Wednesday 19 May 2010

Seven Deadly Resistances to Transition #3 – Ignorance

Ten years ago during a campaign to preserve the Oxford Canal, a fellow activist Emma told me she was practicing permaculture and had her own plot. It all sounded very sustainable and planet-friendly, and without asking any questions I said, "Well, I’m doing that already."

Now I may have been somewhat ecologically aware, I may have heard about permaculture, and been studying wild plants, their medicine, relationships with people etc. But I was not practising permaculture. I knew nothing about it. We didn’t speak about it again.

Our modern education gives us a very superficial knowledge of the world. But still we like to think we know it all. We want to be the One Who Knows, not the one who doesn’t. We have wikipedia knowledge for all occasions. I once asked a Polish girl working in a local restaurant what the Polish forests were like. She looked perplexed then said, "Come tomorrow after I've been to Internet and I''ll tell you all about Polish forest!"

We've read a newspaper article and we're an expert. We go on a weekend course and we're all Master composters, Reiki masters and masters of goodness knows what else. We think we've got it down. But we haven't. We think our opinions on things are more important than real experience. But they aren’t. And we don’t know what the future holds.

When I joined Transition, I realised just how much I didn’t know about Peak Oil and Climate Change. I had to immerse myself in books, films, and conversations with people who knew more than I did. I had to talk to people. And listen to them. (I finally got round to doing an Introduction to Permaculture weekend aswell).

Now I'm the one experiencing the ‘Well, I’m doing that already’ syndrome. Listening to people who say: ‘I don’t need to read the Transition Handbook,’ and ‘Transition is not a grass roots movement.'

You could call it Emma’s revenge.

On Saturday at the TN Plant Swap, Erik was explaining positive feedback in climate change to Rose and me. I became aware that the word positive here carries a quite different meaning than normal. It’s by ignoring the so-called negative responses of the planet as a result of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions that the positive feedback is set into motion. The negative response is reinforced and climate change happens.

Transition works partly because of its positive (in the usual sense) focus – you get together with people and see what can be done in the face of immense difficulties. You grow and share food, swap plants, clothes and tools, exchange skills, write blogs about life in transition. You pay attention to things you would have hitherto ignored: where your food comes from, the resilience of the transport system, social equity.

Transition requires being open to what's going on in the world rather than staying in a bubble trying to control everything and insisting that our business will go on as usual. But it won’t happen if we carry on being ignorant know-it-alls.

Pix: What Is Permaculture? From Sustainable Bungay’s Permaculture Course Jan 2010; Positive Feedback and Climate Conversation and Newspaper Potmaking at the TN Plant Swap May 2010

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