Sunday, 7 October 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 Reskillihng 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.


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