Thursday, 17 June 2010

the money loop

This year’s Transition Conference in Newton Abbott revealed a new level of maturity in the movement, with hundreds of communities all over England – and the world – creating positive projects and bringing a low-carbon culture into being. Apart from several workshops with great relevance to Lewes – Energy Descent Action Planning and Working with Local Councils, one talk left me and most of those that attended reeling.

Michelle Foss, a Canadian financial commentator who writes as Stoneleigh on The Automatic Earth, spoke with great authority and in technical detail about a systemic financial crisis that would be upon us within two years, probably starting this year. The rapidly decreasing energy return on energy input of fossil fuels and a collapse of access to cheap unregulated finance will mean that we can no longer leverage the derivatives creating artificial wealth in the last few decades and we’ll experience a return back to the real economy, which is very much smaller.

We’ll be experiencing the world’s worst financial depression, she says, on the back of the world's biggest financial bubble, with house prices falling 90% and cash more or less drying up. Her key advice was to get out of all debt and get into transition. See here for Shaun Chamberlain’s great commentary. And there's a recording of her talk here at Indymedia. In the aftermath there was much discussion, which was summed up beautifully by Peter Lipman, chair of the Transition Network.

During the conversations someone talked me through a thought experiment: think of the times when you’ve been most happy, fulfilled in your life. What was happening then? Now think of the times when you’ve been most stressed, most shut down. What was happening then? Good, healthy experiences are usually not to do with money; they’re about being bonded, with each other, with nature.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

here comes the sun

I'm jumping for joy because we’ll soon be installing solar photovoltaic panels on our roof on St Johns Terrace. Last night’s planning committee gave us permission, going against the conservation officer’s (lengthy) recommendation for refusal, as well as opposition by Friends of Lewes and the new Conservation Area Advisory Group. (Though with loads of support from residents and Transition friends).

It’s a coup for several reasons. The chair of the committee, who is very supportive of renewables, agreed that the council’s interpretation of the Article 4 Direction (which places extra conservation measures on Lewes) should be reassessed. It’s a ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money and residents’ time for householders in central Lewes to require planning permission, where in all but four towns in England, solar panels are permitted anywhere except on listed buildings.

Second, our roof is central and visible, and will, I hope, inspire others. Ovesco, by the way, Lewes’s non-profit energy company, is investigating low-cost loans for people who can’t raise the cash. £11,000 in our case, from a job that practically did Dirk in when he spent three months solid earlier this year playing for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Third, these panels will enable us to generate half our current electricity needs, probably more if we made a bit more effort – and all once the children leave home. All our electricity will be free when the sun shines, and when we’re not using it, it will be used by one of our neighbours.

The new Feed In Tariffs make solar pv affordable, with a payback of 12 years in our case, through an income (£900pa) that is guaranteed for 25 years. So once we’ve paid off the system, the payments will continue, much like a pension.

There’s quite a ‘phew’ element to all this for me, as it’s the latest in a long list of resilience measures our household has been putting in place over the last couple of years. Peak Oil, which three years ago, when we started Transition Town Lewes, seemed like a distant mirage, is getting more and more real, with even Paxo leading a 15 minute discussion on it as Newsnight’s main story last night. Peak Oil means that easy oil has run out, and the fuel we have become so addicted to is becoming more expensive, more damaging to nature through extraction and CO2 emissions, and more unethical, in some cases, deeply, disgustingly so. Personal and community resilience is a sane response to this: growing food, working locally, building community, enjoying consuming less, and – finally – generating our own power from the sun. It’s a powerful feeling!