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Page added on July 31, 2014

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Dispatch From A Post-Carbon World: Planting The Seeds For A More Resilient Future

Whenever I buy grapes imported from Chile, fill my gas tank with fuel sourced in the Persian Gulf, or select underwear made in Thailand at a department store headquartered in Minneapolis, I can’t help but wonder how much longer we can all go on like this. That our survival hinges on the economic vitality of countless far-flung suppliers  of food, energy, clothing and other essentials gives me pause. So does our reliance on cheap oil, natural gas and coal to deliver that stuff to our doorsteps and keep us warm, cool or plugged-in once it gets there. Not to mention the equilibrium of our planet’s climate, now threatened by the relentless combustion of all those fossil fuels. One of my greatest fears is that, someday, our remote-controlled, global commodity delivery system will collapse, and we’ll all have to scramble to meet our basic needs.

One of my greatest fears is that, someday, our remote-controlled, global commodity delivery system will collapse, and we’ll all have to scramble to meet our basic needs.

It turns out that I’m not alone. United by concerns about Peak Oil, a warming planet and global economic instability, some 27 groups throughout New England — part of 151 groups in the U. S. and 477 worldwide that have formed since 2006 — are taking collective action to transform their communities into walkable, locally-resilient “Transition Towns.” Such efforts empower residents to produce and consume more of life’s essentials where they live, all while minimizing their reliance on fossil fuels. By shifting their hometowns from a global to a local economy through urban farming, community-owned solar power stations, local currencies and other grassroots enterprises, these groups are advancing an alternative, post-carbon world that’s more ecologically sustainable, economically robust and socially cohesive than the one we currently inhabit.

One such initiative, the Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition (JP NET), the only one of its kind in Boston, has been in operation for three years. Among other things, JP NET volunteers have turned a formerly vacant, crime-ridden lot into Egleston Community Orchard, a garden space where apple trees, raspberries, chard and other crops are grown sustainability. The Egleston Farmers’ Market, another JP NET-backed project, has brought hundreds of people of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds together to buy local produce, listen to live music, and meet their neighbors.

The majority of Transition Towns, in fact, have expanded or repurposed green space for local food production. In Healdsburg, Calif., volunteers have converted residential lawns into vegetable gardens — replacing sod with raised beds of everything from squash to kale. Other groups have generated their own renewable energy via rooftop and community photovoltaic and wind turbine systems. A Transition initiative in the South London district of Brixton spearheaded the city’s first community-owned solar power station atop a public housing complex, netting enough electricity last year to power 10 homes. Such efforts are reducing not only residents’ carbon footprints, but also the amount of toxins that end up in their air, water and soil.

On the economic front, some Transition Towns have introduced alternative currencies that drive consumers to local businesses. In 2012, JP NET distributed the Boston Bean, an alternative five-dollar bill honored by various JP merchants during the winter holiday season. Transition San Francisco introduced Bay Bucks in 2013. According to economist Michael Shuman, every dollar spent locally produces up to four times the economic benefit — in terms of jobs, income and tax revenue — than a dollar spent at a chain store.

“Time Banking,” another common form of local currency circulating in Transition Towns, enables participating residents to earn a “Time Dollar” for every hour of services they provide. Members of Transition Sarasota’s Common Wealth Time Bank exchange Time Dollars for services like childcare and home repairs.

A newly found inter-connectedness may be one of the greatest benefits of going local and weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels.

Transition initiatives are not only shoring up financial capital, but social capital, as well. Groups from Liverpool to Palo Alto have hosted “Transition Cafes,” informal gatherings to discuss such topics as renewable energy, transportation and climate change. Others have incorporated community-building into more hands-on activities. Australia’s Transition Newcastle organized a “Transition Streets Challenge to encourage neighbors to work together to use less water and energy and generate less waste.

A newly found inter-connectedness may be one of the greatest benefits of going local and weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. In his book “Deep Economy,” Bill McKibben writes of farmers’ markets, “The market begins to build a different reality, one that uses less oil and is therefore less vulnerable to the end of cheap energy. But, more important, the new reality responds to all the parts of who we are, including the parts that crave connection.”

One lawn-to-garden conversion at a time, one local currency transaction at a time, one farmers’ market conversation at a time, Transition Town residents are laying the foundations for a more resilient, post-carbon world. Collectively, they give me hope that, even if the global economy doesn’t hold up in the long run, we’ll be just fine.


16 Comments on "Dispatch From A Post-Carbon World: Planting The Seeds For A More Resilient Future"

  1. Plantagenet on Thu, 31st Jul 2014 8:34 pm 

    Economists find thar small farmers who sell locally in farmers markets use MORE oil, not less. The guy who grows a few veggies and chickens behind his house actually is MORE energy intensive then a large factory farm, even when you factor in greater distances of transportation. The big farms are just much much more energy efficient

  2. Makati1 on Thu, 31st Jul 2014 9:02 pm 

    Plant, do you REALLY believe what you say? I will not even try to show you how wrong you are because the wall between you and reality is too high and solid.

    As for the idea above, it is a start, but too late, I think, to ever be practical for large numbers of eaters. Most fruit and nut trees take 5 to 10 years to produce any quantity of fruit or nuts. But, maybe…

    We have been planting a variety of trees on our farm here in the Ps, and on the neighboring lands that are not occupied at this time. Everything from coffee, cacao, pecan, and mango, to kapok and teak. We have several annual crops growing at any given time, as the growing season is year round. We are still a few years from total self sustainability, I think.

  3. Name on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 1:03 am 

    Plant, I think that you are right, the small farmer who uses mini-tractors and whatnot on his farm and then SELLS his products is energy intensive. How about a small farmer that does all the labour manually and eats (most of) his own product?

    I bet in the study you refer to there was some provision for hauling products to market in a small pickup, take that out and the result will probably be a lot different.

    Of course the government can only tax so much someone who grows and eats his own products, hence is bad to the Economy, hence morally repugnant, nothing to include in any serious study.

  4. Arthur on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 1:58 am 

    Yesterday I enjoyed my first homegrown meal: potatoes (the homegrown part) with champignons and snippets of bacon, tasted excellent. Three months ago I planted 3 * 4 meter and last week harvested 6 kilo, that is 15 one person meals. No weed-picking necessary. No dung. That was easy. The onions, beets and red cabbage failed miserably, due to lack of fertilizing and birds. Will be addressed next season.

  5. Arthur on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 2:06 am 

    Plant has a point. I have to admit that I actually drove to the garden center (12 km back and forth) to buy my seed potatoes and harvest 6 kilo. That is not very energy efficient. Perhaps next time I will use my bicycle, no promisses.

  6. meld on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 7:09 am 

    Small farmers probably do use more fossil fuels in comparison, this is why local organic farming is a pile of shit and should in no way be confused with permaculture. Permaculture is finding ways to cut fossil fuel and outside inputs to near as zero as possible. Organic farming is just an excuse to make money through fear.

  7. Davy on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 7:28 am 

    Art, bird netting! I have blackbirds that will ruin my corn without netting.

    I have said this before that forget being economic with gardens at this point. Plant is being negative maybe because he does not have a garden. The point I see is we are in BAU so gardens are going to be BAU dependent. Sure, you can take gardens off the BAU grid but this is an effort over and above the normal BAU garden effort. Eventually in a contraction gardening will have to become a localized affair. I say this because we will need localized seed production. We will need to get fertilizer and other tools and supplies locally. My garden was expensive after I consider my material purchased, time, and then the electricity for water (well). I have a small pond I can access but until electricity is high price and unreliable I will use the well and soaker hoses. I am efficient with watering by only delivering water to the plant and not watering the weeds. The big motivation for me is not trying to save money, I didn’t, what is important is the established garden infrastructure and skills. You just don’t throw a garden together and expect good results. It takes lots of time and effort. Lots of research and daily chores. So do something. Food will be at a premium eventually and it will be needed to supplement your nutrition. I foresee some of us eating spam and hard briskets or military MRE’s. Not very inviting unless you are hungry

  8. JuanP on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 7:48 am 

    I garden in a very small scale year round, and have been doing it for 40 years. I admit I pay a lot for supplies sometimes, just out of laziness, and I always end up giving most of it away in time. My main goal in growing food is enjoying the process, eating and sharing the food, and learning and teaching how to grow it. That is my return on investment.
    Plant is right where my economic costs and ROI are concerned, my food must be quite expensive, but I am not even a very small farmer, just a gardener.
    Don’t get me started on the resources wasted on normal people’s yards.

  9. Arthur on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 8:08 am 

    Davy is right, it is all about changing behavior, not quick results. There is still some time left to prepare and change habits. This year 15 meals from my garden, next year maybe hundred. Producing is not everything, actually eating the stuff is another challenge. The soil is poor, needs to be upgraded, which means ordering a truck with, say 10m3 garden soil. Need to build wooden casings and indeed nettings. Next a freezer needs to be bought that can keep things frozen, even if the grid is gone for a couple of days. Skills for preserving food needs to be acquired. Have calculated that it should be possible to survive on 100 euro health insurance and 50 euro cable/internet, and, once solar panels and heat pump is installed, 50 euro utilities remain, if 18 degrees celcius is acceptable, in combination with lite-weight thermo wired body warmer without sleeves. With the mortgage long paid for and a basic Dutch state pension of 1100 euro, to be received in 8 years or so, and a garden of 130m2 no major ‘survival issues’ are to be expected, not even in de 2nd most densely populated country in the world.

    Not that I expect, let alone hope I have to live under such meagre conditions, but you cannot read sites like this one for years on end without suffering the

  10. paulo1 on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 8:23 am 

    It takes many years to establish a garden. Years. Rotation is a must. I put in a new potato bed this year on newly tilled pasture. Weeds weeds weeds. It will take me probably 3 more years to have it looking good. The plot is about 1/4 acre, with 90 hills per side (1/2). The crop will be rotated yearly, with one side fallowed and mulched. The entire bed is behind an 8′ barbed wire fence to keep elk out as they eat the tops and paw up the spuds….spite and vandalism I think. Got an elk draw this year so one will be in the freezer come Sept!!

    Processing 30 broilers next Wed. Cost is, or will be 3.75 per bird. These roasters sell for $25-$35 at the Co-op as they are somewhat free range and drug free. I made a plucker so we do our own which saves $4.00/bird. Funny, they have 16 hour per day access to the outside with shade and sunny spots. Most seem to prefer laying in their own shit with their heads in the feeder or water fount. Oh well, new sawdust today should fix it up.

    Does the garden pay? Probably not but it is what we do and what we eat. We use no chemicals, none…with extensive composting. Last year the scourage was flea beetles in the greenhouse. This year it is tomato worms. There is always something.

    Come October, when the freezers are full and the canning shelves bursting…it is all worth it.



  11. Arthur on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 9:11 am 

    Every hour you spend in your garden, you don’t have to spend in a silly workout gym 😉

  12. Davy on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 9:35 am 

    Yes, Art, but maybe a hour at chiropractor. Lol

  13. Northwest Resident on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 9:46 am 

    Small farming was a way of life and absolutely self-sustaining for thousands of years before the oil/industrial age began. So the basic premise that small farmers who sell locally in farmers markets use MORE oil, not less, is only true to a certain extent. Before oil/gas, we had thousands and probably millions of small farmers selling locally without ANY use of fossil fuels — it was done before, and it will be done again. My own backyard food production effort required a not insignificant up-front investment in materials (and grunt labor) — and a lot of oil/energy no doubt went into all those materials and delivery. But now that it is set up and operating, no more materials will be required — just seed and diligent composting. And like Arthur says — no health spa fees! Guys, if you want to get slim and trim and get those chest/arm muscles bulging, just grab a shovel and come on over. I am currently digging a 2′ deep by 16′ x 5′ hole to build my 2000-gallon rain capture water tank in — lots of digging left to do, but it won’t last long, come and burn your calories for free today!

  14. louis wu on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 9:48 am 

    Neoclassical economists say this, the ones with a vested interest in keeping the status quo going.even if they are correct for now the current system can’t keep going and at some point large scale farming simply won’t be possible, period.Of course then pretty much no one will be using much fossil fuel and food won’t be traveling much further than a few miles.

  15. Davy on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 9:49 am 

    NR, I have a skid steer you could barrow but freight is on you.

  16. Northwest Resident on Fri, 1st Aug 2014 9:57 am 

    Davy — Thinking of all the beef jerky (and dog food) I might be able to make from that steer after I’m done with him makes your offer very tempting. But then, that probably wouldn’t fit the definition of “borrowing”, would it?

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