Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Transition Town Reading.

The Transition Town movement has spread across the United Kingdom and there is one based in Reading, in the south east of England. In the face of peak oil, global economic failure and climate change, TT aims to provide resilient local communities that can weather such assailing forces and provide ultimately a more satisfying and humanly balanced way of living, setting apart from the delusion that "happiness" can be found in the unbridled acquisition of consumer wealth.

I attended a meeting of "Transition Town Reading" last night. Reading is the town in which I live, or specifically it is the Borough which incorporates the village of Caversham, which is where I actually do live. I met a few members of TTR after a talk I gave to Cafe' Scientifique in Reading back in March, but this is the first actual meeting of the group I have attended.

We were asked to express our "personal vision" for TTR and when the guy chairing the meeting said that at the outset, my instinct was to make it for the door! However, there were some interesting ideas and emotions raised and I explained that my interest began with some research I was doing back in 2005, to try and understand the origins of petroleum. Then I read about Peak Oil, was both transfixed and horrified by the whole scenario, and began writing this blog, which lead to my being invited to write columns on and on Forbes, and some reviews that were published in the scientific literature. As the writing took-off more and a wider audience of people read what I had written, some of them invited me to give various talks on the subject, both to the general public and in universities, which I still do.

Following the TTR meeting, I am left with a sense that there is a body of people in this town, as undoubtedly in many others, with pretty much the same values and concerns: what to do about peak oil, climate change, the out-of-kilter Capitalist system based on unlimited growth that we are desperately and unhappily clinging to, trying not to drown in the global torrent, in the perceived absence of any other craft to keep us afloat.

Of course this one sinking rapidly and it would be better to start swimming to the shore as soon as possible!

Why was I attracted to the "Transition Town" movement rather than say to Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth? The answer is simple: that while I can obliquely envisage some future horizon where we are all living in smaller communities using less energy and not driving and generally travelling less, because it is the loss of cheap liquid fuels for transportation that will go first of all fossil energy resources, the "transition" from here to there is not obvious and if we don't plan it and get it right we will descend into anarchy tearing each other apart to grab what resources are left.

So that's why I am attracted to "Transition Towns" and that I am interested in my local region. I have volunteered to help devise an energy descent plan, i.e. how to put together a set of actions that steadily use less oil say by 5% per year until in 20 years we don't need it any more. Now this is naive mathematics, and actually doing it another story altogether.


Russ said...

". . . the "transition" from here to there is not obvious and if we don't plan it and get it right we will descend into anarchy tearing each other apart to grab what resources are left."

I believe the probability of your concisely described scenario is high. Do you think that lowering (all) speed limits would help discourage driving?

It seems that giving bicycles the respect that cars now have by effecting full accommodation for them in both their active functions on roads and their resting places in homes could contribute to a smooth descent down the back side of peak oil.

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi Russ,

yes, I also think that the probability of a catastrophic social disintegration is high.

I look at this overpopulated nation with so many not working, and I can envisage that a state of marshal law will prevail... and then things might find some level of calm.

I don't think lowering speed limits will have much effect locally, but could certainly discourage long-distance driving.

More bicycles... but please lets set some pavement/road manners for cyclists. Some of them are a menace!!



Russ said...

I agree with your call for road manners pertaining to cyclists. In locales where biking is relatively common in the US, there are often a few whose maneuvers are rude (and even menacing) toward both motorists and other bikers.

My comment on speed limits included the notion that by lowering them, much wider use of electric cars could be enabled by reason of lower power requirements and shorter distances driven resulting from a gradual (and hopefully intelligent) contraction of sprawl.

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Yes, some of them seem to feel they are "above" both motorists and pedestrians! They are a law unto themselves. Then one of them gets tragically killed and I do wonder if their attitude might play a role sometimes?

We will need more bikes, for sure, but please cyclists, have some respect for those on 4 wheels or two legs!

I don't think that we can replace all our oil-powered cars by electric cars (e.g. in the UK if we could build one million of them per year it would still take 30 years to bring-on the entire fleet in the same number of present cars, before when the oil supplies will be severely depleted).

I think that realistic electric transport might be best [provided using local tram and light railway systems: i.e. mass transport rather than personalised transport.