Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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23 Jan 2007

10 First Steps for a Transition Town Initiative #9. Honour the Elders.

ohiFor those of us born in the 1960s when the cheap oil party was in full swing, it is very hard to relate the idea of life with less oil with our own personal experience. Every year of my life (the oil crises of the 70s excepted) has been underpinned by more and more energy. I have no idea of what a more localised society looked like in the UK, the closest I have is how towns were in rural Ireland when I moved there in 1996, the shops all owned by families, the most memorable ones slightly damp smelling with wooden floorboards that sold the most unusual combinations of things (paraffin lamps, boxes of biscuits and aprons) generally run by a couple in their late 60s. There is a great deal that we can learn from those who directly remember the transition to the age of cheap oil, especially the period between 1930 and 1960.

As part of the Transition Town Totnes initiative, we have been doing oral history interviews with older people in the area. One, with Muriel Langford, who is now in her mid-80s, contained a passage I found especially illuminating;

>“Upstairs I had Jeremy in his cot on my side, so I had an electric torch so that when he woke up I would switch on the torch and then immediately Eric would turn to the candle on his side which you couldn’t have on the side where the baby was, and he’d light the candle to save the battery in the torch. We had a good little system going!

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Margie Kepner
24 Jan 4:46am

This reminds me of the series of Foxfire Books, interviews with older people in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in the U.S. It started in the 1960’s, to document a way of life that was disappearing. The books include drawings to illustrate what was being described (e.g., quilt designs) and photographs, both about the subject at hand and as portraits of the people being interviewed. fyi

25 Jan 7:34pm

Susan Strasser has written two very useful books which you might enjoy.

Never Done: A History of American Housework, and
Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

Almost an encyclopedia of how they lived then, at least in the domestic realm.

I found both at the local library in the Social Sciences section.

Derek King
27 Jan 10:25am

This is interesting, I often wonder whether there is an absolute difference between quality of life before the energy boom and since, and which was “better”. Do the things we’ve lost, community, greater connection with nature, etc. outweigh improved health through higher standards of housing, greater awareness of the world through travel and media etc. The elders of our society have so much to contribute to this debate. One of the limitations of the medium we are using here is that the elder generation is comparatively excluded.

levi civita
1 Feb 10:19pm

This seems like a self-preservation clause. Living thru profligate times, the elders will have little to offer to energy-restricted communities, except their sorry faces to the “whipping-boy” posters. They do not know how to farm, they are obese, they buy everything in sight, they litter till they drop, and they cannot live without their mortgages.