Saturday 28 January 2012

connecting with our roots - a plants for life talk

"Are you sitting comfortably?" I asked the circle of people who had gathered in the warmth of Bungay Library on a Sunday afternoon. "Good then I'll begin. . . right we're going to get up and go out into the garden and look at plants!"

Everyone laughed and went outside into the courtyard garden that in spite of the winter still had 12 vibrant medicine herbs amongst the fruit trees and bushes and ghosts of flowers past: sage, thyme, marigold, parsley, fennel . . .

Writing now it's hard to recall exactly what I said in the 40 minutes that followed, because as you go about Standing Up to Speak you realise that set and setting are everything, the people in front of you are everything, and the words come tumbling out in a completely different order than you expect.

I imagine I am going to give a neatly ordered talk, but plants and speaking are spontaneous right-hemisphere things. You write ideas and concepts in left-hemisphere lines in your blue notebook, and then you look at the audience and those words start inventing loops and connections you hadn't thought of. You find yourself swinging far and wide from those linear concepts, running with a topic in directions you had no idea were there. You find yourself getting up and dancing and making people laugh. And you have to go with that. Because it's not just you speaking and this is the initiating talk in the Plants for Life series Mark has organised for 2012.

So in this post I am giving just a part of what I remember and letting it go where it wants to go. I wanted to start with a flower that was appearing in January and on our way to the Library we found a butterburr on the road to Brampton - a composite flower, known as winter heliotrope to gardeners, related to the native larger butterburr (known as petasites to herbalists). So that was the defining plant, a member of the sunflower family, frequently used as a natural pain killer and anti-allergen. I passed it around so everyone could smell its heavenly vanilla scent.

How do you approach a flower? I asked the circle. Colour, scent, shape, touch, taste we all agreed. With our memory and imagination, poetry and song. How do you approach your day? Ah, that's harder. We think about our day. We drive down the country road and we don't see the flower standing there on a cold January day, clocking the pathway of the sun. We are on the one-way fast track, staring dead-ahead. When you stop you realise you have to slow down and look all around. Notice this earth we are on for such a short while, what time we are in.

Right now we are in root time, coming up to emergence next month with the snowdrops and aconites. We're still in winter, on the edge of hibernation, underneath the soil, in the dark, storing up our energies for the bursting out of spring.

What are the root dishes on our table?
Swede, parsnip, carrot, turnip, beetroot, potato, Jerusalem artichoke. What are the root tincture and teas on our medicine shelves? Angelica, burdock, elecampane, horseradish, liquorice. All herbs for resilience, the sweet, the bitter and the pungent. I held up a stringy root many people recognise (nettle), and a root most people don't.

Here we are I said, in root time in sugar beet country. In January the trucks of East Anglia thunder towards the sugar refineries of Cantley and Bury, ferrying these wurzels torn up from the muddy fields. They stand waiting in vast piles by the road. We don't notice them as we speed by. We are barely aware the sugar that goes into our tea and marmalade comes from these pale giants, or anything about the industry that turns these roots into the white stuff that artificially sweetens our indoor lives.

But to connect with the plants is to connect with the rhythm of the year, to locate yourself in time and space. It is to connect with the neighbourhood you find yourself in and discover, that even though your world has apparently shrunk because of economics and peak oil, it has in fact grown hugely. It has by your attention to detail, brought memory, fragrance, belonging back into your life, as you notice the limes in the churchyard, the sage in the library garden, the butterburr along the highway. Each plant a small universe with its own story to tell, its own medicine to bequeath.

You can't make these connections with your straight mind, you have to do it with your wiggly mind that runs along the lines of the rivers and clouds, along the shapes of shorelines and roots and branches. You have to use your imagination to see the invisible underground systems of plants and the connections all the mycorrhizal fungi make. Right now, in root time, you have to go into the depths of yourself and connect with the plans and maps and dreams for the future you hold in store, that will one day burst through into the light of day, come what may.

Once you are rooted in time and space, in synch with the living systems, you can look at the bigger picture, you can be aware of your every encounter with all its ramifications. Where you don't want to be in a time of unravelling is whirling about in your mind only thinking in straight lines, listening to the radio in the car, in air-conditioned 24/7 time. You need to make different connections. Approach the world with all your senses. Stop and look around. Get up out of your comfortable chair on a cold day. See things for yourself.

It's a wiggly world out there with its own beautiful sun-based logic. In this earth-bound time and space the terror that prevents us from seeing what is happening to the planet and ourselves can be evaluated and acted on. You have to use your heart to see like this and not hold on to a fixed world view, you have to get up and shimmy and let those stiff thoughts and habits break up and decrystallise, so you can think and feel about life in a different way, come up with new twists and solutions.

There is one root we have in England that gleefully occupies every space and can give us all a hand in this endeavour: it was the main plant of the talk and is a peerless medicine for this crossover moment, from root time to emergence. Another member of the sunflower family, the Dandelion. This resilient "weed", loved by bees, hated by gardeners, contains in its roots, leaves and flowers all the bitter qualities of heart medicine. It gives us minerals for our bones and helps break up the stiffness we inherit from living in a rigid and heartless society, striking the strange attitudes of snooty politicians and fashion models. Detoxes our system, cools our inflamed and creaky joints. We ended the afternoon with dandelion and burdock tea. Two of the most powerful and most common medicine roots in the realm. Free for the taking.

This post can't do the things that speaking can. Because it misses a vital ingredient. No matter how smart and entertaining the words, how lovely the images, the warmth and vibrancy of people and the physical world are what really matter. Without them we go nowhere. Without these meetings there is no material, no context for anything we write.

We are, like the roadside flower, here for a short time. We have to value our human form, this wiggly mind, that allows us to comprehend this earth and know it for the extraordinary experience it is. We have to know what part we are destined to play in the future as a people. The plants have been with us all our lives, they have been here from the beginning of time when the earth grew her first spring-green coat. They are our link to her and to all our ancestors. We need, right now, to connect with them, because only with strong roots in this earth, can we hold fast in the winds of change that lie before us. This emergence we call Transition.

Photos by Mark Watson and Elinor McDowall: poster for Mark's Plants for Life talks, walks and workshops, 2012; CDC standing up to speak; tools of the trade; anyone know this root? (sugar beet); dandelion clocks in real time; Gemma and Kate checking out resilient herbs; Nick, organizer of the Bungay Library Community Garden.

Friday 27 January 2012

the terror of the situation

There's a scene that I remember from The Heart of Darkness. It comes back to me sometimes in Transition meetings. The hero returns from Africa and tries to tell Kurtz's fiancee about the iniquities of Empire. But she is not listening. He can't bear to tell her the truth of what he has witnessed. The Congo is far away from the polite drawing room in which they now sit and the illusion that everything is nice and safe is too strong for him to bring the cruel realities of the forests and its people to light.

You might be forgiven for thinking that all the bad things that are happening "out there" to our fellow human beings and to the earth, are due to politicians and bankers and the military-industrial complex. And this is true they are. But they are also happening because we shut our ears in our modern version of Joseph Conrad's drawing room, believing that everything is OK really. And I often wonder how in Transition we can bring those kind of shocking, end of suburbia moments to bear, so that we can realise that the times are really not OK, and actually have never been OK and take steps to shake ourselves and everyone else awake?

This week at Sustainable Bungay's AGM something outrageous got into me. We were upstairs in the Library and Sylvia, who is on the pilot for the new version Bungay Community Library, was giving us the low-down on the county council's shifting of funds and personnel in respect to the cuts. Everyone was listening intently.

"What a bunch of crooks!" I exclaimed, breaking the uncharacteristic formal atmosphere, created by the appointment of our new chair (Mark) and confirming our treasurer, secretary etc.

"Sounds like Stalinist Russia!" roared Rob from St. James Village Orchard. We all laughed and Sylvia told us that it might look like everything we had done together was in vain, but it wasn't.

"If none of us had acted, they would have taken everything," I said.

Then a local charity, the World Land Trust came up in passing. "Oh, that dreadful organisation!" I burst out, because I had just read a blog about some of their activities. And when someone added that that David Attenborough was the president, added "He is the worst."

People were shocked. I had broken a taboo. These things are complex, we said to one another afterwards, but we need to know all the facts, not just the ones we like. We need to question everything, and our belief-systems about "population" most of all. Just because a person or an organisation appears to be acting in favour of the planet, doesn't mean there are no consequences to their actions or they that they do not support an unpalatable agenda. We can't take everything as read.

The fact is we do take everything as read. Because we would rather believe that someone we have seen all our lives being kind to animals on television is a good person. We would rather believe that the party we vote for acts in our own interests, that our parents love us, that the energy we use is limitless and that at some point the cavalry will come round the corner. We would rather believe Sustainable Bungay - and indeed all of Transition - was just about friendly community events, but the reality is it is set within a frame of massive degradation of the earth, the power-play of corporations and the global banking system, resource wars and media manipulation and although, as yesterday's post explored, we have to have a positive vision to work towards, we can't do that unless we allow those realities to frame everything we do.

And this isn't just an individual decision this is a social decision. Because a conversation between people who know the facts and one where people are upholding the illusions of the status quo, is a different conversation. You discuss the same things and design the same events, but they contain the ability to change the way everyone sees and thinks about the world, in the same way the Occupy movement has changed the conversation about our financial system.

It will be an Abundance project, where we are really finding out what it means to live on local apples through the winter, a skills, knowledge and resources directory where we are really learning to share everything we have. It will be events like tonight's showing of The History of Oil at Tom Abbott's barn in the Saints, because though we like to be entertained like everyone else, we have a serious reason to meet up. Because the real struggle we face as Transitioners is not so much to design and implement a localised infrastructure, but to change the fixed perceptions about our civilisation. To shift out of a complacent narrow world-view we have been taught to uphold, to one in which the consequences of our collective history can be clearly seen.

What has this got to do with this photograph of an emerging Monkshood shoot? Well this is one of the 52 Flowers That Shook My World. The shoot is emerging after a long winter as a seed, kept in the dark, and this image (by the German architectural design lecturer, Karl Blossfeldt) shows the kind of energy and determination that emergence takes. Monkshood possesses one of the most poisonous roots in the world, but its poison has the power to cure many maladies and was one of the two founding plants of the homeopathic system, a system that recognises a small inperceptable action can change the health and destiny of an entire organism.

In the book I stand beside the 1648 border of the Oxford Botanical Gardens and contemplate the turning point of the English Revolution. In 2012 in the Bungay Library I take part in Mark's Plant for Life series, with a talk called Connecting With Our Roots.

In tomorrow's post I will explore those radical "disruptive" energies in the light of this talk, what they have to do with our own roots, what they have to do with Transition.

Monkshood shoot by Karl Blossfeldt; Bungay Library Read-In, February 2011; poster for the History of Oil by Robert Newman

Thursday 26 January 2012

Mapping the Future

Today's post is from the Transition Network's Social Reporters project where we are immersed in our Looking Back (at our 2011 pilot), Looking Forward month . During this second half the Social Reporters have been looking at the year ahead and outlining their plans and visions for themselves as Transitioners, their initiatives, their neighbourhoods and the world. Here is mine:

Visioning is one of the Tools and Ingredients in The Transition Companion. It states that not being able to imagine a low-carbon world is a huge impediment to designing and realising it.
Transition suggests we start by creating a positive vision of a future. It asks:
If you woke up in, say, 2030, and the transition had been successfully managed, what would it look, feel, smell and sound like? What would you have for breakfast? What would you see when walking down the street?
If you woke up in 2012 what would you see?

OK. I'm kidding. But visioning for a future we want, or don't want, is not the same as visioning for a future that might actually happen.

Transitioner. In spite of having an active imagination I am not great at looking ahead. I am more of a dreamer at heart, which means I see things within the complexity of the present moment, rather than in linear time. When Transition Norwich launched their Transition 2.0 personal carbon reduction initiative, in response to the imminence of climate change, fifty of us engaged in a long group visioning process. Afterwards everyone began talking animatedly about community and food projects, about getting in touch with neighbours, sharing stuff. I closed my eyes and I saw myself in the garden and everything appeared the same as it is now. It was perhaps quieter, as if the world beyond the garden had stopped running around chasing its own tail.

The ingredient advises us to imagine a future in the context of a world
that has responded to climate change, has far less net energy than today, has moved beyond economic growth, and has adapted creatively and purposefully.

Listening to everyone speak, I realised I was already living in that future. I no longer had the means to fly around the world and had already rooted myself in the neighbourhood. Most of this had happened by circumstance, rather than design. At the time I felt like a ninny but now, thanks to the Transition Circles that emerged from this meeting and the two projects that came out of them, I have forged some valuable tools for downshifting and am now able to articulate and share these with others as a Transition communicator. The individual moves you need to make with those key drivers - home energy, transport, waste, water, food.

Step one: walk your low-carbon talk

Projects The two projects that came of our Transition Circles were the Low Carbon Cookbook and This Low Carbon Life, a community blog that has been running daily for over two years, and provided the structure for the Social Reporters project. This year, after tracking the growing and harvesting cycles in our gardens and kitchens in 2011, the Cookbook will start taking its written form and the blogs will continue to reporting and reflecting on that future way of being on earth.
One of the blogs' greatest strengths is showing what a low-carbon culture looks and feels like, showing all its relationships with people and with the planet in a vibrant, intelligent and colourful way. This gives heart and strength and meaning to all ventures within the initiative. We inherit a world that is all creation and destruction, in which our presence is arbitrary. Two vital components that make these projects work come between these two states: 1) maintenance and stability and 2) valuing everyone who takes part.

Step 2: commit to projects and people come what may

Initiative In 2010 a group of Transitioners met in the Norwich Arts Centre and engaged in a day of creative visioning. We were improvising on the theme of Future Beings, preparing for a performance that would happen on Earth Hour outside the Forum on the Spring Equinox. We chose cards that imagined different scenarios and then spoke to each other as if we came from those futures: steady state, techno-fix, paradigm shift, Mad Max . . . During our performance we would speak with the audience as those future beings and they could ask us questions.

I spoke from an unexpected future. It was marked, like my vision, by its remarkable stillness. One day I said, everyone just stopped what they were doing up to then, and began something completely different. The change was absolute and sudden.

One thing I have learned about creativity in Transition: when you provide the space and the opportunity extraordinary things can emerge from people. Everyone that day was an actor, a performer, a speaker, a creator. When you experience those untapped capacities, you can then seize the day and appear in your true colours. You are in this venture, not on your own. You are acting in an ensemble company, backed by all the ancestors and future beings who are yet to come to this earth. When you step out you realise the audience is with you every step of the way.

Step Three: be bold, be on show

World What does it mean to be a dreamer? It means you hold within yourself a vision for the whole earth, not just how your community can feed and clothe itself, but how we need to be as a collective, aligned with the living systems. It means seeing in big time, considering all peoples, all creatures, all lands. You don't do this in linear time, mapping things step by step, but in a present moment in which the past and the future are contained. Where everything that is going down in the room, the neighbourhood, is going down in the world, what some call hologrammic perception.

It means when we meet we are all meeting as a council of all beings deciding on how the future will go. It's an attitude, a frame that brings depth and intregrity and a sense of play into everything we do.

Step Four: live every encounter as if it really matters

This is a small map, drawn up without any previous planning. As I put my attention on each section the material presented itself. All I had to do write everything down. As I sketched its contours, I realised that most of its elements, explored in previous years, were now coming into play. Even though at the time they didn't seem to "go" anywhere, now they were making sense. That is the value of visioning. You plot the map and one day you find yourself in the territory, and because you have drawn the map you know what to do.

Last week five of us met up at Jo Homan's Edible Landscapes nursery garden in London, and then decided on our future weekly topics for 2012 (read all about it here). We're starting in February with a full-on month of skill-share, energy, ingredients and tools, the international Transition 2.0 film and national REconomy project. Meanwhile my fellow reporters have been outlining what will be happening in 2012 elsewhere in the UK . . do check us out!

Photos: still from 2012, the movie; visioning for Transition Norwich 2.0; taiko drummers announcing Earth Hour, 2010; visioning the future, Catton Grove Primary School (with Transition Cambridge); It takes a Billion, Billion Years to Burn Out the Energy I Have in Me by Mark Watson; five meet up in Finsbury Park

Thursday 19 January 2012

Waking up in Forest Row

I am in Forest Row, East Sussex. It's six in the morning and outside high in the trees a thrush is singing in the dark. I have just made coffee, switched on the computer and the lights. I don't think about it (the power that is). Like millions of people each morning I click the switch, press the button and expect light, heat, instant connection. I'm staying with Mike Grenville (thanks to a fossil fuelled train) and we're putting together an idea for a Transition newspaper. Yesterday we went to the local coffee shop where the talk was all about fracking as the village is close to the site at Balcombe where Cuadrilla plan to test for oil. We were going to go to have a sauna (wood-fired) by bicycle (human powered) but the project took up all our attention.

The fact is everything we do is shaped by energy - by electricity, by oil, by gas- and there is not one of these sources of power that doesn't somehow leave blood on our hands and present some kind of dilemma.

To look at where the coffee, the kettle and all those invisible wires go, what grids they are connected to, what industries, means we're looking at big picture: fracking, mountain top removal, coal-fired power stations, all the issues around nuclear power, the burning of rainforest wood and palm oil for biofuels, oil extraction in the wildernesses of the Artic, deep sea drilling. We're looking at dams and tar sands and pollution and climate change and land grabs. We're looking at companies that make billions of pounds profit, at ourselves struggling to pay bills as those prices keep rising and being totally dependent on that power to live our lives and all I want to do this morning is make my cup of coffee and write this blog before I catch the train home. All I want to do is make my breakfast and step outside into the garden and listen to that bird.

But I can't do that because I'm in Transition and this is the energy week and I know that even if we did make it to the woods to have that sauna last night the bender and the stove exist because of the same energy and somehow we're not going to escape that dilemma no matter how right-on and low-carbon I am about not using central heating. Even if the local people in Sussex, Lancashire and Kent and Wales resist the highly controversial, expensive and resource hungry drilling that will damage the water tables of Britain as it has in the United States, the question we need to ask is where do we get the power from?

"It's about narrative," said Mike. What is the energy story are we telling ourselves?

Off Grid This summer we sat the two of us, as the wind and rain shook the tents at the Sunrise Festival and drank our coffee (rocket-stove) as two men chopped wood for the pizza oven. Grateful for heat and shelter, it is experiences like these that bring home exactly the kind of attitude and engagement you need to live without modern power systems. Tin Village had a solar panel and a small wind turbine that kept the computer going for on-line communications and a small cinema. Everything else was run on wood. However this was the summer and a weekend. Most people, including myself, would soon be heading home. We love all that Kelly kettle camping business but we're on holiday. This is not our everyday world.

To live off-grid all year round in 2012 requires either money for alternative power systems (e.g wood chip boilers, ground-source heat pumps) or high principles. As anyone who has slept in a tent at Occupy Norwich can tell you, off grid is cold, damp (and frequently muddy) in a wintry Britain. Some fellow Transitioners have organised their houses to run almost entirely on wood burners for heat and water and cooking, some like the activist initiative Transition Heathrow have a strong supply of wood from a local tree surgeon for their rocket stove kitchen, a bike generator and four solar panels and a very committed crew.

Other Transition initatives have made that strategic step and started to create their own community energy source, most notably the solar power station in Lewes and the community wind turbine set up by PEDAL - Portobello Transition Town. To create the kind of enterprise requires huge commitment and funding and is no small undertaking. It's a big topic. as Forest Row discovered, when Mike set up a debate between Charles Hendry and Jeremy Leggett at the recent Transition Energy Fair.

But however you organise your house and your transport and your neighbourhood, all of them are underpinned by different stories. The first is that you can continue living the same individualist lifestyle, only using alternative sources of energy, and the other two involve an individual and collective powerdown. Which is not, as energy campaigner Mandy Miekle pointed out recently, so much about creating a low-carbon community, but a low energy society:
The more I have looked into the energy crisis, the more I feel that the next big leap forward will not be technological, but psychological. We must reexamine our relationship with nature, for all resources come from nature. We need to stop talking about outcomes like saving ecosystems without also asking why we are destroying ecosystems in the first place. As Paul Kingsnorth points out, this squabble between worldviews is not about numbers at all – it is about narratives. We have many cultural narratives to address, but our relationship with energy has to come first.
However there are a few barriers in the way, not least our ability to look reality in the eye.

Techno-fix. In Forest Row the talk is also about free energy and not the kind that comes from the sun or the winds and waves of the earth. The anti-documentary of the moment is Thrive where dodgy looking geezers fly over the ancient sacred sites and crop circles on a disc, discussing how the big oil corporations (controlled by the banks) are squashing all research into this everlasting power source, encapsulated in the symbol of the torus (see left). This key invention, transmitted by extra-terrestrial intelligence, will transform the planet and solve all the problems of the world (cue starving Africans) which according to the film are entirely due to the lack of energy.

This is another narrative entirely. It suggests that we will be saved by outside agencies who somehow will work in our best interests and all former ideas of collective equity are null and void. And instead of looking at the hard facts we just have to fall down a virtual rabbit hole into a wonderland mix of half-truths about the global banking system and conspiracy theory.

This is a bad fairy tale to be believing right now, because it suggests we don't need to do anything about our energy dilemma, that we don't live in a place of limit and or have to face the consequences of our actions. All real stories look at these realities, and the characters in them who are plucky and ask questions, who don't go along with the magic spells, are the ones who live to see a happy ending.

Time to check out those narratives.

DISCLAIMER: Just in case you thought Mike was responsible for showing me Thrive, I twisted his arm, curious to the max. What we were really watching in Forest Row was a film of Alan Watts speaking from a different paradigm altogether in California. . .get wiggly!

Photos: solar panels on Mike's roof in Forest Row: Keystone XL pipeline protest; chai-making at Tin Village, Sunrise Festival; making a wind-turbine at Transition Heathrow; Scene from Thrive.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Come Together Right Now

The subject of our last post in our Looking Back fortnight is perhaps the thorniest and most challenging, both to engage in and write about: our fellow Transitioners. As a social movement we need to work on an equal and dynamic and friendly footing with others. Not an easy task as all of us have spent our lives working within a hierarchical and competitive structure. By the time we join our initiatives most of us have an array of defence systems in place. Transition happily breaks many of us out of isolation and disenfranchisment, and gives us a heady enthusiasm and a feeling of possibility. But no matter how we cling to our principles of fair share, earth care and people care, at some point the storm hits the rigging.

Working on the Healthy Conflict tool for The Transition Companion last year it was hard not to lose ourselves in the hydra-headed monster that keeps everyone separated in the psychological drama of it all. I realised then that the heroic inner work required to sort it all out would take a lifetime. And in 2012 we don't have that kind of time, or indeed the inclination. Was there another way to go about things?

Jeremy Rifkind in his book The Empathic Civilisation looks at the different strands of consciousness that have shaped the Western world. His thesis is that we are moving from psychological consciousness towards dramaturgical and planetary consciousness. Rather than defining ourselves within nuclear, me-and-you relationships we understand ourselves as players within an unfolding drama, in which we feel connected to all beings on the earth. A solar, alternatively-powered people, as it were.

After many years engaging in creative partnerships - playing in orchestras, acting, working as an editor with felow writers and photographers - I felt this creative community blog would allow for all our voices to be heard and valued. So that when we looked back, as the editorial crew have in these past two weeks, we could say: wow look at that! 92 posts and harmony all the way.

So for the final selection of posts I'd like to choose three pieces that show that creative model at play. Writing as one-amongst-the-many is the particular focus of social reporting. Many of us in Transition can talk about community and people care, but are still stuck in our control towers, living (and writing) about Me. Marella's post during our Inner Transition week, Labyrinth of Inner Transition in Omagh is a searingly honest example of how we can find ourselves in groups but feel as separated and as confused as ever.

Writing about fellow Transitioners is a particular challenge. We like to write passionately from ourselves, or coolly objectively apart from everyone in the room. Sarah Nicholl's introduction to our People and Connections Week was a celebration of her friend and colleague, the late David Fleming, and showed us all the warmth and depth of feeling we need for this social movement to flourish.

So the post I would like to republish today is by someone who I feel really demonstrates the heart qualities for a truly empathic culture. All his posts celebrate people, planet, plants and places as he records everyone (including himself) coming together in direct, generous and warm ways. Here is Mark Watson during our Food and Health Week with a post (and a title) that for me sums everything up about Transition . . . .

Love, Food and the Whole Damn Thing by Mark Watson - 31 October

Saturday 14 January 2012

Dispatches from the Field

Today on the Saturday "news" spot during our Looking Back week I'd like to highlight the journalistic aspect of the Social Reporting pilot. This often goes unsung, but is a fundamental part of building an alternative media - the regular social reporting of events and on-going projects. One of the tenets of our 2011 pilot was that everything we wrote was grounded in the daily work of our initiatives. These reports not only provide the base rhythm for the project, but also provide an essential feedback mechanism within Transition as a whole. Wiithout this beat, none of us get to sing our song.

So here are three selected pieces in this category that all contain the ability to take you directly into the field and explore the frame in which Transition sits. Transition can embolden you to do things you might not otherwise undertake (this project for example!) and during the pilot Caroline Jackson gave us some very funny, inspiring and practical tips on how to run a film night and organise a radio programme. Here she provides an ace example of subjective and objective reporting as she goes out on a wild and windy night to Occupy Lancaster.

My second post is by Mark Watson whose communications from the "Engine Room", consistently spread the news about the kind of heart-felt engagement and downshift work we need to do together to weather the physical and political storm. Here he is tallking about three projects at Sustainable Bungay within the frame of Navigating Community Chaos in All Hands on Deck -from Control to Relationship.

But the piece I'd like to republish today is by Jay Tompt. Jay recently moved from San Francisco to Totnes and has the challenging task of reporting on the Transition movement's capital which he does with consummate ease, weaving the many components of the initiative into a living map, from economics to permaculture. Here in our Bigger Picture week he gets to report on a fellow American, the environmentalist Bill McKibben as he gives a talk in the town about the key issues facing the planet from climate change to tar sands. Like many Transitioners and activists, restrained by geography, by peak oil, by economics, I would have love to have been at this event. Thanks to Jay, we were:

The Big Picture View from Totnes by Jay Tompt

Photo: Occupy the Earth outside the White House

Monday 9 January 2012

All the latest! Transition Themes Week #11 - Communications

Welcome to our Transition Themes#11, 2012. Uncharacteristically this will be a short informative intro to the week, as your correspondent has a massive deadline ahead of her (normal service will be resumed after Friday!). As well as this comms update, we will be hearing all the news and reflections from different TN groups and affiliates: Simeon will report from Economics and Livelihoods, Chris will discuss the new Energy Lookouts! project in the city, Elena all the latest from the field at Norwich FarmShare. We're also welcoming Helen from Transition Circle West and Vanessa from Occupy Norwich who will write about their plans for this crucial year.

Meanwhile the trusty This Low Carbon Life crew recently met at the Greenhouse to discuss the programme for the year ahead. We decided to continue the editorial style of this blog with its sure-fire mix of individual posts, Transition Theme Weeks and Topic Weeks (Sustainable Relationships to Alternative Currencies). One thing we recognise from working together for over two years is that communications, both real and virtual, play a key role within the initiative, not only as a means of keeping us all in touch, but also as a way of exploring how to work effectively as a group and make strategic links with other local progressive movements for fair and sustainable change.

However to be truly effective, we need to be linked in on a national and international level. Transition Norwich is one of the hundreds of initiatives around Britain and the world, and as a short reminder, here are all the communication links that keeps us connected and inspired by each's others' work.

Transition on film: the movement will be in full multi-media swing in 2012, as the film Transition 2.0 launches this March. This is a following up from the first film Transition 1.0 which we showed at our first birthday celebration. We're hoping to set up a screening in Norwich soon. On the home front there are also plans to expand the 15 minute Norwich in Transition film. directed by Tom Harper (now available on our news blog), to a full-length documentary.

Transition Network News: you can find a monthly Transition Round Up, produced by Rob Hopkins and published on his blog, Transition Culture, followed by a monthly podcast that explores three of the featured stories at greater depth (have a listen to last month's featuring Norwich FarmShare).

Every month Mike Grenville (Transition Forest Row) produces an essential monthly newsletter, which you can also find on the Network news site and sign up to receive as an email (highly recommended).

Transition publications: And if you didn't catch Rob Hopkins talk in Norwich about the new The Transition Companion book, there are still cut-price copies available (see below). This is an invaluable full-colour explanation of the drivers behind the movement and the essential ingredients and tools that make up initiatives (now numbering over 800 in 34 countries). Featuring the Norwich bloggers (Becoming the Media) and Norwich FarmShare. You can find the Ingredients and Tools on line and in card form on the Network site.

Social Reporters: the innovative Social Reporting project came to the end of its three month pilot in December. The project began again last week with a month of Looking Back, Looking Forward. Don't miss the daily blogs by ten writers from initiatives around the UK, including three of the TN bloggers, Charlotte, Mark and Kerry (now at Transition University West of Scotland), reporting and reflecting on all subjects under the sun. You can keep updated with our twitter news at tnnorwich, ttreporters and transitiontowns.

STOP PRESS! Article on Transition Norwich now out in Norwich Magazine - reprinted on Transition Culture. Text by Sabine Virani. Photos by Tony Buckingham. See here.

Copies of the new Transition book, The Transition Companion, by Rob Hopkins (Green Books) still available for £14. To order your copy email:

Pix: trailer for the new Transition 2.0 film; the TN bloggers ; Norwich FarmShare picture from Norwich Magazine: poster from Portalegre em Transição (Portugal jam-making day; cover of The Transition Companion.

Saturday 7 January 2012

ONEWORLD NEWS: Welcome to 2012!

Today's post looks at some of the subjects we will continue to report and reflect on during this crucial year.

As the struggle for global resources - energy, minerals, agricultural land, water - increases we'll look at the widespread pressure for social justice and protection of the earth. As the corporate control of the world tightens (1%), we'll reflect on the collective movement for democratic change that began in 2011 with the (99%) protesters of the Arab Spring and continued with the indignados of Spain and Greece, and the occupiers of Zuccotti Park in New York and hundreds of cities around the world.

As the government continues its austerity drive and support of the City of London and the banks, we'll keep supporting those involved with land rights, community ownership, and defence of our public services. As well as facing the hard and difficult issues, we will include the positive moves that are changing the restrictive patterns within our social fabric. We'll be looking at the grassroots movements that create an alternative infrastructure as the global economic systems falter, a "downshift" culture of sharing resources and skills: neighbourhood energy schemes, alternative currencies, community kitchens, CSAs.

We will be looking at the bigger picture set within a local framework and highlighting subjects that are often ignored or minimised in mainstream culture, from climate change to nuclear energy. We will be making links between all these subjects in order to further strengthen our common intent to bring about a fair, sustainable and connected OneWorld. We hope you will join us!

Writing on the Edge, 2011

In 2011 we relaunched ourselves as a blog with a party at the EPIC Media Centre in Norwich and decided we would keep posting our columns each Saturday and also invite guest writers to contribute and include occasional news and events posts.

We started the year reporting from the front line of the cuts, as the February demonstration in Norwich rallied on the steps of County Hall. Guest writer, Andrew Boswell, wrote about the closure of essential child protection services, Jan Ainsley about the threatened NHS and Mark Watson about the Lowestoft Against the Cuts Public Workers Strike Rally later in November.

2011 was an activist year, in which progressive groups came together as never before, and though we continued to write on traditional OWC issues, such as military power and parliamentary reform, there were unexpected events appearing in the world and in our columns - most strikingly the people's movements in the Arab nations and the Occupy movement in the West. Trevor Philips wrote from the squares in Athens, Charlotte Du Cann from Hay Hill about Occupy Norwich. It was a year where the word capitalism no longer belonged to the rhetoric of the left. People started to look at the economic system by which we have lived our lives, discuss systemic collapse, responsibility and solidarity. Mark Crutchley reflected on financial tipping points and peak oil, Rupert Read asked: Are we a consumerist or a producerist society?

None of us had any anwers.

But one thing we knew: like all civilisations who have risen and fallen, our future will be determined in terms of our relationship with food and energy. As land grabs increase in Indonesia, Africa and China and climate change destabilises the growing patterns of many of the world's staple crops, we looked at the depletion of fish in the oceans, the diminishing water tables, protests against the proposed introduction of GM farming into Britain and the agricultural lobbying that goes on behind the scenes. Marguerite Finn looked at the way food is treated as a commodity and speculated on in the global markets, as we considered the warning signs of collapse in the decline of bees and the negative effects of factory farming on our collective health and well being.

Some of our 2011 posts concerned peak oil and looked at the accountability of the companies still making huge profits from fossil fuels and the cost to the environment, the climate and local people. At the same time we celebrated the resistance to this, such as the KEYSTONE XL Pipeline campaign. This protest against tar sands oil had its first success last year as 10,000 people surrounded the White House and the proposal to run a pipeline from Canada to Texas was delayed, awaiting further research. This was the biggest environmental protest in the United States since the 1970s and over a thousand people were arrested including 350.0rg organiser Bill McKibben and James Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist.

There was also widespread protest mounted against the equally "unconventional" shale gas extraction, a process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", which halted excavations in many places in the US and also in Britain where the process is being trialled in Lancashire. There were several national campaigns launched, as the countryside came under further threat for housing and road development (not least in the local NDR proposals) and bio-mass and biofuel power stations, planned to be built around the British coastline. Increasingly it became clear that these moves were sparking a popular re-engagement with politics and ethics, that had almost disappeared from contemporary culture. Reflecting on these shifts, we considered putting ourselves on the line and creating an alternative to the mainstream media that insists that the world will thrive when economic growth returns in a business-as-usual paradigm. We know it won't.

But it might just thrive for other reasons.

If you would like to contribute news or features to the OneWorld Column please get in touch at

Occupy Earth poster at Keystone Pipeline protest outside the White House; the ST Valentine's Unneccesary Massacre; Amazon Watch; Occupy Norwich discusses monetary reform; protest against GM potatoes, outside the Forum; Chevron lawsuit in Ecuadar; the AIRPLOT at Heathrow, reclaiming the field by Grow Heathrow

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Looking Back, Looking Forward - Our New Year

Happy New Year everyone! Today is the first day of the Social Reporting project 2012, and to start the year Transition-style we are having a month of Pausing for Reflection and Visioning ahead.

In these first two weeks we'll be looking back at our 3 month pilot and selecting some of its most striking posts and republishing one of them each day (mine are chosen from among our guest writers).

Tough call! Because there were many brilliant ones. Sparks that flew, insights that shocked, sentences that made you laugh, think, rejoice, made you feel you weren't alone. They came thick and fast, every day through the autumn months, and it's only now looking back you can see the patterns these communications make, how everything connects and helps forge resilience in a time of apparent unravelling.

Today I'd like to pick out three strands where I feel the Social Reporting pilot took Transition communications in a new direction. The first is that the daily posts keep a certain upbeat tempo. This is not marketing or positive thinking. It's a quality of engagement with the material, the feeling you convey that all things are possible once you take life and the media into your own hands. This was Rachel discovering she could write about Permaculture, Catriona celebrating the new ceilidh scene, Caroline organising a Transition radio station and film night, Ciaran describing the lead-up to the Bristol Pound in Our Money Our Future -Money for the 99% by the 99%. A quality of inventiveness and exuberance. The rhythm of the heart.

The second is the posts provide coherence in a culture of fragmentation. One of the pilot's main aims was to highlight, value, give meaning and make sense of the work we do within a group structure and to find correspondences between initiatives. Many posts brought Transition projects to the fore that would otherwise go unsung, cross-referenced and made them shine. Woodlands, market gardens, city hubs, art labs, car share, skill-share. This was Jay talking about Totnes' incubator project, Adrienne talking about food storage in East Sussex, Mark celebrating people and events in East Anglia, Jo communicating with Reza at the doctor's surgery in Finsbury Park, Ed setting up the Network site in A Liminal Song of Thanks. These were all the guest editors as they opened the week looking at the broad reach of Transtion, from Peter Lipman on the Big Picture, to Shaun Chamberlin on Occupy and Economics, to Justin Kenrick on Land Rights. Bringing all factors into play.

The third is an ability to face reality, writing in the face of the storm, in spite of flack and denial from the "real" world. One of the best parts of the pilot was learning about everyone's communities first-hand: not the feel-good community PR, but what is really going down in cash-strapped Northern Ireland, in remote and fragmenting Highland villages, in feisty Welsh valleys, in a multi-cultural N4 or a dispersed Heathrow. And most of all in ourselves. The project allowed us all to say what Transition was really like for us as individuals. Our dark and difficult moments, the projects that didn't work out, the people who didn't love us and why we keep going in spite of everything. This is Ann talking about her family and her finances, Joe about Grow Heathrow's resistance, Caroline forging a new path through redundancy, Catriona through depression, Marella recording the failure of a Transition cafe, Kerry her real-life experience working at a Transition university.

The post I'm selecting today was a watershed post. It appeared in the middle of the pilot and its honesty and courage shook us all and allowed many of us to write at greater depth. It's a real-life story that reveals the kind of business-as-usual forces that Transitioners have to deal with, but don't often find a place to express. And the kind of determination we need to reach that happy ending so many of us desire. It's a long post but a vital one. Do (re) read Food and Health: Our Story by Tamsin Pinkerton...

Photos: Sun and stones (Mark Watson on Arts and Creativity); Welsh landscape (Ann Owen on Inner Transition); Transition Heathrow (Joe Rake on Land Rights).