Walk In Beauty

The Transition Towns movement is attracting more people every day. And a big part of its success comes from the feeling of energy and joy that people get when they join in, roll up their sleeves, and get to work. It’s the same sort of exhilaration you feel on a canoe trip down a swift river — a feeling of being in control yet carried along by a great natural force.

It’s the feeling of working with nature, instead of trying to overcome obstacles. In this case, human nature — our natures. The Transition Towns movement has tapped into not one but two powerful streams within human nature. And “going with the flow” is not only exhilarating, it makes it possible to do much more.

First is the simple, but enormously strong power of attention. Whatever you choose to frequently focus the spotlight of your attention on broadens, deepens, widens, and proliferates in clarity and detail. Always. Naturally.

And the second great stream is the process of asking questions. As Michael Patterson says in the Global Ideas Bank, “Ask the question with deliberate genuine intent. You will get an answer. That’s just how your brain works.”

He goes on to suggest that you concentrate on practical questions, which is perfect for transition work. So begin your questions with “What?” or “How?” or “Where?” or “When?” or “Who?”.

Our lives, and ultimately our culture take shape from the kinds of questions we ask. Everything is constantly changing, and we influence the direction and content of those changes with our persistent questions.

So you may wish to join the Transition Towns movement. You may enjoy exploring questions like “How would I like my life to be?” and “What can we do in our community to make that kind of life more possible?”.

There is room for you, no matter what your interests are. Some are asking “How can we grow and distribute fresher, healthier, better-tasting food locally?” Others wonder “How can we have more comfortable homes and still save money and energy, and reduce global warming?” Or perhaps “What do we need to do next to develop a community-wide, non-polluting electrical system that is more reliable and less expensive to maintain?” Or “How can we support our local arts and crafts people and integrate them more into education and our daily lives?” Building local resilience has need for all of us.

Maybe we can model our overall goal on that of the Navajo and ask of each proposal “How will this action help us to walk in beauty?”

Bolo Bolo

The Transition Towns movement is much more grounded and practical, but it might be enriched by an insight from Bolo Bolo (a now out-of-print little book describing a kind of anarchist utopia — a world of wildly diverse relocalized communities bound by a cooperative meta-structure that allows for travel, communication, and limited trade among them).

Each Bolo is limited to about 500 people and is largely (although not totally) self-reliant. The anonymous author P.M. states explicitly that the real wealth of each Bolo is culture — that complex and ever-changing mix of values, ideas, habits, and material that make up the life of a specific local group of people.

When Rob Hopkins reiterates the need for “lots of celebrations” as we go about Transition Town building, I believe he is encouraging us, albeit in an abbreviated and non-specific way, to feed and celebrate that local culture.

According to Bolo Bolo culture is made up of  “habits, philosophies, values, interests, clothing styles, cuisine, manners, gender behaviors, education, sexual behavior, religion, architecture, crafts, art, rituals, music, dance, mythology,” ways of dealing with birth and dying, and so on.

As important as it is to work toward food, energy, shelter, and goods self-reliance, we will likely have limited success unless we also nurture the local culture. It is this local culture that embodies the sense of place, that provides us with ways to enjoy our lives, and find meaning in them.

Without survival of course nothing matters, but mere survival is not enough. To be human is to live in culture. As P.M. puts it, “cuisine is not just calories, and clothes are not just body insulation”. And shelter needs to provide comfort and beauty, not just utility.

P.M. emphasizes the cultural essence of the bolo as an explicit counter to the general idea of most modern utopian ideas because, he says, “they conceive their communities from an administrative or purely ecological/technical point of view. [These utopias] are full of general prescriptions that are compulsory in all their basic dimensions (clothing, work timetables, education, sexuality, etc.) and they postulate certain principles of internal organization. Reason, practicability, harmony, non-violence, ecology, economic efficiency, morality, all are values that must be enforced. But in a bolo, culturally defined people live together and their motivations are not determined by a compulsory set of moral laws. Each bolo is different. Only cultural identity and diversity can guarantee a certain degree of independence and ‘democracy’. This is not a question of politics. Social organization always means a certain amount of social control.”

Of course, in a relocalizing society, this diversity will occur naturally, if we take care not to stifle it. I hope that we will go further, and encourage it. A global monoculture of cookie-cutter ecovillages is as problematic as any other monoculture.

Peak to Pool

Peak Oil – once you are familiar with the term and what it means, you can’t think the words without picturing Hubbert’s Peak, the graphic bell curve showing oil use as a blip on the timeline of human presence on Earth.

And you worry over our response – will we manage our energy descent to ensure the softest possible landing? or suffer the sharp shocks of a run-away descent? or worst of all possibilities, suffer collapse and die-off? You want to help to ensure the soft landing, but it is psychologically difficult – it’s hard work and the danger of despair is always a shadow over your shoulder.

Rob Hopkins has come up with a simple change of perspective that gives us a much better way to look at it in The Trasition Handbook.

It’s simple, he says. Just turn the bell curve upside down and change the Peak to a Pool.

So in 1846 (the year we started using kerosene in lamps) we dove in head-first – and a great adventure it was! There is no denying we did some great things. But we made mistakes too – and over the years the consequences of those mistakes have become harder and harder to deal with.

We now know that (beyond a fairly modest level of money and goods needed for a comfortable life with a bit of disposable income available for fripperies) the consumer life does not make us happy. Nor is our life made better with the stresses arising from trying to cope with the gigantic problems created by enormous systems far beyond the human scale. We have let our technologies outstrip our wisdom and our institutions outstrip our capabilities. We live increasingly isolated and out-of-control lives – no wonder we are unhappy.

So now we are deep down in a sticky hellhole and (most of us) no longer enjoying the swim.

Thus our task is to swim for the surface with all our might – back toward sunlight and pollution and toxin-free fresh air. Swim toward a sunlit surface where the future is healthier, happier, less stressful – a future abundant in community, in time for joining our friends, neighbors, and families in learning new skills for living a rich and convivial life on far less energy.

Looked at like this our new direction becomes “an instinctive rush to mass self-preservation, and a collective abandonment of a way of life that no longer makes us happy.”

If the Transition Towns movement interests you, check out the networking site started by Michael Brownlee of Boulder, Colorado for the U.S. Transition Towns movement:  http://transitionus.ning.com

Transition Towns

The ‘Twin Peaks’ of peak oil and climate change are looming. To find a successful way forward, we need to develop policies that deal with both of them.  Adopting solutions to ease one while making the other worse is obviously a bad idea. The Transition Towns movement meets this reality square-on –- and with a great deal of optimism.

Transition Towns (www.transitiontowns.org/) takes a new approach to grassroots activism –- aiming always to be inclusive and wholistic, and to act as a catalyst for changes as directed by local people, rather than advocating particular programs or solutions.

They use an assortment of newish social tools, including ‘Open Space’ (www.co-intelligence.org/P-Openspace.html) and ‘World Cafe’ (www.co-intelligence.org/P-worldcafe.html) public meetings and psychological change enablers developed in work with addictions, along with effective group facilitation techniques. These are put together with more traditional networking skills, education, and publicity skills, — and an emphasis on celebrating at every possible point.

They work from “four key assumptions:

  1. Life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and it is better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise.
  2. Our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe shocks of peak oil.
  3. We have to act collectively, and we have to act now.
  4. By unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected and more enriching and that recognize the biological limits of the earth.”

Given that energy descent is inevitable, and that we must do all we can to stop increasing climate change, the real question, as the author of The Transition Handbook Rob Hopkins says is not “How can we keep everything going as it is?” but rather “How can we learn to live the good life within realistic energy constraints?”

The Handbook’s general answer is “By relocalizing (www.relocalize.net/) the focus of our lives, and by increasing the resilience of our local communities to make them self-reliant (not self-sufficient).” To deal with climate change we must reduce our carbon footprints; to deal with peak oil we must build resilience into our relocalized community economies. A self-reliant community has a diverse and lively economy that produces most of what it needs to survive and prosper, and then trades for extras.

The genius of Transition Towns is that each community brings its own people to the table. Using tools like Open Space meetings, they work together, inspiring each other, and come up with a dynamic consensus of what needs to be done, and a timeline. They produce (and continually update) a plan to move their own community toward the vision they develop (which may be totally different in its practical details from that of other communities, in other places, with other people).