A Path Toward Energy Descent

On June 21-27, members of Transition Milwaukee in Wisconsin decided to challenge themselves and members of their community to see just how much they could reduce their carbon footprints while in the company of others. What resulted was a week-long event that brought together close to 150 people to explore what it meant to really "Power Down." Here's a recap of the event courtesy of Chris Terbrueggen of Transition Milwaukee.

A Path Toward Energy Descent

Members of Transition Milwaukee Motivate Milwaukee to Week-long Power Down 

By Chris Terbrueggen
 
Sarah Moore's imagination was sparked last December when a friend described how he enjoyed gathering in his store with others by candlelight during a 3-day power outage. As a member of the Transition Milwaukee steering team, Moore saw an opportunity to build community, while preparing for energy descent.
 
Moore and other Transition Milwaukee members began holding "Power Down Saturdays" last winter. They turned down the heat, shut off phones, computers, and other devices, and spent face time with family and friends. Some members ate only locally produced foods, while others turned down their water heaters. The topic of the conversation moved towards expanding the challenge to a weeklong event with Riverwest neighbors and the Metro-Milwaukee area.
 
Their efforts resulted in an event centered in Riverwest - Power Down Week, held June 21-27. Organizers, motivated by concerns over Peak Oil and climate change, marketed the week as a fun "staycation" for local people and families.
 
Organizers created a "game" to make the idea of transitioning more accessible to the community at large. Participants earned points for things like committing to consume food produced within a 100-mile radius and taking their lawn care off-grid.

Power Down is a Game with 2 rules:

  1. Make your carbon foot print as small as you can
  2. Do it with others
"We are caught in a chicken and egg situation, knowing we must transition, but how do we unwind from an economy that is saturated with oil dependence?" Moore asked. "We try it a day at a time, or a week at a time."
 
Approximately 150 people participated in workshops, discussions, and social gatherings. The grassroots event inspired more people in Milwaukee to find creative ways to use less energy and fewer resources in their homes.
 
At least 30 people accepted the highest level of challenge, leaving their cars at home, and using no electricity. Power Down organizers set up a bicycle message system, powered by volunteers, where un-hooked participants could be contacted in case of emergency.
 
The participation of local businesses was a large part of the event's success. Multiple Milwaukee businesses donated prizes and many powered down during the week. Future Green of Bay View provided an off-grid bike generator. The Riverwest Co-op turned off on their lights for the week, using candles at nightfall instead. Project M. Boutique powered down and held a workshop to demonstrate how to use recycled materials to make jewelry.
 
Every family, business or individual chose what "Power Down" meant to them, Moore said. "The idea was not to be uncomfortable, but to learn for ourselves what we truly need to be comfortable, happy and healthy," she said. “The biggest thing for me about this week is that we were not doing it alone, we were doing it with a community."
 
Several Transition Milwaukee members assisted Moore with organizing this event. Sura Faraj assisted with promoting Power Down on Facebook. Tess Kenney provided great advice. Tom Brandstetter, co-founder of Transition Milwaukee, covered the booking costs for several events and offered inspirational support as well. Natalie Berland and Kate Hanford helped organize the workshops.   Claire Moore, Jess Cohodes, Vala Mohr, Eric Zimmerman, Meghan Martin assisted with art and public relations. Cullom Cahill from ACT Everywhere provided extensive public relations support for the event.
 
On June 21, the week started with a registration event that included a social networking wall modeled after Facebook. Dozens of workshops and events were held, including a week-long instruction on cob oven building, a foraging food walk, rooftop garden tours, soap making, beer making, gardening classes, urban camping, yarn spinning, a 40-mile bike ride to the Oak Creek coal-fired power plant, a "kale-gate" potluck meal at a nearby urban community garden and more.
 
There were also demonstrations on bike-generated power to show just how much effort creating energy takes. Bike generators were also used to power amplifiers during the Riverwest neighborhood's annual Independence Day celebration, aptly renamed Energy Independence Day this year. The day's mantra was "Off Grid All Day".
 
Brandstetter’s favorite part was watching Milwaukee's Mayor, Tom Barrett, generate clean power for the Energy Independence Day event at the peddle station.
 
Pondering the Mayor's participation, Brandstetter mused, "I have not been generally successful with the mayor's office concerning Transition matters by coming in the front door. If theater is the path we need to follow to get peoples attention, then theater it is."
 
Next year, organizers plan to hold the 2nd Annual Power Down Week, with a few smaller "power downs" in between. They also expect to expand the event into even more Milwaukee neighborhoods.
 
Moore believes that Peak Oil and Global Climate Change are real and dangerous risks. "Our government is working on some of these issues but is caught up in political challenges, so we as citizens have a responsibility to prepare ourselves, re-skilling and re-learning how to live a lower carbon footprint life-style," she said. "Our government is not prepared for any real sort of grid failure or emergency. It is up to us to prepare."
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More info: http://transitionmilwaukee.ning.com/page/power-down-week-2010

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