Transition Training aims to produce lovers, not fighters.
Identifying edible tree bark; creating a checklist of food, ammo, and water to stock your bug-out location; rappelling down a cliff with a loaded crossbow in your hand; and firing .45 caliber Glock 30 pistols on an NRA-approved shooting range inside the razor-wire perimeter of a compound nestled deep in the Catoctin Mountains.
Training for a society facing peak oil, climate change, and economic crisis sounds like a workout, huh?
But none of the aforementioned activities was on the agenda of the Transition Training presented in Washington, DC this August. Instead, the two-day intensive, hosted by the local Transition group EcolocityDC, offered knowledge and conceptual tools that can help Transition groups, along with a chance for the 40 or so attendees to fill their cups with inspiration from the lore of Permaculture and wisdom from the world’s eco-faith traditions.
The two visiting trainers, Alastair Lough, a hydro-geologist from Portland, Maine; and Shaktari Belew, a sustainability coach from Ashland, Oregon, tried to integrate the “outer work” that organizers need to help make their communities more resilient with the “inner work” that anyone concerned with peak oil must undertake to deal with their hopes and fears about a future that could be very different than today.
Lough and Belew spent little time introducing peak oil, climate change, and economic crisis, but did show a powerful scene from the 2009 BBC documentary A Farm for the Future, explaining just how much of a plastic-wrapped sandwich comes from oil. Answer? All of it, from the plastic to the bread. “Basically, this sandwich, like most of the food we eat today, is absolutely dripping in oil,” said the film’s narrator. Without oil, the clip concluded, our world would starve.
Starve? That doesn’t sound too good. So what should we do?
Short of chucking it all to begin an experiment in farming, which few people can do, the first thing to tackle is getting the message out about the coming economic paradigm shift. To that end, interactive exercises to help participants become advocates for resilience and teachers of the issues driving the Transition movement took center stage. Exercises included role-plays, skits, and having to work the room explaining PowerPoint slides on such topics as world population in relation to oil production or growing social inequality in the United States.
But not everyone was buying it.
Ebony and ivory
By the standard of meetings of environmental and peak oil groups, the attendees at the DC training were a diverse group, with nations including Ghana, India, and Turkey represented, along with half a dozen African-Americans recruited by the local Sierra Club environmental justice organizer, Irv Sheffey. This diversity made for a lively discussion of race and class issues not seen often enough in the Transition or environmental movements.
“This is really for suburbia, for affluent professionals. This is not for people in my area,” remarked an African-American man in his thirties. His comment came during a discussion of ideas to start a transition movement in a local community, including partnering with other environmental groups and initiating a local currency, like DC’s Potomac. Participants were fascinated by the idea of complementary currencies, of which more than 10,000 have sprung up worldwide in preparation for economic change.
Meanwhile, the discussion over race and class continued.
“The systems don’t work for African people in this country. If you’re hungry, you’re hungry. In a survival situation, there are things that need to be addressed first,” added the same man, questioning the relevance of Transition training for urban people of color before he left altogether.
Belew and Lough acknowledged that Transition needed to become more diverse, remarking that leadership in the movement is actively working on ramped up outreach to urban and minority communities. Belew encouraged participants to consider the issues in more depth back in their own communities, where the most targeted work can be done for a given locality. But it was clear that some of the DC contingent seemed to have very different priorities from white suburbanites in the group. This gap led to a creative tension that persisted throughout the weekend, spurring each side to consider new perspectives.
Interestingly, while some of the residents of DC’s largely black Ward 7 seemed focused on community activism to improve the physical and social environment of their neighborhoods, the most apocalyptic visions and pessimistic forecasts about the future came from attendees from outside the Beltway in suburban Virginia and Maryland.
“What if you’ve given up on the planet?” asked a woman from the Annapolis area. A better question might have been, “Is anyone in the suburbs paying attention?” And, “What happens when gas is 10 bucks a gallon and work is 45 minutes from home? For both parents. In two different directions.” With few options for the layperson concerning the broader infrastructure, talk turned to leadership and the media.