Category Archives: Sustainability

What is ‘Transition’?

The Transition movement takes a positive attitude to the changes we will need to make in order to cope with the end of cheap oil.

With the price of fuel, you may not feel that oil is cheap in any real sense, but for operating machinery, running factories and processing other natural resources the power of fossil fuel was incredible compared to that of manual labour. After centuries of runaway technological growth, we are finally arriving at the point where advanced machine design and renewable energy sources can replace the use of oil, and just in time as it is becoming harder to obtain.

The infrastructure, and to some extent the lifestyle, created around fossil fuels needs to change. The Transition network is dedicated to supporting this process. Totnes, in Devon, became the first ‘Transition Town’ in 2006, and many others have followed.

A Transition Initiative looks at forming an energy descent action plan for their area, exploring how local resources can be used in a more sustainable model, and outlining the path of this transition. As life with lower energy consumption is inevitable, it is best to plan for it and Transition maintains that the increase in quality of life will more than compensate for any inconvenience.

The Transition movement has local branches all over the country. Transition is ‘an invitation to join the hundreds of communities around the world who are taking the steps towards making a nourishing and abundant future a reality’

Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook

 

What is Resilience?

It’s not easy to explain or define ‘resilience’ even though it is becoming the new buzz word. Simply described, it is the ability to cope well with change. It can be applied to materials, ecosystems or entire planets, but here we are dealing with resilience in people, in communities and in cultures.

Resilience is a concept with depth, one that exists and develops through time, like loyalty and responsibility. It implies a knowledge of what is valuable, what must continue, where to strive to repair and regenerate, what should not be discarded.

Change can come in many forms. The fossil fuel bonanza of recent centuries has enabled people to become detached from each other and pursue their individual desires without reference to local resources or communities. As a consequence, these communities and resources are no longer available to support us through the next major change as this cheap and abundant – but not renewable – fuel begins to run out.

‘Peak oil’ is the term used to describe the point where new fossil fuel discoveries no longer compensate for the steadily decreasing production of existing oil fields and coal mines. It does not mean the end of fossil fuel. There is still time to adapt to a sustainable lifestyle, a change which will be driven by the increasing cost of energy as this source becomes more scarce.

Resilience and sustainability are closely linked. As an unsustainable practice is doomed to eventual failure, it is not a resilient practice either. Sustainability tends to start at the luxury end of the market and work downwards while resilience focusses on need and works upwards.

Sustainability asks “could you involve less air miles when choosing which food to buy?”

Resilience asks less comfortable questions such as “how much food can you access within walking distance of your home?”

Think about that last question. In what circumstances would it become important? Is your local food supply enough to sustain you and the people in your area? For how long?

You fill up your car, you drive to the supermarket, you buy food. The whole process takes hours at most. Growing food takes months, requires land, needs work. Waiting until a global situation outside your control disrupts the fragile transport network upon which we depend will be too late.

Our lifestyle is far from resilient and we need to act now to correct this. We must take control of the process of change and turn it to our advantage.

The Hemp Twine Project – Part One

One of my planned projects involves encouraging the sale of hemp twine to promote the local economy in Somerset. Everyone needs string. Hemp was once a major crop here, supplying huge quantities of rope for the Bristol shipping trade.

You can still see some of the long sheds where the ropes used to be twisted together from fibres.

Accordingly, after my summer adventures in the field, I set about ordering some hemp twine. Reluctant to create yet another customer profile for a possible single purchase, I called my chosen supplier and spoke to a friendly chap from the north of England.

I deplored the price of hemp twine, given the ease and low cost of hemp cultivation. He told me the sad tale of the decline of the natural fibre rope making industry faced with competition from oil based plastics. The hemp I was buying came from Egypt. Could I believe that unscrupulous sellers even tried to pass off jute fibre as hemp?

Uncomfortably aware that, although my grandfather would certainly have known the difference, I could be thus hoodwinked all day long, I moved the subject to purse nets. The hemp twine – the largest and cheapest reel I had found – was destined to make and repair these nets, commonly used for catching rabbits.

Alas, there was a sad story there too. Modern lads take no care of their hunting gear, but are content to stuff wet and muddy nets into a plastic sack at the end of a day. Left in this condition, even the spectacular ability of hemp to resist rot is overcome. Cheap imported plastic nets, however, can be abused endlessly.

Lads – do you realise that your careless lazy habits are having this impact? Take a minute or ten just to rinse out your nets and hang them up to dry before opening that can and slumping in front of the TV! Buy hemp purse nets or better still have some pride in your craft and make your own. There are instructions on the internet.

Hemp can and should be widely grown in this country. As well as fibre to replace imported oil based plastics, it yields nutritious seeds ideal for livestock feed. All it lacks is a market. Hundreds of new jobs could be created.

See how it’s all connected?

Start paying attention.

Step away from the edge

How did we get here, poised like the mythical lemmings on the cliff edge?  What madness made us think our careless greed would have no price?

The damage was far away and out of sight. Ancient forests razed to the ground and all their inhabitants wiped out. Pits of destruction so vast that mighty lorries seem tiny as crawling ants in their depths. Thousands of women and children imprisoned in factories churning out cheap throwaway clothes.

In our frantic search for fulfillment through ever more shiny material goods we have destroyed the framework which supported communities working together for each other’s benefit. The more money we have the faster it disappears, instead of enriching our own area.

Why should you care about your neighbour’s business when it has no effect on your life? Why should they care about you? Would it improve their life if they did?

It’s time the party ended. We need to reduce our dependence on a global economy, move away from our insidious addiction to oil and grow a country whose core needs can be satisfied by quality local produce.