Friday, April 29, 2011

What is Transition?

If I were given just one word to describe Transition, what would it be?


Relocalization is the antithesis of globalization, which means it is the sine qua non of democracy. It is an essential precondition for democracy. It is also a deliberately buoyant response to the tripartite challenge that is peak oil / climate change / financial collapse. Relocalizers say "hey, more of the same probably won't work. Let's try something different. Let's disengage from this global clusterf@#k and chart our own course." Thanks to James Howard Kuntsler, by the way, for that wonderfully descriptive word. I tried hard to think of another, equally eloquent descriptor -- and failed.

If I were given two words to describe Transition, what would the second one be?


Resilience builds on relocalization. It qualifies it. It says that simply getting back to here isn't quite enough. It acknowledges directly that this isn't going to be a Sunday walk in the park. This Transition business is serious. Just as in Maslow's hierarchy of needs self-actualization comes after physiological and safety needs like food, water, shelter, security, in Transition we can't expect to maintain or improve our quality of life if we don't secure those basic needs that are under direct and concerted assault by peak oil, climate change, and slow-motion financial collapse. We know it must be possible to build resilience to these threats because these threats have faces -- ours. Peak oil is a fundamentally human phenomenon because (though the amount of oil is determined by geology) we have a choice in how we respond to it. There's nothing inherent in the laws of nature that humankind bury its head in the sand upon being confronted with the entirely prosaic fact that a non-renewable resource will eventually be exhausted. We could acknowledge it as a fact and then move on. Climate change is a fundamentally human phenomenon because the present bout of it is a direct and completely predictable result of evaporating billions of tons of ancient carbon into the atmosphere in what amounts to the blink of an eye. We've known for well over a hundred years that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas. And financial collapse? Despite mainstream economists' protestations to the contrary, economics as a science is a far cry from, say, geology, physics or chemistry. It has much more in common with sociology or political science than anything. This means it is a fundamentally human problem and, thus, amenable to human intervention. Screw the invisible hand.

Finally, if I had a third word with which to describe Transition? What would it be? This is the easiest:


Relocalization and resilience are necessary but not, as they say, sufficient conditions for saving our buts from the many-horned dilemma that is today's world. The final, and ultimately most necessary condition, is restoration. Even though I referred to climate change as an inherently human phenomenon, there will come a point, if it hasn't already, that the train set in motion by human hands will stop responding to those hands and start listening to higher-order beings: gravity, for example. And thermodynamics. Try getting into an argument, with thermodynamics, over who should be conducting the train: we'll see who wins.

At the risk of sounding terribly cheesy, we need to restore our connection with our planet, with the Earth. Against all reason, we've come to believe that we live outside of nature. Anyone paying attention can see the daily examples to the contrary, supplied by our apparently contrarian universe. We were able to believe, for a short while, in our invincibility, thanks to the discovery of seemingly endless free energy in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas. That was a blessing for some and a curse for most. Now we've got to deal with the consequences. We need to restore our planet's damaged life-support systems.

It is my belief that, doing so, we will find new purpose and new fulfilment. I believe there is no other way. This is what Transition means to me.

Oh, by the way -- there are a few other 'R'-words out there that I might use, but I'll leave them to your imaginations ;-)

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