Web of Local Self-Reliance Rewoven

July 13, 2009
Melinda Tuhus
New Haven Independent

Community gardens galore, a human-scaled transportation system, honor for elders and creative exploration for kids — these are some of the goals members of New Haven’s now-official Transition group “webbed” together at a kick-off celebration on Saturday evening (pictured) as they develop a local post-peak-oil future.

First was the obligatory but delicious potluck dinner, held at the First Unitarian Universalist Society on Whitney Avenue. That was followed by more than three hours of discussion about “Transition Culture: An evolving exploration into the head, heart and hands of energy descent.”

That’s the motto on the website of the Transition Network, which has more than 100 affiliated groups around the world. In June, New Haven’s group was officially recognized as the 30th member of the network in the U.S. It’s called Transition Greater New Haven .

The group is separate from the New Haven Bioregional Group, although mostly the same people are involved, with the same goals. (Click here for a related story.)

The evening included a PowerPoint presentation on The Problem: peak oil, climate change and economic meltdown. But instead of one person (an “expert”) running through the slides, organizers passed out paper copies of all the slides and had people pair up and explain them to each other.

Then, as emcee Bernard Brennan called out each slide number, one person at a time stood up and explained her or his slide to the group. Brennan pointed out that the format was modeling the kind of participatory society the group wants to create.

Next was a hilarious skit called “Calvin & Hobbes: Over the Cliff.” Calvin (Terry Halwes, left) opined to Hobbes (Maria Tupper), “The secret to happiness is short-term, stupid self-interest,” just as the pair tumbled from their perches (pictured).

Fred Cervin presented The Solution: the transition movement; come to the party!

Cervin skewered political leaders who “continue the program of infinite growth in a finite world. There is no plan to turn the ship, no vision on how we might rethink our situation as a species utterly dependent on Planet Earth, and adapt intelligently. No, the plan is stunningly simple: full speed ahead until we hit the iceberg. On the other hand, President Obama has said on this and other matters: Make me do it. He’s open to it. So one cannot rule out the possibility that change at the top could happen as a result of pressure from the grassroots. The Transition Initiative is a way to nourish and cultivate those roots. Our goal is not as such to create a mass movement. Our goal…is to reweave the networks of local community nested in local ecology.”

He called on people to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and become producers of their own lives, while building local resilience, and to confront “our addiction to stuff.
Transition is about reweaving the social fabric that has been shredded by consumerism and high-speed transit.”

Cervin concluded, “This is not survivalism — far from it.” Click herefor his comments.

After Cervin’s talk, Brennan asked everyone to write on a nametag a specific goal each thought was achievable in the near term in greater New Haven and slap it on their shirt. This part was called: The Web of Transition: building our collective genius.

The group formed three circles and shared their visions. Then each group was given a ball of string and asked to make the connections among the different ideas. So, for example, bike lanes would enable people to safely ride to their nearby farmers’ market, while calling on the wisdom of community elders would enable younger people to make the jam or preserve the meat they’d bought at the farmers’ market.

Storytelling — i.e., unmediated communication within a community — was brought to life by Jason Pegnataro (pictured) as he spun A New Myth, in which all the birds learning to sing their heart’s song brought the first sunrise.

The formal program ended (though it was followed by another hour of feedback and discussion) with a group rendition of the New Haven Transition Song, written and led by Bob Carruthers. Click hereto listen.

After the program, Bernard Brennan said Saturday’s event was “a dress rehearsal for what we’re calling this road show. We’d like to reach out to other groups and potential allies and be the hub of a network for the many existing projects that are part of what we see as the greater Transition movement.”
A former member of the biology faculty at Yale, Brennan (pictured) resigned a couple of years ago to spend more time parenting his young children and to be able to apply his scientific knowledge to the critical developments the Transition addresses. His wife still works at Yale, but he said, “Having two tenured professors [at a top research institution] won’t allow the kind of balanced lifestyle I’d like to have.” Asked if he’s optimistic about the future, he said, “I’m realistic about what the science tells us [that humans are heading for that cliff], but I’m quite optimistic about what people can do when they decide to do something. I want to live a more meaningful, more connected to people, connected to place type of life. I see that as a very positive vision to work toward.”

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