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War at Home: The Local Eco-Warriors Making a Big Noise

Robin Barton, The Independent/UK
Shivering atop a power-station chimney certainly makes a dramatic eco statement. But is direct action the best way to combat global warming? Robin Barton meets the climate-change campaigners who like ‘big and bold’ and the green communities who prefer ‘slow and steady’
… From Scotland to the village of Sipson, the site of BAA’s planned third runway at Heathrow, environmental activists are fired up. Frustration over December’s COP15 cop-out has led many to abandon hope in state-led solutions on climate change and renewable energy. In a poll conducted by, the leading green blog, 48 per cent of respondents, by far the largest group, described the Copenhagen summit as “a big expensive waste of time that failed to deal with an urgent problem”. So how best to get that view across?

“Direct action is a form of political engagement that’s far more effective than other forms of protest I’ve tried,” argues Ben Stewart. He was one of six Greenpeace protesters arrested after occupying the chimney of Kingsnorth power station in Kent in 2007 (see panel, right). But, heroic though abseiling down a chimney may be, is it the best way forward to a greener, cleaner environment? Or is the greatest progress being achieved in tiny steps that we can all take: cutting down on household waste, using less energy, reducing journeys. These are the seemingly mundane actions being taken by the Transition Town movement.

“The conclusion from Copenhagen is that we can’t wait for governments to act,” says Rob Hopkins, the Devon-based Transition Towns guru, “so communities need to make these things happen.” What Hopkins has in mind are transition towns: communities that have become sustainable not only in energy but in areas including transport, public services, and economics. Some, such as Lewes (see panel, page 20) and the London neighbourhood of Brixton, have their own currencies, which encourage locals to support local enterprises. Since 2005, when the movement germinated in Totnes, it has spread across the world.

… Chris Smedley of Transition Town Lewes agrees: “Activism doesn’t change the fundamental model of society, whereas what Transition attempts to do is create a new model. Politicans and business leaders live within a set of rules that force a short-term view. Transition Towns can look long-term. The energy crisis won’t hit for years. The urgency lies in starting to do something about it now.”

… Down in Lewes, “Transition Townies” visit schools and hold energy fairs. Ovesco, an Industrial and Provident Society for community benefit spun out of the town’s energy group, has dispensed 200 grants for biomass-fuelled boilers, photo-voltaic panels and insulation. It sounds mundane but in the climate war’s battle for hearts and minds, perhaps that’s what matters.

It’s something that Cowen, a leader of Conch, has considered: “A successful campaign has to be inclusive. Although I come from a campaigning background, most people didn’t. They are farmers, beekeepers, businessmen, not stereotypical activists; we hosted free film screenings in Glasgow to engage with people who wouldn’t normally be interested.”

… The Transition Town movement aims to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and prepare for a low-carbon future. Chris Smedley, Chris Rowland and Oliver Dudok van Heel, speaking below, are three of the people behind the transformation of a whole town. Transition Town Lewes now has its own currency, the Lewes Pound, and about 20 working groups on transport, education, health and food

“We started with a few people who took up the Transition idea six months after Totnes in 2005. We work back from a date when fossil fuels will be unavailable – 2025, 2050 – to develop a community that has been weaned off its dependency. The first year was primarily spent raising awareness and explaining the issues behind fossil fuels.

“The working groups system puts people in touch with others who have a common interest. It’s very good on a local, community level and reduces reliance on the local council. There’s a can-do attitude about that attracts doers.

“The reason Transition Towns have been successful is that they haven’t been militant. They’re all-encompassing. Where the environmental movement tends to be ‘against’ things. Transition Towns are all about being ‘for’ something. To people of all political backgrounds, that’s very appealing.”
(14 February 2010)
Also at Common Dreams.

Brock Dolman on water: “Basins of relations: reverential rehydration revolution”

Brock Dolman, Bioneers (via YouTube)
Permaculturist and watershed wizard Brock Dolman shows how the future lifeboat well need is shaped exactly like our local watershed. He wields his dazzling poetics to tell us how we can engage with the spirit of Planet Water, create water-literate human settlement patterns, and regenerate ecological integrity and social resiliency to prepare for the climate changes ahead. Learn more about Brock Dolman (and other Bioneers):

Part 1 (Brock starts speaking about 4:00 minutes into the video)
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
(9 November 2009)
Hearing Brock Dolman speak is quite an experience. You come away with a far different view of water. Suggested by HopeDance. -BA

Pathways to Re-Localisation with Joel Salatin
(text and video)
Owen Hablutzel, HopeDance
… Not merely a “lunatic farmer,” Joel Salatin is also a prolific author, front-line local-food activist, regenerative-silvo-pastoral-profitable-Permaculture farmer, sought-after speaker, marketing guru, agricultural innovator, eco-prophet, and general “bio-evangelist.” He has been written about quite extensively elsewhere, has appeared in worthy films such as Food, Inc. and Fresh, and well-deservedly ranks as something of a celebrity-dynamo in the eco-ag domain.

In 1961 his father moved the family to an abused, soil-depleted, de-vegetated, gully-infested, 550 acre block of land in Virginia called Polyface Farm. Beginning then, and continuing to this day, the Salatin family began a series of adaptive experiments in natural farming that regenerated Polyface and, to a large degree, aspects of the surrounding communities. Over the years Mr. Salatin has produced many ground-tested, tried-and-true, replicable models for profitable small farm production. Everything from pastured pork and poultry, to timber, to grass-finished beef (some of his books – You Can Farm, Pastured Poultry Profits, and Salad-Bar Beef – offer complete models of these enterprises, as well as lots of other juicy, hard-won, ecological farming tidbits). Along the way the Salatin’s have occasionally found themselves locking horns with insensitive bureaucracies, incompetent politicos and agencies, and incomprehensible legal issues (see Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal) that tend to keep sensible, locally based farms and initiatives out of important local markets (usually to protect far-flung, large scale agribusiness and multinationals from relevant local competition under the guise of ‘food safety’). This varied, agricultural life, specific set of experiences, cheerful personality, and wit makes Mr. Salatin uniquely qualified for such zealous pulpiteering on the topic of re-localizing our world.

So what pathways does Mr. Salatin suggest? How do we get to a thriving, locally based, community embedded agriculture – an agriculture that is neighborhood friendly, what he calls an “embryonic aesthetically aromatically sensually romantic farming model” – from the present degenerative state of affairs? To begin the journey requires recognizing where we are starting from. For Mr. Salatin our society is presently at “the zenith… of the Greco-roman, western, linear, reductionized, disconnected, democratized, individualized, fragmented, systematized, all-about-me kind of thinking.” His answer is to preach what he practices. “We need to engage… to be the ones that reach out,” says Mr. Salatin. It is this highly pro-active, interactive, social modality of engaging others that is necessary for farmers and for all agents of change to practice in order to begin to bring about the kinds and scales of changes that are needed. …
(December 9, 2009)
HopeDance has posted Salatin’s talk:

“The very inspiring and packed-house talk Joel Salatin presented on Relocalization, in Santa Barbara on December 9, 2009 as part of the Carbon Economy Courses, presented by Quail Springs and Orella Ranch.” (YouTube via HopeDance)
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Populist oratory for relocalization from the owner of Polyface Farm. Salatin defies all the stereotypes.

Also on YouTube (30 mins total) – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4-BA

Die Transition Towns-Bewegung – Städte und Menschen im Wandel

GlobalMag, ArteTV (German video)
Angesichts drohender Erdölknappheit haben einige Nachhaltigkeitsaktivisten in Großbritannien eine „Bewegung für eine Stadt des Übergangs“ („Transition Town Movement“) gegründet. Für hier und heute halten sie revolutionäre Lösungen bereit. So legen sie in einigen Städten Gemüsegärten an, fahren nur noch Fahrrad und haben sogar eine örtliche Währung eingeführt. Avantgarde oder Öko-Sekte?

Originally appeared on GlobalMag as part of the ArteTV network (French/German).

Rob Hopkins of Transition Town writes:

[The titel]…which according to my trusty Babelfish means “The Transition Towns movement – cities and humans in the change”, or something. Anyway, here’s a great short film for German speakers out there, featuring Brixton, Totnes and a Transition Training somewhere… but sufficiently understandable to be a very interesting way for non-German speakers to pass 8 minutes.

The submitter of a YouTube version writes:

03.02.2010, Arte-TV, Global. Das Transition Town-Konzept wird erklärt. Eine Aufklärungsbewegung zum Thema Energieumstellung und Energiesparen, Selbstversorgungsmöglichkeiten und regionale Selbstbestimmung (u. a. Regionalgeld), Ernährung, ökologisches Bauen.

Beispiele in Deutschland (Osnabrück) (Bielefeld)… (Köln)……

(15 February 2010)
Arte (Association Relative à la Télévision Européenne) “is a Franco-German TV network. It describes itself as a European culture channel and aims to promote quality programming especially in areas of culture and the arts.” The GlobalMag at has lots of interesting articles related to sustainability in German and French.


I found a summary of the French version of this video:
But I cannot find a French version of the video.


Environmentalists launch low-carbon ‘churches in transition’

Christian Ecology Link have launched a support network for “Churches in Transition”, part of the Transition Towns movement, and has held a major national conference on the transition to low carbon lives.

At their bi-annual gathering in Scarborough this weekend, 50 participants from across the Christian spectrum came together to explore the implications of climate change and ‘peak oil’.

Churches in Transition (CiT) is a broad interdenominational alliance of people who hear the call to cut carbon emissions and prepare for increasing scarcity of oil. It was launched at the parish church at Ottery St Mary, in Devon, a Transition Town, in November 2009.

Christian Ecology Link are encouraging individuals and their churches to start an ‘ecocell’ study course in lifestyle change, and take part in online conversations and collective spiritual discipline for Lent.

Led by Sam Norton, the Rector of St Peter and St Paul in Mersea, Essex, the Scarborough conference explored the spiritual roots of sustainable Christian living. The evening entertainment included showing the films “In Transition” and “Six Degrees”; and the holding of a Low Carbon ceilidh, complete with bagpipes.


Churches in Transition (CiT) –
CiT online forum –

Christian Ecology Link main website –
(15 February 2010)
Preview draft of a Leaflet for Churches In Transition (PDF)

Discussion forum for Churches In Transition (Ning site – free).

Sam Norton, who is active in starting Churches in Transition, has been an Energy Bulletin contributor.

Could chicken manure help curb climate change?

Brian Winter, USA Today
Here’s a low-cost solution to global warming: chicken manure.

At Josh Frye’s poultry farm in West Virginia, the chicken waste is fed into a large, experimental incinerating machine. Out comes a charcoal-like substance known as “biochar” — which is not only an excellent fertilizer, but also helps keep carbon in the soil instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere, where it acts as a greenhouse gas.

Former vice president and environmental advocate Al Gore calls biochar “one of the most exciting new strategies” available to stop climate change. For Frye, it means that, before long, “the chicken poop could be worth more than the chickens themselves.”

“I thought it was crazy at first, and my wife still thinks it’s nuts,” admits Frye, 44. Yet he has sold nearly $1,000 worth of biochar to farmers as far away as New Jersey, and plans to sell much more as he refines production. Venture capitalists, soil scientists and even members of Congress have all come to Frye’s farm to see whether his example can be repeated.

Techniques such as biochar may represent the best compromise between what’s good for the environment, and what’s affordable during the recession, says Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who visited Frye’s farm in August. As political support in Washington fades for more expensive pollution-fighting measures, such relatively cheap green technology may represent the immediate future of the environmental movement, analysts say.

The strategies range from the simple, such as putting carbon dioxide filters on top of smokestacks, to the controversial, such as a recent United Nations proposal to give out more free condoms — which would in turn slow population growth, leading to fewer greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the planet to warm, the U.N. says.

Taken together, a “portfolio” of low-cost initiatives could have a meaningful, positive impact on the environment, says Jae Edmonds, a prominent climate change scientist at the University of Maryland…
(10 Feb 2010)
See Albert Bate’s article, Sacred Shines and Skinny Chickens, on this topic which we ran on EB previously here.