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We Don’t Talk About That Kind of Thing Around Here

Charlotte Du Cann, Transition Norwich official blog
… If I had stayed obedient to the polite rules of my upbringing, I would never have discovered my innate radical nature: the ability to change myself at the root and thus the world I lived in. Transition, equally radical in its vision, has up to now also avoided the P and the R word. We have in our initiatives focused on the positive aspects of building a resilient community, priming ourselves to downshift into a low-carbon economy. But the climate of the world is changing and with it its mood. In spite of a distracting and manipulative press, we are as people getting smart about a lot of subjects that were once the province of professionals. As our consciousness expands and thousands of grassroots movements across the planet push upwards, so the corporations and those who wield power on their behalf push us back down. And push down hard. We want things to change radically in terms of social justice and the environment. And they really don’t.

Last week Rob Hopkins published two long articles on his blog, Transition Culture. One was about The Big Society and the other a response to Michael Brownlee who was calling for Transition US to evolve and split from its original genesis in Ireland and England. His argument, as Mark mentioned last week, is that “the Sacred” needs to be at the core of the movement, in the same way as Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (the seminal design work on which the new model for Transition is based).

The Network decided to endorse neither, for many clear and cogent reasons. It was a relief, not just because I had no desire to go along with a Conservative agenda (or for that matter a split from America), but because a social taboo was broken. The upper classes avoid talking about Politics and Religion because they know they are based in the ruthless power of the will which once unleashed can break up dinner parties and the fragile relationships between guests. Transition has avoided them for a similar reason. They separate and divide groups and can lead to non-constructive discussion and actions. Encouraging the energy of against rather than for.

However these historical forces need to be out in the open. We need to be aware of what we are up against and how power and ideas can split people into factions. This is a time for coming together, not defining differences according to country, religion, class or political party. The ability to bring diverse peoples together and work as a composite is one of Transition’s greatest strengths.

So my own response from the waterlands of East Anglia to Brownlee in rocky Colorado is that the core of Transition is the collective heart of people, not an abstract “spiritual” force, or worse still some non-human entity with apocalypse on the agenda. Climate change is scary enough without the threat of raptures and purifications as well. Transition is essentially about descending, not ascending or transcending. We need to be down-to-earth and very human indeed to make it to the lifeboat.
(13 December 2010)

Transition, Deep Transition and Solagaia in Maine, Colorado, California and Beyond

Jonathan Maxson, Permavegan
… In a nutshell, I think relocalization and Transition are incredibly useful constructs for community organizing in response to peak oil and climate change, but we are now faced with an unavoidable and urgent need for multilevel and multidimensional organizing that avoids redundancy and creates strong and sensible alignment between adaptation actors at the household, local, state, national, and global levels. I believe Brownlee’s call for Deep Transition is grounded in a deep appreciation for this need, which is now being felt in the United States with intense poignancy and irony (at least in some quarters), but Deep Transition may not be the best vehicle with which to meet this need.

… Deep Transition

My comments on Brownlee’s excellent piece are basically three-fold and track with the three major divisions of his article.

The Backstory

Brownlee’s sketch of the recent development of the U.S. relocalization and Transition movements from his vantage point at the hub of Transition Colorado is a timely and helpful recap. It illustrates well the effective integration of Post Carbon Institute and Transition Network assets for awareness-raising and early-stage relocalization in a small but significant number of pilot U.S. communities. This kind of reflection is essential, especially at a juncture when peak oil and climate change activists around the world are hunkering down for a decade of all-out grassroots adaptation and advocacy on multiple fronts. I recently attended the Pricing Carbon Conference at Wesleyan, and I can tell you that contrary to John Michael Greer’s recent misplaced dig at Sharon Astyk, U.S. climate change activists are alive and kicking with a plan everyone needs to know about.

That said, it is hard not to notice some fairly important elements that are missing from Brownlee’s account. First, at the community organizing level, Brownlee does not mention BALLE, Slow Money, or PostCarbon Cities, yet these are all equally important relocalization initiatives in the U.S. that have so many elements in common with each other they really need to be looked at simultaneously by state and local planners. I know this was not exactly the point of Brownlee’s article, but for an unoffical Transition muller such as myself, this is one of the biggest issues I have been mulling over. How do I promote community organizing for peak oil and climate change in Maine and Aroostook County without promoting one “brand” of relocalization over another?

Second, Brownlee makes no mention of Transition US activities related to state and national policy advocacy, and this underscores for me the limitations of self-organizing relocalizaton as a framework for comprehensive adaptation. Transition is an exceptionally well-crafted system for community organizing in response to peak oil and climate change, but that is all it was designed to accomplish. When we realize that Transition is not enough, we can try to expand Transition into something it is not, or we can look to nest Transition as it is now, along with BALLE, PostCarbon Cities, and Slow Money, at a local planning level, and then we can ask ourselves what are the best complementary systems available to us for aligned adaptation at the state, national, and international levels. My vote is for the latter; Brownlee seems to be leaning the other way, i.e., how can Transition be stretched to accomplish even more.

The Context for Transition (and Transition in Context)

Brownlee is correct and I think courageous in pointing out that 1) Transition is in transition, and 2) the United States has a unique historical, geographical, and cultural context that may recommend a distinct Transition model.

That said, I do not agree with Brownlee that the credit crisis should be added to peak oil and climate change as explicit drivers of Transition organizing.

… Deep Transition

Brownlee’s concluding call for Deep Transition is personally quite stirring and synchronistic. It is also grounded in some of the most respected eco-spiritual luminaries in the American tradition – people whose books a well-read New Englander might set reverentially on the shelf beside Emerson and Thoreau. Joanna Macy, for example, is an eighty-one year old American dharma teacher of extraordinary insight. Macy, in turn, is a teacher in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh, an eighty-four year old Vietnamese Zen Master of equally rich insight. Together, they are probably the clearest integration of east-west, masculine-feminine wisdom we are likely to see in our time.

… I also studied under Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing for several years when I lived in New York. I have to say I was somewhat amazed, however, when I recently discovered how strongly Thay (Nhat Hanh) has articulated the mental devastation that will be caused by global warming, and how important it is for us to be honest about what this means for our society.

Jonathan Maxson is a concerned Maine citizen. He understands “business-as-usual” economic recovery is impossible in Maine because global oil production has entered a twenty-year period of permanent and increasingly disruptive contraction. More broadly, he believes the global economy has exceeded the earth’s physical limits to growth, triggering an unprecedented crisis in the climate, credit, food, and energy sectors. Despite the enormity of the challenges at hand, Maxson believes a collapse of the Maine economy can be avoided. If realistic and coordinated planning for emergency degrowth is implemented early enough at the state and local levels, Maxson believes it is possible for Mainers to improve their quality of life while rapidly decreasing their dependence on oil, coal, and natural gas. Maxson has a Bachelor of Arts in Business, Management, and Economics from Empire State College (2003); a Master of Social Work from the University at Albany (2005); and Permaculture Design Course certification from Lisa Fernandes and Charles and Julia Yelton (2010)
(13 December 2010)

The unrevolution

Nicholas Carr, Rough Type
“I am not a Communist,” declared the author-entrepreneur Steven Johnson in a recent column in the business section of the New York Times. Johnson made his disclaimer in the course of celebrating the creativity of “open networks,” the groups of volunteers who gather on the net to share ideas and produce digital goods of one stripe or another. Because they exist outside the marketplace and don’t operate in response to the profit motive, one might think that such collaboratives would represent a threat to traditional markets. After all, what could be more subversive to consumer capitalism than a mass movement of people working without pay to create free stuff for other people? But capitalists shouldn’t worry, says Johnson; they should rejoice. The innovations of the unpaid web-enabled masses may be “conceived in nonmarket environments,” but they ultimately create “new platforms” that “support commercial ventures.” What appears to excite Johnson is not the intrinsic value of volunteerism as an alternative to consumerism, but the way the net allows the efforts of volunteers to be turned into the raw material for profit-making ventures.

Johnson’s view is typical of many of the web’s most enthusiastic promoters, the Corporate Communalists who feel compelled to distance themselves from, if not ignore entirely, the more radical implications of the trends they describe with starry-eyed avidity.

… What most characterizes today’s web revolutionaries is their rigorously apolitical and ahistorical perspectives – their fear of actually being revolutionary. To them, the technological upheaval of the web ends in a reinforcement of the status quo. There’s nothing wrong with that view, I suppose – these are all writers who court business audiences – but their writings do testify to just how far we’ve come from the idealism of the early days of cyberspace, when online communities were proudly uncommercial and the free exchanges of the web stood in opposition to what John Perry Barlow dismissively termed “the Industrial World.” By encouraging us to think of sharing as “collaborative consumption” and of our intellectual capacities as “cognitive surplus,” the technologies of the web now look like they will have, as their ultimate legacy, the spread of market forces into the most intimate spheres of human activity.

Now available: Nicholas Carr’s new book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”.
(9 November 2010)
Bio of the author:

Nicholas Carr writes on the social, economic, and business implications of technology. He is the author of the 2008 Wall Street Journal bestseller The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, which is “widely considered to be the most influential book so far on the cloud computing movement,” according the Christian Science Monitor. His earlier book, Does IT Matter?, published in 2004, “lays out the simple truths of the economics of information technology in a lucid way, with cogent examples and clear analysis,” said the New York Times.

Kurt Cobb’s Peak Oil” novel – radio interview

Lorraine Caron & Temia Chambliss, WMUK
Kalamazoo energy blogger Kurt Cobb has written his first novel. Prelude is a story of “peak oil”. That’s the point at which worldwide supplies of petroleum begin the long and final decline, and all the social, military and environmental consequences associated with it.

Cobb writes a blog called Resource Insights and is a founding member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas-USA. More information about his new novel can be found here.
(16 December 2010)