The Farnham Society Newsletter is being published about now, and contains the following report on our presentation to them back in March:
TRANSITION FARNHAM by Finn Jackson
On 17th March I was fortunate to have a very enjoyable opportunity to give an evening talk to the Society at St Joan’s.
I have been a Farnham resident for several years, and am a founder member of a group called Transition Town Farnham.
Over the past couple of years we have all experienced the increasing prices of food and petrol. I explained how Transition Towns are formed by groups of people who expect these trends to continue. Recent events in the Gulf of Mexico have shown how difficult it is becoming to extract the oil we all use. At the same time the rapid growth of countries like India and China means world demand for oil is increasing. So we can expect prices to continue to rise. At the same time the government is telling us that we need to reduce carbon emissions to fight climate change — they say we have to reduce carbon emissions by four-fifths by 2050, which means reducing by at least one fifth over each of the next four decades.
Responding to these changes isn’t going to happen by itself, and Transition Towns are formed by groups of people who realise that if we wait for government it will be too late, if we act by ourselves it will be too little, but if we come together as towns, villages and communities then we have the best chance to do what we need to in time. There are now over 300 official Transition Towns around the world, stretching from the UK to the USA, from Chile to New Zealand and Japan. Transition Town Farnham itself was formed in 2008 and became officially recognised by the Transition Network in 2009.
As well as responding to these challenges, Transition Towns are formed by people who realise that this can also be an opportunity to improve our qualities of life.
When oil is much more expensive, we won’t be able to afford to travel as much as we do now. The upside is that this will mean fewer hours spent commuting or sitting in traffic jams, and reduced pollution too. If we plan and prepare for that future, then we can build a lifestyle that suits us very well, with more working from home, more smaller local offices, more cycling to school, or whatever solutions work best for different people and different organisations. If we wait until fossil fuel energy is very expensive indeed then we will all suffer from higher fuel bills and possibly energy blackouts. But if we act now then we can use existing technologies to build enough renewable energy supplies to give us a comfortable lifestyle without polluting the planet. If we insulate our new and existing buildings at the same time then we won’t have to work quite as hard to build renewable energy sources, and we’ll have lower energy bills too. Finally, if we start to grow more food locally (one town in Yorkshire is aiming to be completely self-sufficient by the year 2020) then there can still be enough food to go around when it becomes too expensive to fly green beans from Kenya (though we might not be able to have strawberries in December).
My talk with slides for gave many examples of what transition towns around the world are doing under these headings, as well as other things like creating local currencies (that boost the local economy). My talk was followed by an hour and a half of lively questions. There were too many topics to list here, but the overall themes were quite simple. First, as energy prices go higher it means our lives are going to be increasingly focused on ‘closer to home’ — for food, for jobs, for entertainment and recreation. Second, this might seem like a challenge because it involves change, but it is also an opportunity to improve our lives and rebuild a sense of community. And third, we can wonder about whether or not other people, in other parts of the UK and around the world, will ‘do their bit’. But, ultimately we can’t control what they do — we can only choose what we do.
Rising energy prices are here to stay and the need to respond to climate change is coming soon. These historic trends are with us now whether we like it or not, and both are increasing. So imagine two towns: one of which does nothing, and the other which starts to follow the transition approach. One town tries to carry on as usual, using lots of fossil fuels, relying on other parts of the world to provide its electricity, food, jobs, and the products that it buys. The other town starts to grow its own food, generates its own electricity, sets up businesses to make some of the things that it currently buys from China and sells them to people in neighbouring towns. This second town makes sure that everybody’s home is well insulated, it prints its own local currency to keep money circulating in the local economy, and builds a theatre so that people don’t have to travel to London to see quality entertainment. It plants fruit trees in the streets, creating a place with a feeling that people love to visit. Now ask yourself one simple question: which town would you like to live in?