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**Unleashing Abundance: Energy Descent Action Planning as a Community Response to Peak Oil** (from Cultivate Magazine, Published Autumn ’05. Available from The Cultivate Centre, Dublin)
How we look at the inevitable and impending decline in oil supply (the advent of ‘peak oil’) will invariably shape our experiences and responses. Will it bring about ‘The Long Emergency’ that James Howard Kunstler refers to and the classic film ‘The End of Suburbia’ predicts, will it initiate ‘The Great Turning,’ as deep ecologist Joanna Macey calls it or will we have ‘A Prosperous Way Down’, to use Howard Odum’s phrase?
I believe that it is essential that we approach this question from an attitude of service towards others. It is not a tenable position to say ‘how will I survive this?’ or ‘where do I have to be in order to be OK?’ Either we all pull through or none of us do. If peak oil does anything, it reminds us that we are part of a community; that we do not exist in isolation even though many of us are stuck in the illusion that we can live prosperously without even knowing the names of our neighbours.
Having taught permaculture design for the last eight years, I recently began to think about how permaculture could offer larger solutions than just teaching individuals how to redesign and make their own homes and lives more productive. I looked around for examples of communities applying permaculture on a town scale from the grassroots up and found very few. Through my work at Kinsale Further Education College, I began working with second year permaculture students to design an approach that could be used in any settlement that would enable the community to design the future that they would like to see.
If you ask most people what life will be like when oil costs $200 or $300 a barrel, they invariably think of all the things they will no longer be able to have. No more foreign holidays, no more driving the car whenever they like. Most people don’t think beyond, about questions such as how it will affect food prices, the availability of common household goods, even the availability of common modern medicines. When they really think about it, some may conjure up mental images of The Famine, of civil unrest and so on. I think therefore that one of the first things we have to do is to work with people to help them create a vision of how things could be. We need to be able to see this as an exciting opportunity, as a once in a lifetime opportunity to create the future that we want.
In Kinsale we started by visiting a lot of permaculture/sustainability related sites in the area. We then held a seminar employing Open Space Technology on the theme of ‘Kinsale 2021 – Towards a Prosperous and Sustainable Future Together’ with members of the community. The students then spent a few months developing the vision that started to emerge during the Open Space. They set out their vision as to how Kinsale could be in 2021, living with one quarter of the energy, yet in a more abundant and satisfying way.
They mapped how we could get from the present to their vision. Year by year, in achievable yet bold steps, they designed a pathway to a lower energy future. Finally they offered a set of resources for people to find out more. These chapters form the heart of ‘Kinsale 2021 – an Energy Descent Action Plan – Version 1’. This was printed with help from Kinsale Town Council and Kinsale Environment Watch and has been very well received.
This process is ongoing. Every year’s second year students will take the plan back to the community, hold Open Space events and produce a revised and more representative document each of the next two or three years. Simultaneously, they will begin implementing the plan, putting in place practical and high visibility projects around town in order to help build public awareness.
I think that what has begun in Kinsale has great potential for the rest of the county as a model for engaging communities in a process of moving forward. It is a model that offers a positive, solutions-based approach and one that gets people moving to build the foundations for what will be needed very soon. It is not realistic to expect everyone in Kinsale to start growing his or her own food all of a sudden, but we can put in place the infrastructure (seed banks, skills and knowledge transfer, sources of compost) to make it possible. We can plant orchards around the town. We can plant trees for timber. We can begin to build the new world that we dream of gently around people and watch it grow to replace the old.
I feel that the advent of peak oil offers those people who have long envisioned a more sustainable world the opportunity to step forward and start building the world of their dreams. To retreat into an attitude of “well it’s not worth it, we’re doomed