Monday 31 December 2012

Energy Descent is Cool! Even When It's Bloody Cold

Creating an “Energy Descent Action Plan” (EDAP) is one of the key 12 steps in the original Transition Handbook and the first ingredient in the Building section of The Transition Companion.

Transition initiatives work within their communities on a vision for building local resilience, whilst becoming less fossil-fuel dependent, and reducing carbon consumption. Then they 'step up' with this plan in order that it informs the actual decisions and policies to be implemented in the local area.

During 2009 and 2010 a group of people in Transition Norwich set about preparing a version of the Energy Descent Action Plan, called the Resilience Plan. Although it remained incomplete, an example of the work required for preparing such a plan can be seen in this detailed outline of a Food Chapter for the Resilience Plan for Norwich by Tully Wakeman (see Charlotte's post on Monday). And this is just the food section.

As part of Sustainable Bungay's 'unleashing' in May 2009, between 60 and 70 people created a timeline on the wall of the community centre, with the aim of 'backcasting' later on.

This is probably as far as we have got to creating any kind of energy descent plan in the sense of a material document. Although we are a strong Transition group and "pull together" on many different (and successful) projects and events (see Transition Companion p.236 box What Would a Transition Initiative need to start creating an EDAP), at present there are neither funds nor people with enough time to work on such a plan.Then there is the fact that so far the concepts of Descent, Degrowth and Downshift, and what's behind them, have not yet caught fire with most people in the modern West. So much of our lives revolves around the comfort and convenience fossil-fuel use has made possible. The feeling it is our right to be in one and have the other at all times, has become almost pathological in our culture. Both on a personal and a grander scale the attachment to comfort absolute keeps us insular and blinds us to the heavy social and environmental costs that comfort is based on. 

How many times a day do we say or think "I'm comfortable with this" or "I'm not comfortable with that"? How often is it a way to avoid looking at what's going on and our part in it, as much as a valid expression of something really being not quite right?

The mining and burning of fossil-fuel energy whether it's for and by the oil, coal or nuclear industry is destroying the atmosphere. You could call it short-term comfortism.

 (ii) Making it an Adventure
"We'd love you to come and stay," we said to Kristin and Sim, "But we must warn you - it's cold here in December!"

The experimental Transition Norwich Strangers' Circle lasted one year between 2009 and 2010. All the people in the group were aiming in that time to reduce our carbon emissions to half the national average or below. Some drove less and cycled more, some bought fewer goods, the group ordered food in bulk. In our household we turned off the oil-fired central heating. We haven't turned it back on since, apart from on really cold, damp winter days when clothes just won't dry.

The first winter was tough. We lit two fires a week in the woodburner and discovered the amazingness of the Hot Water Bottle and wearing more layers of clothes. The group's monthly meetings were important for keeping our spirits up in that first year and we could report on our successes and failures. Going into buildings with the central heating on began to feel unnatural, and going outside on a winter's day was sometimes warmer than staying indoors. 2010 was easier, though the group was no more, and last year (which was a milder winter) was almost a doddle.

So at present there is no EDAP in Bungay or Norwich, but some of us have engaged in energy descent anyway, and have learnt a few things on the way, which we're happy to share.

And Kristin and Sim? Did they visit us in December? Yes, they did. And they braved the cold for almost a week with the utmost goodwill and sportspersonship. Well, they do manage aka Energy Bulletin! We worked all together in the front room during the days, under layers of blankets and clothes with hot water bottles at our feet, editing our various blogs and newspapers. Transition Towers indeed. It was really good fun, too, and when the evening came we all really appreciated that woodburner!

At the Dark Mountain meeting in Norwich that week, Sim told the group, "You know, because it's cold I'm much more aware of temperature. That it's warm inside the bed, for example, and cold outside. I don't pay attention to that normally. The physical season and the outside has really entered my awareness. And this is how humans have lived for most of our time on the planet."

 Energy descent. It's not particularly comfortable. Though at some point it's inevitable. Best to start now and make it an adventure.

(Originally published on Transition Network

Photos: Cartoon from Transition Town Worthing Energy Descent Plan by Steve Last; Sustainable Bungay unleashing 2009, with Timeline; Grumpy amongst the seakales, Sizewell Beach May 2011; meets Transition Free Press, Kristin and Sim in our front room office, December 2012 - 8 degrees

Friday 28 December 2012

Holding This Book in My Hands

Mourid Barghouti, the Palestinian poet, once said that a writer’s task in a world ruled by tyranny and abstractions, is to praise the real and the ordinary. The people in the room, the earth outside your door, the things you hold beloved in your hands. I’m remembering those words as I wrap this Dark Mountain anthology in its brown paper jacket and head out down the frosty lane towards the post office.

This is not how most reviews begin: on a cottage floor in East Anglia, with masking tape. Mostly they are written with the world held at arm’s length, by critics in glass towers. But this is not an ordinary book, and we do not live in ordinary times. This annual collection of essays, reviews, encounters, poems, stories and pictures is, even before you even open it, a beautifully crafted object: its cover the colour of damsons, sketched with a range of peaks on the isle of Skye that look like the interior workings of the human mind. Inside your eyes scan photographs of leaves and drawings of hares. The index present the contents under intriguing titles: on road kill, on endings, on tools, on history, on creatures. Already you are engaged on a physical and imaginative journey.

To take the pieces out and view them separately would reveal the individuals who wrote them, but reading them together gives a true sense of what the Dark Mountain Project is about: the collective intelligence of a people waking up and writing as if everything in life mattered. A work of naming then, and sometimes of farewell, charting the vanishing times we witness. And a response to the book’s core question: how do we begin to find our way home?

Central to the book is the essay by Paul Kingsnorth on Dark Ecology and the premise that life does not revolve around human civilisation, but around the planetary systems of which we are part. Kingsnorth co-founded the Dark Mountain Project with Dougald Hine in 2009 with the publication of a manifesto called Uncivilisation. Now in its fourth year, the Project is waymarked by an annual anthology and an arts and literature festival, held on the downs in Hampshire. This year it has expanded into a series of book launches in the UK (Liverpool. Edinburgh, Brighton and London), as well as literary workshops in the wilds of Dartmoor and the Scottish Highlands.

The book begins with the death of badgers and ends with the disappearance of house spirits in an unnamed valley. In between you can listen in to conversations held in London and New York and the forests of Chile and follow poets who track the wild dimensions like small shamans. Some voices are well known, some unknown, all of them worthy of invitation:
Sometimes a wild god comes to the table
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver
His voices makes vinegar of wine

(Tom Hirons)
Attention to the physical and humble is everywhere: Paul Kingsnorth swings a scythe, Matt Szabo bends like a peasant, the Iraqi artist, Rashad Selim resurrects dead pianos, Dougald Hine and Sajay Samuel discuss the vernacular in culture (“home-made, home-brewed, home-spun”), Caspar Henderson investigates the barely imagined beings of the deep sea. Ian Hill holds a graphite pencil in his hands and follows the trajectory of the mineral through history, from the Cumbrian hillside to the European battlefield. Robert Alcock witnesses a neighbourhood under siege in Bilbao and hopes the kingfishers will return to the post-industrial port, that has become his home. John Rember, professor of literature, surveys his class in snowy Idaho and knows, though they do not, that the glamorous ski slopes he once flew down without a care will no longer be their rightful inheritance.

What we have in common is a sense of time and a loss of illusion. Unusually, for a movement that recognises we live in times of unravelling, it creates a literature that feels extraordinarily secure. This is a consequence of facing reality and being rooted in place. Because, when you talk with people who recognise radical change is underfoot, it’s a radically different dialogue to the one where you think civilisation is going to continue, as you have been educated to believe it will and should. The conversation is not there to rush in to fix a broken world, but to discover what we hold in our hands: tools in our sheds, ancestral memory, kinship round a fire, language, imagination, the austere beauty of a rainwashed land. Where we sit, where we have sat, it seems, for centuries, remembering the past, recording the present and imagining another future.
Things will have consequences and in the heart of hearts of thinking people, I believe they know things are going wrong, although they may not be able to articulate it.
(Doug Tompkins)
This book does what people, constrained in an old system, sometimes cannot. It asks questions and invents new ways to approach an unspoken subject. It recognises that our base camp is the planet we live on, the wild places we treasure in the heart of ourselves, the neighbourhood of beings we live amongst. Creating a new narrative from this brings the possibility of redemption: the regeneration of a land and a people. That possibility has a powerful allure, the feeling you have when the bird returns to the river, and the soil regains life, and it has attracted many of us to connect with Dark Mountain’s network of writers, thinkers, activists and artists, and start up gatherings in our home places. Abstractions and ideals cannot do this, only a restorative relationship with the earth can bring us home.

The resilience of all living systems depends on their diversity and ability to communicate with the whole of themselves. You can see this at play in this book, the way the pieces work, like mycorrhizal fungi, in a underground communications network, On the woodland stage at Uncvilisation this year we stood, eight contributors who had never met, and as we read out our poems and prose they formed a composite story, without our even trying.

What connects us and makes us resilient in the face of collapse, are the things you cannot ordinarily measure or see.

Dark Mountain 3 gives a glimpse of them.

Dark Mountain 3, £12.99 is available to order from the Dark Mountain Project 

Monday 24 December 2012

ARCHIVE: Happy Hollydays!

This is it, the big day, and I’m spending it in a small way, walking out into the quiet winter neighbour- hood as we’ve been doing in the last few days, touching base. Bringing back kindling from the woods and greenery to deck the house. Edward Abbey, author and radical spokesman for the wilderness, once advised all earth activists to take time to go up into the mountains and remember why you were putting yourself on the line, why you were taking life into your own hands.

Hope all your socks were full this morning! This picture was taken by Helen (Simpson Slapp) of some socks she hand-knitted after she first joined Transition. Helen was the first person I spoke to at TN’s Unleashing and we had an animated conversation about what to do about not buying this year’s trousers and knitting dishcloths. It was the first time I had felt at ease with people in a long, long time. Later she invited me to two clothes swaps at her house, and heroically darned my wellington socks made from local Jacob sheep’s wool. Stuff is one of the things we’re all talking about giving up in our low-carbon world, but sometimes stuff can bring people together in a way woolly (sic) abstract conversations can never do.

Next year I’m going to have more earth in my world, as well as people. It’s one of my 2010 resolutions. To get myself in the mood I shinned up a birch tree on one of the local commons near where we live. Shortly afterwards I found an injured lapwing on the road and Mark and I slithered and skidded cross county to the Minsmere bird reserve to find someone who could give us a hand.

If you don’t know lapwings, have a look out next time you go past some agricultural fields in wintertime, especially near the coast. They are striking birds, piebald, flecked with green. They have a distinctive topknot on their heads and rounded wings and once stood for the earth's pied poetry because they are famous for leading predators away from their nest by feigning a broken wing.

To hold one of the wild things close is a rare encounter. She was quiet and alert in my hands for our perilous journey down the icy backroads. Sometimes to find the treasure of this life, we have to struggle very hard to make sense of it, the way you tussle with poetry to crack its code. The struggle is what reveals the mystery and beauty that lies deep at its heart. That’s something our ancestors knew and we have forgotten in our desire for comfort and convenience. And then sometimes, just outside an ancient tumulus on the turn of a year, you find yourself with a key. You remember what really matters, why you’re darning socks and learning to bake bread and engaging in this Transition – to keep life on earth going, an earth with woods and heath and rivers in it, and birds that gather in the sky.

Originally written on December 25, 2009

Thursday 20 December 2012

Strategic Thinking or The Library at the End of the World

I knew, as soon as the Man in Seat 61 (c) got on at Colchester, that it was a Sign.

I have been away for a week, he told his fellow commuter, and no more was said between them. It's the influenza season, where public places are a maelstrom of invisible bugs and viruses, waiting to wreak their pesky havoc on the lumbering forms who haven't stepped up their immune systems with echinacea and oranges.

Three days later I found myself in bed unable to get back on the train to London, or even to go outside, and now, dear reader, still horizontal and faced with the awesome prospect of having to write about Strategic Thinking, I fear I am not up to the task. So please bear with me. I will write this introduction to the Building section  (on the Social Reporting Project series about The Transition Companion) as soon as I can.

You may be wondering why I have a photograph of Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council (with various members of Sustainable Bungay peering quizzically at him) here and why I am including a trailer for the new documentary, Chasing Ice (see end of post). But it will make sense. I promise you, by Thursday at the latest.

Some people say the world is coming to an end on Friday. Well maybe not literally, but some tear in the fabric that brings about a collapse in our civilisation. However it plays out it is the end of a long, long cycle of time, mapped out by a people whose own high city culture tumbled into ruin in the forests of the Yucatan.

Sometimes I feel ancient, as though I have seen it all before, and sometimes I feel like a being from the future, starting again with an entirely new bluepint. Sometimes, when I listen to people talk, I think we have learned nothing, in spite of all the books and buildings and all our thinking. But that, as they say, is another story . . .

Part Two: Perseverance Furthers
Transition groups aim ultimately to catalyse the localisation of their local economy. They strive to move from running small community projects to thinking and acting much bigger. New skills and ways of thinking will lead Transition initiatives to become social enterprises, such as becoming developers, banks, energy companies and so on. (Intro to the Building Section of The Transition Companion)
 The main purpose of this Ingredient is to glean knowledge about a local region and what it would take to relocalise the supply systems - the food economy, for example, or energy or transport. It requires undertaking research and amass data that most initiatives would not know how to access, or why. One of the example Rob Hopkins uses to illustrate what is meant by Strategic Thinking is the Norwich Resilient Food Plan.

Which is why here I am almost at the end of 2012, looking back at a cold day in January in the Baptist church on Boltolph Steet, four years ago where 17 of us - a farmer, a miller, several bakers, wholefood shopkeepers, the TN Oats, Beans and Bread group, Professor Martin Wolfe of the Organic Research Institute (researching wheat that can thrive in eco-systems undergoing climate change) and Andrew Whitley of The Village Bakery and author of Bread Matters - are meeting to discuss Resilient Bread. It’s a project aiming to create a sustainable supply of bread for Norwich, using locally milled flour from English wheat, grown on Norfolk farms. One of the components of the Plan that also includes a CSA and a market garden in a local school.
The ingredients for real bread are simple - flour, water, salt, yeast. Bringing a resilient local loaf into Norwich is more complex. The mega-distribution system of the big three industrial bakeries have trucks perpetually on the road travelling 200 miles transporting ready-sliced to the city’s 122,000 inhabitants daily. They are roaring across East Anglia from Stevenage, London and Enfield. To feed Norwich sustainably would require 30 tonnes of wheat and several local mills. On the agenda that day in January were questions about the supply chain: quantity of flour, storage and transportation of grain, the price of a loaf, the feasibility of setting up and maintaining an electric mill in the city, the packaging and marketing of the loaves.

East Anglia has arable land for growing the wheat but few working mills. The first challenge for the project is to find a mill in the city to grind the corn. The nearest wind or water mills are 25-30 miles away. The other is the quality of the wheat. The gluten content of bread is a key consideration in baking. Wheat has a very high gluten content (between 12-15 per cent) which gives the dough its extraordinary elasticity and ability to be moulded into the hundreds of shapes in which we have historically consumed it. Artisan bakers in England have been using commercial Canadian flour for decades because its exceptionally high gluten levels makes the light and fluffy white loaf we have got used to. The lower gluten content of our native wheat is compensated for by the industrialised "Chorleywood process".

“No one is going to buy a bad bloomer”, said one of the bakers rather gloomily; “You could call it ciabatta,” another quipped, and there was a long discussion as to how we were going to get over the fact that life was unpredictable and that white and fluffy was not the future. It felt it was going to take some time for all of us to get used to the idea.

Tully Wakeman (the architect of that plan and then a director of East Anglian Food Link) asked me to write up that meeting and it was the first record I made within the initiative. It kickstarted the kind of reporting I have been doing in in Transition ever since. This tiny pic of me going to a neighbourhood bread baking workshop in Yoxford a month later - by a fellow participant on her phone - was the moment where I realised the potential for writing "citizen journalism", small on the ground stories that could grab people's attention about change.

What happened to the plan? you might ask. Well, Tully left Transition Norwich before the CSA (Norwich FarmShare) reaped its first harvest. A small and handsome electric mill did get bought, but the resilient loaf of Norwich did not get baked (well not commercially anyhow). Great British Beans however, which came out of the same staples project, are launching themselves on to the market in January. The bread we buy at Southwold Market is made with flour grown by the farmer at the original meeting. I look at the fields outside my door and recognise peas, oats, barley, potatoes, where once they meant nothing.

The Building section is about stepping up the enterprise. As a comms person this has meant moving from being a personal blogger in my local initiative, to running a national newspaper (Transition Free Press) as a social enterprise. That's a big undertaking that involves thinking about a crew, discussing pieces with people all around the UK and the world, advertising, social media, crowd-funding. It involves risk and 12 hour shifts. Sometimes I look back fondly at the days when I could just write about what was happening in my neighbourhood, stepping out into the frosty lane with my camera, learning how to bake bread. There was a beauty and a lightness to do with those days. But Building is a bigger move. You can't do Transition for real, and stay where you feel small and cosy.

In fact you can't do anything and stay small. If we had stayed small in Bungay there would be no library. The reason we are looking quizzically at Mr Bee, is because we know that in spite of all his words about Bungay Community Library celebrating its 20th Birthday, Suffolk Country Council were famous for zealously wanting to close libraries down. Only some people from the communities in North Suffolk got together and forced them back. What you don't know about this picture at the top is that Sylvia (just out of shot) and James Hargrave (who took the picture) and several others put hundreds of hours of unpaid work into keeping it open. And still do.

So I'm guessing you are wondering what on earth any of this has got to do with a documentary about glaciers. There is one word: perseverance. None of these enterprises work without a big desire or sense of destiny.

You can't photograph the movement of glaciers, without going to extreme places and suffering. You can't save a library, start a collective blog, or run a community bakery, without the kinds of people who are prepared to put themselves on the line against all odds. Norwich FarmShare would not have happened without Tully who pursued a funding application over two years. It wouldn't have worked either, if it had just stayed as a Plan and other Transitioners hadn’t stepped on board to manifest it. So no matter how brilliantly you understand the ingredient of Strategic Thinking, with its data and analysis, maps and bigger picture thinking. it's the people who will make the blueprints work, who translate them into physical reality.

We live in a culture where we think to have an idea is enough and that anyone can do it. If you can bake bread you can start a bakery, right? This section is where those ideas fall down hard. To relocalise a food supply doesn’t happen by growing vegetables in an allotment, you have to look at the staples and where they grow. Transition teaches us that to really succeed we have to know a lot, put in a lot of unpaid hours, and keep going, for reasons only we know. And most of all have the kind of people on board who know what they are doing. That's not strategy. That's something more like luck.

Thank your lucky stars when you find them. . . .

Post originally posted on Social Reporting Project
Images: Mark Bee and Sustainable Bungay by James Hargrave (the only geek in the village) Local bread in Breakfast with Friends by Mark Watson; Steve Winter of Dozen Bakery, Norwich by Jane Chittenden (Transition Norwich blog)

Monday 17 December 2012

Reaching out around the world - the DOHA summit

More collective action for international climate justice!

The 18th Conference of Parties (COP 18) met this month in Qatar to negotiate ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change amidst increasing global warming impacts worldwide. However, the agreement reached in Doha does not reflect the urgent action needed to combat last year’s record high CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and damage caused by natural disasters. I wonder if this would have been the case, had there been proper media coverage and civil society representation in these negotiations.  

Climate change is not my area of expertise, but it is something I am increasingly addressing in my international development work. I believe that equitable access to sustainable development is a concept that should be more central in climate change policy, funding and programmes. I wish to reach out to the TT network – to let folks know a bit about the summit, share some recent resources, and ask that we explore what could be done to influence these climate negotiations – including COP 19 next year in Poland.  

This month, nearly 200 nations agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol to the year 2020, at which point a new global UN pact (to be signed in 2015) will enter into force. A recent statement by Greenpeace International calls the agreement “so full of loopholes as to have little or no effect on carbon emissions”.  

In an interview with Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, she explains that civil society is very disappointed because the COP 18 agreement “will do nothing to bring finance over the long term to poor countries that are suffering from climate change. And it will do nothing to pave the way for the global deal that we have all been promised in 2015”. 

This week, Professor Michael Jacobs wrote an article calling for sustained global pressure to be put on governments to reach a deal in 2015. Also writing on the COP 18 agreement, CARE International Director of Climate Change and Environment, Kit Vaughan concludes that, “we need to focus our attention on those countries that continually fail to take action and live up to their historical and current responsibilities. Developed countries must now step up their game to kick-start the urgent transition to a low carbon and climate resilient world. It is their duty to invest in creating a safer and more stable world for all.” 

A report published last month by the World Bank warns that under current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change emission pledges and commitments, average global temperature could rise 3.5-4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century; and the longer pledges remain unmet, the more likely a 4°C world becomes. It argues that a 4°C world can, and must, be avoided. If it is not, “the projected impacts on water availability, ecosystems, agriculture, and human health could lead to large-scale displacement of populations and have adverse consequences for human security and economic and trade systems.” It also emphasises that the distribution of climate change impacts is likely to be “inherently unequal and tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions, which have the least economic, institutional, scientific, and technical capacity to cope and adapt.” 

The COP 18 deal did establish for the first time in an international legal document that rich nations should move towards compensating poor nations for loss and damage due to climate change, though it merely "encourages" rich nations to mobilise at least $10bn (£6bn) a year up to 2020.  

While wealthy nations continue to argue that they cannot make greater contributions to climate financing, a new study by Oil Change International has found that they spend five times more money on fossil fuel subsidies than on supporting developing countries to address climate change and its impacts.  

Greenpeace's Energy Revolution contests that economic crisis and climate change are two problems with one solution, showing that “with only 1% of global GDP invested in renewable energy by 2050, 12 million jobs would be created in the renewable sector alone; and the fuel costs savings would cover the additional investment two times over."  

As Transitioners, we have an amazing network in place to affect local and national policies. Can we make it a New Year’s Resolution to use our network to impact international climate negotiations – in addition to the good work we are already doing? Developed nations and corporate interests have a disproportionate influence on the outcomes. Isn’t it our responsibility to ensure that they are sending the right message and taking appropriate measures? Or at least, shouldn’t we say that they are not doing it in our name?  

I suggest discussing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in your circle meetings – perhaps invite experts to give talks. Let’s discuss questions like, ‘Why wasn’t this year’s COP the climate coming-out-party for the Obama administration that many had hoped for after his re-election acceptance speech?’ and, ‘Why did Europe refuse to go beyond a 20% emissions target, which would barely decrease emissions from today’s levels, and side with Poland, which demanded the right to keep 'hot air' Kyoto credits awarded to them in the 1990s?’ Then I hope we could explore how best to communicate our thoughts to our communities and the world.  

I do not intend to emphasis the importance of making better international agreements over, say, improving international development policies or national level energy policies. As University of East Anglia doctoral student Martin Mahony wrote in a recent blog, “the UN process is not the be-all and end-all of climate change policy”.  Whilst true, I believe there is a need for more links between local, national and international ideas and actions for climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

This holiday season, I implore us all to remember our sisters and brothers who are victims of natural disasters, including the recent typhoon in the Philippines, and consider supporting recovery efforts. Oxfam Unwrapped gifts are a great low-carbon way to share the love this season.

Angela de Prairie (Transition Circle Earlham)

Picture: communications by Milj├â¸magasinet Putsj.

Friday 14 December 2012

A #shamelessplug for the Transition Free Press, Great British Beans, and some words on Livelihoods

For many of us, at least in the modern UK, the very concept of livelihood is in transition. In a recent week of posts dedicated to the theme on the Transition Network Social Reporting project, a recurrent theme emerged: as the one secure job/career/pension for life becomes less common, some people are developing ‘multiple pathways for meeting their needs’.

Over the past three years I have written consistently on This Low Carbon Life, on Sustainable Bungay's website and as a social reporter about my experience of being an active part of the Transition ‘movement’ and network, and the benefits it has brought. From skill-sharing to learning how to work in groups, from personal carbon reduction to maintaining blogs, bulletins and websites, from helping set up social events to organising a year of talks, walks and workshops on plants as medicine. These are just a few of the pathways meeting some essential needs.

It just hasn’t been very financial yet! I think I have earned £150 so far from my all transition-related activities (and that thanks to Sarah and Alexis from Transition Belsize, and the Plant Medicine workshop they organised for me to teach at the Royal Free Permaculture Garden). But, like Kerry, I’m in transition for the long haul (just not the flight kind!). It takes up much of my time.

So I haven't managed to earn anything near my keep in transition yet, though things may be changing slowly. For this post I spoke to Josiah Meldrum and Charlotte Du Cann who both lead low carbon lives on low incomes, each with several income streams. "The work is consistent but the pay isn't," said Charlotte. "Living freelance in this way would be impossible unless I'd seriously downshifted."

#ShamelessPlug 1 - Beans

Now about that #shamelessplug. This twitter hashtag (and we’re ALL using twitter now despite our derogatory dismissals when it first came out) was first used by Josiah to bring attention to the Great British Beans project. Josiah is a founding partner of Provenance, which “provides supply chain management, marketing, research and consultancy services to food businesses, with an emphasis on supportng, promoting and developing more sustainable and local supply chains.” He is also director of Hodmedod's, which means hedgehog in East Anglian parlance, the company that deals with the equally East Anglian Great British Victor Beans (and now Great British Peas).

I asked Josiah yesterday about his experience over the years with multiple income pathways. First he told me the latest about the beans. “It’s been full-on over the past month,” he said, “We’ve just received the latest order in the new boxes, the design looks great, it’s very exciting.” I asked him whether the beans would make money. “A little,” he said. “Though we’ll never be bean millionaires.” You can tell he’s not in it for the money. He really loves the whole bean thing!

Josiah told me his job is well done if he is able to effect at least some positive change within local food supply systems. To that end his work can vary from 6 month contracts involving half-day to 2 day weeks with local Community Supported Agriculture projects like Norwich FarmShare, more regular work with established farms or occasional consultancy work with organisations like the World Wildlife Fund. And of course those beans. Which by the way make great falafels and houmous and find their way into many delicious dishes on Sustainable Bungay’s Happy Monday’s community kitchen menu.

#ShamelessPlug 2 - SUBSCRIBE to the Transition Free Press

Now to that other #shamelessplug. I have just taken on the task of distribution manager for the new Transition Free Press quarterly printed newspaper (see Preview issue here), first 'proper' edition due out on 1st February 2013. It's a very exciting thing. And if it all works out there'll be some money in it. Not a lot, but something.

From the outset, Transition Free Press has been about doing a proper job: getting the Transition message in physical form around the country and into as many people’s hands as possible. Providing a newpaper with excellent reports and interviews on all the transition news from local food projects to discussions on the latest climate science that you just won’t read in print elsewhere.

TFP is also about contributing to the livelihoods of the people producing it. The newspaper team is made up of professional writers, editors, designers and business people with years of experience in their fields and several years' hands-on experience in Transition.

The Financial structure of TFP is made up of four parts as follows:
3. Grants
4. Advertising

This pays for the all the costs of producing a high quality Transition Free Press from the printing to the paying of ‘staff’ and contributors on a sliding scale. The idea is that everyone who contributes gets something.

The aim is also to benefit Transition initiatives financially. A bundle costs £75 per 250 (30p a copy) and with a suggested sale price of £1 you can more than treble your outgoings. If 250 copies are too many try sharing bundles with other groups in your area or county.

(iv) “Producing a newspaper is skilled work,” says Charlotte Du Cann, TFP’s editor. “And it can be hard going. You need a solid, dedicated team, which we’re fortunate to have.” 

I asked Charlotte some more about working with multiple income pathways. 

“I love writing. I’m not talking about writing as personal therapy or marketing but writing for life, for the world. For three years I was blogging away about transition, no money in sight. In general, people don’t want to pay for communications. Writing is seen as a hobby, not taken seriously. Something that should be done for free.”

But the hard work is starting to pay off. As part of the research for this Social Reporting project, Charlotte went to Dark Mountain’s Uncivilisation 2011 festival, wrote a blog about it and got an article published in the Independent, the first since giving up journalism in the 90s. This led to press and publicity work with Dark Mountain.

After publishing What Do You Do? Writing on the Edge on This Low Carbon Life during the Transition and Livelihoods week last October, Charlotte received an offer from Two Ravens Press to publish her book 52 Flowers that Shook my World and subsequently to become a columnist in their magazine Earthlines.

This all came about by getting totally involved with Transition communications through several years dedicated and unpaid work, setting up websites, this SR project with Ed Mitchell last year, editing newsletters and bulletins.

“You hold out for making things pay. I didn’t want to earn my money from the old world, but from a world in transition,” she says.

An awayday to Totnes to discuss The Transition Companion led to meeting Lucy Neal and getting involved in (and paid for) the “Playing for Time” arts in transition project and book, which is now underway.

“Ideally I’d like to earn my money just by writing,” says Charlotte. “But that’s not how it goes. So I do some editing and admin work, and that’s fine so long as the project is both relevant and something where my real skills and talents are being valued, for example helping to update the Network’s Project Sharing Engine with Ed (Mitchell).”

Charlotte also acts as distributor for the Dark Mountain books and will be co-curating the literary stage at next year’s Uncivilisation festival. “The skill is in the balance. You make sure all the projects, even when they are for different people, are all connecting in really interesting and vibrant ways.

“Most jobs are carried out in isolation from the whole and we're living in a time where we need to join the dots. It’s not straightforward. It’s not 9 to 5 and then the working day is over. In any given day or night I’m on a train to a meeting for Playing for Time, emailing America, packing boxes of books, writing a blog or discussing the TFP front page with Alexis (news ed) on google hangout.”

These are difficult times and we face an uncertain future. Resilience depends on having a good communications network. We need to be network beings, working as a collective. Not just discrete cogs in a machine that’s destructive to the planet.

“As a communicator the network is everything!”

(v) Finally for me, in addition to really getting into the TFP distribuition task, with all the emails, spreadsheets and the huge map of the UK on my bedroom wall (the same one Mike Grenville is pointing to in the photo), I’d like to add that I am totally up for visiting Transition Initiatives and other groups for workshops on plants as medicine, particularly (but not only) connecting with our wild, native plant communities. I charge for my travel expenses plus a negotiable fee on a sliding scale, including payment in kind.

I might even let you into some of my secrets about how to make a medicine jelly or an awesome herbal refresher for any occasion!

The Transition Free Press crowdfunding is now underway, support us here. Thank you! Find out how to subscribe as one or several initiatives here.

TFP 'staff':
Charlotte Du Cann - Editor-in-chief
Alexis Rowell - News Editor
Trucie Mitchell/Mihna Damien - Design
Jay Tompt - Business and crowd-funding manager
Tamzin Pinkerton - Food and Well-being editor
Mark Watson - Distribution manager
with the participation of co-founder Mike Grenville.

This slightly amended version of What has this #SHAMELESSPLUG for the TRANSITION FREE PRESS got to do with LIVELIHOODS?, was originally published on 23rd November as part of the Livelihoods week on the Transition Network Social Reporting project. (MW)

Images: Transition Free Press Open Space session at the annual Transition Conference, September 2012; the original Great British Beans postcard; Mika from Japan reading TFP preview issue on a train in Suffolk; Mike Grenville points the way, Transition Conference 2012; 52Flowers the Shook My World book cover; teaching herbs for resilience at the Common Room, Norwich, November 2012; TFP's Buzzbnk page with Mika on the train