Two moving sidewalks

Ever feel like you're zipping through the fast-paced hours of your day, the crowded pages of your calendar, like you're on a swiftly moving sidewalk? 

Then you learn about alternative lifestyles, other ways of living and pacing one's life.  As you learn about the Transition movement, perhaps you get caught up in community events and activities within this other way of viewing life. 

It begins to feel like you've hopped off that swiftly moving business-as-usual sidewalk onto a second moving sidewalk -- one that isn't necessarily headed in the same direction as the first one.

This image of two moving sidewalks -- each headed in a different direction -- was posed by Sophy Banks in our Training for Transition in Los Angeles in December 2008.  The image has stuck with me, and come back to me many times since.

Sophy counseled us that we will feel for a time like we're hopping back and forth between sidewalks.  We hop between mainstream life -- perhaps with a competitive corporate job, perhaps with children to get off to college -- and the new ways of the future, the ways of The Great Turning

As time goes by, Sophy told us, we'll spend more and more time on the sidewalk that is headed toward the saner future: more and more time in local food production, local economies, community events.  We'll find less reason to hop back to the old-paradigm sidewalk.  It wasn't headed where we wanted to go anyway.


I've seen many people approach "green" like a new line of acquisitions.  They set about accumulating solar panels and water tanks, the garden and the chickens, and attempt to attach these new possessions onto a business-as-usual lifestyle.

But like this L.A. Times reporter, they soon discover the conflict.  The reporter gives a high rating score only to the few green trappings she can hang onto the exterior of her business-as-usual life.  For a while it works.  One can add a few "green" trappings and still maintain one's position on the business-as-usual sidewalk (that's why Recycling has become so popular -- it fits so nicely into the consumer model).

But at a certain point, "greening" an old-paradigm lifestyle maxes out.  As one ventures further into the understanding of what is "greener," we begin to glimpse the disconnects.  We're told that recycling is better than landfill for those single-use coffee cups, but deeper examination begs the question: Wouldn't eliminating them altogether (reuse) be far better?  Fair use coffee is less evil than conventional, but peppermint tea from plants grown in your own backyard ... now that's greener.  The problem is, it's awfully hard to have that fresh peppermint on hand when you're in your tower office miles from home.  CFL bulbs are touted as a "solution" to global warming, but in order to achieve an 80% cut in emissions, it's quite clear we'll have to do a whole lot more.  And meanwhile, the corporate managers command you to fly cross-country for the annual meeting.

The L.A. Times reporter discovered that it's nearly impossible to maintain both the mainstream corporate job AND the full-fledged vegetable garden with chickens.  As one delves more deeply into the "greening" process it becomes obvious that the two lifestyles don't mesh.  The moving sidewalk image helps to explain why.


The mainstream corporate job is part of the business-as-usual sidewalk.  That sidewalk -- that life track -- also includes lots of status and competition:  What will the neighbors think?  That sidewalk also drives us to analyze things from an economic viewpoint the way the L.A. Times reporter did.  Profit motive is huge because this business-as-usual sidewalk spins along on cogs which are fed by growth -- the presumption of unfaltering economic growth. And as that sidewalk grinds along, certain side effects reveal themselves: stress-based illnesses, pollution, social injustice, abject waste, resource depletion, and ecosystems decimation. 

We can hang a few "greener" trappings on the sides of the business-as-usual moving sidewalk, but its destination remains unaltered.  It is still screaming along, headed for ecological meltdown.

Within the Transition movement, we understand that a few "greener" trappings won't cut it.  It's going to take much larger-scale change.  The problems we face -- peak oil, climate change, biocapacity, and economic contraction, simultaneously -- demand root-level, systemic change.

Peak oil demands that we shift to lifestyles which demand less power overall and that we eliminate virtually all of the opulent transportation to which humans have so recently become accustomed.  It demands that we implement oil-free ways of meeting our most basic needs -- food, water, basic health care -- immediately, before these become exorbitantly expensive and their scarcity drives civil unrest.  Climate change demands that we build resilience into our settlements -- particularly our agriculture and our water sources -- in anticipation of erratic shifts in the weather patterns upon which our forefathers have relied for generations.  Biocapacity (a.k.a. "peak everything": peak fisheries, peak arable land, peak natural gas, peak uranium, peak copper, peak phosphorus, etc.) is forcing us to reduce the amount of everything that we consume.  Peak oil plus "peak everything" pretty much guarantee that economic contraction will accelerate.  And the economy dictates that we make all these changes and preparations "on the cheap" with very little capital investment available, at the same time as the rug is being pulled out from under us as far as the old ways of making a living.

Nope, a few "greener" trappings hung onto a business-as-usual lifestyle won't take care of that.

Within the Transition movement we understand that the other sidewalk -- the one that is headed toward a saner future -- isn't a little bit different.  It's VASTLY different.  For one thing, it runs upon different basic presumptions.

The saner-future sidewalk understands that we have only one small planet.  And that the presumption of a perpetually growing "economy" upon one small, finite planet is ludicrous.  The saner-future sidewalk understands the concept of Fair Shares, that it isn't right for us to rape and pillage other continents so that we can bask in excess in our country -- that less stuff (including less "greener" stuff) can mean infinitely more satisfaction with life, and that media and corporate advertising are diligently working to make us pretend this isn't so.  The saner-future sidewalk moves at a slower life pace, with all the richness that can entail (see the Slow Food Movement to begin to appreciate it).  It takes time to smell the roses.

The saner-future sidewalk requires different relationships with the people around us -- trusting and interdependent community relationships.  We haven't learned how to trust deeply; we need to reskill in these basic human interactions, not just in how to raise vegetables.  And that takes repeated gatherings, and in-depth exploratory conversations, something we're never going to encounter in the 140 characters of Twitter.

The saner-future sidewalk includes forming new relationships with the fabric of life itself -- appreciating the role that earthworms and fungi and bacteria play in creating a rich soil life which in turn grows health-promoting food.  Valuing, even giving thanks for, the annual water bounty that falls from the sky, rather than whisking it into storm drains as quickly as possible.  Observing earth systems, humbling ourselves to comprehend their magnitude, and embracing our place within them. 

This type of change demands that we let go of the old-paradigm sidewalk -- the broken-paradigm sidewalk -- in order to experience the saner-future sidewalk.  Because the foundations are so vastly different, we cannot balance for long with one foot on each.  It simply doesn't work.

For a time, we may hop back and forth and visit.  But within the Transition movement we understand that one day we will eventually shift to the saner-future sidewalk -- completely -- and stay there.


As I work with Transition ideas in my local Los Angeles, five years into it I'm still hopping between sidewalks.  Sophy identified the phenomenon, but her promise hasn't yet come to fruition.  My life still demands that I hop back onto the broken-paradigm sidewalk.

I do spend a considerable amount of my day on the saner-future sidewalk:  I have a bountiful vegetable garden, new chickens, I manage the plantings at the local community garden, I teach food gardening classes and run the initiating group in our local neighborhood.  I homeschool my children, use herbalism and acupressure to heal family ills, and knit or sew some of my daughter's clothes. 

But I find myself caught up in the broken-paradigm sidewalk when my son's friends compare notes about their lengthy list of after-school activities.  I worry:  "Is my kid measuring up?  Will he be prepared for the real world?"  Then I catch myself and ask, what is the "real world" anyhow?  And which sidewalk is headed toward a realistic future?

It's hard -- very hard -- to make the segue.  It's hard to let go of the broken-paradigm sidewalk, hard to truly release it and feel secure in that decision, particularly when we are at the leading edge of this societal transformation and the bulk of the people around us are still immersed in the old ways.  I'd like to say that "in my saner moments" I'm sure of my course.  But in my doubting moments, a find myself questioning which moments are sane!


In the movement's name, the word "Transition" embraces change.  While a lot of our focus is on envisioning that saner-future sidewalk and beginning to build the structures which make it possible, the hard work is in bridging the gap:  figuring out what lies BETWEEN the two sidewalks.  What's the segue?  How big is the leap -- an unattainable vault or a mere hop?  Precisely HOW do we get there from here?  What are the mechanical steps?

These questions become particularly touchy when we begin to talk about making a living.  How do we continue to pay the rent, pay the property taxes, clothe the kids when the corporate job is crumbling and the saner-future economic structure isn't yet geared up?  As we begin to understand that we will each -- inevitably -- be making a permanent jump at some point, the question evolves into "when?" and "how?" 

About this time, fear sears our brains and we find limited capacity to think creatively.

The Transition groups, the community groups you belong to, the existing saner-future human connections you have built are your precious resources.  It's time to deepen those relationships, and begin to talk about the kind of things that Americans haven't talked about -- really talked -- in the past few decades.  Who am I, really, deep inside?  What kind of life would feel fulfilling, if I didn't have peer pressure demanding the exterior symbols of success?  How can I get my family, my spouse, my pre-teen children on board this other sidewalk?  What are you doing, how are you working it out that I might learn from you?  How do we find the bravery to be among the pioneers?

One particularly delicious peak oil video depicts the energy descent journey with little cartoon characters in a roller coaster car.  The track isn't a nice smooth descent like the ASPO bell curve.  Rather, it twists and turns, sometimes going back on itself, sometimes looping around.  It has exhilarating moments and lost-the-pit-of-your-stomach drops.  It helps to remember this image as we explore the BETWEEN.

In all likelihood, in the gap between the broken-paradigm moving sidewalk and the saner-future moving sidewalk lies all of the above:  a spread-eagle attempt to keep one foot on each sidewalk for a brief time; a mere hop in moments of trust; a broad vault of faith when sometimes we cannot fully make it; and a few decades of twisting, turning, going-back-on-ourselves, and doubting.

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