Category Archives: Rob Hopkins

COP21- My Annotated List, Part I

While some of my activist colleagues were rallying at the French Consulate in Miami this morning, to deliver an urgent letter to Laurent Fabius, Foreign Affairs Minister and President of COP21, I decided my readers might appreciate some guidance to the information about the conference that has been accumulating.  COP21 began today in Paris, the largest gathering of delegates ever, and will run until December 11.

cop21cmp11_logo_hp_159x216As good place to start as any is Five Things You Need to Know About COP21 from the U.S. Department of State.  In case it isn’t obvious, COP21 means there have already been 21 previous meetings of world leaders to address climate change.  Or, to put it another way, we have had over two decades to try to figure out what to do about climate change, while the target has been moving at an accelerated pace.

If you’re familiar with Britain’s The Guardian (home to environment columnist, George Monbiot), you won’t be surprised that its article, Everything You Need to Know About the Paris Climate Summit and UN Talks is somewhat less upbeat than the State Department’s take.  One thing you need to know is that previous agreements on greenhouse gas emissions are about to run out, which makes agreements at this conference even more urgent. The article also inconveniently brings up the 1997 Kyoto protocols, which were signed by then Vice President Al Gore but never ratified by Congress.

Too many American politicians, including those running for president (yikes!), have tried to mask their failure to confront climate change behind the “not a scientist” statement.  Alas, recommendations from scientists on a ‘carbon budget’ to set a cap on carbon emissions do not appear to have gained any traction at COP21 either.  The New York Times’ Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of a Carbon Budget is an excellent overview of the thorniest aspects of the stalled agreements. Look also at the excellent ‘cheat sheet’: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change.

Shanghai Bund skyline landmark ,Ecological energy renewable solar panel plant

Shanghai Bund skyline landmark, Ecological energy renewable solar panel plant

I love Andrew Revkin’s DotEarth blog for its crisp, clear take on the subject, and this piece, As World Leaders Kick Off Paris Talks, Prescriptions Abound From a Carbon Tax to a New Nuclear Push is particularly insightful, albeit deeply frustrating.  We have no shortage of answers, but as has been noted many times elsewhere, relatively little public pressure or political will to act.  A tax on carbon, a idea argued for repeatedly by New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, and others, seems in the current political climate a complete non-starter.

OK, saving the best for last: Transition founder and champion, Rob Hopkins’ Why COP21 Matters, and Why I’m Going.  Let me quote a passage and urge you to read the rest:

…in many ways, the world is already changing, and it’s happening at pace, it’s fast and it’s deep…If you believe things aren’t changing, you’re looking in the wrong place.  More and more forms of renewable energy, such as onshore wind, are now the cheapest form of electricity in many places…COP21 is acting as the catalyst for many organisations, businesses and governments to refocus on climate change, move finance into climate change, put pressure on governments to create a stable environment within which to build a low carbon economy.  All manner of shifts and realignments are going on behind the scenes.  And the politics are changing to accommodate this new worldview…

I believe with Rob Hopkins that things can flip quickly when enough people are prepared for better alternatives to the status quo. Something is happening when BP and Shell start to worry about ‘stranded assets,’ when Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are on the same page, and when a young Canadian premier announces to the opening session in Paris, “Canada is back, my friends, … and here to help.”

Waking Up is Hard to Do…But Not Impossible

Charlie Brown Doing OKNo comment needed on this, the first slide of a Transition Towns — 8 Years On show we did at Friends Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth last night, our monthly Transition meetings that have been in progress since January. Putting it together was an education and reminder about how quickly this movement has grown, from the work of Rob Hopkins and his permaculture students in Ireland in early 2005 as they created an “energy descent action plan,” to a worldwide reach: some 1,000 Transition Initiatives in 42 countries.  If you were with us last night, this is a rerun.  If you weren’t, please read on:

A year after he completed his teaching gig and Ph.D. dissertation on the subject, Rob Hopkins started Transition Town Totnes (UK, 2006), and the movement took off like a shooting star.  Many people responded to the opportunity to tackle four key issues that Transition addresses: climate change; our addiction to oil; the myth of endless growth; a skewed economy.

If you’re a subscriber or regular reader of this blog, chances are you are already in the 61 % of Americans who accept the scientific basis for climate change and/or the 48% who recognize that it is “a major threat.”  But I’m going to bet that, even so, you may not have woken up to the fact of our addiction to fossil fuels and why we need to swiftly break it. The concept of Peak Oil shows that around 2008, cheap oil production, upon which our civilization relies  — at least here in the prosperous part of the world — ‘peaked,’ and thereafter, we have had to spend more money, resources (e.g. water), and energy, to extract a diminishing supply. Fracking, which has been touted as the next boom in energy, is actually one sign that we are scraping the bottom of the barrel, pun appropriate.  The case for scaling back on conventional energy use while developing renewables (solar and wind), has never been stronger.Why Transition 4 reasons

You may not be aware that the myth of endless growth was exploded in 1972 with the release of Limits to Growth, and the estimates about when we would reach planetary ‘overshoot,’ that is, when we have ‘used up’ more resources than can be replenished by Nature, are proving all too prescient. Yet, again in the wealthy part of the world, the notion that we can enjoy endless growth on a finite planet, remains a fixed ideology, espoused by government and business.  It is the reason the economy and concern for the environment are so often at odds.   In an economy skewed toward the already wealthy and powerful (and vote-buying) sector, one needs to be constantly reminded that small businesses, including organic farmers and local food producers (to look at one example) create more jobs, better health and well-being, social justice, and keep money circulating in the local community.

The slide show goes on to describe how and where Transition is taking root, and it’s an inspiring human story that I would be glad to bring to your club, faith group, or organization.  I could use the practice, and it’s free.

Most Transition Towns get going when a small group of engaged citizens begin to talk together about our predicament and how we can move beyond it, in and as communities, to a different way of thriving with less energy, more connection, and joy.  Sometimes, the group gels quickly and starts to adapt the low-carbon, relocalizing approach of Transition to the needs of the local community. Sometimes — as in Transition Palm Beaches — partnering with other groups on some common grounds, can be the catalyst.  To date, we have helped — in partnership with EcoArt South Florida and Gray Mockingbird Community Garden — to bring Symphony of the Soil, an important documentary by filmmaker, Deborah Koons Garcia, to the 400-seat Muvico in City Place (WPB) and raise money for a new composting site in the community.

Ken and kids seedingThis April, Transition Palm Beach members participated in C’est La Via, an ‘urban acupuncture‘ project to revitalize underutilized public spaces, in this instance, the bleak alleyway behind the bustling Clematis Street row of restaurants and shops in downtown West Palm Beach, transformed for one day with a scrubbing, paint, plants, music and people interaction into an urban oasis.  This weekend, we went to the historic Osborne School in Lake Worth to participate in planting several acres with a variety of soil-restoring seeds, under the guidance of Ken Horkavy, garden manager and permaculturist, and an enthusiastic bunch of kids. Come back a year from and you may see once vacant land becoming a food forest for the community.  Volunteers welcome.  Get your hands in the dirt.

For me, focusing on what can be done locally is enriched greatly by what is going on the wider world of Transition.  Most of this information is available on two big sites and two emerging ones:  Transition US, the clearing house for Transition information and education in this country.  It offers free online seminars and a wealth of good, inspiring material.  If you cannot be at a seminar, the audio and transcript versions are posted promptly.  In August, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Transition Hub (MATH) was formed, to enable Transition Towns to share information and best-practices. In our area, we have a smaller, promising version in Transition Southeast and Deep South.  In the UK, where all this began, there is The Transition Network, home of Rob Hopkins prolific blog, basic information about the movement, and a list of Transition Initiatives around the world.  As of this writing, the newest is Tiv’on, Israel.  Transition Palm Beaches is still officially registered as a ‘mullers’ group.

Rob Hopkins is often quoted as saying the cavalry is not coming to save us.  But what if we’re the cavalry?  Let’s saddle up and ride.

Stay Local, My Friends!

My tribe was on the march yesterday, some 400,000 of them in New York City, the biggest climate march in history. I have never been more proud of fellow UUs – 1,500 of them – for being in the forefront of a movement for climate justice. Saturday night, All Souls Unitarian in New York hosted an SRO panel of climate activists; click here for a video of the entire event.

Stay local 3So, I wasn’t physically in New York with Bill and Naomi and Vandana. Somehow burning fossil fuels to attend a climate march seemed, well, unseemly. In Florida, there were a number of marches in solidarity with the Big One. Transition Palm Beaches, and the emerging Transition Town Lake Worth, were well represented at the one in Delray Beach, joining Lake Worth Commissioner, Chris McVoy, the Raging Grannies, and The Sierra Club, among 50 others. We occupied the four corners at Swinton and Atlantic Avenues, held aloft a collection of hand-lettered signs (I wore mine on my back), and waved as supporters walked (mostly drove, sigh) by, horns honking, many showing thumbs up.   We chatted and compared notes on what we were doing, personally. Who came in an EV (we did)? Who is growing food (lots of us)? How to get best mileage from your hybrid? What will it take to get the Sunshine state to capitalize on its greatest energy asset (votes)? You get the picture.

M, MJ and Dean at Climate MarchSo, while it has been uplifting to see the crowd numbers come in today and look at all the photos of marchers (thank you, New York Times for covering the event), these conversations and the day-to-day work of learning how to thrive in community while powering down, continues apace. We meet, we plan. Today, I facilitated a loan of a seed ball-making machine from Northwood Greenlife community in West Palm Beach to the historic Osborne School in Lake Worth, where new-minted Garden Manager, Ken Horkavy, is going to plant four fallow acres starting Saturday, with a gala kickoff.   A year ago, I didn’t know a seed ball from a ball of wax, let alone that a machine could make them.

It must be in the water, but everywhere you turn, people are making moves to liberate ourselves from our long addiction to fossil fuels because we know we must. There are MeetUps about walkability forming. Urban alleys will be rehabbed as people-friendly spaces. Next weekend, at the Transition Monthly meeting, we’ll be showcasing how far the movement has come in the eight years since a mild-mannered permaculture teacher named Rob Hopkins decided to apply what he learned from the discipline to the challenges of climate change and resource overshoot.   Also in the works, an alternative gift salon, in time for a saner holiday season. Coming soon, to your neighborhood.

A Four-Year Degree for Everyone?

The unresolved student loan crisis and the plight of debt-strapped graduates flipping burgers will keep this debate on the front burner for some time to come. But if you, too, have anecdotes about the taxi cab-driving Ph.D, or the electrician with a vacation home in the Bahamas, you know it’s not necessarily news, just more politicized –isn’t everything?

Google the question, or some version of it, and you’re likely to find plenty of opinions along the lines of former William Bennett’s (Reagan’s education secretary) “the broken promise of higher education,” the tagline of the book he’s currently promoting. Even Michael Bloomberg cautions students with so-so grades and large tuition bills to skip college and learn a trade like plumbing that can’t be outsourced or automated.

College is on the radar for two of our grandchildren who are entering their junior year in high school, and on the minds of their parents. One grandson took a workshop in entrepreneurship that enabled him to check out a school on his shortlist. The other took college level math at a local college to earn advance credits, earning an A and family accolades. Do they already feel the pressure of decisions they don’t have the maturity to make? I fear so. It seems to me that age 16 is a little young to be thinking about, let alone training to join, the workforce, especially when it is more than likely they will have several different jobs during their working life. (Young workers hold an average of nine jobs before age 32, according to the Department of Labor.)

I find it troubling that most forecasts about the ‘top jobs for the 21st century’ from U.S. Government sources are based on a paradigm of business as usual, that is, the growth model, plus the changing demographics — by 2050, the population of older Americans will double – that is expected to create demand in certain categories, e.g. the ‘top earner’ ranks of physicians, optometrists and podiatrists. Automation, that eliminated many of the well-paid manufacturing jobs of the past, is about to do the same for the service industry, see Humans Need Not Apply.  And barely factored in at the moment: the business- and life-disrupting impacts of climate change that will call upon some quite different, humanitarian skills sets: resilience, conflict-resolution, communications, and empathy.

Who would want this chillingly Orwellian description of a Department of Labor “real work day” in “future time?”

5:30 a.m. get up/get dressed/exercise

6:30 a.m. make: breakfast, school lunches, grocery list

7:30 a.m. get kids up, dressed, and fed

8:00 a.m. drop off kids and dry cleaning

9:00 a.m. on the job . . . 12 e-mail messages waiting for reply

1:30 p.m. meeting at daycare center (your child is biting!)

2:30 p.m. back on the job . . . 8 voice-mails waiting

5:00 p.m. forward office calls to cell phone

5:30 p.m. pick up child from school aftercare

6:05 p.m. pick up other child, pay late pickup fee at day care

7:00 p.m. make dinner

8:00 p.m. do: dishes, homework, laundry

8:30 p.m. bathe kids

9:00 p.m. read work memos to kids as bedtime story

9:30 p.m. fold laundry/fall asleep

station_road permacultureWe can do better than this for our children and ourselves, and my friend and colleague in Transition already is. This week she wrote that her 18-year-old daughter had completed an online course in permaculture, and had decided to forego the conventional college route of so many of her peers to launch a career in this practice. When she gets her certification, Brennah will be able to practice permaculture in a community that sounds ready to offer her many clients. This choice of career is a natural extension of the family’s long commitment to homeschooling the children, living simply, and growing as much of their own food as possible — a decision they made when they lived in my part of the world, and are carrying forward in their new environment. As part of their self-directed curriculum, the children have already raised and cared for backyard chickens, learned about and foraged for wild edibles, and more recently, added bee-keeping to their repertoire of resilience skills.

I don’t think the family realized when they began just how cutting edge many of these practices would become. Far from a redo of the back to the land movement, permaculture is a highly sophisticated system. The word itself is a combination of permanent and culture, created (and copyrighted) by founder, Bill Mollison, Australian ecologist and university professor. There are many practitioners and definitions, but this one is among the clearest: permaculture is the study of the design of those sustainable or enduring systems that support human society: agricultural and intellectual, traditional and scientific, architectural, financial and legal. It is the study of integrated systems, for the purpose of better design and application of such systems. Rob Hopkins was a permaculture teacher and the Transition movement got its start from a project with his university students.

The permaculture project submitted by Brennah as part of her certification takes a half-acre suburban plot with existing house and adds food-bearing trees and bushes, a kitchen garden, pollinator garden, and grape arbor, all positioned to take advantage of natural contours of the site and optimum growing conditions through the seasons. It will also include a grey water system, and the introduction of forage plant species into the woods behind the main house. Although zoning prohibited any livestock, the clients (who happen to be family members) had their requirements for low-maintenance and year-round yield met by the plan. If this is life’s work for the 21st century, count me in.

Will skilled trades enjoy a renaissance? Will we, as a society, begin to value and reward practical education, skilled manual labor, and crafts more highly in the future? A few pioneering Transitioners seem to think so.

More reads:

Let Your Children Be Farmers

Permaculture education

Geoff Lawton

http://www.permaculture.org/

Florida Permaculture Convergence

Permaculture Broward

Transition, With a Side of Homemade Yogurt

making yogurtNeeding a break from the ups and downs of doing Transition, I decided to take a page out of Rob Hopkins’ book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, and make yogurt this weekend. Both are about changing the culture, after all.

I wanted to bring the principles of meditation practice into the process and be more mindful, so I was aware that my automatic choice was to consult the Internet rather than a cookbook of which I have many.  Results: three pages, 10 links/recipes on each, before my search ran aground.  Most of the recipes seemed unnecessarily complicated, so I went with the simplest one from @thekitchnn — the language was kind and supportive, too.  I like that.

Yogurt has been eaten by itself or as an essential ingredient in many world cuisines for centuries, and today it is enjoying perhaps the greatest popularity since Dannon first began diversifying its product, with such innovations as fruit in 8 oz. servings, “stir-from-the-bottom.” In fact, yogurt was declared the official snack of the State of New York in May this year, the successful conclusion of a campaign begun by 4th graders. The latest craze, so-called Greek Yogurt, was also a featured story in The New Yorker (October 30) that describes how Turkish entrepreneur, Hamdi Ukylaya, built his company from 0 to $1 billion in five years.

I’m a sucker for rags-to-riches stories, but I’m in this for the probiotics, the practice, and what it will teach me about patience (a lot). Homemade yogurt is like many fermented foods: it takes simple ingredients – in my case, a half-gallon of organic 2% milk, ½ cup of plain Dannon yogurt – and transforms them into something exceptionally nutritious and tasty. I had the requisite stainless steel pots and bowls, a thermometer to keep an eye on optimum temperatures, and plenty of time (4-5 hours total).

Making yogurt isn’t especially labor intensive, but you do have to be mindful of things like the temperature of the milk at different phases. It is a good reminder that yogurt is derived from a living culture and it will only thrive under the right conditions.  The same could be said about any one of the many grassroots alternatives to the status quo among which Transition, Voluntary Simplicity and co-housing are the most promising.

Johnny Cash was singing from Folsom Prison while I stirred the milk over a medium-high burner (to keep from sticking) until the thermometer read about 185°F.  Mine clips to the side of the pan.  Some little bubbles had begun to form around the edge at this point.  Cooling the milk to about 112°F – the wrist test familiar to mothers – can be speeded up by plunging the pot and contents into a bath of iced and water. Or you can just wait.

It’s important to use a good quality, additive-free, plain yogurt (or you can use a starter). Whisk in half a cup into a cup of the warm milk, then add it all back into the main pot, whisking until it is all blended in. At this point, I had to deviate from the recipe because my electric oven doesn’t have a pilot light, perfect for holding the temperature steady.  A slow cooker might come in handy for this step. I heated a larger pan of water, about 2-3 inches of it, to about 120°F, removed it from the burner, and put the stainless bowl with the yogurt-milk mixture into the pan. Covered it with the lid – you can also swaddle the pot in towels for warmth — and forced myself to walk away. Well, I did sneak a few peeks, like the mother of a sleeping newborn. But the yogurt culture isn’t asleep although nothing much seems to be happening. It is quietly doing its astonishing thing. The longer it sits undisturbed, the more tart it becomes.

I went off to watch 60 Minutes, riveted by the Malcolm Gladwell profile (promoting his new book about underdogs, David and Goliath) and a terrifying story about live volcanoes. Back in the kitchen, about 10 pm, I lifted the lid. The yogurt was a firm, creamy mass ready to be transferred for final cooling to the refrigerator. It can be packed into sterilized glass containers now or later. It will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator… I doubt it will last that long in my house.

This morning, with sliced mangoes and granola – simply heaven!

Transition and Occupy

Transition and Occupy  *  Rob Hopkins responds  *  Can We All just Get Along?

Is Transition like Occupy?  A good question can raise the stakes; inject some excitement, into any presentation. I’ve experienced this fewer times than I would like.  But last Saturday, I was the person on the receiving end during my presentation on Transition to Ashley Moore’s permaculture course at Gray Mockingbird Community Garden in Lake Worth.

SONY DSCIt’s always helpful to say, Good question! and in this case, I meant it.  The answer is, No, and … Occupy and Transition have some obvious similarities.  Both are grassroots movements; both emerged from a conviction that the economic/political system was broken; both were rooted in action: Occupy, in the physical occupation of public spaces to demand change; Transition in community projects to make change.  Occupy is against business-as-usual; you could say Transition is focused on a better way to do business.

Many in my liberal religious congregation were very supportive of Occupy.  We have a strong tradition of social justice and our own martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement.  So in no time, there arose a cadre of people willing to demonstrate regularly on the sidewalks in front of our property. We held a Saturday workshop on Occupy, including a session on Single Payer and another on songs of protest.  Protesting can produce a high, no doubt.  And, whatever happens to the Occupy movement now, we will not soon forget its identification with the 99%.

Although it’s not my thing, I have supported and/or engaged in protest actions for a specific goal:  equal rights for women, Move to amend, stopping the KXL pipeline.  So, although I agree that business-as-usual is in great need of a major course correction, I decided to remain on the sidelines of Occupy, and have happily found a home in the Transition movement.

Attempting to differentiate between Occupy and Transition led to some lively conversation and I’m very grateful that the question was raised.  But there is no more articulate spokesperson than Rob Hopkins himself in how the movements differ.  Here’s a response after he visited as a speaker during the Occupy London action in 2011.  Here are some key quotes (links to the entire article and others follow).

First, like the appreciative enquirer that he is, Hopkins gave tribute to the value of Occupy:

What Occupy is doing that matters so much is that it is holding a space.  It is holding a space where the discussions can take place on their own terms about what is broken and what needs fixing.  It is underpinned by a realisation that this is a crucial time of change where everything is on the table, where business-as-usual is no longer an option.  It isn’t making demands because that would put the power in the hands of the people in power to decide whether or not to respond to them.  It is holding the space for the conversations, and is doing so on its own terms.  I admire that.

And here were some key divergences:

You can’t … just base deep change on an analysis of what is wrong.

Transition says to people “take this model and do it where you are”, whereas Occupy suggests coming together to suspend your life while you explore, with others, the question of what’s the best thing to do now.  Transition is about building that into your own life, right now.

…what everyone can do, in a time when it is increasingly clear to anyone who thinks about it, that business as usual is no longer a runner and that new thinking is needed and soon, is to occupy, in their own lives, that sense of possibility, that space for asking the questions that matter.

You might say that Occupy suggests occupying, for example, Wall Street, while Transition suggests occupying your own street, putting up runner beans and solar panels rather than tents.

Can We All Just Get Along?

That is the bigger question.  What would it look like if we reached beyond our differences and found common cause?  Sometimes, it seems possible, see: Fissures in G.O.P. as Some Conservatives Embrace Renewable Energy.  And A Green Tea Party?

So whether you are a 20-something in a tent city demanding change in the current system that rewards wealth at the expense of everyone else, or a 70-something grandmother who believes that we have to live with less so that others – including future generations – can simply live, we have to work together.  Because putting to rest the notion that we can grow or technologize ourselves out of this unprecedented planetary crisis, is too big a job for any one movement.

A Day at Occupy London
Comments are interesting, too.

How to Engage Occupy Movement

The Green Tea Coalition