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We like upbeat local stories of Transition. But we don’t ignore scary national stories either. Photo: basykes via Flickr.

“Why do you write about politics so much? Why so negative? Why not more stories on Permaculture?” are questions we sometimes get from readers on Transition Voice. The questions are often followed by a statement about what the Transition movement is really about.

Transition, we are told, is really about “positive actions in the local community” such as…

  • Planting community gardens
  • Working with your city council to cut energy use in municipal buildings
  • Printing a local currency

For the record, I’m a fan of all the above. I’m just not ready yet to join Voltaire’s Candide in withdrawing from the world to cultivate my garden.

Gardening in the community

For example, as part of Transition US’s 350 Home and Garden Challenge this month, our local Transition group got involved in a community garden that’s helping to take back a troubled neighborhood from gangs and drugs. In the future, we’d like to work with City Hall on an energy descent action plan. There’s even been talk of starting a local clean-energy utility with lots of solar panels.

And back at Transition Voice, I love to see us publish articles on Permaculture, urban homesteading, the local food movement or other community-based solutions. Could we do more? You bet.

But I don’t live on a farm. I don’t live in an eco-village. I don’t live in a straw-bale house on a commune, or in a co-op or in any kind of experimental green community at all. And I know that most Americans don’t either.

Instead, most of us live in cities, suburbs and towns. Every day, we see more cars than cows. If we’re lucky, we may have a little plot where we can keep a small garden. Otherwise, if we live in a high-rise apartment building, we may have to settle for growing a few herbs in pots on the windowsill.

And most Americans don’t spend much time planting organic seedlings, tending backyard chickens or canning their own rhubarb preserves. Instead, we shlep to shops and offices from 9 to 5 and sit at counters or at computer screens. Maybe that’s our problem. If the shit really hits the fan, then the 99% of us who aren’t yet homesteading (or even urban homesteading) may be out of luck when the delivery trucks stop pulling into the Safeway.

Sometimes that scares me and I think my family should abandon town living for someplace where we can grow more food, chop our own wood for heat and keep safely away from the rioting mobs when the peak-ocalypse comes.

But other times I feel certain that my fate is urban. That I was meant to rise or fall with the majority of my fellow citizens. That even if I could help make my own little town peak oil-proof, no amount of stalls at the farmer’s market or insulation blown into the local high school will protect my community from climate change.

I’m not even sure there’s a way to shield our town — or any place at all — from the economic and political problems of national or state government in the event of an oil crash or climate disaster. What about those armed bands of marauders or hoards of refugees you see in every movie about the end of the world as we know it?

Even if the mutant zombie bikers happen to leave our town unmolested, it seems un-compassionate for me to leave the rest of the nation and the world to its sad fate if I can help, even in a small way, to prevent disaster and all the suffering it would bring.

And I’m sure that many of us working together can prevent disaster. Smart people like Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and James Hansen tell me so.

Economy and ecology: we’re all connected

I don’t need John Donne to tell me that no man is an island. And I don’t need either a Permaculturist or an economist — whether David Holmgren or David Ricardo — to tell me that no community is an island. Heck, these days not even an island is an island, whether it’s Manhattan or Key West.

If the local electric utility wanted to build a nuclear plant next to your community garden, wouldn’t you want to try to get government on your side?

No matter how well prepared we are locally, to a certain extent, all of America will rise or fall together, though some places may fare better than others. And since the US is the world’s biggest polluter and the world’s biggest energy user, other nations are counting on us to finally get energy and climate right.

To save our local communities, we need local action. But we also need our federal and state governments to pass rational energy and climate policy.

So far, Washington has been doing the exact opposite of rational energy policy. Instead, in Bush-lite style, Obama has pushed for more oil drilling despite the Deepwater Horizon. More coal mining despite record melting in the Arctic. And more nukes despite Fukushima. All this while giving only lip-service to clean energy and conservation.

This is not because President Obama, Energy Secretary Chu or anyone else who understands energy in Washington really thinks that fossil fuels and atoms offer a smart energy future. It’s because in today’s plutocracy, they don’t have much choice. The federal government has been captured by corporate special interests who now use the organs of the state to promote their own profits at the expense of the American people and generations yet unborn.

For energy policy to change, ordinary concerned citizens need to dislodge big corporations from the statehouse, the White House and Capitol Hill. And that means getting the Koch brothers out of politics. Getting Big Oil and Big Coal out of politics. And getting climate change deniers out of politics.

From farm to fork in the road

Folks on the farm will make sure that we all don’t starve in the future. Folks in local communities are building valuable social capital for an America that’s more local and resilient. But let’s not forget that activists in Washington are doing crucial Transition work too.

They’re helping to make sure we can preserve anything like an industrial economy beyond peak oil and anything like a liveable climate into the coming century.

So, I’m going to stand with those activists and keep writing about the Koch brothers until ordinary citizens have succeeded in taking back our democracy, as Americans did back in the trust-busting era a century ago. Egypt, Tunisia and Wisconsin show that it can be done today. But to dislodge oligarchs, you need to know who they are, whether Hosni Mubarak or Governor Scott Walker. Even if it’s kind of a bummer to have to talk about them so much — to “go negative.”

But if you prefer to grow heirloom tomatoes and if you like to write about it, why not send us a story?

— Erik Curren