Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Transition Towns - localized sustainability

One of the smartest things a community can do to prepare for the impacts of climate change is to strengthen its local systems for:

  • disseminating current information
  • dealing with emergency situations
  • developing sustainable energy, food and water resources
  • being as self sufficient as possible
This may sound radical today, when practically every community is reliant on food, goods, water, fuel and power brought in from long distances, but the onset of climate change puts these dependencies on a razor's edge. Extreme weather, rising seas and skyrocketing oil prices are likely to isolate your city, your town, your community and make all of the above abs0lutely necessary.

There's a budding movement afoot in England called Transition Towns. Its founder, an Irishman named Rob Hopkins, is now leading a process called Transition Town Totnes, which he describes as "the UK's first town exploring how to prepare for a carbon constrained, energy lean world."

Transition towns prepare themselves for the day when fuels for transportation become so expensive that imported goods will be unaffordable and local goods and services will have to take their place. A town that has gone through such a transition will grow most of its own food, produce its own essential goods, even use its own currency in order to retain local prosperity. It
will "power down," which is learning to live with less power, and generating power on a hyperlocal level. This adaptation is what Hopkins calls "resilience" - the ability to withstand the shocks that will come with climate change and unaffordable oil.

Transition towns will invest today in teaching their residents the skills required to grow their own food, compost their organic wastes, produce goods that require minimal energy to recycle, and build infrastructure such as greenhouses that will strengthen their sustainability. In Totnes, citizens are conducting "oil vulnerability audits," where business leaders examine the impact of rising oil prices on their as-usual practices. "How will you be impacted when oil is $80/barrel? $100/barrel? $120/barrel? Land is being allocated for planting "food forests" including nut and fruit trees that serve the double purposes of absorbing carbon and providing food.

The town of Willits, in Mendocino County, California, is embarking on a similar path to that of Totnes, UK. Willits Economic LocaLization (WELL) states its mission as:
To foster the creation of a local, sustainable economy in the Willits area by partnering with other organizations to watch for opportunities and vulnerabilities, incubate and coordinate projects and facilitate dialogue, action and education within our community.
Like Transition Towns, it is based on an alliance of community leaders who meet regularly and cover the various aspects required to attain local self-sufficiency and reduce dependency on oil. Here in Marin County, the citizens of West Marin ("over the hill" from the much more developed towns of east Marin) are on a simliar path, with the town of Fairfax providing the best example of a sustainable movement.

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