Transition Culture

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

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8 Jan 2008

Ted Trainer’s Q&A Part Four.

qa**7. How conscious are participants of the crucial need for frugality, that a sustainable and just world cannot have affluent lifestyles, that sufficiency must be the concern…and that living frugally and self-sufficiently can be highly satisfying? I think this is the most difficult problem here; there is no sign whatsoever that the squandering affluent way needs to be questioned. Maybe the best way to make a difference is to begin with the reality of peak oil, and soon people will realise that the affluence will go with the oil??**

Indeed. I think peak oil is a very powerful tool for putting a mirror up to communities to ask, “where has the resilience in this community gone?”, and for focusing the mind on how vulnerable we have become. It is my experience that there is little mileage in telling people that they will need to live more frugally, but that what is much more powerful is to take people through a thinking process where they arrive at that conclusion themselves, which is one of the key aspects of what Transition Intiatives do.

One of the mechanisms we use to support this is the Home Group. The Home Group arose from the Skilling Up for Powerdown course, where people felt they needed a mechanism for sustaining their motivation for action after the course. In essence it is like the kind of support group that emerged in the Women’s Movement or similar movements where people were experiencing rapid change in their lives and needed support to make it ‘stick’.

At the same time, I don’t think the bulk of people will move away from affluence for any reason other than necessity. It is too powerful, too addictive and too deeply ingrained for an entire population to reject it out of choice. Given the impacts of peak oil though, their moving away from it is inevitable. The question is how to manage that bridge between the two realities.
I would suggest that this is done in two ways.

Firstly by offering support, such as Home Groups, to those who already feel inspired and want to start making those changes in their lives, and secondly by the Transition process seeking to put in place, around existing institutions and environments, the infrastructure that will be needed after the peak, what the Post Carbon Institute have termed ‘parellel public infrastructure’. It is important that we acknowledge that we can’t bring everyone along with us at this point while oil is still aplenty and the economy is still booming, but we can, with an ethic of service, begin to catalyse the creation of a new infrastructure of food, energy, economics, that is designed to cope with and support the emerging reality.

In his introduction to the forthcoming ‘Transition Handbook’, Richard Heinberg describes the Transition approach as being “more like a party than a protest march”, and that is one of the powerful aspects of this approach. Last week a piece in the Guardian called [Is This The Big One?]( argued that a crushing recession appears to be underway with the potential to exceed any we have seen thus far. In a collection of practical tips at the end, he encourages people to reduce their spending, work out domestic budgets, rearrange their mortgages, basic practical belt-tightening. Experimenting with ways to make frugality cool, fun and like a party are going to be key as we enter such a recession, finding ways to make that kind of reassessment of what we are doing feel engaging and supported, as well as making the opportunity to do so feel like part of a historic rethink of how society works.

The issue of frugality is harder to explore when working with businesses. Their model upon which their existence is based is dependent on growth, so talk of frugality is unlikely to be well received (unless the business is about importing plastic toilet seats from China, in which case perhaps a gentle hand on the shoulder and a suggestion of a gentle winding up wouldn’t be inappropriate). The challenge with business is much more about realigning the focus to be on local markets and materials and shorter supply lines.

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1 Comment

Jane Buttigieg
9 Jan 1:06pm

I think that an understanding of Peak Oil issues necessarily leads to an understanding of the coming end to economic growth, and with that comes an understanding of how our current lifestyles will necessarily have to change. However, I don’t think we should use ’frugality’ as one of our sales pitches when it comes to telling people about the transition movement and how our lives will have to change as oil runs low. Just look at what advertising campaigns have done to make frugality cool. They’ve managed to do it with words like ’minimalism’ (tres chic) and ’less is more’. If they can do it, we can too.
What we need to do (and I know that Rob is always saying this) is to talk about how great this reduced consumption way of life could be and encourage everyone to look positively at the changes we will all have to make.
We could say how awful it is that we will no longer have convenience foods. Alternatively we could think about the fun we could have learning to cook local food for our families and friends. We could feel depressed about not having massive quantities of cheap clothing any more or we could start rediscovering charity shops, learn how to alter and repair and discover how we can have wonderfully individual pieces of clothing as a result. For everything from transport to food, clothing and entertainment we can either look at things negatively or positively. Let’s not forget that a reduction in consumption will come hand in hand with the end of the mad rat race that many of us have somehow joined.
As long as I can eat every day and not freeze to death I can make myself and others happy. I want shared soup evenings, local walks, sharing clothes patterns, acapella singing, board games, skill sharing and homebrew. Imagine no more adverts, genuine darkness at night, a more spiritual world, streets where children are safe from the dangers of traffic.
Frugality? What’s that?