There was a certain poignancy leaving Sweden. Some of my cousins I may never see again since my plan at the moment is not to fly again once I am home. As well, this is true of my cousins in Israel and Scotland. You see, air travel is very damaging to the environment. According to Wikipedia:
Like all human activities involving combustion, most forms of aviation release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to the acceleration of global warming and (in the case of CO2) ocean acidification……in the case of high-altitude airliners which frequently fly near or in the stratosphere, non-CO2 altitude-sensitive effects may increase the total impact on anthropogenic (man-made) climate change significantly.
Some may choose to visit me, but the majority will not. While traveling on the train through the green farmlands of southern Sweden, I soaked in the beauty, listened to the beautiful language spoken all around me, and tried to burn these images and sounds firmly in my heart for future remembering.
After a night in London, I said farewell to Louis (with some regret that he wasn’t just hanging around for my last two weeks overseas) and headed for Manchester. Oh my gosh, I just hadn’t imagined the beauty of the architecture to be found there. My overnight host took me for a bit of a walking tour in the evening and my camera was always in the ready.
Earlier in the day I was met at the train station by Penny Skerrett, my Transition City Manchester contact, driving a 60’s Morris Minor. She said she drives that type of car because its very easy and economical to repair compared to the modern, high-tech cars of today. She shares the car with fellow “Transitioner” Lesley Swann (see below) and between the two of them, they hardly put on any miles because most of the time they bike or use public transportation, which is very easy to use in Manchester. It was so much fun riding in it!
Transition City Manchester started up in 2008 with the usual gatherings, films, speakers, etc. But in 2009 the organizers realized that something was amiss. Logistically a Transition Initiative for 2.2 million people just wouldn’t work. So they had to re-group and re-define themselves. They emerged from that period as a hub group, encouraging the various areas around Manchester to create their own initiatives. Currently there are four such initiatives with more in the works. The Transition Hub helps, encourages, provides resources, maintains a website (www.transitioncitymanchester.wordpress.com), and maintains an email list.
Transition City Manchester has been chosen as one of ten Transition Initiatives in the UK to participate in the REconomy project. This project aims to help Transition Initiatives engage local businesses and organizations, and stimulate new Transition Enterprises in order to strengthen their local economy and increase community resilience. You can read more about this at http://www.transitionnetwork.org/projects/reconomy.
There are five on the core committee of Transition City Manchester. The three I met with , Penny Skerrett, Matthew Rowe, and Lesley Swann, are, no surprise, enthusiastic, realistic, energetic, and dedicated.
Penny is a museum curator, working as an independent consultant. Her Master’s Degree is in Art and Ecology. In 2006 Penny was in Totnes studying for her MA and Rob Hopkins came to lecture in one of her classes. “He had a very fresh, radical approach on energy. At first it seemed a little to good to be true,” she shared. Curiosity took her to the early Transition meetings and she was thrilled by the response of the participants and she thought, “this is very bold, very dynamic” and she wanted to be part of that. She wanted to bring it back to her community. Penny remarked that “it’s difficult because Rob is a very dynamic person and the ideas have a lot of impact, and if you don’t present it in just the right way, you could turn the people off.” So the first people involved in Transition City Manchester were very careful about how they presented the concept. They did it their way and in a small way.
Penny imagines, “from now till the point where we don’t talk about Transition because it’s happened, looking back, we’ll see many small communities working well together. Bicycles will be the main sort of transportation. We won’t have supermarkets. We’ll have a successful system of agriculture that will support the city. It will all be localized. We’ll breathe cleaner.” Penny believes in the “Great Turning,” and that we are in it and there’s a change of consciousness occurring and becoming more mainstream. This supports her belief that the world is changing.
Matt was about to embark on a solo bicycling trip to Spain just a few days after we met. He is currently living on savings. He was asking friends to make “enviro pledges,” meaning they would make some sort of change in their lives that would help the planet. He was also raising money for the Brain Hemorrhage Foundation. The trip is planned to take 22 days and he will return by train. You can follow his journey at http://www.bikingtobilbao.wordpress.com. He has been working hard at a personal project called “Envirolution” which, according to the website (www.envirolution.wordpress.com) is described:
The name Envirolution is a play on the words Environmental Revolution. It represents that essence of the event as a catalyst for the kind of change needed towards a healthier society and environment.
The positive aspect of Transition grabbed Matt and drew him to the movement. A lot of what he’s doing in his life is finding what projects are out there now and what is needed. His vision includes seeing all that work, the small projects, happening–being able to go into an area and suggest something to happen and then it’s supported. One of the Transition projects was to bring baby chickens to a farm where children learned about how to care for and raise the chicks. Then Matt envisions that the children will teach other children how to care for chicks. He sees this as an example of how projects start with an idea, which in the beginning is theoretical, and in the future everyone will be involved. Matt thinks there have been lots of global visions happening, revolutions, etc. The unions and marches happening in England at the moment are an example of “what’s been happening forever.” The Transition movement is so positive, rather than negative, and it’s really happening, and he sees this as the world vision emerging.
Lesley publishes a successful monthly community magazine called Community Index. There are actually two versions which cover two different areas of Greater Manchester. The purpose of the periodical is to provide affordable (in fact cheap) advertising for small, independent, local businesses and to give a voice to community activities (like those of non-profits). It’s a one-woman show, though Lesley pays some people to help deliver it.
Initially what drew Lesley to Transition was the focus on the combination of climate change, peak oil, and the economic crisis, which she hadn’t seen any other movement doing. She said most environmentalists conducted single campaigns, saying “no to this and no to that” and she was ready to be involved in a positive approach. She believes we need to recognize the situation we are in and then have an appropriate response to the problem. “The thing about Transition, for me, is that it focuses on community. That’s really been lost in our culture and that really sings to me. We need to get back to community, that’s what human beings are all about. Though there are great things about globalization, we need to re-connect with our neighbors,” Lesley said.
Lesley said declaring a vision for Manchester is difficult because cities are basically not sustainable and there will have to be many changes. So, her vision is first about less people living in Manchester, and those that remain in the city eating locally and having happier, richer, and more positive lives. Between Manchester and London it’s possible the whole land mass of Great Britain would be needed to feed the citizens. Lesley noted that England has kept the 19th century structure of canals and rails so public transport to rural places is better than that of the U.S. But the U.S. has a large enough land mass to feed its population. Lesley believes we need to focus on low-tech solutions to our problems. She also wants to see changes in behaviors, like going to sleep when it’s dark and rising with the dawn.
Lesley doesn’t think there’s a world vision emerging. She sees that there’s a great deal of denial about the existence of imperialism. She believes that the rich countries are better placed to find solutions than those in developing countries. She doesn’t imagine people in the developed world really being willing to accept that their lifestyles will need to radically change to make the world more equitable. She doesn’t see Transition really addressing this problem. Where there is money there is power and addressing how this works is important. It’s connected to how the global financial structures work. “I’m for very radical solutions, for having non-money economies, and for not having the ownership of private property since that’s very damaging to equality,” she shared as we completed the interview.
From Manchester I went on to Glasgow, Scotland, in many ways another country (even with its own pound notes) though considered part of the United Kingdom along with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. There is a separatist movement in Scotland and the current political party in power does give voice to this movement. Scotland has its own ancient language, Scottish Gaelic with duel signage on road signs in the northern parts. Many of the buildings I saw were quite old and elegant, many Victorian or Edwardian. It did rain some, as Scottish ex-patriots predicted, but overall the weather was fine, if not exactly warm.
I have a cousin living in Glasgow and it was great to reconnect with Ann. The interviews I arranged were in Portobello (near Edinburgh) and in Linlithgow (between Glasgow and Edinburgh). Due to terrific and efficient train and bus service in Scotland, I was able to complete both in the same day. By the way, since Ann is a senior citizen, she can travel anywhere in Scotland on the public buses for free! And that covers almost the whole country. That’s very impressive.
Pedal-Portobello Transition Town began in late 2005. The “pedal” part stands for Portabello Energy Descent And Land-reform and was the first name when it later made sense to add the “Transition” tag. They began with “open space” meetings where folks envisioned a resilient future and began the work on an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP). The work on that document continued in 2006 and 2007, but they found it was best to respond to opportunities as they arose, rather than be limited to what was written. This flexibility has helped them sustain their momentum.
Tom Black, my Portobello contact, was at the second 2005 meeting, so has had his hands in the work since its inception. Portobello has a population of 21,000 and is on the sea, so is a vacation destination as well as a thriving town. This Transition Initiative is different from many others I encountered since it is a not-for-profit organization (the term is a registered charity in Scotland). They are a membership organization with annual dues of one pound (about $1.55). They have received government financial support from the “Climate Challenge Fund” and were able to hire Tom as project coordinator and several others. This year the grant was not renewed and those employees lost their jobs. However, having staff was a great boost to the work and recognition in the community. The board of about 10 people serves as the core group and then there are focus groups, such as the food, energy, transport, and community assets groups. The website is http://www.pedal-porty.org.uk. They use a database which, to date, includes about 800 people. They advertise their work by inserting flyers in a local, quarterly periodical.
There was a low point in 2009, when only a few showed up at a meeting. Instead of giving up, they re-thought how to represent themselves, finding words that would invite rather than inflame. That change has helped them be successful. Some projects include:
–A shopping bag (see photo)
–An orchard with 90 trees and which is also an event space, as well as a virtual orchard which educates about opportune places to plant more trees
–A garden share scheme that partners those with land with those who want to garden
–A “Dig in Porty” series of training courses about growing and preserving food and low-carbon cooking (Porty is the nickname for Portobello)
–A monthly organic market which includes local crafts
–A feasibility study for a CSA farm, now looking for land
–Sponsoring a “Car Free Day” with a city street blocked off for pedestrians and bicyclists. This event includes a six-person bicycle mover which is constructed in a circle with 6 seats and pedals, and when everyone is pedaling, it moves. The day before the Transition folks go to a school for a “decorating bike day” where kids bring found items for the decorations and then hold a parade on the day of the event
–Sponsored “Hot Spot,” a program to install insulation in homes
–Sponsored a “Portobello Warm Tenement Scheme” to help insulate the apartment buildings built in Edwardian and Victorian times, called tenements (but not with the connotation in the US of low income apartments)
–Sponsored “Solar Porty” with purchases of bulk solar panels and installation
And now they are partnering with “Greener Leith” (Leith being a neighbor town) to install the first, large, community-owned wind turbine at the sewage works at the sea’s edge. WOW!
Tom told me that he’s been involved in community-based environmental action since the mid-nineties, but what was different about Transition was its focus on peak oil, resource depletion, and on energy descent. It was a real light bulb effect when he learned about that, primarily reading The Transition Handbook. He understands that, “the need now that is essential, something we need to do as a society, is to get other people to realize that we can’t go on as if we can infinitely turn on the tap and get the water we want, and we can turn on the light bulb and get the energy we want, and we can just demand to have food on the shelves. And really that everyone needs to realize that there’s limits to resource use. It was that extra bit, beyond climate change, that made the difference for me. It was classic Rob Hopkins, ‘climate change makes Transition essential, peak oil makes Transition inevitable.’” The other thing that drew him into Transition was his need to get involved in the community.
Tom said Portobello would look a lot greener in his vision. The sands at the sea would be a bit wilder with dunes, and the flood defenses would be natural. The streets would be greener, with more growing spaces, more fruits and vegetables present. The shops would be selling more local and useful goods. Maybe you’d only hear the hum of electric cars. There would be more solar and a big wind turbine both at the sewage works and possibly off-shore. There would be more pedestrians and people would be cycling more. People would be living more locally. You’d see a lot more goods made from recycled materials. Tom said he’s an absolute optimist and that he believes there’s a global vision emerging, but it’s competing against the dominate vision of “business as usual,” which is deeply intrenched. What will make the alternative vision come forward is people power. It’s got to be doing everything we can as consumers. He’s a believer in consumer power. In the U.K. there’s a real emphasis on localism and this gives Tom hope. Now people are finding a sense of place and sense of pride in living locally and in “authentic” products, locally produced. Recently there was a survey about what people wanted in the future and the response was, a sense of community, authenticity, and “golden moments.”
My next stop was the medieval town of Linlithgow with it’s own palace (very much like an old castle) and loch. It’s population is about 15,000 and many of its inhabitants easily commute by train to Edinburgh or Glasgow while enjoying the quieter small-town life. Rose Hill has lived in Linlithgow since 1984 and is currently under contract with Transition Linlithgow , which is also a charity-status company, receiving grant money from Scotland’s Climate Challenge Fund. There is a full-time project coordinator and five part time contractors, including Rose. In past years the funding has allowed Transition Linlithgow to focus on energy audits and the installation of 220 hot water panels. This year they have funding for installing solar electric panels and they have developed a demonstration garden to teach locals how to grow their own food.
Transition Linlithgow started as Linlithgow Climate Challenge and they opted to become a Transition Town earlier this year because it offered more opportunities for inclusivity. They found using the word “climate” in their title turned some people away. They have five board members and are searching for more. They have four subgroups–food, energy, waste, and transport. Rose told me that in Scotland every public building and every house sold has to have an Energy Performance Certificate which identifies energy problems and expects improvement.
Some of their projects and activities include:
–A Harvest Feast, the first year held at a local farm with about 200 attending and the second year held in a hired enclosed space with about 250 attending. Due to several factors, the first year was more financially successful.
–Sponsored a kitchen canning project that was held over several sessions
–Hosted a “food consultation” to discern the definition of “local”
–Sponsored various videos and speaker
–Created three pamphlets representing three sections of the town with maps of bike, bus, and train routes to help people reduce their use of their cars
–They own and offer two sizes of bike trailers to let
–Hosted a visioning day
–Sponsored a 10-10-10 350.org event
Rose said that early on Linlithgow Climate Challenge founders looked at the Transition model and thought it was too proscriptive. But over time they realized that they were checking off on many of the Transition steps and were having difficulty with the perception of their name–it was a non-starter. So they became Transition Linlithgow by default. Rose said that the networking is important to her, whether it’s networking with other than Transition groups or not. Rose hopes that the “development trust” idea for locals to have a sense of ownership in the town will emerge in Linlithgow. Rose would like to see people wasting less in the future and being more open to energy efficiency efforts in their homes. Rose believes there’s a very slow movement towards a global vision. There have been other movements that have faltered and she’s concerned we keep having to “reinvent the wheel.” She’d like to see people throughout the world being able to support themselves from their own resources. She said that by looking after ourselves we will help others around the globe, but not through the current frilly fair trade products (mostly crafty-type things other than coffee, tea, and chocolate), but instead through trading essentials fairly and equitably. But her main focus for a global vision is living locally.
I did take a trip with my cousin to the Scottish Highlands that included a cruise on Loch Ness. Although I didn’t catch a glimpse of the famous monster “Nessy” I sent regards from Vermont’s Lake Champlain monster “Champ.” The Highlands are incredibly beautiful–moors of heather, not now in bloom, dotted with Highland cattle and Scottish Black Faced sheep, castles on the hills, full of a history of a proud people. Having often read about this place, it was a delight to be there and to be with Ann.
My next adventure is to go to the U.K. Transition Conference. Read all about it in my next post.