a very small pool of potential solutions. Realistic solutions are not likely to include continued globalization; we simply will not have the fuel to maintain it. The most resilient solutions tend to be simple, local, and small scale and demand few resources and little in the way of energy inputs. This set of solutions has been variously described as “energy descent”  or “powerdown.”  In any event, the crises we face have already determined that our future will inevitably be one of less energy consumption overall.

I don't often tell people to go out and buy something.  I've long been an advocate of Transition initiatives (TI) managing their activities on next-to-no funds.  But on the list of drop-dead essential equipment for your TI to own, next to Rob Hopkins' Transition Handbook, I would place The Oil Age poster.

I bought one about a year or so ago out of curiosity.  Since then I have put it on a tripod at garden classes, "intro to Transition" sessions, and at street fairs.  Even without explanation, this thing does its work.

Okay, I don't usually read Time Magazine.  In fact I can't remember the last time I picked one up.  But a friend handed me a copy of an article from their March 22 issue.  I was astounded to read a vision of the future which is not altogether different from the visions we hear through the Transition network.

It's part 4 of a "10 Ideas for the Next 10 Years" section:  "The Dropout Economy: The Future of Work Looks a Lot Like Unemployment."

Sure it contains a few snide political digs and some name calling.  And I don't totally agree with all of it.  But try this on for size:

This past weekend Transition Los Angeles (TLA) participated in a street fair in South Los Angeles.  As I stated in my "Diversity" article, we have plenty of work to do on our TLA team to bring ethnic and racial diversity on board.  The South LA fair was our first major attempt to begin bridging that gap.

(Video from the South LA EarthFest is online here.)

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