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Financial Permaculture Looks at “Transition Towns”

with contributions by Greg Landua

Tonight we focused on the Transition Towns movement, which proactively and positively faces the challenges of peak oil and climate change in a de-humanized society. Transition Towns is both an evolving method for collaborative town planning and implementation, and a network of people and towns. We heard from Andy Langford, Albert Bates, Liora Adler, Jeff Burns from Sandpoint Transition Initiative, and Patrick Gibbs…

Andy Langford

“When a stone mason breaks a stone on the 15th hit, the mason knows that the previous 14 were just as important as the final blow.”

A movement to unlock the social capital of local areas to create sustainable solutions has sparked in the UK and is spreading like wildfire in North America.  One of foundational tools used to create the Transition Towns model of participatory design is a manual to help bypass the morass of group think, and unlock collective wisdom from meetings. Andy Langford wrote the 50-page booklet Designing Productive Meetings & Events: How to increase participation and enjoyment in 1998 while consulting for the Permaculture Academy and the South Oxfordshire District Council.

De-localization of Higher Education

Andy grew up in a small town where at the age of 18 he was expected to leave. If someone didn’t leave at that age, others thought there was something wrong with them.

What’s the effect of that exodus on the local economy? The USDA has been doing a 35 year long study in the non-metropolitan US south: of those who leave, 40% may return (higher percentage than other places), 60% leave. Some more telling statistics that Andy shared:

  • raising a child to high school graduation = $135,000
  • local payment for schooling = $100,00
  • expected family contribution for college = $16,000
    • total = $251,000

With 34 high school graduates leaving Hohenwald each year at $250,000 each, that’s $8,500,000 investment in young people is exported from Hohenwald every year. Once more, that’s 8.5 million dollars leaving Hohenwald every year, and that’s a huge “brain drain” that US colleges are doing intentionally around the world.

Gaia U Pattern: Re-localizing Higher Education

  • minimum 3 folks to start a regional center
  • 1000’s village and town scale teams
  • knowledge commons online, so easy to decentralize
  • core Gaia University systems are mutually owned
  • $7,500 per year fees — in an “earn and learn” format with only 2 weeks away from home
  • 65% of fees stay local

Andy’s booklet is a real gem… Designing Productive Meetings & Events: How to increase participation and enjoyment. To see some related work from that time, go to Wallingford and see “The Future” in the left side-bar.

Andy pointed out that the state and federal loyalty of most municipal governments can hold them back from meaningful change, and the Transition Town grassroots process seems to be an effective way forward at the local level.

Albert Bates

Albert helped start Ecovillage Network of the Americas, then the Global Ecovillage Network, and then worked for GEN for 15 years, travelling and visiting ecovillages in many parts of the world. Tonight he introduced us to Rob Hopkins, the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan, Totnes and tidbits of Transition Towns.

More details tomorrow…

Liora Adler

Transition Towns is a positive and agile solution to climate change and peak oil.

The Four Recognitions of the Transition Movement:

  • Life with less energy is inevitable and it is better to plan for it than be taken by surprise.
  • We have lost the resilience to be able to cope with energy shocks.
  • We have to act for ourselves and we have to act now.
  • By unleashing the collective genius of the community we can design ways of living that are more enriching, satisfying, and connected than the current situation.

The Twelve Steps to Create a Transition Initiative:

(notes: these don’t have to go in order or all be used… each town uses them as needed. Also, steps 6-12 are non-linear, some are principles rather than steps.)

  1. Set up a steering group and design its demise.
  2. Raise awareness.
  3. Lay the foundation.
  4. Organize a “great unleashing.”
  5. Form subgroups.
  6. Use open space technology for meetings.
  7. Do things. Develop visible practical manifestations of the project.
  8. Facilitate the “great reskilling.”
  9. Build a bridge to local government.
  10. Honor elders.
  11. Let it go where it wants to go…
  12. Create an “energy descent” plan.

And remember to celebrate!! Celebrate often!!! And disseminate results (on the Transition Town website and elsewhere).

How can we make life better for our children and grandchildren? Better life means more human life, more peace and relationships.

Visit the Transition Towns website for the details about how Totnes and dozens of other towns are doing this.

Jeff Burns from Sandpoint Transition Initiative, Idaho

Jeff (who writes for Positively Sandpoint) and two other folks from Sandpoint Transition Initiative (STI) in Idaho are participating in the Financial Permaculture Course. (The STI gives us a glimpse of this interconnected world-changing network: the early catalyst of the Transition Initiative in Sandpoint is Gaia University graduate Richard Kuhnel.) Jeff shared his excitement and humor with the group, starting off with a short story about his rockstar moment earlier today when he had a think and listen with Albert Bates, who’s been his hero since Albert presented a 200 mile-per-gallon car at a World Fair in the 1980s.

Jeff told us that in his home Bonner County, Idaho, “we have no agriculture to speak of, and 40,000 people to feed.” He took this quandary on and facilitated the creation of a community garden in Sandpoint, which is now doing well. On a larger scale, they’re planning to put acreage under production to grow plants for ethanol, so that they’ll have the infrastructure and acreage ready to grow food.

The Power of Community” film was a big inspiration for Jeff and others in Sandpoint while they looked for proactive and positive ways to deal with peak oil. The documentary describes how Cubans shifted to small-scale, local, mostly-organic agriculture rapidly in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed and oil shipments from the USSR to Cuba stopped suddenly.

After watching the film and participating in Sandpoint Transition Initiative, Jeff was visiting a friend for dinner one evening, and in response to his friend’s talk about survivalist strategies and hunting elk and dragging them through the snow, Jeff said “You don’t have to do that. We have people. We have a community… And you’re invited.”

Patrick Gibbs

Patrick participated in the first Training for Transition on the US East Coast, which was organized by Alastair Lough and Pat Proulx-Lough of Transition Initiative Portland (TIP). The training was on October 3-5 in a house near Portland, Maine, and there were about 15 participants. The folks at TIP will be doing two more trainings in November, and during the coming year they’re going to do a few “Training of Trainers” events to further catalyze the Transition Town movement in North America.

Patrick gave us a challenge and invitation to think about the people in our communities (and here in Hohenwald) who don’t speak English, and all the people in cour community who aren’t in the room.

Q & A (all speakers)

Complementary Currencies

More details tomorrow…

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