Tuesday, 14 September 2010

civilisation the movie - from permaculture punk ezine...more later

Paper title: Tiny worlds and big realities: Creating sustainable communities in the google-ag

Promoting information literacy in European classrooms - teaching the Google-generation – challenges for teachers and teacher educators

Perstalozzi Programme: Council of Europe
Bergen, Norway
14/09/2010 – 17/09/2010

Author details:
Professor Paul Clarke,
St Mary's University College,
London, England

Paper title: Tiny worlds and big realities: Creating sustainable communities in the google-age

Unless we live our lives with at least some cosmological awareness, we risk collapsing into tiny worlds. For we can be fooled into thinking that our lives are passed on political entities, such as the state or a nation, or that the bottom line concerns in life have to do with economic realities of consumer life styles. In truth, we live in the midst of immensities, and we are intrically woven into an immense cosmic drama. (Swimme 1996:60)

3.3 billion people live in urban environments, by 2030 this is estimated to increase to 5 billion[1]. The dominant narrative of the modern world that forms many of the economic, cultural and environmental conditions that operate in these urban spaces has emerged from the industrial era. Industrialisation has shaped our economies, our societies and our cultures, and its language of improvement and effectiveness largely determine how we think and act. Whether we live in urban or rural settings, our worldview if we live in ‘western’ society is likely to be defined by consumerism. The idea of the late industrial age being one of enhanced efficiency which leads to greater economic wealth, with smarter design and smarter technologies within smarter cities which arise out of an ever more skilled, and informed knowledgeable workforce. It is this very same, smarter than ever workforce that presides over an unprecedented collapse in our global ecosystem and widespread dysfunction that is occurring in our existing human systems of education, health, politics, economics, and agriculture. The combination of recurring social, economic and civic problems suggests that the way we relate to our world is out of alignment with our environment, our solutions are dated, destructive and unsustainable, too they are both predictable and too short-term. Our progress through this century will be in no small part measured by whether we are capable of creating sustainable communities, our route to this goal will be through new connections, local to global, that transcend earlier ideas and formulations of human life on this planet.
As education systems around the world strive for continual improvement, we are beginning to recognise the immense possibilities of the technology of the internet as a way of connecting people through images, ideas and interests. It is a fascinating  consequence of the increasing level of standardization of communication platforms and processes, for example, that human beings experience a greater variety of voices and encounter more ideas than at any time in human history[2] (Lloyds 2010:10).

Whilst the internet technologies allow us to see our world as ‘connected’[3], it is possible to extend this idea of the network from the technical to the cognitive and begin to use the connection as a way in which we see the planet differently, not as separated units defined by nation states and continents, but as a single multi-formed unity, or what James Lovelock (1979) called Gaia[4]. Lovelock’s theory emphasises that we are planetary creatures, our place is within and among the cosmos, not simply locked to a single planet, but intergrated into a dynamic set of relationships which form part of the universal, an emergent and unfolding story of time. As such, it seems appropriate that we consider the implications of this huge new arena for learning in our education systems, to illuminate and enlighten our young people to the reality of this planetary consciousness, and how integrated and interdependent our life systems are on a universal platform with all other planetary life forms and the ecosystems  upon which we depend to survive.

The symbolism of the google age, the broad theme of my talk today, is therefore of profound importance. The internet illustrates the power of now, with all of our systems and trading links that weave across the planet we have never before had anything quite as extensive or connected as this system. What was once science fiction is now science fact[5]. Simultaneously, it points us towards one of the great problems of now, that alongside all of these connections, are the consequences. The power of being able to connect almost across the entire planet is an immense opportunity for humankind, it has enabled many amazing things to be developed that provide benefit for people’s lives and well being. However, the power of the now also perhaps inhibits our ability to see the devastating effects of what our contemporary lifestyles are doing to the ecosystems around us. Because the consequences aren’t always on our doorstep, we do not realize the damage that the consumer culture is having to our planet. Whilst the google age enables us to witness many things from many places, it also levels everything to a single platform as a spectator rather than actor. The comic video, the fabulous 100 metre world record, the poverty stricken slum and the oil drenched seagull are all visible, and are all rendered just the same.

What interests me is the possibility of stepping beyond that immediate imagery and connection and engaging concretely with action. Is it, for example, possible to use the resource of these systems to transcend the moment and begin to connect to the broader reality of planetary consciousness. The evidence suggests that it is so. Recent political activities in Iran and in parts of Eastern Europe demonstrated that the connection through the internet and associated technologies could galvanise people around themes for social action. This is interesting when we consider the immensity of the ecological challenge we all face. The google age offers us a glimpse at the presence of the now, through the myriad of links and connections and at the same time it can symbolise, through these links, the possibility of the future, not informed by globalisation and economic consciousness, but by planetary consciousness. The distinction between global and planet is very important, as one is temporal and localised, the other is infinite and transcendant.

The narratives of change: Education, community and the pitfalls of claims of learning to live sustainably
In educational terms, these big cosmological themes can be reduced to a basic question - what are we educating people for? It is a deceptively simple question I have become interested in asking of educators, policy makers and parents. It is clear from the responses I have gathered that we are living in an extraordinary period of human history, with little consensus other than we are educating young people to be able to cope with change, comparable perhaps to the transition from the medieval to the modern. People are conscious of change, and of the major themes of our time such as climate change, environmental change and population change, but they often report that they feel that there is very little they can personally do in response[6].

As our communities mutate into post-modern environments it is as if our schooling systems have managed to do just that, to school our people, but not to educate them and equip them with the tools of self reliance that they might usefully draw upon to fashion a new direction from that which they are conscious is perhaps unsustainable. Our educative process must be sufficiently visionary and transformative, it will have to get beyond the conventional order that education has promoted over the last century or more or we will simply repeat the past mistakes, perpetuating ‘intergenerational tyranny’ (Braungart & McDonough 2002). Our educational needs are for lateral, divergent thinkers, yet the prevailing methodologies of our education systems still continue to pursue divergent, educational programmes which fracture and fragment knowledge into discrete disciplines, instead of encouraging holistic and interconnected solutions. This is not to say that education is not important, but it is to suggest however, that it is education of a particular kind, focused around sustainable living, that we might need to turn our attention towards if we are to overcome some of the challenges we are likely to face in the coming decades. But in defining those particularities we have to be aware that there are multiple dimensions to consider, the google metaphor helps us here, as Edmund O’Sullivan (1999:182) reminds us, there is a great danger in proposing any grand narrative of the future in too deterministic a manner, as it runs the risk of oppressing and colonising the subtle nuances that we discover in cultural differences and will miss the likelihood of unexpected consequences. Indeed, any new large vision, such as the one I am hinting at in the remainder of this paper, have to be framed very carefully and with consideration of the very obvious challenge that can be laid in front of them that they fail to recognise the dynamic in preference of the simplistic, and that they present illusory and imaginary worlds that in the end disempower rather than empower their habitants.
So to begin my argument I want to make the point that the efforts to understand, construct and develop a form of community action that is in some way ‘sustainable’ are at a very early stage in most westernised communities. We do not claim to be pursuing something universal, although there are some very interesting example of the connections between different communities engaged in such work in very different parts of the planet. Nor do we claim to be comprehensive in our knowledge or actions, we understand implicitly that this work is continuous, unfolding and unpredictable. Indeed, these observations demonstrate the very problems we face as we try to describe and re-present our work. We think that what our work illustrates is a response to the grand narrative of global market economies, but we find ourselves at times drawn back into the narratives of these environments because of the pressure to ‘make a living‘, to account for our actions, and to enable others to connect to the meaning of the work. 

Our work is undertaken with a view to illustrate that this is not the only story that can be told about how to live in human communities, and that people are capable of presenting counter arguments and practices to those of the dominant market and consumerist model of society. It is easy to see the fragile nature of this approach. Whereas the grand economic narrative dismisses most challenging alternatives as naive, demonstrating at once the predicament of the alternative, and the ease that the power of the dominant story has to push aside critical perspectives, our work has to report on the same platform, measured by others using the same criteria which we seek to challenge. We have to continually attempt to illustrate that our work in growing any form of sustainable community can improve upon the fabric of a community which we have inherited. As a result, we recognise that we undertake our work in the full awareness that our stories are not fully formed, they are often conflicting, messy and muddled, but they also can offer moments of insight and clarity which reveal for people a way of thinking that they can connect with and take into their own settings.

What we have begun to realise however, is that we are not alone. The power of the google age has opened up a global network of people working and living in communities which are exploring very similar themes and ideas with their own contextual variables. As we seek to map some of the terrain of meaning and response to the environmental challenges we face in so many of our urban and rural habitats, we are learning from these projects, their cognitive effort is allied to our own through the posting of stories and images on the net. This both reassures and inspires, it challenges us to look again at our own activity and refine and clarify our argument so that we can pass it back into cyberspace. Whilst what we speak of is personal and bioregional, we recognise that it must describe our locality but also connect to the wider sphere. The connection is practical, not necessarily conceptual, we don’t assume collective thinking, we simply use the resource of the internet to post, and thereby put our piece into the wider circle of ideas. This is one of the transcendent properties of the google age, our work becomes both local and global because it illustrates effort to influence and change, but from very practical positions where the personal and the bioregional starting points. It connects global to local through community action, the connecting thread is people, the technology provides some interesting metaphors for us to examine in our own settings.

A case in point - Incredible Edible
Through our work we are discovering that there are many communities, both marginalized and mainstream, who are reinventing themselves on their own terms to respond to climate, environment, resource and population change. Out of necessity, they are learning to be self-reliant through their need to focus on the basic infrastructure for life. This survival imperative coincidentally enables those same places to be demonstrator sites for what might be called sustainable living, often right in the middle of urban environments[7].  They have to do this because the basic necessities of life; food, clean water, reliable energy are each in their own way proving to be difficult for such communities, either through lack of work to provide a source of income to purchase such goods, or through basic availability or cost.

What does exist as the common ground of the many projects happening in urban settings across the planet is a desire to redesign their community narrative and to reclaim community, as a social, cultural and economic foundation for living. It demonstrates a broader undercurrent of social activity, which is recognising the limits of the individualised, selfish capitalist model and preferring to develop the connections which can begin to grow community, interdependence and supportive networks. This is not action that is simply focused upon the creation of capital wealth, instead, it is a broader definition of wealth that recognises that for communities to flourish, they have to nurture some fundamental qualities within the local infrastructure (NEF 2009). These qualities become real in the actions of the people in the community. They might for example, focus on ideas about work, education, relationships, and place (Clarke 2010), whatever configuration that emerges they form an asset base, a set of connections which extend through a community in the form of a diverse and dynamic network, the more detailed and the more connections, the greater resilience the community demonstrates in times of change.

Some of these ideas serve to inform and motivate people involved in the Incredible Edible project in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.  The intention behind the programme was to enable people in the community to create together a different urban landscape where food was a critical component. The idea being that the town would demonstrate growing food can occur anywhere, and as a result, the culture of food growing would be urbanised, established as a common feature of the place, a normal, natural part of the landscape of living. Community food that is grown around the town is free, the idea is itself effectively ‘open source technology’, no-one owns the project, instead it is established on behalf of the community and inherent in its operation is an expectation for people to participate, bring their own ideas to the project and pursue them with others to achieve their goals, adding value to the project as it goes along.

There are a set of simple lessons we have learnt from this project over the last four years which I will rehearse here by way of illustration. I will then conclude this paper by reflecting on the possibilities of the next steps such work might take, and some questions these observations generate.

Finding a clear focus: our project has a focus on food, drawing together three different but complementary concerns, community, business and learning. In each case there are ways of connecting their activity to food, but we have discovered that the more there is convergence between the three elements, the greatwer the capacity for innovation, engagement and substantive change to occur.

Engage everyone: we have a saying in the project - ‘if you eat you are in’. It captures the simplicity of inclusion, everyone can participate, simply because they are consumers of food.

Thinking forwards: we are interested in the development of assets for the community which are long term, this means in some cases the transference of assets into a community accountable body such as a charity which holds on behalf of people in the town the asset base of resources which are required to ensure that local people can engage in the project - in our case this is specifically focused on land banking, identification and support of community growing spaces which can be used for public growing of food.

Encourage the conditions that generate diverse and complementary actions: whilst food is our primary focus of attention, there are a range of different activities which are required to combine and provide an infrastructure for a sustainable programme of community living. These include knowledge about growing, thought about transportation and frugal travel, water harvesting, passive solar energy, ensuring soil fertility, working with animals, ensuring self-reliant power structures, ensuring participation and access.

Identify group space: ensuring that the project enables and opens up possibilities for people to come with ideas and be able to be supported in their efforts to realise their aims in keeping with the broader goals of the project.

Finding the landspace: in our context, land is a precious and limited resource. Planting food in public land space challenges people to reconsider the whole idea of the built environment and ways in which growing can occur within settings which would normally be thought of as unproductive and ill suited to food production. In challenging the convention of growing spaces, we begin to see small scale solutions for food production which in time might translate to bigger practices.

Build on community memory: it is clear that the conversation of food production, growing and community agriculture is one which has happened over many centuries. However, recent generations have fallen out of favour with the experience and the idea of growing food as a necessity. We deliberately seek out the experiences of the older members of the community, many of whom have a direct and personal relationship with food growing, and who are able to provide both illustrative stories of the past local food history, and are able to inform us of the most suitable plants and trees to plant in our region.

Change the idea of local food production: the consumer society has generated a dependency for the supply of food from a small number of major producers. This has resulted in food being taken out of the public consciousness and instead being created as a commodity. The distance people have from their food sources are considerable, even global. While we recognise that there will always be food trade, it is sensible to examine ways in which the localisation of many foods can be reintroduced to reduce carbon emissions and ensure local work, better use of land, and enhance the quality of life within vulnerable communities. In our case we have deliberately begun to introduce food growing into school settings, we are building a hydroponic fish farm on the high school site, we are ensuring that there are growing spaces for community food production on the site to integrate the community life into the school community. We are doing the same thing on the site of the local health centre through an apothecaries garden. This raises public awareness of the potential for food production on and around the urban space.

Next steps in growing community
The claim that we are growing a ‘sustainable’ community is difficult to make in any programme of this kind because it has to be proven over a substantial time frame. The conditions for sustainable living are in fact far from where we are currently operating. However, at this stage we feel that there is an urgent need to raise awareness and willingness of people to begin to consider change in their lifestyles which in turn brings about broader social and cultural change. The diverse set of activities and approaches adopted in the programme enable a range of networks to be established which in themselves enable the project to become more resilient in times of challenge and change. This is an important first step towards a sustainable design.

There are other important components of the design which are now emerging as a result of reflection and discussion with other groups and organisations engaged in similar work elsewhere. The most intriguing and compelling at the moment concern operational structure. Our project at this stage is structured as a company limited by guarantee, we are moving however towards a new design, establishing the Incredible Edible project as a charitable organisation. This enables all of the activity of the project to function under one organisational arrangement, and it ensures that the project can be handed over time to future generations, rather than being linked to any single group of individuals. This organisational structure also has operational benefits, it means we are in a position to begin to consider the transfer of assets into the project. In our case we are interested in the transfer of land, as this has obvious longitudinal benefit for the community, can be established now and then developed as a community food resource for the duration. It also enables people to commit to the project with confidence that the idea is one which is intended to remain in the infrastructure of the community for a considerable amount of time. This might not seem particularly significant, but in a world where change is a daily occurrence, the stability of knowing that there is a land source available for people from all across the community to work with as a shared resource generates just the sort of wealth, networked wealth, community confidence wealth, community interest and invested wealth which deepens the resilient bonding needed if we are to make the project sustainable across a range of environmental, cultural, economic and social asset bases.

In this paper I have tried to illustrate how the concept of the ‘google age’ offers us an interesting way of visioning sustainability and future living. It does this in a direct way, through connection, enabling conversation to occur at a planetary level, and it also can do this at a symbolic level, presenting us with a way of understanding that we need not orchestrate everything and manage everything to enable ideas and solutions to converge and flow. The very fact that we are able to create the conditions for growing new communities that aspire to become sustainable and that they can galvanise the power of connectivity that the internet provides to inform and influence their cause is in itself a fascinating way of thinking about social change. Perhaps like the seeds of that change, we start with our tiny worlds and extend to the big realities, we do not as yet know what these activities might grow into, but the process of nurturing them will in itself teach us much about how we can begin to ensure more sustainable ways of living in our communities.

Braungart, M., and McDonough, W.  (2002) Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the way we make things. North point press. NY.
Clarke, P. (2009) A practical guide to a radical transition: framing the sustainable learning community. Education, Knowledge and Economy. 3:3: 183-197
Clarke, P. (2010) Community renaissance. In Coates, M. (2010) Educational Futures. London. Continuum
Clarke, P. (2010) Incredible Edible: how to grow sustainable communities, FORUM, 52(1), 69-76.
Lloyds of London (2010) Globalisation and risks for business: implications for an increasingly interconnected world.
Lovelock, J, [1979]. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford University Press
NEF (2009) A bit Rich – Calculating the real value to society of different professions without mental health. London. New Economics Foundation. net/wced-ocf.htm (accessed on October 12, 2009)
O’Sullivan, E. (1999) Transformative learning: Educational vision for the 21st century. Toronto. ZED books
Swimme, B.(1996) The hidden heart of the cosmos. Marynoll. New York. Orbis Books
World Bank (2010) Statistics Database

[1] World Bank Statistics Database, 2010.
[2] Lloyds of london (2010) Globalisation and risks for business: implications for an increasingly interconnected world.
[3] As demonstrated in the recent BT advertisement on UK television
[4] Hypothesis, Gaia theory or Gaia principle is a controversial ecological hypothesis or theory proposing that the biosphere and the physical components of the Earth (atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere) are closely integrated to form a complex interacting system that maintains the climatic and biogeochemical conditions on Earth in a preferred homeorhesis. Originally proposed by James Lovelock as the earth feedback hypothesis, it was named the Gaia Hypothesis after the Greek primordial goddess of the Earth, at the suggestion of William Golding, Nobel prizewinner in literature and friend and neighbour of Lovelock. The hypothesis is frequently described as viewing the Earth as a single organism. (source Wikipedia)
[5] Arthur C. Clarke predicted in Popular Science in May 1970 that satellites would one day "bring the accumulated knowledge of the world to our fingertips" using an office console that would combine the functionality of the xerox, telephone, TV and a small computer so as to allow both data transfer and video conferencing around the globe.
[6] In an ongoing Esmee Fairbairn study of Incredible Edible - from our core data we have identified a number of themes related to climate, environment, and resources and peoples personal responses to these issues.
[7] Examples are all over the internet, search community growing and you will get around 181,000,000 hits

Friday, 10 September 2010

link for booklet


link for the booket

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

new booklet available

We have redrafted the incredible edible booklet for 2010 to include a few new articles etc.
I f anyone would like a copy get in touch, I am trying to find a way to put it onto the site but its a big big file!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

permaculture convention

Just back form the permaculture convention.
High points include meetig up again with old friends many of whom I havent seen for a good while, and realising that my personal version of permaculture drawn from reading and doing things isnt a million miles from what folks are trying to do through the training. This got me thinking on the long trail home though, why do we always resort to training when we want to learn things, why take that route? I havre a great fear that permaculture ideas are being shepherded into a discipline, and if you havent done the course you cant play in the tent. Just a thought, but one to watch. Its got tons to offer, but it neednt be too precious, things are just too urgent for that.

nice piece from energy bulletin

I can save the world better than you, nyah nyah!

by Sharon Astyk
Average: 3.6 (8 votes)
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Let us start with persona, since one goes to any prizefight to see the metaphorical battle of two created characters, embodying sides, virtues, faults.
John Michael GreerJohn Michael GreerIn this Corna... John Michael Greer, owner (by a whisker over Bob Waldrop) of the finest beard in Peak Oildom, Archdruid, moral descendent of Toynbee and Gibbon, considerer of declines in centuries, not weekends. No Zombies for Greer - we are Rome, and we might as well deal with it, dammit. 
Rob HopkinsRob HopkinsAnd in this Corna...Rob Hopkins, beardless founder of the Transition movement, permaculturist, endless energetic optimist and municipal leader, student of the first half of the British century, bent of reorganizing his community and the world to adapt to energy descent. If we could live without that energy once before, well, we can do it now, and let's get at it.

For the record, I like them - and their work - both a lot. I met John Greer for the first time this summer, and immediately felt like I'd met my long-lost older brother - you know, the kind of person you like but can't resist bickering with. We have the same publisher, we agree 85% of the time - and we fight like cats and dogs when we don't. Once we were asked to blurb each other's books, at the same time we were having an online debate, and we ended up proposing mock-insult blurbs for each other. This, I think, is probably a good representative of our relationship.
Hopkins I've never met and am not likely to - both of us adhere to the "stay off the planes" policy for the most part, so the odds are low. But Hopkins and I have emailed back and forth and interacted from time to time. I've written things critical of the Transition movement, and have always been impressed by the good humored and thoughtful way he takes criticism, and by the enormous amount of work he does. It is impossible to overstate how impressive Hopkins' accomplishments in essentially creating the Transition movement are.
In some ways, I think of the three of us and some other people as the "second wave" of emergent peak oil writers - our accomplishments and worldviews are different, but as peak oil thinkers we have some essential commonalities. By this I mean that the first wave, which began in 1997 with Colin Campbell's publication of his first paper on peak oil, and included a large number of petroleum geologists (Keny Deffeyes), some political scientists (Michael Klare) and a mix of early-aware writers (Richard Heinberg), folks working out of their fields but doing important research (Julian Darley and Matt Simmons) and journalists (Jim Kunstler). That first wave of books was mostly about raising the alarm and awareness - and it was extremely effective and important. Most of us can date some measure of our awareness to books like _Twilight in the Desert_, _The Party's Over_, _Beyond Oil_ and _The Long Emergency_.
These books were mostly about raising the alarm, doing the difficult work of telling a public never educated about petroleum production or resource depletion how we know this might happen, why they should be worried, and what a post-peak future might look like. And they were enormously successful and important books, most of them published before 2005, and most of them still being read now by people who are still experiencing a sudden "oh crap" recognition of the data they are seeing.
The second generation of us came along around that time, I think, for the most part, give or take a year. We'd read the books. We had spent our time reading the latest figures and the data. We knew what the books said was true - and built from there. And we emerged precisely because all the first generation peak oil thinkers had already laid the groundwork for us. There was now a population, however small, of people who have grasped that the world can't go on this way - and that population was ready for a more complicated narrative of what that would mean for them. All of us began, I think from asking that question "what will this world look like?" And then "what do we do next?"
My first speaking gig was pretty much at the cusp of this moment of emergence into a new focus - in September 2006, I spoke at the Community Solutions conference on peak oil, the third one they'd ever held. The speakers included Heinberg and Darley, and both of them gave speeches they clearly had given often before - speeches explaining the issues, describing the resource problems, with lots of slides and data. And for the first time at these conferences, the audience wasn't that engaged - don't get me wrong, the presentations were good, but for the very first time, the audience had heard it before and had enough time to absorb the information. I think that's one of the reasons I was reasonably successful there - because I started from the implicit presumption that we all pretty much knew this stuff. A year earlier, I don't think I could have done that. Without building on those who came before me, I couldn't have done it.
The second wave of peak oil writers is a pretty weird group, frankly. There's Hopkins, a permaculturist professional optimist mantra is pretty much "if pre-petroleum Britain could do it, we can" and who spends a lot of time on pre-war Britain. There's Greer, the Druid and lover of long dead historians who sees in us falling empire a la Rome. There's me, the leftist feminist farmer/social history type who sees this in terms of a mix of home economics, social history and WWII agitprop. There's Dmitry Orlov, the funniest of us, the Russian boatman who sees in the US the Soviet Collapse. There's Nate Hagens, who sees this through an evolutionary psychology lens, with a focus on finance. There's Ran Prieur who is hard to categorize, but sees it all as kind of a zen thing, inevitable in human development. There's Amanda Kovattana who comes at this from a leftist, internationalist "stick it to Global Industrial society" perspective, and Nicole Foss who comes at this through money and energy like Hagens, but with a focus on finance and economic history. There are others too, I'm not trying to do a full cover the landscape here, just give you a sense of how weird this is (there's also a third wave, which I'll write about another time).
What's interesting about the second wave is that quite honestly, given our short summary identities, you'd think no one would read us. I mean that quite seriously - who the heck wants to view the fall of the world through a feminist literary domestic historian turned farmer turned science writer? If you were writing an ad "read the Toynbee loving archdruid about catabolic collapse" would probably not sell. I don't think you could pitch a book to an American publisher cold by saying "this is how the US is pretty much just like the Soviet Union, except not as healthy during the inevitable collapse." I know that when I started blogging I pretty much thought that maybe my Mom would read it - once. And yet, that's not what happened - for any of us.
Now you could use this as proof of the insanity of the peak oil movement, but I don't think so - or rather I don't think that's all there is to it. I think it was, instead, proof of something else - the desperate desire of many people to go from "here's what is happening" to "now what?" And there are a lot of answers to that "now what" question - a lot of different ways to look at the world, a lot of different ways to predict what will happen, a lot of different ways to organize, a lot of different ways to respond, a lot of different experiences to work from. And a surprising number of people have found that somewhere in the interstices between all of these rather strange worldviews, a common set of useful assumptions has started to emerge - not that any of us has a whole picture, but that between us, readers can begin to garner a worldview.
At the same time, each of us writers is locked up somewhat in our head and our experiences, with our sense - often strong sense - of what may happen and how it will happen. As writers, we are largely rewarded for unified worldview - that is, one of the things that gets people reading us is that we have a particular and unique vision that we can make into a coherent (or in my case, semi-coherent) narrative. This is extremely useful to a lot of people - because it helps them envision things. Through our writings and our eyes they come to look at the events unfolding differently. And my sense is that a lot of readers develop a complex, nuanced vision of how this works, precisely by looking through all of us second wave writers' eyes. Sure, we all have our primary adherents - people who read just us - but a lot of folks read us all, at least some of the time.
I think that's why I think the emerging consensus of almost all the comments on Greer and Hopkins' respective blogs about their battle over Transition vs. Green Wizardry is that both are probably more valuable than either one. Indeed, Hopkins and Greer have pretty much agreed that they agree on the most important things while still thinking that their disagreements matter. And that's probably good - but I hope that the pressure to emphasize agreements won't stop them from fighting. Maybe that's a weird thought, but it is true (I have faith that it isn't really a danger ;-)).
I too disagree with Greer and Hopkins - fairly regularly, actually. Some of the disagreements are trivial - I think a lot of Transition activities I've encountered function as the kind of spirit-building activities that I absented myself from as frequently as possible in high school. I love appropriate technology, but I admit, like Hopkins I don't think the best stuff ever came out in the 70 - some of it sure, (I still don't know why Hopkins goes hatin' on Ruth Stout ;-)), but I don't see the case for 70s publications over say, the work of Scott Kellogg and RUST in the present. This is totally trivial stuff, though.
Then there are the serious ones - I think Greer gets climate change really, really wrong, and have written before about why I think that is. I think his long view erases deep suffering in the short term, and focuses only on the rich world. I think Hopkins' refusal to deal seriously with a harder, faster crash possibility sometimes undercuts the potential utility of Transition - the deep problem I see with Transition is that it only works if there's plenty of time to make it work. I also think that the municipal level may be too large for many communities - that the most urgent work has to be done at the neighborhood level.
I think the criticisms we make of each other matter - and we deal with each other most fiercely probably when there's truth in those critiques. There is, frankly, truth in Hopkins' observation that the 70s appropriate technology may not be the best place to start. There is truth in Greer's point that just because you organize doesn't mean that your organization strategies actually will function in a decline. There is truth in the critiques they've levelled at me over the years.
Whenever these debates go on, a lot of people try to smooth them over by observing we all have more in common than not. And that's absolutely true, but maybe the difference matter more than they credit for. At the recent gathering where I met Greer in person for the first time, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Hagens, Greer and I were all together with Heinberg and a group of other people, trying to describe the future. And what we found was that those different lenses did lead to a 90% overlap in worldview. Most of what we were telling people was the same. Most of the strategies we were advising were mostly the same. In the end, the realities of peak oil, climate change and the consequences of our wild financial overextension led to a largely similar set of parameters.
That's why Greer's Green Wizards and Hopkins' Transitioners and my readers are all focused on shifting the food system. That's why Nate Hagens' sense that this is mostly our neurology pushing us down the wrong path and Prieur's sense that we are drawn to overextension by our inner natures are so close. This is why Nicole Foss, Dmitry Orlov and Amanda Kovattna are all so concerned with how people will hold on to housing. When you turn your head to the realities we are facing - a lot fewer resources, more people, a less stable climate, a less stable economy, environmental degradation, the stories aren't that different. All of us reject the idea of cartoon apocalypse. All of us reject the idea of techno-optimism. All of us live in the grey middle space of the future.
And at some level, all of us are consumed with the need to imagine that space and that future. I think all of us would probably agree that a future we can't imagine is the scariest possible place. Even the dark places of a society in decline are less disturbing than knowing that the stories you've been told about progress and techno-optimism are false, but not knowing what lies ahead, living in a world where all the maps of beyond just say "here be dragons."
I do not, however, want to emerge from this with a lyrical praise of our common ground, a sense that the differences don't matter. In fact, I suspect they do - I think there is real value in the battles, in what one commenter calls "dueling blogs" - and it isn't necessarily in the emergence, as we have here, of the clear common ground. Sure, that's useful, but you can get that from any one of us. What's most valuable instead is that between the second wave peak oil writers, the emerging third wave, countless others I haven't mentioned for lack of space and the continued and deeply important work of the first wave, between all those thinkers and their ideas, their investment in theory and worldview, and their organizations and the work they set out to do, there's a better picture emerging than any of us could have made on our own.
Greer thus chastizes me for having too short a view of history. I accuse him of erasing the suffering of the short view. Hopkins argues for community organizing strategies. Orlov points out that his direct experience is that those communities are self-organizing. And all of us are picking up on real faults in the thinking of others - not all the truth, but real faults sometimes, and new ways of thinking sometimes. The interstitial spaces have probably the greatest degree of truth in them - that the long and the short view will both be lived, that communities will both self-organize in unpredictable ways and be served by previous organization. The fighting is at least as important as the agreeing.