Peak Oil Conference Says "Go Local"

At this year's “Truth in Energy” conference held by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, USA in Washington, DC in November, expert panelists disagreed on how dirty hydrofracking really is or how how big solar and wind power are likely to become in the near future. There were even some climate change skeptics in attendance, which is to be expected at an event that pulls in petroleum geologists and others who've worked inside the oil and gas industries.

ASPO USABut there was near universal agreement by speakers and attendees alike that peak oil will make economies less global and more local in the future. Despite cutting speakers and panels from last year, the conference still devoted a whole panel to community solutions.

Transition was not an official topic of the local solutions panel, despite the explosive growth of the movement in the last few years. But with more than a hundred groups across the United States as of this year, I wasn't surprised when Transition came up in the panel's Q&A. 


Photo: "Shot of the audience in the Congressional Auditorium at the Capitol Visitors Center at the US Capitol. A few hundred people, all highly engaged on Peak Oil, with Congressmen Mike Honda (D-CA) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) on stage telling the audience to keep working on these important issues. It was truly a sight to see.Transition Voice was able to attend the conference and live blog many of its sessions. (Source: ASPO USA on facebook)

To expand on that brief discussion, I asked one of the panelists, Sharon Astyk, to share her thoughts on Transition. Though not a member of a group, Sharon lives the Transtion lifestyle on her 27 acre farm in upstate New York.  Author of three books including A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil, sheis also a member of ASPO-USA's board of directors.

Sharon AstykSharon agrees with the mission of Transition to make local communities more resilient though she thinks it's not necessarily the main way to prepare for peak oil, fight climate change and mitigate the tough economy. She likes a response that's collective, but worries that Transition could be an excuse for apathy on national politics. “My main concern about Transition has been the response to Transition which sometimes seems to have been something like 'oh, we have Transition now, so we're cool on responsive institutions.'”

What's Transition doing right? It's hard to generalize across groups that vary so much in organization and level of activity, she says, but where there are strong leaders, as in New Haven CT or Washington DC, or even in Britain, the home of Transition movement founder Rob Hopkins, Transition has the potential to effectively engage local government.

“As a movement, what I think Transition has done well is be inspiring to people who want to be inspired by something, and I think there's a real need for a municipal level response – one that works at the level of organization most people are most connected to.” Sharon also likes the movement's emphasis on parties and celebration. “Where the groups are successful, I think people are having a good time, which is really important in any movement.”

She sees leadership and inclusiveness as challenges. Without charismatic leaders, groups seem to flounder. And by focusing on climate change, energy and the economy, groups may not have an obvious hook for people outside their own liberal base. She thinks that hook could be emergency response at the neighborhood level that's more practical than ideological, something to consider as Transition US rolls out its planned Transition Streets Program.

“It isn't clear to me that Transition as a larger movement has a plan for getting its information to everyone in a crisis. That doesn't mean some Transition groups don't, but I think there needs to be a significantly different neighborhood level response that doesn't require the same level of buy in - you don't have to watch the peak oil movies, you don't have to believe in climate change, all you have to do is know that things could go bad and you should work together.”


by Erik Curren, Publisher of Transition Voice and co-founder of Transition Staunton Augusta (December 2009)

Photo credit: Photo of Sharon Astyk via ASPO-USA here, where you can also read her full bio.

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