15 Sep 2008
My Talk at the launch of the Lewes Pound
I am deeply honoured to be here tonight. This is a historic occasion, one that will be commemorated in song, in story, and you never know, someone might even brew a beer in its honour. We live in extraordinary times. Fast moving times. Bewildering times. Frightening times. Exhilarating times.
When I wrote the Transition Handbook, I included a number of ‘Transition Tales’, stories from a powered-down future, in order to help people to get a flavour of what it might be like. What has been amazing to see is how quickly things have caught up. There was a story about a fictitious company making hemp building products called ‘Hempire Building’. I saw the other day that such a company now exists, with the same name.
There was a story about how the Beckhams retired to a small cob house they had build because the trend among celebrities then was to live in smaller houses than each other. I read in Hello! magazine the other day of a celebrity couple planning to do something similar. There was a piece about an urban garden opened in central Totnes on an old carpark. A project in the town to do something similar is now moving along rapidly. And then there was a ridiculous story about the town of Lewes having its own money. Imagine! Actually the story was about someone who became the first person to live for a year just living on Lewes Pounds. So, if anyone wants to try that… As they say, you should be careful what you wish for!
I want to give a brief overview for those of you who are new to Transition as to what it is all about. In short it is a process that acts as a catalyst for communities to explore solutions to peak oil and climate change. For the last 150 years, what we might call ‘The Age of Cheap Oil’, one’s economic success, sense of wellbeing and personal prowess have been directly linked to one’s degree of oil consumption. Now we are entering a time when our degree of oil dependency equates to the degree of vulnerability. Transition looks at the opportunities and possibilities that this presents.
The last time I was in Lewes, and the last time I stood in this hall was in April 2007 for the ‘Official Unleashing’ of Transition Town Lewes. It was an extraordinary night which launched this historic process. Since then, Transition Town Lewes has gone on to do many different projects and initiatives, of which this evening is just one.
Totnes and Lewes were among the first Transition Initiatives, but this is a viral idea which is growing fast and far beyond these two places. I work with the Transition Network, set up to support these projects around the world. We recently had the 100th formal Transition initiative, Transition Fujino in Japan, and there are over 900 more at the stage of ‘mulling’, the earlier stage in the process. All in under 2 years.
Last month, Somerset County Council voted unanimously to become the first Transition Local Authority. We are seeing national hubs emerging in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Wales and Ireland. In Scotland, the Scottish Assembly has funded Transition Support Scotland. Some of you may have been following the Transition storyline in the Archers, it has been amazing to see how such a powerful idea has just slotted into such a national cultural institution.
The Transition Handbook was recently joint 5th in the list compiled by Waterstones of the books that MPs took on holiday with them this year. Transition Network is involved in some fascinating initiatives, one of the ones we will be announcing soon will be the making of a collaborative film, The Transition Movie, where we will be inviting people across the world doing this work to document their work which will be compiled into a film.
This evening reminds me of the launch of the first Totnes Pound. I will always remember hundreds of people waving Totnes Pounds in the air. I feel very proud tonight that our humble experiment in Devon has inspired all this. The Totnes Pound is now accepted by over 75 local businesses, and over 8,000 are in circulation. It has led to some interesting transactions. Recently a £300 kayak was bought in Totnes Pounds, and a local optician accepted £200 in full in Totnes Pounds for a pair of glasses. I know a couple of people who had offered them to taxi drivers with no success, but on my way here this morning I took a taxi, and the driver told me that he had taken quite a few of them.
A while ago a film crew made a short film about the Totnes Pound and went around the town asking people about it. One woman was asked if she knew what the Totnes Pound was. “I would imagine it is where they take the stray dogs”, she replied! One even sold on Ebay a while ago for £5. Just to restate though, that’s not really in the spirit of the thing…! Certainly what you are doing here has learnt from and improved on what we have been doing in Totnes, and I am very inspired by it.
I think that often in environmental campaigning, we all too often focus on trying to change peoples’ behaviour by providing distressing information and making people feel guilty. What Transition does, and what the Lewes Pound is doing, is harnessing what moves people, what you are passionate about, what brings tears of joy to your eyes. We need to harness that. Enjoy this new money, tell stories about it, enjoy the new social connections it will bring you. I’d like to close with a quote by Arundhati Roy;
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing”.
I think all of us here this evening can hear her breathing…. Thank you very much.
This was ITN’s take on the Pound…