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Californian connections!

In August I (Graham) had the good fortune to be invited to California for three weeks to teach a full 72 hour Permaculture Design Course with the Palmdale based Ars Terra collective. Well aware of the carbon footprint implications of such a journey, yet at the same time not wanting to turn down such an opportunity nor indeed the chance for cross-cultural learning and ideas exchange, my hosts and I were keen to ensure that I made as many beneficial connections as possible whilst there, as well as spreading the word about Transition Towns.

Three opportunities actually arose, first when I did an interview about permaculture and Transition Towns with Los Angeles based Sustainable World Radio on KCSB 91.9 FM, and secondly when students of the Design course asked for more information about TT Westcliff, which led to me putting together an Open Office Impress (open source version of Powerpoint) slideshow covering the basics of climate change, peak oil and a short overview of the Transition Movement thus far in the UK. I followed this with a history of what TT Westcliff have been up to over the last 6 months since our inception, emphasising the ’12 Steps’ to transition, as well as our small beginnings as a pub chat in the Cricketers Inn, and how this has led to organic yet sustainable growth as other people have come on board and our ideas have spread. I also Showed some of our ‘positive images’ of Westcliff, that we hope will be a model for a sustainable and resilient low carbon future for the region, and finished by looking at the ‘7 buts’ and how to overcome these.

A swollen ankle on the penultimate day of the course put me out of action as far as teaching was concerned, and so I spent the day laid up at Ars Terra with an opportunity to spend time in front of the computer expanding and refining the presentation, which I then showed at LA Ecovillage on the evening of August 16th to an audience including Rachel Bruhnke, maker of the film ‘The Power Of Community’. This was followed by a very lively and positive questions and discussion session, and several of the audience were clearly inspired by my closing message that “if two blokes in a pub in Essex, England can start a movement for positive change, so can you!”

In terms of my own impressions, I don’t think the true implications of the film ‘The End of Suburbia’ really hit me until visiting California and witnessing for myself the sprawl of the suburbs following the freeways out into the high desert of Antelope Valley. It brought home to me the fragility of a car based ‘American Dream’ that is utterly dependent on oil. But what impacted on me most of all was the profligate usage of water in an arid landscape that receives only 8 inches of rainfall in a year. Fed by ground water pumped up from seriously depleted aquifers or imported from other regions, sprinklers run constantly, saturating lush suburban front lawns and flooding the sidewalks yards away from erosion-scarred terrain suited only to dryland flora such as cacti, yuccas and Joshua Trees. Local talk is of spiralling gas prices while billboards display official drought notices – yet there is little evidence of any meaningful behaviour change. How indeed might this even be possible when the entire infrastructure is a monument to the hubristic notion of ‘Mankind Taming The Wilderness’? Its hard to envisage such a consumerist, artificially maintained and de-localised human habitat avoiding total collapse once the age of cheap oil, gas and water comes to an end.

Yet the people of Cuba, a nation that had to adapt almost overnight to just such a scenario, have a saying, “Sí, se puede” or “Yes it can be done.” Transition Towns in the US will be part of the solution, and by helping to inspire at least two Transition projects in Palmdale and Santa Monica, I hope my trip was worth it.

3 Responses

  1. […] need all the information and advise they can get to start their own Transition Towns. You can read here on his busy time over […]

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