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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Walking cities: an update

Posted by steve on May 30, 2010

One of the main themes of my recent book, “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet” is the city where people  walk everywhere.  For those of you who are new to my blog, I used the inventing method of Imagestreaming to envision what sustainable living would look like.  Although the book is fiction, I hope it inspires people to think about what can be done today to take a small step towards sustainable living.

Since then, I have been thinking myself what could be done today, and collecting ideas from other places.

One product we launched a few years ago is the “get walking” local walking routes map.

Other ideas include canopies over walkways like this one above near the main station in Krakow, Poland

Fours years. GO!

Posted by steve on May 29, 2010

Four years Go is campaign to change the course of history. Really.

The impetus and initial stewardship for Four Years. Go. comes from a core group of four organizations. The Pachamama Alliance, as part of that group, has provided the funding for the initial development of Four Years. Go. and is acting as the initial fiscal sponsor for the initiative. As soon as sufficient funds have been secured, and momentum achieved, a new legal and organizational structure for Four Years. Go. will be created—one that is global in scope, with an internationally recognized and respected group of trustees. Learn more.

As the Chinese proverb says “If we don’t change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed” and in humanity’s case where we are headed is clearly some type of ecological and social collapse.

So the question is “what will it take to change our direction?” The conventional wisdom seems to be that humanity can’t be expected to do anything until the effects and pain of the collapse are so intense that we are shocked into action. And so, we wait to be forced to act. However, even in the best case, where we are shocked into action in time, we’ll still be scrambling frantically out of a breakdown in search of a new direction. In the worst case, where we don’t act in time, we’ll go over the edge and into the abyss.

The stakes are too high and the risks from waiting too great. We must act now. As Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel Corporation points out, “It is a lot easier to change when you can than when you have to.” Four Years. Go. intends that humanity motivates itself and gets into action now, when it can, and thus consciously chooses and participates in the design of its future.

Four Years. Go. is a rallying call asking us all to…

* Wake Up to the enormous harm we are doing to Earth and ourselves
* Wake Up to the profound opportunity we have now to create a future to match our deepest longing and greatest dreams
* Become change agents in redirecting humanity’s current path from self-destruction to sustainability
* Do it now. Don’t wait for any one or anything. And complete it by 2014.

350 is the number to aim for!

Posted by steve on May 28, 2010

Transition and the Krakow declaration.

Posted by steve on May 26, 2010

Update: Here is the latest version of the Declaration. (pdf)

Krakow, Poland 20-22 May 2010. SURE, a pan-European initiative for sustainable urban-rural development concluded its two-step program with a conference to explore how at policy, regional, commercial and local level the people of Europe could connect with the challenge of sustainability and to respond in a way that European society can adapt and thrive.

The conference was given its own stark reminder that facing climate change increasingly means dealing with extreme weather. As the rain continued to flood rivers, twelve were reported dead in the north of Poland. The floods blocked attendance of several delegates. Sustainable development may have been seen earlier as a green “nice to have” or a moral obligation to “tread lightly on the Earth”. At this conference however, there was a seriousness I have seldom encountered before: the growing understanding that we must begin to move rapidly to a sustainable way of life or face dire consequences.

The conference attendees, including rural development groups, European MPs, and two representatives of the Transition movement, worked in world café form (simply described – dialogue in small groups) to identify sustainability challenges in food supply, energy supply and social equity and demographics.

The ultimate aim was to produce a statement to urge the EU, businesses and citizens to rise to the challenge of climate change, energy depletion, social disparities, globalization and demographics.

I could discern that rural groups throughout Europe have several concerns about trends that run counter to sustainability: rural areas are losing their vitality and cohesion as services are reduced and centralized. The availability of cars since the end of WW2 has meant that people travel from their local area to their place of work, to shop, for recreation, and for essential services. Industrial scale agriculture and commerce now out-competes local food production and people close down shops and move to the towns. Services like post offices and local shops close down too.

From a resilience point of view, this gives cause for concern. Traditional methods, despite being regarded as too burdensome for us today, carry with them a vast body of knowledge of how to create food and shelter on far less fossil fuel. As we face the inevitable change to a lower carbon economy, these skills and knowledge will be invaluable. The Transition Towns approach of honoring our elders and reviving old practices is a good example of how this can be tackled.

There is also the loss of the cohesion that comes from people in a town or village just simply not getting to know each other. Facing sustainability challenges at local level is far easier with people you know and have built up trust with.

There seems as well to be a good-intentioned but misguided idea that cities provide an answer to sustainable development. Focusing attention on making cities sustainable (most efforts seem to be to remove fossil-based heating and electricity supply) takes energy away from rural development, which has the ability to provide low carbon food and fuel supply as well as offering a vast pool of knowledge and skills.

There are initiatives going on that offer hope. A field trip later in the conference presented the KOLPING society that works to promote Catholic Christian values and crafts and handicraft. Kolping in Poland are looking forward and raising capabilities around small scale solar installations and promoting knowledge of traditional handicrafts as a pool of competence for the sustainable future.

We were also privileged to hear about the Crown of Northern Krakow association, which has engaged some 36 of the 42 local associations in activates to drive social cohesion, starting with a citizen’s survey asking what they would like to happen in their area. They have developed a local logotype, now on some 20 of the region’s products, and they set up historical cycle routes and walking trails. They are proud to show off a local agro-tourism farm.

Connect to Transition, Cheltenham, UK, is an initiative founded by Wendy Ellyatt, working to revive the spirit of community in the town. Currently, some 1000 members are engaged in groups based around the themes of “go green”, “buy local”, “develop skillsspace” and “build community spirit”. The connect initiative bears most of the hallmarks of a transition initiative, but has grown out of the need to create community cohesion rather than an awareness of the challenges of Peak Oil and climate change.

We heard as well from several initiatives to provide local areas with electricity and heating from wind and solar power. And they are working. As one delegate put it “we remind our customers that the sun does not send us bills”.

As the conference progressed, I realized the scale of the challenge the group was undertaking: taking the voice of their respective organizations, from 14 countries, to craft a clear, concise message to citizens, EU, businesses and civil society to start the transition to resilient sustainability. It is a massive undertaking yet badly needed. The current story of austerity, based on rather abstract financial notions does not reflect the situation most ordinary citizens see today: we have fossil fuel supplies, well-educated and skilled citizens, with a legacy of well thought-out infrastructure from previous generations. We in Europe HAVE the capability to feed and house all citizens with dignity, even if our supplies of fossil fuel are restricted and the climate throws all kinds of challenges at us.

The final session brought all texts together to be hammered out into a final draft. In a long plenary session, words were weighed, calls for action added, thoughts were formulated. We are now waiting for the final linguistic editing before signing and presenting to the European Parliament.

The Transition movement is about local action, and one could wonder what I was doing at that conference, but in a way the Krakow declaration IS local action. It is action from all the rural networks, the transition towns, the local action groups etc., in sending their voice to Brussels and throughout Europe to call for us to come to our senses, and abandon Business as Usual before it abandons us. The result may just be a more human, equitable, pleasant place to live not just for us, but for future generations.

It is my hope that the declaration is translated and made available throughout Europe in a way that citizens, local action groups, business associations and others can sign and present to their networks and authorities. I will be keeping you updated on progress.

Update: Here is the latest version of the Declaration. (pdf)

It could happen here: America on the brink

Posted by steve on May 18, 2010

Not many saw the fall of the Berlin wall coming. Not many foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union. And so gleeful were the celebrations of the triumph of liberalism and capitalism over communism that few bothered to study what actually happened and why.

Yale School of Management senior faculty fellow Bruce Judson makes the case that revolution is a real possibility in America. The central precursors that were present before the dissolution of the Soviet Union are present today—extreme economic inequality and an increasingly impoverished middle class. He makes the most disturbing case yet for why our economics are leading us inevitably toward a devastating crisis. When Franklin Roosevelt faced a similar situation, he was saved by World War II. This time, the conflict may be at home, not abroad.

In It Could Happen Here, Hudson explores how extreme  (and growing) economic inequality in the United States  can ultimately lead to political instability. The US is  currently at the highest levels of economic inequality in the recorded history of the Republic (with the top 10% of families receiving about 50% of all income).   As economic inequality increases, the levels of anger, mistrust, and political polarization within nations grow.  At some point extreme economic inequality can lead to political paralysis and even political instability.

From Hudson’s blog: As we hit record, or near record levels of hunger, short and long-term joblessness, foreclosures, and credit card defaults, I am concerned that our nation is accepting the unacceptable. We are becoming tragically complacent.

In October 2008, candidate Obama said:

This country and the dream it represents are being tested in a way that we haven’t seen in nearly a century. And future generations will judge ours by how we respond to this test. Will they say that this was a time when America lost its way and its purpose? …

Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame? When we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other’s success?

I have not forgotten these powerful words or what our nation sought on election day in 2008. After one year in office, I hope that President Obama remembers as well.

Swedish Transition hub takes off at Rural Parliament

Posted by steve on May 8, 2010

This week, stakeholders in social economy and rural development in Sweden are gathering in the town of Sunne to hold what they call the “rural parliament”. It is a gigantic annual undertaking, bringing politicians, local government, international partners, rural development agencies and interest organisations together. The organisation, “All Sweden shall live”(HSSL) is host, and by the way, also a hub partner for Transition Network. A healthy splash of entrepreneurship is displayed in the exhibition hall, with banks and insurance companies vying for attention with solar panel suppliers and sustainable home heating system. And for the first time in its 11 year history, the Transition movement is represented. Invited to give international guests an update on Transition in Sweden, and wandering around totally impressed by the organisation, I can’t help but feel I am seeing a glimpse of how the Transition movement might look in the very near future. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »