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

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