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Birmingham should become a transition city

Clare Short, Birmingham Post
Just before Easter, I accepted an invitation to contribute to a course on development at Schumacher College which is situated in the grounds of Dartington Hall, near Totnes.

The college is famous for its commitment to environmental sustainability as is the Dartington Trust. On the road sign for Totnes someone has painted “Twinned with Narnia”.

It is a beautiful part of the world and large numbers of green minded, alternative sorts of people live there. This has made Totnes the ideal place for the birth of the Transition Towns movement.

I have spent the last year or so reading and thinking about where politics is going. It is clear that people are sick to death of current British politics.

The tide is going out for Labour and therefore coming in for Cameron. But I detect little enthusiasm for the Tories. They are the instrument available to give the government a kick in the pants, but few people are excited about what they have to offer.

I myself doubt that things would change much if Cameron became Prime Minister.

The really big change that is coming will result from the challenge of global warming, peak oil and the strain on global resources resulting from growing populations and massive economic growth in China and India.

Our whole way of life, since the industrial revolution is based on massive energy use. And most of that energy comes from oil. But oil also produces all our plastics, fertiliser and most of our pharmaceuticals.

New oil resources are not being found and usage has increased massively particularly in Asia. This explains the doubling of oil prices over the past year and the likely doubling yet again.

The Transition Towns movement, which started in Totnes and is spreading across the country and the world, is about local people coming together to prepare for the change that is coming.
(13 May 2008)
Re-posted at Transition Culture.

The proposal elicited a post from the newapapers economics editor: Do we need our own Brummie money?.

From Wikipedia:

Clare Short (born 15 February 1946) is a British politician and a member of the British Labour Party. She is currently the Independent Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood, having been elected as a Labour Party MP in 1983, and was Secretary of State for International Development in the UK Labour government from 3 May 1997 until her resignation on 12 May 2003.

A Family Farm in the Midst of Suburbia

John Donvan and Melia Patria, ABC News
On $30,000 a Year, One Family Lives a Subsistence Lifestyle in a Suburban House

Is it neat, or is it slightly odd that in this Los Angeles community — it’s called Pasadena — a suburban mix of nice restaurants and well-tended front lawns, there is a home wedged in with the other houses where the entire front yard is edible?
Meet the people who only eat what they grow.

It’s true. At 631 Cypress Avenue, there is not one thing that cannot be eaten. Nothing. Kale, chives, pepper, pinapple, guava, Swiss chard, even edible flowers along the side of the house, and into the back yard.

It is Jules Dervaes’ fifth of an acre. His little family farm, in the midst of American suburbia, his way of breaking free without really going anywhere.

“We eat rich, I’m telling you,” said Dervaes. “And the way we live, it just seems like something you would dream of.”

The “we” he speaks of are his kids, who grew up on the farm. Three out of four of them have stayed on into their 20’s and 30’s, and they don’t have other jobs either because what they don’t eat, they sell.
(15 May 2008)

No wonder Iceland has the happiest people on earth

John Carlin, The Observer
Highest birth rate in Europe + highest divorce rate + highest percentage of women working outside the home = the best country in the world in which to live. There has to be something wrong with this equation. Put those three factors together – loads of children, broken homes, absent mothers – and what you have, surely, is a recipe for misery and social chaos.

But no.

Iceland, the block of sub-Arctic lava to which these statistics apply, tops the latest table of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index rankings, meaning that as a society and as an economy – in terms of wealth, health and education – they are champions of the world. To which one might respond: Yes, but – what with the dark winters and the far from tropical summers – are Icelanders happy?

Actually, in so far as one can reliably measure such things, they are. According to a seemingly serious academic study reported in the Guardian in 2006, Icelanders are the happiest people on earth. (The study was lent some credibility by the finding that the Russians were the most unhappy.)

Oddny Sturludottir, a 31-year-old mother of two, told me she had a good friend who was 25 and had three children by a man who had just left her. ‘But she has no sense of crisis at all,’ Oddny said. ‘She’s preparing to get on with her life and her career in a perfectly optimistic frame of mind.’ The answer to why the friend perceives no crisis in what any woman in a similar predicament anywhere else in the western world might consider a full-blown catastrophe goes a long way towards explaining why Iceland’s 313,000 inhabitants are such a sane, cheerful, successful lot.

There are plenty of other, more obvious factors. Statistics abound. It is the country with the sixth highest GDP per capita in the world; where people buy the most books; where life expectancy for men is the highest in the world…

But none of this happiness would be possible without the hardy self-confidence that defines individual Icelanders, which in turn derives from a society that is culturally geared – as its overwhelming priority – to bring up happy, healthy children, by however many fathers and mothers. A lot of it comes from their Viking ancestors, whose males were rampant looters and rapists, but had the moral consistency at least not to be jealous of the dalliances of their wives – tough women who kept their families fed in the semi-tundra harshness of this north Atlantic island while their husbands forayed, for years at a time, far and wide. As a grandmother I met on my first visit to Iceland, two years ago, explained it: ‘The Vikings went abroad and the women ran the show, and they had children with their slaves, and when the Vikings returned they accepted it, in the spirit of the more the merrier.’
(18 May 2008)
Article confirms what I’ve long suspected – life is better in a matriarchy. Men, take note: don’t fight it, relax and enjoy the inevitable. -BA