Crash On, Crash Off: Two Transition Interviews: John Michael Greer, Grand Archdruid, Ancient Order of Druids in America & Co-founder & President Raven Gray, Transitions US. Planetshifter.com Magazine.
A few of the transition scenarios in the 2011 version of The Transition Companion by Rob Hopkins:
Enforced Localization (FEASTA) – Assumes peak oil in 2007 leading to drastic economic downturn. The economy contracts and then collapses, resulting in a very localized future,….
Building Lifeboats (Heinberg) – Building Lifeboats “begins with the assumption that industrial civilization cannot be salvaged in anything like its present form” and is a process of building solidarity, creating localized infrastructure and preserving and enhancing the essentials of life.
Business as Usual (FEASTA) – Puts peak oil at 2030 with the government doing nothing to pre-empt it arrival. pp. 42-3
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After he spoke on the panel about local solutions at the ASPO-USA Truth in Energy Conference held in Washington, DC earlier this month, I asked John Michael Greer to give us some of his thoughts about the Transition Movement. He obliged us and so we offer his comments in full below. Greer is the author of numerous books on peak oil and other subjects including The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered.
What do you think of the Transition movement’s decision to focus on communities, rather than (say) individuals, nations, or anything else in between?
Somebody had to try it, but it doesn’t seem to be working so far. By and large, Transition has fallen into the standard model of contemporary activism—that is, it’s given rise to small groups on the margins of society, pursuing their projects as if the rest of the world was watching, which it isn’t. It’s indicative that in Totnes, one of the two towns on the planet that has actually finished crafting a Transition Plan, only around 5% of the local population took part in the process at any level. Even that level of public involvement appears far beyond the reach of most US Transition groups.
Does that mean that trying to organize on a community-wide basis was a mistake? Not at all. It may still be worth trying, though a move away from familiar but ineffective organizing strategies could be indicated. What it means, rather, is that community organizing is only one of many possible directions that need to be explored, and other options may turn out to be more productive. We simply can’t know in advance, which is why pursuing as many different options as possible is a good idea.
What do you think are the main obstacles that the Transition movement faces?
Here in America, at least, the level of denial that surrounds the end of the age of cheap energy makes a movement like Transition a very difficult sell. Still, Transition has made things even more difficult for itself, in part through the adoption of the standard model of contemporary activism. Some parts of that model—for example, consensus decisionmaking—are red flags for many who might be interested in Transition, because they have seen the problems with that model in other contexts already.
A broader issue is the focus on communities. I hear from many people who, knowing the temper of the communities where they live, recognize that trying to launch a Transition movement there would be an utter waste of effort. I also hear from many people who would rather gnaw on a dead rat than take part in a movement that consists mostly, at this point, of attending meetings. Much of my work in helping inspire responses to the post-peak future could reasonably be described as providing options for people who feel that the Transition movement provides them with none.
Where do you think the Transition movement might be able to go from here?
That’s a good question. I haven’t read the latest publications out of the movement—it’s not really that relevant to my own work, and my book-buying budget is far from unlimited—but if I gather correctly, there’s been a certain broadening of options, a shift away from the linear progression from forming a group to establishing a Transition Plan. That could be a good thing, or the opposite.
It could be the opposite because every activist movement faces the temptation to exist for the sake of existing, abandoning its goals in favor of ever vaguer abstractions that, since no one can be sure what they would mean in practice, continue to justify holding meetings and pretending that something is being done. There are severe problems with the notion that writing a Transition Plan is a significant accomplishment—every municipality in America has plans on file for dealing with energy scarcity, drawn up in the 1970s, which have been gathering dust ever since—but at least it’s a measurable goal.
The current shift toward broader options could be a good thing, though, because nobody, anywhere, knows for sure just what has to be done in order for communities—or, for that matter, individuals—to get through the end of the age of cheap abundant energy with the least possible misery and loss. If Transition is open to having local groups embrace radically different organizational structures and practical agendas, and local groups make use of that freedom, it’s quite possible that the evolutionary process thus set in motion might stumble across viable routes into the future.
That requires a tolerance for disagreement and contradiction that’s rare in contemporary society, and especially in activist circles; the fixation on consensus in those circles is one measure of the difficulty so many people have these days dealing with forthright disagreement. Still, when you’re trying to find the best route through unknown territory, coming up with a consensus in advance is usually a bad idea; it’s usually better to have scouts head out in whatever direction seems best to each of them, and report back on their experiences, whatever those happen to be.
– Erik Curren, Transition Voice
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Co-founder & President Raven Gray, Transitions US. Interview by Willi Paul
What are three key transitions that Transitions US has gone through since starting up here?
Transition US was founded in 2007. That was the first key transition: the formation of our initiating group. The second big transition was in 2008 when we received seed funding that enabled us to become a non-profit, open an office, hire staff and develop a comprehensive website. The third transition has been in process since 2009, with the formation of a solid working board and the development of several important partnerships with national organizations.
Are we acting through fear these days?
People come to the Transition Movement in various states of anxiety and despair, and learn to transform their fear into action. They are turned on by our message of hope, and our method of engaged optimism. We paint an enticing picture of the future, one that draws people out of their fearful shells, out from the shade of gloom, into the sunshine of the good life. The Transition process is a joyful, positive, solutions-based approach. It empowers our communities to start planting seeds of change, and to celebrate the great transition of our times. If we had a slogan, it might be “we can do this together for fun!” While fear is ever present in our culture, we do not let fear take the driving seat. We push fear into the gutter and let hope take the road.
How do you teach your son to innovate?
My son is the king of innovation. He teaches me how to innovate. If I quiet my mind, my son lets me into his world where everything and anything is possible. A wooden spoon might be a digging tool, a hat, a fire poker, a shoe remover, or a dandelion basher. He lives in a magical realm of imagination and creativity. He is intimately connected with the flow of life. He’s in the stream. I’m on the shore.
What are some of the social and cultural impacts from the BP oil spill?
This environmental catastrophe has been a big wake up call for many people. Questions about our oil consumption and fossil fuel dependency have trickled into the mainstream conversation. People are questioning why we are drilling so deep in a sensitive and fragile ecosystem, and whether there might be other cleaner, greener sources of energy. That these questions are being increasingly debated in our public discourse is a silver lining on an otherwise extremely black and ominous storm cloud.
While it’s far too early to tell what the impacts will be from the BP oil spill, they will most certainly be far reaching. Some of them will be potentially devastating, particularly for the coastal communities of the Gulf of Mexico. One third of America’s seafood is produced by these communities. The indigenous tribe of Atakap have depended on the Gulf for hundreds of years. The economies of these communities are also heavily dependent on tourism. How will these people cope with the loss of their livelihoods?
Yet, in every crisis there is opportunity. Perhaps this is the time for these people to begin to build resilience back into their communities, to create a more vibrant and fulfilling localized culture that is not dependent on a global, oil-based economy.
How do you compare the processes and programs at Transition US with those at DailyActs.org?
Transition US is a national non-profit that provides support, training and networking to the grassroots, community-based Transition movement. Daily Acts is an on-the-ground non-profit, deeply rooted in the local communities of Sonoma County. They are doing transition work at the local level, and Transition US is supporting groups and organizations at the national level.
Daily Acts has been doing some great collaborative work with local governments. They have been very effective in getting permaculture out of the backyard and into the front gardens of city officials. They are now working on creating models that Transition Communities can use to build bridges to their own local governments.
The founder and Executive Director of Daily Acts, Trathen Heckman, is on the Transition US Board, and our work is very closely aligned. He is a personal hero of mine. He is cultivating community self-reliance, through education and actions that empower and inspire people to create a more beautiful and bountiful world, and we are doing the same. We are driven by the same vision and mission. We are birds of a feather, may we always flock together.
Is sustainability like a new religion?
Sustainability is an overused buzzword. In Transition we like to talk about resilience – we see this as a more useful term. I don’t think sustainability or resilience have anything in common with religion. I’d be more inclined to see them instead as part of a new, unfolding mythology, cosmology, and philosophy.
Please define resilience on local and global levels? How to connect the two paths in our communities?
Resilience is an ecological term that refers to the ability of a system (such as a community) to withstand shocks in the face of change from the outside. In other words, it refers to the ability of a community not to collapse when there is an interruption in oil supply, an economic downturn, or a drastic change in climate, but to be able to respond, adapt and not only survive, but thrive, no matter what comes their way.
What does a resilient community look like? It’s going to look different from place to place, but there will be some common characteristics, such as a strong local economy, local food systems and local energy systems. A resilient community is self-reliant, and provides for most of its basic needs locally, but it is still open to trade with the wider world. And more than that, it is a place where the people are resilient, robust, psychologically fulfilled, diversely skilled, and able to creatively respond and adapt to change.
In the Transition movement, the focus is on the local, from the ground up. We don’t demonize the global infrastructure, but we also don’t try to design resilience at the global level. We believe that by focusing our efforts on building local resilience, that global resilience will naturally and spontaneously emerge.
Where will the planet be in 20 years? Will women play a more dominant role?
I hold a vision in my mind’s eye that the world will be transformed into a great garden of peace and productivity, where there is an abundance of wildlife, and people live in small communities of incredible creativity, where life is a celebration, and everyone’s basic needs are met, unleashing vast amounts of innovation and ingenuity so that art and culture flourish around the world. There is tolerance, diversity, reverence, equity and justice, for all of life on earth.
That doesn’t mean to say I am wildly naive, and full of Utopian dreams. I don’t really know what 2030 will look like. I don’t think any of us know what the future holds. Nevertheless, I know that the vision we hold in our minds eye when we begin the work of Transition, will go a long way to determining where we will end up.
Visioning is an integral part of the Transition process, a powerful change making tool. People need to imagine for themselves what a better future might look like. Not just cerebrally, but they need to feel their vision viscerally, with all their senses engaged. If they can taste, smell, feel, hear and see the future as a wonderful and amazing place, they will begin to want it so much that they will do whatever it takes to make it come true.
Women are already playing a dominant role. Look around you and you will see that it’s true. As the Dalai Lama said in 2009: “The world will be saved by the Western women.” Well, here we are, and we are doing it.
Who is your favorite activist? Author?
Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Movement, is one of my favorite people. I have too many other favorites to mention. The same with favorite authors, but Vandana Shiva springs to mind, both as an activist and author. I’m a big fan of anybody who is doing anything towards the restoration of our earth, however great or small.
Can the Earth be our “God?”
I always resonated with the quote by Frank Lloyd Wright: “I believe in God, only I spell it N.A.T.U.R.E.”
Wow! What is a permaculture oasis? Who lives there?
It’s a lush, productive garden of Eden. An interdependent, interconnected network of abundant and nourishing relationships between plants, animals, insects, birds, people, water, earth and sky. We all live here together, and get to appreciate and feast from the bounty of our lives. We can all live like this, all the time. It’s up to us. We are the gardeners we’ve been waiting for.
What is your favorite nature-based myth?
Wangari Maathais’s hummingbird with fire. The perfect story of doing the best you can, even when the odds are stacked against you. Never give up hope.