Transition Los Angeles?

Since Transition is all about connection, resilience, and community, how is it possible to have a Transition Los Angeles, or Paris, or Barcelona? It is daunting to think of trying to support a Transition Initiative in a city of 3,792,621 people (according to the Los Angeles 2010 census) or 11,000,000 people in the greater LA area. So, with that question in mind, I set off to discover Transition Los Angeles.

According to their brochure:

Transition Los Angeles was established in late 2008 as a city hub to support the blossoming of Transition ideas among the residents of Los Angeles. Local initiatives have sprouted up across the greater LA basin…..with more in formation.

I had made a date to meet with Joanne Poyourow who has been a part of Transition Los Angeles (TLA) since the beginning. She’s also a blogger on the TransitionUS website. Since I did not want to rent a car, it was very interesting arranging to get to her in the Westchester area of L.A. Having grown up in the Los Angeles area, I remember when it was impossible to cross the city without a car. Now I could get on a transportation website to figure out a route from Hemet, where my son lives, to Joanne’s neighborhood.

I took an early commuter bus from Hemet, which is out in the desert kind of towards Palm Springs area, to Riverside transit center. There I took a Metrolink train in-town to Los Angeles Union Station. I then had to walk about a block to catch a bus which traveled in a special lane right down the very busy freeway! In fact the bus dropped me off in the middle of the freeway with stairs heading down to the street where I caught another bus out to within 3 blocks of where I was to meet Joanne. I write all of this because I was so impressed that it could actually be done and within a fairly short period of time with short wait times between buses and trains. It’s what’s in store for all of us in the future when personal cars may no longer be available or desirable.

Joanne and I met in a beautiful, small community garden with flowers and vegetables that was created on the lawn of a church. The church wanted to make the change from lawns to food and there was a ready set of hands in the neighborhood to do the work. I began by asking Joanne about how Transition LA City Hub works.

Joanne said many people ask her, “which comes first, the local group or the hub?” For LA the hub came first because at the first Transition Training the 19 participants came from all over the area and they felt they needed a support system to keep the momentum going.

At the very beginning, in late 2008, Mar Vista/Venice, Westchester, and Culver City neighborhoods were groups in formation. Now, in 2011 they have a total of eight active pods and on the cusp of having 11. Early on they made a decision not to localize by geographic area, but instead by where people felt a sense of belonging. I love the fact that on their website there are individuals identified in certain areas who are looking for others to work with. What a great networking tool that is!

Joanne explained that this growth of initiatives stretches the work needed in the hub. Up until this point they have been in start up mode: no legal organization, all volunteer, and rather amorphous. But it has become difficult since there’s more work to be done. They are about to change a whole lot, but don’t know quite how. Joanne feels confident that how they’ll change will come as they together discern the next steps. They have a leadership team of 28 people with monthly meetings and are connected electronically. They have at least one representative from each pod (an earthy, permaculture approach to naming the initiatives), though not everyone can come to every meeting. All meetings have so far been face-to-face, knowing that being “techno-centric” may cut out many people in the city.

The work of the individual LA Transition Initiatives is very localized. The hub acts as a facilitating device and uses its ability to bring in important speakers and host larger events. The hub helps when local groups encounter leadership issues, or need some guidance.

Joanne is excited by how fast it’s growing and how individualized each pod is. The challenge is the size of the area. The leadership team doesn’t look at the big picture very often. They don’t think about the fact that there’s eleven million people out there and worry that most of them don’t know about Transition. Instead they “put one foot in front of the other” and stay focused on what they can do. Joanne said this is better than doing nothing and it’s also moving them in the right direction. Some of the leadership people have been involved with Occupy LA, bringing food and information to the crowds. They find opportunities wherever they can.

When I asked Joanne why she was attracted to the Transition model, she said she feels it’s about the only model which can address the combined issues of peak oil, climate change, economic contraction, and social justice. It involves all the petals of the permaculture flower. In fact Joanne published a novel, Legacy, about using permaculture as an inspiration for humans to transition from an oil-based culture to one without oil, and just before publication she found Rob Hopkins work, and realized that all the way across the planet someone else came to the very same conclusions! She also said that she can’t imagine doing anything else with her life.

Her vision for Los Angeles is what her book covers. For the book she had created a time-line for success. Now that the Transition movement is active, she has seen that constructed time-line shorten for the positive changes of transition and that excites her. One vision includes food gardens permeating the whole area. She now sees that the food base is happening so much faster than she ever imagined.

She believes that the world vision is what is coming out of Rob Hopkin’s work–that he is the “visioner.” She also said that we are in a grieving phase and that the vision will only come after that phase. She also said that since being world-globalized is a contradiction to transition, there really can’t be a “world” vision. It must be made up of local visions, that are human scale.

Because of the many challenges towards Transition in a city as large as LA, and because we all face huge challenges to make change in our culture, Joanne has given a lot of thought to how we will survive severely-depressed economic times and has written a blog entry on economic resilience, which can be found at http://economicresilience.blogspot.com. We have to take seriously that our future will be very different from how we live now and Transition is one very meaningful path to that resilient future.

I’m excited by this hub model and believe it can work in small cities as well as large. In fact, even in my small town, I think we could divide into neighborhoods and communicate through a hub-like communications group. Let’s next see what’s been happening in Brazil! Tune in.

There’s an opportunity available for you to help with funding for the Transition 2.0 video by going to http://www.transitionnetwork.org/news/2011-08-02/transition-2-film-crowd-funding-call. Transition 1.0, available for free on http://www.transitionnetwork.org has been watched by thousands who have been inspired to start Transition communities around the world. Transition 2.0 exposes the more mature movement, including the voices and faces of people who are already involved and excited about the movement. I hope you’ll consider contributing.

I’m ending with this great poem by Wendell Berry, since it has inspired me:

“If we pursue limitless ‘growth’ now, we impose ever-narrower limits on the future.
If we put spending first, we put solvency last.
If we put wants first, we put needs last.
If we put consumption first, we put health last.
If we put money first, we put good last.
If for some spurious reason such as ‘economic growth’ or ‘economic recovery,’ we put people and their comfort first, before nature and land-based economies, then Nature sooner or later will put people last.”

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Birthing a Transition Initiative

Richard Heinberg’s latest book, The End of Growth–Adapting to Our New Economic Reality, clearly outlines why we’ve come to the end of economic growth after so many years of continuous, unbridled growth which created a bubble that was bound to burst. Fortunately he provides some guidelines for “Life After Growth” instead of only focusing on the doom and gloom. I was delighted that he suggests Transition Initiatives as a viable alternative which lends support to what I believe is the hope for the future. Sometimes I ask myself why I’m reading another book about the doom and gloom senario. But often each author provides another piece of the puzzle and Heinberg’s book definitely does that.

As a counter to the doom and gloom, I just read that Local Motion (my county’s bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization) won another important victory in Burlington. From their website: “The Public Works Commission voted 4-to-1 on October 19 to approve a city-wide 25-mph speed limit! After 11 years of advocacy, Local Motion succeeded in getting the City to adopt this forward-thinking policy. Livable communities require slow streets. A car-pedestrian collision is 9 times more likely to be fatal at 30mph than 20mph. Slow and constant speeds (in contrast to fast stop and go traffic) mean less traffic noise, more predictable behavior, more fuel efficiency and greater safety. To our knowledge, Burlington is the first Vermont municipality to do a city-wide study and set a city-wide speed limit. Our hope is that communities across Vermont will look to set village-wide or town center wide limits that can be clearly conveyed to the public.”

This is what good, engaged Transition Communities can do. Burlington was one of the first cities in the country to develop a sustainability plan, The Legacy Project (www.burlingtonlegacyproject.org), which provided the foundation for many good initiatives, such as Local Motion. That kind of activity is often the precursor to the great work of Transition Initiatives. In my small town the Charlotte Sustainable Living Network morphed into Transition Charlotte. During my travels I have encountered similar stories in many towns and cities. What difference does Transition bring to the work? It provides a common, well-planned framework and common language to help communities recognize the network of good work being done nearby and around the world. It can also be the link among all the separate good works in a community, allowing the good workers to feel part of something larger.

In like fashion, Bloomington-Normal, Illinois the Vision 2020 initiative has been wondering if helping to create a Transition Initiative will provide the glue needed to continue their work. I was invited by Carolyn and Roy Treadway, Quaker friends of mine involved with Vision 2020, to give a public talk earlier this month in Bloomington-Normal and meet with those who showed interest in becoming the core initiating group.

Carolyn, being a great organizer, arranged for radio interviews, the talk being video-taped, and brought out a crowd of more than 90 people. She also arranged for me to meet with Becky Wilson, a local Transition Trainer. Becky and her husband Bill are the co-founders of Midwest Permaculture and helped found Transition Stelle, a non-incorporated village of 100 people, which first started as an intentional community. Becky was present at the talk and following discussion to provide official perspectives and offer her and her husband’s (another Transition Trainer) ongoing support for the efforts. At the end of the talk a group of about 15 people stayed to discuss next steps. I’m anxiously awaiting news about whether they are moving forward to be the next U.S. Transition Initiative.

Bloomington-Normal, twin cities with a population of about 130,000, is in the heart of the U.S. “breadbasket.” The cities are surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans which are grown mostly to feed meat animals and to make high-fructose corn syrup. In the midst of this politically conservative area (Illinois has the most nuclear reactors than any other state in the nation with no plans to decommission them) is a University whose students and faculty provide some innovation and there are pockets of terrific conservation efforts. Carolyn and Roy gave me a tour of conserved lands with large wind turbines surrounding them. One small effort we visited is the M. J. Rhymer Family Nature Preserve and Center with re-constructed wetlands, where they are also planting a small forest and prairie. It was very impressive.

When I asked Carolyn what draws her to wanting a Transition Initiative in her area she said that when she heard this quote from Rob Hopkins; “the Energy Descent Plan should be more like a holiday greeting and when you read it you should feel bereft if you do not spend the rest of your life working on this,” the latter part of that sentence grabbed Carolyn because it was a description of the kind of life she wanted to live. She then took a weekend Transition Training and made a commitment to bring the news of Transition to Bloomington-Normal. That was in March of 2009.

Carolyn was also trained by Al Gore four years ago to be one of the first climate presenters and has given more than 50 climate talks since then. She was also trained by Joanna Macy to give despair and empowerment workshops. She sees a link among the Al Gore, Joanna Macy, and Transition work. The Transition Training’s heart work is based on the work of Joanna Macy. Carolyn recognizes that Transition presents a positive approach to change and prefers that to just focusing on the problems. She said presenting just the bad news at the climate talks is not fun.

Carolyn’s vision for Bloomington-Normal includes a community interested in energy descent. “We live on the very best, fertile, prairie land and I’m sad that all that land is being used for commodities rather than for food.” She wants to see a strong effort on agriculture–small-scale, organic farming and also on saving energy in homes and businesses. She hope’s Bloomington-Normal’s efforts to support electric vehicles will grow into efforts to improve all kinds of public and private transportation.

On her better days Carolyn feels there is a global movement for change, but isn’t optimistic overall. Her big question is whether we can change fast enough. She concluded by saying that the work she is doing is for all species on earth.

Roy has been involved in environmental concerns for 50 plus years. He’s worked for a healthy planet both professionally and privately and felt that maybe we were on the brink of real, positive change with a new federal administration and has been disappointed by the lack of governmental innovation. He sees that helping to promote individual and community awareness may bring about swifter action, though he won’t stop writing those letters and pushing for change from the top as well. He sees the Transition movement as a good vehicle for community efforts.

Roy wants to see Bloomington-Normal be a sustainable city that lives within its own means–that it becomes bicycle and pedestrian friendly, develops a better public transportation system, and limits its population growth. He wants all buildings to be built or retrofitted in energy-efficient ways. He sees that some of this has been started in his city, but is hoping for much more.

Roy doesn’t see a global transformation going on. He believes that people are asleep and that they think we’ll find cheap substitutions for the dwindling cheap oil. He doesn’t see the politicians and people in charging buying into the idea that radical change is needed. He thinks that people are uninformed about what a world of ten billion people will look like and that they think we can continue to feed and house and care for that many people on earth without using up our natural resources. But his pessimism doesn’t stop him from acting and he’ll put time into Transition Bloomington-Normal, if it comes about.

I was so lucky that Carolyn introduced me to Becky Wilson. She and her husband Bill have been facilitating Training for Transition weekends in the Midwest for a number of years. They operate a Permaculture landscaping business and really throw their full lives into helping build healthy communities. Because Becky came to Carolyn’s house before my evening talk, we were able to exchange ideas, excite each other, and she graciously allowed me to interview her.

One of the main things that drew her to Transition is that it came out of the Permaculture movement and she and her husband’s primary business is education and permaculture. When Transition came along they realized that it organically emerged from a Permaculture course Rob Hopkins was teaching because the concepts went “viral” on the internet over the Permaculture network. Becky and Bill were excited (Becky said they thought it was “way cool”) that Rob had taken the Permaculture Principles and applied them to communities instead of just to farming. They had previously founded a group, Center for Sustainable Community, looking at David Holmgren’s (one of the Permaculture founders) work on transferring Permaculture ideas farther out to ways of living. They were strongly encouraged to take the first training in the U.S. by some friends of theirs who had gone to the U.K. for its first training. Since then they have jumped in fully to the work. Now when they teach Permaculture Design courses they bring in the Transition aspects to their teaching. (I strongly recommend Holmgren’s book, Future Scenarios, which looks at four possible outcomes of peak oil and climate change.)

Becky’s vision for her area includes seeing more renewable energy uses, better public transportation, and less agri-business farming. Where she lives there are a number of small villages that all send their children to unified schools. The schools become the hub and the strength of the bonds among the residents is very much like the vision of Transition.
She doesn’t think there’s a world vision yet, but that it’s emerging. She does think that people from all walks of life and all continents see that what is happening now, with wars, shipping goods globally, etc. is not sustainable and hopefully from that realization, the people will demand change.

My personal life right now is very focused on the end of the gardening season. We’ve canned pasta sauce, apple pie filling, peaches, pears, and jams. We’ve frozen or stored almost everything else, though still have to bring in the potatoes, turnips, and beets. We still have to plant the garlic and spring onions (Egyptian walking onions–what fun). Then, before the snow flies, we’ll have to get the beds ready for winter. I love the cycle of the seasons and look forward to the dark winter for reading, quilting, and planning the spring plantings! But in the meantime there’s more coming about Transition…..

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Fall gardens, busy days

Working in the garden in the Fall has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures. The days are crisp, the sun is sparkly, and there’s a satisfaction of getting the beds ready for Winter. I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to live in a beautiful and peaceful place. I count my blessings each day, knowing that so many humans and non-humans are suffering around the world. I hope my little bit, living somewhat lightly, working on Transition, urging my legislators to act reasonably on my behalf, and just plain caring, will make a difference.

I haven’t posted in over a month since I’ve accepted a very special, time-consuming job. Louis and are are now legal guardians of our 17-year-old granddaughter. She is living with us and attending her last year of high school nearby. It’s a huge adjustment for her since she was attending a very small (15 students) Quaker, boarding, farm school which closed due to financial constraints. They had no grades, no tests, just written evaluations and lots of writing. She’s now attending a large (1,600 students) public day school with grades, tests, and large classes. So we are trying to help her through these challenging times and it challenges us sometimes!

Now that a month of school has gone by, I’m beginning to find my new daily rhythm and I hope to be writing more. I am continuing my visits with Transition communities, next month in Illinois and California, and through Skype interviews with those in distant countries. I participated in two radio interviews with stations in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois today, sharing the Transition message and promoting my talk next Monday. So, soon you’ll be introduced to more folks involved with Transition.

I’ve been immersed in my own Transition Town work, organizing an Awakening the Dreamer symposium (see http://www.awakeningthedreamer.org) this month. It was a great success. It explores the inner transition that is talked about in the Transition Handbook, and then inspires people to take action. It was our effort for the Moving-Planet Day organized by 350.org. After the symposium, many people carpooled to the rally held at Vermont’s capital.

We are now organizing a Training for Transition in November. We have opened this up to all folks in the Northeast. The more people who get trained, the more committed our members become, the more we are able to share the work load. If you’re in the Northeast of the US, the dates are November 5 and 6 and you can find information on our website: http://www.transitioncharlottevt.org.

We’re planning to approach the town select board this Fall or early Winter and begin a collaboration with its various committees and councils. I’ve also been working with Steve Chase of Transition Keene, a fellow Quaker, on developing a Quakers in Transition website (he’s younger and done lots of the website work, of course) which you can look at at http://www.quakersintransition.wordpress.com.

Whew, busy days, but rich with hope. So, back to the garden, harvesting red peppers and cleaning up some of the beds. What fun!

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Listening to what the land says

Oh, I so looked forward to coming home and then I returned to a heat wave. I had been complaining that I never got warm enough in Europe and then had to suffer 97 degree Fahrenheit temperatures during the day and sweltering nights. But the heat wave’s finally broken and I’m reveling in the lush beauty of a Vermont summer. Our garden is producing lots of berries, summer squash, broccoli, peas, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes so far. What a bounty! I’m loving the weeding and harvesting and especially the cooking. Last night at our neighborhood potluck we had a delicious pasta primavera, a salad from a neighbor’s garden greens, home baked bread, great wine, and another neighbor’s blueberries in a fabulous dessert. With great conversions sprinkled in, what more could one ask for? Currently our land is saying, “produce, produce, produce.”

Bound Brook Farm, not too far from where we live, is owned by friends of ours, Erik Andrus and Erica Hurwitz. Erik and Erica’s dream was to grow wheat, partly to supply Erik’s fledgling bakery and partly to sell in the Champlain valley. Erik started a bread CSA (Community Supported Agricultural farm), selling his excess bread, croissants, and other mouth-watering delights at local farmer’s markets. His goal of a net-zero-energy farm is assisted by the use of horses. What Erik didn’t know about the land he purchase in 2005 was that a good deal of it stays wet and this isn’t good for wheat farming. Pulling up stakes isn’t an option after all the labor to build the house, outdoor wood-fired oven, and other essentials for the bakery. Instead he is learning to adapt in a different way.

Erik is learning that there’s another niche to fill in the Champlain valley, where so many people are focused on eating locally–rice. As he was quoted recently in the Burlington Free Press, “I love bread, and I love beer more than I love a plate of brown rice and a glass of sake–but if my inclination says bread, and the land says rice, I have to listen to what the land says.” And with that said, he’s invested money and time for his first rice harvest this year, hoping to produce 4,000 pounds of the stuff. The rice will be harvested with a horse-drawn reaper binder, and after the drying and threshing, it will be processed with a recently-purchased rice huller Erik ordered from China.

I was so moved by Erik’s statement. Actually, how brilliant is it to truly understand the land where you live, to have a deep sense of place? How often in human history have we not listened to what the land says? Deserts made green for agriculture and cities built where wildlife should have flourished are just two examples of how our incredible human creativity has backfired with unwanted results. What would it be like if we all took the time to observe and listen to the place where we live? It’s one of the basic principle’s of Permaculture. Once you really know your place, observe where the sun shines on the land in all seasons, know the changing temperatures, and observe how the natural world adapts to the place, it’s time to grow your food.

For a free poster of the permaculture ethics and principles, go to http://www.permacultureprinciples.com/downloads/pc_principles_poster.pdf. This poster includes the permaculture flower which has been used to teach the principles.

So, get out there and be present to your place, whether you’re an urban, suburban, or rural dweller. No matter where you live, you can connect to a sense of place and find your place in it. Permaculture principles inspired Rob Hopkins to change the place where he lives, Totnes, England, and see how the world is changing because of his actions? You can do it too.

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U.K. Transition Conference and after

From Glasgow I took the train to Liverpool, home of the Beatles. Yes! I walked around a bit, went to Matthew Street, where there’s a large banner over the street declaring this is the birthplace of the Beatles. There’s even a Beatles shop with all sorts of memorabilia. It really was quite fun. On the tourist map I found Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes, and there’s even the Liverpool John Lennon Airport!

Arrival evening at the 5th U.K. Transition Conference, held at Liverpool Hope University, my first thoughts were, “I don’t know anyone and I’m here all alone! But I’m soooo excited to be here and I’m sure I’ll soon feel right at home.” I did meet up with Ralph and Thomas from Paris and Naresh from Totnes, U.K., all three of whom I had met at the French Transition Conference last month. I also recognized Laurie from the U.K., who I know through Quaker circles. Boy, it’s a small, small world. After dinner on the first evening was a “meet and greet” session, where we did mixer/silly exercises to help us know each other, which was a big help. There was “pub” time too, with beer, cider (what we call hard cider in the US) and wine. So I retired to my room that night a bit more at ease and eager for what was to come.

Saturday, Day 1

We began with a plenary session getting us up to date on what’s happening in the Transition world. There are now 375 official Transition Initiatives and 422 Mullers (those who are organizing and have intentions of continuing) in 34 countries. That’s pretty amazing growth for something that started just 5 years ago. And there’s so much enthusiasm among the participants of this conference. Some have been at it for the five years and some are looking for others to help them initiate a group. Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook and co-founder of the Transition movement, talked about the maturing of the idea and that there is soon to be a new book, The Transition Companion, Making your community more resilient in uncertain times, that draws on the experiences of the many Transition initiatives and helps put the ideas into practice. Green Books, the publisher, has created a “blad” (book layout and design) which has been given to all participants and is available on Rob’s website, which you can access here: http://transitionculture.org/wp-content/uploads/Transition-BLAD-low-res.pdf. The book defines tools and ingredients for Transition, and it isn’t as prescriptive as the older book, recognizing how each community needs to adapt the concepts to their situation. I attended a workshop about the new ideas in this book, and now I can’t wait to read it and introduce it to my community. (For US readers, it’s being distributed by Chelsea Green Publishers.)

I attended a workshop about using the new book and about examining the ingredients for Transition. We participated in a couple of exercises using cards that summarized the ingredients. In one exercise, held in small groups, one individual told the story of their Transition initiative, and the rest of us helped to identify the ingredients used in that story. It’s an exercise that every group could use to see what they’ve used and what they haven’t and to reflect on whether some ingredients would be helpful now.

There were theme/interest groups ranging from “arts and culture” to “working with media/publicity/communication.” It was hard to choose since they all were so relevant to working with my Transition group. I chose “bridges to local government and strengthening community” and am really glad that I did. Within that group we split up into more specific interests and I was in a group exploring, “ways to approach local government with an outcome of trust and mutual respect.” Some in our group had a lot of experience with this and it was really helpful. We explored ways to approach local governmental officials without turning them off. I am very interested in the next step our group need to take at home–introducing ourselves to the town council, and offering our collaboration on making Charlotte a resilient community.

Another choice we needed to make the first day was picking a “hot topic” theme for a discussion. I chose “Scaling Up.” Here’s the description:

We come together inspired by the vision of Transition, we start tree-planting projects, re-skilling groups, and so on. If we are serious about making Transition happen on the scale required, do we need to step up a level to make new businesses, livelihoods, and infrastructure happen? Are those initially drawn to Transition equipped to take that step? What holds us back?

We used a “fishbowl” format for the discussion. Six chairs were set up around a table and five people volunteered to go first. At any point in the discussion, someone looking on could sit in the sixth chair and someone else at the table needed to leave the discussion. It was just as exciting to watch the participants as being one of them. The conversation was lively, and lots of good ideas were discussed. My contribution to the fishbowl was my concern that the businesses created would be really needed by the community and that the jobs would be meaningful and paid fairly. It was heartbreaking to hear from recent university graduates who couldn’t find work.

Creating jobs through community-based businesses is cutting edge Transition work and being done in Totnes and several other British Transition initiatives. An example of such a business just starting up is a community bakery. What does it mean to have community businesses? Who are the investors? Who provides the needs assessment? Although I came away with many questions, I really believe that this is the next wave of work for Transition groups. It will help define us as relevant to the community instead of just an upstart fringe group.

That evening we again congregated at the “pub” in the university dining area and were treated to some live music from three men who were the childcare workers for the conference. It was terrific!

Sunday, Day 2

We began the morning with an exercise called a group journey enquiry. We began in our usual plenary space for announcements, and then all 250 of us were asked to get up and walk to the food court (just in the next building), find a table to join three or four others, and be all settled within five minutes. We were told this could be done if we moved in complete silence. And we did it! We were then reminded that, although we often remark how beautiful are the flowers we see, the support and foundation for that beauty come from the roots, stems, and leaves. We could infer from this that the work we are doing is the plant, and the flower is the culmination of that work. It was a lovely image.

The people at the tables were then asked to answer the question, “What makes our groups at home work well?” Our group’s answers to this were:

–beginning in silence
–having a short check in
–meeting outside
–having an agenda and goal for the meeting
–having a minute taker
–mutual trust and respect
–sharing your best hopes for the meeting
–fun and playfulness
–celebration and downtime
–everyone coming prepared
–taking responsibility for our tasks
–bringing the meeting to a close in a timely manner and expressing gratitude
–providing time for evaluation and feedback
–being able to name a problem and being able to accept constructive criticism

One of our group mentioned that successful groups spend 25 percent of their time in celebration.

We were then asked to answer the question, “What is it that we find challenging in our groups?” We responded with:

–not following through on promised tasks
–the burden of doing most of the work
–one person dominating the group
–too many leaders competing with one another
–the opposites of the answers to the first question

Following that exercise we were led through a guided meditation into the year 2021 and asked how our group and its work had evolved. We then shared what our visions were in our small group and were then asked to collectively depict our visions in a creative form with marking pen and a large sheet of paper. The resulting beauty of our work was not so much in the drawing, but in the processes we sank into. We worked so wonderfully together, giving time for everyone, listening carefully, respecting each other, and our time included laughter. It’s really beyond words. We bonded in a significant moment. Our drawing of a flower with words along the roots, stem, and flower petals was truly a collaborative effort. Each group then shared what they had learned with one other group, using the picture as the basis for the story. I came away with a euphoric feeling that swept me through the rest of the day.

That afternoon I attended a workshop on “Social Enterprises–turning Transition-friendly ideas into jobs.” This was a lecture-style workshop with multiple presenters who had successfully worked with or helped create community-based businesses, some being non-profit, and some more traditional. Although the legal issues were particular to the U.K., the ideas and inspiration were incredible. All you need to do is look at http://www.sustainingdunbar.org and you’ll see an amazing array of community projects coming from the Transition initiative in Dunbar, Scotland. Here’s from their “about us” section of the website:

Sustaining Dunbar is for everyone living or working in the Dunbar and East Linton ward of East Lothian. It provides a network to enable people to get together with others who share similar interests and want to work together to plan and start building a sustainable, low-carbon community which is resilient enough to cope with the challenges which we face from climate change, peak oil and global economic instability.

Like the other two Transition initiatives I visited in Scotland, they are a non-profit company which allows them to receive funds, seek out grants, and enter into contracts. Their latest enterprise is a community bakery, about to open later this year. It’s a stand-alone business, unlike some of their other projects, which was necessary because of some legal issues. But the fact that they were flexible enough to work it out, rather than give up because it wasn’t going to fit into their previous models, is a real credit to the group. If a Transition group helps create these enterprises in the community and each enterprise tithes some amount of profits back to the Transition group, there’s money to initiate new enterprises and to pay for Transition staff.

The important issue here is about being paid for your work, rather than community work so often being only volunteer work. That doesn’t mean that volunteers aren’t important to the work of the community. Volunteers are often the backbone of a healthy community. But it does mean that those who spend many hours a week on a project deserve a fair wage for their work–if funds can be found. I suppose the size and complexity of town or city, and the possibilities of creating social enterprise would be a factor in whether to organize as a non-profit. It raised lots of questions that I’m sure I’ll be mulling over during the coming months.

During the day I had the good opportunity to interview Rob Hopkins. Rob is a hard guy to get away from the crowd for an interview. He’s much in demand and I’m appreciative of the time he generously shared with me. Rob looks like he’s about 25, but his oldest child is 15 so that math doesn’t work, does it? He holds an MSc in Social Research and recently completed a PhD at the University of Plymouth with a dissertation entitled “Localisation and resilience at the local level: the case of Transition Town Totnes”. Quite the busy fellow since he has almost completed another book (see day one) and is a family man! But I think he thrives on people and the creative process.

I asked Rob what drew him to his work on transition and resilience. He answered, “I think the spark was a fairly long night of the soul after seeing the video, The End of Suburbia and Colin Campbell coming into my class of students in Kinsale (Kinsale College of Further Education) and talking about peak oil. I had never ever thought about it before. I had been involved in environmental things for years and years and I’d never even clocked it as an issue and it came so out of nowhere.”

Up till then he had been following the traditional permaculture path of building his own house, growing his own food, planting his forest garden, gathering his water, and generating his own energy. Then peak oil came out of the blue and tipped everything on its head. Where he lived he was dependent on his car to make connections with his friends. He was struggling with this dilemma when a month later the house he was building burned down. So that threw everything up in the air. As he looked around for people focused on the peak oil issue, he found that not many had it on their radar, other than the Post Carbon Institute and some re-localization folks. He had read David Holmgren’s book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability with a small group of people and was excited by it. Also, there weren’t guidelines about how we might restructure our lives to survive in a post-oil society. Rob’s work with his students to develop an Energy Descent Action Plan for Kinsale, which focused on post-peak-oil survival, helped him find a solution. And after much consideration, he and his family decided they wanted to return to England.

So Rob moved to Totnes with his family to see if he could “scale up” the embryonic ideas of a new way of life. He serendipitously met Naresh Giangrande in a pub and then joined forces with others. Richard Heinberg (author of several books related to peak oil) and the late David Flemming (one of England’s “peak oil” whistle blowers) came to give talks. Transition Totnes was kicked off and “went ballistic.” Another incredible moment was when Ben Brangwyn, attending an early Transition conference, said to Rob, “you need a network to support this work and I’m willing to give it a year of my time to make it happen.” And so the Transition Network was born. Rob was sharing how this came about because of the dedication and creativity of a number of people, many not named here.

Rob’s vision of the future is like an overlay of many different things he has already seen, not something just created in the mind. It’s very tangible and real. But it would be inherently local, with much less intrusive advertising to encourage purchasing things we don’t need. Food would be grown everywhere, in the cities on small bits of ground and rooftops. One day growing food would be seen as a really cool, hip occupation, being a young entrepreneurial market gardener is going to be like what Bob Dylan was in 1963.

Rob’s vision includes buildings that would be constructed of recycled materials, hand-crafted lovingly and with pride. Buildings would be made for the community and by the community with skilled crafts people, such as was done in centuries past. He noted that great cathedrals took up to120 years to build and that many people worked faithfully on these projects knowing they would never to see them completed! (In an earlier blog I wrote about the idea of a slow-work movement to complement the slow-food and slow-money movements.) Local currencies and local banks would support the work.

He sees this future place as one that is “a really vibrant and really delicious place to wake up and be part of, a really thrilling place.” Rob believes this is all doable. It is just a process of scaling up what he sees is already being done. For him what Transition does is help people think about scaling up what they are doing. He gave the example of the straw-bale builder whose goals go no further than building a few a year, instead of scaling up to a larger scale to make these homes available for many more people. Transition can provide the incentive, the vision, and the creativity for this scaling up. This is probably the cutting edge of the Transition movement today. Rob called it Transition’s growing up. It’s about becoming relevant to the community, creating livelihoods and a sound economic system for the post-oil world. He said that in one of the workshops someone asked what it would look like if you organized the awareness raising stage of your Transition Initiative as a social enterprise? Wow!

Rob said one of the really interesting things he’s seen is the idea that resilience is something that needs to happen everywhere, not just here [in the developed world]. He went on to say, “We’ve creamed the fat off the developing world for the last 400 years, and the idea that we would put up the fence and say ‘we’ll not sort this out for ourselves’ is irresponsible. We need to have two processes that run in parallel–re-localization here, understanding that total re-localization is impossible, but maybe working toward an 80-percent/20-percent mix of local and imported goods. There’s the process of contraction and convergence, with the developed world scaling down and the developing world scaling up. Helping to create food security in the developing world is really necessary.”

Rob said that over the last four years people would ask what Transition would be like in the developing world and he’d respond, “I have no idea!” He hoped that they would sort it out for themselves, and has been very impressed with the work that Transition is doing in Brazil. Rob was strongly suggesting that the people in each initiative have to figure out what works for them. He mentioned one London Transition group coming to ask how Transition would work in their economically-challenged area and again received the reply, “I don’t have any idea, go sort it out for yourselves.” Now that group has done amazing things. We did agree that having several people in the group who have attended the Transition training was helpful, but his main point is that each location has its own challenges, culture, and environment, and that there isn’t one blueprint that “fits all.” This dynamism is what attracts me to Transition and it’s what I’ve seen in my travels. (In fact, the folks from Barcelona gave a talk about the Spanish revolution and how Transition is working in the streets there.)

Rob concluded, “there’s a quote in the new Transition book (Transition Companion, available this fall) which is off the sleeve notes of the Velvet Underground 1969 Live album, ‘I wish it was a hundred years from now, I can’t stand the suspense.’ The beauty of Transition is that you do see the unfolding successes and you start to get a taste of it. In Totnes, in the five years since we started, I can now walk down the street and see 200 nut trees we planted. We had our first harvest of almond trees in the park, there’s food being growing where there was none before, there are 150 solar systems that weren’t there before…. It gives you a taste of what’s possible and drives you on to the next bit.”

Monday,Day 3

On the last morning of the conference, after hearing Rob’s take on what was happening in Brazil, I chose to attend a workshop given by three Brazilian women. One of the women, May East, currently lives at the Findhorn community in Scotland. The other two women were Isabella de Menezes and Monica Picavea. It was difficult to choose from the assortment of great options. I’ve been curious to know how a Transition initiative might work in developing nations, and I had met the dynamic women the night before and was intrigued. I wasn’t disappointed. There are several Transition initiatives in Brazil and one is located in Brasilandia, the slums of Rio de Janeiro. In August of 2009 an international Transition Training in Sao Paulo generated three Transition initiatives. There were challenges to the idea that the global “North” would have something to offer when so many sustainable projects were already underway. But they soon came to realize that the structure of Transition did have a lot they could build on. There was then a Training in Rio de Janeiro, where several more initiatives were founded, including Brasilandia.

Isabella talked about Transition Granja Viana, where she lives. The projects they have initiated include, exchange fairs, waste projects, organic vegetable promotion, and ecouraging responsible voting. They are planning to do an “Art everywhere” project, painting lamp posts, etc. A Heart and Soul group is about to begin. They are also planning to sponsor a “Spicing your memories” event where people bring pictures of their families and share their cultural history. (Brazil is a multi-cultural country.) And at some point they want to construct a building as a hub for Transition activities.

In Brazilandia there are many sub-sections of the slum, each with a name and a sense of pride of place by the inhabitants. At the edge of Brazilandia is the biggest urban forest in the world, which supplies 80 percent of the water for Sao Paulo. A huge part of the Transition education is about the value of the forest and they are “moving the forest into the city,” transplanting trees into yards and trying to stop development encroaching on the forest. In addition they are reviving stories of the history of Brazilandia to share in the schools and growing edible gardens on school property. Other projects include,
Zero waste efforts. They’ve mapped where waste is in large heaps around the area, removed it very publicly, and encouraged people not to continue to throw waste in these areas, but instead only at designated places.

The presenters said that the Transition concept adds to what is already happening because it brings a way to design their future and creates a learning environment. Transition brings a whole systems approach which, importantly, includes the inner transition concept. “Brazilians are ready to take their destiny into their hands,” said May.

It was a terrific conference and I’m eager to review what I learned there and to see how I can bring some of it to my Transition community and how I can share it with others in Vermont.

Coventry

Before the conference I received an invitation through a new reader on my blog, Alice Yaxley, to visit her in Coventry, England, and learn about what is happening there. I fit the visit into my schedule just before leaving for home. Alice and her daughter met me at the train station. Alice lives in a post-World War II housing “estate,” built for returning service members, with labor from German prisoners of war. The whole town of Canley, at the edge of Coventry, was created for this purpose. She has transformed her small front and back yards into major food production. Alice and others have negotiated an acre of land on a now-unused school field for a community-owned market garden. There are 6 on the steering group and 50 volunteers, and they have received some grant funds to get them started.

Alice is on the periphery of Transition Coventry and attends events, but is not on the core group. Coventry is a city of about 300,000 people and, like other large city Transition Initiatives, is now considering becoming a hub group. They have begun with the usual films, speakers, and food-oriented events. Alice is drawn to the Transition movement because “it’s spread world-wide so fast and it has the possibility of driving our sense of urgency into change.” She likes that it’s focused on neighborhoods and on ordinary people who what to make changes. Alice’s vision is focused on food production and wants to see the green spaces in Canley converted to edible gardens. She want to see “food grown everywhere.”

Alice hopes there’s a world vision emerging, but she is clear that the vision is emerging for her, and that the next step for her is what changes all the possibilities. As a Quaker, she believes, “that God invites us into the future, which is where the vision emerges, and that part of our spiritual path is to be listening with our heart and with all of our senses and just taking the next step into the vision, and then everything changes again, and then listening and turning ourselves in, to God again….”

Home

It was a wonderful, peaceful end to my journey. Just before meeting with Alice I had spent time with cousins in Sheffield, some of whom I had met for the first time. My journey has introduced me to family, and Transition family members–an ever broadening circle. At the conference I began some networking with people from Japan and Brazil, and when I return will begin Skype video interviews with them and with people from initiatives in the countries I won’t be physically visiting. I hope my blog will provide intimate details about these groups that will inspire others throughout the world.

I returned to Vermont in the early morning of a full-moon setting and a lovely water lily in my pond, with greetings from a happy husband, granddaughter, and two cats. Ahhhh…….

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England Part Two and Scotland

There was a certain poignancy leaving Sweden. Some of my cousins I may never see again since my plan at the moment is not to fly again once I am home. As well, this is true of my cousins in Israel and Scotland. You see, air travel is very damaging to the environment. According to Wikipedia:

Like all human activities involving combustion, most forms of aviation release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to the acceleration of global warming and (in the case of CO2) ocean acidification……in the case of high-altitude airliners which frequently fly near or in the stratosphere, non-CO2 altitude-sensitive effects may increase the total impact on anthropogenic (man-made) climate change significantly.
Some may choose to visit me, but the majority will not. While traveling on the train through the green farmlands of southern Sweden, I soaked in the beauty, listened to the beautiful language spoken all around me, and tried to burn these images and sounds firmly in my heart for future remembering.
After a night in London, I said farewell to Louis (with some regret that he wasn’t just hanging around for my last two weeks overseas) and headed for Manchester. Oh my gosh, I just hadn’t imagined the beauty of the architecture to be found there. My overnight host took me for a bit of a walking tour in the evening and my camera was always in the ready.
Earlier in the day I was met at the train station by Penny Skerrett, my Transition City Manchester contact, driving a 60’s Morris Minor. She said she drives that type of car because its very easy and economical to repair compared to the modern, high-tech cars of today. She shares the car with fellow “Transitioner” Lesley Swann (see below) and between the two of them, they hardly put on any miles because most of the time they bike or use public transportation, which is very easy to use in Manchester. It was so much fun riding in it!
Transition City Manchester started up in 2008 with the usual gatherings, films, speakers, etc. But in 2009 the organizers realized that something was amiss. Logistically a Transition Initiative for 2.2 million people just wouldn’t work. So they had to re-group and re-define themselves. They emerged from that period as a hub group, encouraging the various areas around Manchester to create their own initiatives. Currently there are four such initiatives with more in the works. The Transition Hub helps, encourages, provides resources, maintains a website (www.transitioncitymanchester.wordpress.com), and maintains an email list.
Transition City Manchester has been chosen as one of ten Transition Initiatives in the UK to participate in the REconomy project. This project aims to help Transition Initiatives engage local businesses and organizations, and stimulate new Transition Enterprises in order to strengthen their local economy and increase community resilience. You can read more about this at http://www.transitionnetwork.org/projects/reconomy.
There are five on the core committee of Transition City Manchester. The three I met with , Penny Skerrett, Matthew Rowe, and Lesley Swann, are, no surprise, enthusiastic, realistic, energetic, and dedicated.
Penny is a museum curator, working as an independent consultant. Her Master’s Degree is in Art and Ecology. In 2006 Penny was in Totnes studying for her MA and Rob Hopkins came to lecture in one of her classes. “He had a very fresh, radical approach on energy. At first it seemed a little to good to be true,” she shared. Curiosity took her to the early Transition meetings and she was thrilled by the response of the participants and she thought, “this is very bold, very dynamic” and she wanted to be part of that. She wanted to bring it back to her community. Penny remarked that “it’s difficult because Rob is a very dynamic person and the ideas have a lot of impact, and if you don’t present it in just the right way, you could turn the people off.” So the first people involved in Transition City Manchester were very careful about how they presented the concept. They did it their way and in a small way.
Penny imagines, “from now till the point where we don’t talk about Transition because it’s happened, looking back, we’ll see many small communities working well together. Bicycles will be the main sort of transportation. We won’t have supermarkets. We’ll have a successful system of agriculture that will support the city. It will all be localized. We’ll breathe cleaner.” Penny believes in the “Great Turning,” and that we are in it and there’s a change of consciousness occurring and becoming more mainstream. This supports her belief that the world is changing.
Matt was about to embark on a solo bicycling trip to Spain just a few days after we met. He is currently living on savings. He was asking friends to make “enviro pledges,” meaning they would make some sort of change in their lives that would help the planet. He was also raising money for the Brain Hemorrhage Foundation. The trip is planned to take 22 days and he will return by train. You can follow his journey at http://www.bikingtobilbao.wordpress.com. He has been working hard at a personal project called “Envirolution” which, according to the website (www.envirolution.wordpress.com) is described:
The name Envirolution is a play on the words Environmental Revolution. It represents that essence of the event as a catalyst for the kind of change needed towards a healthier society and environment.
The positive aspect of Transition grabbed Matt and drew him to the movement. A lot of what he’s doing in his life is finding what projects are out there now and what is needed. His vision includes seeing all that work, the small projects, happening–being able to go into an area and suggest something to happen and then it’s supported. One of the Transition projects was to bring baby chickens to a farm where children learned about how to care for and raise the chicks. Then Matt envisions that the children will teach other children how to care for chicks. He sees this as an example of how projects start with an idea, which in the beginning is theoretical, and in the future everyone will be involved. Matt thinks there have been lots of global visions happening, revolutions, etc. The unions and marches happening in England at the moment are an example of “what’s been happening forever.” The Transition movement is so positive, rather than negative, and it’s really happening, and he sees this as the world vision emerging.
Lesley publishes a successful monthly community magazine called Community Index. There are actually two versions which cover two different areas of Greater Manchester. The purpose of the periodical is to provide affordable (in fact cheap) advertising for small, independent, local businesses and to give a voice to community activities (like those of non-profits). It’s a one-woman show, though Lesley pays some people to help deliver it.
Initially what drew Lesley to Transition was the focus on the combination of climate change, peak oil, and the economic crisis, which she hadn’t seen any other movement doing. She said most environmentalists conducted single campaigns, saying “no to this and no to that” and she was ready to be involved in a positive approach. She believes we need to recognize the situation we are in and then have an appropriate response to the problem. “The thing about Transition, for me, is that it focuses on community. That’s really been lost in our culture and that really sings to me. We need to get back to community, that’s what human beings are all about. Though there are great things about globalization, we need to re-connect with our neighbors,” Lesley said.
Lesley said declaring a vision for Manchester is difficult because cities are basically not sustainable and there will have to be many changes. So, her vision is first about less people living in Manchester, and those that remain in the city eating locally and having happier, richer, and more positive lives. Between Manchester and London it’s possible the whole land mass of Great Britain would be needed to feed the citizens. Lesley noted that England has kept the 19th century structure of canals and rails so public transport to rural places is better than that of the U.S. But the U.S. has a large enough land mass to feed its population. Lesley believes we need to focus on low-tech solutions to our problems. She also wants to see changes in behaviors, like going to sleep when it’s dark and rising with the dawn.
Lesley doesn’t think there’s a world vision emerging. She sees that there’s a great deal of denial about the existence of imperialism. She believes that the rich countries are better placed to find solutions than those in developing countries. She doesn’t imagine people in the developed world really being willing to accept that their lifestyles will need to radically change to make the world more equitable. She doesn’t see Transition really addressing this problem. Where there is money there is power and addressing how this works is important. It’s connected to how the global financial structures work. “I’m for very radical solutions, for having non-money economies, and for not having the ownership of private property since that’s very damaging to equality,” she shared as we completed the interview.
From Manchester I went on to Glasgow, Scotland, in many ways another country (even with its own pound notes) though considered part of the United Kingdom along with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. There is a separatist movement in Scotland and the current political party in power does give voice to this movement. Scotland has its own ancient language, Scottish Gaelic with duel signage on road signs in the northern parts. Many of the buildings I saw were quite old and elegant, many Victorian or Edwardian. It did rain some, as Scottish ex-patriots predicted, but overall the weather was fine, if not exactly warm.
I have a cousin living in Glasgow and it was great to reconnect with Ann. The interviews I arranged were in Portobello (near Edinburgh) and in Linlithgow (between Glasgow and Edinburgh). Due to terrific and efficient train and bus service in Scotland, I was able to complete both in the same day. By the way, since Ann is a senior citizen, she can travel anywhere in Scotland on the public buses for free! And that covers almost the whole country. That’s very impressive.
Pedal-Portobello Transition Town began in late 2005. The “pedal” part stands for Portabello Energy Descent And Land-reform and was the first name when it later made sense to add the “Transition” tag. They began with “open space” meetings where folks envisioned a resilient future and began the work on an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP). The work on that document continued in 2006 and 2007, but they found it was best to respond to opportunities as they arose, rather than be limited to what was written. This flexibility has helped them sustain their momentum.
Tom Black, my Portobello contact, was at the second 2005 meeting, so has had his hands in the work since its inception. Portobello has a population of 21,000 and is on the sea, so is a vacation destination as well as a thriving town. This Transition Initiative is different from many others I encountered since it is a not-for-profit organization (the term is a registered charity in Scotland). They are a membership organization with annual dues of one pound (about $1.55). They have received government financial support from the “Climate Challenge Fund” and were able to hire Tom as project coordinator and several others. This year the grant was not renewed and those employees lost their jobs. However, having staff was a great boost to the work and recognition in the community. The board of about 10 people serves as the core group and then there are focus groups, such as the food, energy, transport, and community assets groups. The website is http://www.pedal-porty.org.uk. They use a database which, to date, includes about 800 people. They advertise their work by inserting flyers in a local, quarterly periodical.
There was a low point in 2009, when only a few showed up at a meeting. Instead of giving up, they re-thought how to represent themselves, finding words that would invite rather than inflame. That change has helped them be successful. Some projects include:
–A shopping bag (see photo)
–An orchard with 90 trees and which is also an event space, as well as a virtual orchard which educates about opportune places to plant more trees
–A garden share scheme that partners those with land with those who want to garden
–A “Dig in Porty” series of training courses about growing and preserving food and low-carbon cooking (Porty is the nickname for Portobello)
–A monthly organic market which includes local crafts
–A feasibility study for a CSA farm, now looking for land
–Sponsoring a “Car Free Day” with a city street blocked off for pedestrians and bicyclists. This event includes a six-person bicycle mover which is constructed in a circle with 6 seats and pedals, and when everyone is pedaling, it moves. The day before the Transition folks go to a school for a “decorating bike day” where kids bring found items for the decorations and then hold a parade on the day of the event
–Sponsored “Hot Spot,” a program to install insulation in homes
–Sponsored a “Portobello Warm Tenement Scheme” to help insulate the apartment buildings built in Edwardian and Victorian times, called tenements (but not with the connotation in the US of low income apartments)
–Sponsored “Solar Porty” with purchases of bulk solar panels and installation
And now they are partnering with “Greener Leith” (Leith being a neighbor town) to install the first, large, community-owned wind turbine at the sewage works at the sea’s edge. WOW!
Tom told me that he’s been involved in community-based environmental action since the mid-nineties, but what was different about Transition was its focus on peak oil, resource depletion, and on energy descent. It was a real light bulb effect when he learned about that, primarily reading The Transition Handbook. He understands that, “the need now that is essential, something we need to do as a society, is to get other people to realize that we can’t go on as if we can infinitely turn on the tap and get the water we want, and we can turn on the light bulb and get the energy we want, and we can just demand to have food on the shelves. And really that everyone needs to realize that there’s limits to resource use. It was that extra bit, beyond climate change, that made the difference for me. It was classic Rob Hopkins, ‘climate change makes Transition essential, peak oil makes Transition inevitable.’” The other thing that drew him into Transition was his need to get involved in the community.
Tom said Portobello would look a lot greener in his vision. The sands at the sea would be a bit wilder with dunes, and the flood defenses would be natural. The streets would be greener, with more growing spaces, more fruits and vegetables present. The shops would be selling more local and useful goods. Maybe you’d only hear the hum of electric cars. There would be more solar and a big wind turbine both at the sewage works and possibly off-shore. There would be more pedestrians and people would be cycling more. People would be living more locally. You’d see a lot more goods made from recycled materials. Tom said he’s an absolute optimist and that he believes there’s a global vision emerging, but it’s competing against the dominate vision of “business as usual,” which is deeply intrenched. What will make the alternative vision come forward is people power. It’s got to be doing everything we can as consumers. He’s a believer in consumer power. In the U.K. there’s a real emphasis on localism and this gives Tom hope. Now people are finding a sense of place and sense of pride in living locally and in “authentic” products, locally produced. Recently there was a survey about what people wanted in the future and the response was, a sense of community, authenticity, and “golden moments.”
My next stop was the medieval town of Linlithgow with it’s own palace (very much like an old castle) and loch. It’s population is about 15,000 and many of its inhabitants easily commute by train to Edinburgh or Glasgow while enjoying the quieter small-town life. Rose Hill has lived in Linlithgow since 1984 and is currently under contract with Transition Linlithgow , which is also a charity-status company, receiving grant money from Scotland’s Climate Challenge Fund. There is a full-time project coordinator and five part time contractors, including Rose. In past years the funding has allowed Transition Linlithgow to focus on energy audits and the installation of 220 hot water panels. This year they have funding for installing solar electric panels and they have developed a demonstration garden to teach locals how to grow their own food.
Transition Linlithgow started as Linlithgow Climate Challenge and they opted to become a Transition Town earlier this year because it offered more opportunities for inclusivity. They found using the word “climate” in their title turned some people away. They have five board members and are searching for more. They have four subgroups–food, energy, waste, and transport. Rose told me that in Scotland every public building and every house sold has to have an Energy Performance Certificate which identifies energy problems and expects improvement.
Some of their projects and activities include:
–A Harvest Feast, the first year held at a local farm with about 200 attending and the second year held in a hired enclosed space with about 250 attending. Due to several factors, the first year was more financially successful.
–Sponsored a kitchen canning project that was held over several sessions
–Hosted a “food consultation” to discern the definition of “local”
–Sponsored various videos and speaker
–Created three pamphlets representing three sections of the town with maps of bike, bus, and train routes to help people reduce their use of their cars
–They own and offer two sizes of bike trailers to let
–Hosted a visioning day
–Sponsored a 10-10-10 350.org event
Rose said that early on Linlithgow Climate Challenge founders looked at the Transition model and thought it was too proscriptive. But over time they realized that they were checking off on many of the Transition steps and were having difficulty with the perception of their name–it was a non-starter. So they became Transition Linlithgow by default. Rose said that the networking is important to her, whether it’s networking with other than Transition groups or not. Rose hopes that the “development trust” idea for locals to have a sense of ownership in the town will emerge in Linlithgow. Rose would like to see people wasting less in the future and being more open to energy efficiency efforts in their homes. Rose believes there’s a very slow movement towards a global vision. There have been other movements that have faltered and she’s concerned we keep having to “reinvent the wheel.” She’d like to see people throughout the world being able to support themselves from their own resources. She said that by looking after ourselves we will help others around the globe, but not through the current frilly fair trade products (mostly crafty-type things other than coffee, tea, and chocolate), but instead through trading essentials fairly and equitably. But her main focus for a global vision is living locally.
I did take a trip with my cousin to the Scottish Highlands that included a cruise on Loch Ness. Although I didn’t catch a glimpse of the famous monster “Nessy” I sent regards from Vermont’s Lake Champlain monster “Champ.” The Highlands are incredibly beautiful–moors of heather, not now in bloom, dotted with Highland cattle and Scottish Black Faced sheep, castles on the hills, full of a history of a proud people. Having often read about this place, it was a delight to be there and to be with Ann.
My next adventure is to go to the U.K. Transition Conference. Read all about it in my next post.

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Belgium, Netherlands, and Sweden

You remember how I wrote that my contact in Ireland asked if I wanted to meet at a pub for a pint, and how my contact in England asked if I wanted to meet during a day of volunteering at a farm? Well, my contact in Belgium wanted to know if I wanted a walk in the woods! Louis and I responded with a resounding yes. Marc Van Hummelen is a forest ranger in Tervuren, just outside of Brussels. Tervuren is a municipality in the province of Flemish Brabant, in Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium. Marc works for Royal Donation, a government organization for natural areas that is required to provide its own financial need, receiving revenues from logging and renting buildings among other things. Marc works at an arboretum and an adjacent forest that covers about 400 hectares, total. His job is partly enforcement and partly maintenance and upkeep of the forest. He’s provided half of a very large, grand, old house on the premisses (the other ranger lives in the other half) where he lives with his wife and three children. It’s a glorious setting and he very much appreciates the gift of place and work.

The forest is magical with huge old beech trees lining the walkways. Marc is very knowledgeable about the trees and plants and the geologic history of the area. It was obvious that he loves his work, and our two hours spent walking over much of the area was enchanting. Marc liked commenting that we were now in “China” or the “United States” as we walked through areas planted with flora of a particular country, as is common in many arboretums. We delighted in the hedge that Marc created out of bending saplings at an angle and then supported by some upright sapling trunks. He’s creating a permaculture garden in his back yard and already had planted some young fruit trees and had prepared an area for vegetables.

Marc also invited us to have dinner with him and his family before people would arrive for a “Transition Cafe.” The cafe style usually allows people to speak in small groups around particular topics, but this night we all stayed together as we explored the ideas of transition, sustainability, and our personal choices. I was given a chance to share about my journey and I interviewed Marc, Isabel Vandermeulen, and Olivier Bori who all serve on the core group of Transition Tervuren.

When he moved to the forest, and felt so lucky to live there, he made a commitment to himself to try to make a difference for the environment. He was already working with several environmental organizations including a pre-order food cooperative when he read The Transition Handbook in 2008. Marc took the lead and organized a first gathering which was an informal discussion about peak oil and climate change. About 45 people attended. Others joined Marc and they began showing documentaries. Five serve on the core team and three of them have taken the Transition Training. There are 110 people on the email list. They’ve since had several workshops on candle-making, preserving food, and alternative ways of eating. They also sponsored “24 hours without electricity.”

For Marc the Transition Movement is a synthesis of other activities that he was already part of. Those activities were all from the same perspective of creating a better environment, but acted very independently, without much communication, which Marc thought odd. He had talked to people about creating an umbrella organization but it didn’t catch on. Then he found Transition and it was just what he was looking for. As an organizer of the movement, he feels he treads on tough ground. He wants to make sure that he doesn’t predominate the discussion or direction of the group. He avoids sharing what his dream is, since it needs to emerge from the collective whole. He is living his own vision in his backyard, using permaculture, living simply, building a simple composting toilet, etc. He talked a bit about the difficulty for leaders to share in the creativity of a group instead of directing it. He wants to see a “hearts and soul” group created, but it hasn’t happened yet. He said that is where the visioning will happen. Marc is both optimistic and pessimistic about a world vision. He sees initiatives popping up all over the place, but opposite that he sees that there a few billion who are oblivious to the problems and the need for chance. So, overall he’s pessimistic, but that is part of his drive to change things, and to encourage more and more people to come to this initiative. “If I was content with the world, maybe I wouldn’t have helped start Transition Tervuren,” said Marc.

Isobel has had a long-standing concern for nature and animal rights and upon finding Transition Tervuren immediately wanted to join. She wanted to learn more about peak oil and climate change. But basically she joined because of her great concern for Earth and the raising of animals for food. So, vegetarianism and energy conservation are two of her main focuses. She’d like to learn how to live more in harmony with nature. She imagines a Tervuren where everything is local, “where we work locally, where we generate energy locally, where all shops are local, where we don’t use cars to get around, where we create our food locally, where we learn together, and where we get to know each other again.” She would like to see the whole town as one vegetable garden. Although she hears that Belgium doesn’t have enough land to feed its people, she doesn’t believe it. She believes if all the available land was used for food production, there would be enough. Isobel knows that the Transition idea is growing, and that other European countries are changing, but she feels Belgium is not making the necessary changes and feels pessimistic about the future.

Olivier is an IT specialist and used to think that technology would solve the world’s problems, but now understands that there are better solutions and he found hope in the Transition movement. He likes the focus on local and organic agriculture. Olivier said that “with the other people in the group you can work together, and with Transition you can change things.” Before he came to Tervuren he was working with another environmental group, but it had no collective consciousness, like the Transition idea offers. He likes that Transition is not political. Olivier’s vision includes a citizenry with a changed understanding of what needs to be done to become resilient. It’s a place where people ask each other for help to make the changes. He thinks people will change only if they are forced to, like the people of Cuba had to change when oil supplies were no longer available because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. He hopes for a place where everyone enjoys their gardens and where true resilience is found. Olivier says that in his heart he has much hope for the future, but when he looks at what is going on he doesn’t have that hope. “But if you concentrate on negative things, you begin to be consumed by the negativity,” he said. He would like things to change quickly, and if you look back 10 years ago, people didn’t know about climate change, and in spite of the many lies from the government and others, we are learning the truth. Not long ago he was depressed about the fate of the world, but because of Transition, and the people he is now working with, and the fact that even some of his family members have made some changes, he has hope that the concepts will spread like a virus and that change is possible for the world.

As we left Belgium, Louis and I were so impressed with the number of very large wind turbines we saw dotting the landscape as we traveled by train and bus through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Clearly these are countries that are serious about a future less dependent on fossil fuels. And I’ve never seen so many bicycles in all my life as are being used in Amsterdam. I read that it was the land of bicycles, but I really had no idea. Of course there are bike lanes everywhere. Streets are narrow for the cars because there are separate, off road lanes for bicycles, and other strips for pedestrians. Bicycles are tethered in every extra square inch in the city. Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands everywhere. Pedestrians have to be careful of both cars and bicyclists at each intersection and not walk in the bike lanes, which is easy to do since often the pedestrian and bike lanes are delineated only by some contrasting color bricks. Amsterdam is a city made for bicycles. And we noticed the same kinds of bike lanes in Hamburg, Copenhagen, and cities in Sweden. Really, you have to see it to fully comprehend its magnitude.

Before leaving for my trip I had contacted the Transition Initiatives near the cities I would visit, picking the cities because there was a nearby Initiative. So, I reserved my trains, buses, and ferries before I left. Unfortunately the Transition Initiative near Amsterdam didn’t respond to my inquiry, but I was already booked to be there. Fortunately my neighbor, Kathy Blume, who attended the climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 provided an email introduction to a political activist in Amsterdam she had met at the talks. Wout-Jan Koridan graciously agreed to me with me and Louis while we were there and I’m so pleased we had the time together.

Wout-Jan was born in Amsterdam, practiced as a physical therapist for a time, and then moved into administrative work. He transitioned out of the administrative work because it no longer satisfied his need to make a positive difference in the world. He explained, “I am a spiritual person having a human experience instead of a human having a spiritual experience,” an idea he learned from reading Teilhard de Chardin. The day before we met he had just finished a four-month course on Conscious Leadership for Sustainability which had profoundly moved him. He believes that creating the container for creative thinking is more important than defining the change, and instead letting the creative emerge. As well, he’s been quite influenced by Gunther Pauli, who inspired the founding of the Global Zeri Network (www.zeri.org).

He went to the Copenhagen talks to participate in the Klimaforum (the alternative to the formal UN talks, with a motto of “system change not climate change,” and I understand to have been a much more lively and informative experience) as an associate with the Center for Human Emergence of the Netherlands and was a host for Climate Solution Meshwork, which facilitates co-creative collaboration opportunities. Louis and I met with Wout-Jan at the Center for Creative and Spiritual Awakening, a center for many holistic activities in Amsterdam.

Wout-Jan’s draw into the work of collaboration and of being more in touch with nature goes back to his early life of going to the mountains on holiday with his family. In the early 80’s he was protesting the development of nuclear power. Then the report, Limits to Growth, from the “Club of Rome” (a global think tank) was a real wake up call. There have been many sources of inspiration over the years. He kept wanting to put into practice what he learned.

Amsterdam is highly ranked as a sustainable city, partly because it isn’t burdened by a history of heavy industrial work and because it does have a history of being a multi-cultural city. Amsterdam also has a history of encouraging the freedom to be yourself , which Wout-Jan says encourages experimentation and creativity. All this, plus the focus on bicycles and public transportation is to say the Amsterdam is a terrific place. But there’s still room for improvement. Recently there has been a focus on Amsterdam becoming more sustainable, with a focus on renewable energy. There are also many local, small, citizen initiatives like making your neighborhood a better place to live, or like transforming now-ugly open spaces into useful, more vibrant, beautiful places. Wout-Jan would like to see stronger local agricultural efforts since at present much of the local food comes from heated greenhouses and there’s a lot imported from far away.

Wout-Jan said “the illusion that we will fix the current economic system is false. Since we have created these systems by perceived needs, the better question is what will help us co-create new, sustainable, transformed systems. We need to turn inward to understand what makes us want these things that aren’t sustainable. It’s not a financial or economic crisis, it’s a crisis of consciousness… What drove us to create this system that has us focusing on individual health and welfare, has brought us suffering, inefficiency, and unbalance…. We need to create the space, compassion, and encouragement for a recognition of the systems and drivers that have brought us into the current crisis and for a transformation.”

Wout-Jan sees a lot of local initiatives striving for a better world, and spreading all over the planet. He noted Paul Hawkin’s work on recognizing the hundreds of thousands of organizations that are helping to create a world-wide “great turning.” He believes there’s a global coherence occurring. Wout-Jan believes that “energy is building up, the changes are speeding up, the need for action is growing, and at the same time, at least in my experience, there is this need for more personal development, spiritual development, at least to enable us to serve this transformation, to do what we can in our local initiatives, and in connection with others.” After our talk we took a delightful walk through the “central park” of Amsterdam which was crowded with bicyclists, walkers, picnickers, and families enjoying the serenity and beauty of the place. I felt much gratitude for that day.

Our first stop in Sweden was to meet Anton Adreasson of Transition Alingsas. Anton was born and grew up in Alingsas (about 45 kilometers from Gӧteborg) and after a 10-year period of living in Gӧteborg, returned about a year and a half ago with his wife. He now has a 3-month-old son, and appreciates living near his family. Anton has never had a drivers license! He and his wife do not own a car, but occasionally borrow his parent’s car which his wife drives. Upon returning to his home town, he joined Transition Alingsas (in Swedish it’s Omstӓllning Alingsas) which had started in 2009. There are 5 to 10 people (depending on the day) on the core team. They host Transition Cafes every Monday evening and about 10 to 15 people attend. Sometimes they host a speaker at the Cafe. They host a “ning” site (a social network) which has 72 members, and have a website.

Several years ago students from a university outside of Alingsas completed a research project about Alingsas’s potential sustainability. Recently Transition Alingsas, Passivhus Centrum, and a consortium of local NGO’s invited local government council members and representatives of the various, local political parties to review the student’s research results, and to discuss a sustainable Alingsas for the future. About 100 people attended the lively and informative session.

Transition Alingsas (a city of about 40,000) has hosted study circles on the topics of peak oil, growth, and small farms. They’ve also offered workshops on keeping bees, preserving food, and pickling. This year they were invited to be the local organization responsible for a small plot in a park, Plantaget. They decided to showcase an edible garden. Louis, my cousin Eva (who happens to live in Alingsas), and I visited the garden and we were very impressed with the bounty to be found in such a small area.

Anton’s interests in nature began early in life when he joined an organization, run only by youths, dedicated to encouraging youth field biologists. He participated in this organization from the age of 15 until he was 25. The main question about change always ground to a halt because there never was enough money. He helped organize another environmental group in Gӧteborg and kept asking why they didn’t have enough money to do what was important. He recognized that the international economic system, one focused mainly on profits, was the root cause of the problem. He also recognized that trying to change that system would be near impossible. He was attracted to the Transition movement because it was doing something concrete, locally, and offered something that could create change. He also feels that being in a small city enhances the possibility of having an impact.

Alingsas has an incredible bike path system through the city, so I asked what would be different about Alingsas in the future. Anton explained that Sweden is oil-dependent on Denmark and Norway, two countries who are saying that soon they will only have enough oil for themselves. The only other country that could supply oil is Russia and they’ve just installed a pipeline to China and Anton is certain China will out-bid Sweden for that oil. This is a crisis that is not being talked about in the public enough, but is a huge issue for the energy future of Sweden. It will affect everything. Sweden is an importing country, importing a huge amount of products as imbedded energy. He joked that Sweden may not be as bad as the United States in oil-dependency, but asked, “is it good to have a claim of ‘not as bad as’”? So, Anton’s vision is for a healthy post-petroleum economy and community. The main issue for Anton is to offer a common awareness of the issue. He doesn’t have the solution, but feels each group will find their own solutions. Anton is not pleased that Sweden is talking about “green growth” and wonders who will fund this growth and wonders how this can be sustainable? So, one solution is a local focus rather than a national focus.

Anton said that in Sweden they have a good history of well-educated people being drawn to environmental organizations and work, but it’s hard to bring the masses to the understanding of what is needed. It’s always the same people. The Transition idea holds out hope for a global movement. Though he did say that focusing on Transition is better than focusing on a “movement.” Stay focused locally, keep it leaderless, allow the ideas for change to emerge from the people, all of them.

I timed my trip to Sweden to coincide with Midsummer Celebrations. So, with cousins and extended family we did celebrate in the traditional way. We stayed at Peter (my 2nd cousin) and Greta’s summer home on a lake and went to a neighboring village for the singing and dancing around the midsummer pole. Then we returned home for herring, potatoes, various other swedish dishes, and, of course, snaps (a strong, alcoholic beverage served in small glasses). One doesn’t drink the snaps without first some song of celebration, so all through the dinner there were many songs. I reveled in this experience of my heritage, with wonderful people.

I’d like to end this post with a few comments about Sweden, to maybe dispel some of the myths we hear. I asked my family about the amount they pay in taxes, since in the U.S. we hear that they pay 70%. Well, the average, middle class family pays about 30%. It’s based on a graduated scale and the more income you earn, the more you pay, same as the U.S. Everyone I talked with in my family (who are kind of politically centrist folks) was content with their health care and educational system. (They don’t pay tuition, though do have to buy their own books.) We were told that the economy and Swedish Kronor is strong. Those I talked with were pleased that Sweden is focusing more on renewable energy and sustainability. So……

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