Friday, 30 May 2008

walking the talk

My friend Danny has bought a new pair of shoes. He traded his car in for them. His car was old and might not pass its next MOT without a lot of work. He was sick of the cost of running a car, and worried about where this is all going, so he wanted to go car free, anyway. But he needed his car for his day job as a carpenter. He was sick of doing up rich people’s houses who had more money than sense so he wants to change his line of work. What he really wants to do is retrain as a countryside conservationist at Plumpton. There’s a shortage of them, apparently, and we are going to need a whole lot of Earth Repair in the years to come. Anyway, Danny feels great being outside in nature. It makes him feel healthy and happy and connected. He’ll be doing a lot of walking about in this new line of work, he reckons.

Danny has always longed for a pair of shoes that would last half a lifetime, with mending, so he took the cash from selling his car to Cobblers at 73 North St, Lewes and bought himself a strong pair of working leather shoes.

This is what the transition looks like, step by step.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Peak Oil in the news - can we move on please?

Yesterday oil hit $135 a barrel; up $5 it was the biggest daily hike in 60 years. The price of oil has doubled in a year, increased 10 times over in 10 years. Opec predicts that oil will reach $200 a barrel by the end of this year. Peak oil hit the headlines big time this week, including the front page of the FT – this animated short was on the Daily Telegraph’s website for example. It’s great that peak oil is now mainstream. Once people get over the shock of what it’s going to mean to our economy, we can get on with the work that really interests me – what are we going to do about it?

This transition period is not going to be straightforward as the solutions are divergent: there are those who will want to keep the economic growth show on the road, using coal to liquid, GM and other high-carbon, earth unfriendly technologies. That, and a run on nuclear, could be suicidal. The environmentalists will strengthen the call for low-impact earth-repair solutions and clashes will certainly ensue as the two paradigms go head to head. I’m reminded of the transition phase of labour; that’s when you tend to say, fuck off, I don’t want to do this any more. But it’s also the time just before you start to actually give birth to the gorgeous new, long-awaited baby.

Meanwhile, a good part of the economic ‘crunch’ (a lovely polite sounding word, that) is underpinned by the markets’ realisation that the party’s over. That’s reflected in the fact that the oil future prices are now higher than before. The price of oil, as Norman Baker said this week on Radio 4, is not going to come down again.

Having seen all this ahead a while back, I’m now pretty familiar with the range of possible futures, and look forward to the time when we’re all on the road to creating the better future with less fossil fuels. Transition Town Lewes is designed to help people through this – the faster we get on board, the gentler the transition. As the management guru Peter Drucker famously said, The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Eating Lewes

I’ve been a member of an organisation of grower enthusiasts called the Henry Doubleday Research Association since my early twenties. At this time of year I would eagerly await the photocopied newsletters announcing the annual members' experiments. We were invited to test the effectiveness of green manures, the power of peat v peat-free compost and the resistance of different varieties of tomatoes to blight. At the end of the experiments we had to weigh, measure or otherwise assess the results, which then got fed back to us all some months later.

I still approach gardening with this sense of adventure each year. This year my challenge is to grow as much food as possible in our tiny Lewes garden. I’m using lots of successional planting and piling on the home-made compost. Long-lasting leafy green vegetables seem to be the best thing to grow; chards and kales have fed us steadfastly through the winter, and some of the perennial or self-seeding herbs like chives, parsley and rocket are fantastic. I’m loving the experience so much, especially in this warm wet weather, that my passion is spilling out of the front door too and on to our slug-free front doorstep where I’m growing tomatoes, runner beans, lettuces and herbs.

I met up with Ruth O’Keeffe whose Lewes Little Gardens are spreading all over the town in the nicest kind of guerrilla gardening way. Where, I asked, could one plant edible gardens? As we pored over the map I realised that most of Lewes’s gardens themselves are plenty big enough to provide a large amount of food. All the Landport gardens, for example, are Dig for Victory gardens, intended to feed whole families. It’s only the new houses that have tiny gardens in order to maximise developers’ profit. Am I alone in feeling the irony of people moving in to The Nurseries development in Malling, once on the site of a nursery that helped feed Lewes, not being able to feed themselves off their own wee plots?

Friday, 9 May 2008

The joys of resilience

One of the cornerstone ideas of the Transition movement is resilience. It means the ability to recover from shock, illness or misfortune. My preferred definition is the quality of flexibility, springiness, suppleness. It’s a concept worth mulling over. In the transition context it mainly means reducing our dependence on oil: working closer to home, replacing electric goods with good quality hand tools, using money wisely, producing our own energy and food where possible, learning new skills, etc. Our family has been building resilience, in this positive way, in to our life since we first realised that big change was ahead.

But it’s working with nature where I’ve had the greatest learning. Last night I harvested a salad of perennials and self-seeding annuals. The rocket, fennel, chives, young kale, red orach, sweet cicely and various flower petals are rich in minerals, taste, life zest and ease of growing. Those and a dozen others yield the family salads for nine months of the year. They are also resilient to slug and snail attack. Compared to these permaculture plants, the lettuce seedlings are simply rich pickings for the armies of pests roaming my small patch, and will probably not even make it out of the ground. Far from being a doomy reaction to what’s ahead, resilience building is creative, life affirming, and downright common sense.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Talk Talk

We’re sitting around our kitchen table with the Guardian. The TV has gone away for the summer (jointly negotiated) now the clocks have gone back, after a TV winterfest. Though our 11-year-old son has gone to a friend’s to watch Heroes.

Our three teenage daughters and Dirk and I are having a rare good chat. Was it good that LSD was invented? Why? How do you know that being ‘inner-directed’ is better than being ‘outer-directed’; isn’t that just the theory of an inner-directed person? Is it true that we have been living in a dark age according to the Indian long calendar?

How long was man a hunter gatherer before he discovered agriculture 10,000 years ago? Why is Ishmael the best book you’ve ever read? Our 14 year old leaves the room as she absolutely is allergic to any mention of anything connected to climate change so we’ve agreed we won’t talk about it in her presence, but it’s her fault as she walked in on this conversation. What links the Mayan calendar with the year 2012 and what does it mean? (A friend of ours thinks humanity will go through a paradigm shift in 2012.) What is Maharishi and TM? If things are changing and consumption growing at a faster and faster rate, is that rate of development going to peak and decline or is it going to just keep going?

Why is Boris Johnson so unpopular with Guardian writers? Are the Conservatives all right wing? Does your love for Dad ebb and flow?If something is in square brackets in the paper what does that mean? What does ombudsman mean? Where does the word come from? (I said that a lot of Norwegian words ended in man and Dirk and Sophia laughed at me, which pissed me off, till I got the joke.) What is a junta? How many natives are left in the world? If it’s 3% could it really be that as many as 210 million non-agricultural people are still alive on this earth?

So if civilisation collapsed, original mankind could just carry on as if the agricultural revolution had been a very long bad dream?