Saturday, 30 April 2011

In Praise of Happiness


I could pretend and say that the happiest moment of my life was when my daughter was born. But it wasn't. The labour was long and exhausting; when she finally arrived, I'd never seen a baby that small. I was terrified. She had a tiny body, long thin arms and legs that dangled like a little frog's, and huge dark eyes so big they looked like bottomless pools. I didn't know what to do; I thought if I picked her up, I would break her. She was born in the late afternoon; that evening, I went home and cried from shock and emotion.

I had wanted children all my life but I wasn't prepared for the shock of the transition from being an individual to being a parent. Yet something changed within me in those first few days; I firmly believe that my brain rewired itself to the new me that I needed to become. I evolved. As I learned to cope with the lack of sleep, the constant cycle of nappies, feeding, washing, changing, a fierce love grew inside me. And I learned what it was to become vulnerable to the pain of another. Even though I could not carry her inside me for those nine months before she was born, she became a part of me, truly, her laughter and tears as sharp and visceral as my own emotions.

When G was born two years later, I thought I would be ready, more resilient, but another raw space opened up inside me to make room for the love that grew for my second-born daughter. The shock was the same but different.

Fast-forward another four years and I have two children rather than two babies. And most of the truly happy moments I've experienced in my life have been in those six and a bit years and are as result of two things the girls have taught me - first to slow down and notice the world around you, and second, to be yourself. These, coincidentally enough, are two things that I've also learned as part of being in Transition, and also appear to be key elements of the Action for Happiness message. So, what have these meant for me?

I've just been out in the garden, bouncing up and down on the trampoline. The trampoline is higher than our garden wall and the whole street can see me. Would I do that if I was just on my own? Not in a million years - I'd be too self-conscious, yet I'd be missing out as it's great fun. You can't be serious or take yourself seriously while you're bouncing around like a loon. The girls taught me to sing - out loud! To dance around. I waited thirty-odd years to do these things. To be the person I really wanted to be.
They taught me to open my eyes to the world around me, things I'd never noticed before. They are full of questions and full of wonder. What is that tree? What are snail shells made of? What happens to a butterfly when it's inside its chrysallis? More recently, they want to know why polar bears are in trouble, why people are starving in Africa. I have to tell them about the world, about all the good things and all the things that are wrong.

I see the world in a different way now; I notice things more, the change of seasons, the play of light, the sounds of birdsong. Helping them see the world helps me see the world, and makes me determined to protect it for them. Not preserve a rose-tinted world that was never really there, but a real, bright, heart-pumping alive world. I'm more confident about who I am and who I want to be. I don't want to be judged by how much I earn, how much I have or what I wear. Parenthood, and Transition, have both started with a shock and then my resilience has grown over time. And I've become happier as a result.

Maybe because I'd always wanted children so much, I needed them to teach me to become truly happy. But I've also learned that happiness is a choice. OK, there are some core things you need, without which it's pretty hard to be happy - food, shelter, physical and emotional health and security - but beyond those core needs, the propensity for happiness is all around us if we choose to look. We could make ourselves unhappy by everything we haven't got, or cannot have or cannot be. Or we could look around us, enjoy the small things and the company of those we love, and choose happiness.

I choose happiness. Jon Curran

Pics: Blowing dandelion clocks in the park, April 2011; word map of this week's Happiness theme blog, from www.wordle.net.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Joy Division

Here’s a scene: I’m sitting at a window ledge entwined in the arms of a boy called Carl. Behind us a party is in full swing and the neighbourhood is pulsating, loud with music. The streets of Babylon are rocking. It’s the Notting Hill carnival 1989, Summer of Love. There’s a mounted police charge down the street and we’re whooping and laughing, merged with all that sound and movement, our bodies flooded with seratonin. Happeeeeeee……? You bet! I don’t know it yet but this is the last party I will give in my flat above the off-licence on the corner of Westbourne Park Road.
When I first joined Transition we all experienced moments like this, a reckless kind of happiness, an inner drive that sometimes felt out of control and not quite real. We met in Heart and Soul circles, at regional gatherings, and expressed our feelings of excitement - in discovering each other, at this chance to begin again, to share stuff we had never said out loud. Possibilities and visions propelled us to meet up and speak together. But this colletive moment was short. It raged like a bushfire, like a love affair, and then died out. Convention and control broke up those good moods and fragile alliances. The gap between the global situation we perceived in our minds and the local territory at our feet seemed vast and unbridgeable. Ideas did not make it into physical reality. People found themselves quarrelling without knowing why. There was a lot of talk about community, but little fellow feeling.

To keep feeling-good meant that someone else in the room had to carry the difficulties that had come to light and feel bad. Chinese medicine practitioners might have recognised this as a symptom of over-enthusiasm of the heart. If we had been smart we would have looked at the history of new movements and recognised ourselves in the ecstasy of Ranters and Cathars. It was not our fault we skimmed over problems and shut down: we were all raised within the individualistic mindset of Empire and the sudden awakening of our hearts brought all our resistances to empathy into play. Maybe if we had been smart fewer people would have walked at this crucial shift where the fun stops and the work begins. What made some of us undergo that period of unrest and conflict was not happiness, but something more like hozho. A determination to weather the storm in order to secure "real-world harmony and balance".

That's when I realised that Transition was more like alchemy than the behavioural change psychologists and social scientists were talking about. And that the first step of alchemy is not enlightenment, but the forcing out of the materia, the dark stuff you have to transform.

Here’s a scene: I’m sitting at a window in a straw bale house in Arizona at a writing desk with a cat called Small Being. It’s September 2001, a hot afternoon 110 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a storm coming, and we’re watching it, the cat and I, as it advances across the desert floor towards us, a thick curtain of rain. Lightning is crackling in the sky islands all around us, huge forks of pink and green and yellow. I don’t know it yet but America is about to change its mood irrevocably. This will be the last time I will walk out and smell the world fragrant with creosote after the rain and feel completely at one with the earth. A condition of complete simplicity/Costing not less than everything.
I have a sanguine nature. Small things bring me great joy: rain and cats, heat on my body, the sound of thunder, the taste of river water, the way the sun shines through the seed pods of the creosote bush and fill it with light. I love writing, the way it taps you straight into the fabric of life and you can become conscious of everything around you in time and space, find value and meaning in every encounter. That scene is so strong in my memory I just have to close my eyes and I am there. The reason it’s strong I would not call happiness. Because, though the afternoon is beautiful, I am living in a geography of heartbreak, where the exile of Apache warriors, striking miners, illegal migrants from Mexico and El Salvador is written on every red rock. My own too when I am forced to leave. It's not about Me and My Personal Happiness anymore. It’s a destiny moment at a window, that connects with that first one a decade earlier. The beginning of the free travelling years and its bitter end.

This is how I prepared for Transition. My heart is stored with memories: moments of being immersed in the wild places, in the beauty, colour, form, harmony of the earth. And sometimes when I ask myself why I still go to Transition meetings, confront the realities of peak everything every day, why I struggle against the odds for no reward, I draw strength from those physical memories. What am I doing this for? And I can remember . . .

I do it for all the places I went in those years: for Australia, for South America, for Turtle Island, for the First Nations, for the coyotes that howled outside my door, for the eagles and owls, for all the old activists who lived out in the desert in Arizona, who kept singing and gathering medicine plants, for all the young activists I worked with in Oxford who fought for the trees of Newbury, who burrowed under roads and kept dancing and laughing. For those who did not make it out of the city: the beautiful men who forgot how to dance, the smart women who forgot how to laugh, for everyone that got institutionalised, caught up on the wheel.

Here’s a scene: I’m standing outside the RBS building at the corner of what used to be Spitalfields Market. Tuesday, April 26, and I don’t recognise these slick, corporate streets where I used to visit friends or hear them play music in half-derelict churches and houses. Old London, deep time London. But I recognise these revolving glass doors. I’ve just seen them in the documentary Just Do It, where Climate Camp activists blocked them for a day to protest against the bank’s funding of tar sands mining in Alberta. Miles from here the bluebell woods are all on fire and the hawthorn is blossoming white in the hedgerows. The nightingale is singing in the darkness. It’s almost May Day and the earth is undergoing her radical Spring make-over.
Who is telling us that being happy is more important than money? High priests and millionaire politicians. Well-being is the order of the day. We will close your libraries, destroy your health service, cut down your forests, sell off your waterways, take away your job, your house, your pension, education, crush your liberties, close your mouths . . . . but hey, don’t worry, be happy!

Institutionalised happiness, spin-doctor feel-good, is not joy, or love or merriment, anymore than lifestyle is life, or glamour is beauty. It’s a superficial panacea, a coping mechanism, so we don’t access and demand our rights for real joy and equity on the planet. So we don’t ask ourselves deep questions about why so many of us are poor and unhappy and why people everywhere are taking to the streets. Real joy kickstarts the kind of alchemy that shifts the base mindset of the world into the high frequency of the heart. This alchemy starts by pressuring the lowest elements down into their base material, forcing the beast out of the matter. Once out of its hiding place, transformation can begin.

All empires are threatened by real joy. The empire does not want to change, it wants to hold on to its power, its monolithic marketplaces. It is terrified to experience its own ugliness and lack of heart, its human vulnerability. It blocks the alchemy of the heart by mutating the natural forms of earth, bringing them under the control and ownership of its corporations and then attracting the people’s attention to the tamed and hybridised. It does this by making the mind and emotional body dependent on end-of-the world dramas, by entertaining us with circuses and freakshows, by fostering envy and possessiveness. Meanwhile it does everything in its power to destroy the real thing: everything in nature, everyone who celebrates the earth. This is why the corporate world appears ever more ugly and flaunts its power in ever increasing images of artifice. It is working hard to kill every shred of joy and beauty from appearing. But it can’t succeed. Because the flowers are coming up wherever you look.

Why do we dance with the colours of the rainbow on May Day? Why do we keep singing and dancing? Why do we laugh? Why do we go to the woods, watch the sun come up, love plants and bees? Why do we keep going in Transition even though it’s hard? We’re activists for the fair, for the wild, for the free, for the harmony that is at the core of all living beings, activists for happiness . . . just not the kind the government has in mind.

Police raid at Grow Heathrow glasshouse, Transition Heathrow, April 27; ocotillo in the High Desert; up a hazel tree in the bluebell woods.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Not Pursuing Happiness

Happiness is not something I often think about. But as soon as I put my attention on the word for this post, a motley collection of songlines, advertising slogans and soundbite quotes began to pop up in my consciousness... ‘Happiness where are you, I haven’t got a clue’, ‘I could be happy, I could be happy’, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...’ and one to do with happiness being a certain cigar named after a tragic Shakespearian prince... that one really showed my age – not sure I was happy about that.

This doesn’t mean I don’t experience ‘happiness’ though I'd probably describe it in different ways depending on the circumstances. Satisfaction on completing a difficult task, for example. Or whatever you call that mix of aliveness, ease and relaxedness that happens when the day is good, when what’s going on inside myself is in tune with what’s going on outside - things are flowing, communications with others work, life feels expanded.

But I think as a term, ‘happiness’ is limited and doesn’t go very broad or deep. Like all emotions it is fleeting, transient. And clinging to past moments of happiness can be a source of misery and stuckness in the present, just as grasping for future happy moments exacerbates dissatisfaction with the now.

And then how far can personal happiness go before we get to the social level? Our present mainstream culture still dictates that happiness is me in a bubble with the latest car, gadget, fashion accessory, gourmet food (or certain cigar). And that happiness relies on underpaid and exploited factory, farm and sweatshop workers, not to mention huge levels of stressful private debt, gross social inequality and the ongoing depredation of the natural environment, which now includes gas fracking.

And this is why the Action for Happiness brief doesn’t do it for me. It smacks too much of a Brave New World opiate of the masses. And we take opiates when we want to escape from the pain of illness, a difficult life or swingeing cuts to public services. It doesn’t address basic issues like social justice, where our civilisation gets its energy from, or explore in any depth what kinds of people we are or who we need to become as we go through this time of transition. Sure, I'll make you a cup of tea (I'd do that anyway) but then let's sit down and talk about this.

In the film The Pursuit of Happyness there is a scene called Running, where Will Smith’s character, a down-on-his-luck but brilliant mathematician, literally spends all his time running – to college, to pick his son up from nursery, to make it in time for the homeless shelter. This type of running will be familiar to most of us even without being in such dire straits. Sometimes the whole world seems to be running. Around in circles. Out of time. After people. Away.

That aliveness, ease and relaxedness I spoke about earlier is the antithesis to this ‘running’. It comes from a deeper place, from having my feet on the ground and being connected to the planet. Sometimes it happens by grace, when the day is right. More often than not I have to remember to make myself stop running, place my feet firmly on the ground and take the time and space to be still. Then life can open up. There are more possibilities. I'm able to communicate with others and they with me. When there are difficulties I can face them better.

And I always feel happier when I do. If happy is the right word for it.

Pic: Stillness and Depth - Water Violets in bloom, Suffolk

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The whereabouts of happiness

I am now a grandfather for the second time. Samuel was born 6 days ago, and here he is with his cousin of 11 months, and the full entourage of parents and grandparent.

As my father died 2 years ago, these moments of time in which birth happens give me the distinct feeling of my own mortality, and moving along a notch on the lineage. As a reflection, it actually enables me to feel very present.

At another level it also makes me wonder what kind of life and world Samuel and Ollie are inheriting, and given it is quite possible they will live to see the turn of the next century, whereabouts on that infamous hockeystick graph the world will then be. So fear then comes up.

Reflecting as we do in transition work on stuff like this brings up both the personal and the collective. It is no coincidence that the standard Transition Training has 50% of it's content on the 'inner world paradigm'. It's not only vital we bring the external and internal together for understanding, it is also an imperative ( I believe) for action and change to be effective and long-lasting.

It appears, sadly, that the split between inner and external worlds manifests itself ( at least in the West) into 2 'camps'. So: what I call the activist camp, who on the whole either ignore or on occasions are hostile toward the inner world issues; and the individualist/personal journey camp, who may show no interest in or relativise the external world issues.

This apparent split has always perplexed me particularly as I have had feet in both camps for some time. It therefore came as a wonderful discovery to find that the transition model not only recognises both, but positively promotes their inter-relations as pivotal in how we move forward.

These different approaches even show themselves in the different definitions of happiness that I found. Here are a few:

Jeremy Bentham: " The greatest happiness for the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation"
Aristotle: " Happiness is an expression of the soul in considered action"
Dostoevsky: " Happiness does not lie in happiness, but in the achievement of it"
The XIVth Dalai Lama: " I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness....the very motion of our life is towards happiness"
Berthold Brecht: " The right to happiness is fundamental. Men live so little time and die alone"
Immanuel Kant: " Virtue and happiness constitute the summum bonum of life"
Emile Zola: " I have one passion only for light in the name of humanity which has borne so much and has a right to happiness".

So this is all pre-amble to my chosen subject of mindfulness, and for me a particular form of mindfulness practice which is now an integral part of my life.

Although various forms of mindfulness practice have been used for centuries in the East, it has only become incorporated into western psychology since the early 1970s, particularly in the context of 'stress reduction'. There are now so many different forms and expressions of mindfulness practice, you could say that they generically are now more of an approach or pre-disposition of mind. I like to think, in my better moments, that I am cycling, or doing the washing up, or writing this blog, or talking to my friends, mindfully... until, that is, I realise that I have switched out of this mode and become enmeshed in my thoughts and brain activity. In fact some thoughts seem to like it so much that they come around and interrupt for a second or third time!

My own form of learning mindfulness has actually been through body work, and in particular the practice of 'authentic movement'. As a form, this is a body-impulse movement which teaches us to learn how to be our own internal witness. In the process we (I) become acutely aware of how much we project, in ordinary life, our own thoughts and mind games onto others. Projection in reality is everyday social currency. Mindfulness, as it teaches a non-judgmental approach, helps us see our projections for what they really are.

So how does all this connect with transition work? When I looked up the various definitions of mindfulness, one thing struck me: the effect in those who adopt it is not simply personal. The research says rather dryly that " [mindfulness practice] alters the symetries in the pre-frontal cortex", which is associated with .."faster recovery from negative experience". So in other words, it helps in creating resilience.

One of my great mentors, Adam Curle, who founded the Bradford University Peace Studies Department in the 1970s, and who later became a mediator for the U.N. in some pretty horrific conflicts, recognised the need for personal resilience in his role as mediator. He also recognised that his own state of mind had a direct influence on the outcome in his mediation. [ See 'To Tame the Hydra: Undermining The Culture of Violence' A Curle 1999].

So my own particular mindfulness and movement practice is inherent to how I connect and engage with the world, my friends, and my family. Indeed it sharpens that engagement - makes it more authentic. It doesn't make me wiser, or less fearful - indeed it can bring up more fear as engagement becomes sharper. However, that fear is somehow contained and becomes a mobiliser, rather than something which holds me back.

Now I think I'll just pop back and see how far my grandson has moved in the last 2 days.....

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

In praise of saying thank you


My blog today was inspired by the TED talk by Laura Trice that I have included above. She encourages us all to genuinely thank each other more and to be honest about the praise we need.

The value of praise
We are bought up thinking that saying thank you is just good manners, part of social convention, as arbitrary and subject to change as the custom of shaking hands and one of those things that 'young people these days, have no(ne of)'. But as we grow up we realise the underlying value of saying thank you, the value of praise. We realise our need as a species to have our efforts recognised and appreciated, as a way of feeling a valued part of our communities.

Having worked in several different organisations I have experienced first hand how much difference it makes to feel that your work and efforts are being recognised and valued. For a start it motivates you to keep going and to try harder for the organisation, it also makes you feel happier and more content with your job.

However, saying thank you is not just important in a work setting. Thanking people is such a small effort from you, but can make such a huge difference to how the other person is feeling, especially if they are very busy and/or stressed. I think if we all took the time to properly thank the people around us for what they do, rather than just assuming that they know we are grateful, then it could have amazing effects on our society. People would feel happier, communities would be stronger, people would feel less isolated, less trapped in a faceless world. One small gesture of human compassion could make a much bigger difference than you realise.

I find it all too easy to just not get round to thanking people for things, as Laura mentions in the video I some how feel a bit embarrassed by it sometimes. It is also so easy to assume that people know you are thankful, but even if they are, they are still going to appreciate a thank you! In our time poor world it often seems to be one of the things that doesn't quite happen, but I know what its like at the other side too, the slight disappointment and uncertainty of not receiving a thank you.

In a voluntary organisation, such as Transition Norwich, it is very difficult to ensure that everyone gets recognition for the effort they put in. Especially when there is not one person in control who sees everyone's contributions. However, it is so important as everyone is giving their time for free and wants to feel an important part of the community.

Thank you
So I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of the people that have put tremendous amounts of time and effort into making Transition Norwich the success that it is. Tully Wakeman, Christine Way and Chris Hull, who were all members of the original core group, put in lots of effort to get the whole thing started and have stayed very involved doing an awful lot of work behind the scenes without enough thanks. So I would like to say a massive thank you to them for all of their hard work. I would also like to thank Charlotte DuCann, Mark Watson and Andy Croft for being the biggest movers and shakers of the communications team to date, they are responsible for the website, the monthly bulletin and this blog and they have put massive amounts of time and effort in to making them so brilliant.

To all of you - we massively appreciate all that you have done and still do.

There are of course many other people who have made Transition Norwich the success that it is and I am very thankful for everything everyone has done, you are all amazing.

And thank you very much for taking the time to read my post and for being caring and conscientious enough to want to make this world a better place.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Are you feeling happy?

Kerry recently drew our attention to Action For Happiness (AFH) and this week we are talking about Happiness in a Transition context. We have just had a week of beautiful weather (though some rain on my garden would be nice) and lots of time off work – so everyone should be feeling pretty happy right now. Are you? Clearly happiness is pretty important to humans – there must be more quotations about happiness than anything else.

It is easy to be cynical about AFH. It states that it is non-political and non-religious, however AFH is backed by some ‘establishment’ figures and some people see AFH as an extension of Big Society and just a way to divert attention from cuts in services. Certainly I’m curious why their 10 keys to Happier Living all have pictures taken from the1950s – the message seems to be that we have to live more simply in order to be happy.

I wonder if some of the negative reaction to AFH is because it is saying that happiness is something we have to work to achieve? Surely Happiness is our natural state and we all have a Right to be happy? Maybe we have changed since the 50s and now expect happiness to be delivered as a State Service, or achieved by consuming products or by consuming drugs of one sort or another.

Do people react against the AFH message because it puts all the responsibility back on them? There are no clever pills, no products to purchase, no subscription not even a celebrity DVD to watch. So how can it work?

To me there seem to be many parallels about the AFH message and what Transition is trying to achieve.
  • Connect with people
  • Notice the world around
  • Keep learning new skills
are three are topics that have been touched on many times in this blog. I work in the IT industry and I’m very aware of how that industry pushes the happiness through consumption message – buy this Smartphone and download this app to impress your friends and improve your status. The Internet makes it possible to consume more stuff from the four corners of the world without even leaving your house and interacting with other people – just click here, it’s so easy! A far cry from a time when people commissioned the local shoe maker or tailor to make things for them and bought their food in small shops.

AFH suggests that people should practice Mindfulness Meditation in order to improve their brain function. I was introduced to this practice many years ago and I’m convinced that it does work. Some of the blog writers (John, Kerry and Chris) are planning to have a brief get together next week in Norwich to do a mindfulness meditation – maybe 30 minutes at lunchtime or at about 6pm – please comment if you would like to join us.

This week, Kerry, Chris, Mark, Charlotte and Jon are going to explore what happiness means to them and how happiness relates to Transition. I look forward to reading their thoughts.

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

Pics -http://ngururaj.blogspot.com/2010/07/happiness.html, Action For Happiness

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter - I just don't buy it

Amidst our flurry of bank holiday activities it is easy to forget the true meaning of the spring break. The more religious amongst you will know that at this time of year we remember and celebrate the first time Dawn French dressed as the Easter bunny.

This is the origin of the eating of large amounts of chocolate so we may become more 'Dawn-like'. Strict observers like myself however see it as an all year round activity and not just for one day.
This brings me on to lent. I decided that from pancake day to Easter day I would not buy anything. This included new and secondhand goods, entertainment, meals out and cafes. I read the book 'not buying it- my year without shopping' for inspiration. This mainly made me feel a bit lightweight as I only did it for forty days and she didn't buy any processed food but never-the-less it was worth doing.

So here is the story of my forty days without buying stuff. Can I just point out that I realize that this is a privilege. Many people around the world do not have this choice and have no money or anything to buy.

Stuff

As soon as I decided not to buy anything I became overwhelmed with a desire for shoes. Not just any shoes but a red mary-jane-would-look-great-and-I-cant-live without-them shoes. In the end I could bear it no longer and had to go and see if they were still there. But like a second date they seem to have become less sexy in the interim. I wondered why I had desired them so much. I didn't buy them and in fact I managed not to buy any 'stuff' for the whole of lent.

Entertainment
I fed the guinea pigs by hand and trained them to sit on my lap










I sat in the haymarket and watched street entertainment

Birthday presents
After I had committed to not buying anything I then realized that April is birthday month. Mum got some gloves I knitted. I used a pattern off the Internet and some wool I already had.

My friend Kate got a teapot that I owned but I knew she would like.

Socializing and business meetings
This was a difficult one. If someone wants to go for a coffee or a drink what do you do? One person asked me for a drink. I didnt know what kind of 'drink' to be honest so it was a useful delaying tactic to explain my lent situation. I then got invited round for a meal instead. So I am still none the wiser as to whether I am on a date but am now at the persons house! It made me realize that cafes and pubs are quite useful neutral territory.

An admirer of my art projects had acquired some funding for an exhibition and wanted to meet me. I invited him to my house but at the last minute he changed it to a pub. I sat there with a glass of water looking like I was on a detox!

Bank holiday weekends
So how do you pass the time with family if you are not shopping?

Well our family decided to empty the shed, so while they sweltered in the heat I sat on the computer and got rid of our garden chairs on freegle.

I also aquired some retro cooking gear and a stone with a hole in the top which I will use as a vase when I have figured out how to stop it rolling over.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Hands up if you like eating good food?!

Mmmm food. I know I do! And so do you too it seems! There are 134 members on our food google group mailing list and that’s just the few that have time or a passion to create new systems to make it easier for us to get good food to our plates.

I believe a healthy, happy and strong community comes from sharing good food and conversation. I’m realising the value and opportunity in meal times and now trying to give more time to it. I’m finding it’s a great way to connect with my family, a time away from our TV and computers and it’s a lovely way to spend a social evening with friends. We did a murder mystery evening a couple of weeks ago which is set around a 3 course meal and it was HILARIOUS!

I hope that we can realise the value of food as a substance that maintains our mental and physical health to be able to do all the things we wish for in our lives. And then respect it and ourselves enough to appreciate the benefits in growing or buying good quality food.

In October 2008 50 people met to discuss the failings of our current food supply in Norwich. Motivated and empowered they broke into working groups, one of which was the then called ‘Norwich City Farms’ group.

Two years later with thanks to a grant from a lottery fund to get us started, Norwich FarmShare is here! As a way of celebrating our journey I’d like to explain how we ‘do different’ (as the Norwich coat of arms apparently says!) in comparison to the conventional food systems in the UK.

Production/Growing
We have two sites, 5 acres at Postwick and 2 acres at Hewett High School, and have a diverse crop rotation planned out for the next 7 years. Manure was added at the start of the season and clover, peas and beans will be planted as part of the rotation to take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil. We therefore won’t be needing synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser to be added to the soil.

We have one small tractor (who has been named Bluey I think!). Laura, our grower will be supported by some part-time staff and the FarmShare community members on volunteer days and on group work days which will be around busy times in the farming calendar such as planting and harvesting. These will be combined with seasonal social events sharing food, music, and conversation in celebration of a good job jobbed!

Strength in diversity
In crops it means you are less likely to have disease and pests as it’s less of a feast for insects or microbes. It therefore means you don’t have to spray with pesticides. We are encouraging natural predator-prey relationships by increasing habitat on site. A hedgerow was planted on our first workday and flowers will be planted to encourage bees.

In people. Many hands make light work. It’s not what you know it’s who you know!It’s been really exciting to see all of these connections being made. Mutual interests in forest gardening, comparing teenage childrens’ behaviour, sharing seeds to grow herbs at home, being able to bounce ideas off each other whilst assembling a rabbit fence or building a poly tunnel. It’s a melting pot of inspiring and inspired people and incredibly supportive and motivating! If you’re chatting and weeding at the same time, herbicide doesn’t have to be used!

Large scale agriculture tends to grow vast areas of the same crop or ‘monoculture’ which means it’s easier to plant and harvest, as it happens at the same time.

This is mostly done with massive oil-guzzling machinery causing air pollution and CO2.

Pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilisers are created from or by the use of fossil fuels. The former two concentrate in creatures up the food chain as they are consumed.

The nutrients from soluble fertilisers can run off bare soil into local waterways causing algal blooms, decreasing sunlight and death of water plants then fish.

As our oil supply is now in decline, it has and will become less and less affordable to use these practices.

Distance between producer and consumer
Minimising this distance is the best way forward and has many advantages. Freshness of produce customer receives therefore taste and the food will keep for longer. It can also mean a better price for producer as there are less middlemen to take a cut.

Connection with how and where your food comes from. There will be many opportunities at the FarmShare sites for visiting, learning, time for reflection, improving mental and physical health and for building projects. You can see for yourself how the land is being cared for by Laura, with her Soil Association farming experience, and chat to her and the community if you have any questions or concerns.

Currently much of our food is produced at distance from where we live. A milk shortage in shops last winter was caused by snow slowing the lorries that transported it. Food will go from producer, to processing, to packaging, to distribution warehouse, to the supermarket then to our homes.

Before transportation the food may be processed. It then needs to be packaged to protect it on its journey, and possibly refrigerated. Buying from local producers cuts all this faff out!

Transport, refrigeration and packaging uses a whooolllleee bunch of oil when we in Norfolk are surrounded by farmland! Currently there aren’t many small scale organic growers in Norfolk to support the county as oil prices continue to rise. So we are leading the way!

Keeping money in the local area for the benefit of local people.
Big business has a lot of power over the people that grow for their stores. Birdseye cancelled contracts with 180 Norfolk and Suffolk farmers in February last year at short notice, blaming a loss of export contract to Italy. The cut cost pea growers £5.5m in income.

Buying your food from independent shops, and those which source their produce locally keeps money in the local economy. For every £100 spent wholly in local industry, 80% returns as it gets spent by local people, in their locality.

For every £100 spent in a national chain, only 20% gets reinvested in the local community. 80% escapes as profit for shareholders living elsewhere.

By being able to have conversations with the owner of a shop or the people involved in a not-for-profit cooperative like FarmShare, you can influence the actions those people take. If you request a product to be stocked or a change to be made in the way things are done, the more chance you will be listened to as they value your custom. You’re more likely to get what your community wants and you can vote with your feet and wallet if not!

Meat production-not solely about animal welfare
Although it’s important. Why would we be happy eating antibiotics stuffed chicken or pigs whose growth was accelerated with growth hormones?

I like the term ‘responsible omnivore’. Animals take a LOT of energy to produce. It takes 6-8KG of grain to produce 1Kg of meat. By eating less meat and dairy, but when we do sourcing it from local farmers, we can support the local economy. Quiz them, or your butcher, about how they raise their animals. Once we have their ear we can make suggestions and support them by voicing a consumer demand.

Good luck in your quest! If you have any questions or food sourcing issues join the food group and throw them for the pool of 136 people to support you.

Itching to find out more about Norwich FarmShare?!

Read the Blog.
Or email Tully tully@eafl.org, Elena kezzycat@hotmail.com or Tierney tierneywoods@yahoo.co.uk with your phone number and we can call you back. Check the facebook page too

Ladybird at Postwick, Onions Sprouting, community assembly of poly tunnel, John helps build the compost toilet, Laura’s Organic seed haul, workday shared lunc. Photos by Laura, Kerry and Elena.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Transport - Where Are We Going?

What immediately comes to mind when I think of “Transport” are cars. And buses. Mostly because at the moment I don’t own one of the former and so rely on the latter. And in rural Suffolk where I live, the number of the latter seems to be shrinking by the month.

Then I think lorries, trains, boats and planes. Bicycles. Horses. But the theme of transport goes beyond just the forms. It’s about more than whether I personally own a car or have access to a decent public transport system.

Mass transportation of goods (and people) is key to the present globalised industrial economy. Those goods whether they be food, clothes, computers, white goods or cars, already have embedded within their manufacture the use of vast amounts of oil. And that’s before you get to the fuel in the tank (see Rob Hopkins’ recent post on the energy in a litre of petrol).

If we look at the predominant aspirations and narratives of our present culture, they are still predicated on the cheap abundant oil supply we’ve enjoyed for the past fifty years. We can all have a car, own a house, fly anywhere in the world for holidays or special occasions… or dream of it for the future. In theory we can have it all. The recent economic difficulties have yet made hardly a dent in this narrative.

We know all this, you might think. We’re transitioners. But just because we are aware of something doesn't mean everyone is, even other transitioners. I still have conversations where people say that Peak Oil is a hype and that we’re not running out of oil, there’s plenty left. That’s where I need to be on the ball about, yes, there might be half of what we’ve used so far left but where is it? What Peruvian rainforest, Arctic tundra or Canadian boreal forest does it lie under? How easy is it to extract? What’s the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI)? What are the environmental and political considerations? Who is being dispossessed of their ancestral lands? What about Deep Sea Drilling? Take a look at Naomi Klein’s extraordinary and lucid TEDS talk on oil and risk.

The fact is that once you start looking at Transport you’re soon looking at the culture as a whole. One car, one person and an i-pod. “We’ve had so much, we’ve become selfish. We don’t really want to share any more. And we’re not really looking at what’s coming.” And that’s from the woman who runs the (very successful) Voluntary Help Centre in Southwold.

One of the best things about being in Transition is the context it provides in which the bigger picture of diminishing fossil fuel reserves, carbon emissions, climate instability and the global economy can be brought to the table and discussed. We can begin in these conversations to forge a different and perhaps more satisfying future. And sometimes we admit, as happened in our latest Low Carbon Cookbook meeting, that we don’t really know what the future will hold.

Back to Transport. Transition Norwich has hosted many conversations about transport in the past few years, here on This Low Carbon Life, in the Transition Circles and as part of Carbon Conversations. A Transport group did form after the Unleashing in 2008 and although currently dormant, acted for a time as an umbrella for campaigners wanting to improve public transport in Norwich city centre and prevent the Northern Distributor Road from going ahead. There are several expert cyclists on the blog team some of whom have led weeks on Cycling, reported on Otesha and been active cycle path campaigners. There are posts about inconvenient carless living, giving up the sexy sports car and its identifications, the trials of rural public transport (as well as its delights) and getting from A to B in Norwich traffic. And our week on Flying last March emerged from a fiery group email debate… whew hot topic!!!

And what about in the broader Transition movement? Have a look at this superb article by Mike Freedman, published yesterday on Transition Voice, Inconvenient Truths about the Coming Transition (see part 3 on Transportation).

Some initiatives have transport-related activities up and running. Transition Town Brixton just received funding for their local cycle delivery service. And Transition Ilkley are part of a chip fat biodiesel project that has been going three years.

I'll sign off today with a mention of Sustainable Bungay's Biodiesel project, which has been taking shape over recent months. No one has gone anywhere yet with the diesel we've made, but it's early days and we're refining (sic) our methods!

And before I forget, Happy Earth Day!

Pics: One Man (with partner) and a Car, Arizona 2001; Making Biodiesel, Suffolk February 2011

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Waste not, Want not

Traditionally the saying I have used as a title is understood to mean 'don't waste the things that you don't want', but I quite like the alternative interpretation of 'If you don't waste anything you are never going to want for anything'. It quite neatly summarises how I am going to conclude this post, but I am getting ahead of myself. However, I am going to start at the end.

The end of the line for most 'waste', is as methane gas or as toxic landfill leachate, waiting to escape and pollute our atmosphere and groundwater. Modern landfills try very hard to stop these pollutants escaping, but nothings perfect and accidents happen.

I'm sure you have noticed that landfill sites take up quite a lot of room and when Britons alone produce 35.1 million tonnes of waste a year it is hardly surprising. However, this is starting to cause a problem as we need land for other important purposes, such as growing our food, so it is getting harder and harder to find places to put new landfill sites. In fact it is estimated that we will run out of landfill space in Britain in less than eight years time. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that landfill sites are difficult to redevelop due to toxic emissions and the risk from subsidence. And we must not forget the energy used to transport our waste to landfill sites either.

Now quite a lot of the stuff that we put into landfill is actually quite useful; so many perfectly usable appliances are thrown away it's ridiculous and considering the general finite nature of our natural resources and the looming peak oil problems, reusing some of the materials might be a smart plan.

That's recycling I hear you say. And indeed it is! Recycling takes used materials and makes them into new products like super cool computer circuit board stationary or the drinks mat I once had that was made out of toothbrushes...

Unfortunately though recycling is not magic, it requires large amounts of energy to reform the materials and therefore isn't the perfect answer. So climbing slowly up the well-known mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle we come to Reuse. Why change something if it still works perfectly well as it is? You can either use it again yourself, as in making your own jam to put in reused jam jars, or you can pass it on to someone else who can reuse it. This could be a friend or neighbour or failing that Freegle is a fantastic way of finding a happy home for all your unwanteds. Just giving things away for reuse is only half the story though, it is important to remember that these things need to be actually bought (or collected for free) to be able to be reused. There are many places where you can do this - clothes swaps, bring and take days (like Sustainable Bungay's), charity shops, freegle again, car boot sales, I could go on.

Somewhere around this section there is also the idea of repurposing, such as the flower pot kettle suggestion of J. Bloggs. This is sometimes referred to as upcycling and lots of wonderful suggestions can be found on the web on sites like instructables.

The astute amongst you probably noticed that there is one step better still -Reduce. If you don't produce the waste in the first place then you don't have to work out what to do with it. This is the point where you start to get a lot of cross over with discussions about stuff and food, because reducing waste normally requires changing the way you view the things you consume. You need to start see things as valuable resources that have had a lot of effort put into them by the earth and mankind and therefore you use them as carefully as possible and don't buy new things like they are going out of fashion (even our sayings have got the wrong idea!).

This generally means buying less (saving you money too) and using what you do buy more carefully. Making stuff yourself is also a good plan.

Just the word and concept of waste is a big part of the problem. Nothing is inherently valueless and everything can be reincarnated in some form or another. Nature doesn't have waste, or if it does it is more of an opportunity of a new resource to find a use for, rather than a problem to be hidden away.

Producing less waste is actually good for you too! If you really appreciate the things you have, look after them and make some things yourself then you will be happier and more content than if you are constantly searching for satisfaction in endless products. And as I said at the beginning if you waste less then you are less likely to find yourself (personally and as a society) in need of something that you cannot have.

Photos: waste not want not poster, landfill site, circuit board notebook and tetrapak wallet.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Stuff

My daughters joke "Daddy, what do you love most in the world - apart from us?"

They know the answer. It's my iPod - that little square of metal and plastic that holds my music and connects me to the virtual world. In a weird way they're right - I do love that little gadget. I take it everywhere with me, I feel panicky if I think I've lost it. I've had it so long, I don't know what I'd do without it.

That worries me - that feels like addiction. Am I addicted to stuff?

One of the challenges I feel when talking to people about peak oil and climate change is that they're both a bit intangible to people. Peak Oil? "There's still petrol in the pump when I want to fill up the car. The media talks about "millions of barrels a day" - surely that's going to last for years?" As for climate change, I was heartily sick of people saying to me "so much for this climate change eh? Ha ha ha" when temperatures plummeted last winter. Like it or not, there are many, many people out there who just don't see it as a real issue. And I can't take them somewhere and say "look, there it is, now do you believe me?"

But "stuff" - yep, it's there, we can see it, we can touch it. My God, there's a lot of it out there, and we're all addicted to it. We've had stuff like never before. I took a walk one lunchtime last week. I popped into St Peter Mancroft, the church opposite the Forum in the centre of the city. There were a couple of people there, enjoying the quiet and coolness of the air. I then went to Chapelfield shopping centre, and the contrast couldn't have been more extreme. The place was rammed; full of people shopping, window-shopping or just wandering around. You'd never have thought there was a recession on, from the number of full shopping bags people were carrying around. It felt very much like the sacred space of a modern consumer religion.

So what's the big deal? Who cares - surely it's great that we can buy whatever we want, whenever we want it? Where's the problem in that? Stuff's a really tricky one, as I'm very conscious that I'm not immune to the lure of it all. I like shiny stuff and gadgets as much as the next man. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and talk about why I think there is a problem, and why it is that stuff is so central to the Transition story.

Stuff uses valuable resources, and on our crowded planet in the 21st Century, much of those resources come from countries where the people are disenfranchised, or where labour practices are well below the standards we set for our own country. I don't think we should accept that other people should have to live in poverty or work in a sweatshop or an unsafe mine or factory just so that we can have the latest thing for the least amount of money possible. And that's before we say anything about the terrible environmental degradation caused by the untrammelled extraction of minerals and the chemical run off from factories. So called "free trade", globalisation and the intense competition between multinational companies have driven prices of consumer goods down to levels unimaginable even when I was a child, and I think it's unacceptable that one part of the world has so much when the rest has so little. OK, that might sound a bit, I don't know, liberal, a bit hippy-ish, a bit socialist even. But actually, I think it's more about fairness than anything else. I don't want people to live in virtual slavery or the planet to be destroyed to keep me in the consumer lifestyle I've become accustomed to.

Our consumer economy has also created a culture of longing, of desire for the latest and most ephemeral of goods, and a culture of unhappiness when I have less than someone else. Someone told me yesterday that the average family replaces their TV every year. Every year? Why? I don't recall such a quantum leap in telly quality every year that would render last year's box obsolete. When kids get mugged for their smartphones, and shiny celebrity culture promotes "Celebrity Diet" products (google it if you like, I don't want to "sponsor" a link to the site!) that just doesn't seem healthy to me.

And finally, and most obviously, stuff creates waste. Mountains of the stuff. A lot of it goes to landfill, a lot gets recycled, some goes to incinerators. Some of it goes to developing countries where the toxic heavy metals and plastics enter the food and water systems. I could go on, but Kerry is going to talk about waste tomorrow so I go there.

So, for all these reasons, and a host of others, stuff is a key transition issue. If we really want to transition to a low carbon society we need to tackle both our desire for stuff, and the ubiquity of it. Across the UK, transition groups including Transition Norwich are looking at ways to reduce the dependence on stuff, to increase our ability to share, to reuse, recycle and make new out of old. Norwich Transition Circles and Carbon Conversations have been talking about reducing our use of stuff as part of personal carbon reduction. In Bungay, the Sustainable Bungay team run Give and Take days, and this success is mirrored across the Transition Network. At the recent Spring Scheming in Norwich, we talked about a scheme where common tools (drills, lawnmowers and the like) could be held in a pool as a community sharing scheme.

And finally, if you want to see a great and succinct overview of our society's use and abuse of stuff, see the wonderful Story of Stuff videos. It's no accident that the link to this website is a permanent feature of our blog under the "links we like" section to the right of these posts.

Picture: Book from the girls' book box! Don't ask...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Fracking Hell and Other Apocalypses - The Energy Story

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
(from Burnt Norton, Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot)

In Kensington Gardens there stands a statue: it’s called Physical Energy and throughout my childhood it acted as a marker for all journeys in the park. We’ll go to Physical Energy and back. The bronze statue depicted a man on a horse looking toward an imaginary future. He seemed, from my small perspective, vast and strangely remote. Did he, I wonder, foresee what we now see, as he gazed implacably across the Serpentine?

Our culture is entirely underpinned by physical energy. Each one of us has the power of a hundred horses underneath us, at our fingertips, as we race through the land, across the world wide web. We think nothing of it as we click and switch and yet there it is invisibly pumping through the pipes in our houses and public buildings, heating and cooling, crackling through the lines: electricity, oil and gas. On and off, 24/7. Where does that power come from? The banking system invisibly debits our accounts and we don’t think about it much. Sometimes we might see a news flash about an oil spill, or a nuclear explosion, or campaigners talking about coal-fired power stations, but to connect those dramatic images with what is going on in our ordinary domestic lives seems not only hard, but undesirable. We don’t want to. There are better and more fun images to look at, and a story we love to hear again and again. We Can Have What We Want Anytime.

And yet if we are to avoid the kind of disaster scenarios predicted by climate change scientists, environmentalists and First Nations we are really going to have to make those connections and fast. As Rob Hopkins pointed out in his recent review of the documentary Gasland, we are entering the second part of the oil age - the societal scraping of the barrel. This will entail the kinds of violent resource drillings and mining thousands of us are protesting against: gas fracking, coal-fired power stations, nuclear power-stations, mountain-top removal, tar sands, Arctic oil-drilling, bio-fuels, the decimation of thousands of eco-systems, the homelands of indigenous peoples, pristine wilderness, wild creatures, birds, ancient forest. All of them decimated in the hands of a vast and remote culture that is violent in its refusal to change its ways.

To reverse this scenario, we’re going to have to get our minds around powerdown really, really quickly.

The powerdown story however is hard to tell, partly because it has no precedent but also because the anti-story to We Can Have What We Want Anytime is The End of the World Is Nigh. If I can't be king of the castle I'll smash the castle. We are the inheritors of People of the Book. And whether we believe in Second Comings or not, apocalypse is embedded into our culture and into our imaginations. If we’re not creating, we're destroying. Oh, my great-grandchildren will have to deal with that! people remark blithely, the earth will get rid of us, or they get that scary Rapture look and rub their hands gleefully at the thought of a total systems collapse.

I am not, by nature, an Endtimer. I'm not into bring-it-all-down, come-the-revolution, oh, 2012 is next year, great! I don’t want to escape into the fourth dimension, or be lifted off planet. I’m not in a rush to die violently. I long passionately for radical change, but have read enough history to know that in revolutions writers are the first people to board the train to the gulag. And I have weathered enough small apocalypses in my own life to know I don’t want to live through any on a giant scale.

In my own experience people can swing two ways in extremity: wake up or cut out, become extraordinary or turn into monsters and zombies. In 2007 a policeman trained in disaster management swung by my house and spelled out exactly what the monster scenario might mean in the UK. Does anyone want to experience what the Japanese are going through? I don’t want to have to abandon my home, or my cat or any of my neighbours, or the old people in the retirement home at the end of the road to their fate. I don't want all the trees in my neighbourhood cut for fuel. I love this earthly life as it is. And I am happy to lose those mechanical horses the industrial revolution bequeathed me to keep it that way.
How else to describe this than as a form of mass insanity? Just when we know we need to be learning to live on the surface of our planet, off the power of sun, wind and waves, we are frantically digging to get at the dirtiest, highest-emitting stuff imaginable. This is where our story of endless growth has taken us, to this black hole at the center of my country — a place of such planetary pain that, like the BP gusher, one can only stand to look at it for so long. As Jared Diamond and others have shown us, this is how civilizations commit suicide, by slamming their foot on the accelerator at the exact moment when they should be putting on the brakes (from TEDwomen talk by Naomi Klein)
The correct response to a looming disaster is to try and prevent it happening. To be inventive and find ways to reconfigure how we do things. However most of us are not listening and responding. Part of the problem is that we escape into our minds to avoid facing reality. We’re not looking ahead and seeing the big picture, we’re carrying on as if everything is going to be the same. And in that desire, we’re wrecking the very lifeforms that keep us alive.

I’m not a builder or a craftsman or any kind of technician. I don’t wield any kind of political or scientific or community influence. So my only real response to these issues is be as a journeyman writer. When I joined Transition I didn’t join the Energy group, I joined the Communications group. There are many brilliant perspicacious and informative writers on blogs such as the Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum who are far smarter on peak energy than me, who can tell you everything you need to know about nuclear waste, shale gas, oil drilling, carbon capture.

What I know is how to downshift. And I know about stories, how they affect us energetically: those spin stories that take hold of our self-deluding minds and the other kinds of narrative that speak directly to our heart’s intelligence, to our innate sense of fair play, that give us the courage to face the consequences of our actions. We are ruled in our granite minds - the unkind left-brain mind that can dismiss life in a sentence and welcome The End, that jumps to a scenario it thinks it can control. But it’s our warm-blooded hearts that connect with all our relations on earth, that feel for the Japanese people and the Canadian trees and the Siberian reindeer, even though they are thousands of miles away in places we will never visit now. It’s our hearts that can face reality and make the decision to live differently.

One person who perceives directly with an unwavering gaze. with a staunch heart, breaks a small spell in a small circle, a hundred looking at the big picture and acting in every which way they can widens that circle. Everyone paying attention means millions of people focusing on the same dilemma at the same time. Millions of solutions appearing, as opposed to millions burying their heads in tar sands.

It might be the end of a civilisation as we know it. But it won’t be the end of a people. And it won’t be the end of the earth.

Energy in Transition

There are myriad energy projects in Transition, ranging from the recent workshop on Tar Sands organised by Transition Heathrow, to draught-busting workshops by Transition Belsize. Some of the current Transition energy projects are listed in the Network website. Most focus on energy conservation but there are also community renewable energy initiatives. Perhaps the most exciting of these is the Solar Power Station, set up by Transition Lewes, which is being launched today (read Adrienne Campbell’s excellent defence of solar power, Solar So Good on her blog, 1oo Monkeys). Local East Anglian projects include Transition Ipswich's community wind turbine, Transition Cambridge’s wind-turbine construction workshops and bulk-buying loft insulation schemes (Framlingham and Otley).

Creating an Energy Descent Action Plan was the main goal of the original Transition 12 steps, and, like many initiatives, Transition Norwich's EDAP (renamed Resilience Plan) became the primary focus for most of the theme groups that formed after the Unleashing in 2008. Energy reduction has been a key driver both within the innovative Transition Circles and Carbon Conversations. TN also took part in a Solar Panel Scheme organised by SolarCentury.

At the end of 2009 the Energy and Buildings group ran an Energy Audit, principally lighting at night, of public buildings in Norwich, that was televised by BBC Look East. This year the project is about to be revived in a new form. Chris Hull reports:

"The Carbon Trust did a report into business energy waste and efficiency, December last year. Based on a survey over a 3 year period and analysing 1000 companies, they came up with a figure of U.K. firms wasting about £1.6 billion a year on energy.

The Carbon Trust also found that the Finance Directors of large companies underestimated the financial return of investing in energy efficiency by as much as 30%. Our idea for 'Citizens Energy Watch' is to invite people to note and record where they witness energy waste - for instance lights in office blocks, car forecourts, and shops being left on late at night, 'patio heaters' on the outside of cafes, etc. - and let us know via a specific webpage. We would then work with companies to encourage them to reduce their waste and their cost, and mention the companies by name who succeed."

For further info on Citizen Energy Watch contact Chris Hull 01603 664928 or chrishull@phonecoop.coop or Stefi Barna 07964 494836

Poster for Gasland; Tar sands extraction in Alberta; A Japanese man looks down at two dead horses within the exclusion zone, 20 km from the Fukushima plant on April 7 in Minamisoma (from Japan's Chernobyl by Athit Perawongmetha); Solar Community Power team, Transition Lewes; A homeless dog wanders the streets of the exclusion zone in Futuba Town, approximately five km away from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Back to Basics

In the beginning there were the issues of climate change and peak oil and how these affected different parts of our lives, from the energy we use and the products and food we consume, to the waste we produce and the way we get around. Then the economic downturn was added to the list of issues and Transition Norwich got creative and developed many amazing projects. We have come so far and achieved so much, but to fully appreciate this we thought we should look back and remind ourselves of where we started.

So this week on the blog we will be revisiting the issues we are facing and having a sneaky peek at what solutions Transition Norwich and other initiatives have found.

Photos: bikes and wind turbines (Sam White), alcohol and preserves and Sri Lankan vegetables

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Equal rights for all

Today I would just like to draw attention to one of the amazing positive things happening in our world. Last week Bolivia passed unprecedented laws that gave equal rights to 'mother earth', formalising their traditional religious views. The increasing involvement of indigenous peoples in the problems of our global society can only be a good thing.

The full story and a lovely video can be found here.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Judging and being judged

I could be mistaken for being a little bit odd...

It is difficult to explain morally driven lifestyle choices to other people without them feeling like you are judging them. This is a problem I have come up against many times since starting to make personal lifestyle changes in response to increasing knowledge of environmental issues.

The reality is that I am not judging anyone. The ethos of transition, as I understand it, is that we work together and don't judge the choices that others make, as long as when they are aware of the facts they try their best. After all you can never know or understand the reasoning behind peoples decisions, because you are not in their position. And there is no 'right' low carbon lifestyle, it is all experimental and everyone needs to find the path that suits them.

I think it mostly come down to misunderstandings. It is hard not to feel judged yourself when people ask you why you do something a bit differently, such as not using shampoo or conditioner and travelling long distance journeys by bike. As the implication of the question could be interpreted as - you are a bit 'weird'. Although that probably isn't what was meant. Then your explanation inevitably involves talk of 'what I think is right'. This immediately puts peoples backs up, as they interpret it as 'what they are doing is wrong'. Now focussing on your decisions and personal choices rather than making general statements can help, but doesn't completely avoid the problem.

The unfortunate consequence of this is that people then start getting defensive, which makes you feel like you are under attack and so begins a negative cycle.

This effect doesn't exactly encourage other people to follow your lead. Guilt and hurt feelings are not what we need. The only solution I have found so far is to explicitly tell people that you are not judging them, but this is only possible with certain people and in certain situations.

If anyone has any advice on this inherent problem then please do leave a comment and share it with everyone.

Photo: keeping the midges out and the warmth in on my cycle tour last summer (Ruth Clark)

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Defining freedom

Charlotte blogged yesterday about the lively discussion in Aladdins Cafe around preserving our civil liberties. She too picked up on the comment, which really struck a chord with me - "most young people don't know what their civil liberties are". And it is so true, I actually had no idea.

So how am I supposed to protect my civil liberties if I don't know what they are? Older generations have witnessed the slow erosion of civil liberties and are, therefore, much more aware of what they have lost, but I just have this nagging feeling that something is wrong and that it didn't used to be like this. I am always a bit wary of harking back to a golden age and I am sure there have been many increases in civil liberties, especially for the historically repressed - women, other ethnicities, those with disabilities, those of other sexual orientations and many more. It isn't perfect now-a-days by any means, but we have moved on from slavery and burning witches.

So I decided that I had better find out what my civil liberties were before I had lost them. Quite a few of them were mentioned in our discussion on Tuesday, but we also decided that it would be a good idea to try and compile a comprehensive list, so I thought I would make a start. I have decided to split them into positive rights to have something and negative rights to have freedom from something, because they have quite different connotations. I am sure I have missed lots out, but this is what I have come up with, with a little help from the internet. Do be aware that they are not all 'official' civil liberties though. Please feel free to point out mistakes and suggest more.

The Right to:
  • Life
  • Liberty and security - subject only to lawful arrest
  • Habeus Corpus -the right to not be held without charge
  • A fair trial
  • Defend one's self
  • Privacy - including your correspondence, personal data and movements
  • Transparency in government and business
  • Freedom of expression (including speech)
  • Freedom of association - to meet together and pursue your common
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • Due process - the government etc must abide by the rule of law (American)
  • Petition - the right to appeal/complain to government without fear of retribution
  • Retrospectivity - you cannot be charged for something if it was not recognised as a crime when you committed it
  • Education
  • Vote
  • Elections
  • Free movement - restricted since the enclosures act
  • Live on your own land
  • Choice/ responsibility for own actions - limited by the libel culture and health and safety regulations
  • Healthy air, food and environment
  • Access to nature
The right to freedom from:
  • Torture
  • Slavery and forced labour
  • Discrimination
  • Want
  • Fear
Contested rights:
  • property rights
  • reproductive rights
  • civil marriage
  • to keep and bear arms
Now comes the more disturbing part of working out which of your civil liberties are currently being infringed. Don't worry I'm not going to write a comprehensive list of this, you can think about it yourselves. But there are many insidious ways in which our civil liberties are being infringed without us really realising, for example the heavy handed police control of protests is often an infringement of the right to petition - particularly affecting the 'without fear' part.

Charlotte rightly said that we need to unlearn our indoctrinated obedience to all of the infringements of civil liberties that society has drummed into us. However, as a good middle class girl I have always found this a difficult thing to do. But, hey, if it's not going to hurt anyone (so is morally justifiable) I am sure I can manage a little bit of trespass (after all my Grandma maintains that all field boundaries should be rights of way!) and I can definitely speak out and show my solidarity with those who are putting themselves on the line for the rest of us.

So now I feel that I have a more definite idea of what freedom actually is, I feel ready to become a freedom fighter. Who is going to join me?