Transition Circles are neighbourhood groups supporting individuals to make practical transitions to reducing energy consumption, sharing experiences of what's working and what's difficult in making real changes.
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A greater sense of urgency, and a bolder sense of possibility
I came away from the Transition Conference last weekend with two strong feelings. One was the urgency with which we (the world’s population) need to change our behaviour. The other, fortunately, was a sense that it might just be possible.
My sense of urgency comes mainly from a workshop that David Wasdell gave on climate change. His take – which I believe unless someone tells me otherwise – is that the positive feedback loops in climate change have already reached a scale at which they are contributing more than our direct emissions. That is, we are already in “runaway climate change”. What is less clear is how close we are to “unstoppable runaway climate change” – the point at which the feedback loops become so powerful that there’s absolutely nothing we can do to reverse a transition to a much hotter climate. We might already have passed that point, or we might do so within just a few months. But quite a few people seem to hope or suspect that we might have, say, 8 years in which to avert this catastrophe. That is, I think we’re saying that if the world could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero in that timescale, and then make serious efforts to sequester carbon that has already been emitted, we might just be able to avoid a mass extinction event that is likely to include the extinction of humankind.
My sense that it might just be possible to do something about this comes from a number of insights that various people communicated at the conference. Quite largely they come down to a sense that great things can be achieved if enough people co-operate to achieve them.
One was Sophy, who invited us all at the beginning of the conference to “let the river carry” us through the conference. And at the end, when we were sat in a huge circle, she invited us all to look at all the people in that circle and recognise each other as the river that had carried us. The skills, insights and strengths of all those people, coming together, create a huge and joyful force for change.
Another was the new Transition Film, of which we got to see an early cut, which again very movingly illustrates the breadth and strength of this movement.
Another was David Wasdell himself suggesting that, whereas a supertanker takes many miles to turn, a shoal of fish can respond with amazing speed and co-ordination. The secret is in “massive parallel processing”. David suggested that, rather than trying to run Transition groups as centralised or single-headed groups, they should seek to constantly bud off into smaller groups, with each group having the capacity to reproduce itself again.
And another was the series of workshops that John Croft gave on Dragon Dreaming, an approach to designing, funding and delivering projects that he says is astonishingly successful. Again, the key seems to be in engaging the energy and resources of large numbers of people.
What this means for me
All this comes as a bit of a shock to me. I realise I’ve been holding myself in a state of ignorance and/or denial about the extent of the climate change problem. I’ve seen it as on a par with peak oil, but I now realise that climate change is both a bigger constraint and a more urgent one. Peak oil may force us to reduce our oil consumption by 4% a year or so, but climate change requires a much more rapid reduction.
This forces me to face up to my own everyday consumption (car use etc) but also where I’m choosing to put my energies. My work in food is important, and is some part of the solution we need to put together, but it seems to me the more urgent need is to get many, many more people involved in making really big changes to their lives in response to climate change.
A timescale for Norwich
I think we have to start with the assumption that Norwich is further ahead with these issues than many other places. If Norwich is going to set a pace and direction that others can follow, we need to make a change in the next 3-4 years that others can follow in the 3-4 years after that, making a total of 6-8 years, which may be as much time as we have available to us.
What change do we need to make in Norwich in 3-4 years? Basically to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero and then begin to sequester carbon.
Norwich and its hinterland have a population of about 230,000. At present, 480 of those 230,000 people are on our mailing list. Maybe 100 of them are actively engaged in Transition, but even many of those (and I count myself in this) have only started to make the changes in our lives we need to make. We have several step-changes to make if we are going to reduce Norwich’s emissions to zero in 3-4 years.
If we were to set a 4-year plan in which most people in Norwich would reduce their carbon emissions (ie emissions resulting from their consumption) to zero, it implies (add table here):
- We grow both our “committed membership” and our “mailing list membership” by a factor of ten to twenty times each year,
- That we encourage and enable everyone in our “committed membership” to halve their GHG footprint within a year of joining, and to reduce it to zero within two years of joining.
These targets seem mind-boggling. But if we can’t achieve them, it seems to me we’re unlikely to avoid planetary catastrophe. Perhaps I’m missing something. I keep asking myself. But so far I’ve not seen what it is.
So, given that the mind-boggling targets have to be achieved, I can’t see that I have any choice but to drop whatever else I was thinking of doing over the next few years, and concentrate on meeting these targets.
I therefore propose to you a vision that I’m calling Transition 2.0.
Why is it called 2.0? Well, mainly to signal that this is a new phase for Transition, and one with a much bolder ambition than many of us might have been thinking about up to now. I suggest we start with a one-year project with a clearly stated aim to
- Build active membership to 1,000 by 31 May 2010
- Build the mailing list to 10,000 by 31 May 2010
- Help all active members to reduce their GHG footprint to 50% of the “average” UK figure, by 31 May 2010 (and provide some kind of self-reporting system to estimate how many people have actually done this)
- Hold a clear expectation of a second project, with even more challenging targets, starting on 1 June 2010.
- A self-reproducing model
The other reason I call this Transition 2.0 is to echo the meaning of “Web 2.0”, which suggested a much more collaborative approach. Users of Web 2.0 are not just passive recipients but active participants. Transition already has this philosophy, but we need to take it to the next level.
David Wasdell’s thoughts about shoals of fish reminded me of my own experience of a religious organisation that I used to belong to. The organisation was designed to grow by reproducing itself in much the same way that living organisms grow through cells growing and dividing.
In the case of Norwich we might approach this by encouraging the postcode groups and village groups to become much more active. The aim would be for each postcode and village group, within this one-year project, to achieve a state in which they could then in turn themselves start to spin off new groups, say at the street level. Each postcode and village group needs to achieve, within one year, the kind of size that Transition Norwich currently has, ie about 100 active members and 1,000 on its mailing list.
A key point here is that, if groups are going to be capable of reproducing themselves, they have to be designed to reproduce. Reproduction needs to be in their DNA. In practical terms this means that they have people able to give talks, people who’ve done Transition Training, etc etc, and a culture that sees reproduction as an important part of their mission in life. I feel we should apply the same criteria to each postcode group (etc) that Transition Network applied to us: they need to have at least 2 people who’ve done the Training, and so on.
As well as reproducing itself within Norwich, I imagine Norwich becoming an exemplar for Transition Groups elsewhere. If we do this we’ll be way ahead of everyone else, and they’re going to want to come and learn from us. (For which we’ll charge them handsomely).
A central support team
To facilitate this process, and to support the (as-yet unidentified) individuals who are going to be the next generation of heroes at the postcode and village level, I suggest we need an office in the city centre, staffed during normal office hours, in which a core support team of about 3 people work together. I imagine this office as a busy resource centre, with a set of hot-desks with computers, a lending library of books and DVDs, a number of sets of up-to-date display boards, and space for activists to come together and talk through plans and problems.
I also think that the central support team would be much more creative and productive if they sit together in a shared office, than we currently all are typing away in our respective private spaces.
In my mind I imagine the upstairs space at the Greenhouse as this office and resource centre. At the moment it’s used to raise money for the Greenhouse by selling second-hand books. I’d like to talk to Tigger about how much income he’d need from us to displace that sales income.
I’d like to volunteer to be on that central staff. I could probably give about 3 days a week, and for the time being could do that without being paid. If we need to pay people we should consider either asking members for a subscription that would cover those salaries, or doing the kind of “enabled fundraising” that John Croft taught on his course. I think we might also be able to earn a fair amount from speaking and teaching fees from other Transition groups. If we started a local currency (see below) we could choose to “spend money into existence” which again produces income that can be used to pay staff (as long as they don’t mind being paid in the local currency).
Positive vision, practical solutions
In all of our communications we need to emphasise:
The urgency of the problems faced by climate change, peak oil and economic meltdown. In effect I think we may be saying to people, business-as-usual is broken, it’s no longer an option, don’t put any eggs in that basket. We need to make big changes to our lives – including, for many of us, opting out of jobs in the industrial growth economy – and we need to make them very quickly.
That we have the solutions ready to step in where business-as-usual stops. That we have jobs for people to do as an alternative to their old job in the industrial growth economy. That we have a wide range of “next steps” that individuals can pick up and run with.
That there’s every reason to feel hope, and joy, about the new world we’re creating. As I said, I came away from the Transition Conference with two overwhelming feelings, and one of them was this sense of hope and possibility. The possibility arises from the sense that we’re all working on this together, and supporting each other practically, emotionally and spiritually. The more of us in Norwich are actively committing ourselves to making these changes, the more support we all have. So hopefully the job gets easier as we go along.
When I say “next steps” and “new jobs” I’m talking about practical projects and real low-impact businesses. I’m talking radical. I’m not talking about Lucy Siegle in the Observer giving you 10 top tips like recycling your bottles or buying organic fudge. I’m talking about starting a market garden, or a bakery, or a pig club, or a micro-brewery, or a kitchen-table business that makes houmous from local beans. I’m talking about neighbours coming together to set up a new corner shop stocking only local food from the local market garden, bakery, micro-brewery and houmous manufacturer. I’m talking about neighbourhood waste re-cycling projects, home super-insulation projects, renewable energy generators, and bike repair shops. I’m thinking of a local currency that would be accepted by all of those projects across Norwich.
The more we can get projects like this going in Norwich, the more we build a virtuous circle. We enable people to reduce their GHG emissions by buying from these very low-impact businesses. We enable more and more people to work in these businesses, thus enabling them to opt out of working in the industrial-growth economy. Because these businesses are designed to be used without the use of a car, we help people to give up car ownership. Because the culture of these businesses doesn’t require smart clothes or smart anything, we release people from the obligation to keep buying smart clothes and smart stuff. And because these businesses and projects positively exude community wellbeing and emotional connection, we enable people to reduce their dependence on other addictions. We create something that’s so full of hope, joy and friendship that nobody in their right mind would not choose to be a part of it.
So, where do we start?
If you agree with this approach, there are obviously practical things to arrange like employment, premises and funding.
But most urgently, we need to share this vision with the rest of Transition Norwich. I think we need to have a big meeting for the whole of TN, and sooner rather than later (ie not waiting till October as we’d planned). I’d like to start work on planning that meeting and getting people involved in it right away, with a view to holding it say a month from now. We’ve only got a year!
I’m also thinking that, as well as a big evening event that communicates our intentions to maybe 400 people, we also need a more in-depth event to find the heroes who are going to get the postcode groups going, and get them fired up and enabled and running. I’m thinking of a weekend event for perhaps 20 or 30 people, that could do for them what the Transition Conference has done for me. It needs to have a mixture of presentations about the urgency of climate change (and peak oil and economic dislocation); activities that help us to build our sense of possibility and hope; and practical discussion, most particularly of how we can gear up our awareness-raising activities with a focus on the postcode groups. I think we need to consider how we can identify the movers and shakers and make sure that they come. Tully Wakeman