Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage.

The Transition movement: Today Totnes… tomorrow the world

Sarah Morrison, Independent (UK)
What began as one town’s experiment with reducing its reliance on oil has now spread to 35 countries around the globe

Its founder believes it is our best hope for a future after the worldwide banking crisis. Now, it seems, a growing number of people are starting to agree. The “Transition” movement has grown eightfold since the recession hit three years ago and is now operating in 35 countries around the world.

When the first Transition town was established five years ago in Totnes, Devon, the “experiment” was simple. Like-minded people would work on creating a more sustainable community to reduce their dependency on oil. By 2008, there were 100 registered initiatives in 11 countries. Today, there are more than 850 Transitions in three times as many countries. More than 300 groups have signed up in the past year.

Transition now operates in countries including Latvia, Thailand, Nigeria, India and the US. Recent projects have sprung up in favelas in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the newest initiative to be registered is from Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.

To its founder, Rob Hopkins, the reason for this explosive growth is obvious. “Communities are realising they are more vulnerable, and the current situation means people are less complacent about where the economic activity of the future is going to come from,” he says. “Transition doesn’t wait for permission to get started; it is about ordinary people making things happen within a bigger strategic context.”

… Mr Hopkins is even more ambitious when it comes to the scope of the movement’s work. Out goes the focus on abstract notions of “peak oil” and in comes an emphasis on “social enterprises”, economic development and growth. In the book’s introduction, Mr Hopkins appeals to the network to “create projects and infrastructure that are economically viable”
(2 October 2011)

The Rise of Urban Biking

Ben Adler, The Nation
Residents of American cities and college towns may have noticed a growing urban species whizzing down their streets. One strand of the highly adaptive Homo pedalis can be identified by telltale markings: a single leg of skinny jeans rolled up, a plaid shirt unbuttoned to alleviate perspiration and a clumsy retro helmet. As many young professionals choose cities over suburbs, the rising cost of living has pushed newcomers to the fringes of the urban core. Mass transit is not always available or convenient. Driving is costly and time-consuming. So young urbanites, like people nationwide, have turned to bicycles; bike use has gone up 39 percent nationally since 2001, according to the League of American Bicyclists. In the seventy largest US cities, commuter bike use is up 63 percent. “The cities are seeing huge rises [in cycling],” says Jeffrey Miller, executive director of the Alliance for Biking and Walking. “San Francisco has been seeing a massive increase, Chicago is seeing huge numbers, DC is seeing huge increases.”

The urban biking surge can be linked to a number of other factors, from high gas prices to an increased awareness of climate change. New bicyclists have discovered how unsafe many roads are for riding—and in response they have helped reinvigorate a movement that was once the sole province of urban planners and environmentalists: to reshape America’s streets.

In 2005 the National Complete Streets Coalition was born. A spinoff of America Bikes, the national nonprofit “advocating for positive outcomes for bicycling in the federal transportation bill,” Complete Streets has taken this mission and broadened it to advocate for the needs of all users at state and local levels.

… For decades traffic engineers saw their purpose as simply moving cars, a perception that has not entirely changed. “There are some departments of transportation that still very much see that they only have this one role,” explains Complete Streets executive director Barbara McCann. Complete streets legislation has been pushed primarily by groups seeking alternatives to cars.

… It’s certainly true that many of the bikers pedaling around the hipper city precincts appear to be of the bourgeois-bohemian persuasion. But take a look across the country and bicyclists are a diverse lot, including immigrants who lack the documentation to get a driver’s license and people who are too poor to own a car.

… Conservatives have not always been so irrational. In 1965 William F. Buckley Jr. ran for mayor of New York on the Conservative Party line, on a platform that included bike lanes. Even Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, supported public transportation. … Bike lanes are not inherently liberal or conservative; they are just good, pragmatic governance. (In fact, a true conservative would oppose our current practice of distorting the free market by subsidizing cars over other forms of travel.)
(17 October 2011 issue)

The Resilient Library

Cat Johnson, YES! Magazine
Even in a time when libraries are facing steep cuts, we’re using them more than ever—in more ways than ever.

… Raphael is giving me an insider’s perspective of the current state of libraries, which are actually thriving. They are evolving and innovating despite significant economic challenges and budget cuts, and people are utilizing libraries at steady or increasing rates. The State of America’s Libraries Report for 2011 notes that library visitation per capita and circulation per capita have both increased in the past 10 years.

… Raphael explains that in economically challenging times such as these, library use increases significantly. Despite decreased funding, branch closures and reduced hours and staffing, many branches and library systems are posting their highest numbers ever in terms of circulation and number of patrons through the doors.

“Library use in economic recessions always goes up,” says Raphael. “It’s counter to what the funding is. When funding starts to be cut back, use goes up,” she continues, “and use has been increasing dramatically in the last couple of years.”

While the increase in usage can be attributed to people having less discretionary income for books and magazines, it is also due to libraries’ continued evolution. Offering musical scores, toys, art, CDs and DVDs, radiation detectors, portable smoke detectors, tools, kilowatt-measuring devices, zines, seeds and more, libraries have become lenders of a variety of useful items. Some even offer ways for patrons to contribute to collections through reviews, comments, the transcription of materials into digital format, uploading computer programs of their own design, and more.

Depending on the level of community involvement and support, libraries follow the needs of the community. For instance, a branch whose demographic is mostly retirees may not loan out toys or have story hour. But they may offer estate and financial planning, social outings and computer basics classes. A branch with a younger demographic may offer activities and materials for children, digital media classes, video games, and a teen lounge.

… Libraries in general are pioneers of the sharing movement. Long before organizations were “going green,” libraries were there, showing us how it’s done. In fact, libraries are a perfect introduction for people who are wary of the whole sharing economy. One can simply say, “It’s like a library, but for cars (or bikes or tools etc.).”

In general, libraries are working diligently to keep up with, and push ahead of, society’s curve. If we hold on to our nostalgic notions of what libraries once were, we deem them relics of a time gone by. However, if we support libraries through their evolutionary process, they remain vital community resources and hubs; unwavering providers of information to all, whatever form that information may take.
(30 September 2011)

Feeding the world requires “a new paradigm”

Jessica Dacey, Swiss Info
Agriculture specialists convening in Bern to debate the question of how to feed the world have agreed on one thing: a new paradigm is needed.

Farming models are breaking down – as witnessed by the suicide of a farmer every half hour in India – and new directions for research in agriculture for development are needed to support the sector and combat global poverty.

A joint conference hosted by non-government organisation Swissaid and Bern University asked 12 experts which agriculture methods worked and where research should be headed.

Although a similar conference was held ten years ago by Swissaid, this time around there is a growing urgency to act, Caroline Morel, head of the agency, told

Under pressure

“What’s changed is that the pressure is growing. Pressure on natural resources like land, water and forests mainly, and also the population. Because of climate change there are a lot of bigger challenges than before.”

“We need a change of paradigm in agriculture and in future research.”

Agricultural paradigms have been shifting since the war, according to Angelicka Hilbeck, an agrobiologist at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

In the post-World War era there was a shift from food and feed production to raw material production for the “industrial value chain” and commodities traded and owned by a handful of giant companies.

For example, less than one per cent of all corn produced in 1997 landed on people’s dinner tables while still on the cob, the other 99 per cent being used for anything from flavourings to animal fodder.

“We need a paradigm shift in science and research to support the shifts in production, consumption and lifestyle,” Hilbeck told the conference.

Big versus small

In one trend, people have become bigger meat eaters. From 1960-2000 meat production nearly doubled from 22kg to 38kg per capita, according to a 2008 study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

As a result, nearly half of cereal production is used to feed animals for meat production. Of that 75 per cent is produced by big industrialised farms.
(22 September 2011)