Imagine a world where citizens could live within biking distance of one another, in a village built upon complete self-sufficiency, with agriculture modeled on a small and localized scale. A modern village that is neither sustained by, nor relies on the supply and demand of oil. Where food costs are chosen according to their value, not political subsidies or government regulation and big business self-interest. Where people make their own clothes, weld their own tools, bake their own bread, weave their own baskets, and do for themselves what the industrial revolution of the 1800s converted into work for machines. Oil, in other words, need not apply.
This is not just an imaginary flower child village somewhere south of Burlington, VT. Not only does the above scenario exist, it’s blossoming in many states. And there’s a movement behind it: The Transition Movement.
Let’s take a trip to Northern California.
Three years ago, David Fridley purchased two and a half acres of land in rural Sonoma County. He planted drought-resistant blue Zuni corn, fruit trees and basic vegetables while leaving a full acre of extant forest for firewood collection. Today, Fridley and several friends and family subsist almost entirely off this small plot of land, with the surplus going to public charity.
But Fridley is hardly a homegrown hippie who spends his leisure time gardening. He spent 12 years consulting for the oil industry in Asia. He is now a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute in Sebastopol, where members discuss the problems inherent to fossil-fuel dependency.
Fridley has his doubts about renewable energies, and he has grave doubts about the future of crude oil. In fact, he believes to a certainty that society is literally running out of gas and that, perhaps within years, the trucks will stop rolling into Safeway and the only reliable food available will be that grown in our backyards.
Fridley, like a few other thinkers, activists and pessimists, could talk all night about “peak oil.” This catch phrase describes a scenario, perhaps already unfurling, in which the easy days of oil-based society are over, a scenario in which global oil production has peaked and in which every barrel of crude oil drawn from the earth from that point forth is more difficult to extract than the barrel before it. According to peak oil theory, the time is approaching when the effort and cost of extraction will no longer be worth the oil itself, leaving us without the fuel to power our transportation, factories, farms, society and the very essence of our oil-dependent lives. Fridley believes the change will be very unpleasant for many people.
“If you are a typical American and have expectations of increasing income, cheap food, nondiscretionary spending, leisure time and vacations in Hawaii, then the change we expect soon could be what you would consider ‘doom,'” he says soberly, “because your life is going to fall apart.” [ ]
But is it the end of the world?
Fridley and other supporters of the Transition movement don’t believe it is. First sparked in 2007 in Totnes, England, Transition was launched when one Rob Hopkins recognized that modern Western society cannot continue at its current pace of life as fast access to oil begins to dwindle. Global warming and economic meltdown are the two other principle drivers of the Transition movement, but in an ideal “Transition Town,” society would be ready for such changes.