Wednesday 1 September 2010

Downham Market and Ipswich: Is Transition about to go Economic? - 14 September

This year's peak Transition event was arguably the economics lecture given at the Transition conference titled Making Sense of the Financial Crisis in the Era of Peak Oil. A recording of the talk will be broadcast and discussed on 14 September in Ipswich (see details at end of piece) as it was last month in a gathering organised by Downham Market and Villages in Transition. Members of Transition initiatives in Norfolk met in Stoke Ferry to reflect on what has come to be known as The Stoneleigh Effect. David Perry reflects on its implications:

On Sunday, 25th July some of us met at John & Carol’s straw bale studio to listen to a recorded lecture given by Nicole Foss of Automatic Earth, in which she talks of the impending "perfect storm" as the twin consequences of peak oil and the bursting of the credit bubble, created by the world’s "Ponzi" financial system, crashes and causes a period of brutal deflation. Deflation as part of a planned transition to a low energy economy is much to be desired, but it was the spectre of it’s unplanned and unexpected nature, with it’s numerous random consequences, of dramatic falls in house prices and a return to negative equity, that made it so scary. Perhaps not so surprisingly, some of us struggled to maintain a community focus as we began to reflect on the dire consequences for ourselves and our families. For all it’s wisdom and seeming inevitability it’s perhaps helpful to remind ourselves that this is a radical view that only time can validate.

During our meeting, reference was made to the 2010 Transition Network Conference Guide (12th - 14th June 2010). This includes details of the workshops and an introduction to Transition as a Pattern Language - a work in progress that looks forward to the further development of Transition beyond the 12 Steps. One of the conference workshops was entitled Communicating the Economic Crisis as the Third Driver of Transition and asks the question ..."should Transition now be talking about economics and the bursting of the debt bubble as a third driver? And what extent ought an awareness of economics underpin Transition?"

At the end of the session, Gary Alexander distributed copies of a booklet entitled Sustainable Diss 2030: Food - Environment - Community. Addressed to the citizens of Diss, it’s introduction begins...Concerned about climate change, the credit crunch and other looming problems? Starting with The Good News it envisages what a sustainable Diss might look like in 2030, arguing that... If we don’t envisage and design a future we want, we might be forced into one that we don’t like - that’s the chapter on The Bad News. This refers to the human impact on the earth’s resources - climate change being one impact and peak oil being another, arguing... whatever we do next must put the environment at it’s heart. Not surprisingly, the message to the citizen’s of Diss is ...."the kind of economy we have experienced for the past few decades - wasteful, globalised, driven by economic growth instead of growth in well being needs to be replaced by a community-based economy that is more stable, resilient, self-reliant, less money-based, self-correcting, environmentally-friendly and uses much less oil."

Then on the following Tuesday, some of us met at Rachel’s to watch the film Money as Debt II: Promises Unleashed by Paul Dignon, a fascinating insight into the nature of money and how the banks have been licensed by governments to lend us money they don’t have, and then charge us interest on it! It deals with the massive expansion of credit which appears not to be backed by anything of value and yet unleashes massive purchasing power to consume goods and services that have to be provided from the finite resources of the planet. If anyone still doubts the potential of banking in it’s present form, and the prevailing financial system, to reduce the natural world with it’s vital life-support systems into a wasteland of commodities and synthetic novelty, this film is a must. Again, one is left with the clear conviction that we are saddled with a damaging and unsustainable economic system that urgently needs to be replaced with a more viable and sustainable model that uses money as a means of exchange rather than as a commodity.
A recently published book - Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (ISBN 978-1-84407-894-3) argues for a new economic model that doesn’t rely on continuing growth to stabilise it....A different kind of economic structure is needed for an ecologically constrained world...Society is faced with a profound dilemma. To resist growth is to risk economic and social collapse. To pursue it relentlessly is to endanger the ecosystems on which we depend for long-term survival. We have to break free from the iron cage of consumerism and develop new community-based ecological enterprises in which the culture of consumerism is dismantled.

Having noted that the UK’s apparent 6 per cent reduction in carbon emissions between 1990 and 2004 is turned into a 11 per cent increase once emissions embedded in trade are taken into account, the author challenges the concept of decoupling - the idea of continuing growth without suffering the carbon consequences, by driving down the carbon intensity of production. A compelling case is made for the impossibility of achieving the IPCC’s target figure for CO2 reductions by 2050 through reductions in carbon intensity. Hence the title of the chapter - The Myth of Decoupling. Others have also acknowledged the impossibility of the UK achieving the rates of decarbonization required.

So what are the implications for Transition?

If the IPCC targets cannot be achieved through reductions in the carbon intensity of production and we accept the size of population as a given, it would seem that contraction in economic activity - Gross Domestic Product (GDP) offers the only prospect of reaching the IPCC targets and saving the planet’s ecosystems. This argues for an understanding of economics becoming an important aspect of Transition culture. Rather than it becoming a third driver, as hinted at in the 2010 Transition Network Conference Guide, perhaps economics will need to become the central concern that underpins all future Transition activities. David Perry

Transition Ipswich: At last month’s excellent Transition Suffolk gathering we touched on the Stoneleigh presentation – the one that had a big impact at the Transition conference. If you’re interested in seeing it, you and yours are welcome to join Transition Ipswich for a repeat performance at 7.30pm on Tuesday 14th September at University Campus Suffolk, Waterfront Building, Neptune Quay, Ipswich IP4 1QJ. We don’t actually have Stoneleigh in person, but we’ll be running the voice recording of her talk along with her slides. Afterwards we’ll discuss her prognosis and what it could mean for us, our families and the broader community, and how we can respond. We’ll finish by 10pm, but discussion will probably continue in the pub. The venue holds 60 so we have plenty of room. Please let me know if you’re coming so I can let the university security guys know how many people to expect. Steve Marsden

"Cocky and Little share their thoughts on the financial crisis"; Transition straw bale at Stoke Ferry. Photos by Gary Alexander (Transition Diss)

Cambridge: Wind turbine making course - 3-5 September

During this three day-course, everyone will get a chance to work on all aspects of building a wind turbine, including woodworking, metalworking and electrics. At the end of the course we will erect the turbine and see it in action (if it's windy!). The turbine we will be making is a 12V / 200W Hugh Piggott Axial Fluxturbine and will have a 1.2m blade diameter. The course will be run by Cambridge Greentech and V3Power and will be held at the Cambridge GreenTech workshop, Harvest Way, Cambridge. There are 12 places available. The cost is £150 before 25 June or £180 after that (this is much lower than normal thanks to the support of the Society for Environmental Improvement). Meals are included and we will do our best to put people up if you need somewhere to stay. More info and booking here: