Simple Living Archive


A write-up of the 2012 Transition Network conference. The best yet.

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Transition folks from around the world gathered last weekend at Battersea Arts Centre for the 6th annual Transition Network conference.  In a week when the Arctic ice reached its smallest ever extent, scientists warned that the world’s weather could be on the verge of running amok and it was suggested that Saudi Arabia, always meant to be the ‘swing producer’ on whom the rest of the world could depend for reliable oil supplies, may become a net importer of oil by 2030, the theme of the conference was, appropriately, ‘Building resilience in extraordinary times’.  Unlike previous conferences which had spanned two, perhaps three days, this was, in effect, a 6 day ‘Festival of Transition’, and it turned out to be an extraordinary event which deeply affected those attending.

Read the rest of Rob’s write-up, listen to recorded talks, see pictures, and join the conversation over at TransitionCulture.org!

tc Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Companion.

Friday

Thursday began with the first day of a Transition Thrive training, and Friday featured the second day of that training, attended by 35 people from around the world, as well as a Youth Symposium and the REconomy Day.  I arrived on Friday lunchtime, gave a short talk for the Youth event, and dipped into the REconomy day, so I can’t say much about either.  Fortunately, thanks to the various people who documented the event, you can see some great photos of the REconomy day here and read Jay Tompt’s reflections on it here, and here Caroline Jackson reflects on the Youth day.

Both events brought a very welcome input of different kinds of energy to Transition, having more young people around was wonderful, and the focus and economic practicality of the REconomy day, especially, according to many of the people I spoke to, the session in the morning where a series of people gave 7 minute talks about their social enterprises, were amazing to see (I was already seeing people on Twitter raving about it before I even reached London!).

The other key event of Friday was, at 7pm, the official launch of Transition Free Press, the new quarterly newspaper for the Transition movement.  All the team behind bringing it into the world were there, and speeches and celebration marked its emergence, with a great deal of cheering, applause and back slapping.  There was even some home made herbal cordial stuff, a kind of hedgerow Pimms, which went down very easily.

Off to the Transition Network conference 2012

Monday, September 17th, 2012

So, it’s bag-packing time as I get ready to set off to Battersea for the Transition Network conference.  There probably won’t be much activity on these web pages over the duration of the conference as it tends to be hectic bonkers from start to finish and little time to sit and blog.  However, there will be lots of Social Reporters activity going on on the Transition Network’s Conference 2012 blog, with audio files, photos, blogs, tweets and whatever, all lovingly collated here.  Several people have asked if there will be a live streaming for those who can’t make it.  There won’t, and the simple reason is that it’s not that kind of conference.  There aren’t presentations to the whole conference, rather lots of workshops, breakouts, Open Spaces and so on.

The Social Reporters will be trying to capture what they can, but by its nature it’s a hard one to document in the traditional fashion (if you are attending, and would like to be part of this, please chat to the lovely Social Reporters).  Last year lots of people got in touch who had followed it remotely to say how well it worked, so let’s hope it works as well this year.  Likelihood is I’ll be mostly Tweeting (@robintransition) using the hashtag #tnconf2012.  So, see you on the other side…

A July/August Round-up of What’s Happening out in the World of Transition

Monday, September 10th, 2012

This month’s round up covers two months, because this time last month half of the team that lovingly create these round ups was away when they should have been producing this.  As a result it’s a bit of a whopper.  The latest Transition Bristol newsletter begins In this issue…. The Bristol Pound is coming, the Bristol Pound is coming, oh, and lots of other stuff too! Read on”. That seemed like a good way for us to start too.  The Bristol Pound, the vastly exciting imminent launch of a city-wide currency that is creating a frenzy of media interest, is nearly here.

Keep reading at TransitionCulture.org…

Editor’s note: Typically we re-post Rob’s videos and images, but our Wordpress has been complaining a bit lately. Until it starts working with us smoothly again, consider this an invitation to visit Rob’s main blog, TransitionCulture.org, where you can not only see all the dynamic content he has packed into his posts, you can comment and join the conversation too! -jhm

An interview with Charles Eisenstein: “Something in your heart knows that this is what life is supposed to be about”

Friday, August 31st, 2012

About 4 weeks ago, I had the honour of interviewing Charles Eisenstein, author of ‘Sacred Economics’ while he was in the UK visiting Schumacher College to teach a course there for a week.  I had to admit before we began the interview that I have yet to read his book, in spite of the number of people I know who have insisted that I really ought to.  I decided to see this as an opportunity though, given that most people who will be reading this won’t have read it either, thereby sharing my starting point of near-complete ignorance.  I think it kind of works.  He was charming and thoughtful, and you can either hear the podcast of the interview below, or read the transcript below that.

For people who are unfamiliar with your work on sacred economics, what is it? How would you describe it to people? What’s the main thrust of it?

The book is about how to make money as sacred as everything else in the universe. Some people think, well, everything’s sacred, and it should be, but if there’s one thing that isn’t today it’s money, and we experience that in our daily lives just making personal decisions. Like for me at least, my impulse is for generosity or to follow my passion, or to do something right even though it takes much longer.  Money seems to block these impulses and to reward the things I really don’t want to do, the things that are really hurting the planet, that might be convenient, or the things that my rational mind calculates will be better for my self-interest.

Money is on the side of those things and not on the side of the beautiful things that I want to do. On a social level, too, I look into almost any problem, any terrible thing, like the prison industrial complex or the war on drugs or deforestation and climate change and I say ‘why is that happening?’ Then I take it down a few levels and it’s always money. So if anything isn’t  sacred it’s money, and the question is why, because money is just an agreement that gives value to symbols really.

Physically it’s  just bits and computers, so we’ve created an agreement that aligns money with pretty much everything people call evil, but why should we have agreed on that? The book goes into the nature of that agreement and describes what exactly it is about money that makes it into something unholy, and then says – ok, but what different agreements could we have that align with the things that are becoming sacred to us today? Like ecological healing, the preservation of indigenous cultures, all the things that we’re beginning to value today. In a way, you could say that money has always been sacred because in the past it’s been aligned with growth, the growth of the human realm, and the conquest of nature. That was sacred to us many years ago, but it’s not any more, so money needs to change.

You use the term ‘the gift economy’ a lot to describe, as I understand it, what we need to be moving towards instead. What does the gift economy look like for you, what does that mean? Does that mean that we just swap stuff all the time?

No, it’s not about barter actually. Economists have this fantasy that once upon a time people used barter and then money was more convenient so they switched to money, that all along we’ve been trying to maximise our self-interest and take advantage of somebody else and get the best deal, but that’s a fantasy projection of the present on to the past. The gift economy for me means two things actually, one is the shrinkage of the money economy so that a lot of things that are quantified today and commodified and exchanged with money will re-enter the gift realm.

Things like the care of children, the preparation of food, to some extent the building of houses, the creation of entertainment, all of these things used to be part of a gift economy, done mostly within families or small communities. A lot of these things should be done by people that know you intimately – life’s a lot richer when your music is mostly something that you get together and sing, rather than something you listen to on your ipod. So that’s part of it, the shrinkage of the money realm.

I’m not talking about the abolition of money, I’m talking about the transformation of money, so that it takes on the properties of gift.  One of those would be that you no longer maintain wealth, status and security by keeping a lot of it, in a gift culture the more you gave the richer you were. The wealthy person was the generous person.  Another aspect of it would be to be part of the circle of the gift as in ecology where the waste of any creature is a food for the next. Obviously, this is not a new insight, but human economy has to join the circle of ecology and our money system has to encourage that. That’s the other main aspect of gift economics as applied to money.

What seems to be happening in society now is a lot of the things that you’re talking about there in terms of the privatisation of childcare and the professionalisation of childcare and of care for the elderly…basically picking up on all the social inter-dependencies that we seem to be losing all over the place because we become more and more selfish and running faster and faster just to stand still. At the moment it feels like people are too busy to look after their aged relatives and they don’t have the time, they probably don’t have the skills either, but ultimately they don’t have the empathy or the ability to put themselves to one side for a while and care for someone who brought them into the world and cared for them for 25 years or whatever. So how do we start to rebuild the altruism that needs to underpin a shift like that?

I think there are many ways to rebuild it, and different people engage with it on different levels, like some people are engaging on the level of rebuilding empathy would be hopeless but for the fact that people are so miserable in that state of complete monetisation. I think what’s happened is they’ve been robbed, they’ve been robbed of their skills, robbed of their humanity, they’ve been robbed of their empathy, and that robbery leaves us, and I’m including myself in this too, in pain, lonely, hurting, and that pain is so omnipresent that we consider it normal, we consider it normal to hurt.

That’s why we get bored – boredom is the pain that comes from not having anything between you and yourself. A primitive person wasn’t bored, a primitive person was totally happy to literally watch the grass grow, and animals are to. We have this need, this hunger, which we can temporarily assuage maybe by eating a lot, or by buying things, or all of these other things, and that’s addictive, because it doesn’t meet the real need, and at some point it creates a crisis on a personal level, and on a collective level we have the same crisis, and so people reach that point of crisis where it stops working and the addictions stop working, and then things fall apart.

Then they have access to or openness to the recovery of empathy, the recovery of skills, the recovery of the spirit of the gift. Those are the moments that I look for in my interactions with people, and I think a lot of people come to my work and the work of many people in this movement, they’ve reached that point, so I think it’s a natural evolution of crisis breakdown and healing or rebirth or something like that.

I think that social-economic activism is important, but I also think that what you might call spiritual activism that connect people to their ageing parents, or bring forgiveness into relationships or non-judgement, things like that, I think those are equally important, even more important, more foundational. I think that people are recognising that the economic crisis goes all the way to the bottom of the way we are, the way we relate in this culture, in this civilisation. It’s not just an economic crisis.

Sharon Astyk wrote recently, questioning Occupy’s “we are the 99%” slogan, arguing that in the US, even the bottom 2% are probably within the global 1%. What is ‘enough’ and how do we determine what ‘enough’ is?

I just want to say something first about that 2%, and it depends how you measure it. Economists measure it in terms of income, and I think that’s really dangerous because to some extent your income is a measure of how much you’ve left the gift economy and entered the money economy. You could have a subsistence peasant somewhere who still lives in a community, maybe still lives in a place that’s relatively unscathed by modernity, and he makes less than 2 dollars a day – poor  guy – but actually he knows how to build his own house and he and his community get together and build their own houses, and grow their own food and make their own clothes and sing their own songs, and he might have a life that’s richer than even the 1% in America.

Sometimes I get into conversations with commentators on my essays, they’re like ‘how can you advocate degrowth when the third world masses need to be lifted out of poverty?’ Are we actually lifting them out of poverty or are we creating a new kind of poverty that is actually to our advantage, or at least to our supposed advantage?  I always want to be careful – when we say so-and-so’s very poor, are we just projecting our own conception of wealth on to them and then improving them? Well you’re developing them, and we’re developed, it’s ‘Destination Us’. I just wanted to make that disclaimer.

If what you really crave in your soul is to be serenaded by your lover, but all you have available is digital downloads, then no amount of those will be enough. If what you really crave I to walk outside and know the name of every hill, and to know the name of every birdsong that you hear, and to know the smell of the soil, but what you have available to you is product, then no matter how much product you buy, you’re never going to have enough.

This has been the problem with money for a long time, it was recognised even by the Ancient Greeks. In my book I quote one of the Ancient Greek playwrights, he was puzzled by it. He says “money is a strange thing. The man who has 30 drachmas wants 60, the man who has 60 wants 100″. The wanting of it has no limit, which is different from the other things that men want – wine, women, food, of all of these things we know satiety, but not money.

Maybe you’ve seen that study where they took people with a net worth of 25 million dollars or more and asked them – are you financially secure? And the majority said no. They asked how much would you need to be financially secure? They all named a figure, as  just said, about 25% more than they already had, 25 million, 50 million, 100 million – it didn’t matter. Because anything could happen – I could think of a scenario where your 50 million dollar fortune becomes worthless, the stock market could crash, you know, bond defaults, medical emergency … better make it 200 million.

In terms of what Transition groups do, a lot of the work that Transition groups are doing at the moment is based around creating new economies in the place where they live.  Here in Totnes we’re doing a lot of work on regenerating the local economy and mapping how it works, and looking at where the key opportunities to bring in new things are, and how to stimulate a culture of entrepreneurs and this kind of thing. What would what you bring to all this, how might that help to inform the thinking and the approach we take to make the economy here more resilient?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot and experimenting with it, and running into some of the difficulties too. One of the things I was experimenting with was gift circles, where you get together with a group of people locally and it’s kind of like a more hands-on version of a Time Bank where you go around the circle and everybody says something that they need, then you go round again and everyone says something they would like to give, and as you go around someone might say they need a lawnmower, then someone else might say ‘hey, I have an extra one in my garage’ and so these ties form and needs can get met without money and bonds get created.

But people from a privileged background generally have the sense that “we don’t really need to be doing this because we could just buy this stuff” and so we’re doing it out of altruism, or out of idealism. I think there’s a lot in the local economy movement that mirrors that. You don’t see people in the ghetto becoming advocates for the local economy, you don’t hear those voices very often. It’s being done out of this idealism. That means that when people’s idealism flags, and they run up against the busyness of their lives, and the pressure and stress that’s caused by being immersed in a money world, then they give up on it a little bit. I think it takes a lot of work to build these new institutions and to build new habits. A lot of it is just habit.

One of the mantras that’d been going through my mind recently is peak oil won’t save us. More generally I mistrust the idea that we’re going to have to make this transition, we’re going to be forced to make this transition. I think that on the one hand the old world is becoming less and less liveable, but that there’s still always a choice that we have to make, just like an alcoholic – the state of alcoholism becomes more and more intolerable but you can always still choose to keep drinking, there’s always a way, maybe you’ve already lost your house, but you could break into your in-laws place and steal a television. You can always find some way to keep it going, but it’s always at a higher cost, to you health, to your relationships, and I think the same is true of our society.

So to bring it back to the local economy movement, I do think the impetus for the transition has to come from recognising that it’s just not true, that little voice that says ‘we don’t really need this’. Because one of the things that we need are these things that can’t be measured, that are qualitative and can only be obtained through local relationships. That said, I’m a little suspicious of attempts to build community just for the sake of community.

I think that certainly one way community arises is people depending on each other to survive, but people who go to intentional communities and say, well, we’re going to survive together, even though we don’t really need to, I think there’s something a little artificial about that and the other way to build community is to devote ourselves to a common purpose, to create something together. There’s a lot to be created together – there are wetlands to be restored, there are incinerators to be stopped and any situation that brings people’s gifts together towards a common purpose will create all the kinds of relationships that Transition wants to create.

One of the things that’s been interesting here in Totnes is Transition Streets, which is the idea that you get out on your street and you get together 6 to 10 households in each street, then you meet 7 times at each other’s houses. The first time you look at energy, the second week you look at water, transport, food, and at the end of each week you undertake to do certain things before you meet up again. On average there are about 680 households in Totnes that have done that, and on average they cut their carbon by about 1.3 tonnes a year and saved themselves £5-600 a year.

There was a qualitative study that was done about what was their experience, what they got out of it.  By far the main thing they got out of it was meeting the neighbours, community, feeling more connected to where they are, new relationships, feeling part that they hadn’t done before. There was one of those big word cloud things created of all their answers and peak oil and climate change and economics didn’t register -  it was all just ‘neighbours’, ‘connected’, ‘friendships’, which I thought was really interesting. So with the gift economy, might it be that we actually address all the things we’ve been talking about in terms of peak oil and climate change, but just not actually explicitly focussing on those things?

I think it’s interesting in the scenario you just described with the streets and looking at energy, so the thing that they got out of it was the connection to the community. But if they’d just got together in their houses and talked about those things and done nothing more than have conversations they probably wouldn’t have that sense of community. They have to have a sense that we’re here to do something, not just to talk about it.

A purpose…

Yeah. In the States a lot of it is really – let’s get together and talk about how right we are. So I do think there has to be something like that.

When they’re actually doing something that pushes them a bit.

Yeah, creating something together. Because when you create something then you have to step aside, because something other than yourself becomes paramount, it’s this thing you want to create. When you let go of that ego self then real connection is possible. Like if you’ve been in a band or in a sports team, you feel a more authentic bond…at least that’s what I experienced when I was on the track team in college, even if I didn’t like some of the guys, there’s still a real bond, because we were dedicated to something greater than ourselves together.

At the moment in, for example Italy or Spain, where the economy is going down the tubes very quickly, there’s youth unemployment of 50%, lots of young people just shell-shocked by the whole thing really, wondering what do we create out of this? What would your advice be to someone who’s 20 and living in Spain and just finished college, wondering where on earth they go from here?

My advice would be to take the opportunity to step into the gift. In the old paradigm , employment was about how to make a living, and in the new paradigm employment is about giving of your gifts. When the old paradigm was still working and you could still find a job, it was more difficult to step out of it, you were getting this reward. But today even if you do your best to live in the old paradigm, you still won’t get a job. So you might as well re-orient towards ‘what am I here to give?’ and that’s really something, even if you have a job, everybody wants to do something magnificent with their lives.

People who have a job have that feeling, well I wasn’t put on earth to do this, I wasn’t put on earth to sweep floors or wash dishes, or shift bits around. That’s not saying that those things are bad, but if it’s your career, day in day out, doing something that doesn’t make your heart sing, then everyone I’ve ever met is going to think, well, I was made for something else. In gift culture, the gift you want to give comes first.

As Lewis Hine puts it, you give out and create an emptiness that draws gifts to you and so they come after. You don’t necessarily know how they’ll come back to you, but your focus is on giving. I think that actually the unemployment is giving us a little nudge to do that, and say ‘well, ok, it’s not working anyway so I might as well focus on what I can give, I want to be useful at least’.

I don’t think that unemployment is really going to go away. In a certain sense, Marx talked about this, classical economists talked about this, that technology makes us more and more productive. In theory, we should be working less and less. Futurists were predicting that in 1800, ‘the machine can do the work of a thousand men, therefore, very soon, we will have to work a thousandth as hard’. But instead, we chose to consume a thousand times more and work just as hard.

That choice is no longer available to us, so we’re going to have to work less for money. I think the world would be better off if we all worked less altogether, like hunter-gatherers who worked 20 hours a week. Isn’t it funny that we have to work harder than they did with all this technology? I think that there’s so much that needs to get done today. There’s so much beautiful work out there, more than we can do, the amount of healing that has to happen, the lonely elderly people, the children who need love and attention. There’s a lot of beautiful things that people could do with their unemployment.

But how do people gift that and pay the rent?

Well how do they pay the rent without gifting anything when they still can’t find  a job?

They take welfare from the government, one of the stipulations of which is that they don’t do any other work.

Yeah, but they can do volunteer work?

Yeah.

I’m all for taking welfare from the government. I think it’s a great idea if you can manage it, you know, jump through whatever hoops you can, go through the motions and not take too much time, just as a practical matter. Do that in a perfunctory way and spend the rest of your time doing things that are beautiful to you and don’t feel guilty about it. One of the pieces of Sacred Economics’s basic income, or social dividend, is everyone gets a payment that covers very basic living expenses so that work no longer becomes a matter of survival.

You mentioned just now that people should do the thing that’s most meaningful to them or most alive to them. Is there a distinction in Sacred Economics between things that are self-focussed, ‘I’m going to pursue my own spiritual blah blah blah’, something that’s very much about yourself, and things with a more altruistic motivation, ‘I’m going to dedicate my time to the service of others and helping others’. Is there a distinction between those things?

I think people go through phases. There is a time maybe to turn inward, to lick your wounds, to be alone, but at some point if someone’s done that then they naturally turn towards service. It’s in our nature to want to serve, I believe that. Neo-classical economics doesn’t believe that. They say that human beings are fundamentally motivated to maximise their self-interest, and they draw from biology which in the old paradigm said that our genes programme us to maximise our reproductive self-interest. So basically, Rob, if you could, you would just sit around and do nothing for society, that’s what you really want to do, but you know that if you did that you wouldn’t make a living. That’s why you’ve created this Transition movement, because you’re forced to contribute, otherwise you wouldn’t survive.

I think that’s ridiculous, I mean, just try it!  Go home and say, I’m not going to do anything. It’s going to be intolerable. People naturally want to give, so it is a different view of human nature. Just sitting and meditating – what happens? Well pretty soon you realise your inter-connectedness with all beings and you desire to do actions that benefit all beings. It’s not like this really tough Bodhisattva vow, I’m going to sacrifice my bliss in order to serve other beings. Everyone’s experienced the joy of giving. Even if someone asks you for directions from out of town, they ask you for directions and you say ‘ yeah, you go down there and you turn right…’ they walk off and you feel good. Where does that come from? You never see them again and you don’t get any benefits, nobody saw you so selflessly giving directions, you just feel good.

I asked if people had any questions, and one of the questions I was asked to bring was “in the gift economy, how do I get a piano?”, i.e. something that needs to be made by skilled people, something that’s using resources, and something on which people can express so beautifully and creatively.  Where do the pianos come from?

Sure, pianos, computers, all kinds of things. That’s just part of the misunderstanding, people think that I’m talking about a world without money. Maybe some day money will have evolved to a point where we don’t even recognise it as money. But basically I think that there has to be a way to co-ordinate human labour over vast social distances. Just like in a body how if a cell needs something it puts out a signalling molecule, and that molecule attracts the resources that it needs.

So I think in the social body, money is one of the signalling molecules that says – pianos are needed. And the signal is that people are willing to pay for pianos, so pianos are needed. So if I’m a craftsman, and I’m wondering whether to make a piano, or I’m an entrepreneur and I want to do something, I want to make something – shall I make pianos or shall I make pogo-sticks? Maybe there’s more money in the pianos. That’s maybe a signal from society that that’s maybe what we want. In a way money already works like that, that’s the theory of it.

The problem is that it’s become divorced from things that people actually want and need. I explained how that happened in the book with the way money’s created as debt, so it’s not about eliminating money, it’s about transforming its nature, for example, no longer creating it as debt

Is there a challenge talking about Sacred Economics that our culture has largely moved away from having a sense of the sacred, that we’re surrounded by stuff which is banal and fleeting and based on the instant gratification of desires and the senses, that in our daily lives we very rarely encounter anything sacred?  I suppose too often ‘sacred’ was associated with some sort of formal religion which is largely being shunted out of the picture in many societies. So for a generation who’ve grown up with largely no notion of sacred or not really exposed to that notion, how do we rediscover that?

That’s related to the need for crisis and breakdown. If someone has never experienced the sacred then it’s all theoretical, and they won’t know what it is they’re missing from their lives. All they know is that they’re hungry for something, they don’t know what.

What does it mean to you?

When I speak about it I try to invoke it through pointing out some of the experiences that give me a sense of the sacred and that give other people a sense of the sacred. I think most people have experienced those moments. It could be a moment in nature or with a child, witnessing a birth or witnessing a death with a dying loved one, those special moments…or maybe even listening to a band play and there’s that moment of connection, where the band is really singing to you somehow, and not just putting on a performance. I think during these experiences when your real needs are being met, shopping is the farthest thing from your mind.

It seems absurd, and wouldn’t you like more of that? Or those moments of authentic intimate communication with somebody. So I’ll invoke that and say something in your heart knows that this is what life is supposed to be about.

Originally posted at TransitionCulture.org

tc Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Companion.

Costa Coffee and the Market of Hope

Monday, August 20th, 2012

I was recently in Santander, a major port city on the northern Spanish coast.  While my kids were waking up in the hotel, my wife and youngest son went out in search of breakfast.  Bereft of a map, we wandered in search of some fruit, and some pastries perhaps?  Eventually, glancing round a street corner, I spotted what looked like it might be the corner of a market stall.  On closer inspection, it turned out we had stumbled across one of the most remarkable food markets I have ever had the pleasure to wander around, El Mercado de la Esperanza, or ‘The Market of Hope’.

The market opened in 1904, and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of iron architecture in Spain, being declared a historic monument in 1977.  It is the largest market of its kind in Cantabria, the region of Spain in which Santander sits.  Outside the market was a clothes market one had to pass through in order to get inside the building, which had little that was memorable, apart from a very tight-looking pair of men’s briefs with a picture of a large space rocket on the front and the word, erm, “rocket”.  I didn’t buy them.

The market was on two floors.  The lower floor featured seafood (“mariscos”) and fish (“pescados”), freshly caught from the Calabrian Sea.  Shrimps, prawns, squid, muscles, big eel-like things, plaice, salmon, something called ‘bonito’ which I’m not sure what it is but it would take you a few meals to get through one, sardines, and some amazing-looking things that I had only ever seen in fossils.  All laid out on ice, stall after stall after stall.

Upstairs was a more eclectic array of food.  Fruit, vegetables, an amazing array of cheeses, bread and pastries, meats, cakes, eggs, honey, preserves, huge hams, all manner of pulses laid out in baskets.  Rather than the kind of market I’m more used to, that sets up on trestle tables and is gone by the end of the day, this was a permanent market.  It was open 6 days a week, all day (bar the traditional siesta break in the middle of the day), and each stall was its own business, each one probably kept within families for generations.  There we no empty stalls.

We wandered around, buying a creamy goats cheese, some beautiful flat peachy things that are particular to that area, a bag of amazing greengages that dripped with a juice as sweet as honey, some local brie-type cheese that smelt like the worst teenagers’ trainers you ever had the misfortune to be in close proximity to but which tasted amazing, and some bread.  I have been to similar markets, The English Market in Cork in Ireland, St. Nicholas Market in Bristol, and perhaps a couple of others, but El Mercado de la Esperanza blew me away.

The previous day news had reached me that Costa Coffee, the global coffee chain, has succeeded in getting planning permission to open a branch in my home town of Totnes in Devon, a story told brilliantly in a piece in today’s Guardian.  Nothing unusual in that you might say, Costa are opening new branches everywhere, every day.  What was particular to the Totnes Costa was that nobody wanted it.  The ‘No to Costa’ campaign, which Transition Town Totnes was one of the key drivers of, had fought a creative, positive and very high profile campaign against the planning application to turn a former health food shop into a Costa.  It also presented itself very much in the context of the positive vision of how our local economy could be that TTT has been working to achieve for the past 6 years, and which will be outlined in its forthcoming ‘Economic Blueprint’ for the town.

Read the rest, and see Rob’s photographs, at TransitionCulture.org

tc Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Companion.

The Four Slugs of the Apocalypse

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

The other day my wife sent me a text while I was at work. “Get some broccoli”. During my lunch break, I duly headed out into Totnes in pursuit of the afore-mentioned brassica. I started out by visiting all the places that might sell local, organic broccoli, but they were all out, one telling me “it’s like gold dust mate, you’d be lucky”. I then tried the places that would stock non-organic, non-local broccoli, but they were out too. All of a sudden it transpired that I lived in a broccoli desert. Turns out it’s not just Totnes, the crappest summer the UK has ever faced has hit UK farming hard. It has also led me, I must confess, for the first time, to abandon my garden to an unprecedentedly vast slug population.

I have grown vegetables every year for at least the last 14 years, apart from the odd interruption. I have never known a year for slugs like 2012. They have destroyed my garden in a way I have never previously witnessed. It has felt like the gelatinous Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan have not just swept through my garden, levelling everything in their wake, but they have also set up camp there, declared an Independent Free State requiring me now to pass through check points on my way to the compost heap. I went out to de-slug the night Spain won Euro 2012 and the slugs in my garden were strangely reminiscent of the scenes you see on TV where the fans of the winning team party in the streets, drive around beeping their horns with flags flying.

Cabbages ravaged
What remains of my cabbages…

My dwarf beans? Reduced to sticks in days. Lettuce? Forget it. Runner beans? Came up strong and vigorous and within 2 days were reduced to stumps. Cabbages and chard looked as though someone had run amok among them with a machine gun. Peas? Trashed. As a gardener I am used to some level of damage to those crops, but potatoes? My spuds have been reduced to sticks, all the leaves long gone. Potato blight? Ha! I’d be so lucky as to have any leaves for the blight to get stuck into.

One especially damp evening I passed them and was horror-struck to see what remained of my potato crop covered in slugs, inhabiting them like some kind of creepy tree-top village, or like the world’s worst Christmas tree, decorated with slugs. Huge bloody things. Slugs that hiss at you when you wrestle them off what remains of your produce. The pace at which they then try to get out of the bucket I put them in whilst collecting their comrades makes a mockery of the word ‘sluggish’.

I told a friend of mine about this, and how when I go into the garden, it feels as though if the slugs had arms and fingers (and thank heavens they don’t) they would all be sticking two fingers up at me as I walked past. “Well what do you think the two horns coming out of the top of their heads are then?” she said. Fair point. That image will stick with me now, the idea that slugs have a permanent but retractable two-fingered gesture on top of their heads .

Beans, demeaned.
My climbing French beans: slugs have been known to climb to the tops of the canes to pick off the leaves all the way up the plants.

I’m not proud to admit it, dear Transition Culture readers, but this year in my garden has been a washout. I’ve given up. The slugs have won. Well, the slugs and the almost complete absence of any sunshine. While parts of North America are the driest they’ve ever been, here we are hogging all their water. Last Sunday we woke up to sunshine for the first time since early May, and my garden visibly steamed. The slugs retreated, like in Dracula films where the vampire hunter holds the crucifix up and Dracula recoils and shrinks, hissing, into the darkness. Only lasted a day though. Now we’re back into the kind of weather more suited to a North Sea oil rig than the ‘English Riviera’ and the slugs are back, patrolling their patch, forming sub-committees and penning an ambitious 5 Year Plan, complete with a competition to decide street names.

This blooming of the slug population is not just restricted to my garden, it is a national epidemic. There have even been reports on the BBC of car crashes being caused by slugs. What happens you see (if you are eating, you might want to finish doing so until you continue) is that when one slug is squished, more appear to devour their fallen comrade (no-one can accuse slugs of being sentimental), who are then run over, so more appear to eat them, and so on and so on, until a slimy mat is created sufficient to cause a car to skid and lose control. I kid you not. Drive carefully people, very carefully.

It has been estimated (on the BBC again) that about £8 million’s worth of vegetables have been destroyed by slugs this summer and they are even starting to damage wheat crops. There have also been reports that slugs can be fatal to dogs, if ingested. We are also, apparently, also suffering from the fact that out native slugs have now been joined by a Spanish ‘super slug’, leading to even more damage, and a new ‘ghost slug’ has been discovered in South Wales that attacks and eats earthworms. Not good.

If those people working on genetically modified crops while also claiming to be working for the benefit of mankind actually want to do something useful, perhaps they might engineer a kind of grass that you could grown in your lawn that would be more attractive to slugs than the things you actually want to eat? Or engineer a slug that prefers the boring stuff that you don’t actually want to eat (like brambles, Woundwort or bindweed) to the stuff you want? Just a thought.

There is a serious side to this though. Of course the climate denying folks have loved this summer as an opportunity to say “global warming? Hah! Is that what you call it?!”, in the same way as the Tory MP last winter who Tweeted something like “just out scraping global warming off my windscreen”. However, the link between the extreme weather we have been seeing around the world has been well documented, and it seems to me that in designing for resilience in terms of food, it is about planning for summers like this one (incessant rain, low sunlight, slugs the size of puppies, floods and an all-pervading dampness) as well as last one (very dry, threats of hosepipe bans, failed crops due to lack of rain).

Last year I talked to Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust about how farming might prepare itself for increasing dryness, especially in the south-east of England, the ‘grain belt’ of the UK. His solution was an increasing use of perennial plants, more ground-cover, more diversity, more permanent plantings. I haven’t asked him yet for his thoughts on how to make food production more resilient to the kind of damp squib climate we’ve had this year, but I imagine his response would be much the same.

For people who read Transition, or localisation, as meaning self-sufficiency, this year has been a good example of why that’s not just a great idea. Some imports have always happened, and were we an entirely localised food economy, we’d be seeing real food hardships at this stage. At the same time though, the problem that is driving the prime cause, i.e. climate change, is, in part, being generated by what is our current alternative, the globalised food system, that flies broccoli into the supermarkets of Totnes to keep us happy. This summer has been as good an advert against monoculture and over-reliance on annual plants as I have ever seen.

As for me, I’m planning for next year to put about a third of my veg garden over to perennials, aided by Martin’s excellent new book ‘Perennial vegetables’. Whatever the weather does (barring huge hailstones) I will run a better chance of having something worthwhile to eat. By the way, in case you’re wondering, I have had some produce this year. My broad beans have done very well, and my various squashes managed to get away and started for flower, although the slugs will probably eat those too. My greenhouse is doing OK, although the slugs have also worked their way into there, but to nowhere like the same degree.

In 1999, scientists claimed they were on the verge of inventing a machine that wandered around the garden, collecting slugs which it then digested in order to power the machine’s onward search for more slugs. 13 years later, sadly, it has yet to see the light of day. So, please feel free to treat this post as an opportunity for a group moan about slugs, something it’s good to do on occasion, especially during a summer like this one. Thanks for listening. I appreciate it.

Originally published on Transition Culture, where you can follow Rob’s garden sagas — and the fantastic victories of the Transition Towns movement!

tc Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Companion.

Randers: “Don’t teach your children to love the wilderness”. Discuss

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

I am reading Jorgen Randers’ new book ’2052: a global forecast for the next forty years’, due for publication next month.  Imagine a ‘Limits to Growth’ for the next 40 years, a presentation of Randers’ best guess as to how the world will pan out between now and 2052.  As you can imagine, it’s not an uplifting read, but it is often illuminating, even though I disagree with some of his findings.  Surprisingly, the most challenging bit comes at the end of the book, after all the graphs and charts, and talk about 2 degrees of climate change, of our inevitable mega-urbanisation and so on.  It will hopefully prove to be the spark for a fascinating discussion here.

There is a section called “What Should You Do?” which is usually the part in such books that picks you up a bit, and makes you believe that you can do something to alter the projections he has previously set out.  There are some great bits of ‘personal advice’ in there, such as ‘focus on satisfaction rather than income’, ‘do not acquire a taste for things that will disappear’, ‘stop believing that all growth is good’, and ‘in politics, remember that the future will be dominated by physical limits’.  Fair enough.  But there is one there that is so spectacularly depressing that I really needed to bring it out here and look at it with some other people.

It is “don’t teach your children to love the wilderness”. Randers reasons that over the next 50 years we will see the ongoing erosion of biodiversity and wilderness, due to climate change and humanity’s reach into more and more remote areas.  A love for “old, undisturbed nature”, he argues, is something it will become increasingly difficult to satisfy.  ”By teaching your child to love the loneliness of the untouched wilderness, you are teaching her to love what will be increasingly hard to find”, he argues, which will lead to unhappiness and despondency.  ”Much better then”, he concludes, “to rear a new generation that find peace, calm and satisfaction in the bustling life of the megacity – and with never-ending music piped into their ears”.  That must rank as one of the most devastating visions of the future I have read anywhere.

This links to another of his pieces of personal advice, “invest in great electronic entertainment and learn to prefer it”.  I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts.  Might a move to a world that has successfully decarbonised itself only be possible if we are to disconnect from wilderness?  I know what I think about it, but I’d love to hear from you.  Is this something that fills you with horror, or are you pleased to finally see someone taking what strikes you as being a realistic angle on this?  Discuss.

Join the discussion here.

tc Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Companion.

Transition Streets: an evidence base to support the Transition approach to change

Friday, May 25th, 2012

I am really pleased today to be able to share with you some of the key outputs from Transition Streets, which I have written about here before.  Let’s start, for people who are new to the concept, with this short video which beautifully captures how Transition Streets worked in Totnes.

Transition Streets has already been rolled out in places other than Totnes, but in a few weeks, a whole supported programme will be coming out whereby you will be able to run it in your community (I’ll let you know).  You can see the first section of the Transition Streets workbook here to get a flavour of it.  It is a great example of the tool from ‘The Transition Companion’ called ‘Street-by-street behaviour change’.

The main output from Transition Streets is the ‘Final project report’, which “shares information about the Transition Streets project, funded by the previous government’s Low Carbon Communities Challenge funded: how it worked, what it achieved, what was learnt and where we are heading next”.  You can find a summary of its findings here.  It is a very thorough round-up of the project.

However, the most fascinating to me is “Social Impacts of Transition Together (SITT): Investigating the social impacts, benefits and sustainability of the Transition Together/Transition Streets initiative in Totnes“,which goes into the more qualitative aspects of Transition Streets, what motivated people to get involved, what changes people made as a result of getting involved, what benefits individuals and groups actually experienced, what are the features of a successful group, what issues groups experienced and how they dealt with them, and finally, what role people see for their groups beyond their time doing Transition Streets.

When I meet people in town who were part of Transition Streets, they don’t enthuse about how much carbon they saved, they talk about the new social connections they have made, and that comes through really strongly in this brilliant piece of research.  People’s main motivations for getting involved weren’t climate change or peak oil, but were “building good relationships with my neighbours”.  The main benefit they pointed to from having been involved was social and community benefits.  Here is the word cloud thing from when people were asked what were the most significant benefits they experienced from taking part in Transition Streets.

See how tiny the word ‘peak’ is?  I think there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the experience of Transition Streets.  It is the first really good piece of research and evidence of how the Transition approach works, and how it is about so much more than just reducing energy use.  These reports give a taste of perhaps where the skilfulness of Transition lies, in making Transition feel like where people are having most fun, where the laughter and the companionship is, where people feel they can connect with each other.

tc Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Companion.

Announcing the Festival of Transition

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

I am delighted to be able to announce today the Festival of Transition, an initiative of new economics foundation, Transition Network, the Ramblers Association, Mission Models Money and UKYCC.  The idea is that rather than flying to Rio, putting nearly 4 tons of carbon dioxide into an atmosphere that really doesn’t need 4 tons of CO2 put into it, we stay at home, and do stuff that models the kind of world we want to see.  It is a celebration of change, of practical responses, of community, and we hope that it will be a global event, not just in the UK.  All kinds of great events are already being planned over the time of the Festival.  The crowning glory will be the 24 Hours of Possibility, a real life experiment in living differently, in showing what’s possible, on the day the Earth Summit begins, 20th June.

The idea is simple. You imagine different ways in which a post-transition society might also be a better one, and then try them out as a real-life experiment during a 24 hour period starting at dawn on 20th June 2012. Activities could involve family, friends, work colleagues, fellow students, community groups or even people you’ve never met before. It could involve the whole town or it could be more personal. You can come to the website to explore a menu of suggested ideas and activities, or add your own.

Here’s some ideas to get you thinking:

24 hours of only eating local food
24 hours of exchange without using money
24 hours of dawn breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight feasts out on our street
24 hours of life lived outdoors
24 hours of dancing in the streets
24 hours of guerrilla food growing
24 hours of bringing disused premises back into use
24 hours of talking with strangers
24 hours of slow everything
24 hours of consensus decision making in my school
24 hours of imagining a day in 2062
24 hours of transforming a derelict site
24 hours of getting active
24 hours of not using a car
24 hours of inter- generational gatherings
24 hours of swapping roles in my workplace
24 hours of activity in my local museum
24 hours of feasting and planning for the next generation
24 hours of getting the high street closed and having a carnival on the street
24 hours of making things for other people
24 hours of working less and living more
24 hours of reading together
24 hours of new community celebrations and ceremonies
24 hours of creating a community garden
24 hours of installing solar panels
24 hours of sharing your skills
24 hours of random acts of kindness and spontaneous beauty
24 hours of dreaming a new world awake

So this is an invitation to start having a think about what you might like to do for it, having some conversations with the people around you, and seeing what ideas it stimulates.  We think this could be a great celebration of what Transition does best, showing on the ground the kind of change that is possible when we gather together with our friends, neighbours and colleagues.  It’s over to you…

You can also read what Andrew Simms of nef said about it here.

tc Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Companion.

‘In Transition 2.0′ is here! So now what happens?

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Following the recent very successful previews of ‘In Transition 2.0′ in the communities who featured in the film, we are proud to unveil today how it will be released to the world over the next few months. There are various elements to this, the Website (launched today!), The Guardian Open Weekend screening, the DVD (available, as of tonight, for pre-order), and Organising Screenings. Let’s start with the first one:

The Website

So, firstly, we are delighted to welcome our new ‘In Transition 2.0′ website into the world! It features a blog which will bring all the latest news about the film, background information, reviews, a list of upcoming screenings, and a secure online shop where you can now buy the DVD (more about that below).

It is bright and colourful and easy to navigate. It will be regularly updated with news and stories, so visit it often and keep up with developments (you can subscribe to its RSS feed to be kept up to date, or follow the film on Twitter @intransitionmov). You can also post your comments and reviews of the film.  It is, in short a gem, please bring it alive with your love and attention.

The Guardian Open Weekend screening

We are delighted to announce a high profile screening of the film which takes place on Saturday March 24th at the Guardian Open Weekend in London, an event they describe as “a festival of ideas, innovation and entertainment”. It will be introduced on the evening by The Guardian’s environment correspondent John Vidal, and Rob Hopkins will be there too. Unfortunately this event is now sold out which is a real shame, but hopefully this will be offset by the coverage we will get for the film.

The DVD

We have made a beautifully packaged DVD of the film, in full colour, yet entirely compostable packaging. It is a thing of great beauty and a joy to behold (really). It also, thanks to a wonderful team of volunteer translators around the world, contains subtitles in 16 languages.  You can either order single copies, or Transition initiatives will be able to buy DVDs in bundles of 20 or 50, at a very good discount, to sell at their screenings and other events.  We hope this will enable Transition initiatives to make some money from the film too while also promoting Transition.  Pre-orders can be made from today on the site, and when you’ve ordered, if you are planning a screening, make sure you enter it in the list so people know about it! We will start shipping as soon as we get them in stock, which should be around the third week of March.

Organising screenings

From April 1st, the film will be available for screenings by schools, TV channels, community groups, businesses, festivals, football clubs, on oil rigs, government cabinet meetings or universities. We have set up an easy-to-use licence fee calculator which will ask you a couple of quick questions and then calculate a fee for your screening. Simplicity itself. This will hopefully mean that organising a screening, while also supporting Transition Network and ensuring that there will be an ‘In Transition 3.0′ couldn’t be simpler. You’ll also still be able to buy DVDs in bulk to sell at the event (guaranteed to go like hot cakes).

Why we need to charge for screenings

‘In Transition 2.0′ cost us about £30,000 to make. We didn’t get any grants or funding to do that, other than about £1,800 which was raised on top of that through crowd-funding which enabled us to film the overseas stories. We would really like to be able to make ‘In Transition 3.0′, but will only be able to do so if everyone chips in and helps out. We have tried very hard to make sure that the licences for screenings are very reasonable, and also being able to buy DVDs at a discount means that you’ll be able to make a few quid too which could hopefully offset the cost of the licence. We think this film will mean a lot to you, and we are trusting that everyone will work with us on this. That said, if you feel that that is too much of a stretch, do get in touch.

It’s over to you

We are now making the film available as widely as possible.  We will do our best to promote the film, but also hope that through your initiatives and your screenings, you can be a part of that too.  We hope to also introduce, around the beginning of April, some kind of online pay-per-view thing, more news on that to follow.  That’s it for now!  Enjoy the website, and we hope you find that this film is a huge boost to your work doing Transition.

Deep thanks are necessary at this stage for Laura and Amber at Transition Network, who have both put a massive amount of work into making the new ‘In Transition 2.0′ website what it is.

tc Rob Hopkins is the author of The Transition Companion.