Let me introduce myself. My name is Ruah Swennerfelt and I live in rural Vermont, USA with my heart’s joy, Louis Cox. We have wonderful neighbors and regularly share potlucks, resources, land and road maintenance, and fun. We are also part of our town’s Transition Initiative (www.transitioncharlottevt.org) We help count ballots on election days, attend town meeting in March, and have just joined the local Grange. We also belong to the local Quaker Meeting (about 17 miles from our house).
We try to live in a way that is gentle on Earth. I say “try” because we still have a significant, harmful impact on this planet and can’t pretend we don’t. We regularly work at reducing our ecological and carbon footprints. We create our own electricity by solar and are not connected to the grid. We heat our water with solar, augmented by an on-demand, propane water heater. We collect our shower/bath water for flushing the toilet. Our fuel for cooking is also propane, so we are not fossil-fuel free in our home, as is a neighbor of ours, but we attempt to keep our use of propane to a minimum. (We also have two, small propane space heaters that can be used for emergency back up.) We have just one car and attempt to only go into Burlington twice a week, once on Sundays for Meeting and shopping. When we do need to travel a distance we prefer train or bus to using our car since this helps reduce our carbon footprint.
We are both resourceful individuals. We grow our own vegetables and can, freeze, store, and dry the bounty. Louis is a Jack-of-All-Trades, working on plumbing, electricity, building, scything, tool sharpening, you name it. He our bread-baker, and also produces 3 to 5 gallons of maple syrup each Spring, and together we can it. I knit, quilt, cook, sew, and assist Louis in his work around the house.
Louis serves as Publications Coordinator of Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW)(www.quakerearthcare.org) for paid work. I recently retired from my work with QEW to devote more of my time to homesteading, Transition work, and Vermont Interfaith Power and Light (www.vtipl.org). We share much joy in our life. We share that joy with others, hoping that they can see from our example that simpler living is neither drudgery nor dull. One of our major sources of enjoyment is reading aloud to one another. (Yes, yes, we also are members of Netflix and enjoy movies now and then.) For some understanding of our choices, go to www.peaceforearth.org.
In November 2001 my husband Louis Cox and I embarked on a six-month journey through Central America and Cuba. We chose to travel by bus (and once in Cuba, traveled by train and bus), the way that the majority of the world travels, to experience people in an intimate and real way. Also, from November 2007 to April 2008 Louis and I walked from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego, California, bringing 18th century Quaker John Woolman’s message of living with integrity to West Coast Quakers and others. We shared Woolman’s concern for the root cause of slavery, greed, among slave holders. We see the striving after ease and luxury as the cause of current poverty, war, and destruction of the earth’s resources.
Louis and I learned so much from our past experiences and continue to travel by bus and train in the United States, by which we also encounter this country’s poor and disempowered. We search for humbling and enriching experiences that will enable us to be present to the Spirit in forgotten or difficult places. We continue to walk, when given the chance, in the places we visit, again having rich experiences with the people we meet. We then share those experiences through presentations, informal gatherings, and articles.
And so my next journey begins.
I’m on a search for how our civilization will survive the current “perfect storm” of peak oil, climate disruption, and economic instability. We live in a time where our world economic system requires perpetual growth to survive. This is not sustainable since there is a limited supply of Earth’s resources available. My search will take me to Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Europe, Scandanavia, and North America. I want to help articulate the world vision that exists as a result of the wonderful efforts of Transition Town Initiatives, Sustainable Cities, and other municipal “green initiatives”. Like a quilt, each piece is unique and beautiful on its own, but the finished quilt is something greater than the parts. I hope that my research will reflect this whole as a blueprint for our necessary transition. I hope that you who follow my blog, will comment, suggest, argue, and support what I write. I’m depending on that interaction to enrich my research and the results of it.
How will the human race live as we enter the post-carbon world? What if people in towns or section of cities got together regularly for local foods potlucks, discussions about sharing resources and building resilience, listening to speakers and watching films, making music, and having fun? What if the place we each call home had really prepared for the end of cheap, abundant fossil fuels? What might that look like? Can one imagine bringing people together who are from different political viewpoints, different incomes, and different educational backgrounds? How can the obstacles to that vision be overcome? These are the goals of the Transition Town, Sustainable Cities, and other “green” movements. There are many fine grassroots movements around the globe that are individually working on community efforts to prepare for the impacts of climate change and peak oil. It will be a difficult transition—with fewer resources to help that happen. I have learned from previous journeys about the difficulties of improving the lives of people in developing countries and the hopes and fears of people in our own country.
I have this growing concern that there is no vision to help most people make the transition into what will be a very difficult world when world oil production peaks and begins its irreversible decline (the U.S. Department of Defense predicts the peak will occur in 2012) and climate change. How will we all learn to live joyful lives without the same resources, primarily cheap, abundant oil, or with the changing climate? How will we change in a way that isn’t frightening, degrading, or depressing?
Since returning from our 1,400-mile walk we have thrown ourselves into the Transition Town Initiative (helping to co-found it in our town), recognizing that the way we can prepare for a climate-change and post-petroleum era is to build resilient communities. Only through community can we help each other find the joys of simpler living and provide mutual support when times are tough. We know this well as Quakers, but how do we share this with a broader constituency?
The Transition Town movement began in England, using permaculture principles to equip communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. The methodology they’ve developed has a lot to do with tapping into the inherent wisdom of a community and the belief that ordinary people have tremendous creative problem-solving capacity. The movement currently has member communities in many countries worldwide. (See www.transitionnetwork.org or www.transitionculture.org for more information.) We have had some successes in our town, and I want to learn from successful examples and the challenges of sustainable initiatives elsewhere in order to give others hope and tools.
Although the transition network website reports various activities of the different initiatives, there still isn’t an overall, global vision emerging. I understand that the work needs to be done locally, but how do all those local efforts relate to one another? I hope to reflect these varied successes, struggles, actions, and joys into that vision. I hope to reflect a vision that includes rural, suburban, and urban living in developed countries and what their relationship to developing nations will be.
I will be asking each person three questions: 1. Why are you involved in this work? 2. What is your vision for your town? 3. Do you see a connecting global vision?
I hope to compile what I have learned into a book to help others in the “Great Turning” (as Joanna Macy and David Korten call this time in human history.) How can we learn from the hundreds of initiatives instead of always trying to start our own from scratch? How do we live into a new world if we don’t have the vision of what that world might be? I hope my blog and book will share such a vision, with practical tools for action.
I probably would not be undertaking this effort if it were not for my belief that we are living in a time of planetary crisis at many levels, all of which are reflections of a spiritual crisis. While we must understand the spiritual basis of the crisis and act from the heart, we must also learn the practical tools to try to avoid the potentially great suffering when cheap fossil fuels are no longer available for agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing. I hear a call to awaken to my complicity in this crisis and to undertake the necessary radical changes to leave a healthy, peaceful, and just planet for future generations.
Although I do not make a regular practice of flying, due to the environmental impacts, I believe that the potential outcome of my research is worthy enough to justify the plane travel. I hope we can partner on this project.
I want to thank the many people who contributed through Quaker Earthcare Witness and the Obadiah Brown Fund. If these contributions and grant were not given, I wouldn’t have been able to even dream about this journey. As well, I give thanks to my Friends Meeting, who provided me with a wonderful clearness committee and has supported past journeys and encourages my growth. And, of course, I am so grateful to my love, Louis, who has encouraged me and supported me through my discernment and who will do the bulk of the gardening this summer while I’m away.
I look forward to your comments.