The Journey Begins

I am about to embark on a search for how our civilization will survive the current “perfect storm” of peak oil, climate disruption, and economic instability. We live in a time where our world economic system requires perpetual growth to survive. This is not sustainable since there is a limited supply of Earth’s resources available. My search will take me to Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Europe, Scandanavia, and North America. I want to help articulate the world vision that exists as a result of the wonderful efforts of Transition Town Initiatives, Sustainable Cities, and other municipal “green initiatives”. Like a quilt, each piece is unique and beautiful on its own, but the finished quilt is something greater than the parts. I hope that my research will reflect this whole as a blueprint for our necessary transition. I hope that you who follow my blog, will comment, suggest, argue, and support what I write. I’m depending on that interaction to enrich my research and the results of it.
How will the human race live as we enter the post-carbon world? What if people in towns or section of cities got together regularly for local foods potlucks, discussions about sharing resources and building resilience, listening to speakers and watching films, making music, and having fun? What if the place we each call home had really prepared for the end of cheap, abundant fossil fuels? What might that look like? Can one imagine bringing people together who are from different political viewpoints, different incomes, and different educational backgrounds? How can the obstacles to that vision be overcome? These are the goals of the Transition Town, Sustainable Cities, and other “green” movements. There are many fine grassroots movements around the globe that are individually working on community efforts to prepare for the impacts of climate change and peak oil. It will be a difficult transition—with fewer resources to help that happen. I have learned from previous journeys about the difficulties of improving the lives of people in developing countries and the hopes and fears of people in our own country.
In November 2001 my husband Louis Cox and I embarked on a six-month journey through Central America and Cuba. We chose to travel by bus (and once in Cuba, traveled by train and bus), the way that the majority of the world travels, to experience people in an intimate and real way. Also, from November 2007 to April 2008 Louis and I walked from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego, California, bringing 18th century Quaker John Woolman’s message of living with integrity to West Coast Quakers and others. We shared Woolman’s concern for the root cause of slavery, greed, among slave holders. We see the striving after ease and luxury as the cause of current poverty, war, and destruction of the earth’s resources.
Louis and I learned so much from our past experiences and continue to travel by bus and train in the United States, by which we also encounter this country’s poor and disempowered. We search for humbling and enriching experiences that will enable us to be present to the Spirit in forgotten or difficult places. We continue to walk, when given the chance, in the places we visit, again having rich experiences with the people we meet. We then share those experiences through presentations, informal gatherings, and articles.
We attempt to live simply and search for ways to reduce our footprint on this planet. We live in a hand-built, off-grid, solar-electric home. We have found much joy in our journey through life together, reading aloud, playing music, and learning skills of earlier times like canning food, mowing with a scythe, maple sugaring, quilting, and generally being resourceful. We share that joy with others, hoping that they can see from our example that simpler living is neither drudgery nor dull. (For some understanding of our choices, go to But I have this growing concern that there is no vision to help most people make the transition into what will be a very difficult world when world oil production peaks and begins its irreversible decline (the U.S. Department of Defense predicts the peak will occur in 2012) and climate change. How will we all learn to live joyful lives without the same resources, primarily cheap, abundant oil, or with the changing climate? How will we change in a way that isn’t frightening, degrading, or depressing?
Since returning from our 1,400-mile walk we have thrown ourselves into the Transition Town Initiative (helping to co-found it in our town), recognizing that the way we can prepare for a climate-change and post-petroleum era is to build resilient communities. Only through community can we help each other find the joys of simpler living and provide mutual support when times are tough. We know this well as Quakers, but how do we share this with a broader constituency?
The Transition Town movement began in England, using permaculture principles to equip communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. The methodology they’ve developed has a lot to do with tapping into the inherent wisdom of a community and the belief that ordinary people have tremendous creative problem-solving capacity. The movement currently has member communities in many countries worldwide. (See for more information.) We have had some successes in our town, and I want to learn from successful examples and the challenges of sustainable initiatives elsewhere in order to give others hope and tools.
Although there is a website which reports various activities of the different initiatives, there still isn’t an overall, global vision emerging. I understand that the work needs to be done locally, but how do all those local efforts relate to one another? I hope to reflect these varied successes, struggles, actions, and joys into that vision. I hope to reflect a vision that includes rural, suburban, and urban living in developed countries and what their relationship to developing nations will be.
At the end of December 2010 I will retire from my 16-years of work with Quaker Earthcare Witness ( I will tentatively begin my visits in February, 2011 in North America. In May I head for the Middle East by plane and then travel by land transportation for the next 3 months.
I will be asking each group a set of questions. For example, I will ask about their work to assure quality employment for all, how to make sure that the disenfranchised are included in the new, joyful life, and how they are engaging their local governments in the process. I am still developing the questions and would love some suggestions.
I hope to compile what I have learned into a book to help others in the “Great Turning” (as Joanna Macy and David Korten call this time in human history.) How can we learn from the hundreds of initiatives instead of always trying to start our own from scratch? How do we live into a new world if we don’t have the vision of what that world might be? I hope my blog and book will share such a vision, with practical tools for action.
I probably would not be undertaking this effort if it were not for my belief that we are living in a time of planetary crisis at many levels, all of which are reflections of a spiritual crisis. While we must understand the spiritual basis of the crisis and act from the heart, we must also learn the practical tools to try to avoid the potentially great suffering when cheap fossil fuels are no longer available for agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing. I hear a call to awaken to my complicity in this crisis and to undertake the necessary radical changes to leave a healthy, peaceful, and just planet for future generations.
Although I do not make a regular practice of flying, due to the environmental impacts, I believe that the potential outcome of my research is worthy enough to justify the plane travel. I hope we can partner on this project.
I will write periodically as I prepare for my journey and write more frequently when I am engaged in the process. I look forward to your comments.

About ruahswennerfelt

I am searching for a global vision for a sustainable, resilient world in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic instability.
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2 Responses to The Journey Begins

  1. Judith says:

    Hello Ruah –

    I see now you are not so tethered to VT as I assumed! 🙂 Your travels sound extraordinary. I can’t help but think it would have been nice to have been connected while you were on your West Coast walk in ’07/’08.

    I feel so aligned with your purpose, mission, and vision — thank you for taking this on and for doing so with such integrity! We (a family of 4) are train travelers, as well.

    And thank you for including argue in the hoped-for responses to your blog. Exploring tensions can be one of the most fruitful things!

    Transition Cotati, CA


  2. stevechase says:

    Dear Ruah,

    Thanks for taking this work on. I am on a somewhat similar path as a Quaker sustainability activist. I’ve helped co-found the Transtion Keene Task Force ( and just started working on a book manuscript tentatively titled The Politics of Relocalization: Assessing the Analysis, Vision, and Strategy of the International Transition Movement. My challenge is finding the time to research and write–as I currently work fulltime as the director of Antioch University New England’s environmental studies program in Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability. I know. What a great “problem” to have!

    Anyway, it is so good to make your acquaintance and have this window into your own journey. Blog on!

    Steve Chase


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