The Transition Town Movement

Al Gore may have come out with his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” in 2006, but we only became aware of the seriousness of climate change and peak oil in 2011. I wish I had been paying attention sooner, but I’m paying attention now and NOW is the only moment I have to work with. Like every endeavor, the more you know, the more there is to learn. We’ve been on a steep learning curve. I thought it might be helpful, for those who are just beginning to explore the issues, to explain a bit about the Transition movement and the interconnected issues it seeks to address.

Transition Towns/Transition Movement: Every good story begins, “Once upon a time in a land far away” and so does this story. It begins in the UK, with a community college teacher and his erstwhile students who became aware of the problem of peak oil and climate change and decided they needed to do something. They brought their ideas to transition from fossil fuels to their community council and – unlike the experience of most people who try to affect city hall – their community leaders understood the challenge and embraced change. Over time, their entire community became involved in change efforts and the movement spread across the UK and across the globe, adapting as it went to local conditions and local resources.

Peak Oil: Peak oil is a very misunderstood concept – likely because it fits the agenda of certain interests to constantly misrepresent it in the media.

  • Peak oil does NOT mean that suddenly there will be no oil.
  • It does NOT mean there will be no new discoveries of oil.

Peak oil is the concept that the world has hit its highest point of oil extraction and that oil production will decrease every year after that. It’s thought that peak extraction occurred 5-6 years ago. That means that over time we will be seeing less and less oil coming to market and that the oil we do have will be harder to get (arctic circle, deep ocean) and of poorer quality (Alberta tar sands), and therefore more costly to produce. Long before we run out of oil, the return on investment will make it a losing proposition. Unfortunately,  before that point, our use of fossil fuels will have caused such massive climate disruption that most life on this planet will end. So whether we quit using fossil fuel because it’s expensive, or we quit using it to save the lives of our grandchildren, we’ve got to quit it all the same.

Energy Descent Plan/Powerdown: The first and most obvious place to start to reduce your carbon footprint is by using less fossil fuel to power your life. You can create an energy descent plan for your household, your company or your community. For our household, the biggest benefit of having a neighborhood Transition group is that we were able to bounce ideas off of others who were further along the path than we were. It helps to know others who are doing the same things. Jumping off points from here include:

  • Exploring how you can use renewable energy sources like solar (small and large scale), wind (no land? sign up for Xcel Windsource), and geothermal.
  • Exploring transportation options like mass transit, carpooling, car sharing, biking and walking.

When you start looking at the role of fossil fuels in your life, you will soon realize that it’s bound up in almost everything you do and use. Making a commitment to live a lower-carbon lifestyle will take you in many directions.

Local Food: People involved in the Transition movement often have home vegetable gardens or community garden plots. It takes fossil fuels to ship food hundreds of miles away – and it takes fossil fuels to grow that food on industrial farms. We will always need large farms, but we can take significant steps toward a more sustainable food chain by growing our own, by buying direct from local farmers, and by buying from companies that engage in sustainable farming and animal husbandry practices.

Local Goods: How far did that chair you’re sitting on travel to reach you? How many hands touched that shirt before it arrived in your local store? All of those miles are part of your carbon footprint. Buying local not only saves fossil fuels, it ensures your neighbors are employed and your community is resilient in the facing of rising gas prices.

Reskilling: The world didn’t always operate on fossil fuels. We CAN find ways to move beyond them. We have the benefit of science and technology, which is creating new methods of greener manufacturing and recycling. It can also mean relearning some of the skills our grandparents and great-grandparents had so we can do more for ourselves. Local Transition groups, like Transition Longfellow, often sponsor fun, sociable learning events that help people learn new and old skills.

Health: For people who are motivated by health, you will find that many of the steps one takes to have a lower carbon lifestyle can also contribute to a more healthy lifestyle. Increased activity, a life more in tune with natural cycles, a more healthful diet, greater feelings of competence, reduced feelings of helplessness – these are all part of taking personal responsibility to transition from fossil fuels.

In the end, it’s all about resilience; personal resilience and community resilience in the face of a changing planet. That’s where we get the slogan for our blog: “Change is coming so we might as well Think Of It As An Adventure!”

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