This is our first contribution to This Low Carbon Life and happily it feels particularly relevant to be writing about our experiences with Transition at this point in time. Steve and I attended the ‘Great Unleashing’ three years ago and were very excited by the event but the actual reality of engaging with Transition has only recently begun to emerge and develop in our consciousness and behaviour. It feels as though we have very much been on a slow burn with this movement; aware of its significance and importance but hesitant to do more than show a concerned interest in it.
The Hethersett Transition group, although it has sometimes lacked cohesion and momentum, has been a supportive nudge in helping us to actually start engaging with Transition. Seeing how others are committed to the movement has led us to reflect on our own lifestyle and expectations and to do more than just contemplate making changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle. However, we are still very much beginners in this field and it feels as though there are many daily obstacles to overcome before we could begin to call ourselves Transitioners. We, like, I imagine, many of the ‘concerned interested,’ are wary of some of the real, hard choices to be made. It feels like there’s a jarring between how we have been living and how we’d like to and ought to, live. We’re at a bit of an uncomfortable stage and it’s easy to feel inadequate when the ‘old’ unconscious way of living comes up against an increased awareness of the issues.
I don’t want this blog to be a whinge about how difficult it is to engage with sustainability nor a guilty confession about our ‘bad’ consumption habits. Rather I’d like it to be an opportunity to explore honestly the difficulties of engaging with such changes when other structural aspects of our lives seem to require a different pace or way of being that seems to be at odds with living sustainably. I also want it to be about how a community group like the Transition Circle can support and encourage people to make the changes needed.
In February 2009, with the first wave of the property crash resounding in our ears, Steve and I moved from our small terraced house in north Norwich to rent a large, old farmhouse cottage in Hethersett. We fell in love with the place at first viewing and immediately envisioned chickens, vegetables and freedom loving children all flourishing in the very large garden that surrounds the property on two sides. However, the reality of living in a draughty old house with costly oil fired heating has at times been more like a nightmare and the garden has seemed like an enormous burden rather than the gift it could be.
Steve works four long days a week as a counsellor and CBT therapist and I am currently on maternity leave with our second child, although I normally work three days a week also as a counsellor. We have three children between us and weekends are very child focussed. We both have professional commitments that require us to ‘work’ in addition to our paid hours (supervision, CPD, book editing etc) and Steve is currently doing a PhD. We are active members of a church in Norwich and so the list goes on! Our greatest poverty is time and increasingly our depleting reserves of personal energy and tightening finances are posing even more obstacles (excuses?) in the way of introducing new ways of living. Nevertheless, we do want to live slower, lighter lives while also providing a good quality of life for ourselves and our children.
I don’t know why it should seem that the prospect of living more sustainably might impact on the quality of our life, but it does. If it were a seamless transition then everyone would have engaged in the process already and looking at the queues for parking in Norwich on weekends, I know this is not the case. The shift to living more sustainably does not so much feel like a purely practical one but a cultural one too and it is really quite daunting. And this is where I think the local groups can really come to the fore: by connecting people at all stages of their journey and by engaging those who would like to be involved but don’t know how or feel too intimidated to ask.
It seems crucial to me that established group members have to be non-judgemental and welcoming. It’s a bit like welcoming people to a church without making any assumptions about where they are in their spiritual journey. We are lucky in the Hethersett group to have some very experienced members who can share their knowledge and skills in this way and who put a lot of effort into making things happen.
Last week, they came and had a look at our unloved garden to offer some ideas and advice for growing veg. It is really encouraging to find people who are willing to offer their time in this way and the result is that we really do want to find ways of engaging with the process. Like any process of change, it might just take a bit of time and we might not take all the advice offered.
So how far have we come in reducing our carbon footprint? Well, Steve cycles to work every day and I have become much more conscious of how we waste energy at home. When the baby is old enough to go on the back of the bike, I will also cycle to work. Although with two children in tow, I reserve the right to use the car when the weather is terrible. The old house is no longer quite so cold; our landlord installed a new boiler and radiators when we pointed out that we were using oil at double the rate of our neighbours and we have put thermal blinds on the windows where possible.
Three of our main challenges as a family are to reduce waste, especially plastic packaging; to be more organised with our shopping so we can reduce our dependence on supermarkets and subsequently the car; and finally, to find more ecological ways of managing the huge amount of laundry we produce every week.
We’ll being doing a bulk food order with the Hethersett group once again soon and I promised some time ago to look into bulk ordering for detergents. With so much laundry to do it’s now definitely in my interest to get this done. Food and drink packaging is a real annoyance for me as our kitchen recycling and rubbish seem to take on gargantuan proportions every week. This is going to be my personal project as I do most of the shopping and if anyone I know is reading this; I’d really like a Soda Stream for Christmas so we can eliminate plastic bottles for ever. As for the veg growing, I’m pretty sure we’re not the Tom and Barbara we envisioned when we first moved house. Rather, we might have to revise our own vision of what it means to live more sustainably and opt for a more modern, energy efficient house that’s easy to clean and maintain. If this means eventually giving up the garden and leafy outlook in return for a sense of manageability in our lives then this seems sensible to me. In the current absence of another housing option however, Steve is going to try some of the advice from our fellow Transitioners and tackle the beast once again. Ruth Roberts
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