Yesterday afternoon, I interviewed fellow-in-transition Nick Watts for today's installment of How Transition Changed My Life. Nick has been active in Sustainable Bungay since 2008. He co-ordinated the Library Community Garden project, is one of the key organisers of Happy Monday's monthly Community Cafe and is secretary of the initiative. He also grows-his-own vegetables at home and on two allotments.
Nick had come over with his chainsaw to cut logs from the dead elm I've been felling recently, so our interview was informal. We sat by the woodburner with a cup of tea and I said, "So Nick, how has transition changed your life...?"
Nick: In October 2008, I applied to do a Phd at UEA in Norwich, involving action research on how effective the Transition movement was on bringing about change in response to Peak Oil. At that time I knew nothing about Peak Oil.
MW: So that's when you first became aware of it?
Nick: Yes, and it affected me deeply. It was totally life-changing. I thought, 'This is it. I want to spend my my life doing something about this.' I realised our whole society rested on very shaky foundations. I'd been worried for some time about climate change and that there was a real social problem with addressing it. But when I put Peak Oil and Climate Change together it crystallised my thinking. I felt the solutions to these problems went hand in hand. On a personal level it also unleashed a huge surge of creativity - one of the first things I did as a response was make a Peak Oil collage...
MW: Oh, I remember that Nick, have you still got it?
Nick: Yes, I'll send you a picture of it.
MW: So what was your next step?
Nick: Well, I didn't get on the course. But I was totally fired up. I started reading the Energy Bulletin, John Michael Greer's Archdruid Report, James Howard Kunstler's work, got into the 'doomer porn' thing a bit (laughs)...
And then I went to a Transition Norwich Economics and Livelihoods meeting. Again, I didn't really know anything about economics at the time, but my own booksearch business had dwindled after more than a decade of earning a decent living with it, so I was at a bit of a watershed in my own life...
MW: And all this was happening at the same time as the economic crash? Around October 2008?
Nick: That's right. So I went to this meeting and met Tully Wakeman. He said, 'Did you know there's a Transition Group in Bungay?' I had no idea. He told me to get in touch with Josiah...
MW: And the rest is history...
Nick (laughs): Josiah told me later that Tully had warned him, 'I have to tell you Josiah, he's VERY keen.'
So I came to that Xmas party where the only person I knew was Margaret, so I talked to her most of the evening in the living room with a couple of other people. And I kept hearing bits of the conversation everyone was having in the kitchen... about Marx! I couldn't believe I was in Bungay!
MW: Yeah, it's a shame you missed that, it was really interesting... And you know Rob is a Marxist scholar. I'd also just been reading 'Capital' for the first time, an old version I got from the library. Transition gets you like that, especially at the beginning. You want to find out about all sorts of subjects you've never paid any attention to before. And talk about it with others.
Nick: Yes. You get a head of steam up and it takes over your life.
MW: Once you've had that end-of-suburbia moment, you get kind of hooked...
Nick: It's like a transition epiphany!
MW: So once you got involved, how did it affect your life then?
Nick: Well, practically speaking I started to co-ordinate the Library Garden project in 2009, which really got going after the Permaculture weekend in Jan 2010.
MW: What about transition's impact on your social life?
Nick: It's widened my social circle. And it's really good that you become friends with people you're working with on a common understanding, for a common good. You get involved with Transition and it casts a different light on everything you do. You're thinking bigger in a way about the systems that underpin our lives, but acting from where you are.
At the beginning I did want to tell everyone about it. It was a bit like a quasi-religious experience. I couldn't believe that people didn't want to know about how our economic system was so fragile, for example, or how dependent we are on our access to fossil fuels to live the way we do... Sometimes I felt a certain distance from old friends because of this.
I've been headed in the direction of voluntary simplicity for some time and now it seems more relevant than ever. Simplifying your life to where you're less dependent on a high income or high energy use. It makes you more resilient, less dependent on supermarkets and the industrial food system for what you eat. Peak Oil presents the very real possibility of these fossil-fuel energy-intensive ways of life being taken away. I see it as a responsibility, especially if you have children, to take it seriously.
MW: So three years on Nick, what's your approach to bringing awareness of the Transition approach to others?
Nick: I still tell people about it, perhaps not so zealously though. It's difficult to engage with people in a community where there's a reluctance to new ideas. So you get on with it yourself and with those you can work with. You build it up like that. Do things people can see and join in with. I think Sustainable Bungay's doing pretty well.
MW: Yes, me too. That's great, Nick and thanks for agreeing to the interview. Is there anything you'd like to finish on?
Nick: Perhaps this quote from Vaclav Havel:
Pics: Nick in Bungay Library for Turning the Tide climate change play, April 2010; Peak Oil collage by Nick Watts; Nick shows me how to chainsaw logs, January 2012
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.