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Starting the Transition

We're at the tipping point for climate change ...
Image by kevindooley via Flickr

It is time for a change.

I have been writing here on UrbanWorkbench for over two and a half years now. I’ve grown a lot through this time, my ideas are more solidified, the role of technology in the future of urban planning, society and engineering is somewhat clearer in my mind than ever before, and most importantly, I know there is a community of people in Castlegar who are committed to sustainability as more than just a catchword or a set of actions we take to keep our quality of life. Sure enough there are plenty of people who feel that recycling, changing out plastic bags for reusable ones, or incandescent lights for compact fluorescent one is enough of a reduction in energy use or waste to merit a gold star grade for sustainability.

I just received my copy of “A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil
” by Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton which starts with the exposing of “The Big Lie”, “the eternally repeated claim that we cannot make real and deep and radical change in our way of living, even if it is the right thing to do”. Firstly, I have to say that the book is great and you should get yourself a copy, (USA or Canada), but more importantly, this challenge of the big lie nags me.  A week ago I decided that I would formalize TransitionCastlegar, starting with a core group of people who are dedicated to seeing Castlegar “Transition from Oil Dependence to Local Resilience”. The big lie tells us that we shouldn’t even bother, that we can’t make a difference, that it is only “great people” who make a difference, not ordinary people like us who live in Castlegar.

As I said, it is time for a change.

As Sharon points out in A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil
, the US needs a hundred million new farmers to provide enough food for the population. Yes, that’s right, 1 in 3 citizens would be involved in food production. In Canada it would be about 10 million farmers. This claim is not without reason, in fact we used to have this sort of labour split, that is before oil reduced the toil. The Green Revolution, industrial agriculture is not sustainable beyond oil. The problem with oil is that it is so powerful and nothing else is as portable an energy source or able to be used in so many different ways to create so many products. Pretty much everything we touch exists or reached us because of oil. One barrel of oil is equivalent to about 24,000 man hours of labour – and it is sold on international markets for about $60 a barrel.

If the price increases and availability decreases as is predicted by many experts, there may be severe shortages in fuel, food and goods – possibly across the world. How can we protect ourselves from this likelihood?

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Local Resilience

One of the key defenses is found in developing local economies, local food, and strong communities – where the better portion of all necessities for food, trade and commerce are developed within a local context, rather than the global one we have now. The big lie tells us we can’t possibly do it – the corporations are too strong, we are too far down the road of oil reliance, we’ve got no farm land, even that we don’t need to change, or at least not as quickly as people are saying. I am not satisfied with our reliance on oil, big business, GMO crops, chemical fertilizer or pesticides, confined animal feed operations, food that is not nutritious or healthy, and the hold that credit has on our society.  Local efforts can, to some extent, provide resilience from shockwaves in the effects of any of these areas.

Transition Castlegar

That is why we are looking to meet as TransitionCastlegar – we’ll be picking a time and a place in the next week. The idea of Transition Towns or Transition Initiatives has been buzzing around the Kootenays for the past month or so. There have been a number of emails floating around this week about some Transition Town Training that is happening in Nelson in the next month or so. Also, Janet Millington from Australia gave several presentations on Permaculture and Transition Towns over the past couple of weeks. My wife Robyn was signed up for this course when it was being held in Abbotsford, but didn’t make it to the event – however, we have all of the presentation material available as pdfs and powerpoints, which I am slowly working my way through.

It’s going to be quite the ride – who’s up for a change?

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

2 thoughts on “Starting the Transition

  1. Wow! One barrel of oil equals 24,000 man hours of labour. That statistic really got to me.

    That means when that barrel of oil no longer is available, then we are going to have to replace it with all those man hours. We certainly will have to go back to a large proportion of people working in agriculture etc.

    Perhaps that will mean an exodus from the cities to the countryside. Maybe some good can come out of this after all?

    At best there will be a severe reduction in the stand of living for everyone. At worst. . . . .

  2. This is quite alarming and the government should be the one who’s responsible for this. Oil production really does control everything that move around the world. So we cannot really know if oil shortages come what the effects will be on our economy globally.

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