Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Reflections on the transition movement

I have recently re-established contact with "Kevthefarmer" (who is no longer a farmer because his farm was sold from under him. We both share the same disillusionment with the "transition movement".

Looking back at this article very little has changed.

On the surface we were wrong about imminent collapse and how Peak Oil would play out, but in fact very little has changed.

In fact in 2011 the first signs of positive feedbacks in the climate were being observed,so our attention was elsewhere. Now we have all the signs of runaway, catastrophic climate change while the world looks like going to war to distribute the last scraps of easily-available energy.

Now we are looking at 'transition' to a world of extreme weather and food scarcity, or we might have to adapt to near-term extinction

We May Have to Adapt Very Quickly': Reflections on Transition Towns and Collapse


12 July, 2011

In recent weeks and months I have had to re-evaluate things.

I have had to re-evaluate the way in which I live my life and how I use my energy; - what is most important for me.

I have also had to re-evaluate my ideas, which may be characterised as liberal and left-wing.

I have had to recognise that most of these ideas that I have cherished throughout my life have become rendered as redundant as capitalism.

The reason for this is that any idea, whether it is liberalism, capitalism or socialism is predicated upon infinite growth and the existance of an abundant source of raw materials and also credit to fund this growth.

What I am seeing instead is that this growth has well-and-truly reached its limits due to an increased population that cannot be sustained by resources that have, or soon are to peak.

What wealth that is produced cannot or is not distributed because of a moribund and corrupt political and economic system that may be called a ‘kleptocracy’W that caters to the interests of a tiny, super-rich elite.

Concepts like democracy have become perverted over recent years (since September 11, 2001, but also before that), and basics rights to determine what we eat, how we medicate ourselves and now our rights to barter seeds or food may well be threatened.

What this brings up for me during this period of collapse is that of cherishing the idea of bringing about positive change through the political system may be redundant.

This may have implied rebellion or revolution in the past. But no longer.

Now it is simply that the answers cannot be found in the political system and there is nothing that can be done about collapse - by getting rid of the Nats, voting Green or even Labour.

It becomes more a situation of what we can do with collapse.

Transition Towns

As someone who has always liked a central idea to organise my thoughts and actions around I have always found the Transition Towns movement frustrating.(at least where I am, which is New Zealand).

For a start it seems to be very middle-class and mostly populated by people that could be described as ‘leftie-liberal’.

For me, you cannot start with a vague concept of vision. First we need to recognise what is and then on that basis build up a plan of individual and community response.

There has to be a recognition that the political system, the media and the vast majority of society is in total and abject denial of what faces us - which is no less than the collapse of ‘business as usual’, of infinite growth - ultimately of society as we now know it.

People in Transition Towns are generally good at looking at alternative technologies, sustainable living, conflict resolution etc., just as people in the Green Party have excellent values of socal and ecological justice or reaching decisions by consensus.

Sometimes there seems to be a lack of robustness in thinking which is demonstated by a comment I heard recently - that very few people have in fact read the Transition Handbook.

Perhaps it is a reflection of my own lack of patience, but I also see few signs of a recognition that things are changing very quickly and we may have to adapt very quickly.

It is not just a matter of growing vegetables or riding an electric bicycle in a future oil crunch (perhaps with the emphasis on ‘future’), but actually making preparations on the level of the personal and your most immediate social group to survive changes which may manifest not as a shortage of petrol at the pump, but as the complete and rapid collapse of the financial system.

Mike Ruppert said recently he had been contemplating the question he is often asked - how long before it happens? What is ‘it’? he asked. It, he decided, was when the only thing you knew about what was happening is within a five-mile radius of where you live.

There seems to be an in idea in NZ that ‘it won’t happen here’. I think it can and I think it will. When and how we don’t know; but soon.

The ‘Lifeboat movement’ as a model?

Since becoming acquainted with the work of Michael Ruppert and Collapse Net I have quite liked the concept of a ‘lifeboat movement’

It comes ofcourse, from Ruppert’s analogy of the various reactions of passengers on the Titanic, so immediately carries the idea of a lifeboat as something that can carry those of similar intent to safety. Inherent in this is that society is in decline and headed for collapse so that people should come together to form the communities that are necessary to survive the transition to a post-carbon world.

Collapse Net has a lifeboat hub - maps which locate members (there are just below 5,000 in 63 countries); so that it is possible to contact lifeboat members in the same locality and to use the software to invite them to be friends (as in Facebook).

There is also a Lifeboat Directory - which is a directory of goods and services offered by members.

Through Transition Towns my partner and I have recently built up a small community of people within a reasonable radius that share a vision with us, and I am sure this will act as the basis for mutual support when times get harder.

However, this has taken some time and has depended on building up an informal network. There has been little in Transition Towns that has actually helped this process.

Perhaps there are some things to ponder and reflect on.

In the meantime I should get my own copy of the Transition Handbook.


TT, as a non-membership non-organisation is inevitably going to have a make-up (can't really call it structure, can we?) where the greatest number are the least committed and the most committed will be the smallest handful. That is the nature of any movement that comes into being on such a broad base. TT can only really act as a consciousness raising endeavour. Any attempt to actually push forward a practical agenda for survival at a pace that gives even the remotest possibility of success requires that all parties agree to obey a central command whether or not they agree with every decision made by the command. The command can be democratic or autocratic, actually it makes not much difference practically. For an example of democratic centralism I would give the Bolsheviks, for autocratic centralism I would give the Nazis. This is not the modern way, not the liberal way, not the Kiwi way, but it is the only way to effect rapid transformation.

I would hazard a guess that most of the most prepared have a small or zero presence on this site- these are the lifeboat builders. some will be gun-toting survivalists, others will be established farmers in remote areas planning to bring their extended families home when the crisis hits hard. A few will be "people just like us" only better organised. The Koanga lot over at Hawkes Bay would be in that category. They have had a presence on the TT website, but by their own admission they are not TTers. They believe its too little too late. I tend to agree.

A common thread is that they are more or less secretive. Their greatest fear is of their lifeboats being sunk by the burden of too many fellow travellers. Koanga actively sought out a site far away from a major city, ostensibly to discourage members from taking paid jobs rather than commit wholeheartedly to the project. I am sure they realised that it would also put them far away from a major source of would-be fellow travellers when the crisis comes.

Ironically, those who have tried to build lifeboats have struggled. I know of three groups personally, one started thirty years ago, one fifteen and the other five years ago. They all failed to find a crew for their lifeboat. People came and looked, told them what a great idea it was, but they decided they would rather be captain of their own lifeboat than first officer training for joint command of someone elses. Of course the vast majority of these didn't actually get to build a lifeboat of their own at all. The lot that started thirty years ago just sold their lifeboat because they were too old to sail it. To the very end they failed to find a crew.

Me? I think that if things get that bad it won't be the would-be fellow travellers that swamp the boats, it will be the government, or what's left of it, will torpedo the lifeboats to punish the lifeboaters for daring to think up such an audacious scheme, and to enable the common herd to each have a tiny piece of driftwood to clutch for comfort as they drown anyway. To that end, I refuse to keep my lifeboat a secret.

From “Richard”

Terms like “collapse” and “lifeboats” are negatives. As Rob Hopkins says in the Transition Handbook (and yes I have read it), we in the environmental movement have got the psychology around facilitating change soooo wrong over the last 30 years. Instead of scaring the shit out of people with pictures of how bad the world will be if we don’t act, we should be talking up just how we fantastic the world could be if we collectively created a more sustainable future. (Which by the way is what Rob was trying to do with TT). By viewing the future as a positive, it allows you to see the wealth of opportunities for community and the environment to take advantage of as global events unfold.

Positive vision also breeds enthusiasm, which breeds action, which breeds positive experience which breeds enthusiasm and so on. This is the energy social movements need to succeed and force change. The Berlin Wall did not fall because everyone was shit scared they would get shot. The Wall fell because people made a collective positivist stand against that exact form of negativity.

I do not deny that we face a challenging future which is why I was once quite active on this site but what we need is TRANSITION (hence the name Transition Towns) not simply lifeboats.

I am of the firm belief that our current post- modern globalised system is a lot more resilient than most commentators make it out. As Heinberg said in End of Suburbia, you will see a crunch, followed by recession, followed by a short upward trend, followed by another crunch, followed by another recession and so on. In other words a slow wind down, not collapse. Even, Kunstler before he turned into a complete ranting shock jock wrote a book called “The Long Emergency”, with the emphasis on ‘long”. It wasn’t called the “Immediate and Spontaneous Collapse of the World as We Know it.

So to the doomers and the lifeboaters out there I say this. Be careful what you wish for, because while you are earnestly waiting for Rome to burn, planning your exit strategy and setting up your lifejacket, you could have spent your time actually helping to create the world we should have.

From “Kevthefarmer”

Heinberg, Hopkins, Kunstler et.al. were writing before the events of 2008 demonstrated that the fragility of the global economy (debt bubble) will be the leading factor in impending events rather than environmental and resource depletion issues. To consider their writing to be permanent works like the Ten Commandments is to do a disservice to the authors themselves. Even the Transition Towns movement itself is not some church with an established Creed and Litany. Transition from what? The start point is now, and where we are now depends on our personal circumstances and changes on an almost daily basis in a manner that is almost completely outside our control. To what? Some want socialist utopia, others prefer libertarian freedoms, some might see a clan or tribal system as a desired outcome.

Do you even realise that today the US is only two weeks away from sovereign debt default without a Plan B? You have no idea of the global shockwave that will produce. If they manage to cobble together a rescue plan how long do you think it will work until they need a Plan C? QE1 cost the US taxpayer 70 billion dollars and has staved off collapse for two years. Yes- I said collapse, not crisis. Crisis is what they (which means "we" effectively in a globalised world) have already.

The reason Kunstler turned into a "ranting shock jock" is the realisation of the above facts. Are you one of those who still believe that peak oil and subsequent decline will cause the global economy to shrink 7% year-on-year? That's so old-school,-it was a best-case scenario. That's what would have happened if the global economy was fundamentally sound in all other respects. It turns out that since bank deregulation in the Reagan-Thatcher-Douglas era the jokers have created a house of cards(derivatives bubble)to inflate their own wealth with no underlying real asset value. The politicians could tear it down (mark banks "assets" to market value = almost worthless) if they wished, but they don't wish, because the politicians belong to the bankers (in NZ, it seems, they often are bankers!), bought and paid-for. Then we would be back to the managable 7% year-on-year decline that is the basis upon which a broad-based Transition programme might just enable us to avert civil chaos.

As it is, a disruptive global economic event will result in the investment required to extract the remaining resources even at the rate required for "only" a 7% year-on-year decline not being made. The situation will not be recoverable becaused the resultant decline in economic activity will result in fewer current resources being able to be bought to bear to extract the required future resources. Thus instead of the lovely peak, descending ramp and soft landing we see in conventional peak oil curves, we will see a nosedive. This is collapse. Go and find Joseph Tainter on Wikipedia. this guy is a heavyweight (but eminently readable) academic, not some "raving shock-jock doomer". He was writing well before peak oil awareness became mainstream and certainly well before the financial events of 2008 so this is not "cleverness with the benefit of hindsight". There is a book called "The Collapse of Complex Societies" but there are links to free papers at Wiki- check out his CV too whilst you are there.

Richard, have you ever heard the saying "hope for the best but prepare for the worst" this is such a truism it exists in every culture. Transition Towners and Lifeboaters may not be exactly the same thing, but neither are they mutually exclusive or in conflict. I really don't see what your problem is with us and why you consider lifeboaters are gleefully awaiting Armageddon or are doing anything that actually conflicts with the interests of Transition Towns. We actually are creating the world that we should have. Creating. Not "helping", actually flogging our guts sixteen hours a day doing. I'm sorry if we got bored waiting for the rest of you to get your finger out and actually take personal responsibility for your future well-being, but we are not going to let ourselves and our families suffer just so we can say "oh, we may be completely completely shafted but at least we didn't break with the concensus of the lowest common denominator".

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