Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - cold comfort food

It began last week. Not just the dip in the temperature, the closing in of night, the leaves turning gold and tawny in the lanes and the proliferation of mushrooms, but the unexpected appearance of those underground veg on the table. Although there were still cosmos and California poppy flowering in the gardens, winter had put his bony leafless hand on the pot and suddenly we were all thinking Roots.

At our Dark Mountain meet-up in Norwich last week, Jeppe (just back from Denmark) served up roasted veg - parsnip, swede, carrot - and Brussel sprouts. We all tucked in heartily to spicy and warming dishes of cous cous, quinoa and Puy lentils before discussing the hands-on practical side of the movement, here exemplified by Simon Fairlie's recent blog, Growing Up Dystechnic.

Our conversation was all about time. The time it takes to cook by hand, chop and watch the stove, to grind seeds and spices, using the ancient tool of the pestle and mortar (or in my kitchen a  volcanic Mexican molcajete). How those things link you in with other times and places and peoples in a way machine-mixed or  factory-made food can never do. How crafting the materials of life, including food, runs along another groove to gimme-now 24/7 consumerism. Time is what you need when you enter the slow cook, downshift winter. The days of quick tossed salads and leaves and the sweet and hot Indian summer dishes that were the focus of our Happy Monday's Mexican Fiesta are ceding to stews and soups and warm, wholesome stuff that requires a different attention. In the Chinese Five element system we're moving from the spleen "mother" foods (think pumpkin and sweet potato ) into the realm of the "father" (lung) where the tastes are pungent, strong and dark.

We will need to have recourse to this robust simple fare because out there the weather has been dire. The worst autumn on record, declared the Farmers Weekly, as growers everywhere are struggling to get their potatoes out of the ground, roots are rotting, leaves suffering from mildew and barley struggling to come through water-logged land. Across the UK and the world  food prices are rising. Animals are being mass-slaughtered as the price of feed, after a summer of drought in the US and elsewhere, has risen prohibitively.

Here a bag of organic potatoes that cost us £8 last year is now £24. Malcolm, who has been providing us with a box of veg for nine years has almost no apples, no parsnips, small onions and smaller potatoes, says it is unlikely we will get a box in the new year.

There is one bright green light ahead however:  the brassicas may yet be all right, he tells us.

Cabbage is one of our low-carbon winter mainstays. Somewhere around now I can't get enough of those greens: kale, Brussel sprout tops, wrinkly and straight cabbages, all for putting in the stew pot or for steaming and dressed with olive oil and lemon, or tamari and sesame seeds. Or best of all making endless creative varieties of coleslaw. Here is an economical, quick to prep, slow to cook recipe that warms up every meal. Enjoy!


1 small red cabbage, roughly chopped
I cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 red chili, whole
Handful of raisins
1 tsp of juniper berries, crushed
1 tsp of mixed spice
I sprig of fresh thyme  
I bay leaf
I tbsp redcurrant jelly (or similar)
1 tbsp of honey or agave syrup (brown sugar also OK if you use sugar)
Half cup of cider vinegar
Half cup water 
Salt and black pepper to taste

Method: put cabbage and apple into an earthenware pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to make sure everything is evenly coated. Slow cook for one hour in the oven. You can also cook this on top of the stove. Just bear in mind this dish, like a lot of slow-cooked meals, gets better the next day. You can adjust the seasoning before serving too depending on how sweet or sour you like your cabbage. Take out that bay leaf and chili, unless you like surprises!

Pictures from our Happy Monday, Mexican Fiesta and Medicine Soup by Mark Watson. Bookings are now open for Sustainable Bungay's next community meal on 19 November on Winter Comfort Food.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Communications - Meeting up

This month we made two trips to the city. One to meet up with This Low Carbon Life bloggers to celebrate our third birthday at the Bicycle Cafe and the other for our monthly discussion with fellow Dark Mountaineers. At both the main topic was community convergence.

So this is a small on-the-ground post to remind ourselves that no matter how hard things become, especially economically, it's really good to meet up and share stuff and know you are not on your own. Even though our tendency is to shut down in tough times, we need to head out in the cold and the dark sometimes, and know there is a group of people talking about subjects that get scant attention in the mainstream media, or even in our ordinary daily circumstances. Projects, events, feelings, reflections we can feedback on and share. What struck me was the warmth and stability and coherence of these meetings. How we went home through the rainy back roads and wild winds smiling. How it hadn't always been like that in the city. And now it was.

At our Dark Mountain meeting Jeppe told us about Trade School and The Common Room where he and Vanessa and Mark are giving classes on the prototype day at St Lawrence's on November 10; Vanessa explained how Occupy Norwich segued into the local progressive community meet-up, Visions for Change, and the ethos behind the ex-airfield community space in Berlin. At our Bloggers meeting, Chris Hull talked about FarmShare, the restarting Transition Circle West, and the great success of the third Magdalen-Augustine Celebration, Jon talked about Norwich Community Bees (now tucked up for the winter), John about the Ceilidhs he organises at the Keir Hardie Hall, Simeon about a recent TN meeting at Inner Space and how the Economics and Livelihoods group's visioning in St Augustine's had led to the creation of The Stage Community Centre (hopefully we'll hear more about all these on the blog later on).

Since we all lead very different lives in different locations, in the city and out, it was a rare treat to meet off-line and kick back for a couple of hours without an agenda. How else do you find out first hand (from Chris Keene) about Zero-Carbon velomobiles? Or what life is like during the cuts at a regular office, or trying to find work as a graduate? Or, for that matter, as a 50-something grassroots journalist/editor.

So for me, it's always about becoming our own media. Writing for this blog, now in its fourth year, editing the new Transition newspaper, but also going out, meeting up, catching up, asking questions, listening, and in many cases, giving each other an opportunity to speak directly: Here is fellow artist and Dark Mountaineer, Kevin Hunn's video for the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts, shot at the Magdalen-Augustine Celebration, to encourage people to march in London the following weekend:


Top image: Chris Hull (right) and other participants in Waiting, Shifting, Shopping at Magdalen-Augustine Celebration

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

EARTHLINES 2: A Time of Gifts

Last week Issue 3 of EarthLines, a new "culture of nature" magazine emerged out of the publishing croft of Two Ravens Press on the Isle of Lewis. In it are stories about real coyotes and mythical ravens, Scottish rivers, English allotments, poetry and paintings that track the Northumbrian coast and East Anglian fenlands. There is also a column I have been writing (Life in Transition) called  Exit from Fairyland (but you will have to buy the real thing to read it!) Here is my second one in Issue 2 to whet your appetite:

I am in the woods outside Norwich on a January day with a gang of kids from Catton Grove, a huge primary school in a rough-and-tumble part of the city. I’m here as part of an arts and Transition teach-in, exploring peak oil and honey bees, reconnecting with nature and planting some of the apple varieties that used to grow in the Grove before it was tarmacked over.

Most of the children haven’t been in woods before, and for sure have not been let loose in them. They are wild for it. We have split up into tribes, named after some of the rarer creatures that shelter here, raft spiders and dormice, and performed small plays in the woodland theatre. I am with the Nightingales. We wear crowns of hazel and pheasant feathers and squeeze into our host’s tiny off-grid wood cabin when it starts to rain. Everyone is bursting with questions: How do you dry your clothes? How do you catch the fish? Yuck! say the girls, as they watch her gut a pheasant. Cathy, originally from Zambia, tells them everything about the animals, about the Palaeolithic peoples who used to live on this land. They do not move away.

Afterwards I walk back down the track with Vernon. That's not his real name. I don't remember his telling me his name (this was two years ago now). But I do remember two things about that day. The first is how the ‘deprived’ and ‘difficult’ children responded the best to this wild and creative environment and really came into their own. The second is the question Vernon asked me:

‘I love this feather,’ he says.
‘Can I keep it?’
‘Of course you can,’ I say.
‘How much does it cost?’ he asks.
‘It doesn’t cost anything,’ I tell him. ‘It’s free.’

That’s the rub about our market culture. Everything comes at a price. In some ways, the pheasant also has a price on his head. In East Anglia he is big business. People will pay up to a thousand pounds a day to shoot him and all of his tribe. One day Vernon will have a price on his head too. He will be £6.50 an hour if he’s lucky, or he will get to be called worthless and a scrounger and be paid £50 a week. No one will value the way he was once a nightingale and sang from deep within a blackthorn bush.

To truly ‘reconnect with nature’ does not mean living in the woods, it means living with the values of the free, re-establishing a collective value system that is not based on scarcity and debt, but on the abundance of the earth. Living in a world where people and birds are not market commodities, but integral to the living, moving, breathing fabric of the planet. If you live within that abundance, you are never poor. You live like the tribe, within the richness of life itself. Rain, laughter, imagination, the closeness of trees and your playmates. The delight of having a physical body, of being alive, of having a heart that can feel and connect with all life forms, that can trace in its mind’s eye the sky path of a bird now flying across the ocean from Africa. That remembers that this small insignificant bird will return to these woods in April, as he does every April, to sing a song that makes all the world stop in its tracks.

Peak money 
The rain is pouring down in Hoxton Square. The great London planes shakes their new leaves and people stand drenched in doorways. It is an unseasonable and strange spring. Inside the room, fifty of us are sitting listening to Phoebe Bright from Ireland telling us how the financial crisis is driving the country into despair: we have lost the run of ourselves, she says.

We are at a Peak Money day organised by the Transition Network – discussing alternative currencies, REconomy projects, timebanking, credit unions, a mix of initiatives to reclaim the economic commons, away from the private banking sector that controls 88% of our finances. One thing is clear: to get back to our original relationship with the earth, we have to break the spell of money. We have to relearn how to live within the gift economy, the art and skill of sharing ‘goods and services’ that used to come for free, to act within the complex weave of relationships that make such an economy possible. Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, calls this the shift into adulthood, when we stop playing with our technological toys and being fascinated our own reflections, and start using our gifts for real. It entails the breakup of a childish world. An ordeal in some way. It’s hard because we are a market people, a city people. We have monetised all things on earth – air, water, food, animals, the seeds we plant in the ground, the minerals under the ground, the genetic makeup of our bodies. Everything we do, we do in the name of profit. We emulate the rich, we despise the poor. This bird, this child, this wood, has value only insofar it can bring us financial reward. Every day we bow down to Mammon. We forget absolutely what all scriptures and native prophesies say about a people who are entranced and enslaved to a material world. Some of us, however, are waking up to reality.

Since the banking crisis and the emergence of movements like UK Uncut, Occupy, and Move Your Money, we are becoming much smarter about the spell-making behind money. How it is conjured out of thin air, how the financial high priests shape the physical world to their benefit, how mainstream media and governments serve their interests, and pillory anyone who dares challenge their absolute rule. Money enables you to control your world, and, as Charles Eisenstein says, in a hostile environment, where you are not connected to nature or other people, money buys you some kind of protection. Money enables us to fly round the world and treat life as something we put in a shopping basket. But it doesn’t bring companionship or connection. For that we have to drop our belief in its power. We have not to look at each other in terms of property or income or status, but in terms of our deeper values, our skills and generosity and intelligence, we ways we make each other laugh, the vibration we bring into a room.

Living within the context of a shift makes having less, kinder to bear – not just for ourselves, but for everyone on the planet. This is not just about using Freegle or volunteering at FoodCycle. You can do those things and still worship Mammon. It’s about undergoing a radical change in cultural values. No longer putting your attention into maintaining a fossil-fuelled lifestyle and putting Them down, but making connections with the neighbourhood, reclaiming the commons, valuing street trees, allotments and community kitchens. It’s a culture about We, because it depends on Us to work, a sense of being in the world together. Not Me against you.

Listening to another story 
At the Peak Money day there is another story told by Filipa Pimentel from Portugal. In her region a quarter of the population live below the poverty line and there has been a 89% rise in unemployment. This isn’t about whether collapse is going to happen. It is already here. But people are returning to the land and pooling their resources, running events where everyone co-organises, brings food, makes chairs out of pallets and straw.

This is the other story, the way we get back on track. In this culture, in different countries, we share stuff as a way of life. We lend each other tools and pass on our skills, we forage, glean, put on ‘Give and Take Days’ for the community to exchange goods without any money, to swap seeds and plants, produce and knowledge. Living in a transition culture makes you bold and free in a way that living within a market culture cannot, bound as it is by the shame of poverty and the desire to control everything. I can go to my neighbours to borrow a stepladder. People give us furniture and clothes. Our local grocer lets us have food he cannot sell. Sometimes a pheasant that has been run over finds it way into our pot. The cupboard is filled with tinctures and jams made from the hedgerows around the house – wild cherries, damsons, sea buckthorn – the logs in the basket from the dead elms.

There is a lot of happiness in these moneyless exchanges. Because somewhere deep inside everyone is that song, that desire to give to life. We like to be generous. We are taught to be mean and possessive, but we long to give, to have those small conversations over the fence, to break out of a mindset that keeps us locked away from life and from each other. Somehow we have to learn not to be fearful, and get in line with all the wild things and ecosystems of the planet. Nature works because everything is intimately connected and depends on everything else. It works by exchange. You take, you give back; you give, you receive. That’s the lesson you learn in the ordeal: there is a bargain you make with life on this planet. It’s a hard bargain, something you might come across in the old folk tales or stories of initiation, but in truth can only undergo.

When push comes to shove, you give your gift. What you are born with, what you have in your hands at the end of the day. You give it all away. That’s the deal. What do I give? I write. I write in praise of everything I see. I write in praise of the people who are learning to love their neighbour and not worship Mammon. I write for Vernon and the bird flying thousands of miles towards the small wood from Africa. It’s a story that has cost me everything to tell, and yet gives me everything I need in return.

Because the song does not just belong to the bird.

Cover of EarthLines Issue 2; Wish list from Occupy camp, Finsbury Square,London; shared quinces, Suffolk

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Firm

Last week on the Social Reporting Project we looked at the role of the Transition Network within the wider network of people involved with the movement. We  looked at several of its aspects from the movers and shakers to its communications system. Here is mine focussed on the Board:

My name is Charlotte and I am in Transition. Maybe I should rephrase that and say I’m in the Transition movement, or the Transition network (small n). One thing is for sure: I’m in a Transition initiative that is five years old this November.

Originally we were turned down by the Network (cap N) as an official Transition town. We then became one of the few initiatives in the UK to be unleashed, though our projects are small and unfunded and ignored by the local council. We have never been mentioned in the Network’s monthly dispatches. From the outside we would be dismissed as white and middle class by one set of people, and a bunch of hippies by another. Not “fit for purpose” either way.

The truth of the matter is however we are a group of people who would have never met and worked together otherwise. We do ordinary things in extraordinary times. The effects of what we do are subtle and unquantifiable. We sit each month in a circle and discuss our events - bees, recycling, food, films, pig club, green drinks. We are from all classes and ages, upper to lower, 20s to 70s. At our community table the proud and the meek sit down together, pensioned, low-paid, unemployed, house owner, renter, Tory and Marxist, hunter and vegan. We make ourselves at home in each other's compnay. If you asked the group: are you in transition, a movement, or a network? most would smile and shake their heads: we’re in Sustainable Bungay, they would reply.
into the fire
My name is Charlotte and I am in Sustainable Bungay. I start here because in order to write about the Network as a social reporter, I have to begin in my initiative (or one of them). Few in my group know about the Network, use the website, read the books, go to the Conference, or engage in any of the Ingredients or Tools. When I asked if anyone would like to come and hear Rob Hopkins speak about The Transition Companion last November my neighbour turned to me and said:

Who is Rob Hopkins?

When I told Rob Hopkins that he laughed. That's perfect, he said. We were giving him a lift to Norwich station the next day and he was telling us how his house burned down in Ireland and how he had become wary of entangling his family too much in Transition as a result.

I am in Transition the network (small n) because, like Mark and Josiah in my group, I have made it my business to be. I have immersed myself in Transition culture for five years. I have made contact with the people who work for Transition at three Conferences, and know them as comrades, “engaged in actions on the edge of consciousness” as the chair of the Network, Peter Lipman described it. I don’t know Peter, and yet somewhere I do. His commanding attention and presence hover over the movement, like an eagle, that some might mistake for a CEO. But that's not what I recognise in him, or any of the people who have put themselves on the line for the movement.

We know, as many of us in Transition do, but rarely say, what it is like to live in a burned house and have people be wary around what you do. The toughness and beauty and the opportunity it brings. Thanks to this awareness I have taken part in discussions about The Transition Companion and Peak Money. The Network has given the Transition Free Press crew £1000 to help fund the preview issue of the newspaper, I have worked with Ed Mitchell for six months to set up this blog and received expenses to meet all the reporters and to go on line at my house. I am not in the Network but I am in the network. When I imagine the map of Transition I see dots of light in towns and cities around the country, and a circle in the West that is Totnes. I want to open the circle and join those dots up.  My business within the network is as a connector. No one gave me the job, it’s just what I do wherever I go. Just like Josiah and Mark.
From the air
One of the most damaging effects of specialist culture is that we do not see what goes on behind the scenes. Goods and services are available on-lline. Events and entertainment appear like clockwork. Food arrives at the supermarket, petrol in our tanks. We judge everything by its show, as consumers. We are critical without appreciating the work that goes into creating all these things. Sometimes we don't care to. Once you know the workings of something, you have to take responsbility for your role within it.

This week we are looking at the Network in order that we understand its function better, and to define on our part. We have already focused several of our weeks on its different strands: Transition Training (Naresh Giangrande) Inner Transition (Sophy Banks), REconomy (Fiona Ward), as well as the role of the TN website (Ed Mitchell). Most of the staff and board members have written blogs for us from Steph Bradley on Rank and Privilege to Ruth Ben-Tovim on the role of the arts in Transition. For today’s post, I spoke with three trustees on the Board: Peter Lipman and William Lana, who have been on the board since 2006, originally with Rob and Ben Brangwyn (who have since stepped down) and Sarah Nicholl who joined in 2010 when the Board were looking for people who were deeply immersed in their local initiatives. We had three long intense discussions and though I cannot fit our dialogues within this post, this is a fusion of those conversations.

We wanted as a crew to explore the nature of the organisation in the collaborative spirit of social reporting. Eco-systems and human cultures work when all parts are in touch with each other and in communication. As a communicator I wanted to find the connections between the official Network and the unofficial network, in which it is embedded. Because no matter how you swing it: you don’t get one without the other.
at sea
To look at an organisation you need to look at its structure, and the people who take up the roles within that structure. The Transition Network is a registered charity. It has (paid) staff members and a board, as well as affiliated individuals, such as Filipa Pimentel (national hubs) and Isabel Carlisle (education) and Nick Osborne (group facilitaiton) and the Conference organisers, who work on a freelance basis (both paid and unpaid). The board has eight members all of whom have been selected on the grounds of their skills and experience in areas of economics, diversity, community, systems knowledge, the arts, inner work and employment, among others.

The board meet six times a year. Four regular meetings in three locations (Totnes, Bristol, London) and two “awaydays” in Totnes where they meet with staff over a weekend, generally hosted by Sophy Banks and Naresh Giangrande. These are opportunities to deal with specific issues and to “get their hands dirty”, as Peter described it. The subjects range from diversity to strategy to inner work, and include workshops, constellations and celebrations.

The Network is grant-funded, though a small amount of money comes from the sale of books and films and the trainings. As a consequence a good part of the agenda is around financing and fulfilling their obligations to the funders. Like a ship that has to change course according to the prevailing winds, the Board is also engaged in a continual process of self-examination. Is the Network doing the right thing? It uses the annual conference as a weathervane to find its direction in the rough ocean of the world. In 2009 this was diversity, in 2010 financial collapse, in 2011 social enterprise, in 2012 international expansion.

At present the Board are looking at the structure of the Network and themselves (there is no official term of office or a rotating chair). After two years of negotiation they are bringing a director on board who will keep the ship on course and the crew more coherent. They will also shortly be publishing a long-awaited communications strategy. It is recognised that the exciting cutting edge phase of Transition needs to cede to establishing resilient and flexiible procedures that can withstand the rocky road ahead. More hardy perennials putting down roots, than annual plants throwing out seeds and breaking ground.
On the ground
Many people who criticise the Network see it as an entity like the Government, an abstract "Them" whom we are powerless to communicate with or influence.  But of course it’s not: it’s a small group of people configured in a certain way in order to hold a large organisation together and make it work more effectively. The charity structure of board, staff and volunteers could be seen as a bit clunky and stiff and behind-closed-doors for a grassroots movement that is in a constant state of metamorphosis. Most Transitioners would not describe themselves as “volunteers” and unlike most charities which are tapped into the status quo and business-as-usual, none of us really know where we are headed, or whether this "social experiment" will work.

What we have in common is a knowledge that this is the best opportunity we have right now of working something out together on a local and national level. Everyone I spoke with shares a sense of urgency and a need to support initiatives more clearly. The Network however is a  small organisation with few resources, and so its scope is limited.

On the ground there is little recognition of this: sometimes there a resentment that some people are getting paid to do things that others have to do for free, that there is a Totnes mafia, a tyranny of structurelessness, that it is too academic, too corporate, not corporate enough, that decisions are being made without consultation, that the "leadership" is enjoying life at the top while the rest of us struggle unrecognised, that the model doesn't work, that no-one gets back to inquiries, that “They” should do this and that for us, should come and sort out this mess my initiative is in! And how come you never told us it would be so hard?

The truth of the matter is that Transition not been done before. This is a creative act and like most creations, has emerged assymetrically and organically from its material – a civilisation in a state of entrophy. It doesn’t fit the known industrial world: it is quirky, intelligent, frustrating, good-hearted, prolific, and not always that efficient. In short, awkwardly human.

At the 2011 conference workshop on Financial Collpase, led by Peter and  Naresh, there was a fevered demand for a workbook about the financial system. How can we talk to people in our communities about money? everyone asked. It was responded to, but with a marked reluctance to behave in a proscribed, top-down manner:
We are not policemen. This is a bottom-up movement we can’t tell people what to do. (PL)
The strong language used at the conference wasn't backed by a willingness in people to do it themselves (WL)
This is a key question: What do we want the Network to do for us that it is not doing? More than books and films, conferences, courses and resources posted on a website? Mostly we want, if we are honest, someone to take the pain away about the houses we see burning all around us and the people we love who look at us askance. We want someone to take the rap and all the responsibility. We like talking, but not necessarily acting. We are consumers and specialists, and Transition forces us to be activitsts and generalists and, more obliquely, to suffer as we shift towards a partnership culture. We have, brothers and sisters all, to do it for ourselves. And once we have figured that out and accepted that it’s just us in the room and the cavalry are not coming, what then? Is this really a client-server relationship we are engaged in, or do we have the beginnings of a different kind of organisation? There is talk of a federation of national hubs, but what about a national hub here as Jay suggested? Who is talking for the initiatives within the network to the Network?

My name is Charlotte and I wouldn’t be telling you my name if I wasn’t in Transition. I am tapped into a network of people that is Sustainable Bungay, and also Transition Norwich, that is the social reporters and their initiatives, that is hundreds of readers and conference-goers and thousands of people I don’t know and yet I know are there. It is a network of small lights that stretches across these islands, and is sparking alight elsewhere across the globe. We hold these pilot lights inside ourselves and in our groups, in our towns and cities, and when we meet up we make a fire. Every month I sit down alongside my fellows, come rain or shine. We share a language, the shape of our meetings, of core group and sub-group, the concepts of gift economy and co-operation. These came from the Network and from its creators. This network turned my life around. It’s turned thousands of people’s lives around. We walk out alone from our meetings, and yet we are connected. These connections are everything. Because a network is the dots and the connections and the people who make them.

This is not a feel-good moment in a workshop. This is for real. Let’s not blow it.

Richard sweeping up after a Sustainable Bungay Give and Take Day observed by Monty; The Happy Mondays kitchen crew at the Mexican Fiesta, September 2012; Josiah and Mark on the bus to the 2012 Transition Conference; oeter Lipman chairs the Peak Money Day; Sarah Nicholl with Transition Belsize in the Transition Companion; William Lana on the Atmos Project; Transition Conference (Mike Grenville)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - the foragers

One of the greatest gifts of Transition is rediscovering the simple joys of doing seasonal things together - cooking, cycling, swimming in the sea, having a picnic. They bring sense and meaning into everything we do. Nothing though is quite as delightful and satisfying as foraging - going out into the wild territories and finding stuff to bring home and eat. This Spring the cookbook was all about leaves and energising wild salads, the Summer about flowers and refreshing drinks, but as Autumn stormed in our focus switched to the fruits of the hedgerows. We set out into the lanes and commons collecting berries, nuts and roots.

In Sustainable Bungay we served foraged blackberries at our Happy Mondays Mexican fiesta and talked about Autumn Berry tonics made with sea buckthorn, elderberries and rosehips at our September Plants for Life workshop.

Our wild kitchen discovery of 2012 has been hawthorn leather. Here is Mark's first sculptural attempt. The second batch sweetened with apple worked a treat. Medicine for the heart and stomach.

Nothing, however, beats mushrooming.

This Sunday Josiah, Nick, Janet, Mark and I set out at sunrise to Outney Common in search of breakfast. It was fairly slim pickings but a great morning's foray. We found oak milk caps under the trees and parasols along the path, alongside ghosts of the summer meadowsweet and a bright blue patch of devils' scabious. The river Waveney winds through the dry and wet territory of the common, like a slow and friendly snake. One of the best swimming holes in the valley is down here.

"Usually you find the best mushrooms at the last minute," said Josiah as we crossed the footbridge home by the massive distribution centre of Clay's printing works. And true to form we did. There on the green under the lime trees were several fairy rings and two cracked boletes. Oh, and a sign saying Help Yourself to windfall cox apples. Janet filled her basket.

This weekend Nick will be showing Low Carbon cooks from Norwich and Bungay how to make fruit wines and root beers. He's planning to demonstrate his famous late raspberry wine in three stages and also how to start off a dandelion and burdock beer. Stay tuned for the write up next week.

Meanwhile if you would like to join the TN blog team, or come and celebrate our third birthday tomorrow with us and discuss the future, do swing by the Bicycle Cafe at 6.30pm. Come and have a dance too at the Keir Hardie Hall, starting at 8pm. Hope to see you there!

Monday, 15 October 2012

A School of Apples

At Green Drinks we are looking at a map. It's no ordinary map of roads and houses and municipal buildings. It's a map of a community orchard, showing 100 fruit trees - apple, pear, quince, plum, cherry, damson, medlar - that were planted two years ago in the village of St James in Suffolk. Rob Parfitt who helped create the orchard is describing how a group rented the land (originally an over-grazed part of the common) and planted the trees, set around a restored shepherd hut which serves as an information centre and informal gathering space. The hardest thing, he said, was not the thistles in the ground, or raising the funds, but persuading the village to agree.

"People will just go in and take the fruit!" someone objected.
"That's the idea," he replied.

Last year, before one of our films held in the neighbouring village, some of Sustainable Bungay went and visited the newly planted site. Originally Rob said, the inspiration for a Village Orchard was romantic and Arcadian. Their choices for fruit were based on childhood memories and varieties that were locally known. The group had not thought about the future - who would look after it, or who the fruit might be for. Since coming into contact with Transition (Christine, his wife, is one of our Happy Mondays cooks), he was looking at the trees in a different light. In terms of local resilience. Most of the trees had been planted on dwarf stock, as the village had wanted "to see results", but some had been planted on M25s. Who knows who might benefit when those great fruit and nut bearers have reached their prime?

Behind us in the back room there is a tray of unknown apples, recently collected from a local school (who had no use for them) by Roger, Cathy and Nick. After the meeting we will all take some home. It's part of our Abundance project, which regularly redistributes produce at our events and at a table at our Happy Mondays community meals, and at the Library Community garden. As Apple Day (October 21) approaches, now is the time to start storing apples up for the winter. My own larder now has trays of scrumped, foraged, roadside stall and Abundance apples stacked beneath the shelves, perfuming the kitchen. One of the first things that sparks the imagination in Transition is its practical and poetic reconnection with neighbourhood trees, planting fruit and nut trees in urban spaces and holding apple pressing events. Abundance gathering and redistribution projects, large and small, have been cropping up all over the country.

There is a huge inertia about collecting and gathering our native fruit and these enterprises help galvanise interest and connect us with our native roots. Industrialised to the max, we would rather buy apples flown in from New Zealand in a plastic bag from a supermarket than make good use of the fruit lying freely all about us. At Green Drinks Eloise told us that at her local primary school the School Council (made up of pupils) voted against planting fruit trees around the playground "because of wasps" (so much for education improving your intelligence!). Eloise who organises a team of "eco warriors" at the school has said the team are going to change their minds!

Not all institutions however are disconnected from nature. Recently the Norwich Steiner School began fruit-collecting and preserving alongside the Norwich Abundance Project and we were sent a press release about the project, written by one of the (14 year old) students involved. Do get in contact with them if you would like to take part. Here it is:

Norwich Abundance
by George Thorley, Elder Class, Norwich Steiner School.

Norwich abundance is an urban fruit harvest project. Abundance began in Sheffield in 2007 finding all unused fruit trees and sharing the fruit with the public. This was to help show that fruit is being wasted each year and left to rot.

The new upper school of Norwich Steiner school recognised that they wanted to make people aware of the vast amount of fruit produce that is being wasted every day in the UK and other countries. There are lots of fruits being imported from New Zealand and other countries with a large carbon footprint, instead of using our seasonal glut of local fruit.

Norwich Steiner school upper school students, during September and October, are picking unwanted fruit and then this will be distributed to people who may not have access to fresh fruit. With any extra “fruit” we are making jams, chutneys, juices, and more. Alys Mendus, our teacher and project leader, said “We’re giving away the good apples then making the bruised ones into chutney and juice, that will be sold."

“The money that we make is going to fund the project, and any profit is going into our class and the school,” said class member Barnaby Taylor.

We are working with Transition Norwich who have been recording where fruit trees are. So we can help them map out fruit trees as well as picking fruit. Our class has created posters and these have been emailed to parents and others who are in the school mailing list. We have also made a flier that will be distributed to people in the local area and some shops in Norwich.

Get in touch with the school if you are willing to help us in this quest. Or if you have trees or know of any where the fruit needs picking, or if you have any queries get in touch with us. Those people who offer us their fruit will get them picked for free, then, we will offer them some of the fruit and take the rest for processing and distribution. So please get in touch if you are interested, and help us start picking!

Norwich Steiner school: 01603 611175 Email: info@norwichsteinerschool.co.uk

The fruits of Transition: map of St James Village Orchard; damson tree at Cathy's orchand  Ditchingham (Charlotte Du Cann; NR3 urban foraging map (helen of norwich; drawers of apples.Thorpe St Andrew (Bee Springwood)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

1001 blogs and other tales

Last week on This Low Carbon Life we celebrated our third birthday. 1001 blogs on Transition and still posting! Rather than reading them backwards here, I'm listing the days I contributed to in one post in sequence. They document the different strands that make up a community blog and why I feel that "comms" is so key in Transition:

Today I'm writing our 1001st blog. We started This Low Carbon Life with a party and three years later the invitation is still open, as we celebrate our third birthday on 17 October at the Bicycle Cafe and the Keir Hardie Hall. Since then we have documented every aspect of resilience from allotments to zero waste. We have written short and long, nonchalantly, passionately, politically, in gritty black and white and in full-colour.We have looked at the big picture and the small print - from the impacts of global climate change to mending a kettle in our downshift kitchens.

This year in our topic weeks we looked at sustainable relationships, Transition documentaries,energy, buildings, blogs, trees, music, economics and livelihoods and development. We reported back from Norwich FarmShare, the Community Bees project, Low Carbon Cookbook and many encounters with the natural world - still our top subject (see Reconnection with Nature tag). Chris Hull's A Love Affair with Place became one of the Talkback comments on the new Transition Free Press; while Kerry, Charlotte and Mark have become full-on national bloggers on the Social Reporting Project (both publications inspired by work on this blog).

Since 2009 there have been 15 regular bloggers, who have contributed to this site, as well as many guest bloggers from Norwich's progressive quarters and neighbouring Transition initiatives. So hats off to all of us! It has been an extraordinary and productive commmunity enterprise and has inspired many people, including, of course, ourselves. Communication is a big part of resilience and opportunities to "show and tell", especially in a shared creative context, are increasingly valuable in our controlled,  locked-down culture.

Who knows where we will go next? As people have migrated to other projects - FarmShare, Magdalen Street Celebration -  left the initiative or the city, we have had to change our rhythm. We held our last Transition Themes Week #14 in May and in June we switched from running topic weeks and three-day shifts to a once-a-week rota. We now publish about three times a week, including occasional reposts from our awesome archive. Most of our work is original, and some of it cross-posted. Whatever shape or form this blog takes in the future, thank you dear readers for travelling with us.

So, as we head up for our birthday this week (October 4), we'll be publishing some of our favourite posts of 2012. Here to kick off is a reminder from our film week about what really matters when push comes to shove . . .

Baraka by Jon Curran
20 March 2012 
Sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in our own lives, become obsessed with what my friend calls “first world problems”. The issues of the world outside our own bubble become abstract, almost academic. It takes something powerful to ground us again, to open our eyes to the wider world that we don’t always have direct access to.

I first saw Baraka in 1994 and I’ve watched it many, many times since. I call it a film without words; the name means “blessing”, and it’s a celebration of all that’s beautiful in the world, and an anguished cry against all that we do to destroy that beauty. It also, crucially, puts us, humans, in the context of the natural world around us, and reminds us that our cruelty to each other is not always in the action, but sometimes in the inaction too.

This is my favourite part – a montage set to great music by Dead Can Dance.

Bloggers meeting, upstairs at the Bicycle Cafe, St Benedict's Street at 6.30pm. Dancing from 8pm at Keir Hardie hall. For more info contact Charlotte Du Cann theseakaleproject@hotmail.co.uk
Images: Social Reporters at the Transition Conference at Battersea, late summer flowers from a roadside stall

Retroblog #2: Feedback
One of the major "tools" in communications is its ability to form feedback loops within any eco-system or culture. This is a vital part of embedding and establishing a new enterprise, as it gives value and meaning to everything and everyone involved.  Not only does feedback on meetings and projects keep people in the loop with what is going on, it creates a buzz and enables everyone to see how the initiative is developing, by recording and reflecting on our activities in time.

We live in a 24 hour get-this-done-and-over-with culture, so to establish what we do in Transition in time requires a steady and deliberate process. On the blog we do this by heralding events and then covering them (with text and images), and threading them back into our more reflective pieces.

At the recent Transition Conference a team of bloggers wrote 24 previews, on-site reports and reflections during a fortnight to give a rounded picture of the event. From November 2010 to May 2012 on This Low Carbon Life we ran fourteen Transition Themes Weeks which were specifically designed to report on the different projects initiated by Transition Norwich: these included Communications, Norwich FarmShare, Low Carbon Cookbook, Economics and Livelihoods, Transition Circles (Hethersett, West Norwich and Strangers') and Abundance. We also included the work of related groups.

Here is a piece from our Transition Themes Week #11 from a seasonal and investigative scheme, Norwich Energy Lookouts!

Images: spiderwebs amid wild carrot and plantain, September 2012 (Mark Watson); on a deadline at the Transition Conference (Laura Whitehead)
An Open and Shut Case by Chris Hull
11 January 2012 

Opening doors seem to emerge as metaphors for so many things, and in so many different fields and disciplines. From the football commentator's description of a team's defence being "like an open door", to doorways ( and stairways) to heaven, to many an artist's depiction of light and dark either side of a doorway. This seems to be a very long way from the pure functionality of a door!

When we launched the Energy Look Out initiative a couple of months ago, inviting people to tell us examples of everyday energy wastage in Norwich, we had several comments about the practice of shops and stores wedging doors open, with the consequent huge and rapid loss of heat from inside to out. Years ago, as a Councillor, I had occasion to take up this very issue with particular shops in Norwich following complaints.

The reason that shops do this is based on the belief that the door's position influences their footfall - that rather irritating commercial term used to describe how many customers actually go into the shop. To customers, of course, the feeling of warmth once inside is more important. This also applies often to the shop workers! So here we have a nice little microcosm of what is at the heart of promoting carbon reduction generally:
  • the differences in perception from one group of people to another over the same issue
  • a firmly held belief that is not actually supported by evidence (see below)
  • a linkage between commercial practice and public behaviour
  • a widespread practice that is actually responsible for high carbon emissions and financial cost, and which does not involve any cost or investment to change
Back to the doors. There is actually a national campaign to encourage the shutting of shop doors in the winter months - see here. To their credit, some shops in Norwich have signed up to this and display the sticker on their door to say so. The one here is at Oxfam in Bedford Street.

The campaign - started by 3 women in Cambridge - has now been endorsed by a number of well known politicians across the political spectrum, and has been signed up to by a range of the larger chains.

The practice of propping doors open persists, however....all the more surprising when the research carried out by Cambridge University on the energy and carbon wastage involved says shutting the door will:
  • Reduce energy usage by up to 50%
  • Cut a shop’s annual CO2 emissions by up to 10 tonnes of CO2
  • Maintain energy use at a standard low level
  • Enable heating to be shut off long before the end of the day without affecting internal temperatures

  • Stop need for so-called “air curtains” over the door – among the greatest wasters of energy: a single one consumes 24 kWh per day. This is equivalent to emitting 91 kg CO2 per week. The research found no conclusive evidence that footfall or transactions were affected by closing the shop door.(2)
This last point - "air curtains" are the commercial description for those fan heaters placed over open doors - is particularly poignant. Consider that the average household electricity consumption, for a whole house, is calculated as about 9 kWh per day, and you can see just how wasteful these contraptions are. My own household consumption now runs at an average of less than 1 kWh per day - more about that later when we talk about the whole subject of Energy in our theme week next week.

I never thought I would get so excited about doors.

Pictures Top: Waterstones in Back of The Inns, who keep 2 separate doors wedged open; Middle: Jarrolds Stores, Exchange Street, who keep all their doors shut; Bottom: Oxfam in Bedford Street, who keep their door shut and display the sticker. Further info on the scheme read intro news piece here

Retroblog #3: Resilience 
Diversity is what makes ecosystems, editorial and Transition resilient. Allowing diversity in a highly-defensive monoculture is a challenge. We are trained to follow the party line and want everyone to agree with My Right Opinion. Or else! Flexibility and allowance are not high on our agenda. Communications however can bring insight into others' lives and broaden world-views, without our going into attack. And thanks to DIY culture and Internet technology millions of people now have voices and faces in the world where once we were silent and invisible.

The beauty of  blogging is that it allows "non-professional" writers to explore and express their everyday encounters in innovative, creative ways. One of its downsides is that it fosters silo mentality and self-obsession. So how do you marry the unique creativity of social media and the group focus of Transition?

We created a community blog.

This Low Carbon Life has published many different, and sometimes differing, voices in the last three years. We have also held over 30 topic weeks that run across the whole spectrum of cultural change (see our tag cloud on the right-hand column). These weeks have revolved around a chosen subject (organised at our quarterly meetings), introduced and led by one of the crew. In this way we were able to show a diverse mix of views and takes on one area (as well as stretching ourselves to consider topics that were "out of our skill set"). This year these have ranged from How Transition Changed my Life (led by Mark Watson) to Sustainable Livelihoods (led by Simeon Jackson).

One of our most popular topics has been our tracking of the changing planet in our seasonal photoblogs; Last Autumn we focused on stocking our store cupboards, at midwinter we went into the frosty lanes, this spring we looked at Trees, and at midsummer celebrated the Festival of Transition.

But this is not the only aspect of planetary change we have covered. We have also tracked the lifestyles and mindsets we need to rework to get in synch with the living systems and face the challenges the three Transition drivers confront us with: climate change, peak oil,  economic collapse. We have done this the low-carbon way, by showing how hearts and minds can shift in our houses and neighbourhoods with a bit of resilience and DIY attitude. Here is John Heaser (main topics: planning, cycling, veg growing and toads!) during our Energy Week, led by Chris Hull.

Images: cycling on the beach (from Sustainable Relationships Week, led by helenofnorwich; under the Oak  by Mark Watson (from Trees in Transition, led by John Heaser); the blogosphere (from A Week on Blogs, led by Jon Curran)

Creature Comforts by John Heaser
20 January 2012 

I’m currently reading ‘At Home’ by Bill Bryson and enjoying learning all sorts of quirky details about how most of us came to live in relative comfort. Apparently crude oil was first extracted from the ground, in the 1850’s, in order to produce paraffin for lighting and the petroleum fraction was considered worthless and discarded. How times have changed!

A lot of the book is about how the exploitation of energy sources have made our lives comfortable – a concept that we now take for granted but the word ‘comfort’ only assumed its current meaning in 1770 (when it was used in a letter by Horace Walpole). Until then most people had no expectation of being comfortable and in medieval houses people literally huddled together around a single open hearth with no chimney. The exploitation of coal led to heat, steam for engines to power the industrial revolution, gas for lighting and ultimately to electricity and all the labour saving devices that we now depend on.

A biomass boiler
Apparently, if you ask people what they want from life, a common reply is ‘to be comfortable’. So given how recently it is that the working family has achieved a comfortable life, you would think that we would all be motivated to preserve the resources that sustain our comfortable lives. We are now planning to build many thousands of new houses around Norwich and I would hope that planning for a world no longer supplied with cheap oil, would be a priority – but I don’t see it happening. Many of the technologies that could keep us warm in the future (such as anaerobic digesters and biomass fuelled heat and power plants) need to be designed into new communities when they are built – it is much harder to retrofit. And don’t get me started on the need for cycle paths and transport!

I really don’t understand why people who are now in their teens and twenties are not demanding new homes to be designed for the energy deficient future that we all know is coming. Councils are largely run by the middle aged or older – who put in a huge amount of voluntary effort but subconsciously don't expect to be around when energy has become painfully expensive. Young people need to take action now if they want to enjoy the same levels of comfort in their older years. Some of us can keep warm cheaply today by scavenging wood but you can’t keep a whole city warm that way.

An unplanned consequence of the discovery of oil, was that cheap paraffin destroyed the market for whale oil and saved sperm whales from extinction. Predicting the future supply and demand for energy is never straightforward but we have to try harder to be less dependent on finite resources!

Retroblog #5: I never promised you a rose garden

As well as our topic and themes weeks on This Low Carbon Life we also wrote in three-day (originally five-day) shifts. It gave us a chance to focus on our "home" subjects and to see the breadth of each others' experiences and to respond (the great advantages of contributing to a community blog, as opposed to a solo one, is  knowing you are not on your own). These days allowed us to stretch our wings as writers and photographers and appreciate our different styles and takes on life.

Where we met was in our celebration of plants, people and places. So whether this was Jon talking about bees, planting an oak or finding a city fox, John reporting on his vegetable garden in Little Melton, or rescuing toads on Norfolk roads, Elena on the wild life at Norwich FarmShare or Helen celebrating the artist quarter of Magdalen Street, place making forms the heart of this blog. You could say it created a connection between us, as well as grounding us within our Transition stories. Climate change and "community" can be abstract things unless fully engaged with. A feeling, kinetic and imaginative connection to our neighbourhood and its inhabitants (not just human) help us all make ourselves at home in a rocky and restless time.

One of our most eloquent PPP reporters has been Mark, who manages to weave a love of the wild and medicine plants with an unswerving generosity towards fellow Transitoners. Funny, warm, self-depracating, as well as a great record of community events and meetings, his blogs regularly track the comings and goings of plants, particularly this year where he has curated a Transition medicine bed at Bungay Library Community Garden. I really enjoyed the winter (look still no heating!) Meanwhile let's talk about the weather, the springtime foraging epic Conquering Alexanders and the mix of midsummer meetings in  Life is roses... sometimes.

We are told that life should be a paradise, when we see all about us a wrecked and polluted kingdom. We depend utterly on the plants for our food and air and shelter, yet we are taught to treat them as mere commodities. Somehow we have to restore our relationship with the planet, with each other and get back on track.

Sometimes we find help in the most surprising places . . . .

Magdalen Celebration crew, 2011 from Shift Together - Working Title (helenofnorwich); Mark under neighbourhood cherry from Wallking with Weeds (Charlotte Du Cann)

Some Notes on Tracks and Edges by Mark Watson
31 March 2012
At the edge where we encounter another human being, we discover for ourselves what it is to have to break down a little... Cat Lupton

I am standing on the platform at Lowestoft Station. It is early evening. April 2010. And May. And June. In under an hour I will have traversed the Broads on the two-coach train, past the swans and waterways, past the big sugar factory, past the wide green and gold vistas and the boatyards. And will have arrived in Norwich where I am on my way to a carbon conversations course.

I have loved these journeys, made possible as they have been by a bus service connecting Lowestoft to where I live further down the coast. This will not last. The bus route which has run for 26 years will be reduced then scrapped altogether in the Autumn. No more connecting night buses. The carbon conversations will finish.

I am unsure about the carbon conversations, a 6-session course over twelve weeks aimed at helping people reduce personal and household carbon use and emissions using a non-confrontational approach. I often feel like I’m at school disrupting more well-behaved pupils in a quiet and serious class, and prefer the more creative, deeper, experimental nature of our Stranger’s Circle meetings where we bring our household energy bills to show each other, take a good look at the industrial food system, have difficult conversations about transport use. Where we're making it up as we go along. Where there's more of an edge.

Down the line (sic) I see the value in both approaches, and it was through both the Strangers’ Circle year and carbon conversations that the Low Carbon Cookbook group was born, which meets monthly to explore low carbon ways of buying, growing and preparing food (and write a book about it – always the hardest part!)

But back to the easternmost station in England. I have no such ambivalence about the journeys themselves (carbon-footprint-calculated though they were). Having downshifted in a major way over the past decade from someone who travelled all over the place in bus, car, train and plane, I rarely travel beyond East Anglia now. And I’ve learned to become less spoilt, less desirous of more ‘glamourous’ destinations, more present to where I am.

That platform for instance. If you walked past where the small train stops, where no one goes, in June and July of 2010, you would find, there at the edge, the most extraordinary outbursting of native wildflowers and medicine plants, all Growing Up Through the Cracks: midsummer Mugwort, St. John’s Wort, Plantain and Yarrow, Buddleia and Wild Carrot. All shining in the early evening light. The plant the Chinese use for moxa in acupuncture, the ‘sunshine herb’ dispeller of demons and nightmares, the menders of myriad wounds, the butterfly bush and the ancestor of one of our favourite vegetables.

It is so easy to hate: those who flail the countryside hedgerows and pour poison on the poppies by the junction of the main road. The stupidity of councils and people obsessed by tidiness. The compulsion to keep anything that smacks of ‘wild’ or ‘untamed’ out or under strict control.

Those rude, healthy, resilient plants. How dare they push through those cracks in the polite concrete and tarmac. In the end they were not left alone, beautiful and shining on that part of the platform where hardly anyone went, but removed in the manner of all ‘weeds’ in the name of civic orderliness. They still make their appearance further over on the tracks and by the fences though it’s not quite the same.

And anyone who loves the 'wastegrounds' and the natural world will know how difficult it is to live with the feelings that these things bring up. In my pre-Transition years I was frequently overwhelmed by them. Now after all the meetings and events, carbon conversations and circles, food and plant swaps, wild plant and foraging walks and experiments in downshifting, I still feel the same about the destruction of wildflowers and their habitats, but I'm tougher. I'm taking people out to show them where the 'weeds' grow, what their properties are, how they feed bees, how they heal us and how beautiful they are in their own right, and curating a plant medicine bed with related events.

Not that Transition has been either an easy ride or a magic pill. Learning to temper one's individualism to relate to others, even include them at all and not lose yourself, can be a struggle. There's the frequent temptation to cut off when that carbon conversation is just too, too... annoying. Boring. Left brain. Whatever. Or to simply go along with things that don't feel right because challenging them would make you feel like you WERE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO FELT LIKE THAT and EVERYONE would look at you like the OUTSIDER YOU REALLY ARE and you would be EXILED.

But engaging in that struggle, difficult, edgy though it is, can bring a meaning and sense to life which no amount of comfort or opulence will ever bring.

And the quote at the top of this piece? It's from an extraordinary post, Meeting Your Edge, by Cat Lupton, writing this week on The Place Between Stories about grappling with individuality and community after an introduction to permaculture course.

It was reading Cat's post that gave me pause to consider these things.

Pics: Mugwort Lowestoft railway station 2010; on the train to Norwich, Lowestoft, 2010; Midsummer wildflowers, Lowestoft, 2010; Plants for Life talk at Bungay Library community garden, 2012

Retroblog #7 opening the post

One of the strengths of a community blog is its inclusivity. As well as inviting comments from anyone around the world, it can also be open to "outside" contributors. Alongside our regular reporters on This Low Carbon Life we also welcome guest bloggers. These posts are either commissioned as part of a topic or theme week, or they form part of an occasional series on Sundays. This year we have had several cross posts from the Social Reporting Project (including posts from TN ex-blogger Kerry now stationed in Wales), beginning with Bye Buy by Adrienne Campbell about a collective pledge to buy no more "stuff" in 2012.

Most of our stories however have been closer to home. From the Magdalen-Augustine Celebration collective we featured stories from local Norwich blogger, Rachel Lalchan and the singer James Frost. James wrote about the Green Buildings open days for our Buildings week and the new city car share scheme in the transport slot in a Transition Themes week.

Sarah Gann from Norwich FarmShare launched their Abundance project with Where are all the fruit and nut trees? and Josiah Meldrum celebrated an ancient and modern East Anglian staple in Mean Beans.  From our Transition Circles we had stories about Transition Hethersett and reskilling in Circle West and from the Low Carbon Cookbook, Sophie Chollet's Water Water Everywhere and Not Any Drop to Drink

Today's piece was written by fellow Dark Mountaineer, Jeppe Graugaard who first came to Transition Norwich on the eve of a Midsummer Reskilling Picnic, organised by the (then) Heart and Soul, Arts, Culture and Well-being group in 2009. Here he visits us again at a talk given by Rob Hopkins in November to celebrate the launch of The Transition Companion.

Images: packaging for Great British Beans, launched in 2011; "transitioned" car poster in NR3

Re-imagining the future by Jeppe Graugaard

Today's post is by Jeppe Graugaard who is researching grassroots innovations at the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA (where he undertook an MSc on Climate Change, 2008-9). He runs a website/blog called Pattern Which Connects. Here you can find his work on grassroots innovations, most recently on the Dark Mountain Project, and the exploration of personal and collective stories for change.

Although I missed the cake, Transition Norwich's three year birthday do was a really enjoyable evening with lots of inspiring stories about transition. The 15 minute film showing what kind of activities are going on within Transition Norwich highlighted to me the diversity of projects that transitioners instigate. It was also great to see the different 'ingredients of transition' that Rob Hopkins presented, from food projects to street
parties and local money Transition Towns keep innovating new ways of building resilience and reviving local economies. Transition seems to just keep growing and diversifying.

This is probably due to an insistence, in Hopkins' words, that there is no right way to do transition and an underlying openness to the new. Although there are overarching stories about what transition is doing – like “trying to articulate what it will be like when Norwich's carbon footprint becomes like Mozambiques” – there is no formula for what transition looks like (although there obviously are ingredients). The focus is on showing what is possible when a group of people come together determined to explore what a low carbon life might mean. The transition approach is one of inclusion rather than confrontation, as it also came out in the discussion about transition and politics in the q&a after Hopkins' talk.

The positive vision underlying transition is inspiring and draws people into a space where they can begin to re-imagine the future. This is crucial for motivating and creating change. But it is also slightly at odds with the rather grim situation we are facing, including running out of oil and increasing climate change, but extending to what has been termed the sixth mass extinction or ecocide. 

Whatever statistic you use, it doesn't look good – we are living through a century where about three species are wiped out every hour that ticks by. This is not something that makes me feel very positive. In fact it is rather overwhelming.A couple of years ago, I had a kind of nihilistic breakdown of sorts where most things stopped making sense against the background of the havoc we as a species are imposing on the planet (and on a smaller scale what is happening to wild places in England). It seemed that it didn't make much sense to continue talking about carbon emissions, carbon trading, low carbon transition plans and carbon rationing anymore. If my family two generations down the line will not be able to share their lives with many of the other living beings that I care for and love, what's the point? Is the only future we can imagine one where humans continue to dominate the natural environment? One where the 'solution' to climate change is devising technical solutions which will allow us to ignore our conscience and continue exploiting the seas, the mountains and the forests?

I got through my nihilism and life went on. However, it seemed clear that the 'problem' of climate change, peak oil and biodiversity loss is our way of thinking. Somewhere along the line we totally lost sight of nature, we relegated it to 'other', to 'resources' and to 'entertainment'. That's why the positive vision underpinning transition must be complemented by an honest attempt to break free of the underlying way of thinking that is the source of our control-mania, blinkers and flippant optimism. Times are tough and it looks like they are going to get tougher. It is not easy. Last night in the pub I overheard a discussion where one guy brazenly stated that he did not care about what is happening in Greece because what matters is your immediate surroundings, your closest and your everyday life. I empathise, but we've got to start caring about the wider world, even the non-human world, because in our interconnected and networked lives the everyday is inextricably linked to the rest of the globe. For better and for worse. 

When I came across the Dark Mountain Project, it seemed like I had found a place where it was ok to be sad or worried about the state of the world but also where the worry was transformed into support and constructive action. Someone told me at the Dark Mountain festival in August that “sometimes one can feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world, and I go away from this [festival] feeling less overwhelmed, and thinking 'no, perhaps all these ideas I have aren't so silly after all, and I should carry on pursuing them' […] There are projects which I want to start getting moving which will... coming here makes me feel more like I am going to do them.” In that way, I think we all found encouragement and strength. My festival neighbour put it thus: “For me Dark Mountain is a meeting point where… really, the main point is listening, is hearing other people. Seeing how they do things, and then how that can help me do my thing.”

When I met Dougald Hine – Dark Mountain co-founder with Paul Kingsnorth – after the festival, he explained this same sentiment in terms of what happens when we come together with our frustrations and decide to start thinking differently:
The night before the riots started [in London], I was starting work on an essay which I put to one side and will come back to. It started with the proposition 'the game is almost over'. It is time to remind ourselves that it was a game, and that we are the players rather than the pieces we've been playing with. The game, in a sense, is what we've known as capitalism. It's the way of viewing the world, and the actions that follow from that, where you tweak reality as made up of things which can be counted, measured, priced. And once you agree to that rule then certain kinds of behaviour become almost inevitable.

A lot of the stuff we've said about human nature is really about the nature of humans when playing that particular game. And history and anthropology have a lot of other material for us which shows that there are other constellations in which we can be human together than the ones which are normal under the rules of this particular game. And as this unravels then things are likely to be useful or not useful to the extent that they have an awareness built in that there are other games that humans are capable of playing.
So, let's start playing different games. Dark Mountain Norwich meets regularly in central Norwich. Come join the conversation. Jeppe Graugaard (jeppegraugaard@gmail.com)

You can read the interview with Dougald Hine in its full length here

Jeppe on the road; stone hill from Circles on Pattern Which Connects; discussion about education and the future at the Uncivilisation Festival; cover of Dark Mountain Issue Two All publications available on the Dark Mountain website.