Thursday, 25 February 2010

Transition Towns and Peak Oil

Peak Oil -

Globally we now discover only 1 barrel of oil for every 6 we use.

Oil is a finite resource its production is starting to decline whilst demand keeps on rising, pushing prices up.

Peak oil is about the end of cheap and plentiful oil which has fuelled the growth of industrial economies.

Besides transport and heating, our food is currently heavily dependent on oil and gas – for fertilisers and pesticides, irrigation, storage and distribution.

You may wonder what Peak Oil and Transition Towns have in common. Well, Transition Towns is a movement that aims to equip communities for the dual challenges of Climate Change and Peak Oil.

Most people now know what Climate Change is but fewer people are aware of Peak Oil. This is because Governments and the oil industry (and often the two are inexorably linked) are trying to play down the peak and subsequent scarcity of oil.

Today, the world is experiencing a step change in the rate of growth in energy demand owing to rising populations and economic development. After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand…Although Shell does not subscribe to the peak oil theory, the truth is that the readily accessible sources of conventional oil are being depleted, particularly outside the Middle East.
(Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive of Shell, Jan 2008)

This seems to be something of a paradox. On the one hand Shell are saying that conventional oil is running out but on the other hand they do not subscribe to the Peak Oil theory. This is because Shell is referring to unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands; ‘…like a sort of iron-oil, but it’s hard to mine, has to be cooked to get the oil out of the sand, and the whole process is dirty, takes a lot of water and energy. It’s hugely expensive and the rate they can be exploited is very slow.’ (GT Sep 2007) And what is the reason oil companies are turning to unconven-tional methods of accessing oil? Quite obviously the conventional stuff has reached its peak and is running out. So although Shell and other oil companies will initially mine these sands, I wonder how long it will be before the shareholders jump the sinking oil-rig? Presumably when their dividends stop paying out and when that happens NOBODY will bother to continue mining tar sands. People like Jeroen can der Veer, now retired, are telling us the truth but trying to veil their admissions with weak denial.

Peak Oil does not have to be catastrophic and it could ultimately help to reduce the effects of Climate Change. However we do have to think about the consequences of less oil or in fact no oil.

What would this mean in our everyday lives?

o No more gas guzzling cars – hurrah?
o No more plastic packaging – hurrah?
o No more plastic credit cards – hurrah?
o No more food miles – hurrah?
o No more air travel – hurrah?

There are many other areas of our lives that would be affected; the clothing industry, national transport infrastructures, food in general and of course energy. Would we really be happy about all these changes?

If oil ran out over night it would be disastrous and even life-threatening especially for those sick and vulnerable people who rely on transport, energy and medicine to keep them well. But I’m sure that many of us could adapt if necessary even pedal a bike if we had to and eventually services would have to become localised.

What would this post-oil town look like? Ideally we would have local food growing gardens, allotments and community spaces. Food waste would be automatically used for compost. We’d all turn to our mothers and grandmothers and ask them to teach us how to sew, knit or crochet. We’d all learn how to fit solar panels. We’d bring back trams and wouldn’t those rickshaws we see in central London suddenly become invaluable. Of course we mustn’t forget the men, our fathers and grandfathers would get those old hand tools out of their sheds and show us how to hand-build houses and furniture. And presumably we’d start looking into natural products, say soap, toothpaste, handcream etc and even have groups that went foraging in the forests, woods and hedgerows.

All in all it could be quite an enjoyable and exciting time – as an added bonus a sustainable economy would grow naturally from the various groups that would form – food; clothing; transport; energy; housing and education. The disappointment experienced by the throwaway society would become a thing of the past and life would have value and meaning once again. Of course if we’re not prepared for the changes that Peal Oil and Climate Change will naturally bring about, the adjustment could take some time but this is where the good news steps in. Some people, some villages, some towns, some countries are already getting prepared for a future, for a life, without oil – a low carbon, local, sustainable lifestyle.

And many of these people are members of Transition Towns. As of January 2010, there were 275 communities recognised as official Transition Towns in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Italy and Chile. While referred to as 'towns' (Totnes), the communities involved range from villages (Kinsale), through council districts (Penwith) to cities and city boroughs (Brixton). And added to these are the hundreds of communities that are mulling things over; thinking about becoming a Transition Town, having meetings, showing films, setting up groups.

In the summer of 2009 a UK Local Authority decided to include all their staff in the responsibility for tackling the community’s carbon footprint and dealing with the potential effects of climate change and Peak Oil. That Local Authority was Taunton Deane Borough Council in Somerset. Over a period of three months, over 350 staff and 26 Councillors attended eleven half day workshops, led by volunteers from Taunton Transition Town. Plumbers, planners, environmental health officers and car park attendants mixed with senior strategy officers, carpenters, Councillors and tree surgeons. On no other occasion had the people who make up this organisation come together in this way. They have created a “Localised” culture and infrastructure, capable of withstanding upheavals in the wider world that are likely to occur as a result of our changing climate and increasingly expensive and insecure oil and gas supplies.

So how does one set about building a Transition Town? I believe it is a little like a tiny snowball rolling down a snowy hill and as it gathers momentum, it starts to grow, getting larger and larger. Just recently the Greenacre Project held one of its eco film clubs and decided to launch, Greenacre Transition Finchley – this comprises of:
o Greenacre Times
o Greenacre Film Club
o Greenacre Bicyle Rally
o Greenacre Writers – Finish That Novel
o Greenacre Writers – Short Story Group
o Greenacre Writers – Life Writing
o Greenacre Writers – Creative Writing Workshops
o Greenacre Toolbank
o Greenacre Eco Art Exhibition
o Greenacre Green Spaces Forum (Spring 2010)
o Greenacre Tree Trust (Autumn 2010)

So, we already have some useful groups that are in the process of growing organically. I also know a very nice lady in East Finchley who is part of a guerilla gardening group – if we think about a post-oil society with lots of hungry people – wouldn’t it be fantastic to pop down to your local green space to pick some fruit or vegetables. Maybe this Guerilla Gardening Group (GGG) might like to become part of Transition Finchley.

Readers may remember that recently we held an eco film club that included John-Paul Flintoff and Rosie Martin (DIY Couture) talking about making their own clothes. We have a few individuals who are now experimenting with making and adapting clothes, one of whom works in a charity shop and picks up some wonderful bargains. Of course Greenacre Transition Finchley is already way ahead of the game with its transport ideas, the Greenacre Bicycle Rally being just one and of course we musn’t forget our very own Bangladeshi Rickshaw which will be ready and willing to take people on short trips around the borough (mind you, we will need some fit young things for the hills!)

We have our writing groups bringing people in our community together and there are plans for an art group which quite naturally could expand into homemade crafts including paper-making and pottery. And as there are a couple of teachers in our groups, we can also turn our hand to a bit of teaching.

So already we’ve covered:
o Food
o Clothing
o Transport
o Education

That just leaves housing and energy – oh, I forgot to mention: fantastic news, we have a speaker coming up from Brighton to talk about their amazing EARTHSHIP wow wow wow. And of course our very own Mike Gee is a Master Carpenter so that just leaves energy….any alternative energy experts out there? Then come and join Transition Finchley, you would be very very welcome.

I don’t like to write in cliches but from little acorns, oak trees grow - this is the ethos behind Transition Towns. A few people get together form a group and that in turn forms a series of sub groups, all partaking in practical actions to increase community resilience and reduce the carbon footprint ready for the potential threats from Peak Oil, Climate Change and the resulting food shortages.

My advice: don’t be overwhelmed; think acorns; plant a few carrots amongst the spring bulbs this year!

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