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Transition Towns prepare for life after peak oil

By Marie Sherry

A new movement aimed at bringing communities together through self-sufficiency and sustainable living is spreading like wildfire around New Zealand, and church groups are encouraged to get involved.

The Transition Towns initiative was only established a year ago, but already more than 40 towns and cities throughout the country are involved.

The movement was formed in October last year at the Eco Show in Taupo, when just three towns were involved.

James Samuel, who is heavily involved in the Waiheke Island group, says the response from people throughout New Zealand has been incredible.

“A lot of it is about connecting people who are already involved in the kinds of activities that we need to be involved in to build the kind of resistance we need to move away from fossil fuels,” he says.

The Transition Town model primarily looks at how communities can respond to the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil.

Each transition group networks with its local community on a coordinated range of projects designed to move from high-energy to low-energy lifestyles in a positive and create manner.

The aim is to ‘re-localise’ communities, and make them vibrant, resilient and truly sustainable.

Transition initiatives are based on four key assumptions:

  • Life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise;
  • Communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany peak oil;
  • Communities have to act collectively, now;
  • Communities can build ways of living that are more connected and enriching and recognise the biological limits of the planet.

James Samuel believes so much in the Transition Town concept that he works full-time on the Waiheke Island project, without pay.

“The thing that has kept me going and stopped me from giving up and getting a job is the phenomenal growth,” he says. “It covers all the essential areas, including local food production, transport, energy and housing.”

The Waiheke Island group is extremely active in its efforts. It is already underway with a 10-year initiative to have 20,000 fruit and nut trees planted on the island, while a community garden was established back in September 2005. Planning is also underway for a ‘recharge station’ for electric bikes and scooters.

The island also hosted The Big Intent at the end of October, which looked at things communities can do to rise to the food, fuel and environmental challenges facing the planet.

“The challenges are big enough for us all to be sitting up and thinking about how we’re going to look after ourselves in the future,” James says. “I think we can build a dignified life without having to resort to conflict and collapse.”

Paul Kennett has been involved in the Lower Hutt Transition Town group since November last year. There are now several groups located throughout the greater Wellington region.

He says the movement has “exploded” throughout the country.

“There are a lot of people out there who think things are getting out of hand and that something needs to be done,” he says.

The Lower Hutt group has recently completed a series of eight-week awareness-raising of talks, films and discussions on climate change and peak oil issues.

“We’re trying to work out a community response to climate change, as opposed to individual responses or national responses,” Paul says.

“It’s focused on building a stronger community to survive any of the shocks that are coming our way. We’ve gone from an oil price shock six months ago to a financial shock and there are quite a lot of challenges within the New Zealand community.

“One of the key concepts of Transition Towns is the introduction of re-localisation in order to reduce your energy demands. We want people to do more in their community, rather than travelling out.”

Paul says while Transition Towns is neither a church-based movement nor politically affiliated, it does contain a lot of values that overlap with the church.

“The thing I like is the importance of creating a positive vision for the future. It’s quite a moral stance in my option, which fits in nicely with church groups.”

Retired Anglican minister Rev Peter Stuart says there is a link between Transition Town groups and church groups, because both value local community.

He is due to talk to other Anglican ministers next month about the need for local church communities to take notice of the new Transition Town network.

“It’s very much concerned with a broad concept of the common good and the holistic understanding of life, more particularly perceived in the light of peak oil and climate change,” Peter says.

“The values that drive Transition Towns, although they are not peculiarly Christian, are certainly compatible with Christian values. Local communities and churches need to be interacting with each other and cooperating with each other. Churches have been traditionally, in theory, wedded to the general welfare and a broad holistic approach to life and really need to bring that to earth in the new society which is going to take shape.”