Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Transition to a low-energy economy

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Very interesting article in the NY Times Sunday Magazine:

The stage lights went up at the Panida Theater, a classy old movie house in Sandpoint, Idaho, and the M.C. stepped out of the dark with one finger high in the air. There was an uprising of applause and cheering. Then, shouting like a head coach before a bowl game, she said, “Sandpoint, are you ready?”

It was a Friday night last November. All around the little town of Sandpoint, beetles were blighting north Idaho’s pine forests. The previous day, the U.N. reported that emissions from automobiles and coal-fired power plants were collecting in brown clouds over 13 Asian and African cities and blocking out the sun. Iceland’s main banks had crumpled, and American auto executives were about to fly to Washington in private jets to plead for a bailout. Off the coast of Africa, Somali pirates were hijacking oil tankers. But the folks at the Panida Theater wouldn’t stop clapping. The Sandpoint Transition Initiative, a new chapter of a growing, worldwide environmental movement, was officially coming to life.

The Transition movement was started four years ago by Rob Hopkins, a young British instructor of ecological design. Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. “Sustainability,” Hopkins recently told me, “is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast, Hopkins said, Transition is about “building resiliency” — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive.

Transition’s approach is adamantly different from that of the survivalists I heard about, scattered in the mountains around Sandpoint in bunkers stocked with gold and guns. The movement may begin from a similarly dystopian idea: that cheap oil has recklessly vaulted humanity to a peak of production and consumption, and no combination of alternative technologies can generate enough energy, or be installed fast enough, to keep us at that height before the oil is gone. (Transition dismisses Al Gore types as “techno-optimists.”) But Transition then takes an almost utopian turn. Hopkins insists that if an entire community faces this stark challenge together, it might be able to design an “elegant descent” from that peak. We can consciously plot a path into a lower-energy life — a life of walkable villages, local food and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world — which, on balance, could actually be richer and more enjoyable than what we have now. Transition, Hopkins has written, meets our era’s threats with a spirit of “elation, rather than the guilt, anger and horror” behind most environmental activism. “Change is inevitable,” he told me, “but this is a change that could be fantastic.”

After developing the rudiments of Transition with a class he was teaching at an Irish college, Hopkins moved to the English town of Totnes, and, in 2005, began mobilizing a campaign to “relocalize” the town. The all-volunteer effort has since been busily planting nut trees, starting its own local currency and offering classes on things like darning socks in order to “facilitate the Great Reskilling.”

More than 80 other initiatives across England have followed, including one in …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2009 at 11:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Environment, Global warming

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