Walking your Talk

The Transition Movement is to some extent a reaction to the growing frustration felt by the likes of Rob Hopkins with the inept responses of governments to the twin threats of global warming and peak oil: if governments won’t do anything, and individual responses are inadequate, then let’s try a community response, which at least has a slight chance of having a positive effect. His instincts were right, as there have been thousands of people in communities around the world who have got involved with their local Transition groups and have made real progress in building resilience and in reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, our community is not one of those success stories! People will come along to film shows and workshops, but nobody has taken on the task of forming a group to look at some aspect of our lives which needs to be revamped so that its fossil fuel dependency can be reduced, such as transport, food, business, education, housing, jobs, and so on. I wonder if it’s because it’s difficult for anyone in China to accept that the country has anything but the rosiest of futures. Its economy has been growing rapidly, many people have been getting richer and richer, it’s becoming a match on the international stage for countries such as the USA and Europe, and the rest of the world is heavily dependent upon it to produce all the consumer items that everyone seems to crave. What can possibly go wrong? Well, as numerous articles which I have posted links to in my weekly newsletter attest, we have a slight problem with global warming and resource depletion, especially oil. I don’t want to look in any detail at these, but I do want to look at what an individual can do   when faced with a community that doesn’t want to listen.

Although it is true that most of us can’t do an awful lot to transform things, nevertheless it is quite surprising sometimes just what individuals can achieve, Rob Hopkins being a case in point. What’s perhaps more important is the fact that, once we accept the threats posed by global warming and peak oil, then we are honour-bound to do whatever we can to combat them. How can anyone with any integrity turn a blind eye to them and carry on with their lives as usual? Once you’ve seen the light (or is it ‘seen the dark’?) the absolute minimum required of you as a mature human being is to reduce your own impact upon the situation. So, what can you do? Personally, I first decided to get rid of my car back in the 80s as driving was clearly the most environmentally damaging thing that I did. So, I started cycling, but that was before I knew about global warming, and it was also before I went abroad to teach which placed me in situations – in Brunei and Australia – where I had to get a car again because the public transport systems were so appalling. Now I’ve been in Hong Kong for ten years and have once again managed perfectly well without a car. In Hong Kong that is an option open to just about everyone. So, there’s your first positive step. Secondly, I realised that jumping on a plane at every possible opportunity to indulge myself in some far-flung exotic paradise was in fact making my personal contribution to global warming alarmingly high. Consequently, I decided to cut right back on flights, although my family live in the UK, and my wife’s family live in Australia. I have, for the last  six years or more only travelled by air once every two years. I’d like to restrict myself more than that, but so far I haven’t succeeded. I think, without a doubt, that these are the two most important decisions to make.

However, food is another area where people can make significant cuts in their carbon emissions. Going vegetarian is a positive move, as eating meat has such a high carbon footprint. I became vegetarian back in the 80s again, but not because of global warming. It’s taken me a long time to get round to being vegan, but now I’ve recently taken that step, although I still eat some dairy products if I go out for a meal to a friend’s or to a restaurant.

The logical progression from being vegetarian is to grow your own vegetables organically, so that you cut out all of the oil dependency that comes with eating food grown with oil and gas-based fertilisers and pesticides, and which has been transported in, often by air, from some foreign clime. I started doing that when I learned about peak oil about seven years ago. I decided to give up my birdwatching and take up vegetable gardening instead of growing flowers. I also felt compelled to spread the word about peak oil to others, so I started a Transition group round about 2007 and I tried my best to enlighten the local population through films, talks, and workshops. At the same time I assaulted the ears of my students at school with dire warnings on the one hand, and with the opportunity to grow organic vegetables (in square foot gardens) on the other. I always try to balance the negativity of the mess we’ve created of the world with a vision of a wholesome and appealing route out of it.

As I’ve said, the Transition work is not progressing well, but I’ve now gone one step further with my gardening by employing someone to farm an area for me in the hope that we can set up a model organic farm, which will produce a good range of tasty and nutritious crops that will be no more expensive than they are in the supermarkets, except that ours will be infinitely better quality. We want the local poor people to be able to afford our vegetables, we want to set an example to other farmers, and we want to restore and rebuild the soil and make our little corner of the globe a haven for wildlife and a centre of pure, unadulterated goodness! In fact, we’ve made a good start, selling bags of mixed vegetables and herbs at a very low cost, and we’re getting good reports back from our customers.

Thus, I think I have done quite a lot in my personal life to reduce my negative impact upon the planet, but I’m now also beginning to have an effect upon the local community by selling organic produce. If people don’t want to hear about global warming and peak oil, they may still be persuaded into following a less damaging lifestyle simply by offering them something better than they’ve got at the moment. Who knows? Once they’re hooked on organic food, maybe they’ll start taking on board the beneficial effects of the choice they’ve made. Maybe they’ll take up arms and join our Transition group!

Don Latter

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About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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