Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

Transition Culture has moved

After eight years of frenzied blogging at this site, Transition Culture has moved to its new home. Do come and join us, but feel free to also browse this now-archived site and use the shop. Thanks for all your support, comments and input so far, and see you soon.


17 Jul 2009

A Transition Take on the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan

lowcarbonplancoverAfter many months of Ed Milliband putting himself out there are a Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change that actually gets climate change, finally his big Plan, the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan was unveiled on Wednesday, in a speech in the House of Commons that namechecked Transition Towns and which is the boldest national vision for a low carbon society yet seen.  Many others have since pitched in with their thoughts, I thought it might be useful here to offer an analysis from a Transition perspective.  In his speech, Milliband said “we know from the Transition Towns movement the power of community action to motivate people..”, clearly an outcome of his attendance as a ‘Keynote Listener’ at the Transition Network conference in May. So how does the Plan measure up, and does it actually advance what Transition initiatives and the wider relocalisation movement are doing?

The ‘P’ Word

While the terms ‘Transition’ (with a small T) and ‘climate change’ are used liberally, the term ‘peak oil’ never makes an appearance.  Clearly this Plan is based on the assumption that economic growth is still feasible and that the cheap energy exists to make it possible, and that a gentle descent of the UK’s oil dependency is possible.  In this context, peak oil is a bit like the drunken ex-partner who turns up at the wedding, who everyone tries to ignore, but their being ignored doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, or that they aren’t going to do something mortifying at some unspecified moment.  However, given that the UK Government seems to have an inbuilt inability to ever mention the ‘P’ word, it does open the Plan with a sentence which comes as close as we seem likely to get;

“In Britain, as our own reserves in the North Sea decline, we have a choice; replace them with ever-increasing imports, be subject to price fluctuations and disturbances in the world market and stick with high carbon, or make the necessary transition to a low carbon, right for climate change, energy security and jobs”.

The focus seems to be, however, purely on the depletion of North Sea production, not global production.  This is in spite of the IEA’s recent upgrading of global depletion rates, which the Government, which bases its take on peak oil on the IEA, has yet to respond to.  The impact of the depletion of North Sea gas is also clearly at the front of the authors’ minds, although their take that by 2020 imports will have risen to 60% (although supposedly reduced to 45% by the actions of this Plan), is an optimistic take on previous figures produced by the Government.  The 2007 White Paper on Energy stated that by 2020 80% of the UK’s gas would be imported, yet no explanation is given for this somewhat revised and more optimistic figure.

net-hubbert_6Another aspect that is not given consideration in the Plan’s assertion that “the immediate risk to oil production is not how much oil is left in the ground, but the world’s ability to convert these reserves into production now and in the future”, is the issue of EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested.  As David Murphy has so brilliantly shown over at The Oil Drum recently (see left) the energy we can extract from fossil fuels on the downward half of the Hubbert Curve are far lower than what we extracted on the upside.  The implications of this are alarming for the assumptions that underpin this document.

Peak oil is conspicious by its absence, as a result of which the Plan misses many opportunities.  While strong, ground breaking and ambitious in its carbon reduction strategies, it is in failing to address issues of resilience building that the Plan falls short. It states that over the coming months, former UK Energy Secretary Malcolm Wicks (who once famously ended a reply to a question about peak oil from ‘Last Oil Shock’ author David Strahan by saying “but when it’s going to run out, do you know, can you tell us? I mean, I don’t know”) will prepare a report on how the UK is going to secure its energy supplies during the transition to a lower carbon economy.  Don’t hold your breath.

1 out of 10.

Energy

tpenergyThere is, as one might expect, much to praise, but also a good deal to damn. Much has been made in the popular press of this Plan leading to hikes in energy bills, but of course, as George Monbiot has pointed out,  it is remaining dependent on imported fossil fuels that will lead to the real price volatility.  The target of 40% of electricity from renewables by 2020 is ambitious, and is to be welcomed. The creation of an Office for Renewable Energy Deployment is also a good idea.  There are great initiatives around retrofitting existing houses, a target of all houses in the UK to have their cavity walls and lofts insulated by 2015 is admirable (my kitchen still needs doing guys when you’re passing), the commitment to investing £120 million in offshore wind is great, the commitment to feed in tarriffs by 2010 is long overdue, and the placing of smart metres in all homes by 2020 and the schemes to roll retrofitting up into peoples’ bills is a good idea.

cccThere is little talk of microrenewables however, and certainly no whiff of any possible new support for that, although the economics of domestic scale generation are now significantly improved by the feed in tarriffs, meaning that a 3Kw photovoltaic system could earn around £1000 a year for the owner, significantly reducing payback times.  The Plan also puts, alongside the rollout of wind, nuclear (which it calls a ‘clean source’, and also refers to as ‘affordable’!) and Carbon Capture and Storage (which, just to remind you, doesn’t actually exist yet).  Given the precarious nature of the UK’s energy supplies, I would think that any reliance on Carbon Capture and Storage, given that the Plan merely promises the development of demonstration examples, is going to be woefully insufficient, and can only serve to increase our dependence on imported coal, as well as lead to the kind of disastrous new open cast mining we are seeing in Wales.  Also, the diagram showing how CCS works (see right), shows it being pumped underground in order to enable enhanced oil recovery, which surely makes a mockery, at least in part, of its role as a low carbon technology?

A key failure for me is around how the increase in wind is to actually be achieved through the planning system.  Here in Devon, all but a tiny minority of planning applications for wind turbines are routinely refused. Although the Plan outlines how the planning system will be changed in order to steamroller nuclear power applications through, there is little talk of something similar for wind.  Many of the wind turbines proposed are off shore, which are considerably more costly than putting them on land.  It is a particular bullet this Plan avoids biting.  There is also no talk of community ownership of wind and other renewables, or the role of locally owned energy companies, which could do a great deal to make onshore wind more acceptable. The Plan also reiterates the Government’s brilliant plan of inviting communities to ‘express an interest in becoming nuclear waste sites’.  I’m fascinated to know how that particular list is coming on.

7 out of 10.

Transport

tptransMuch is made of the role of the electric car.  20% of the cuts in emissions are set to come from the transport sector, with an anticipated 40% hike in the efficiency of new cars in 11 years time.  This is very ambitious.  It talks of installing an “ultra low carbon vehicle infrastructure” and spending £30 million on several hundred low carbon buses.  6 cities are set to have the infrastructure for electric vehicles installed.  There is some support for cycling and walking, but the focus is on an electric car revolution.  Although the vision set out here is bold and ambitious, I would have very real concerns about its viability.  In the current economic climate which looks set only to worsen, how achievable is an electric car network beyond those 6 pilot cities?  And where will the electricity come from?  Running all the UK’s cars on nuclear generated electricity would require 64 new nuclear power stations, yet I would be very surprised if more than one or two ever get built.  Also, by focusing the 6 pilots in the cities, where there should be a strong public transport infrastructure, ignore rural areas, who, it could be argued, have a far stronger case for saying that their car use is essential and unavoidable.

Little is written here about reducing the need to travel.  There is nothing in the way of guidance for planners about designing towns and cities so as to obviate the need for car use.  There is nothing about out-of-town shopping, or the need for planners to place all key needs within walking distance of peoples’ homes.  By 2030, we are to presume, we are all still whizzing up and down the country in our electric cars, passing the electric lorries that are still bringing us cheap trainers and toothbrushes, as well as thousands of tons of food we could just as easily have grown ourselves.  As Richard Heinberg is fond of saying, we need to be exploring “not alternative cars, rather alternatives to cars”.  There is no talk of Alan Storkey’s idea, which George Monbiot promoted in his book ‘Heat’, for coach lanes on the motorway, which always seemed like rather a good idea to me.  Private car ownership remains sacrosanct.

It is interesting too to see how little talk there is of biofuels.  In an intriguing statement, the Plan states that it won’t support biofuels that “excessively compete for land with existing food crops”.  The word ‘excessively’ is open to all kinds of interpretation.  Either biofuels compete with land for existing food crops, or they don’t.  The other really weak point here is aviation.  The Plan believes that it can cut carbon emissions from aviation while at the same time growing passenger numbers.  This is surely a nonsense.  Aviation, when the continued economic contraction and peak oil are factored in, is a dying industry, not one that need draw any more of the country’s precious resources.  Shipping is also expected to grow in terms of emissions, due to “the ongoing increase in demand for global trade”.  This is where the failure to factor peak oil into this Plan from the start is a problem.  By assuming continued economic growth, more trade, more demand, more of everything, and then trying to satisfy it, there is a surrendering of control to what it sees as inevitable market forces.

4 out of 10

Housing

tpcommThe Plan restates 2016 of the date by which all new housing will be zero carbon, which is entirely laudable, although Wales has actually managed to introduce this 5 years earlier, by 2011.  It might have provided a good push to this had it been brought forward to, say, 2014.  Much of this part of the report is as you would imagine, but it does contain the intriguing statement that “the Government is investing up to £6 million to construct 60 more low carbon affordable homes built with innovative, highly insulating, renewable materials”.

Does this mean that there is now £6 million for hands-on research into strawbale, hemp construction, earth plasters and so on?  Or does ‘highly insulating, renewable materials’ refer to Kingspan and other industrial oil-derived building materials?  At the moment ‘zero carbon homes’ refers only to a building’s performance once built, not the embodied energy of the materials it contains.  The role of local and natural materials in strengthening local economies is key.  This Plan also doesn’t question the idea that we have to build homes to meet the insatiable demand for housing, something that in the current climate is increasingly looking like an utterly redundant idea.

6 out of 10.

The Role of Communities

Given that Milliband has clearly explored the Transition approach, and told me at the Transition Network conference that he has a copy of the Transition Handbook by his bed, the elements of the Plan that address community are strangely disappointing.  While it is extraordinary that after less than 3 years of existence as a concept, Transition has spread so far as clearly having an influence on a Government Secretary of State, he also still doesn’t quite get it.  The Plan states;

“It is not always easy for people to see how small individual actions can make a difference.  Sometimes people can be more effective by working together as a community”.

Indeed.  They also state;

“the Government wants to take community transition to the next level, announcing £10 million for ‘Green villages, towns and cities’– a challenge for communities to be at the forefront of pioneering green initiatives”.

Here is where my frustration comes in.  In Scotland, the Low Carbon Communities Fund, which has been allocated £23 million, is what funds, among many other things, Transition Scotland, and a range of other community initiatives.  What the UK Government is proposing is £10 million in a pot that communities across the UK will be invited to bid for as a competition, somewhat akin to the very frustrating Big Green Challenge.  While Government tends to love this approach of getting communities bidding against each other, it is a deeply flawed approach.  What Transition and Low Carbon Community groups need is support for core services, and for specific projects.  They don’t necessarily need vast pots of money, if the community responses to climate change are to be resilient and able to do what they aspire to, they need  something closer to the Scottish model.  Transition groups need some core funding and support, funding for trainings and inputs of skills that they identify that they need.

This competition model is not the way forward, and is a huge missed opportunity. It does not ‘help communuties to act together’, it means that community groups use huge amounts of time and energy going through a convoluted application process where they are pitched against other equally noble community groups, and the vast majority of them end up losing out and feeling embittered by the whole thing (that was certainly many peoples’ experience of Big Green Challenge).  Something more like the Local Food Fund would have been a far better model.

2 out of 10.

Food and Farming

tpfoodAlthough it is good to see food and farming being given consideration in such a document, this is probably the most disappointing section of the whole thing.  It sets the target of getting agriculture to reduce its emissions by 6% by 2020, but does so in such a hands-off, uninspired way that one can imagine the meeting with the NFU where it was made clear that agriculture was largely offlimits for this Plan.  The UK Cabinet Office wrote last year that “existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource constrained-future”.So what might that ‘pattern of food production’ actually look like?  This paper offers no vision or consideration of this.  Much of the reduction in emissions is expected to arise from “encouraging farmers to take action themselves to reduce emissions”.  The bite and determination of other chapters of the report evaporates here, the onus being left to farmers, with some training and support being offered, to magically come over all dedicated and get on with reducing their emissions.

The word ‘organic’ doesn’t appear once, in spite of the fact that any dependable system of food production will, at the very least, be organic in a low carbon future.  Does the Plan really believe that our dependence on nitrogen fertilisers, with their major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and their draw on the depleting natural gas resource, is actually sensible and/or feasible?  There is also nothing about the role of local food, urban agriculture, (and this in the week that the Mayor of San Francisco ordered an audit of all possible food growing spaces in the city, including rooftops and windowboxes), or community supported farming.  It does acknowledge the role of soils as carbon stores, but then says nothing about how organic farming is a more reliable way of ensuring that it stays there.  Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association, put it beautifully in his analysis of this part of the Plan, “the Government are certainly understating the case when they say that, for farming, they do not yet “have all the answers””.

1 out of 10.

Overall?

Overall, I think this is as bold and brave a plan as could be expected given the circumstances under which it was no doubt written.  Here is a government approaching an election, having been in charge during a spectacular economic unravelling, with Milliband having to fit within and keep on board a Cabinet obsessed with economic growth (the Mandelson/Brown effect).  The brief set for it was to create a low carbon economy in the context of economic growth, in complete contradiction to all the indications to the contrary.  I think Milliband is a dynamic young politician who wanted to do something very far-reaching here, but he has had to do so in a very difficult context.  Within the context of what he can actually do, I think it is very good.  In terms of being a plan that will enable and underpin this country’s inevitable energy descent and relocalisation, it is inadequate.

Praise where it’s due; on the positive side, the Plan takes many decisive steps forward and puts mechanisms in place to ensure that the various Government departments actually carry them through.  It is nothing if not ambitious, although its starting assumptions are such that it is designing for a world that will almost certainly not be possible.  However, it is, of course, the victim of a degree of inevitable compromises (especially in the farming area) which hamper the effectiveness of such a wide ranging proposal.  I do think that as a plan produced by government it is as good as we are likely to get, indeed some parts of it are much better than one might have expected.

From my perspective, it throws the challenge back to Transition groups and others.  The Government has set out an unprecedented dedication to the low carbon agenda, and thrown considerable weight behind it.  The role of communities is seen as being vital, and encouraged, but the ball is in our court. We often say communities can’t do this on their own, they need Government working to support the low carbon agenda.  Now they have gone some way towards that.  What is missing from this Plan is the local detail, the stuff that central Government can’t do;  the locally owned energy companies, the local food networks, the groundswell of desire for change, what Jeremy Leggett calls the ‘scaleable microcosms of hope’.  This is what Transition can do, and I feel, having read this report, and having heard Milliband’s endorsements of the Transition Network, that the door to real and deep change feels significantly more open than it did last week.

Overall 6/10

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

42 Comments

Cristiano Bottone
17 Jul 9:44am

Well, at least your Government has a plan… ;-)

Cristiano Bottone
17 Jul 10:59am

Well, at least your Government has a plan… ;-)
BTW I love your blog!

[...] as Rob Hopkins points out in more detail in his thoughtful review of the plans, the government has left peak oil out of its thinking. Despite the use of the word [...]

Neil L
17 Jul 12:24pm

Thanks Rob for a very comprehensive overview of the plan – I was a bit daunted about the amount of energy it was going to take for me to get through the 228 pages!

But maybe that gives us a starting point – to come up with 228 fantastic examples that are already happening so that we can answer the fact that “It is not always easy for people to see how small individual actions can make a difference. Sometimes people can be more effective by working together as a community”.

For me this just reiterates the fact that fully empowered and active communities are actually a threat to Government and the status quo!

Shane Hughes
17 Jul 12:51pm

Hi all,

I wrote this to my Transition Group yesterday.

My transition perspective on new government plans

While i think we should all welcome the government’s new detailed plans
to tackle climate change, i think it is necessary to understand where, in my opinion, we fit, as community members. This quote from the UK -
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE press release sums up the governments understanding of their role;

“The Transition Plan takes a cost effective route to reducing carbon and keeps the overall impact on the consumer to a minimum”

Largely the government has proposed the Green Tech Future Scenario (discussed in David Holmgren latest book http://www.futurescenarios.org/ and Suan Chamberlin’s Transition Timeline), where we can decarbonise our current lifestyles; You won’t have to give up anything. As per the DECC press release; they’ll take 40% of the carbon out of energy production and cars, they’ll promote energy efficiency technologies and generate jobs. You can now carry on as was.

This is not a complaint merely an observation. I think that largely the government has risen to the challenge (if they deliver) and are “doing their bit”. They do not have a mandate from the British people to go any further. The vast majority of UK residents will change light
bulbs and recycle but are not yet at the stage of making some more fundamental changes.

For example, not discussed in the government proposals, that we fundamentally need to relocalise, promote the growth of well being not money, consume less, travel less, love more and have greater respect for, as well as a stronger relationships with, our neighbours, our suppliers and our materials.

Now people who have already chosen this ultimately more rewarding, sustainable and resilient lifestyle, often find themselves out of kilter with the rest of society….. and so it could be said that they’re in a phase of commitment and to a certain extent sacrifice, giving up stuff from the old world but not quite receiving the full beauty and rewards inherent within our growing vision and understanding of the new world. Moreover, their/our friends and family, more often than not, think we’re a little mad or masochistic and could never imagine themselves following such a sacrificial path. So for many the reality of this new world life style, seemingly has no place in the current mainstream.

Now this is where i see that you, i, us, we come in. As individuals we can only change the little we have control over but as part of a community we
start to feel empowered create deeper changes in our own life, go that step further and make ever larger commitments. We also start to have
aspirations, influence and action that change our communities as a whole so that our communities are more in kilter with our preferred new way of living.
As more and more individual people become more and more communities and those communities become an ever stronger global network that are shifting their lifestyle and influencing their community as a whole and not just their technologies, the government starts to have a mandate to promote different ways of living, not just new green techy ways of doing the same stuff. i.e business as usual just a bit greener.

So as transitioners and community members we have to forge the path, set the pace, not government. Moreover, as we start to know, rather than believe, that our new lifestyles creates a growth in well being, quality of life, richness of experiences, to all beings not just human beings, the focus shifts from being, a transition that “won’t impact our lives”, as per the government’s transition plan, to one that is designed to and embraces the positive impact it will
have on our lives. The question shifts from “growth or not growth”, to what do you want to grow!!!

So in summary, hats off to the government. But we all have distinctly different, although totally independent, roles to play in the transition. I think that, as momentum grows, we need to be clear, it’s neither business, government or our children (no time to wait) who will be the main catalysts for creating a better world. It’s our role, as adults and communities, to create a total
world shift, which is ever more urgent, aware off but not driven by immanent catastrophe, driven by the fact that not only can we vision a better world, on odd days we feel it, smell it and catch glimpses of it.

Shane

Rob
17 Jul 12:57pm

Beautifully put Shane.

[...] See the original post: A Transition Take on the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan … [...]

Jon Brooke
17 Jul 3:23pm

The main problem that Government has (it seems to me) is that it is locked into a growth economy. It (and also the Tory party) sees economic growth as *by far* it’s highest priority.

I am not an economist, but having followed the Crash Course by Chris Martenson (A fellow of Richard Heinberg’s Post Carbon Institute- see http://www.chrismartenson.com) and read a bit about our current economic system (e.g. The Coming First World Debt Crisis by Ann Petifor (written before the economic crash, but reads like history)) I can’t help but think that unless more people come to realise the way that our economy works (i.e. spiraling indebtedness inherent in the system, with the economy being driven on in a futile attempt to close the gap) and then reject that (with the acceptance of a lower “standard of living”) then Government will *never* be able to put forward the sort of plans that it *must know* are required to meet the challenges of peak oil and climate change, for fear of general revolt.

Part of the solution to the problem must be to educate people as to *why* our Government is locked into it’s current way of thinking.

I’m sure that people in Government and civil servants are not (on the whole) bad people. Some of them must share the same worries as and frustrations as those of us involved in Transition – but they just won’t/can’t explain to us why they can’t make difficult decisions. So we also have to add that to our list of things to do!

[...] the sad reality is that although this is a step in the right direction, more will be needed. Click here for Rob Hopkins’ analysis, and an overall score of 6 out of 10. All praise to Ed for getting [...]

michael Dunwell
17 Jul 7:20pm

I attended a meeting yesterday as a Transition rep. at a Housing Association to plan an eco-building to house homeless young people in need of training. The local authority had put forward this project in a bid to our region for rural development European funds and won some money. The notices for the meeting had got scrambled and only a few turned up: The CEO of the Housing Association, the Development Manager, a social worker from the County, an economic planner from the Local Authority- and me. It turned out to be just like a Transition open space session. In two hours these five members of the community had conjured up a vision which left us all quite surprised.
It is my experience doing this kind of work that there are lots of people in Council Offices who are really “just like us” but trapped in bureaurocracy; given a chance they would be doing our work. I think we should say in there and keep trying.

[...] Transition Town innovator Rob Hopkins noted that Ed Miliband used the notion of “transition towns” a lynchpin concept in the launch of his White Paper on Energy and Climate Change Policy. Determined to discover whether his movement was being used as window dressing or not, he publishes his own review of the paper giving the proposals 6/10. [...]

[...] Transition Town innovator Rob Hopkins noted that Ed Miliband used the notion of “transition towns” a lynchpin concept in the launch of his White Paper on Energy and Climate Change Policy. Determined to discover whether his movement was being used as window dressing or not, he publishes his own review of the paper giving the proposals 6/10. [...]

Ann Monroe
17 Jul 10:00pm

Jon notes the govt is locked into a growth economy. I can’t think of any govt that isn’t. Or any voter who would vote for a govt that did NOT promise economic growth. I think the biggest challenge is to find a way out of that paradigm. A way out on a global scale that doesn’t look grim and cramped and poverty-stricken. We have all depended so long on growth to fulfill our hopes and ambitions that to have an economy that does not grow seems like failure. That it should be satisfying seems impossible.

JamieB
17 Jul 10:01pm

Excellent analysis. As you suggest it’s about as good as can be expected at the moment. Now the interesting part is to see how it’s going to be delivered…

I’m a bit puzzled by the 64 new nukes part though. Is that based on total energy consumed by cars today?

Electric cars are a lot more efficient and would be expected to consume about 2,250kWh per car over 9,000 miles. There are around 28 million cars on the UK’s roads so that’s 63TWh per year.

A 1GW nuke operating at 80% capacity factor generates 7TWh per year so that’s about 9 power stations plus another for the grid losses. Too many, and many more than will be built for sure, but a lot less than 64.

But the bulk of electric car recharging will occur at night when we have a lot of spare generating capacity, so it’s likely that the additional capacity will be relatively modest.

Plus those electric cars can soak up all that lovely night time wind and maybe even feed some of it back into the grid during the day in the future.

But I think the most interesting thing about EVs is to consider that a 3kWp domestic PV installation will generate 2,500kWh per year. So you could generate all of your car’s energy consumption off your roof (although obviously you would have to export most of it because your car probably isn’t at home during the day, but at least it would balance!). Both PV and battery costs will need to come down a lot for this to be achievable but it’s an interesting thing to consider.

Jason
18 Jul 8:57am

Ann Monroe: Jon notes the govt is locked into a growth economy. I can’t think of any govt that isn’t. Or any voter who would vote for a govt that did NOT promise economic growth.

So true. When ‘no future growth’ starts entering public discourse, reality will have arrived.

How many years of economic difficulty will be required before people will allow themselves to think in those terms?

Shane Hughes
18 Jul 2:44pm

Of course we have to break the old school economic growth paradigm and I know its just playing with words but rather than discussing growth or no growth, i think we should shift to discussing what do we want to grow. We could get too hung up on trying to win the no growth argument, a really difficult argument to win.

Sure it’s not all about politicians but after debating with Ed Miliband about economic growth at the TT conference, i just couldn’t imagine him and many like him, giving up their stance but i could imagine him quite comfortably saying “economic growth is too crude an indicator, we should be talking about quality of and life satisfaction”.

If there was collective psychological lowering of the perceived importance of economics, the transition away from economic growth will get easier.

Shane

Jason
18 Jul 5:34pm

I know what you’re saying Shane, but I’m not sure that I yet see a form of words that’s going to work better.

You’re right, I don’t expect ‘no future growth’ to be a phrase escaping a national-level politician’s lips right now; economics, and specifically uk debt, still functions on the assumption of growth. But time is going to put a different complexion on things.

The UK has just taken out such a huge loan that there is a real risk of downgraded credit rating and a run on the pound, unless the government can work out a way to convince people they are good for it. ‘No growth’ means we can’t pay our debt as a nation… if that is the conclusion of our creditors our economy tanks.

(I know I know — our economy might tank suddenly anyhow! But no-one wants to be the minister that ’causes it’, is what I’m saying; the illusion must be maintained that all is on course, and any tankage comes from failure elsewhere in the world.)

It’s not just the electorate the politicans are selling ‘growth’ to, it’s everyone selling it and everyone buying it — the entire world has to be convinced that the piece of paper they say is worth x really might be worth something like x. How do you break that chain?

On the one hand it’s an illusion, on the other hand people think it’s holding the world together, and since they can still buy groceries with this ‘illusion’ it’s tough to convince them otherwise. If I can’t keep up the payments on my mortgage, will the bank accept ‘but your quality of life will improve!’ as a replacement? :)

I think ordinary people will accept ‘no growth’ before the government does — indeed some already have as we know. The government can’t afford to admit they can’t afford to admit it.

I agree with Jon Brooke, therefore, that:

unless more people come to realise the way that our economy works (i.e. spiraling indebtedness inherent in the system, with the economy being driven on in a futile attempt to close the gap) and then reject that (with the acceptance of a lower “standard of living”) then Government will *never* be able to put forward the sort of plans that it *must know* are required.

It is up to people who see this in advance to show what is possible by living in a different way. The massive upswing in home food-growing shows that people are sensing what is coming.

Local politicians are a different story from national ones. Parties with less of a stake at national level will be convinced first in a local area and they will help as they may. This is all part of the relocalization of our country.

I could see bottom-up shakings of the party trees sooner than I could see a national politician actually giving leadership. I could imagine constantly reducing support for Westminster candidates who refuse to see the local point of view, especially in parties other than the main two.

But localization continues to be somewhat resisted at the national level, systemically. Hence the lack of support for microrenewables, and hence the playing off of peak initiatives against one another. As Rob says, ‘the elements of the Plan that address community are strangely disappointing.’ :) To me, not that strange.

I’m not saying we should be asking the politicians to start saying ‘no future growth’ to us, but I think we should still be saying it to them, and adding the ‘enhanced quality of life’ argument as well, as TT does — that’s more than a verbal argument, it’s something people are beginning to build into existence. We just have to be prepared to argue it consistently over several more years before they will admit there is anything in it.

I still think that, one day, it will suddenly become clear that our problem is expecting more than we can deliver, and then ‘no growth’ will become part of normal discourse — after some difficult times though. I wish the BNP weren’t the only party standing ready to step into that particular breach…

[...] At 228 pages it’s a weighty tome but thankfully you don’t have to trawl though it all as Transition’s own Rob Hoskins has done that for you in his excellent summary of the plan. [...]

Stuart Walker
18 Jul 8:41pm

Thanks to Rob for his insightful and apposite analysis. Whilst the Transition Movement has grown beyond anyone’s expectations – and congratulations to all the volunteers (yes we nearly all do this in our spare time!) for achieving this – the majority of the Western World still hope they can continue with their current lifestyles, and this document tries to give the impression that this is possible when it clearly is not.

I am very saddened by the Transport section which mainly seems to hope that we can replace all our existing fossil fueled cars with electric or some other low-carbon invention. Here in Cornwall it is somewhat concerning that spending millions on expanding the A30 and A38 trunk roads is seen as a good thing, even I regret to say from some members of Cornwall’s Transition Groups. We do not have the capacity to generate sufficient electricity and grow biofuels to feed our current car and Lorry use. Electric Rail is much more efficient (modern electric trains actually become generators when the brakes are applied) as are buses and coaches when more than 2/3rds full. Homeworking and supporting local suppliers instead of multi-nationals also helps. So lets stop this nonsense of the ‘great car economy’, believing that road expansion somehow improves local business when in fact it takes business away. Instead lets divert the roads budget to support rail, and locally based sustainable energy schemes.

pete
18 Jul 8:53pm

JamieB
I think that electric vehicles will be only short to medium term. One thing everyone seems to forget is that the only safe road surface for fast vehicles is tarmac.

JamieB
19 Jul 8:38am

Pete, I suspect bitumen production will be the least of our problems and we’ll have enough of the dirty, heavy stuff out there as a feedstock to keep us in roads for a while yet.

But what are desperately needed *are* short and medium term solutions, and fast! We’re not going to arrive at the end game directly and we need to take intermediate steps while we work out what the hell the long term solutions are.

Greenpa
19 Jul 3:23pm

A major missing leg, for me, is reducing energy wastage.

It’s huge- we know it- but we don’t like to talk about it. It’s easy for it to quickly become a “preachy” and divisive discussion- or at least the biggest wasters feel they are being accused and get fiercely defensive very fast; and we need to find a way out of that.

This is an area where the Transitioneers could make more headway than anyone, I think. Legislating energy conservation will never work, just as Prohibition couldn’t work. It has to come from the ground up.

For example; for those willing in a TT; they could have a FRIENDLY competition to see who can reduce their household energy use- permanently- the most. And who can live comfortably on the least annual energy consumption.

There are other tactics possible, including price inversion (where the more energy you use, the more expensive it becomes, incrementally) but it’s critical to keep it voluntary and cheerful- which TT seems to be very good at.

The fact that neither the words “energy waste”, nor “conservation” occur in either the Gov’t manifesto or Rob’s analysis strikes me both as an important oversight; and an opportunity for a fruitful direction.

Chris Goff
19 Jul 4:15pm

The other problem is that it is virtually certain that Milliband will not be in the government much longer. With David Cameron quietly shedding his greenwashed veneer (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2009/07/18/cameron-in-helicopter-to-see-green-fuel-project-115875-21528759/), my hopes are not high that the coming Conservative government will even pay lip service to the few virtues to be found in this report.

JamieB
19 Jul 5:21pm

Energy efficiency is mentioned a fair bit throughout the plan.

Legislating for energy efficiency is perfectly possible and in my view is very important.

For example anyone undertaking renovations or adding an extension to a house could be required by the building regulations to upgrade the energy performance of the whole building.

Or at the point of house purchase, implementing the first level of recommendations of the EPC could be a condition of purchase. This could be coupled with tax breaks such as a reduction in stamp duty.

I like the competition idea though. Something along these lines is key – energy efficiency as a desirable, even fashionable, objective for everyone.

[...] I didn’t read every word of Rob’s thoughtful review of the UK Government’s Low Caron Transition Plan my eye caught his critique on the way funds are allocated into [...]

[...] July 20, 2009 by fairsnape A welcomed and important perspective on the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan was posted by Rob Hopkins on the Transition blog: [...]

[...] July 20, 2009 by fairsnape A welcomed and important perspective on the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan was posted by Rob Hopkins on the Transition blog: [...]

Jason
20 Jul 9:42am

I had a similar idea a while ago on the ‘competition’ thing for energy levels, but not actually a competition, more a locally-organized ‘dare’… as in, how low can you go? (Energy consumption-wise?) Who’s ready to hit this target, live it, and report?

Everyone willing to do a certain energy level supports everyone else doing it and reports back what it was like, receiving kudos for being amongst the first to attempt it in that locale.

They summarize all they’ve learned, tricks and mistakes etc., and their experience is used to design more and more people down to that level.

This has all of the ‘glory’ of a competition, because people doing it get to lead the way, but with no ‘losers’ and no limit on the number of ‘winners’. (Running things as a competition is only necessary when the prize is limited.)

Greenpa
20 Jul 1:29pm

Jamie- I guess to me efficiency, and eliminating waste, are not exactly the same thing. Efficiency makes me think of replacing an incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent. Eliminating waste would be changing behavior and expectations so that you actually don’t need that light, at all.

There’s more to save there, I think!

Ann Monroe
20 Jul 3:17pm

To Shane & Jason’s comments of a few days ago – I don’t know if it’s the same in the UK, but here in the US, the magic words are “small business” – if we can couch the economic issue in terms of growing green small businesses I think it would have some political appeal, and also get us partway to where we need to be. (After all, what is Rob’s list of skills needed but a recipe for growing small green businesses?)

Tony Kearney
20 Jul 9:55pm

Wasn’t it Einstein (yes it was!) who said that we can’t solve the problems of the world with the same mindset that created them.

Clearly therefore, reports such as this can only tinker with the problems and challenges we face because they do not address the fundamental principles at play in our relationships with the Earth, its resources, ourselves and each other.

It is only when we change our reality that we will change our actions to any deep and profound degree.

The first question therefore is not HOW we should change but WHY? Because if there is no meaning to our exitence then there is no consequence or reason to change.

It is also arrogant and human centric for us to think that we can somehow save the Planet with a shrewd and organic rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic!

The Planet will save itself no doubt, but will we?

In my view we don’t need need to save energy at all. Contrary to the report I believe we need to release as much energy as we can!
It’s just that it is a different energy source we need.
And that is the inner passion, moral and spiritual energy that causes all our hearts to beat, subpoenas us all to take the next breath we breathe, allows us to be moved and love and be loved and gives us the choice to treat the Planet we live on as sacred ground.
For sacred ground it would surely be if it suddenly started to disappear from beneath our feet! Why wait for that to happen!!

We won’t find the truth of our reality by stopping all the damaging and costly actions that have put us in the peril we find ourselves to be in. (Although it would be great if we did stop them!)

We will find it in the reverence and the awe that strangely the astronauts saw and felt when they went to the Moon. All of them say that being on the Moon was nothing compared to looking back at our island home floating through space.

They felt a reverence and an awe that somehow we have all since shared by proxy.
Despite NASA’s intense training they somehow had an external perception of what the truth of our situation really is, a for real experience of the saying – the heart of the matter can only be seen from afar.

Children feel that awe and wonder when they see something they have planted grow.

Sometimes I feel we look at the issues we face from too close to them to see what they really are.

Of course we each need to DO what we can to “be the change we want to see in the world.” But as Ghandi emphasised in that saying it is is important first for us each to BE the change first.

Wouldn’t it be great to see one of these politicians just get up and say – “You know I really, really love the fact that we live on this amazing, incredible, life affirming, awe inspiring, beautiful Planet. Let’s all therefore try and find how to celebrate that fact together and find out what works best in building a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship with the Planet and each other. I don’t know HOW to do it but I really want to try.”

Well for once maybe the politicians can take the lead from the people, so let’s not wait for them to get it right.

The task we all face looks impossible.
Terrific, let’s get started before it gets even more impossible! :)

(If you want to find out more about myself and my book “Who Owns the Future?” then go to http://www.whoownsthefuture.com)

JamieB
21 Jul 7:40am

Ah I see, Greenpa. I agree then, legislation is not the answer, indeed I can’t see how it could even be attempted.

I think rising energy prices will probably do a lot to sharpen people’s minds when it comes to conscious or unconscious waste.

Lemercier Pierre-Louis - Renewable Energy Centre - RSA
21 Jul 8:50pm

I am afraid that we miss the point and complicate the issue by talking about “growth or not growth”, “reducing wastage or not”. We should cut the crab as it just allows people to avoid facing his responsibilities. The present climate change negotiations are just a case in point.

The simple fact, which we have just forgotten is that we have to live within a life cycle, where nothing is lost but everything is linked and transformed. And this is the only way to remain sustainable.

“Environmental problems are mainly caused by a dysfunctional relationship between people and their environment”. The majority of humans have gradually drifted out of touch with the natural world. Hence the environment is no longer the main framework, wherein everything should fit in but it has been pushed behind many other preoccupations. It is also now the prerogative of experts. We do not relate and recognize any more the importance of keeping it healthy for the sake and survival of the human kind. This results in unconsidered decisions, which waste natural resources and damage the environment. The Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) is increasingly made on an ad hoc basis outside an integrated development definition. Hence, it is often sidetracked behind many other economical, social and political “considerations”.

Developmental problems are too often looked up in an un – integrated and uncoordinated manner (e.g water, global warming, agriculture, environment, social …) studied and dealt with separately. In other words, the tendency has been lately to disregard the major environment framework which should inform development. We now divide the latter in various sectors, for which people became “specialized”. This has caused that most of these activities have been planned separately and unrelated sometime overlapping, hence unsustainable.

Specialization prevents adequate considerations of linkages and holistic approach.

The Transition movement would therefore simplify greatly its task by using (as it should be) the life cycle as its main framework. The latter would inform all its actions and principles such as localised production, bottom – up community planning and work, renewable energies, permculture, holistic approach…..

These could never be wrong if all linkages have been thought through as it should be in a life cycle.

This would give a certain clarity and certainty to the movement. Moreover it would help rebuild the present “dysfunctional relationship between people and their environment”

Yes certainly the present type of “growth” and “wastage” will be found very much wanting in that framework.

Ciaran Mundy
22 Jul 2:16am

Given the imminence of the general election next May, I think we need to start formulating specific changes required to deliver transition and try to get meaningful response from Government and opposition alike So how about these for opening discussion:

A micro to macro guide for local and national government. . . effectively a mini manifesto that just assumes everyone wants to deliver the same as we do but is not quite sure how.

Helping Communities Make the Transition:
A guide for listening governments to ensure a safe transition for communities everywhere in responding to PO and CC
in no particular order at the moment here’s 10 . . .

1. Support and encourage local land trusts and establish them where possible – for the benefit of and giving the responsibility to communities. Provide clear guidance to local and regional government planners to maximise access to land for food production, low impact community builds and promote CSAs.

2. Enshrine maintenance of soil fertility/biodiversity and soil carbon content as a legal requirement for all land owners (Carrot and stick: ensure fines and payments to improve on these measures are appropriate).

3. Promote through training and grants the development of diverse skills in community energy co-ops to 1. lower consumption and 2. sell surplus under a generous feed in tariff with a pump priming fund/loan scheme.

4. Measure government performance across departments primarily using well-being and ecosystem health indicators (including the impact on people and places of goods manufactured overseas).

5. Establish where possible and help develop financial and monetary systems that are diverse and stable and explicitly not debt/economic growth dependent (inc. LETS, Time-Bank, community credit unions, local currencies).

6. Recognise that an over all contraction in the consumer based economy is necessary to avoid major societal shocks through further climate change and energy scarcity.

7. Bring in re-distributive inheritance tax on land ownership hypothecated to a citizen’s pre-distribution scheme.

8. Set up a task force to help local authorities plan for the different educational needs, required to prepare the next generation for a lower energy, fossil fuel free more localised world.

9. Allow fast track process for putting under-utilised marginal land and unoccupied buildings into public ownership or local trusts with explicit aim to provide low cost low energy housing, organic local food production

10. Frame contract law to ensure utility companies provide services rather than sell ‘commodities’ so that it is in their interest to reduce resource use whilst providing a minimum basic provision, for free, to all.

Maybe it would be very different to this list but I think we should get something published as the elections will be upon us before we know it.

I am happy to collate and publish suggestions and responses in this vein.

Shane Hughes
22 Jul 7:11am

Hi Ciaran, i think your post has a great deal of practical merit but it’s philosophically that it interests me most and i’d like to better understand the views of readers. As i understand it Transition walks the fine line of engaging with Local Authorities but isn’t a political organisation. Would a document like this cross that wavy line?? and i’d also like to know if any Transitions engage in lobbying etc?
Thanks

Shane

Jon Brooke
22 Jul 7:41am

Ciaran,

I haven’t given enough thought to all of yours to say that I 100% endorse every one of them, but in the meantime here’s a small (personal) one of mine:

10. Allow the installation of solar panels as permitted development (without planning permission) even in a conservation area.

Alex Malcolm
22 Jul 12:49pm

It is so good to see the Transition Network working together so hard and coming up with rational and pro-active ideas and comment.

In response to Shane Hughes’s comment, lobbying MPs and Councillors should be a very important part of what each community should be doing. If we had not lobbied our Councillors in Somerset the SCC would not have adopted the resolution to become the first Transition Authority and with the recent Council elections it is even more important that we continue doing this. Most Councillors are just regular people like you and me but most have very little understanding of the need for Transition. It is up to us to help make them aware of this and collaborate with them to bring about a bottom up approach through Direct Democracy to Transition facilitated over the Internet and by collaboration between local government and communities. The Sustainable Communities Act is the first step towards empowering communities and local government to bring about transition to a low-carbon economy, provided we grasp the opportunity. See step 9 of the 12 steps to transition.

With regard to a growth economy, the government can’t afford to acknowledge Peak Oil as paying off the national debt is depedent on a growth economy which can only grow with oil & gas to fuel it. To aknowledge peak oil is to acknowledge that we are essentially banckrupt and chaos would ensue. See my publication Strategies for “Local Government and Sustainable Communities” Section 3.1 Local Economy, available here:

http://www.alexmalcolm.co.uk/Sustainable.pdf

All the best,
Alex Malcolm
Tel: +44 (0) 1373 462158
Mobile: +44 (0)7798 572665
Blog website: http://www.alexmalcolm.co.uk/

Twitted by edmittance
22 Jul 1:40pm

[...] This post was Twitted by edmittance [...]

eartheart
23 Jul 8:41pm

The word sustainability ended up meaning all things to all people. The same with transition now – nuclear, carbon offsets, carbon capture. It will happen with any word but worth recognising anyway

stevejr
28 Jul 3:24pm

I fully agree with the positive aspects outlined by Rob, but I also feel that this isn’t just a nudge in the right direction – it is more of a leap and – to an extent – an act of faith. We see all of the government mechanisms and instruments being deployed: FITs; national indicators; favourable tax regimes of various hues and so on. It is a very far reaching document and it is essentially practical – as far as central government can be practical. While it may not go the whole hog, it has, as Rob indicates “shaped the battlefield.” Planning appeals for wind farms or other forms of community energy generation will change forever if local authorities have to meet national indicators for locally generated energy.
It is over to the transition movement and other local groups, to use the examples cited in the document as models for what can be achieved and to be inventive and creative about using new legislative instruments and funding streams to help create a landscape fit for the future – if you’ll pardon the phrase. The document is a map, but the local details are missing, which is just as it should be – we all have our own local knowledge, and are best placed to apply it.

Pierre-Louis
30 Jul 10:46am

This is all great. If one could summaries for later use this conversation, which looks like the record of a ball bouncing from one side, caught and thrown again by others ….like the life cycle wherein everything is linked, that inputs from one side are transformed and enriched by the mind of others to become outputs to another direction.

Jon notes “the govt is locked into a growth economy. I can’t think of any govt that isn’t. Or any voter who would vote for a govt that did NOT promise economic growth.”

Besides, most governments have been “locked” into a global concept of economic growth by binding agreements with world trade and the Breton Woods institutions.

The Govt could set in motion a thorough analysis of the transition culture and similar movements. As it already acknowledges “A” role for the communities, it could learn a lot more from local authorities and others about the power and depth of such community reflex ion. This bottom up approach would certainly help authorities to articulate these ad hoc initiatives into a national vision.

May be one day some Nations will have that visions and courage to force the revision and scrapping of the system, which basically glue as all into a whirlpool of natural catastrophes. Well we have to believe it.

“The golden rule is to act fearlessly upon what one believes to be right”.- Mahatma Gandhi

Some organize hunger strikes, prior to the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December.
“Fast! is an international hunger strike taking place from the 1st of November 2009 to raise public awareness of the desperately urgent need for strong action on the climate crisis ……..will be a demonstration of the commitment and courage required of all nations and all global citizens if we are to equitably solve climate change. (http://www.climatejusticefast.com/).