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.


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….”


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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England Part One

Upon arriving at the ferry port in Hollyhead, Wales, I boarded a train with my destination to be Chesterfield, England. The train snaked its way through Wales, where all the signs were once again in two languages, English and Welsh (another form of Gaelic). At first we followed the coast, where many off-shore wind turbines were situated. Why do we have such difficulty siting them in Vermont? Believe me, the tourists still come (one of the arguments against them), and clean electricity is generated. It’s a win-win situation.

During my time in England I’ve been hosted by Quakers. On my first Sunday I attended the Chesterfield Meeting. That was a treat, since I hadn’t been to Meeting for more than a month. Each home I stayed in was modest, with small refrigerators, no dryers, and incredible gardens. The generosity of these Friends is very much appreciated. John and Alison Newton of Chesterfield (who don’t own a car), Marian Liebmann and Mike Coldman of Bristol, and Sue and Bill Northrup of Epsom, I thank you all for feeding me, taking care of me, humoring me, and putting up with me.

While in Chesterfield I developed an infection that needed care. Alison walked with me to a Sunday clinic. I was seen, diagnosed, given a prescription that I took to a pharmacy, and got the antibiotic. And guess what? None of it cost me a penny. No one asked about insurance. They knew I was a visitor and there was still no request for fees or payments. Wow! That’s the kind of insurance I want and I’m willing to pay for it with my taxes.

Chesterfield has a population of about 100,000 and was first chartered in 1204. Transition Chesterfield started about 3 or 4 years ago, with film showings and talks and offering of chances to get involved. There are now about 400 people on the e-mail list. The core group officially has 5 people, but 8 to 10 people come regularly to the monthly meetings. Some activities to date include the following workshops: skill sharing, jam, bread, beer, and wine making, chicken keeping, knitting, darning, wild food harvesting, vegetarian Indian cooking, and making bio-fuels.

One project I was particularly enchanted by was the work of the “abundance group.” At harvest time the abundance group approaches home dwellers where there are fruit trees growing in their yards (already carefully scoped out during the year). The people are asked whether they would like the group to harvest the fruit, give the householder what they want, and give the rest to people in need. What an inspiring way of sharing the bounty!

In January every year the Chesterfield council lets Transition Chesterfield have an empty shop for a day. Many varieties of organic seed potatoes are purchased from Scotland and sold at a low price. People can pre-order and get an additional discount. This January they sold out by late morning, including the new products of garlic and onion sets. This turns out to be a good fund-raiser for the initiative and a way of promoting home-grown veggies.

In addition, Transition Chesterfield holds Harvest Swaps (wines, jams, cakes, etc.), and Clothing Swaps (called a SWISH) where books, DVDs, and CDs are included. They received a grant from Climate Friendly Communities for bicycle training for adults, bicycle maintenance training, and a workshop on how to build a cargo bike. The initiative has close links with the Chesterfield time bank and Chesterfield allotments (community gardens). Transition Chesterfield has a demonstration garden plot allotment, emphasizing sustainable, organic gardening.

I spoke with Steph Futcher and Peter Darling of Transition Chesterfield. Being interested in the ecological movement for a long time, living in communities and being self-sufficient, Steph is really drawn to the Transition movement because there are really nice people involved. Although she had lived in Chesterfield a long time, she didn’t really know many people there until being part of the initiative, which has introduced her to many more of her fellow city dwellers.They have a “green drinks” social event at a pub each month, where they get to know each other informally.

The results of a values exercise that Steph steered in the community resulted in the following values being recorded as core to Chesterfield residents (not in order of importance)–community, science, future generations, cooperation, open and honest communication, and openness to change (flexibility). She felt they had many values in common and it encouraged her outlook for Chesterfield’s future. Steph’s vision is about moving along step by step, not knowing where it’s going, but hoping that it snowballs. She wants to see more local agriculture being practiced and supported and hopes that people will be willing to readily reduce their energy consumption. She does think there’s a global vision emerging, though she’s not sure it will be called Transition. She noted that the Transition idea came along at a great time and boosted the change along. It might look completely different in the future.

Peter is interested in Transition because he found a group of people who are interested in doing the kinds of work he’s been doing on his own, like saving energy, economizing resources, eliminating waste as much as possible, and living “a sort of green way of life.” He likes working with these like-minded people. Peter sees ways he’d like things to change, like more green energy, less waste of energy, and much less use of internal combustion engines, but he tends not to think in terms of the far future. He wants to work on the immediate, local problems. He likes being reminded that there are others in the world sharing the same goals and facing the same challenges. But he still sees the work as individual communities instead of a world movement.

I was offered a ride on Sunday after worship (it was pouring rain outside) to a meeting destination by Valerie Farrow, who is the Spire Infant School gardener. She needed to stop by her project for a moment on the way, which brought me to a magical place. She’s been working on the school grounds for seven years. The school has received several grants and awards, which are well deserved in my mind.The children form gardening clubs and also work in the gardens. There’s a forest garden, a bog garden, a “secret garden,” vegetable gardens, a memorial garden, a forest walk, and much more. It’s really incredible, and the only way to share the great work she’s doing is to include a batch of photos with this blog post, which I’ve done. Valerie is an artist whose designs are whimsical and practical. I’m sure the children love to be out in these gardens.

I next took the train to Bristol. Remember how Paul of Transition Tramore suggested that we meet in a pub for a pint? Well, Angela of Transition Bristol suggested we volunteer on a Transition-supported CSA for a day! Quite a contrast, I’d say, but it did add to the variety of experiences I’ve had. Angela Raffle, Paul Baker, and I headed out one morning to the The Community Farm, a 22-acre CSA. According to their website (www.thecommunityfarm.co.uk):

A Community Farm is a not for profit project which links local people with the farm where their food is produced. Food is produced in an environment, which reconnects people with how and where their food is grown and invites you to become part of that process and help build a sustainable future. It is a farm which encourages participation in all aspects of growing – a place to work, to learn and to have fun. The Community Farm was started by Luke Hasell, Phil Haughton and Jim Twine, who all live in the Chew Valley. Luke and Jim started The Story Group a few years ago and supply organic beef and lamb to the local community. Phil runs The Better Food Company, which is an organic supermarket in Bristol, and he has been growing vegetables locally for the last 7 years. All three have a lifetime’s commitment to the principles behind organic farming. They have a shared vision to work with people from Bristol and the Chew Valley and hope to play a small part in reconnecting the local community with agriculture.

TCF got started because locals contributed money to get it going, and it now serves 400 “veg box” customers within a 15-mile radius. Andy Dibben, farm manager and head grower, greeted us and gave us a quick overview of the farm. Luke Hasell (see above) took over the 50 acres from his father and converted it to organic. TCF now leases the 22 acres, with hopes to expand that in the future. There are 5 paid farm workers and all the rest of the work is done by volunteers, many of whom commit to one day a week. This year is the third year TCF has farmed there. Our job for the day was to weed between the plants after a cultivator had finished the between-the-rows weeding. Having only a small backpack for 2-1/2 months of travel, I did not bring along gardening clothes, but Angela found some boots for me to use. After the morning’s work, I realized the boots were hurting my foot and already-injured knee, so I didn’t do much weeding after lunch. I concentrated on asking questions and getting my interviews. It was a beautiful, warm day and the farm offered many grand views of the surrounding countryside.

I did get a chance to talk at length with Charlie Haughton, son of Phil, who one of the founders. He’s 20 years old and just finished his first year of university (which he called “uni”), where he is focusing on environmental studies. He is one of the paid workers for the summer. Charlie says this is the best job he’s had, especially on a beautiful day, but even when it’s raining. He had just finished exams and had spent a month mostly sitting inside, so he was liking to be outside and feel the effects of hard, physical exercise. The last year or so he’s been getting into cooking and loves growing vegetables. He likes understanding the work of growing organic. He thinks Bristol has a great opportunity to focus on local foods, local entertainment, and more, since there’s already so much good work going on. He’s a bit pessimistic about the world changing, since he’s encountered climate deniers and the like who hold back progress. On the other hand he has read about many good projects in distant places and hopes it’s a sign of better times coming. I think with young people like Charlie working for change we have a real chance for a healthy future.

Transition Bristol, started about 4 years ago, has faced the challenge of how to be a Transition initiative in a big city of more than 430,000 people. Their answer was that each parish would create its own, independent Transition initiative, and there are now ten functioning initiatives. Although Transition Bristol might be considered a hub group, they do not have any oversight of the surrounding initiatives. They instead publish a monthly e-newsletter for an e-list of about 500 people, maintain a website where all activities can be posted, and host open “sofa sessions” monthly, which often draw new people. At the beginning of next year, after much research and work, they’ll be launching a local currency for Bristol. They also host the annual “Bristol Food Trail,” when producers are open for visits and visitors are provided a map to find them.

Transition Bristol has a big advantage over other initiatives since the city council commissioned a Peak Oil Study. Wouldn’t that be a boost to our work? According to the website (www.transitionbristol.org):

The Bristol Partnership and Bristol City Council have welcomed the report of the Peak Oil Study, presented at the Partnership Board meeting on Thursday 15th October, 2009. The study was commissioned by the Bristol Partnership and the city council to consider the implications for Bristol once global oil production has peaked and production is in decline. The comprehensive 108-page report spells out the potential impact of “peak oil” on every aspect of Bristol life – transport, food, healthcare, public services, the economy, power and utilities.
Bristol is the first city in the country to take action in this way by commissioning the study, which is intended to be a starting point to help the city to prepare for the future oil crunch and the impact it could have. The city already has a reputation as being a leading environmental player and last year received many awards and accolades, including being short-listed for a European Green Capital award, being crowned the UK’s most sustainable city in a Forum for the Future assessment, and being named the country’s first Cycling City.
Angela Raffle is part of “Sustainable Redland” (Redland is a parish of Bristol with 4,000 households), which has also adopted the Transition handle to help build the Transition network. Angela also serves on Transition Bristol’s core team and is working to reduce her own ecological footprint. One way she does that is to bicycle everywhere around town, including the 12 miles out to TCF. Angela likes that the Transition movement is getting on with ways to live with less fossil fuels and she likes the fact that it’s positive, not a protest or just against something. She believes that “if more people are more knowledgable and accepting of the fact that more of the same is not an option, and they therefore turn their creativity and ingenuity to how do we all live fairly and putting the really important things first–water, food, taking better care of the environment, living in a way that’s fair to everybody–a vision will emerge.” Her vision doesn’t go beyond fairness, truth, justice, and focusing on what really matters in life–the things we can’t do without. She doesn’t believe that a world vision is emerging or that some global governance will guide the way. She instead believes that each locality needs to prepare itself for what may come.
Paul Baker, also part of the Transition Bristol core team, is part of this work because he’s interested in how we create a sustainable future and Transition seems to offer some hope to how that can be done. He does hear the good talk that’s being done, but doesn’t feel that people are really addressing what he thinks needs to be a major focus–reducing our consumption. He doesn’t know people who are truly living ecologically sustainable lives. When I asked whether he thought he was a pessimist, Paul said, “no, I’m a realist.”
I’m leaving England now but will return for the U.K. Transition Conference in early July. Two days after my visit in Bristol, Louis and I were reunited in London. He haEs come for two weeks while I travel to Belgium, Netherlands, and Sweden. It’s really great to be sharing experiences with him. What a difference it is to travel with someone you care about instead of alone!

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The Emerald Isle

So far I’ve not stayed in a home with a clothes dryer. It’s really remarkable how different the standards are between Europe and the United States. It’s just commonplace to use drying racks and outdoor lines, sometimes on balconies if one lives in the city. Conservation just seems a norm, not a badge to wear for saving the world. How did our U.S. culture go so awry? I do understand that I’m being hosted by folks who are either involved with Transition or are Quakers. But I see drying racks and clothes lines everywhere, so I bet the statistics are with me on this one.

My trip through France, on two trains with an overnight in Paris, went smoothly. My last night in France was in Cherbourg, on the Normandy coast, and since I was there on June 6 there were many signs about D-Day reenactments. The old center is a bit touristy, but the old buildings and small, winding streets were lovely. I strolled a bit, got a much-needed hair trim and spent a lot of time in my room catching up on my writing. I took a wonderful long walk to the ferry port, where I began a 20-1/2-hour ride to Ireland. Late in the night there was a ferocious storm with thunder, lightning, and huge crashing waves shaking us all thoroughly, and I felt quite ill. The nausea stayed with me all the next day through three bus trips to my destination, Kinsale, with headache and queasy stomach. My four Transition hosts, gathered for a potluck meal, were kind and helpful, and I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with them. But by the time I got to where I would sleep, I was in rough shape and really needed a good night’s sleep on a non-moving bed.

Kinsale, where the Transition movement first took root, is a lovely, little, medieval sea-coast town that sits at the mouth of the River Bandon in County Cork. Its population is about 2,500, but that swells with all the summer visitors. They consider themselves a “fair trade community,” according to their website. Multose Church, in the town center, is the oldest church in Ireland that is still in use; parts of the buildings were constructed in the 12th century.

I noticed that the road signs in Ireland were all in two languages. I learned from Liz, my overnight host, that Ireland’s other language is Gaeilge, which is to some called Irish Gaelic and in the traditional language Ireland is spelled Eire (which means land of hope). All road signs and other notations are in both Gaeilge and English. According to Liz, it’s mandatory for all school children to learn Gaeilge unless the child moved to Ireland after the age of 7. The word Gaelic connotes the old language of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and so using the term for a particular country is incorrect without identifying the country.

The Transition Kinsale, organizers I met with were Liz Creed, Klaus Harvey, Hilda Ryan-Purcell, and Jeannie Timony. In the early 2000s, Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook, was a professor at Kinsale College of Further Education while living in an intentional community nearby. He was a permaculture designer, and in 2005, along with students and locals, he wrote an energy-descent plan for Kinsale. In the same year the college hosted a “Fueling the Future Conference,” with such notable speakers as Richard Heinberg (author, educator, speaker on peak oil), David Holmgren (co-originator of the permaculture concept), and Eamoun Ryan (who later was Ireland’s Minister for Energy for four years and represented the Green Party). This conference was an incredible success, and in early 2006 the town council gave 5,000 euros as support for Kinsale becoming a Transition Town. Boy, don’t we all wish we could get that kind of support from our local political administrations?

The Transition Kinsale steering committee, with 12 members, meets every three weeks. Their e-mail list has 250 names. There are 9 to 10 subcommittees, which were originally organized out of a 2009 open-space event. My contacts said that about 30 percent of the town really knows and understands about Transition and 60 to 70 percent have at least heard about it.

Currently they are working with the town, with help from a European grant, on a feasibility study for an anaerobic digester to create bio-gas. There will be a public consultation in late June, which will be the first effort at public awareness-raising. Each fall they hold an Autumn Food Fest & Harvest Celebration. This includes food to eat, a cafe, and a “5-mile competition.” At the end of the day they hold a concert. In the spring they sponsor a Spring Fair, which is a major fundraiser with workshops. Also, they hold annually a Sow & Grow seed swap with workshops. Two members set up a CSA using the Transition network and now it is operating independently. There’s a second CSA, supported by Transition Kinsale for oats, quinoa, and potatoes, which provides “veg bags” for members (weekly bags of food). The grains are an experiment to help create a stronger local food supply.

Liz Creed, who was my host for the night, has been a member since 2006. She’s working on improving mobility with coastal walkways and bicycle ways. She also organized a 50-mile meal award given to the most exquisite meal created from local products, which helps bring menu awareness to the citizens. Liz is drawn to the Transition movement because of its positive way of looking at a future that is going to be different, and because the movement is going to bring about that change in each of us first, instead of a top-down approach. She also appreciates how the process engages all people and that it is very inviting. Liz had been reading books about the problem and was wondering what she might do to make a difference. Wshen she read about Transition, she wanted to be involved.

Liz’s vision includes people sharing responsibility and getting out of their homes, their shells, to come to know each other, and to feel secure and happy. She wants people to be able to stay in Kinsale if they want to, which means having a healthy economy. She’d like to see people using the resources that are available in Kinsale and people living more at one with the planet they live on, sharing the resources of water, soil, etc., and taking responsibility for their waste.

Liz hopes there’s a global vision emerging. She feels Kinsale will be fine due to their small population and agricultural lands, but that’s not enough since she feels a sense of responsibility beyond Kinsale. She sees trade changing to be more equitable and reasonable. She hopes that people of the world recognize that we are all the same and we are living on this small planet together. Liz believes there needs to be a global environmental policy that comes from our elected representatives, as well as the bottom -up work of Transition initiatives.

Hilda Ryan-Purcell joined Transition Kinsale in 2007 because a friend brought her to the Spring Fair. She’s a massage therapist and has a holistic healthcare website. She wants to organize a heath consortium to be supported by Transition Kinsale. When Hilda was newly arrived in Kinsale, she wanted to integrate with the community, and she was drawn to join Transition Kinsale because she met so many interesting people doing the work needed to be done. Her vision for Kinsale is simple, that the town should continue what it is doing since so many good efforts are already underway. She tends to think at the ground level and if she thinks about the global situation it gets to be rather scary.

Jeannie has also been a member since 2007. She works with Education for Sustainability, which is a program in the schools and she teaches about Transition and leads guided visualizations. It’s all volunteer, but they are hoping Transition Kinsale will receive some funding for their efforts. Jeannie is helping to organize a Joanna Macy-inspired workshop later this year. During her childhood, community was very important, and she has felt the loss of community in the ensuing years. Transition offers her community and that’s why she’s part of the work. She has also appreciated the changes in agriculture that Transition is bringing about. She’s inspired by the community resilience of the Transition movement. She can see lots of grassroots communities starting around the world.

Klaus teaches communications and work experience at Kinsale College of Further Education and has been a member of Transition Kinsale’s steering committee since 2006. Our potluck was in his home, a charming basement flat in the town center. His flat opens to a wonderful courtyard and large yard in the back, and although he has lived there only a very short time, he’s already planting vegetables and re-arranging things in the yard. A fire in the fireplace in the very small living space made for a very homey evening. Klaus sees the Transition movement as being one of the solutions to the many challenges we face. He had his “peak oil” moment watching The End of Suburbia, also read The End of Oil by Paul Roberts in 2005, which brought on another “peak oil” moment, and then started reading Rob Hopkins’s blog. So when he participated in a Permaculture course in September of 2006, he immediately signed up to join Transition Kinsale. He was soon asked to join a committee he thought, “this is brilliant, I want to be part of this. It’s community, it’s people coming together, working together for solutions.”

Klaus would like to see much more food growing in Kinsale. There’s already a food culture with CSAs, a “veg bag” scheme, and allotments, and there’s good soil, good air, good water in abundance. Klaus would like to see the community grow in creativity, recognizing that that growth has already begun. A community that sings together, creates together, stays together. He wants people to create their own entertainment.

Klaus believes there are lots of global visions emerging, recognizing Joanna Macy’s work on “The Great Turning,” the Arab world’s struggle for democracy, and so many more movements, and that it’s all about the same thing. Everyone is recognizing that the old system doesn’t work. If we don’t change we won’t survive as a species. Klaus thinks this is an exciting time to be alive. Although he feels the terror of what will happen if we don’t act, it’s what drives him on, it’s what makes him act.

The next day I took a bus back to Waterford (though didn’t do any shopping for crystal) to my next host family. The couple I’d be staying with were away at a wedding, so their daughter-in-law picked me up and she and her husband fed me dinner and then took me to my meeting point with Transition Tramore. I mention all this because I found it so wonderful that an extended family is living together on the same land in three homes. The grandchildren of my hosts run freely, through wandering paths, among the homes, often stopping in at grandma and grandpa’s. This is not unlike what it was at the turn of the 20th century and before, and I hope the Transition will bring us back to strong families and communities.

“Why don’t we meet at a pub for a pint?” That was the e-mail I received from Paul Flynn of Transition Tramore. And I responded, “yes, how Irish,” and that’s just what we did. Paul’s education is in environmental studies, and he is now a “Litter Warden,” or environmental officer, for the Waterford City Council. He works on issues of illegal dumping, etc. involving businesses and individuals. He’s lived in Tramore for 8 years. Transition Tramore began in 2008 and now has 16 core members who range in age from 21 to 60. They’re still working on recognition in the town. They held an energy show in 2009, which drew more than 4,000 people. They’ve had the traditional films and speaker events.

Paul is drawn to the Transition movement because it is very inclusive. He also appreciates that the Transition Handbook is not a document “sealed in stone,” but that you can take from it what you want, what makes sense for your town. He likes the localization approach, which is where we’ll have to go to survive the double hit of peak oil and climate change. Paul’s vision for Tramore includes energy independence and healthy employment. He’d like to see more tourists coming in and to be prepared for a future of more “staycations”–staying near to where you live for your vacations. “I want a strong, resilient community in Tramore where we can help each other, support each other, and have the tools to do that.” said Paul. People are beginning to grow their own food and many good things are already happening. Paul added, “I suppose if there’s a few key words, say, they would be resilient, safe, and friendly.”

I think his emphasis on community comes from his own experience when he was about 8 years old, when his father was on strike for two years from the paper mill where he worked. So they had no money. He remembers his mom cooking on the small wood fire heater because their utilities were cut off. The support of their neighbors, a cup of sugar showing up, or some cooked food brought by, is an incredibly powerful memory for Paul. Although they were financially destitute, they didn’t feel alone. He hopes that same level of neighborliness will grow out of the Transition movement.

Paul thinks that people don’t really feel how big the problem is. He says that definitely there is a global vision growing. Just the fact of how the Transition movement has grown shows that there is change happening. He appreciated my work to help build the web, because it’s so easy to feel so separated from others in the movement. Transition Tramore promoted a 350.org event, planting 10 trees, which brought in many new people. He thinks this proves that there are great movements happening and there are great opportunities to unite in the work. The future looks bright because more people in Tramore are getting out of their homes and engaging with others in the town–Paul’s vision of a caring neighborhood.

As an added treat,Paul and I had been invited to participate in a radio talk show, hosted by Garrett Wyse, who co-founded the community radio station in Tramore, TCR FM (www.tcrfm.ie). It was really a fun interview. The three of us talked about Transition work in a casual format and I’m looking forward to sharing the podcast with others, when it’s ready (probably not in time for this post).

I get a sense that this movement is working because people are invited into fun gatherings. It’s kind of like Tom Sawyer painting the fence and pretending it was so much fun that his friends argued for a chance to do the work. Soon Tom was sitting back and watching them do the work. When we show how wonderful a strong, healthy, and resilient community is, people want to be part of it, and we’ll be just a part of it, instead of working so hard to promote it. So, let’s make sure to be playful and creative in our Transition work.

The next day, after the train ride to Dublin, I had several hours to walk around before taking the ferry to England. Dublin is another big city, but the river running through it and some of the old architecture and pubs give it charm. The tram and bus service seemed very efficient. I found a place to have fish and chips for lunch and rode a double-decker bus to the ferry port–how Irish! Fortunately, this time the ferry ride was quite smooth and I embarked on the next stage of my journey.

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Fete de la Transition apres petrole–France

“The hills are alive with the sound of music, tra la la la…” is what I was singing to myself on the day we were walking through the countryside, laughing and talking and sharing about ourselves. I either felt like Julie Andrews or Heidi. (I know, I know, Julie was in Austria and Heidi was in Switzerland, but it still felt like that.) But I get ahead of myself….

Other than a few distracting aggravations on the four trains from Barcelona to Grenoble (like my credit card company deciding that when I was trying to buy train tickets in a very crowded station with a long line behind me and using a language that wasn’t mine, was the time to decline authorization), I was mesmerized by the scenery as we eventually made our way into the French Alps. Grenoble was a much larger city than I had imagined and my wish for a day exploring a small French village was not granted. That doesn’t mean that the city isn’t lovely and the setting with the great mountains all around isn’t spectacular, but coming from a town of 4,000 people in Vermont, I get tired of the big city bustle after a few days, so most of my time in Grenoble was spent catching up with my writing.

The next day I headed deeper into the mountains by train to my destination in Trieves where there was scheduled an all-France Transition conference, Fete de la Transition apres petrole (Feast of the transition after oil). The ascent was breathtaking with brief views of quaint villages, farmland, and high mountains. Trieves is a district made up of a number of small villages. Trieves en Transition was the first Transition Initiative in France which is why the conference was being held in this very out-of-the-way, but exquisite, place.

When I arrived at the Clelle-Mens train station Pascal Lluch picked me up. It turns out that Pascal lives in this fairyland. He makes his living leading walks in many places in the world, but loves it most when he gets a group to walk around his chosen homeland. Does it interest you? Go to http://www.randopays.com. We arrived during lunch and a plate of wonderful food was brought to me. It included a half of a zucchini sliced lengthwise grilled with scrumptious cheese on top, some delightful soft cheese, salad, and bread. What a way to begin this conference. Then I was introduced to many wonderful people.

Naresh Giangrande came from Totnes, England to support the conference and the special celebration of Transition Trieves becoming official to take place the next day. Naresh co-founded the Transition movement with Rob Hopkins back around 2005. How lucky could I be to meet him at this conference? In about 2002 he received an email from a friend about how rapidly our climate was changing and it woke him up to the immediacy of the problem, recognizing that it was something our generation had to deal with. Then, after a lot of research, he also learned about peak oil and began giving talks wherever he could until he met up with Rob Hopkins in Totnes, who was involved with permaculture. The two of them decided to collaborate and the Transition movement was born. Rob wrote the book and Naresh created the trainings. He does ask himself if there’s anything else that he should be doing that would take him away from the Transition work and the answer keeps coming–no, because it’s a positive, nurturing, hopeful process. It’s like a virus and is infecting so many people and places and it gives him hope.

“The challenge for our times is how to create the Transition,” said Naresh. His vision includes a re-localized economy, living more simply, with mobility reduced, but what excites him is how to create system change, how to move from where we are to where we need to get. He does say that the vision needs to be informed by hard science as well as our feelings and our intuitions. “A hundred years ago in Totnes we used to create the cake and import the icing. Today we import the cake and create only the icing. We need to turn that back around” said Naresh. Totnes is a town with lots of agricultural land around and so the transition is really possible there. He mentioned what Bill McKibben did in his book, Eaarth, the concern by many that small town life will be boring if we don’t have the level of external entertainment to rely on. How can we assure people that life can be rich and full through relationships instead of relying on what we know consider entertainment?

Naresh often sees the deep cynicism in the young people he meets who no longer believe that the current system will give us what we need. He believes that we are in the melt-down phase. He understands that an inner transition is an essential part of the Transition movement. Naresh shared, “As I do this work and change inside, I see that there are times when I go into a “liquid state” and that’s the state where I think we are in–entering this liquid state and people are going in many directions, eco-villages, transition work, etc. and this multi-directional quest for a changing world gives me hope.” At the end of a Transition Training Naresh doesn’t tell the participants to now go out and do Transition work, he instead says “don’t go out and create a Transition Town, go out and do something different, we need diversity and we’ll be the geese honking you on your way.”

In the dining hall there was a large map of France and people put up stickers to show where they came from and most of France was represented. I was surprised by the number of people from other countries who are now living in France. I met folks from Germany, Scotland, England, Switzerland, and the U.S. Interestingly, many of France’s Transition initiatives were started by these foreigners, but soon French locals joined in. The people at the conference were enthusiastic, but awed by what needs to be done.

I spoke with two of the initiators of Transition Trieves, Pierre Bertrand and Jeremy Light. Jeremy, a biologist, had a revelation 50 years ago while in Antarctica and has worked on environmental issues ever since. He came to Trieves from England to work at the Center Terre Vivante (Living Earth), an ecological center. Jeremy saw Transition as a logical movement to enhance the work he was already doing. He would like to see Trieves be much more locally reliant and believes that’s the essence of being resilient. He avoids any prescription of what should be, instead encouraging many different initiatives. He also described the Transition movement as spreading like a virus around the planet. It’s very broad in scope and invites all to join in.

Pierre discovered the peak oil problem in about 2004 and realized it was a crucial problem for our society. He had a background with a number of environmental groups and was disappointed in their usual, activist approach. Then when he read Rob Hopkins book, The Transition Handbook, he said, “This is it. Because here there were many things that could help us transition rather quickly. And Jeremy and I decided to found it in Trieves.” He believes that their valley is ripe for the Transition–that it can be an energy-producing place in addition to an agriculture-producing place. There’s a rich, cultural life in the villages and people have strong relationships to one another. Instead of supermarkets, there are many small shops. The evidence of the success of their efforts is that last fall there were 12 to 15 initiating groups and now there are more than 50. He vision is primarily about agriculture. Trieves is part of the global food market and what is produced there is not consumed locally and Pierre wants to see that reversed. Now 40% of the population works out side of the region and he’d like to see more people working locally. He’s impressed with how many people around the globe are working on solutions, but they are working within the dominant financial system, forces that are very strong, and this will bring us to hard times. Pierre said, “The Transition Movement can bring people together before they start fighting one another.”

One morning two of us elders were talking with a young man who was very pessimistic about whether the work could get done in time. He saw that the crisis is now and was impatient with the step-by-step approach of the Transition work. Susan (more about her later) and I tried to explain that the only way to a transition was working with those who live where we do, and shared that the importance of believing it would make a difference. It’s heartbreaking to hear of the despair of this young man. I hope we can all reach out to those in despair and give them hope.

Antoine Fernandes was the chef for the meals at the hostel. In Grenoble he co-owns a restaurant which includes a bookshop and vegetable store. The restaurant is proud to use mostly local food. Although Antoine is a political activist, he is also pessimistic about how far the Transition movement can really transition. Though he did say that he has a two-year-old child and that he can’t afford to be sad about the future, so working with others helps him out of that sadness. He does appreciate how the movement in Trieves has brought together a lot of initiatives which is key to living into the vision of a post-petroleum world. He said that if he was the local dictator he would bring in local industry to transform what is grown into products for sale. This would provide jobs and infuse money into the economy. Antoine would also like Trieves to include clothing manufacturing and paper production. In other words, his vision includes more local business to become self sufficient. He thinks we need to change our relationship with time. We need to slow down–our travel, our work, our entertainment.

One question several people had, including Ralph Boehlke from Germany, was whether Transition can happen in a large city. He lives in Paris, a city of 11 million people, and, although there are several Transition Initiatives in various districts, people in Paris often associate across district lines, which makes it more challenging. Ralph was a part of an anti-globalization movement that has a reputation for being aggressive and only mentioning what was wrong. When Ralph cam across the Transition Movement, he was thrilled that it took all the wrong into account, but was proposing an alternative. Paris is reported to be the most densely populated city in the world. Paris is not resilient and doesn’t have the capability to be a buffer for anything. Paris has to create more spaces, more green spaces for growing things and for breathing space. He would also like to see the streets with less cars. The relationships of neighbors is almost non-existent. Roof-top gardens are impossible because most of the roofs are slanted. If you make some streets only pedestrian, it becomes a place for people to gather, something that is lacking. Ralph sensed a global unhappiness, but the people don’t know how to put a name on it. He wants to put words to it so the unhappiness can be defined as a first step, including imagining the Transition for Paris.

The first day I was there there were workshops that had begun the day before. Many people were happily creating solar ovens out of recycled materials to take home with them. They took apart dryer bins for their stainless steel reflective material and used old kitchen cabinet parts for the boxes. Not only did they gain some carpentry skills, but they would now be able to reduce their carbon footprint, using their ovens. I learned that the sun shines 300 days a year in France! Another group was learning about and applying a combination of lime, plaster, and ground up hemp as an interior finish. It’s better than concrete-type plaster because it doesn’t cause the environmental damage that concrete does. This was being applied at a self-built, two-family, passive-solar house being constructed nearby. The young man building the house said that the neighbor complained that the house wouldn’t look like his and was oriented south instead of toward the street. Change and innovation can bring difficulties everywhere.

I heard that Benoit Thevard has visited many of the fledgling initiatives to give talks on peak oil. People spoke highly of his ability to explain things in a way that the complex subject is readily understood. Benoit, who has a degree in energy engineering, lives in Chateanneuf-sur-Loire and hopes to begin a Transition initiative there. He’s already approached local government about peak oil, food needs, and basic needs for resilience and at that event 25 people gave him their contact information. He earns his living from speakers fees and has much support from his family, including his grandmother who gives him a room in her house. He’s very interested in education and has programs for the very young as well as for those in secondary school (high school). In 2009 he was in Quebec in an eco-village, working with an energy expert who explained about peak oil and there discovered the Transition network. He thought it was a very good idea, because it’s based on a scientific observation with an objective of resilience. Back in France he decided to give conferences about peak oil and realized he could not define the problem without giving a real solution and giving something for people to do to make a difference. “You don’t have to wait to do something, you can do it now,” he said. Benoit believes that people won’t make the change without understanding the problem and the Transition movement provides the foundation for that change.

Benoit would like to improve the self sufficiency in food and healthcare in his region. He’d like to see a new burst of a social link among people. He thinks the use of oil and energy, in general, separates us from each other. Benoit believes that since the new generation didn’t experience the war and it’s deprivations, they don’t know what it’s like to not have enough in the supermarkets. He recognizes that we don’t have a long time to work before the peak oil problem hits us and we may be faced with not much food on the shelves. Benoit wants people to understand we’re on a planet with finite resources, and with that understanding, a global solution is possible.

There were young families with children at the conference which included workshops for the children. We were in a very simple hostel-like facility which offered space to families and groups with a large kitchen, shared showers and toilets, and dorm rooms. The view from the back included the famous Mont Eiguille (Mount Needle), named so because it looks extremely thin when viewed from the west. At dinner, a delightful plate of vegetarian food was offered and bottles of wine came out, purchased by individuals. Two of us decided to purchase a bottle the next day for dinner.

Anne Ambles from Transition Mayenne in Northwestern France took some time to speak with me. They’re just beginning, with two really committed and 10 people coming to meetings. They’ve had one public lecture on peak oil and climate change that was very successful. They recently had a booth at the local foods market (similar to a farmers market) displaying two trays, one with local, seasonal products, and one with typical products consumed in the home. On each tray were energy calculators. Anne is attracted to the Transition movement because it is what is needed now for humanity and the earth. When she discovered the movement, she found that utopia was possible.

After our lovely walk through the countryside we entered Mens where most of the buildings are pre-sixteenth century, approached a small wine shop, and were invited into the wine cellar to choose our wine. The proprietor was quite a talker and kept turning to me while speaking rapidly in French even though I told him I didn’t speak French. Others helped with the translation, our choices were made, bottles paid for, and we walked the rest of the way to the community building. It all felt like a fairy tale to me. We sat outside the building, eating our lunch, cheeses, and raw veggies, popped a couple of bottles of wine and had a grand time. I kept having to pinch myself to be sure this was all real.

At that point I had the chance to interview Kris French and Susan Cerezo. Kris, a transplant from Oregon, living in Montpellier with her French husband, Pascal. Transition Montpellier is a start up and has discussion groups and a screening of In Transition where 60 people attended. She is drawn to Transition because it’s very connected to permaculture, which was her door to Transition. Although Transition recognizes the serious problems, it very quickly moves into finding solutions and optimism, and how we can create a new future for ourselves. Susan moved to France 40 years ago from England and lives in Burgundy. There are 4,000 people living in her town, but there are also small villages surrounding that increase that population base. She helped start her Transition group last year. There are now 11 in the pilot group, 20 “on the edge” and 100 on the email list. After 40 years of being an activist and thinking a lot about where we are headed as a planet and seeing how hard it is to get people together, she came to burnout and felt depressed. She then realized that something was missing, that there was a lack of a spiritual side to her work and she became a Buddhist practitioner. That led her to discover Joanna Macy and her work, and met up with her in England. That immediately gave her courage and while in England met some people in the Transition movement and recognized that this was just right for her, that that’s the way to do it–it’s joyful, its open to everyone, it’s positive, and it’s local.

In Montpellier the politicians already have a vision and created a pedestrian center in the historic part of town. It has an urban plan in place and is already working on a good transportation program. Kris wants more spaces for community gardens and is involved in a community orchard. She envisions food gardens on their balconies and lots more green spaces used for vegetables, applying permaculture principles as much as possible. She also imagines a lot of work being done on waste management and helping people understand that waste is a resource. Kris and Pascal gave up their car about 6 years ago and are committed to living in city centers, so good public transportation is essential for them. Susan sees a countryside full of people interacting socially and helping each other again, not being so suspicious of one another and living such insular lives. He vision really is about community.

Kris thinks the global vision will be made up of many smaller micro-visions, clusters of activities and synergies. If we think too much about the global vision it’s overwhelming and not within our reach and people then tend to feel helpless. In Permaculture you work with zones that help you configure your space. You start with zone zero which is your personal dwelling and Kris is working on her personal zone first, then radiating out farther from home. She said, “small actions really do make a difference. We don’t need to think about how we are going to save the world. Let’s just think about how we are going to be happy on our neighborhood block and walk through our towns and like what we see. It really needs to start small. The Transition is really global and I feel the solidarity with others, but will continue to focus where I live.” Susan does have a global vision. Susan sees that things are “stepping up around the world.” She sees this as a great adventure and that it’s a wonderful time to be alive.

Inside the building were booths representing various Transition initiatives in France, (mostly in Trieves) permaculture, composting, a free zone of clothing and stuff, and much more. There was a table where people could draw or write about their own 2050 visions. Before dinner there was a public celebration of Transition Trieves becoming official with the mayor and other local politicians at hand and for speeches and a welcoming by Naresh. It was really very moving. The building was packed with people and all who worked so hard to make this happen felt it was a very successful day. The last two bottles of wine were opened for dinner and shared around with much gaiety and well-being. Following was music and dancing. A delightful day!

The hills in Trieves are alive with a song of what is music to my ears–a song of peace, of hope, and of a resilient future.

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The magical island of Ibiza, Spain

You might remember my telling you about Kibbutz Lotan’s “Green Apprenticeship Program” in the Arava Desert in Israel. If not, I’ll remind you that it provides an incredible opportunity for young people to learn about permaculture and sustainable living. While visiting Lotan, people told me that the young people go off into the world to do good things. You might ask why I’m reminding you of this blog entry. Well, while sitting in the beauty of the island of Ibiza, Spain at Casita Verde, a young man, Shaul Shaham, was sharing about his experience in the very same program! He was there just last December beginning a 7-week program which absolutely changed his life. He says he now “lives” the program every day of his life. The interns, learning about permaculture, build geodesic dome cottages which are finished with cob (a combination of mud and straw and water). Shaul is now living in Ibiza and is starting a construction company to build geodesic homes out of local materials. He’s also partnering with “Green Heart” (more about that later) to build such a dome as part of a sustainable project. I was bowled over by the serendipity of this encounter! My hats off to Kibbutz Lotan for the fine work they are doing.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the kinds of opportunities one has when visiting Casita Verde on Ibiza. When I researched Transition Towns to visit on the TransitionNetwork.org website, I was impressed by what I read about Transition Island Ibiza. (www.ibiza-island-transition.com) I immediately sent an email to the contact person, Chris Dews, and was invited to visit with an offer of hospitality. Little did I know then that Ibiza is known as being a party island, an oasis for vacationers looking for a good time! But deep in the heart of the island is a different kind of oasis–one that offers a vision of a sustainable future and one that is still filled with fun. At Casita Verde I encountered people from Austria, Germany, South Africa, France, Uruguay, England, United States, and various places in Spain, just to mention a few! Learn more about the work there or find out how you can contribute to the work at http://www.casitaverde.com or http://www.greenheart.info. Or in the U.S. one can contribute to the Center for Cultural Exchange at http://www.cci-exchange.com to help give young people an opportunity to learn sustainable living.

So, I need to back up a bit. Chris Dews settled in Ibiza 28 years ago, relocating from England. Ibiza inhabits 120,000 permanent residents and that number swells to 170,000 with all the “residential tourists” and vacationers. Chris is a bit of a renegade who evolved into a defender of Earth. He found a wonderful, very small, house to rent about 8 kilometers outside of town, high in the hills. He doesn’t officially rent the land surrounding the house, but has had free access to it. With that access, and much help from many people, young and old, over the years, he has developed an “eco community.”

People who come as volunteers have many options of “casitas,” or small one-room houses which have one or two beds. The varieties include a yurt (where I slept), a teepee, a small house with a tree growing through the middle of it, a couple of caves, and many more inventive spaces. Structures have been built with bottles and cob, metal cans and cob, local wood, and lots of stones, bricks, and whatever else could be found. It’s hard to call the bathrooms “outhouses” since they are so beautifully constructed and the interiors all completed with recycled tiles and creative little touches that make them a pleasure to be in. The shower is surrounded by glass so while washing up you’re taking in the beauty of the place. (I showered early in the morning, being an early riser, and so felt totally at ease of being alone!)

As well, the sun generates the hot water and most of the electricity as well. Rain water is harvested for all Casita Verde uses, including irrigation. Using permaculture principles, there are gardens, fruit trees, and an amazing respect for the land. Over the years Chris has created the “Greenheart” organization which seems to be the umbrella for all the activities I’ve mentioned. There are green hearts everywhere at Casita Verde–on the cars, t-shirts, imbedded in the buildings, and in the hearts of the people working there. (I left with a Greenheart bag, pins, and stickers galore and one now graces my laptop.) Chris explains that when we all have “green hearts” the world will be full of the possibility of resilience in the face of the threats to the planet.

A volunteer from the United States, Jeffrey Caston, arrived the same day I did. He just finished his first year at the University of Colorado-Boulder where he is majoring in environmental studies. He was looking for a summer opportunity to work on a sustainable project (he’s an animal rights activist) and experience another culture. He wanted to learn about permaculture, how to cook his own food, use less water, and to figure out ways to enhance his life so he can help others change their lives. The summer before he had worked at an engineering firm (what he thought would be his major) and after being in a cubicle for many hours a day, decided it was not a career for him. He found Greenheart through the Center for Cultural Exchange. He wasn’t sure what his work would be, but was delighted when he learned he would help construct the geodesic dome cottage and was put right to work making the connectors and matching them with reeds already cut to length. Jeffrey’s vision for a sustainable society is one in which everyone works together and where money is not the driver, but instead adequate water, food, and shelter is primary. He’s evolving towards being a vegan–he hopes for a world where all creatures are treated equally, otherwise he feels we are doomed. What hope it gives me to meet such a dedicated young man who will, indeed, make a difference in the world.

Every sunday Casita Verde is host to a community dinner. The volunteers clean up the place and cook enough vegetarian food for at least 80 people. The participants become members of Greenheart and then pay 7.00 euros (about $10) for the delicious meal. Many young families come to the Sunday dinners and the children run free, enjoying the many child-friendly places which abound. (I have to mention here that the place is extremely clean. The composting toilets, shower, and kitchen are always spotless. I was so impressed. Chris insists on it and also insists that the “casitas” are always clean for possible visitors taking a tour.)

Another serendipitous encounter was withe Jonny Lee, who lives in Ibiza and Jim McNulty, who lives in England. They are partners, producing music events to raise money for various charities. (You can find out more about their work at http://www.lastnightadjsavedmylife.org or http://www.followyourheart.es.) I mention them now because they are part of the production of “Earth Dance International”, an annual event that takes place all over the globe in over 60 countries and 100 cities. In 2011 the event takes place on September 24, the same day as the big international 350.org event. I saw the great possibilities of collaboration with the two groups and have introduced them to the 350.org folks, hoping for continuing growth of uniting as many people as possible for a resilient and sustainable planet. Chris Dews mentioned that there has been a 350.org event at Casita Verde.

Where does Transition come in, you might ask? Well, a couple of years ago Chris and some others heard of the Transition movement and saw what a great match it was to what they were already doing. It’s hard to separate the Transition Initiative from Greenheart. I had the opportunity to interview some of the core Transition team–Jose Garcia (Jose G.), Jose Luis Rodriguez Pozuela (Jose P.), Yuron Wallin, and Chris Dews. One woman central to the Transition Team and Green Heart was away caring for a grandchild. (Just told to you so that you don’t think it’s all men on the team!)

Jose G., from Alicante, Spain, has collaborated with Chris 1 1/2 years and began living at Casita Verde 8 months ago. He works on strategic planning and advising, projects coordinating, and government and external relations for Greenheart. He shared with me that he had a long family relationship with Ibiza, and that when he heard about the work of Greenheart he found an opportunity to give something back to the island. Jose G. joined the Transition team because he thinks the Transition movement is one of the ideal ways to achieve change in a non-violent and efficient way. He liked the idea that local people take action instead of waiting for government to take the lead. He admitted that it’s hard to keep up the momentum, but is committed to working at it.

Jose P. has lived on the island for 1/ 1/2 years, is on the core Transition team, and helps out at Casita Verde. Jose P. believes that permaculture is a good philosophy for bettering our world and so therefore saw the Transition movement as a nice way, a happy way, and a playful way to be connected with each other and with nature. He believes we need to think with our hearts.

Chris said that Transition is what he was already doing, and when he learned of the movement he saw the opportunity to join with others around the world, without having to create the network himself.

Yoran is originally from Sweden and has lived in Ibiza for four years. He has been working with many types of body work and psychology. He believes that having more cooperation in the local society holds out great hope. He’s inspired by the local projects and the community where people are invited to contribute and to cooperate. He believes that the island is a good example of how things will develop in the future. He said that Ibiza has always been a little ahead of the world in music, fashion, and lifestyle and that now Ibiza is ahead because of it’s global culture. People are very tolerant and cooperative with each other and there’s never been any ethnic problems. For the future he believes it will be a fusion of ecology and healing and new types of networking. He said that Ibiza has a very young atmosphere and people are looking for something new to replace the old ideologies. Yoran believes there is a global awakening, that people are becoming more informed about how things work, and that there are other possibilities, other solutions for things like food production, food distribution, energy production, and energy distribution. He believes there are so many smart solutions available so we don’t need to use up the world’s resources.

Jose P.’s vision is that the island will be a sustainable place, self-sufficient, and that they will export goodness, good ideas out to the world. His concept is that Ibiza will be harvesting goodness and light and that it will be a real democracy. He compared the current Spanish “revolution” to the Transition movement and shared how this new change in consciousness might be like a virus and infiltrate everywhere! Jose G.’s vision is based on his concept of “less.” In other words how can we change the pattern of more is better. How can we learn to conserve and reduce consumption. The vision also includes being able to apply all the sustainable solutions to the island–to create a “no-waste” island–that this should be the driver. If a project proposal does not live up to the “no-waste” criteria, it won’t be approved. For example, he pointed out that nuclear might be fine, but there’s a huge amount of waste generated and therefore a nuclear power plant wouldn’t be allowed to be built based on the “no-waste” ideal. He envisions “growing” solar power as well as vegetables. He warns that we cannot promote electric vehicles if we don’t first make sure that the source of the electricity is renewable and clean. As well everyone on the island would only use recycled or “eco” products. And finally Jose G. would like to see Ibiza attract the best “brains” and become a global, environmental think tank, and be an example and inspire the world.

Chris’s vision for Ibiza is a “Greenheart Island” for he says that where every person has a green heart you’ve “cracked it.” Once they’re connected through their heart all else will follow. The changes will come slowly, solar on rooftops, eliminate bottled water, and all the other “stupid things people are doing.” Neighbor will speak with neighbor, inspiring more green hearts to grow. For example, one might say, “Look, I’ve given up my gasoline-powered mower and am now using a solar-powered one and see how well it works.” We need to change the current paradigm and Ibiza is the place to do it. There are over a hundred cultures living on the island, a party island, and, “when are people more receptive to change but when they are having a good time?” asked Chris. He says the whole world is represented in Ibiza. They’re going to take Transition and put a green heart on it and see where it goes. Chris encourages everyone to use the Greenheart logo (Just a simple green heart) to promote a sustainable world and then let greenheart.org know how it’s being used.

Jose P. believes we are evolving into a new understanding and into a better world. He’s quite optimistic and believes we must not lose faith–that we can stem the tide of unsustainable forces at work in the world. Chris does believe there is a global vision emerging. He warns that it takes time–be patient, work hard for it–but change is coming. “Yes, there’s a global vision emerging,” Jose G. believes. He sees the people around the world who are working on resilience and connecting with one another through the internet and conferences.

I think being at such an international and sustainable setting as Casita Verde would inspire anyone to feel that something exciting is happening, something hopeful, something that encourages us to get up each morning, ready to make a difference.

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Barcelona, Spain

The overnight train journey from Milan (after a short train ride to Milan from Bologna) was fun since there were two women sharing the very small cabin who spoke Spanish. Although I slowed the conversation down a bit at times, they were very patient and we had a lot of laughs. I had hoped for a reclining seat on the train, but when I made the reservation, I could only have a sleeper for four. The two women had so much luggage that one more person couldn’t have fit into the compartment.

There was a certain level of comfort entering a country where I could easily ask directions and understand a fair amount of conversations occurring around me. Leaving the Barcelona train station and making my way to the metro station required a few questions and it just came so easily. Though I was to find out that the proud people of Barcelona really speak Catalan, a mixture of Spanish and French, and though my simple Spanish was understood by them, if a person spoke quickly and at great length, there were many words and phrases I just couldn’t get. Oh well, life will continue to be full of language tension for another week and a half until I reach Ireland since I’ll soon be going to a Transition conference in France and don’t speak French.

Since my last blog entry, many things have happened at the “Real Democracy Now” demonstration in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona. On Friday I ended up staying away from the plaza because the police had moved in and were forcing people out. They used batons and rubber bullets on un-armed and peaceful people whose hands were raised in the air to inform the police that they were not a threat. Many people were injured, but it was incredible seeing the news clips where the demonstrators, though being pushed to incredible limits, remained peaceful. I emailed Daniel on Saturday to find out what was happening and he said he was okay and that the people are back on the plaza. I’m impressed with their perseverence. There is a great deal of pride in the current Spanish revolution among the people I’ve met. They believe it is a movement to change the world.

Barcelona is a city of more than 1 1/2 million people. There are 80,000 empty apartments in the city and a number of building with squatters in them. The public transportation system, including metro and buses is extensive and well used. There is an incredible bike-sharing system with thousands of bicycles at hundreds of stations all over the city. One pays about 30 euros a year (approximately $45) for a card that is used to unlock a bike and it can then be used one-way to your destination, inserted in an empty spot, and then another one can be picked up when needed to return. There’s no reserving them because there are plenty. I learned that it has worked so well and is so inexpensive that the transportation authority feels it is competing with the city system, and they are looking for a new, combined public transportation and bike card that will obligate people pay a higher rate.

My Barcelona host, Stefan Blasel, a Transition Barcelona member and a resident of Barcelona for ten years, was originally from Germany, and spoke English very well, to my delight. He has a terrific apartment in which many couch surfers and other assorted folks stay, paying what they wish for the accommodations. He also has a bicycle card and said that he rarely uses the metro or buses because the bicycle system is so convenient. He gave me my first description of the incredible Transition Barcelona initiative.

It all began with a presentation on local currency in November 2008, after which several people met and finally formally formed the group in April 2009. There are about 15 people in the core team which meets every Wednesday for 2 to 3 hours! They have about 250 people on their email list. You can learn more at http://barcelonaentransicio.wordpress.com. Transition Barcelona is a “hub” group, with the goal that each neighborhood would have transition groups. One is now on its way, started with a street fair. Their other successes include:

A Transition training course
A special transition course held over many weeks, given at a local environmental center. It was fully booked so after its announcement.
“Las Caminatas,” walks in the barios (neighborhoods), to point out where positive things are happening like local environmental projects, local foods being sold, community gardens–in other words, places of resilience–and to help connect these efforts and introduce Transition Barcelona.
An alternative economy based on four things: 1. food cooperatives; 2. a local exchange & trading system; 3. local money (the “eco”) which is virtual, run by a software developed in South Africa; and 4. A work cooperative for self employment.
Invited by Barcelona Agenda 21 to organize a video conference about Transition Towns–so they are becoming quite visible.
A Transition in Art exhibit of a local artist’s collages reflecting the work of Transition Barcelona
Creation of urban gardens
Recently Transition Barcelona was featured on a national TV talk show

For this blog entry I interviewed Stefan, Daniel Turon, and Antonio Scotti about their Transition work and visions. I have to say that I continue to be impressed by the hard work of those involved and so appreciate the diversity of their visions!

Stefan became aware of environmental issues when studying environmental engineering in Germany, but lost touch with the movement when he moved to Barcelona until the talk about local currencies in 2008 where he met others of like-mind. He was drawn by the positive approach of the Transition movement instead of always talking about worst-case scenarios. Daniel was studying yoga meditation. Through experiences in social movements, he grew into wanting to unite spirituality and those movements. (He added a “harmony and inner revolution” booth to the Real Democracy Now demonstration in the Barcelona plaza.) He was 16 years old when he first read about climate change and began to look at the world differently. He opened himself up to his “inner mystery” and then saw he had to work on climate change and other social issues. Antonio’s involvement with Transition Towns came quite naturally since he is a permaculture designer and trainer, and he’s had contact with all these issues for a long time. He said that he had not gone through an “End of Suburbia” moment since he understood it already through is permaculture work, and knew the hard work that needed to be done. Rob Hopkins describes what this moment is in the Transition Handbook:

How might one best manage the feelings of overwhelm, devastation and defeat that can accompany your ‘End of suburbia moment.’ the point when your really ‘get’ peak oil and its implications?  The first point is to realize that feeling like this is natural, indeed it is far more natural than feeling nothing or blanking it out. 

Antonio’s vision for future Barcelona includes a town without private cars, with a much higher level of street life. He envisions more food production anywhere it can be done and that those spaces also become social spaces. He sees a lot of green corridors that connect the sea side with the hills. A lot of electrical energy would be produced throughout the city. People would be working close to their homes and only for four days a week. Education would be different, based more on the land and more connections with nature, being centered more on needs than producing good workers for our never-ending growth society. Water would be collected on site rather than coming from far away places. The local administration would be fully integrated and maintaining sustainability as a focus with laws that support that effort. Transition groups will no longer be necessary.

Daniel wants Barcelona to show the world how cooperative politics in a real democracy can work. He wants Barcelona to be a place where corporations don’t rule. He sees that the Transition, anti-growth, and lowering consumption movements are all currently working for better transportation, more urban gardens, and more cooperation, and he wants those movements to succeed. Stefan’s Barcelona vision includes increasing local food production, understanding that due to the dense population, it would be impossible to achieve 100% local food production. He envisions much more “noise” from birds instead of technical devices. He’d like to reduce the use of autos for those who commute into the city, which is where Barcelona’s car problem is centered. He also would like to see the reduction of our individualism and a much more neighbor-friendly city where young and old will talk and energize each other, where, for example, the older generation will be respected for their wisdom and the younger generation respected for their energy and technical knowledge.

Stefan sees that global issues will become less important in the future and there will be a stronger emphasis on local issues. Daniel’s global vision begins with inner change and where real happiness occurs because of shared work and real friendships.

Antonio talked about a global vision where people would not travel much for leisure, unless in sailing ships or some form of environmentally-friendly travel device. There would be much less intercontinental travel, but technology will help us stay connected through such things as email, skype, or social networks. He hopes we reduce the number of technological gadgets we are using (which would reduce the waste) and have a device that lasts for a long time and is multi-purpose. He hopes for a cradle to cradle world where we close all the materials cycles and a have wonderfully green world.

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Bologna, Italy

It was a tiring journey to Italy. I spent the night in the Tel Aviv airport, then took two flights to Italy (via Greece for a cheap flight) and then two trains to Bologna! By the time I got to the hostel and found out they didn’t have food for sale, I was too tired to go find some and instead crawled into my cot and fell into a deep sleep. I felt refreshed the next morning and was excited to see the city and meet new friends. Bologna is an incredibly beautiful city with many in-tact, medieval buildings still being used. It’s home to Europe’s oldest university, established in 1088. I wandered the meandering streets before and after my meeting with Transition folks, and explored a couple of churches. I was transfixed by the beauty surrounding me. The greater metropolitan area is home to about 1,000,000 people and is a crossroads for train travel in Northern Italy. According to the most recent data gathered by the European Regional Economic Growth Index (E-REGI) of 2009, Bologna is the first Italian city and the 47th European city in terms of its economic growth rate.

At lunch time Cristiano Bottone, Silvia Neri, Massimo Giorgini, and I met at an organic, vegetarian restaurant in the city center. They are from Transition Monteveglio, a rural town of about 5,000 people on the outskirts of the metropolitan area, though much of their transition thinking includes the greater Bologna area. Silvia and Massimo and their two children currently live in Bologna, but have purchased a place with land for growing food in Monteveglio and are in “transition.” Some successes for them have included entering into a strategic partnership with local politicians, helping a new school go solar and geo-thermal energy which will provide energy, not only for the school, but for the town, and retrofitting old buildings to be more energy efficient, along with all the usual presentations of talks and films and food. Cristiano and his wife also have two children. It’s exciting to meet young families taking an interest in this work.

Massimo is working with Transition Monteveglio first because he thinks the earth needs our work and our creativity to solve the problems. And second because the Transition movement is the first environmental movement he’s encountered that is interested in inner transition and in the awareness of the change of our consciousness. He believes we must first change ourselves to change the world. Also the Transition process helps people express themselves and empowers people to change the world and gives people hope. Silvia Neri, married to Massimo, is drawn to the Transition movement because she appreciates the participatory methods, where everyone can take part, where everyone can share their talents, and where everyone can find their way. She likes that she doesn’t need to do everything, that people share in the work. She’s excited about changing the current, individualistic society to one more focused on community. Learning about permaculture touched something deep inside her and so it was a natural for her to work in the Transition movement.

Cristiano, a Transition Trainer, works in advertising and from that point of view he saw what was the truth of what is happening in the world, since advertising paints the truth with a cover. He was searching for how to make a change and the day he found out what Rob Hopkins was doing in England changed his life. He learned how to be less controlling and how to allow people to bring their own energies and ideas into a collaborative process. He also saw how much fun people were having while doing this important work. He recognized that it’s tiring, but fun. He saw how easy it was to encourage others to join. He imported the Transition process to Italy. One problem was that all the books are in English. So he and others of the core group started translating the materials to Italian. And now more are involved and he’s incredibly moved by the simplicity of welcoming people in.

Massimo’s vision for greater Bologna includes another way to collaborate, to fully communicate, to go beyond the false separation of ideas and to build a beautiful and peaceful city with clean air, clean water, and clean streets. He feels they have a great opportunity to be an example for the rest of Italy because it’s an important historic and geographic place.

Silvia’s vision is all about communication. She wants to see many Transition groups in every part of the city and in every street. She wants a city where people naturally go into the streets to talk with one another. She wants to see more people walking and biking about because when people are in cars, they don’t communicate with each other. Massimo and Silvia bike to work, risking their lives in a car-filled city without many bike lanes. She envisions more green spaces, she’s tired of all the cement. Cristiano believes that Bologna has been a town where revolutions have been started and so believes it’s ripe for a new type of revolution. Politicians and cooperatives in Monteveglio are very interested in what is happening. He believes they can plant this idea throughout Italy and there are already 20 Transition initiatives in Italy. “Here we have the potential, so why not try,” he said.

Massimo believes that Italy, home of an earlier renaissance, can use that model for a new renaissance for a global vision. Silvia thinks its important for everyone to work locally but always with a global vision in mind. She likes the idea that she is not alone. Knowing what other parts of the world are doing, even if they don’t call it a Transition movement, helps with the feeling of doing a larger, important work for the world. Transition Monteveglio has learned from other large city initiatives and were impressed with Transition Los Angeles. This knowledge helps her trust that it is possible to make a difference.

There’s already a global vision for big change, according to Cristiano. People are trying to make changes using the old system. He believes that systemic change is necessary and has been inspired by the work of Donella Meadows on systems thinking. The current system is very good at squelching the new ideas. But Cristiano believes that, by thinking “outside of the box” new possibilities exist, that there are incredible, creative people just waiting for the opportunity to participate. He believes the global vision is already there, we just have to tap into it. After the interview was over, Cristiano talked about the “people who are standing outside the open door” of the transition movement, not knowing whether to walk in. He talked about being patient, continuing to set the example, and eventually some will cross the threshold. One woman took 1 1/2 years to walk in.

What an added bonus it was to my trip to encounter people involved in a movement that apparently is growing. In Madrid people took over a major plaza to bring to attention that they believed Spain was not a true democracy. They occupy the plaza day and night. This inspired others to do the same in their cities in Spain and when I was walking through Bologna, Italy I found a piazza occupation going on. It started a week ago. There were a lively bunch of mostly young people with hand painted signs who were enthusiastically talking with anyone who would listen. I spoke with several of them and they all directed me to Antonio Liguori to give me a little interview. Antonio said that some Spanish students put on an event on Facebook about the “Spanish revolution” and they decided to start the “Italian revolution.” They want people to participate in the life of the country, feeling that the political system is not inviting all to participate. For example, there is a referendum next month that has had many signatures to bring it forward. In response the government is creating laws that would prevent the referendum to move forward.

So, wouldn’t you know it, the same movement is going strong in Barcelona and that was my next stop! There a number of the Transition Barcelona folks were participating in the activities at Piazza Catalunya, the most central and probably most visited piazza in Barcelona. There were hundreds of people milling about, workshops and talks going on, a vegetable garden growing in what little green space there was, and a straw-bale house being erected with people preparing the cob facing. Music, massages, free food, child spaces, and booth after booth with people sharing different ideas about what a true democracy would look like. The movement is called “Real Democracy Now” according to Daniel Turon. He said that Spain’s government is selling it’s assets due to the poor economy, the unemployment rate is very high (especially for young people), and people are very upset about it, but don’t feel they have a voice. Many passers by were drawn into conversations and seemed genuinely interested. There hadn’t been any police involvement when I arrived. The demonstrators were very respectful of the place, keeping it clean and had a good relationship with the regular folks who clean the area. The next morning the police moved in and, with a strong arm and rubber bullets, cleared the piazza. A number of people were injured. There was to be a celebration about a soccer match the next day and they wanted to clear it. Now I read that the government in Madrid want to clear the piazza as well. Apparently they are invited to return on Sunday, but I’ve heard they are moving back already. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Read about the Barcelona Transition work in my next blog.

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Israel Part Two

How can I leave out my images of Israel and the West Bank as I write this entry? It’s been so fascinating, beautiful, and dramatic. I’ll just stream them here as a start….

–Camels at the side of the road
–An Ethiopian Hedgehog crossing my path one evening
–Dual flush toilets everywhere–homes, rest stops, bus stations
–All newly constructed homes required to create a “safe room” which is protection from attack ( metal protected, even special window blinds)
–Eating date honey and date jam in the mornings
–Yum…almonds, figs, dates, humus, tahini, olives, pickles, meat balls, matza ball soup
–Kibbutzim, totally cooperative
–Moshavim, private homes and some with cooperative work
–Thai farm workers at large farms and Kibbutzim and Moshavim
–Security checkpoint when leaving the West Bank–because we went to a Palestinian village our car was searched and we were carefully questioned.
–Security checkpoint when entering an outdoor shopping mall
–Young male soldiers with their sub-machine guns everywhere, on buses, in stores–Guns are unloaded, but they are required to have their very large weapons with them at all times, even when on leave, in case they are called to action.
–Young female soldiers everywhere
–Searching for a voltage converter when mine broke–a terrible thing if one couldn’t be found since the voltage in Israel and Europe is 220 to 230, but delighted when finding it in a small electronics shop in Afula–then finding out that my Mac handles all volatage in the world! Still need the converter for camera, e-reader, and recorder batteries.
–visiting sacred Christian, Muslim, and Jewish sites, including visiting the site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount–imagining what life was like here 2,000 years ago
–Arab cities in Israel with the Arabs having Israeli citizenship
–A huge sandstorm which blanketed Tiberias and the Golan Heights with sand and almost without visibility
–Hearing the Muslim call to prayer while in the West Bank village of Marda
–Donkeys in the road in Marda
–The variety of women’s attire, from very Western to Religious Jew to Muslim (the first ones including tank tops and short shorts and the last two with varieties of head coverings and body coverings)
–Purchasing home-pressed and processed olive oil and olives in 1 1/2 liter soda bottles
–Sima and me returning a baby swallow to it’s nest after finding it on the ground–we think it has survived
–Watching a video of Harvey and Sima’s daughter’s pre-wedding celebration in the Yemenite fashion (Sima’s parents are from Yemen, coming to Israel in 1935) incredible attire, dancing, and customs
–Coming to know my cousin Harvey (who’s from England) and his wife, Sima, and their family here–amazing!
–Feral cats everywhere
–Only place I’ve ever been where I cannot figure out the signs, ads, etc.
–Seeing the borders of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon and being close to Egypt!
–Visiting incredible national parks and adding 23 new-to-me birds to my list while here

Harvey (my cousin) was nervous about me going into the West Bank on my own. He was also nervous about going in himself, but he did take me there. Even though Murad AlKhufash, my permaculture contact, assured us there was no worry, Harvey’s biggest fear was about young men stoning the car, given the recent border clashes. Plus Harvey is just a worrier. On the other hand, I was excited to go to the West Bank, to meet a Palestinian farmer, and to experience something very new.

We drove to the arranged meeting spot and Murad jumped into our car, having been brought there by a taxi. And then we drove into Marda, a small village near the very large Israeli settlement of Ariel (one of the many disputed Jewish settlements in the West Bank). Murad was born here, has always been a farmer, and the permaculture farm was once his father’s farm. We began our visit in his home, meeting his wife, Ghada, and their three lovely daughters, Sara, Halla, and Toleen. While sitting there we heard the very loud mosque’s call to prayer. I asked Murad why he didn’t stop to pray and he explained that he would do it after we left, but we were his guests and he took that seriously.

Murad’s English was excellent since he had lived in the United States for 5 years to earn money and eventually to take an extensive permaculture workshop. He worked at The Farm, in Tennessee (www.thefarmcommunity.com) which is also home to the Global Village Project, an international NGO in Summertown, Tennessee. And now his NGO, Marda Permaculture Farm (www.mardapermaculture.org), is a partner project with The Farm and is recognized as a branch of the Global Village Institute. Contributions can be made to Marda through The Farm. According to the Marda website:

Palestine has some problems, and Marda brings some new solutions. come and see how it’s done. The farm is an oasis of green in a land that is dry, where Palestinians have lived under great hardship, yet where there is a promise of a new future. We believe that permaculture is a key ingredient in the future, not only for Palestine, but for the Middle East and the world. We’re setting out to show how it’s done.

The farm was initiated in 2006. The Marda Permaculture Farm is a working farm and a demonstration site for permaculture principles, techniques and strategies. Permaculture is an ecological design system that draws heavily on indigenous and local wisdom as well as cutting-edge science, to help individuals and communities maximize local resources toward sustainable production, generation and recycling of food, water, energy, housing and other resources.

The Marda Farm was founded by permaculturist Murad Alkhufash, whose family has farmed the region for more than ten generations. The project seeks to promote ecological, cultural and economic resilience in the region by developing a small scale permaculture site to serve as a model and teaching center for local farmers and international permaculture students. Farm staff will also facilitate permaculture design courses in diverse communities across Palestine.

As we were driving to the farm Murad called out to someone to deliver yogurt to his house for our much anticipated lunch. Then he stopped someone else for some parsley. Apparently shopping is a bit different here, though I do stop in at a neighbor’s for eggs. It seemed everyone knew everyone. There were donkeys tethered at the side of the road and I asked if many people used donkeys and mules. Murad answered that donkeys were prevalent but mules were too expensive. Part of our experience felt timeless, especially if you removed the cars. I felt transported to another era, and into another culture.

Murad’s farm is about 2 1/2 dunoms, which is 6/10 of an acre or 1/10 of a hectare. It’s amazing how much is being grown in such a small area. We approached via a very narrow, dirt road which wound around homes, with people sitting “curb” side, sharing stories of the day–women always donned with head scarves. The farm has a large gate into which Harvey drove his car and parked it. Right away you notice the lushness and organic feel of of the place and see the prominent and very large greenhouse. Inside the greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, companion flowers, and more were growing in abundance. Drip irrigation is used so that the small amount of water available is used directly on the roots.

Murad is harvesting rain water through channels in the town (used to keep the streets and yards dry) for his irrigation by just directing it to his and other farms, teaching others how to use it. (At his home he is using the grey water from his washing machine to water the plants in his garden.) Outside the greenhouse is the typical spiral garden, a symbol of permaculture. He has a “no-till” garden and in amongst the huge variety of fruit and nut trees and vegetables are lovely places to sit. Many abandoned tires have been used for walls and dividers, and in some cases for planters. The whole small farm is so vibrant and productive–a perfect permaculture garden. We sat in the shade of an olive tree to conduct the interview.

Murad said that he is doing this work because he likes to grow, plant seeds, and watching things grow. He likes to eat healthy food and provide it for others in his village. He also wants to build the movement to help local farmers see how productive permaculture farming is. He has a vision of building a house on the site, creating electricity from solar panels, and becoming self sufficient. He then wants the farmers in the village, after adopting permaculture ethics, to sell to outside markets, marketing the organic vegetables and fruits, bringing some economic security to an economically depressed area. His vision also includes diversity of crops so that a farmer isn’t wiped out from a disaster of one crop. Also he plants crops that mature throughout the year, helping to bring income on a more regular schedule. He does believe that his project will help create global health through teaching internationals who come to learn permaculture.

I appreciated Murad’s enthusiasm and energy and knowledge. Because his family has been farming in Marda for so many generations, he’s known and respected in town and has more of an opportunity to influence his neighbors than outside NGO’s bringing the message. We returned to his home to a splendid lunch with his family. Before we left, Harvey purchased olives and olive oil from Murad which were packaged in 1 1/2 in cola bottles.

An added event was interviewing Laithi Ghnaim, an Arab farmer living in Sakhnin (Arabic– سخنين‎), an Arab city in the state of Israel. Yonatan, from Kibbutz Lotan, introduced me to Leithi via internet and we agreed to meet. Harvey and his wife Sima accompanied me on a typical hot morning.

Laithi works with an NGO, Arasid which is based in Sakhnin. His English is great and he also speaks Arabic and Hebrew. Sakhnin is a city of about 25,000 people situated in the hills of northern Israel and is reached by driving through other Arab towns all with their beautiful mosques quite prominently displayed. We agreed to meet at the local high school where we watched the girls and boys being just like teenagers everywhere. The difference was that the girls were either bare-headed and dressed in modern pants or skirts with their school shirt uniform, or head-scarfed with the same jeans and shirt, or in traditional Arab dresses with head coverings.

On a 50-acre project, Laithi is teaching farmers sustainable farming methods based on indigenous knowledge from the area and from other parts of the world. He attended a year-long training at the Arava Institute (see previous blog) and with his university training in biology and agricultural planning, he launched into this work. The big issue facing the El Boutof valley is water. Although there’s a water channel flowing through the valley, the farmers are not allowed any of it. They are not allowed to collect rainwater either since that all “belongs” to the government. So, the project is demonstrating what can be grown with only rain, or as Laithi says, “it’s rain-fed farming.” Laithi is clear that he considers this discrimination by the Israeli government towards Arab farmers.

The project is incredibly impressive. The crops include cucumbers, okra, zucchini, figs, olives, tomatoes, beans, watermelon, and other melons, wheat, barley, and pomegranates. One farmer has tried pecans, citrus and peaches, but that hasn’t been successful. There are some grape vines that appeared to be doing well. Laithi said the grape leaves were a bigger income producer than the grapes since stuffed grape leaves is a big part of the Arab diet. The 14 farmers he’s working with are young and eager, though there are some older farmers as well. The growing season for wheat, barley, sorgum (for animals), chickpeas, and beans is November through July. The rest of the crops are planted in March and harvested in July. Already the ground was parched and cracked and Laithi said that by July the cracks would be huge chasms. They are hoping to make owl habitats so the owls will eat the rodents in the fields and, if successful, will eliminate the desire by farmers to poison the rodents.

When asked about why he is doing this work, which does not bring financial rewards, he responded that even though they couldn’t change the political reality, they could create new economic ways to support the local communities here. He said that the people are connected to their land, to the valley, the land is part of their life, and so to help make a way to earn a living from the land without irrigation, was a dream made into reality, and the people are eager to participate.

His vision is beyond agriculture, it’s about sustainability and how to bring needy families from the valley to earn a living from the land. They led a workshop for poor women to learn to make Arab pita bread from the wheat grown on the land. The women then make money selling the pita. This is a long-term project to bring self sufficiency to the area. They are also beginning to work with youth at risk, bringing them to the fields to learn farming, and want to do much more, culturally. He feels they’ve made a small change in their reality.

He added that sustainability is beyond not using pesticides or chemical fertilizers–that it’s about people being able to live from the land and to be self-reliant. They didn’t get some funding from the government because they were told that it seemed their vision was to economically separate from the government. But Laithi pointed out that the Arabs are not really part of the government anyway! His vision is to have the valley be an organic valley and that this is a model project for the area and sees the model as a good one for a global vision of sustainability. He hopes that Arabs and Jews and all others will see the valley as a chance for supporting both people and nature, since sustainable agriculture is gentler on the environment.

Laithi’s dream is to be a full-time farmer, but he can’t afford it. He doesn’t receive money for the work with the project and instead earns money as an agricultural planner. That helps support his wife and son and the daughter on the way. From our short time together I have great confidence that he will help make this project a great success.

An added treat before leaving Israel (in addition to all the sightseeing my cousin planned for me) was the invitation to come talk to the kindergarden class where my cousin’s granddaughter, Adi, attends, at Moshav Keshet, a “religious” moshav. The class had recently won an environmental award for their creative re-use zone. Members of the moshav bring their cardboard, plastics, paper, and glass and the class uses the materials in their work. What makes this so special is that only plastic bottles can be recycled in Israel (though I was told this is beginning to change) so the children were saving much from being tossed into landfills.

On the grounds of the school were various creative areas where interesting bird feeders had been built as well as a sculpture of recycled materials for watering birds. They composted the food waste, had small plots for growing grains and vegetables and even a couple of strawberry plants. All over was evidence of the use of reused materials even for a percussion section, and small “rooms” where children were active in make-believe fun. When it was my turn to share with them, I talked to them about “pre-cycling,” the plan to reduce waste entirely and showed them my cloth napkin and set of utensils and cup that I take every where. The children understood just what I was talking about.

Adi’s mother, Mel, served us a delicious lunch and we played with their five children. It was a great cultural experience to be amongst the religious Orthodox Jews. I was drawn to the strong sense of community and related to Mel and her husband Elad’s desire to raise their children in a religiously supportive environment. This family had a strong environmental ethic and searched for ways to re-use goods. Elad built their kitchen cabinets from discarded pieces of cabinets from construction sites. It felt a lot like being at home!

I am so grateful for this experience to visit Israel and the West Bank. One, to connect to family I hadn’t seen before, and two, to meet such inspiring people who are really creating models for a new world. My cup runneth over.

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