Sunday, 2 September 2012

I could not agree more

I could not agree more with Paul Kingsnorth who writes in The Guardian on facebook about the neogreens, who view technocentric solutions to environmental problems as the only viable option (we're talking nuclear power, GM crops, nano technology, biotechnology and the like) because, well, there is nothing else left. The neogreens believe that we have failed at garnering effective progress on the environmental front because environmentalists have had us arguing this and that, discussing the merits of one solution over another, with little or no engagement of heart and soul:- an intellectual debate is never really going to be fully mobilising on its own. I have to admit that following a recent visit to IBERS (Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences) at Aberystwyth, to see the new National Plant Phenomics Centre, find out a little bit about genomics (working with DNA) and listen to the arguments the scientists were giving us, I have a better understanding of where the neogreens are coming from. Amongst other things, IBERS are engaging with what they call 'sustainable intensification', which includes the breeding of special crops in order to lessen the use of artificial fertilisers. I'm not sure how far along the line towards genetic modification some of their work is- I am not a biologist thus unqualified to comment. My understanding (which may or may not be correct), is that some of their new crops are developed through hybridisation programmes whilst concurrently they are working with DNA. I learnt that IBERS are  developing a strain of Miscanthus to be used as a biofuel and I met bovines munching on a special experimental feed said to ahem, reduce their methane emissions. I was unprepared for what came next- my undeniable enthusiasm to be shown round an experimental bio-ethanol plant run by BEACON (The Biorefining Centre of Excellence), where rye grass will be converted to bio-ethanol for fuel. It was all those Mad Professor distillation devices, gleaming silver with pipes and pressure tanks that did it, plus a machine which is essentially an overgrown juicer- woot!

Despite my own strongly ecocentric tendencies and yearnings, it cannot (to my mind at least), be denied that these new technologies might well have a place- a sort of demon-is-better-than-devil place. I am still not fully swayed nor converted, yet I can see the undeniable application and appeal, especially when realistically, the likelihood is that only ever a given percentage of farmers will ever want or be able to convert fully to organic methods, and we're constantly hearing so much stuff about oil insecurity. I do sympathise with the neogreens... Anyway, Kingsworth blames the environmental lobby for neglecting all those unquantifiable, sentiment aspects of our relationship with nature, leaving a gaping hole, which is being exploited (quite rightly) by the neogreens,

"Any campaign to protect the wild world which avoids acknowledging our intuitive, emotional relationship with it will leave itself open to the kind of heartless ideological approach it is now receiving from the neogreens."*

This echoes my sentiment in a previous post that what really got me engaged with resilience was not the intellectual arguments about peak oil and climate change but the simple love of making things. Kingsworth advocates that we re-root ourselves, throw the politics and lofty ideas out of the window and instead get messy with life, go for as long walk and rummage around in the brown earth. A bit of poetry would not go amiss either. I'm down with this, and why? Because it feels right to me. 

Myself and Fulbright scholars visiting the fascinating IBERS.

Nonetheless, my own beating heart
is still more stirred by sweat peas escaping an allotment.

*Paul Kingsworth, 'The new environmentalisim: where men must act 'as gods' to save the planet', The Guardian on facebook.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Peak oil aint happening no more- reflections on George Montbiot and Transition Culture

I have just read an article in the Guardian online by George Montbiot saying that basically, peak oil isn't happening any time soon. Yay! Perhaps I will be able to afford diesel once more?

Montbiot says that with new investment, technological advances in extraction methods and exploration of oil reserves in Iraq and also North America, we'll have a lot more oil at our disposal- we're even looking at a new boom in production. Now, George rightly points out that for the last twenty or so years, environmentalists have been trying to get us to reduce carbon emissions and the like, via ethical and environmental arguments. They didn't really succeed, did they? More recently, some environmentalists have tried a new tack, that of economic pressure due to rising fuel costs hitting our pockets and purses hard. Part of this movement is of course, Transition Culture. When Rob Hopkins came to Lampeter in 2007, I remember him saying that he found people were generally more interested about what they put into their vehicle (fuel i.e. MONEY) than what came out their vehicle (emissions). Thus, Hopkin's logic was that rising fuel costs would anchor public engagement and in some cases lead to the adoption of Transition Culture.

I've been reading work by both Peter North and Bailey et al. on relocalisation*. North explains that intentional localisation (the production of food, energy, goods, services and currencies at a local level) is a fitting response to both peak oil and climate change. Intentional localisers would include Transitioners, Small is Beautiful advocates, anti supermarket campaigners and those participating in local currency schemes. Bailey et al. note that the peak oil arguments seem to be derived from a narrow range of literature. Crucially, perhaps, Bailey et al. point out that the precise timing of peak oil does not actually seem to bother intentional relocalisers, "The issue for relocalisation advocates, therefore, is not the timing of peak oil but the need to develop energy descent strategies to avert societal collapse." (Bailey, et al., 2009:4). Of course, peak oil is not the only threat looming receding (depending on stance) and we certainly can hardly deny the need to curb carbon dioxide emissions- although some do try. My take on this is that intentional localisers want to get down and get gardening irrespective of whether the peak oil literatures are completely accurate, or not. I think this is a really vital point. Personally, I attempt to implement micro localisation strategies into my own life (for example, my sewing, knitting and crochet escapades as illustrated in my craft blog, The Awen of Papillon Noir) because, via Hopkins' peak oil arguments, I got the reskilling bug and now I can't stop. Meanwhile however, George Montbiot is at a loss, he ends his article saying that he can't bear to look his children in the eye anymore. Why? Because, I suppose, he was hoping that the peak oil crisis would be the wake up call he'd been waiting for and that it might be a big enough shock to galvanise, or indeed, force the public and governments into less environmentally destructive lifestyles and actions. So, he is perhaps expressing lack of faith that we could possibly be motivated to change by anything other than money. After all, we have tried the environmental ethical guilt trip for years, and failed, by and large.

This brings me back to Bailey et al. and also Hopkins who talk about the possibility of relocalising, resilience building and reskilling as being enjoyable. It has certainly been my own observation that intentional localisers seem happy to grow their own food, install solar panels and make more of what they need at home or in the community because... they just like it. Much of my crafting activities tick the relocalisation and resilience building boxes. I am relocalising production of many of the goods needed by myself and my family right back into my home. Much of my favourite fabric and yarn is at least manufactured in the UK. Half of the ingredients in my home made pot pourri are homegrown. These are baby steps but in a forward motion nonetheless. Yes, Transition Culture, resilience building and the threat of peak oil were big motivators. This is very true. But. The greatest motivator for me has always been pleasure. I really truly love making things. I adore gardening. It makes me happy. I know my fiancé is very contented when he makes his own cakes, chutneys and pickles. I doubt he's giving peak oil a second thought but he is merrily whistling away, pot on stove a bubblin', beetroot and rhubarb at the ready. Simple things do, it seems, make us happy. And happiness is a huge motivational force. So, perhaps we need not give up hope just yet. We might do well to set our sail toward what make our hearts sing because in some instances, this might unintentionally concur with the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and the building of resilience.

See? Growing your own makes you happy.
("Man tending to his garden' ©

So yes, this is what I shall try out: happiness building activities which as a by product just happen to build resilience and also reduce reliance upon fossil fuels.


*Bailey, L. et al. (2009) ‘Some things old, some things new: The spatial representations and politics of change of the peak oil relocalisation movement’. Geoforum, doi: 10.1016/geoforum.2009.08.007

*Hopkins, R. (2008) The Transition Handbook. Totnes: Green Books Ltd.

*North, P. (2009) ‘Eco-localisation as a progressive response to peak oil and climate change- A sympathetic critique’. Geoforum, doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2009.04.013

You will perhaps note that the terms 'relocalisation', 'localisaton' , 'intentional localisation' and 'immanent localisation' seem almost interchangeable. This is all a bit confusing. Firstly, localisation in a broad sense denotes a reverse globalisation. North favours 'localisation' whilst Bailey et al. use 'relocalisation'.  However, North also talks about 'intentional localisation' as well as 'immanent localisation'. Intentional localisation refers to the activity of purposefully developing and nurturing systems deigned to meet our needs via more local production (think LETs schemes, local food, micro energy production, make and mend). Immanent localisation refers to localised modes of production by necessity due to untenable fuel costs. The use of 'relocalisation' is perhaps noteworthy as well, as it reminds us that we have been localised in the past. 

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