Archive for November, 2008


WATCH: Survival and Sustainability: Mat Stein on How to Boil a Frog

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Mat Stein, author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, spoke with the good folks over at How to Boil a Frog about survival and sustainability in the low-energy, post-oil future. The video and transcripts are below. Enjoy!

Part One:

Part Two:

Part One Transcript:

STEIN: Without proactive planning ahead for peak oil, I think that the impact of peak oil is going to be shattering economically. It’s going to make the last week in America—with all of the Wall Street banks collapsing—I think we’re going to see that as the good old days almost, because you could still go to the store and buy whatever you wanted; you could still go to the gas station and pump your car full of gas; you could still turn on the tap and the water comes out of the tap.

If the country is not proactive, then in the least, it is going to end up like the great depression where hundreds of thousands of people will be kicked out of their homes, you’ll have shanty towns springing up all over, and thing will be pretty rough. And that’s the better scenario.

In the worst scenario, water isn’t flowing, gas isn’t flowing, the governments fall apart, and everything. So it’s kinda—how well do we manage this disaster—what do we do with it? Right now…we’re headed for a real collapse. But, I’m not saying that we can’t do the right things to avoid it. I believe we can do it—whether we will or not, I don’t know. But I believe we can do it. It is doable.

HTBAF: When people think about a collapse scenario, many think about running to a cabin in the woods. Is that a good instinct?

STEIN:  Human beings are social animals. We, basically, do better in groups than we do alone. And the lone wolf only has the skills and materials and talents that he has himself. Whereas, in a community, you have shared skills. You have a pool of skills to draw on: one person knows this; one person knows that. You can share your talents, you can share your different materials. Maybe someone has a good set of hand tools, and another person can make shoes, and another person can make clothing. So if you’re in a community, you don’t have to know and do it all. And so the real strength is in a community because, as a lone wolf—if you’ve got your guns and you’re a survivalist and you’re all by yourself and you’re going to fight off the hordes—well, someone might say, “No one’s going to come after me because I’m well armed.” But, someone else will say, “Well, I’ve got a bunch of guys, and he can’t sleep forever. And he’s got stuff I want. So I’m gonna go take it from him.”

So I really believe that it is going to be in self-reliant communities that the real strength of the future lies. And the cities will be a really tough place if things really come down. But in the country, or in smaller communities, that are self-reliant, you watch each other’s back, you know, you pull together—I really think that’s the solution for the future.

Part Two Transcript:

STEIN: We’ve had a government that has supported the greed of financial markets. And it’s supported it with de-regulations and said that the free market will protect us, and everything is best through the free market. It’s like a religion almost. It’s like, “I buhLEEEVE in the free market. The free market with make me RICH! It will make everything good for everybody and it will trickle down to the poor people at the bottom, but it’ll make me rich.”

And so I believe what’s happening now is that the real truth of the free market, is that unregulated free market says that each corporation is 100% responsible to its shareholders to maximize profit. And what does that mean? It means you go to the place in the world that has the least constraints, that basically has slave labor, that basically has no ecological constraints on anything, so that you can maximize your profit.

And what does that mean for the planet? It means that you’re dismantling…that you’re doing a fire sale on the natural resources of the planet that have supported life for millenia. It means that the free market says that the one who wins is the one who most efficiently, most quickly, dismantles and uses up and consumes the natural resources of the planet for profit, for that company. And it means that you’ve got to get it first, before the next guy. Because if you don’t get it first, then one of the other guys will capitalize and use that profit.

So the free market—what we’re seeing is that the natural result of the free market is collapse. And you’re seeing that right now in the artificial financial markets, and you’re going to see that in all the natural systems of the planet. And if we continue with the unrelgulated free market “profit is the #1 god—and it’s more important than anything else”, then you’re going to see collapse of system after system. And the financial collapse is a paper collapse. But you’re going to see the collapse of the oceans, the collapse of the atmosphere, you’re going to see the collapse of the weather system and natural systems that maintain a livable climate on our planet. And that’s the natural and inevitable consequence of the free market.

So either we choose—we wake up and decide that—that we, as a planet, will regulate ourselves to make sustainability the god instead of the free market, and thereby avoid collapse. Or, we keep pretending the paper god of the free market will solve it all, and we’re going to just run into that wall at one-hundred miles per hour and our whole system’s going to fall apart.

Source: How to Boil a Frog

WATCH: John Abrams: Earth Is an Employee-Owned Business

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

In this talk from Bioneers by the Bay 2008, John Abrams (author of The Companies We Keep: Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place) makes the case for an approach to climate change solutions—as well as solutions to other crises—that involves looking at the project in a whole new way: as a cooperative, employee-owned business venture.

But change is coming. I mean, that’s the way we humans are. But change is coming. Whether we’re against it or not, now is the time when we must insist on the future we want and need. Either that, or we’ll let a different future happen to us against our will. One way or another, there will be change. None of us can do it all. All of us can do something. And maybe it’s more than we think. At South Mountain Company—the design, build, and renewable energy company I founded in 1975 that’s been owned and operated by its employees for the past two decades—one of our goals is to make all operations carbon neutral in ten years. We really have not fully defined what that means yet for us, and the depth of that, but we’re moving toward the goal nonetheless. Today we heat our building and run our forklifts with biodiesel, which we make ourselves. Twenty-five percent of our electricity is generated on site. By the end of this fall, that will become 90%. In our work we’re moving closer and closer, sometimes reaching this goal of net zero energy houses, and even our subsidized affordable housing, which is a large part of our work, is built this way to make sure that it’s forever affordable.

But so what? How does our fumbling little drop in the bucket matter? It gives us hope.

Watch more author videos at ChelseaGreenTV.

Exposed: Cosmetics That Won’t Poison Your Body with Chemicals

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

When Terri Bly read Mark Schapiro‘s book (Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power) and found out the cosmetics industry is completely unregulated—that the products women absorb through their skin and lungs often contain chemicals that are banned in the European Union—she was appalled. She began to search for organic beauty products online, and found them—with limited success. There was no single umbrella web site where people could go and fill all their beauty wants in one shot.

So Bly got some family members to loan her some money, and was able to get “support from WomenVenture, an organization that helps women succeed in business,” to start NatureofBeauty.com, an organic cosmetics supplier.

From TwinCities.com:

Slick new online store Natureof_beauty.com brings together a global roster of beauty companies selling natural and organic cosmetics, body and hair-care products. You’d never guess orders were being filled in the basement of a Mendota Heights home.

Often at midnight.

Web site founder Terri Bly’s life was already full. She had a husband, two young daughters and a career she loved, working as a clinical psychologist for Personnel Decisions International. Then, she found her calling.

Bly read “Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power” by Mark Schapiro and “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry” by Stacy Malkan. As someone who had always loved makeup and creams, she felt compelled to do something.

“I always assumed someone was regulating chemicals in beauty products, but there’s no regulation. I started to feel a little helpless,” Bly says. “We focus all this energy on helping people deal with the aftermath of cultural complacency. I wanted to be more at the root level of this — empowering people to prevent problems rather than trying to get them to reverse bad behavior, which is so much harder.”

Bly makes a concerted effort to eat organic. She recently switched to green household cleaners. But until last summer, she had never even sought out eco-friendly beauty products, let alone considered selling them. Once she started searching online, she was able to find brands she believed — but not all on one Web site and not with a platform that looked professional enough to compete with heavy hitters, such as Sephora.

“I don’t want to position myself as a concerned mom,” Bly says. “This is a business. My goal is to bring this stuff mainstream.” Natureofbeauty.com makes a case for each brand featured. Santa Verde lotions are aloe-based. Logona lipsticks are made with vegetable oils.

“We’ve been programmed into thinking performance should come first and at the expense of everything else, including our health,” Bly says. “There are a lot of great products that maybe don’t stay on quite as long but aren’t putting chemicals into our systems.” The Web site launched in July after just a few months of planning.

Read the whole article here.

Alan Weisman Tells the Story of Gaviotas

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

In the following article, Alan Weisman, author of the New York Times bestseller The World Without Us and Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, tells the stories of Gaviotas—the book and the village.

Nearly two decades ago, while covering a rather harrowing story for the New York Times Magazine, I unexpectedly came across a living example of how humans might actually be able to strike a harmonious, sustainable bargain with our natural surroundings. To this day, the village of Gaviotas in the remote eastern savannas of war-torn, drug-ridden Colombia remains the most hopeful portent I’ve ever seen amidst the hell that too often defines our modern world. Subsequently, I produced a piece about Gaviotas for NPR’s All Things Considered, wrote another for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and then finally returned to research my book Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World.

In the decade since it was published, I’ve been continually invited to speak at colleges and universities in the United States and beyond. Gaviotas is perennially assigned in departments of urban planning, engineering, environmental studies, tropical ecology, Latin American Studies, journalism, science writing, and literature, among others, and entire curricula for high school students and incoming college freshman programs have been based around it. Repeatedly, I hear from faculty that even students who typically shun reading will devour this true story that reads like a novel, filled with real, fascinating characters who show what imagination can accomplish even in the most difficult settings.

As the Gaviotans themselves told me: “If we can do it in Colombia, you can do it anywhere.”  Yet in discussions and hundreds of letters, I’m always asked how Gaviotas has fared – and whether it has actually survived – amid the awful civil war that enflamed their country in the ensuing years since my book. Many have wanted to travel there, but even I, despite many past trips with Colombian guerrillas, have been dissuaded by some of the world’s highest homicide and kidnapping rates.  Yet through messages, phone calls, and communiqués from Colombian journalists, each year I could report that miraculously, in this community whose single defense was its acknowledged defenselessness – the only rule at Gaviotas is that no guns are allowed – no one had succumbed to the violence that bloodied their nation.

As the tenth anniversary of my book’s publication approached, I decided it was time to see for myself.  Last March, I flew to Bogotá and chartered a plane across the Andes, out to Gaviotas.  I’m pleased to say that my expanded afterword to this 10th anniversary edition of Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World reports not only how they’ve managed to survive, but how they are conjuring ingenious new ways so that even the rest of us might actually thrive in this challenging new century.

Tips for Surviving in a Recession: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…Scavenge?

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Worried about the economy?

“No, Einstein,” I hear you saying, “I’ve been locked in a closet for the past two and a half months, reading nothing but clothing labels and eating delicious cotton.”

Fair enough. But if you’re like most Americans, you’re thinking about the upcoming holiday season and how to scrape together a little extra scratch so you can have a merry ol’ Christmas and maybe get Tiny Tim that fancy set of graphite and titanium crutches he’s had his eye on. The ones from Japan.

The Reverend Donna Schaper has some tips on how to scavenge, or “glean,” for the things you need—from trash cans, dumpsters, Freecycle, and curbside of ritzy neighborhoods. Just be careful you don’t go overboard and end up like Henrietta Howland Robinson, the so-called “Witch of Wall Street” (well, in truth, she was a healthy and energetic woman who died a multi-multi-millionaire at the age of 82, so maybe going overboard isn’t such a bad idea).

From The Huffington Post:

I have learned to be cheap. You could call me frugal but the truth is I am cheap. I carry my own vodka in water bottles if I go out. I have a lovely if shabby wardrobe and haven’t bought outside of a thrift store or a yard sale for years.

My favorite activity is to go book shopping at the Amherst, Massachusetts Town Dump Book store. It is just a large often cold shed where people bring books they no longer want to dust. When at the dump, I also like to pick up some mulch for the garden and a few clean Tupperware’s for my other adventures. In addition to the book-recycling shed, there is an even larger shed for what can only be called orphan stuff. My best scavenge there was a pair of cross country skis, second best an old bowling alley lane that made a great counter.

I also habituate Free Cycle, a site that rivals eBay for obvious reasons. There is nothing like Tuesdays on the Upper East Side in New York. There you can scavenge designer couches and tables – but you have to have a truck, which involves money, a definite drawback in the life of a scavenger. My worst fear about the economic crisis is that less good stuff will show up on the street.

I have been known to keep chickens and to feed them dumpster dived food. Trader Joe’s is often excellent. Thus I have eggs that have a certain ethnic flavor, owing to the odd kind of union free food Trader Joe’s imports.

Scavenging things has helped me scavenge people and institutions. I specialize in what other people throw out. Right now I work mostly with people about to be deported. Formerly my “specialty” was abused women. Before that it was alcoholics and drug addicts. I also work with “normal” people even though I doubt openly that they are as normal as they would like to convince me they are. Just because they can buy a new blouse for $79.99 at Bloomingdale’s does not make them normal.

Read the whole article here.

LISTEN: Riki Ott on This Is America with Jon Elliott

Friday, November 28th, 2008

When the US Supreme Court cut the compensatory damages that Exxon Corp. had to pay the people of Alaska for spilling millions of gallons of oil in Prince William Sound from over $5 billion to a mere $507 million, no one was happy (except maybe Exxon). There was a deep sadness and sense of loss in the community—but along with it a kind of shell-shocked relief. After nearly twenty years, the fishermen of Cordova—the ones that were still around—could stop fighting.

Dr. Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, talks to Jon Elliott of Air America’s This Is America to talk about the myth of justice for all in the US court system, and the behind-the-scenes lies and manipulation of the Exxon Corporation.

Part 1:   LISTEN NOW
Part 2:   LISTEN NOW

Bruce E. Levine: NPR Embarrassed by Psychiatrist Host: Bad Apple or Bad Barrel?

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

In a high-profile move, NPR has fired psychiatrist Frederick Goodwin and cancelled his radio show, The Infinite Mind, after finding the doctor was taking millions of dollars from drug companies in speaking and promotion fees at the same time he was dispensing psychiatric advice to his listeners. In one instance, Goodwin reportedly shilled for a drug company on his NPR show on the same day he received a huge fee to give a presentation promoting the same drug on the drug company’s dime. Conflict of interest much?

Psychiatrist Bruce E. Levine, author of Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy, pulls back the curtain on the rampant corruption in the psychiatric profession in this article from The Huffington Post.

National Public Radio announced on November 21, 2008 that it had fired psychiatrist Frederick Goodwin and would be terminating his program “The Infinite Mind.” Goodwin was released after NPR learned that he had received at least $1.3 million from drug companies between 2000 and 2007. In the 2008 ongoing Congressional investigation of psychiatry, Goodwin is the most recent prominent psychiatrist exposed for either unethical or, in some cases, illegal financial relationships with drug companies.

During the last decade, Goodwin’s “The Infinite Mind” aired weekly in more than 300 radio markets. The program received major financial support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. “The Infinite Mind” billed itself as “public radio’s most honored and listened to health and science program,” but on November 21, 2008 the New York Times reported:

In a program broadcast on Sept. 20, 2005, Dr. Goodwin warned that children with bipolar disorder who are left untreated could suffer brain damage, a controversial view. “But as we’ll be hearing today,” Dr. Goodwin reassured his audience, “modern treatments — mood stabilizers in particular — have been proven both safe and effective in bipolar children.” That very day, GlaxoSmithKline paid Dr. Goodwin $2,500 to give a promotional lecture for its mood stabilizer drug, Lamictal, at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla. Indeed, Glaxo paid Dr. Goodwin more than $329,000 that year for promoting Lamictal, records given Congressional investigators show.

Goodwin claims that NPR was aware of his financial relationship with drug companies, but his show’s producer Bill Lichtenstein said that he had called Goodwin earlier this year and asked him “point-blank” if he was receiving funding directly or indirectly from pharmaceutical companies and Goodwin’s answer was, “No.” While it is not certain as to who is lying in this instance, Goodwin’s assertion that not treating children diagnosed with bipolar disorder results in brain damage has no scientific basis; in fact, there is evidence that psychiatric medication can, in some cases, cause brain damage.

This is not the first time Frederick Goodwin’s embarrassment of a high-profile employer resulted in his job termination. On February 28, 1992, the New York Times reported the following about Goodwin, “The director of the Federal Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration resigned today amid a new round of criticism for his comments that appeared to suggest a scientific link between the violent behavior of monkeys and the social problems of inner cities.” After Goodwin was forced to resign for what his critics in Congress and the media believed were racist remarks, he was appointed as director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Goodwin has not been psychiatry’s only public relations disaster in 2008, as Congressional investigators have exposed several other renowned psychiatrists for improper financial relationships with drug companies.The New York Times on June 8, 2008 reported:

A world-renowned Harvard child psychiatrist whose work has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines in children earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007 but for years did not report much of this income to university officials. . . . By failing to report income, the psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph Biederman, and a colleague in the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Timothy E. Wilens, may have violated federal and university research rules designed to police potential conflicts of interest.

Congressional investigators discovered that two of Biederman’s colleagues in the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School, Timothy Wilens and Thomas Spencer, received an additional $2.6 million from drug companies from 2000 to 2007.

Read the whole article here.

Naresh Giangrande and the 12 Steps to Transition

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Last night in Montpelier, Vermont, I attended a presentation by Transition Towns movement co-founder, Naresh Giangrande. At the behest of the burgeoning Transition Town planning groups that are springing up across the U.S., Naresh is traveling from soon-to-be Transition Town to soon-to-be Transition Town with a slideshow that details the goals and groundwork laid down by the original Transition Town of Totnes, Devon, UK.

Here’s a quick overview of the topics that Naresh covered:

The Great Re-Skilling

“We no longer have many of the basic skills our grandparents took for granted. One of the most useful things a transition initiative can do is to make training widely available in a range of these skills.”

Rob Hopkins, Transition movement co-founder and author of The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience

Over the course of just two generations, we have lost and incredible amount of knowledge that would help us to survive in the post-oil, less-energy-driven world. Our grandparents know more about making our own clothes, growing our own food, and surviving without a refrigerator than we ever could. One of the keys to the transition movement is the re-skilling of a generation. Successful Transition towns hold seminars, often led by elders, on the following topics:

  • Gardening
  • Cooking with local ingredients
  • Bicycle maintenance and repair
  • General Mechanical Skills (i.e. fixing a toaster)
  • Carpentry
  • Fiber growing & manufacturing
  • Composting
  • Seed saving
  • Weatherization
  • Sewing
  • Wood working
  • Foraging wild edibles

Energy Descent Plan

Another key to a successful transition is to visualize an abundant, enjoyable, oil-free, and resilient society and then map out a strategy to realize that future. These Energy Descent Plans usually stress local food production, local economic diversity, transportation overhauls, and weatherization and conservation efforts.

The 12 Steps to Transition

Finally, Naresh spoke about the 12 steps to Transition. Variations of these are widely available online, but I’ve included the official version from transitiontowns.org here:

#1. Set up a steering group and design its demise from the outset

This stage puts a core team in place to drive the project forward during the initial phases. We recommend that you form your Steering Group with the aim of getting through stages 2 – 5, and agree that once a minimum of four sub-groups (see #5) are formed, the Steering Group disbands and reforms with a person from each of those groups. This requires a degree of humility, but is very important in order to put the success of the project above the individuals involved. Ultimately your Steering Group should become made up of 1 representative from each sub-group.

#2. Awareness raising

This stage will identify your key allies, build crucial networks and prepare the community in general for the launch of your Transition initiative.

For an effective Energy Descent Action plan to evolve, its participants have to understand the potential effects of both Peak Oil and Climate Change – the former demanding a drive to increase community resilience, the later a reduction in carbon footprint.

Screenings of key movies (Inconvenient Truth, End of Suburbia, Crude Awakening, Power of Community) along with panels of “experts” to answer questions at the end of each, are very effective. (See Transition Initiatives Primer (1MB pdf) for the lowdown on all the movies – where to get them, trailers, what the licencing regulations are, doomster rating vs solution rating)

Talks by experts in their field of climate change, peak oil and community solutions can be very inspiring. Articles in local papers, interviews on local radio, presentations to existing groups, including schools, are also part of the toolkit to get people aware of the issues and ready to start thinking of solutions.

#3. Lay the foundations

This stage is about networking with existing groups and activists, making clear to them that the Transition Town initiative is designed to incorporate their previous efforts and future inputs by looking at the future in a new way. Acknowledge and honour the work they do, and stress that they have a vital role to play.

Give them a concise and accessible overview of peak oil, what it means, how it relates to climate change, how it might affect the community in question, and the key challenges it presents. Set out your thinking about how a Transition Town process might be able to act as a catalyst for getting the community to explore solutions and to begin thinking about grassroots mitigation strategies.

#4. Organise a Great Unleashing

This stage creates a memorable milestone to mark the project’s “coming of age”, moves it right into the community at large, builds a momentum to propel your initiative forward for the next period of its work and celebrates your community’s desire to take action.

In terms of timing, we estimate that 6 months to a year after your first “awareness raising” movie screening is about right.

The Official Unleashing of Transition Town Totnes was held in September 2006, preceded by about 10 months of talks, film screenings and events.

Regarding contents, it’ll need to bring people up to speed on Peak Oil and Climate Change, but in a spirit of “we can do something about this” rather than doom and gloom.

One item of content that we’ve seen work very well is a presentation on the practical and psychological barriers to personal change – after all, this is all about what we do as individuals.

It needn’t be just talks, it could include music, food, opera, break dancing, whatever you feel best reflects your community’s intention to embark on this collective adventure.

#5. Form sub groups

Part of the process of developing an Energy Descent Action Plan is tapping into the collective genius of the community. Crucial for this is to set up a number of smaller groups to focus on specific aspects of the process. Each of these groups will develop their own ways of working and their own activities, but will all fall under the umbrella of the project as a whole.

Ideally, sub groups are needed for all aspects of life that are required by your community to sustain itself and thrive. Examples of these are: food, waste, energy, education, youth, economics, transport, water, local government.

Each of these sub groups is looking at their area and trying to determine the best ways of building community resilience and reducing the carbon footprint. Their solutions will form the backbone of the Energy Descent Action Plan.

#6. Use Open Space

We’ve found Open Space Technology to be a highly effective approach to running meetings for Transition Town initiatives.

In theory it ought not to work. A large group of people comes together to explore a particular topic or issue, with no agenda, no timetable, no obvious coordinator and no minute takers.

However, we have run separate Open Spaces for Food, Energy, Housing, Economics and the Psychology of Change. By the end of each meeting, everyone has said what they needed to, extensive notes had been taken and typed up, lots of networking has had taken place, and a huge number of ideas had been identified and visions set out.

The essential reading on Open Space is Harrison Owen’s Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, and you will also find Peggy Holman and Tom Devane’s The Change Handbook: Group Methods for Shaping the Future an invaluable reference on the wider range of such tools.

#7 Develop visible practical manifestations of the project

It is essential that you avoid any sense that your project is just a talking shop where people sit around and draw up wish lists. Your project needs, from an early stage, to begin to create practical, high visibility manifestations in your community. These will significantly enhance people’s perceptions of the project and also their willingness to participate.

There’s a difficult balance to achieve here during these early stages. You need to demonstrate visible progress, without embarking on projects that will ultimately have no place on the Energy Descent Action Plan. In Transition Town Totnes, the Food group launched a project called ‘Totnes- the Nut Capital of Britain’ which aims to get as much infrastructure of edible nut bearing trees into the town as possible. With the help of the Mayor, we recently planted some trees in the centre of town, and made it a high profile event (see left).

#8. Facilitate the Great Reskilling

If we are to respond to peak oil and climate change by moving to a lower energy future and relocalising our communities, then we’ll need many of the skills that our grandparents took for granted. One of the most useful things a Transition Town project can do is to reverse the “great deskilling” of the last 40 years by offering training in a range of some of these skills.

Research among the older members of our communities is instructive – after all, they lived before the throwaway society took hold and they understand what a lower energy society might look like. Some examples of courses are: repairing, cooking, cycle maintenance, natural building, loft insulation, dyeing, herbal walks, gardening, basic home energy efficiency, making sour doughs, practical food growing (the list is endless).

Your Great Reskilling programme will give people a powerful realisation of their own ability to solve problems, to achieve practical results and to work cooperatively alongside other people. They’ll also appreciate that learning can truly be fun.

#9 Build a bridge to Local Government

Whatever the degree of groundswell your Transition Town initiative manages to generate, however many practical projects you’ve initiated and however wonderful your Energy Descent Plan is, you will not progress too far unless you have cultivated a positive and productive relationship with your local authority. Whether it is planning issues, funding issues or providing connections, you need them on board. Contrary to your expectations, you may well find that you are pushing against an open door.

We are exploring how we might draft up an Energy Descent Action Plan for Totnes in a format similar to the current Community Development Plan. Perhaps, one day, council planners will be sitting at a table with two documents in front of them – a conventional Community Plan and a beautifully presented Energy Descent Action Plan. It’s sometime in 2008 on the day when oil prices first break the $100 a barrel ceiling. The planners look from one document to the other and conclude that only the Energy Descent Action Plan actually addresses the challenges facing them. And as that document moves centre stage, the community plan slides gently into the bin (we can dream!).

#10 Honour the elders

For those of us born in the 1960s when the cheap oil party was in full swing, it is very hard to picture a life with less oil. Every year of my life (the oil crises of the 70s excepted) has been underpinned by more energy than the previous years.

In order to rebuild that picture of a lower energy society, we have to engage with those who directly remember the transition to the age of Cheap Oil, especially the period between 1930 and 1960.

While you clearly want to avoid any sense that what you are advocating is ‘going back’ or ‘returning’ to some dim distant past, there is much to be learnt from how things were done, what the invisible connections between the different elements of society were and how daily life was supported. Finding out all of this can be deeply illuminating, and can lead to our feeling much more connected to the place we are developing our Transition Town projects.

#11 Let it go where it wants to go…

Although you may start out developing your Transition Town process with a clear idea of where it will go, it will inevitably go elsewhere. If you try and hold onto a rigid vision, it will begin to s ap your energy and appear to stall. Your role is not to come up with all the answers, but to act as a catalyst for the community to design their own transition.

If you keep your focus on the key design criteria – building community resilience and reducing the carbon footprint – you’ll watch as the collective genius of the community enables a feasible, practicable and highly inventive solution to emerge.

#12 Create an Energy Descent Plan

Each subgroup will have been focusing on practical actions to increase community resilience and reduce the carbon footprint.

Combined, these actions form the Energy Descent Action Plan. That’s where the collective genius of the community has designed its own future to take account of the potential threats from Peak Oil and Climate Change.

So far, we have taken many practical actions in Totnes. However, they add up to just a mere fraction of the final range and scope of initiatives that are currently being devised by our community.

Regarding specific timescales for Energy Descent Action Plans, here’s part of a presentation made to Glastonbury at their inaugural “Shall we become a Transition Town meeting?” in April 2007.
“You may be wondering about timescales for Energy Descent Action Plans. There are no rules – each community will embark on a plan that’s right for them in terms of timing. Kinsale took a window of 15 years, Lewes is looking at 20.
If you’re looking for greater precision and specified dates, here’s my response:
When I recognise the effort that’s gone into setting today’s meeting up and the effort that each of us has made in getting here and devoting most of our Saturday to these pressing issues, when I think of all the wonderful efforts of pre-existing groups in Glastonbury that hopefully will be incorporated into, and reenergised by, a wider “transitioning” initiative, I say that the work has already started.
And if I look at what we need to do to create the communities that we’re happy for our grandchildren and their grandchildren to grow up in, then that work certainly won’t finish in our lifetimes…”

Incidentally, the embryonic steering group at Glastonbury decided at the end of that day to indeed adopt the Transition Town model for designing their lower energy and more resilient future.

WATCH: Eric Toensmeier Tours His Perennial Backyard Vegetable Garden

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Eric Toensmeier, author of Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles, lives on an average house-lot in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The climate in this part of the world is cold, often wet, and seldom enjoys three days of sunshine in a row. It is not an ideal growing climate by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, on a single evening stroll through his small backyard, Eric can collect a full meal for his household.

Using the polyculture techniques he lays out in his book, Eric has transformed what was once a construction dirt lot into a veritable farmers market of organically grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables. In the video below, he explains the transformation techniques and process. This is the first video in a series where Eric takes us on a tour of his incredible home food-production system.

The Tyee: Margaret Atwood and Limits to Growth

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

What is it about Limits to Growth that drives Conservative writers to foaming-at-the-mouth, red-faced apoplexy? Why do they feel the need to abuse, misquote, and straight-out lie about its predictions? I mean, honestly—have they even read it?

From Canadian online newspaper The Tyee:

On Oct. 24, in the Ottawa Citizen, columnist Dan Gardner attacked Margaret Atwood for “slack, lazy writing” and mocked Maclean’s editor Ken Whyte for not grilling her more thoroughly or “fact checking” her environmental opinions.

Gardner refers to his target as “Margaret F***ing Atwood,” whose status as a “celebrity intellectual” protects her from the sort of tough editing that he endures whenever he submits a column. Canwest widely reprinted the attack, published a week later in the Vancouver Sun.

What did Atwood say that so riled Mr. Gardner? First of all, she suggested in reference to the economic crisis that we need “fair regulations” and that there were important things in life “unconnected to money.” Worse, in the Maclean’s interview, she referred to the 1972 Limits to Growth report written by Harvard biophysicist Donella Meadows and her colleagues, the Club of Rome.

Gardner says, “If this were a writer of lesser stature, Mr. Whyte would have followed up with, ‘the 1972 report of the Club of Rome? You mean the one that said world supplies of zinc, gold, tin, copper, oil and natural gas would be completely gone by 1992? You mean that report?’”

The glitch regarding Gardner’s rigorously edited column is that the Club of Rome book says no such thing.

‘Irresponsible nonsense’

Conventional growth economists and conservative pundits routinely ridicule The Limits to Growth, although few provide precise critique of the content. Within a week of its publication, in Newsweek magazine, Yale economist Henry C. Wallich dismissed the book as “a piece of irresponsible nonsense.”

“There are no great Limits to Growth,” U.S. president Ronald Reagan declared in 1985, “when men and women are free to follow their dreams.” He added later, “because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.”

This inspiring Reaganism serves as the official neo-con rebuff to any talk of environmental limits, paraphrased by Margaret Thatcher, two U.S. Bush administrations, and by the Harper government in Canada. Danish anti-environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg simplifies it: “Smartness will outweigh the extra resource use.” Dreams. Ideas. Smartness. These powers of human imagination will obliterate physics and biology.

Read the whole article here.


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