Transition Culture

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20 Mar 2009

I’m With Stupid

While I love the film The Age of Stupid, and am completely in agreement with the aims of the campaign that is emerging from it to get a strong and deep agreement at the Copenhagen climate talks, there is something about the ‘Not Stupid’ campaign that sits uncomfortably for me. At Eden, where I was, there was a sign saying ‘Eden Project – Not Stupid’. I’m sure the Eden Project isn’t stupid, but this labelling of things as stupid and not stupid feels deeply alarming to me. Since the film premiere on Sunday, I have heard about two people I know who saw it, who were moved by it, felt touched and affected, yet who are planning trips by plane, one to Hong Kong for Christmas, and one to the US for a spiritual retreat.

That, the logic goes, is pretty stupid, and I am hard put to disagree. Yet who could have sat in the cinema on Sunday night and been able to argue convincingly that their daily lives are utterly carbon free or even that they live within their carbon allowance? How many people in present day Western society actually have a carbon footprint of 1 or 2 tons? I don’t, although goodness knows I try. That makes me, and probably you, I suppose, stupid too.  Feels to me like we’d be more skillful to understand such thinking and work with it, than to dismiss it as Stupid.

If George Monbiot was right earlier this week, and we really have passed many of the key climate tipping points, then not only does that constitute the spectacular failure of capitalist economics identified by the Stern Report, of the perpetual growth model, and a failure of successive Governments to actually govern when called by circumstance to do so, but it is also a failure of the protest movements and alternative culture to actually engage people in sufficient numbers in building a credible alternative.  No-one has emerged from the time running up to those tipping points as having actually done anything of any notable impact, despite all of our best intentions.  James Hansen this week called for more protest and direct action, and of course, that has a powerful place and we need more of it.

However, what concerns me is the introduction of the polarity that goes with starting to label things ‘Stupid’ and ‘Not Stupid’.  Yes, it is easy to label Kingsnorth stupid, and also the third runway at Heathrow Airport.  They are, by any rational consideration, pretty daft, indeed suicidal.  But is my friend going to Hong Kong for Christmas more stupid than me?  Possibly, but the reality is that most peoples’ lives are a complex mesh of compromise, insecurities, social pressure, enticement from advertising, the daily struggle just to keep their head above water and so on.

I don’t feel that labelling certain things ‘Stupid’ really addresses the complexity of our situation, and may indeed do more harm than good.  If someone were to label me stupid because of something I was doing, something I may be attached to in my life, it would boost my ‘sod off’ response, rather than my ‘hang on a minute, perhaps these people have something I need to listen to here’ response.  Although my personal perception of the decision that was taken, say with regards to the third runway, is that it was stupid, that decision-making process involved a lot of thinking and weighing up of factors, and we may learn more by trying to understand those, than just by dismissing the whole thing as ‘stupid’.

Take me as an example.  I have solar panels, I have insulated my house, I don’t have a car and I don’t fly.  I grow food and I make compost.  However I still do things that generate carbon, probably, given the size of my family, quite a lot of carbon.  I still live within a consumerist society and I can rarely afford locally made, organic fibre clothes and so end up buying clothes from goodness knows where with goodness knows what impacts.  I borrow a car sometimes if I need to do certain trips.  I buy books and still like to buy CDs, I like to take the odd bath now and then because a bath is somehow a more all-round relaxing experience than a shower.  I do sometimes eat out of season, non-local food.  I like chocolate.  If its been cold and damp for a long time and my kids need clothes to wear that day and they haven’t dried by any other means, I have even been known to use a tumble drier.  I’m no saint, but who is?  Does that make me stupid?  Quite probably.

Earlier this week we had Don Beck, one of the founders of the Spiral Dynamics approach in Totnes for a talk.  It was very interesting, and I found myself warming to the idea (I had been ambivalent about it in the past).  The idea in a nutshell is that people and cultures evolve through a series of observable stages, of what they call ‘memes’.  These echo the stages most cultures move though, from red, which is more tribal pattern, through blue, which is the authoritarian and order-filled stage, to orange, which embodies a powerful business ethic, and which gauges its success on its achievements, to green, which is very egalitarian and communitarian, and then to yellow, which is about integration.

I had always thought of Spiral Dynamics as offering a pretty simplistic overview of humanity, one in which each person who came to it placed themselves higher in the system than everyone else.  This is an misunderstanding, Beck said.  In every person, each of the 7 memes are existent, pulsing at different strengths at different times.  One can have a very orange approach to one area of life, and very yellow in others.

My personal ‘aha’ moment came when someone asked Beck “if the aim is to move everyone through all the stages until they reach the yellow meme, then surely, given the speed of climate change and peak oil, we’ve had it?”  Again, said Beck, this is a misunderstanding.  The aim is not to move everyone through.  The idea is to acknowledge and respect that in any community, there are people and institutions at each of these levels.  And what is vital is not that everyone ‘goes yellow’ as it were, (or completely ‘not stupid’) but that every meme manifests in a healthy version of that meme.

For example, the blue meme is about self sacrifice, a code of conduct, strong values everyone having their place, laws and regulations.  It is a very conservative mindset.  In its unhelpful manifestation can be seen, for example, in my local District Council, very conservative, knows what’s best, doesn’t want community involvement as it knows how to do everything thank you very much, business comes first.  In a healthy manifestation though, it is about harnessing the ability such a meme has to get things done, to work with focus and with values to make things happen.  The green meme is about caring, political correctness, exploring feelings and sensitivity, using consensus and so on.  It is the meme of alternative culture.  In its unhealthy manifestation, it becomes collective navel-gaving and stuck in the tyranny of structurelessness.  In its healthy manifestation it offers the heart and soul aspects of Transition, insights from holistic thinking, deep democracy and so on.  You can find some great insights into how to communicate sustainability to people at each meme in a series of excellent presentations here.

My feeling is that if, say, a town like Totnes, is to successfully Transition, it needs all of those memes, all the sectors of society, working together in pursuit of a common goal.  For me, this is a very useful way of looking at it, because it stresses that interventions need to be made strategically.  Rather than a Transition group raising awareness by showing the End of Suburbia to the usual people who come to watch such things, perhaps a series of talks to the local Conservative Club and Rotary Club, based on appealing to their core values of local economy, responsibility, conservation and so on, would actually unlock more momentum, and unleash more energy?  Perhaps the business community need to be focused on more at the initial stages?  We need to be strategic here, not beat people round the head, as that very clearly has failed as an approach.

Clearly we have very little time left to turn this round.  The Age of Stupid clearly makes the point that this is a historic crossroads for humanity.  At such a point it feels useful to reflect on the tools we have had thus far and how useful they actually are.  It has long felt to me like we need more than just protest and direct action, and that big societal changes are either imposed by totalitarian governments, or they are driven by an inspired, passionate populus with a shared sense of vision and purpose.  I would certainly favour the latter myself, but one does not create that by putting ‘Stupid’ stickers on things, organisations and people we don’t like or that we feel are acting in a misguided way.  We run the danger of invoking a mass ‘sod off’ response.  We are all, to varying degrees, stupid.  Yet we are also all brilliant, creative, driven, inspired, passionate geniuses (genii?), to similarly varying degrees.  It will be those qualities that will get us out of this, not our stupidity.  I may well be stupid, but I am a lot more than that too, as are we all.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

76 Comments

Mike (Stroud, UK)
20 Mar 12:36pm

As EF Schumacher noted (in his last book ‘A guide for the Perplexed’), we need to restore wisdom over intellect. Rob’s point about recognising the complexity is important as it moves us beyond the either/or, right/wrong, stupid/not stupid position, and takes us more into inquiry, curiosity, wonder and humility.
Andrew Marr’s final programme on Darwin last night (‘Life and Death’) was excellent and worth catching on i player – we are part of a larger web of life, and what to do the web we do to ourselves. Instead of survival of the fittest (wealthiest, most famous in today’s parlance), what Darwin was highlighting was that it’s about fitting ie, it’s adaptability that is the key, not competing. Finally, a fitting quote (so to speak):
‘People who know nothing about nature are of course neurotic, for they are not adapted to reality’. Carl Jung

Neil L
20 Mar 12:37pm

Another thoroughly enthralling read Rob. Three times this week I have heard people talk about the need for a “renewed sense of purpose” in the context of social change. And I think this is part of what you talk about – the need for more collective action on this renewed sense of purpose – not further divisions. All too often we get lost in pointing out the differences, asking people to prove one thing or another. I don’t claim to fully understand climate change and the complex society that we live in but I do have a gut-feeling, an instinct, an intuition, an irrational sense that things need to be different and the only way we can do that is to speak to and act with our neighbours in our various communities to get this renewed sense of purpose. Have a good weekend. Love from Neil

Marcin Gerwin
20 Mar 12:41pm

Couple of years ago a friend of mine told me he had stopped eating bananas in favour of local food. I thought that was too far. I love bananas! Now I don’t eat them myself, having watched a documentary about spraying pesticides on bananas. And I try to choose local produce as well.

Many years ago, when I was in high school, a friend asked me to give live translation of a movie about meat production for a few groups of students from our school. I was a great fan of meat back then and it seemed to me silly to quit eating meat for whatever reason. I translated the movie once, twice and for the third time. When I returned home I just coudn’t eat the chop on my plate. I could understand at that time how much suffering was behind it.

It may be difficult to reduce our carbon footprint all at once, but we can do it step by step. One little thing today, then another little thing next month (for me personally it was often years, rather than months) :)

Then, why do that? Why quit flying? Is it just for me or is it to help the planet and other people? That’s an important point. I wouldn’t fly for holidays, for example. But to help people in e.g. Bolivia to create a plan for a sustainabile city? Oh, yes, I would fly for this reason. Similarly I think it’s all right that the guys from Transition Totnes were flying all over the world to give presentation about Transition initiatives.

Mike Grenville
20 Mar 2:00pm

Engaging people it discussion and understanding where they are coming from and working from there most certainly “would actually unlock more momentum, and unleash more energy” than calling them stupid.

Carl
20 Mar 3:00pm

We need more than a ‘resist or perish’ choice; whilst shocking, it’s not inspiring or visionary for the long-term.

Received the timely Transition Timeline today – hooray – we need new stories and fresh dreams!

It’s not just a matter of ‘stupid is as stupid does’ or doesn’t do. What about an Age of Wisdom? An age where we become all that we truly are, leaving far behind the myopic stories that got us into this mess.

Compelling as it is, the Age of Stupid leaves us feeling like teenagers who must tidy our rooms: we know it’s for the best, but can’t be bothered just now.

Surely we’re more than merely stupid/not stupid? I know we’re much, much more than that. And if only we could see it – large scale – we could live it.

stef
20 Mar 3:08pm

You’ve hit the nail on the head. The Spiral Dynamics model is very useful on many levels for the Transition Towns movement. I saw Don Beck last Saturday in London, he talked of his work in South Africa’s transition from Aparteid- many lessons can be gleaned from that experience for ways to deal with energy descent in the future. There is a group now forming with the intention of mapping Britain’s memes. This would be useful to highlight quick wins and where changes of tact are needed to get the message across (some of this is often done intuitively, but understanding the structures behind events lends one a better overview).
Permaculture design (sustainable meta models) from Mollison and Holmgren is clearly yellow, yet the movement that has sprung up around it is deep green (think of Mollison’s continual problems with woo woos). Which is fine but needs to be remembered.
If you add on Wilbur’s Integral (quadrant) theory you have the tools for gardening in the 21st century global social sphere.

Jeremy
20 Mar 6:23pm

Let him who emits no carbon throw the first stone, as the good Lord might have said it.

I’d hesitate to start branding things stupid or not. We live in a stupid society. There’s not a single one of us that isn’t implicated.

I haven’t seen the film yet. It’s not showing anywhere near Luton, and there would be something rather ironic about driving too far to see it…

Graham Burnett
20 Mar 6:47pm

As a person who has spent the better part of the last 25 years working with adults with learning disabilities I also feel very uncomfortable with terms like ‘stupid’ and ‘not stupid’ being bandied about.

Bart Anderson
20 Mar 6:56pm

The “Stupid” campaign is just part of the inevitable political process. It will get much more intense.

In the first wave are people like Rob and movements like Transition. People are sensitive, reasonable and idealistic.

As a movement gets going, the sides become more and more polarized. “Reasonable” approaches begin to appear wishy-washy. People demand ACTION NOW. Direct action like the Civil Rights sit-ins becomes popular. These actions are called extremist. In response are songs like “It Isn’t Nice” by Malvina Reynold and sung by Judy Collins>

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

Repression follows, and then things REALLY get cooking.

For examples, see the Labor/Socialist movements, the 60s/70s protests and the anti-globalist movement.

Social change is a rocky road. Best be prepared for it.

Bart
Energy Bulletin

Rob Weston
20 Mar 8:15pm

A nice insight, Rob :) I agree that we need the benign aspects of all memes. I see it as an organism – we can’t survive without every one of our organs and each needs to be in healthy condition. All organs feed and are fed by the others in order for the organism to thrive and survive. Otherwise, if the organism goes down, all organs go down. Enlightened self-interest. One for all and all for one. An end to the tragedy of the commons, call it what you will, it requires that we have interconnected yet different and distinct organs in the system. each playing its own unique and meta-beneficial specialist role and looking out for the wellbeing of the other guys. For its own sake, inter alia. See you at the conference, if not before ;-)

Tracey Todhunter
21 Mar 5:32pm

I respect your opinion Rob “I don’t feel that labelling certain things ‘Stupid’ really addresses the complexity of our situation, and may indeed do more harm than good. “. Though I notice that Transition Towns are listed as supporters of Not Stupid on http://www.notstupid.org?

Greenpa
21 Mar 7:25pm

One of the most difficult things to accomplish in the long run is to keep people working together, and prevent them from developing snits of various kinds and splitting up. It’s one of the things I think the TT movement does better than anyone else right now- and your perspective on the Stupid movement shows why. It’s divisive; and by golly- divisive is just a bad idea- almost always.

One other thing to keep in mind- an ancient tactic of the “rulers”, in controlling the “ruled” (that would be you and me) is to set them on each other; creating artificial differences and getting them to fight about it. They may well try it again; and any anti-divisive forces at work will be greatly needed.

bill
21 Mar 8:29pm

In the Transition Network’s ‘Who We Are and What We Do’ Document The 7 Principles of Transition start with Positive Visioning:

“Our primary focus is not campaigning against things, but rather on positive, empowering possibilities and opportunities. The generation of new stories and myths are central to this visioning work.”

So does oficial support for the Stupid film and the campaign fit with this? Or was the decision dare I say it …. stupid?

Rob Weston
21 Mar 8:49pm

Now there’s a good term: ‘anti-divisive’ – I know what you’re saying and absolutley agree, Greenpa, but it made me chuckle. ‘War on terror’, on the other hand was an oxymoron that mad me cross…

Carin Schwartz
21 Mar 9:21pm

As much as I thoroughly agree with Rob and respect his opinion, I still think the Age of Stupid is an immensely important film and needs everyones complete undivided support. To focus on “stupid” versus “non-stupid” could make some people think that the film is not worth seeing and thus creating more of a negative effect than the support the climate challenge issue needs.

I see the same happening all the time when climate sceptics hog a small discrepancy between scientists and make that out to mean that there is no climate challenge issue.

Bob Doppelt’s book “The Power of Sustainable Thinking” neatly describes 5 different stages of change. In my opinion AoS is aimed mostly at people in the first two stages – people who are currently Disinterested in climate change or those in the “Deliberating change” mode. If this film can wake up a few people (hopefully many more than that), possibly move them into action, then I for one think Franny has succeeded.

Finally – If anyone called me “stupid” for flying to HongKong, I think I could take that and appreciate that in a manner of speaking it is a “stupid” thing to do. It does not have to mean that I am altogether a bad person. To be “not-stupid” in the same sense, does not mean that I am the most intelligent person around the table either. We are playing with words when we should be out sowing seeds and changing the world!!! Franny could use our support to make more good films, maybe the next one will be about “smart people taking smart actions” to avoid climate chaos.

Rob
21 Mar 10:01pm

Dear Tracy and Bill,
You are right to note that Transition Network is supporting the film and the campaign, this is because we support pressure to bring about a good result in Copenhagen, and feel that the drawing of more attention to the issue is urgent… also we support the way the film was made and the impact it is having… albeit with the caveats outlined above. Transition Network supports the film and the aims of the campaign, but will not be putting ‘Stupid’ or ‘Not Stupid’ labels onto anything or anyone….

Eva
21 Mar 11:23pm

Hiya,
Just got back from speaking (briefly) after a showing of the Age of Stupid! This is me unwinding ha ha!

I was struck by how resistant the people in the audience were to the idea that action in our local communities might be a useful contribution. People brought up nuclear energy, individual action, government action and international action – in a range of attempts to argue that communities are not where it’s at. Now it may be that my fellow speakers and I had not put our ideas across well enough, but my feeling was that what we were saying was cutting across a lot of the content of the film. The only communities featured to any extent in it are a totally smashed and desperate Nigerian village, and a middle English community seemingly united against a local windfarm proposal. The rest of the film focusses on either individual or governmental action – except for a very small bit from George Monbiot talking about direct action, typified by mass demonstration. So the people in the audience were not exactly warmed up to hear what we were saying.

I think the film is fabulous in many ways, and will continue to give it my support (though not the stupid/not stupid bit, which I agree is a bit s – well, probably not all that helpful!), but I do think that this is a fairly huge gap in it’s examination of the situation we find ourselves in. I don’t really understand why, in the face of the evidence to date about the likelihood of governments stirring themselves to take adequate action on climate change, the film, which otherwise makes a pretty good analysis of the situation, ends up proposing this as our best chance of getting though.

Roll on the Transition movie – I can’t wait!!

John Medway
21 Mar 11:35pm

Rob, I share your concerns about the possible incompatibility between the “Stupid” labels and the need to harness the positive aspects of human nature. My take on it is slightly different, though I think we fundamentally agree.

When I first saw some of the video clips about the film last year I thought to myself that by the end of 2009, “Age of Stupid” would become a buzz-phrase. I found myself using it as an adjective to describe, not people, but ways of thinking. For instance, when I read through a BAA publication in support of the Third Runway at Heathrow, I said to myself “My God, this is riddled with Age of Stupid thinking”, such as:

“In a globally competitive world, standing still is not an option.”

- in other words, keeping Britain richer than most countries in the world takes precedence over avoiding climate catastrophe.

and

“Chartwell Games [a developer and supplier of Internet gaming software] is based near Heathrow airport. This is an ideal, easily accessible location for us as it
allows our overseas clients and new business partners to get to us quickly. We have had people fly in
to see us for the day, because once off the plane they can be in our office in 40 minutes.”

- ie though gaming software, an archetypally inessential product, can be transmitted electronically all over the world and marketed over the Internet, we think it’s excellent that Heathrow, at substantial cost to the future welfare of humanity, enables people to carry on doing business in a more wasteful and destructive way.

“Age of Stupid” is a delightfully and memorably ungrammatical phrase and it carries a hopeful implication – ages come to an end and are replaced by other ages. We should think of “Age of Stupid” thinking as something people can easily dissociate themselves from, something that “they” (people like bankers who let their banks go bust but walk away with big bonuses) espouse, yesterday’s way of thinking.

The key seems to me not to not to jettison the “Age of” and not to label people as stupid, just a particular way of thinking.

Michele
22 Mar 12:58pm

As an active member of an emerging transition group, I am fully committed to the transition approach and have been amazed at how many projects we are setting up and training of members and awareness raising events have been and are being organised in our small community in the last seven months. I thank Rob Hopkins for his vision for action. Very little carbon has been saved yet though and the urgency of the problem staring us in the face increased daily.

We are in this together but some more than others and some of the others have the power to make the substantial changes that we MUST make NOW to save life of earth as we know it, which is what most of us want to do.

There are a lot of glaring inequalities, appalling and sheer irresponsible behaviour occurring in the world at present and to compare this to flying or driving a car occasionally or buying CDs is not relevant.

I think calling some of the behaviour described in the film ‘stupid’ is an understatement. I would call them plain criminal…

Michele

DaveDann
22 Mar 7:02pm

“Transition Network is supporting the film and the campaign”.
This intrigues me. Is ‘Transition Network’ the broad international community of individuals and groups basing their work on the Transition model (has sometimes been referred to as “the Transition Movement”)?
Or is it the legally constituted body currently called Transition Network? Or is it something else?
(I’m confused because if you google Transition Network you get directed to Transition Network Ltd, which seems to have board members from ‘Transition Network’, but ‘Transition Network’ is not explained).

Shane Hughes
22 Mar 9:51pm

I must admit i had the same realisations as Rob, but in reverse. After decades of taking the positive vision/meaningful engagement approach, i saw the cammpaign and thought that there is also a place for such action. The very notion of there being people at different stages in the transition, means that there is a demand for a diversity of approaches. If i thought transitioners were spending more than fraction of our collective efforts on this type of approach, i’d say it’s a problem. I’m certainly not going to let my efforts to support the campaign get in the way of the real work of changing the thousands of big and little things in my community. I do like the campaings complete narrow focus on affecting Copenhagen and influencing the political process. Moreover, if its forcing some of us to reflect on the stupidy of some of acts, on some level that could make some of us demand more from ourselves.

Ben Brangwyn
22 Mar 11:34pm

DaveDann

Re explanation of the charity “Transition Network”, it’s on the “about us” link on the main page to |- this page -|.

I hope that helps. Ben.

DaveDann
23 Mar 8:43am

Ben
Actually I was quoting from the ‘Definition of Terms’ in that very document! I think the confusion may be that the ‘Transition Network Ltd’ referred to, with 8(?) board members is actually registered as ‘Transition Network’?
“The broad international community of individuals and groups” has, presumably, no documented way of coming to a collective decision.

Justin
23 Mar 9:57am

Bart,

Great song!

The paradox is that the success of social movements like the civil rights movement is directly related to their willingness to be utterly reasonable and keep giving those in positions of power the benefit of the doubt until it becomes absolutely clear to everyone who is being unreasonable. The failure of social movements that focus on throwing stones (or advocating that unspecified others throw stones)is directly related to their being perceived as not having first exhausted peaceful reasonable means.

We’re in this together!

Justin

Eva
23 Mar 10:06am

Hiya,
I’ve just got back from speaking about community action after a showing of the Age of Stupid.

I was struck by how resistant many people in the audience were to the idea that action in our local communities might be a useful contribution. People brought up nuclear energy, individual action, government action and international action – in a range of attempts to argue that communities are not where it’s at.

It may be that my fellow speakers and I had not put our ideas across well enough, but my feeling was that what we were saying was cutting across a lot of the content of the film. The only communities featured to any extent in it are a totally smashed and desperate Nigerian village, and a middle English community seemingly united against a local windfarm proposal (there is some lovely footage of French cycling activists from Chamonix, but only for a minute or 2). The rest of the film focusses on either individual or governmental action – except for a very small bit from George Monbiot talking about direct action, typified by mass demonstration.

So the people in the audience were not exactly warmed up to hear what we were saying.

I think the film is fabulous in many ways, and will continue to give it my support (though not the stupid/not stupid bit, which I agree is a bit s – well, probably not all that helpful!), but I do think that this is a fairly huge gap in it’s examination of the situation we find ourselves in.

I’m sorry that, in the face of the evidence to date about the likelihood of governments stirring themselves to take adequate action on climate change, the film, which otherwise makes a pretty good analysis of the situation, ends up proposing this as our best chance of getting though.

Roll on the Transition movie – I can’t wait!!

James
23 Mar 10:16am

This sounds a bit like an ancient Chinese axiom but could admitting our own stupidity could be the first real step towards wisdom?

James – Transition Stratford

Robert
23 Mar 11:14am

Who is more stupid? The person who flies to Hong Kong, or the person who wants to fly, but doesn’t, because they want to stop global warming?

I would say the second person, because they are depriving themselves of something that they really want (a trip to Hong Kong) in order to achieve an objective which, demonstrably, they are not going to achieve – because global warming is not going to stop because one person decides not to fly.

You can call the first person callous if you want, but don’t call them stupid. They aren’t. They’re behaving rationally.

James
23 Mar 11:41am

Robert, in a historical context, (the context of the film) I disagree. Running around in small circles on the beach as a tsunami approaches is only rational to the person who is doing it. To the historical observer it is stupid.

Mike Grenville
23 Mar 12:19pm

The rage of stupid
The passion displayed by The Age of Stupid is no substitute for the intelligence that effective propaganda requires…

Who’d go to see a film that’s out to prove that most of us are stupid? Not, it must be feared, the supposedly stupid themselves. They’d be too stupid, wouldn’t they? Sadly, such an exercise seems more likely to attract the elect few already blessed with the wisdom that their fellows are deemed to lack. For them, however, the price of a ticket won’t buy much-needed enlightenment, but only big-screen authentication for a pre-existing sense of self-righteous superiority.

The rest of this article and online comments on the Guardian film blog here

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2009/mar/23/the-age-of-stupid

chris White
23 Mar 12:20pm

This is a difficult one. i fully appreciate and agree with Rob’s words, also echoed by Mack from Embercombe talking at the exeter premiere saying ‘there is no us and them, only us’. this is of course the right train of thinking and is the only way to create an environmentally aware society.

However, the polarity of labels such as ‘stupid’ and ‘not stupid’ sounds like a brash and last-ditch attempt to get something done about this impending crisis. there is a strong part of me right now that wants to stand out in the street and say ‘please stop what you’re doing, this is stupid!’

i don’t know, is it not time to start telling, instead of suggesting? (i hope we have more time than this attitude implies)

Mike Grenville
23 Mar 12:33pm

To be clear here two questions being discussed here:

~ is this film helpful or not in the approach and title to advancing action on climate change?

~ is the film something that the Transition Network (the legally formed charity) should officially endorse?

These questions should not be confused. There are many different actions that should be engaged in to respond to climate damaging actions and to build resilience in communities. The question is where should the Transition Network draw the line

Rob Weston
23 Mar 12:36pm

I like James’s thought about our admission of stupidity being perhaps an early step in the process of becoming non-stupid. The more – and the more diverse – comments I read on this topic the more I crystallise out that sense in Rob H’s original post: we need all the memes. If all the cells in your body suddenly switched to being just one type of cell you’d be dead in seconds. Likewise, if just one connection between two organs were severed, same result: rapid death. All organisms, from amoebas to people to to villages to galaxies (long story – you’d have to read my book), need to be made up of interconnected but very distinct and different, mutually supportive organs. That’s just how the universe is designed. Your heart pumps; your lungs oxygenate. One person in the village is a blacksmith; another is a thatcher. All are lost without each; each is lost without all. If one organ gets sick, the others had better rally round to help heal it or the organism as a whole is going down and each of its different organs with it. Maybe it’s hard to own up to being stupid (ie an organism merely in stupour – not necessarily or entirely one’s own ‘fault’) but failure to acknowledge the stupour could be delaying the emergence from it. And maybe part of awakening from the stupour could be seeing our complete interconnectedness and mutual reliance, whatever out many ‘types’ and the many ways we gove to and receive from the system as a whole. And yes, it’s really, really hard not to get seriously angry at games companies advocating massive, multiple glogal flights to debate apparent trivia f2f – but perhaps that’s what the spleen’s for in the human organism!

Greenpa
23 Mar 3:36pm

Looking at it again (always a good idea!) I think part of the problem with the title is – it’s not ACCURATE.

And Robert, above, gives the perfect illustration. He claims the person who flies to Hong Kong is “not stupid” – since they are just taking something – because they “want” it.

He’s right, that’s not stupid. It’s infantile. And THAT is what’s actually going on, we hope- the shift from universal infantilism to – grownup behavior.

There are emotional and divisive pitfalls in those words, too; but they could be worked around.

Too bad that Arthur Clarke already stole what may be the best title- “Childhood’s End.”

Hm.
“Humanity Comes of Age”
“Dear Homo sapiens: Grow Up!”
“The Weaning of Humanity”
“Beyond the World of The Teenager”

:-) Plenty of room to play there.

Graham T (Trugs)
23 Mar 4:40pm

Rob, You and others who have responded so eruditely to your comments here have a level of thoughtfulness, self-awareness and understanding that is rare. Enquiring minds that can see several sides of an issue are all-too unusual.

The vast majority of us find it a lot easier to stick simplistic labels on things, close our minds to alternative views and dive into our firmly defended silos of polarized ignorance.

The sad fact is that most human beings have a tendency, if they “think” at all, to label things “good” or “bad” for them. We don’t like to be jolted out of our prejudiced comfort zones and the vast majority of us like others to do our thinking for us. Distilling complexity down to simple concepts of black and white, with no shades of grey, is the way politicians and corporations achieve their ends.

To break out from the “alternative” ghetto, it is inevitable that some things are going to have to be labelled simplistically, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to have the intelligent discussion that is always so warm and delightful in your writings. As ever, keep up the good work.
Very best regards, Trugs.

James
23 Mar 5:19pm

Here we are fussing about the name of one of the most important independent British films ever.

I’m much more worried about the Hollywood take on this – the 11th Hour starring Leonardo DiCaprio. From the YouTube trailer it looks like the message will be ‘technological solutions to climate change, world poverty, overpopulation and peak-everything are just around the corner – relax!’

James – Transition Stratford

Neil L
23 Mar 5:20pm

Mmmmmm – gaming software – when I saw the film I was a lot more aware of the adverts before the film than I normally would have been (say, for example, at Marley and Me!) – there was the new Cooperative ‘Blowing in the Wind’ ad and there were also adverts for Killzone 2 on PSP3, Coke, Baileys (several times) and the new VW Passat.

Interesting re lack of communities in the film – mainly individuals – but is this not the way that Government and the corporate world like us to be – isolated, divided, fearful of one another – so they can do waht ever once we have been “advertised” us into submission.

And Transition communities are now saying “no more” and collectively we are effecting change – so I agree – bring on the Transition movie (with adverts for folding bikes, solar panels, local food and the new Transition Timeline book – all available from your community, for your community, with your community!)

Robert
23 Mar 5:59pm

Greenpa – you hit the nail on the head. We have a culture where infantilism is practically a religion. A person can be very smart and successful in the consumer culture (not at all stupid in its frame of reference), but they are still nothing but a big baby sucking on the tit of Big Oil for all they’re worth. To call infantilism “stupidity” is not at all accurate.

As for the hypothetical person flying to Hong Kong, they may or may not be stupid. But the person who wants to fly to Hong Kong and doesn’t, thinking thus to combat global warming, is stupider (in my opinion) if they expect that their NOT flying will change anything. On the other hand, if they made a conscious decision to stay home and spend the money and time on (say) a share in a community nut orchard instead – that would be both smart AND grownup.

Mike Grenville
23 Mar 6:03pm

I think that James who says he is worried about what Hollywood will do and points to the film The 11th Hour is going to be pleasantly surprised. I have the DVD and like it so much that we are going to show it on Fossil Fools day in Forest Row.

It includes some inspiring speakers such as Thom Hartman (author of Last Hours of Sunlight), Paul Hawken (author of Blessed Unrest), Kenny Ausubel (founder of Bioneers).

Yes it does look at some technologies that will be part of our future but dosn’t suggest that magically technology will save us. As one speaker says “this is all hands on deck time”. The film posits that nature holds the key and that everybody can play a part in making a change adds up to something meaningful. Altogether a lot more inspiring.

When I have a little more time (!) I’ll write a review.

John Medway
23 Mar 6:44pm

Robert – you’re absolutely right. What you have identified is what is often called “the tragedy of the commons” – a situation where what is rational behaviour for a group is not rational for an individual. For instance, it’s rational for the global fishing industry to limit its catches so that fish stocks are maintained at the optimal level where the total of present and future catches are maximised. However, in the absence of credible arrangements to enforce this, it is rational for individual fishing enterprises to maximise their catch while they can, because if they don’t catch the fish, someone else will. It may mean a collapse of the fishing stock and hence an enforced end to fishing for everyone, but every enterprise can rightly claim that that is inevitable if everyone acts rationally.

In the field of climate change we rely on governments to create the mechanisms, through taxation and regulation, to align individual interests with humanity’s collective interest. The important message of “The Age of Stupid” is that governments ought to be taking effective action and people ought to be pressuring governments to do this. Without credible international agreement, the tragedy of the commons implies that little will be done to prevent catastrophic climate change.

What we are trying to do in the Transition movement is to get people to move beyond behaving as elementary economic theory would suggest they might be expected to behave and develop a taste for the joys of acting together in pursuit of a noble objective. Personally, I feel more at peace with myself for having given up flying (I hope I manage not to backslide on that)and moving towards carbon neutrality. But I don’t feel rational and I can’t condemn as stupid people who fly to visit their relatives abroad.

When it comes to flying to football matches and organising stag nights in Tallinn I simply have to bite my tongue off.

John Medway
23 Mar 6:47pm

Robert – you’re absolutely right. What you have identified is what is often called “the tragedy of the commons” – a situation where what is rational behaviour for a group is not rational for an individual. For instance, it’s rational for the global fishing industry to limit its catches so that fish stocks are maintained at the optimal level where the total of present and future catches is maximised. However, in the absence of credible arrangements to enforce this, it is rational for individual fishing enterprises to maximise their catch while they can, because if they don’t catch the fish, someone else will. It may mean a collapse of the fishing stock and hence an enforced end to fishing for everyone, but every enterprise can rightly claim that that is inevitable if everyone acts rationally.

In the field of climate change we rely on governments to create the mechanisms, through taxation and regulation, to align individual interests with humanity’s collective interest. The important message of “The Age of Stupid” is that governments ought to be taking effective action and people ought to be pressuring governments to do this. Without credible international agreement, the tragedy of the commons implies that little will be done to prevent catastrophic climate change.

What we are trying to do in the Transition movement is to get people to move beyond behaving as elementary economic theory would suggest and instead to develop a taste for the joys of acting together in pursuit of a noble objective. Personally, I feel more at peace with myself for having given up flying (I hope I manage not to backslide on that)and moving towards carbon neutrality. But I don’t feel rational and I can’t condemn as stupid people who fly to visit their relatives abroad.

When it comes to flying to football matches and organising stag nights in Tallinn I simply have to bite my tongue off.

James
23 Mar 6:49pm

Thanks Mike – I look forward to seeing it…

Justin Kenrick
24 Mar 12:30pm

Thanks John Medway for you comment on Robert’s idea that it is ‘rational’ to be selfish in that narrow waywe have been persuaded will make us happier/ healthier,

Just a wee clarification here: what is conventionally described as ‘the tragedy of the commons’ is in fact not a tragedy of commons regimes, but one of open access regimes (something Garrett Hardin, the inventor of the term, later admitted). This is a crucal point because Transition initiatives are the latest example of a commons regime re-emerging because people realise that it is rational for the individual to care about those around them and their community. The irony is that the best example of ‘open access regimes’ is that of capitalism, where the only understanding of being ‘rational’ is acting in one’s own immediate, narrow and ultimately self-defeating self-interest. In a commodity system liek capitalism, the only rules are ones imposed by Government, ‘open access regimes’ are fundamentally situations where people are persuaded to act in a way that has no consideration for their own longer term, that of their children that of others. Commons regimes, in sharp contrast, always have unwritten or written rules about who can use what resource when and for how long, in order to ensure everyone’s wel-being over the longer term. Some may be wealthier than others, there is always negotiation, argument or conflict as the rules are changed, kept, kept to or broken; but the basic principle is that you don’t get a free lunch (getting a free lunch is exactly what advertisers, political parties and any other open access regime pundit tries to persuade us we can get). Sorry to go on at length, but commons regimes are exactly how humans have effectivel self-organised for millenia; and it is absolutely typical that the term is then used (in a 1984 kind of way) to assert hat our only hope is a market system regulated by government, when it would be blindingly obvious to a Marian anthropologist that such a system has brought us to the brink of extinction and we need to change it fast. Transition is a creative, empowering, imediately gratifying prove that we can do it!

Duncan
25 Mar 12:24am

Hi Rob,

Your point is both interesting logical. I too enjoyed the movie (for the movies sake) at the same time as having my concerns. In hindsight I feel that the use of shock tactics (armageddon like future scenarios) and the labelling of those who some percieve as “stupid” is like trying to fight fire with fire.

In your transition handbook you quote Einstein who said that “we can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used to create them”.

The labelling and shock tactics are clearly the use of a mild form of violence which is being used to combat a situation caused by violence. It cannot succeed.

By showing the future as a hellish world where suffering and scarcity is even more rife than it is now, can only compound the situation we are already in. Ok maybe a few people who are aware of what we are doing to our planet will react to these scenes fairly mildly as they know what to expect. But this is preaching to the converted. We need to start to consider the person who is not well informed about these issues as they are THE most important. We cannot force people to come to a conclusion or a realization, again this is a form arrogance and of violence which have their roots in fear. We can only accompany them and help to guide them in a direction which will help them to see clearly for themselves the situation they/we are in.

I truly feel that it is at the personal level that this change will come about. Mass action has worked in the past and has it’s place in the toolbox of civil disobedience but until the individual has seen for his/herself the consequences of their actions they are only following the mob, for reasons other than that of the mass action itself.

And, with both the hellish scenarios and the labeling of people as “stupid” you can only create division and separation. Separation from those who are less informed about these issues, and separation from those who are in position of power and influence.

The two most important groups of people in this situation may now be even less able to come to their own realisation about our common global situation due to the use of yet more violence used to fight violence. Centuries and decades of war tells us that this cannot and will not work.

How else do we deal with this situation?

My own feeling is that we do it at a more personal level. At the level of human to human, which is exactly the approach of Transition towns. To make the connection with the public at a personal level, to forge relationships at a personal level, and to nourish and maintain these relationships at a personal level. My hope is, that with the growth of Transition Towns and other ideas akin to the spirit of change for the better of the living planet, we will no longer need such basic stimulation.

John Medway
26 Mar 10:47am

Justin – a very useful and informative bit of clarification – many thanks.

John

Cath
26 Mar 4:00pm

A couple of people have said that the person not flying to Hong Kong, in the belief that their action will make a difference, is stupid or misguided. I disagree. If we all acted/didn’t act because we believed that our own indiviual actions make no difference, no-one would act for positive change at all. I would not be involved in a transiiton town (how can one small town working towards low carbon emissions make any difference?). I would not be recycling, taking the train instead of the car, refusing to drive my children to school, making houmous instead of buying it in plastic tubs, if I believed that these actions made no difference.

Our individual actions (or decisions not to act) make a difference on several fronts: they set an example to other people, showing that it is possible to live in a lower-impact way; they make it possible for us to encourage others from a position of integrity rather than hypocrisy; and anyway, the tiny fraction of the world’s carbon emissions embodied in that one flight is exactly that – a tiny fraction, as opposed to none. Many tiny fractions add up to an appreciable amount, and it is only by the building up of many fractions that we can possibly achieve the results the world needs.

If that single action of deciding not to fly makes no difference, what single action, including major government decisions, does make a difference? None of them, on their own, will solve the problem, but they all make a difference.

Robert
27 Mar 4:33am

Just to clarify, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I think it’s “rational” to be narrowly selfish. But, if you compare short-sighted selfishness with short-sighted self-denial, the latter is even less rational.

My mum is flying to Nice for a short break with her friends. Should I tell her not to for the sake of the planet? Global warming is still going to happen whether my mum takes that flight or not. If demand for fossil fuel goes down in one place, the price falls, demand rises somewhere else. (Yes, this is what Garret Hardin identified as the tragedy of the (unregulated) commons).

I don’t fly to Nice for my holidays, because I’ve got much more fun things to do that don’t involve consuming (so much) fossil fuel… but I’m not under the illusion that I’m saving the world by not flying. And I do fly to the UK to visit my family. I’m not looking for any medals for being the cleanest, greenest hero for the planet. (Yes, I am building an ecohouse… for lots of good reasons, eco-heroism not among them.) I think we who are concerned about the climate really, really need to get beyond silly contests about who is greener than whom. Personal carbon footprints are so 1992. The atmosphere, frankly, doesn’t give a flying fuck.

We also need to stop wasting our breath on the infantile – whether they’re infantile consumers who need one more fix of jet fuel, or infantile climate-change deniers who can twist any argument into a circle to prove their original assumptions.

Instead we need to look at what it takes to really fix the global carbon system. What harmful links can be broken, what helpful ones strengthened?

I don’t have the answers, but I am sure it requires us to step beyond our roles as passive consumers and electors in a representative democracy… The community focus promoted by the Transition movement, clearly, is a step in the right direction. But only a small step.

James
27 Mar 8:41am

“My mum is flying to Nice for a short break with her friends. Should I tell her not to for the sake of the planet?”

Yes. But I’d advise asking rather than telling.

This would be a step in the right direction. But only a small step.

Josef Davies-Coates
30 Mar 12:36am

James and all:

I’d just like to agree with Mike that those who’ve not seen 11th Hour are likely to be pleasantly surprised…

Leonardo himself basically explain that there is no hope without getting rid of capilatism and growth based economics.

Frankly, he makes this point much clearer than Rob does in the wonderful Transition Handbook! :P

This point also ties in with the flying stuff…

Yes, lots of small changes can add up. But all they add up to in the end is slowing, maybe, the rate of destruction.

Only by creating a whole new economic system that makes capitalism (an economic system that requires/ demands constant economic “growth”, i.e. ecological and social devastation) obsolete will we have any real substantive effect.

Angela Elizabeth
31 Mar 6:14pm

I though the ‘not stupid ‘ label worked well, it’s similar to the message that the planet will survive its us we’re talking about. My 15 year old saw it with me and thought it would be a good film to get shown at school – so thats a positive endorsement. As a way of making this stuff fashionable it’s the first thing I’ve seen that starts to do that. I would congratulate the Transition Network for supporting it.

Robert
2 Apr 3:19pm

Sorry to go on about this, but I think we’re talking about some fundamentally different types of choices/actions here.

Individual consumer decisions, I would argue, cannot and will not make any substantial difference to global problems such as climate change, for the specific reason that I pointed out: namely, that they will be compensated for by the decisions of billions of other individual consumers, via the medium of the market.

James, that’s why I won’t tell (or even ask) my mum not to fly: because she and I are both aware that if “she” (or the airplane she was going to fly on) doesn’t burn that fuel, then someone else will.

By the way, I know that Rob and other posters here are into the “No-Fly Movement”. I don’t think you can really call a consumer decision taken by lots of people a “movement”. That’s like calling veganism a movement. It’s not a movement, it’s a diet. Animal Rights is a movement, one based on an ethical position (that animals should be accorded rights as humans are). Veganism is one possible behavioural choice which could be taken as part of that ethical position. (or for many other reasons). Not flying, likewise, could represent a whole range of ethical positions, or none.

On the other hand, individual decisions by people in positions of power most certainly can and do make a difference. One very good reason why my mum would laugh if I asked her not to fly to Nice is that (mainly thanks to me!) she is perfectly aware that the decisions made by, for example, Gordon Brown and his cronies (e.g. to expand aviation and build new coal-fired power stations) are totally at odds with the decision I would be asking her to take, and on a scale that really could make a difference.

Cath, I am convinced that as the world is currently set up, there are people who make decisions that matter, and then there are the rest of us, who are fed the illusion that our decisions matter. That’s what government is supposed to be for, isn’t it: to make sure that the decisions of the people in power are the ones that actually make a difference? (Reality check: the people who apear in the news, and who we perceive as being in power, probably don’t actually have that much power, anyway. Billionaires are pulling their strings.)

So, in my view, there are two things you can potentially do to make a difference: either ensure that the people in power are ones that will make the right decisions (good luck doing that in the UK or US political systems – for the reason I just stated!), or else take back power for yourself to make decisions that DO matter.

So when I say that the community-based approach of the Transition movement is a (small) step in the right direction, that’s what I mean – people getting together to make decisions about what should happen in their communities, instead of letting the decisions be made by distant powers, and limiting themselves to consumer decisions that, really, do not make any difference on a larger scale.

DaveDann
2 Apr 8:24pm

Robert:
“then someone else will”
This argument is used at government level, as well as individual level e.g. “If we don’t supply the arms then someone else will”. Presumably it could also be used at community level – “if we don’t allow the new supermarket then somewhere else will.”.
“take back power for yourself to make decisions that DO matter” – what might these decisions be? – and I’d love to hear some more details for the ‘take back the power’ bit….(there’s so little discussion of that sort of thing here)
I have no wish to be competitive about how little carbon I use but the person who flies to Nice for pleasure would certainly have lost credibility if they tried to persuade individuals, communities or governments that carbon use should be cut. In a small way they would probably be acting to convince government that the building of the next runway should be approved.

Mike Grenville
2 Apr 8:47pm

The argument that a plane is flying anyway so makes no difference is quite wrong. There is a big difference between the fuel consumed by a plane with just the pilot on board and a plane full of passengers, catering, luggage and cargo. When a pilot is preparing for the flight he recieves from the aircraft despatcher the details of what is being loaded on the aircraft. He/she then calculates the fuel needed for the journey, allowing enough to be able to divert to another airport if needed at the destination. The calculation includes the number of passengers (with a standard assumption of average weight), the number of bags and their weight, and the weight and position of any cargo cartried. On that basis he then passes the order to the fuel truck as to how much to pump onto the plane.

So every extra passenger has a very specific amount of extra fuel consumed on that journey.

And if you havn’t watched Flying by Seize the Day before then watch it now:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNO7F5m-7pQ

Justin Kenrick
3 Apr 7:22am

Dear DaveDann,

Just responding to your ‘take back the power’ question.

Here in Scotland people from transition communitites – together with other people actively trying to reduce their communities carbon emissions – have been working on how we scale up the transition approach to the national level.

We have realised that the first thing is to be clear about the steps we want the Government to take to enable all communities to make the transition, and then ask Government to take those steps to create the framework so we (all communities) can make this happen. The key is to get away from thinking WE can do this while ignoring the Government level, or thinking that if we shout loud enough THEY will do it for us.

We want to support them (i.e. ensure they have the ideas and then the popular electoral back-up) to be able to do what they may well know they need to do, but also know that (as things stand) if they start doing them they will no longer be in power. So we need to create creative alliances with Government, that support those aspects of Government that are willing to take the riht risks, knowing they have our support.

Have a look at our website at http://www.holyrood350.org

Best, Justin

DaveDann
3 Apr 8:17am

Justin
Thanks. I can appreciate your ‘creative alliances’ approach.
You are fortunate in that you have your own Parliament. As George Monbiot pointed out on Feb 17:
“One of the peculiarities of UK politics is that issues which hardly anyone supports receive majority assent in parliament. Under the current system, no popular support is required. University top-up fees, for example, were rejected by the Scottish and Welsh assemblies, but Scottish and Welsh MPs were frogmarched through the lobbies to impose them on England (the government won by five votes). Foundation hospitals were voted down in both Wales and Scotland, and foisted on the English by the representatives of those nations. Had Heathrow’s third runway been debated only by English MPs, the proposal would have been resoundingly defeated; it was approved by 19 votes, after 67 MPs from the other nations were induced to support the government. They can support such measures without any electoral risk, as their constituents are not directly affected.”

Robert
3 Apr 9:24am

Mike,

You’re right, of course, about the emissions from the number of people flying on a plane, but I wasn’t making that argument. I have seen Flying by Seize the Day, it seems to be using the same argument that has been presented here and in other places – i.e. reducing your own individual emissions as a way to help the planet, which I do not believe will work, for the reasons I gave.

DaveDann,

There are billions of consumers competing for fossil fuels through the market place. On the other hand, there are only about 20 national governments which would need to agree to reduce emissions in order to actually bring them down to sustainable levels. (Same goes for the supply of armaments on some levels.) If these governments were serious about it, they could sit down together and sign a treaty. (Let’s hope they do so in Copenhagen.) But there is no way billions of consumers can sign a treaty.

Look at the oil crisis of the 70′s – that was imposed by a small cartel of oil producers. As far as I know this is the only example of a mandated global reduction in emissions that has taken place. In fact, I think it is far more likely to work if fossil fuel PRODUCTION, rather than consumption, is regulated – because it’s much easier to control the stuff when it comes out of the ground, than when it is about to be burnt.

DaveDann, I’ll post something about my own experiences in taking back power shortly.

Robert
3 Apr 10:37am

DaveDann,

I wrote about my experiences in organizing a local community on the Zorrozaurre Peninsula, Bilbao, to promote local sustainable development, in Permaculture Magazine no. 45. The article’s online here:
http://gen.ecovillage.org/iservices/publications/articles/Bilbao%20PM45low.pdf

More recently, there was an article in the Guardian about the Zorrozaurre project, to which I responded as follows:
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/world/2007/10/383769.html

As of now, the story is a happy one for the local community, because the institutions responsible for the area’s redevelopment have agreed to subsidise the renovation of the community’s houses (using sustainable criteria). The community are still here and look like they will stay. What will happen to the Zaha Hadid masterplan, in today’s economic climate, is anyone’s guess.

For me, however, it is not a particularly happy ending. Although we still live here, and our flats are being renovated, I don’t play an active part in the community anymore, and don’t consider this as my long-term home. One reason for this is the attitude of a minority of radical Basque nationalists within the local community.

At the moment, we are engaged in a project to create an ecological house and study centre in a village an hour from Bilbao, which is an experience that I have found far more empowering than working with the community in Bilbao. Information about that project is available at http://www.abrazohouse.org.

To very briefly summarise my experiences:

- It’s more empowering to engage in projects that have a direct effect on your environment, than to sit around talking about it, though this may be necessary too.
- It’s necessary to feel that you belong to a community, otherwise you will not really get the benefit of your work, although your experience will be a benefit in itself.
- Have a vision of the long-term goal you wish to achieve (creating a sustainable community is a good one), and be aware that communities take a LONG time to develop – measured in decades.
- Whatever political parties, companies, or other hierarchical organisations you work with, will always try to coopt your work for their own ends. So beware.

Ben Brangwyn
3 Apr 11:32am

If you recognise the connection between CO2 emissions and species loss, inundation in Bangladesh and ecosystem destruction, then the question “”will my act of flying make a meaningful dent in carbon emissions?” is missing the point.

Let’s look at this with another problem that, IMO, adds clarity to this question – violence to children.

We’d probably all agree that violence to minors is wrong, and is a huge problem on a worldwide scale.

If I see a young kid getting bashed about by an adult on the street, will I get involved? Probably most of us would, some with a pause to assess their own vulnerability, others would wade in unhesitatingly. We’d get involved because it’s wrong, it’s power over, and it’s intolerable.

But, and here’s the big question in the context of this piece, would it put a meaningful dent in the totality of violence to children the world over?

Not really. But that’s not the point.

It’s wrong. We do what we can to stop it.

Now, if we replay that question about flying and the global totality of CO2 emissions with this example in mind, would some people come up with a different answer?

The “no-fly” decision right now (in rich countries) is based usually on moral grounds. Soon it’ll be economic. Later it will be that unless you work for the government, army, UN or are very rich, you probably can kiss goodbye to airline food.

Ben.

Mike Grenville
3 Apr 12:08pm

I hadn’t realised airline food was something we would miss ;-)

DaveDann
3 Apr 12:21pm

Robert – like your argument in favour of restricting oil PRODUCTION. In the field of economics I think it would be viewed that 20 competitors would be unlikely to all agree – whereas just 3 or 4 dominant parties might manage to form an ‘oligopoly’, which is perhaps why OPEC can work. Of course the obvious link in this thread is that Justin and his collaborators can use their political influence to restrict the extraction of Scottish oil reserves in the North Sea…
Ben – I think the flaw in your analogy is that people are disgusted by SINGLE acts of violence to children, but they are usually NOT disgusted by single ‘acts of emission’, it’s only the TOTAL that is seen as a problem. I’m disgusted by much litter so I sometimes stop to pick it up. This would perhaps be viewed as irrational by some here but I’m most definitely not claiming to act rationally.

Mike Grenville
3 Apr 12:34pm

Roberts said: “..far more likely to work if fossil fuel PRODUCTION, rather than consumption, is regulated”.

This looks as though it is happening though not by design. Global oil demand fell in 2008 and should slide further this year, the first demand reductions since 1983.

Also over $100bn in oil infrastructure projects have been cancelled in the last year because of the collapse in credit and a price which is below the level that provides a margin for investment.

“The collapse in oil prices could end up cutting the growth in future oil supply in half from what would have been anticipated during the high price period, according to a new study from Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA).”
http://www.oilvoice.com/n/CERA_Low_Oil_Prices_Putting_Supply_Growth_at_Risk/65be2d2d.aspx

Robert
3 Apr 3:16pm

Ben,

Sadly, the issue of violence to children is far from being as clear-cut as you depict.

Many people in many places still expect obedience from children and consider a spanking (“done with love”) to be perfectly justified as a last resort to ensure this. Few people would interfere when they see a parent spank a toddler in public. I was of this persuasion just four years ago. Since then I have become totally anti-spanking, and pro-intervention (e.g. I have been known to provoke arguments at family gatherings!)

As for flying, it’s totally murky. Suppose you have been invited to give a workshop on some worthy topic in, say, Mexico. The flight is paid for on someone else’s dollar, and it’s the only way to get there. Is it morally wrong to fly? Would it be morally wrong if it were in Italy? If you went to Italy by car? If you flew to Paris? Went by train? blah… blah…

No, I don’t believe flying is morally wrong, in the same way that hitting a child is.

PS. What happened to my post with links? Must still be in moderation, I guess…

James
5 Apr 8:45am

I was leafing through an Argos Catalogue the other day when I noticed a ‘future-proof’ 10-in-1 TV/satellite/audio system etc remote control. I started to imagine a world of floods and eco-armageddon whilst the lucky purchaser sat smugly inside a magical protective bubble beamed from his 10-in-1. What a smart purchase s/he made back in 2009. Unless, of course s/he forgot the batteries (not included). On that theme I’ve always found it odd that most 4x4s are fitted with Climate Control. ‘Fire-storms getting a little intense today dear, shall we turn up the climate control a little?’

I was all set to get on my high-horse about green-wash, Organics shampoo, Nescafe fair-trade, David Cameron etc when my better half found an item (I won’t tell you what) with the small-print warning ‘dwarf not included’.

What? No dwarf? I’m not buying that then.

[...] Friendly Permacultre Critique of the Obama Garden and I’m with Stupid From Transition [...]

Ian Clotworthy
17 Apr 11:20pm

I don’t really see how the facts of peak oil are supposed to suggest that one must stop flying. If anything, they suggest that one should travel now while it’s still affordable.

James
20 Apr 7:52am

Hi Ian. The latest predictions for climate change are extremely frightening. If the world is to avoid a tipping point into runaway climate change we have to keep the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere down to below 450(ppm). At the current rate of fossil fuel usage that figure will be exceeded between 2015 and 2020. CO2 does not just go away, it takes hundreds (maybe thousands) of years to be re-absorbed into the world’s eco-systems.

Peak oil (according to the latest figures from Total) will occur in 2015. By that time we will have burned half of the world’s oil reserves and as a result caused run-way climate change.

Run-away climate change is likely to cause a reduction in the world’s population from 7 billion to 1 billion by 2100 – beyond that it is very difficult to predict how many people will be able to survive.

And if you don’t value human life, consider that half of the world animals and plants will become extinct by 2100.

I have two daughters who should be at the age to fall in love around 2020. Personally, I can no longer justify flying.

James
20 Apr 8:02am

Hi Ian.

Transition makes the link between peak oil and climate change.

The latest predictions for climate change are extremely frightening. If the world is to avoid a tipping point into run-away climate change we have to keep the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere down to below 450(ppm). At the current rate of fossil fuel usage that figure will be exceeded between 2015 and 2020. CO2 does not just go away, it takes hundreds (maybe thousands) of years to be re-absorbed into the world’s eco-systems.

Peak oil (according to the latest figures from Total) will occur in 2015. By that time we will have burned half of the world’s oil reserves and as a result caused run-way climate change.

Run-away climate change is likely to cause a reduction in the world’s population from 7 billion to 1 billion by 2100 – beyond that it is very difficult to predict how many people will be able to survive.

And if you don’t value human life, consider that half of the world animals and plants will become extinct by 2100.

I have two daughters who should be at the age to fall in love around 2020. Personally, I can no longer justify flying.

But looking at your website I see you already know this.

James
20 Apr 8:03am

Sorry, clicked twice – please can someone delete my repeated message. Cheers.

Ian
20 Apr 9:52am

“The latest predictions for climate change are extremely frightening. If the world is to avoid a tipping point into run-away climate change we have to keep the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere down to below 450(ppm)

I have two daughters who should be at the age to fall in love around 2020. Personally, I can no longer justify flying.”

Yes I know the facts about climate change and peak oil. However, it is also apparent to me and any other people that whether I make a flight or not will not make a difference to the likely run of history.

I don’t see the logical leap from being aware of these facts to considering it imperative that one attempts to be pure and free of fossil fuel use. It’s not as obvious as a lot of climate change writers think. It is this kind of moralising that is holding our movement back. But since you are involved in TT, I see you already know this!

Good luck with Stratford.

Mike Grenville
21 Apr 9:40am

Ian – are you saying that your individual actions don’t have an effect? They certainly do.

For example some people justify flying ‘as the plane is flying anyway’. But in fact each passenger and their luggage is included in the calculation of how much fuel is taken on board for that journey.

Individual actions also influence the people around us. If you are aware of Peak Oil and Climate Change and fly in spite of that knowledge, what do you think that the people around you who know less about it will think?

Ian
21 Apr 1:29pm

Well, individual actions are nearly always centred on using less oil. As far as I can see these are mostly valuable in demonstrating that it is possible to live without a high fuel consumption, and training oneself for when such an energy intensive lifestyle will be uneconomical.

But to think that because I use less oil, that less carbon dioxide will enter the atmosphere is a delusion. The reason for this is because it is a demand-side action. The supply side is not affected. By reducing my demand for oil, I am not reducing the supply. That reduction in demand, given equal supply, simply makes oil cheaper for those who live high-energy lifestyles.

I actually do live a relatively low energy lifestyle, mainly because such a lifestyle usually is in harmony with living a low-income lifestyle (e.g. cycling rather than driving or using the bus, not travelling often, leaving heating off). That is what is important. You win many people over to your side by talking about low-energy use being economical rather than merely virtuous.

This is why climate change activism has been stuck in the mud as a middle-class and alternative subculture interest. These are important, but what we need to learn from left-wing movements is that collective goals and action are far more important than the individualist attempts at political change.

Like all motor vehicles, the passengers make up a small percentage of the total mass of an aeroplane.

What people around me think is more influenced by what the media is saying than what I am doing. If there’s anything that climate change activism should not be allowed to become, it is a cult of good behaviour. It’s too urgent for that. But that has already happened, and caused tragic delays. There is a tendency to insist that people aware of the climate act in harmony with their beliefs. But I don’t like that. I would rather act in harmony with the facts, because the urgency of climate change is not a belief, as often implied, but a fact.

Transition culture gets around this because it is about doing “useful/good” things rather than not doing “bad” things. Pious self-abnegation typically just depoliticises the whole thing, and turns it into a lifestyle choice.

Robert
21 Apr 3:11pm

Thanks Ian, you’ve just said what I was trying to say in other words.

It’s not an accident that the main focus of mass climate activism, until very recently, has been on individual lifestyle changes. The capitalist media (you know, the ones that carry adverts for cars and airlines) have been very influential in pushing this form of “activism” as the one and only solution. I suppose that’s because it’s politically safe and non-controversial, and as Ian points out, probably completely ineffective.

Justin Kenrick
22 Apr 7:31am

Hi Robert,

I still don’t get the either/or approach beloved of the capitalst media you mention, and which you also appear to advocate (but in reverse). Surely changing how we live is connected to changing our communities is connected to changing our politics is connected to changing global processes. Or if it isn’t, then we ned to be working rapidly to make sure of this.

If I think of political movements that have been effective (or worked against all odds to be effective) they have not been ones that have told people not to make individual choices, not to buld community level organisation and change, because there is some other level (the national/ internatioal) where everything happens, so there is no point doing anything except some unspecified line of action which almost always comes down to simply protesting. Over my life I have regularly been involved in protest but, by itself, it simply bolsters the position of the powerful – and this is my problem with the whole Rocky Road approach. By itself it is another dead end. All of our approaches are (by themselves) dead ends. Our (slim, but worth struggling for) hope is to connect up these approaches, to turn up the creative and challenging heat of creatively recovering our power, rather than the heat of the planet and the poor and the ecosystems and (finally) the bloggers burning.

I’m still looking forward to your picking up on your statement to DaveDann (3rd April) to “post something about my own experiences in taking back power shortly”!

Best, Justin

Justin Kenrick
22 Apr 7:44am

My previous post (imedediately above) came out garbled! If anyone can delete it, great! If not, ignore it!

Hi Robert,

I still don’t get the either/or approach beloved of the capitalst media you mention, and which you also appear to advocate (but in reverse). Surely changing how we live is connected to changing our communities is connected to changing our politics is connected to changing global processes. Or if it isn’t, then we ned to be working rapidly to make sure it is!

If I think of political movements that have been effective (or worked against all odds to be effective) they have not been ones that have told people not to make individual choices, and not to buld community level organisation and change, because there is some other level (the national/ internatioal) where everything happens. They have not been ones that say there is no point doing anything except some unspecified line of action which almost always comes down to simply protesting.

Over my life I have regularly been involved in protest but, by itself, it simply bolsters the position of the powerful – and this is my problem with the whole Rocky Road approach. By itself it is another dead end. All of our approaches are (by themselves) dead ends. Our (slim, but worth struggling for) hope/ work is to connect up these approaches, to turn up the creative and challenging heat of creatively recovering our power, rather than the heat of the planet and the poor and the ecosystems and (finally) the bloggers burning.

I’m still looking forward to your picking up on your statement to DaveDann (3rd April) to “post something about my own experiences in taking back power shortly”!

Best, Justin

Mike Grenville
22 Apr 9:46am

… and anyway, Transition isn’t either/or. It is part of the mix of all the things that need to be done that include reorganising our lives, finding out how to do it and helping those around us, building resilience in the community where you live rather than place all your hope that government will fix it all for you in time, and yes that very much includes writing to your MP so that they know the issues are important to the people who vote, it involves demonstrating sometimes to make it clear how much popular feeling there is and all the other things that make for political and social change.

It’s all of it together. The great Transition principle is that people should follow their passion as the route to greatest success. The more time we spend this type of discussion simply diverts us from the really urgent need to get on with it – what ever it is that you think is best. But do it now!

Robert
22 Apr 9:39pm

Justin

I already posted something in response to DaveDann’s request – see my post of 3 Apr 10:37am above.

And no, of course I don’t think that lifestyle changes are unnecessary. No point in wasting more words on the topic though – I think it’s pretty much all been said now.

Justin Kenrick
23 Apr 7:28am

over and out – thanks for the thoughtful discussion Robert, Mike, Ian, Ben, James, DaveDann n all – I found that helpful: good luck with yor life/ work in this absolutely critical moment.