Wednesday 3 October 2012

Retroblog #3: Resilience

Diversity is what makes ecosystems, editorial and Transition resilient. Allowing diversity in a highly-defensive monoculture is a challenge. We are trained to follow the party line and want everyone to agree with My Right Opinion. Or else! Flexibility and allowance are not high on our agenda. Communications however can bring insight into others' lives and broaden world-views, without our going into attack. And thanks to DIY culture and Internet technology millions of people now have voices and faces in the world where once we were silent and invisible.

The beauty of  blogging is that it allows "non-professional" writers to explore and express their everyday encounters in innovative, creative ways. One of its downsides is that it fosters silo mentality and self-obsession. So how do you marry the unique creativity of social media and the group focus of Transition?

We created a community blog.

This Low Carbon Life has published many different, and sometimes differing, voices in the last three years. We have also held over 30 topic weeks that run across the whole spectrum of cultural change (see our tag cloud on the right-hand column). These weeks have revolved around a chosen subject (organised at our quarterly meetings), introduced and led by one of the crew. In this way we were able to show a diverse mix of views and takes on one area (as well as stretching ourselves to consider topics that were "out of our skill set"). This year these have ranged from How Transition Changed my Life (led by Mark Watson) to Sustainable Livelihoods (led by Simeon Jackson).

One of our most popular topics has been our tracking of the changing planet in our seasonal photoblogs; Last Autumn we focused on stocking our store cupboards, at midwinter we went into the frosty lanes, this spring we looked at Trees, and at midsummer celebrated the Festival of Transition.

But this is not the only aspect of planetary change we have covered. We have also tracked the lifestyles and mindsets we need to rework to get in synch with the living systems and face the challenges the three Transition drivers confront us with: climate change, peak oil,  economic collapse. We have done this the low-carbon way, by showing how hearts and minds can shift in our houses and neighbourhoods with a bit of resilience and DIY attitude. Here is John Heaser (main topics: planning, cycling, veg growing and toads!) during our Energy Week, led by Chris Hull.

Images: cycling on the beach (from Sustainable Relationships Week, led by helenofnorwich; under the Oak  by Mark Watson (from Trees in Transition, led by John Heaser); the blogosphere (from A Week on Blogs, led by Jon Curran)

Creature Comforts by John Heaser
20 January 2012 

I’m currently reading ‘At Home’ by Bill Bryson and enjoying learning all sorts of quirky details about how most of us came to live in relative comfort. Apparently crude oil was first extracted from the ground, in the 1850’s, in order to produce paraffin for lighting and the petroleum fraction was considered worthless and discarded. How times have changed!

A lot of the book is about how the exploitation of energy sources have made our lives comfortable – a concept that we now take for granted but the word ‘comfort’ only assumed its current meaning in 1770 (when it was used in a letter by Horace Walpole). Until then most people had no expectation of being comfortable and in medieval houses people literally huddled together around a single open hearth with no chimney. The exploitation of coal led to heat, steam for engines to power the industrial revolution, gas for lighting and ultimately to electricity and all the labour saving devices that we now depend on.

A biomass boiler
Apparently, if you ask people what they want from life, a common reply is ‘to be comfortable’. So given how recently it is that the working family has achieved a comfortable life, you would think that we would all be motivated to preserve the resources that sustain our comfortable lives. We are now planning to build many thousands of new houses around Norwich and I would hope that planning for a world no longer supplied with cheap oil, would be a priority – but I don’t see it happening. Many of the technologies that could keep us warm in the future (such as anaerobic digesters and biomass fuelled heat and power plants) need to be designed into new communities when they are built – it is much harder to retrofit. And don’t get me started on the need for cycle paths and transport!

I really don’t understand why people who are now in their teens and twenties are not demanding new homes to be designed for the energy deficient future that we all know is coming. Councils are largely run by the middle aged or older – who put in a huge amount of voluntary effort but subconsciously don't expect to be around when energy has become painfully expensive. Young people need to take action now if they want to enjoy the same levels of comfort in their older years. Some of us can keep warm cheaply today by scavenging wood but you can’t keep a whole city warm that way.

An unplanned consequence of the discovery of oil, was that cheap paraffin destroyed the market for whale oil and saved sperm whales from extinction. Predicting the future supply and demand for energy is never straightforward but we have to try harder to be less dependent on finite resources!

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