Transition Monday conversations to build back better

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Adern has been widely acclaimed as being both “compassionate and competent in crisis,” particularly with her management of Covid 19. (New York Times 17 October 2020).

Celebrating her government’s landslide win Jacinda Ardern said, “We will back better from the Covid crisis.”

We propose a different framing for building back better: one that moves beyond reactive crisis management framing, from one crisis to the next, to proactive framing, with more foresight about the most urgent issue of our time: the imminent end of the oil age and the need to transition to a sustainable, low energy future.

As energy specialist Dr Louis Arnoux points out, we are rapidly losing access two main sources of energy that we totally depend on: phytomass (living organic plant matter that life needs to survive) and net energy from oil, which we also depend on, including for accessing renewable energy. With respect to food security he says, “food production and supply networks all run on the millions of wheels of transport logistics, all dependent on net energy from oil, aka transport fuels … this net energy, by about 2022 on average, will be gone.” See infographic below:

For further details, see also Dr Louis Arnoux post in our Navigating Complexity section. Or check out our Resource and Q&A pages.

As Alice Friedemann puts it simply and vividly in her book, When Trucks Stop Running. Energy and the Future of Transportation: “Virtually everything in our homes, everything in our stores, got there on a truck. Prior to that, 90 percent of those items were transported on a ship and/or a train. If trucks, trains, and ships stopped running, our global economy and way of life would stop too.”

A friend of Transition Monday who lives self-sufficiently and is personally well-placed to feed herself and household summed up what many feel about change when she says, “I see the need for change but I’m not quite ready yet.”

Is there a way of preparing people for change, before the need to change is thrust upon us?

We believe this could be achieved with Transition Monday’s proposal for a 4-day working week that left Mondays free for New Zealanders to engage together in conversations about how local people, supported by governments and learning institutions, can connect and collaborate to create a viable future for all without fossil fuels.

Jacinda Ardern also proposed a 4-day working week as way to rebuild New Zealand after Covid-19. Rebuilding for a post-Covid future could simultaneously provide an excellent way for also rebuilding a post-oil future.

Let’s all ask our governments and energy specialists what would a disruption to oil supplies lasting months and years look like? And how can we all help with pre-emptive solutions?

He waka eke noa We’re all in this together.

Let us know what you think. See Contact details. Questions and critiques most welcome.

waiting for the mud to settle

Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?
Lao tzu

This is the last post, at least for a while. We’re going to wait for the mud to settle, to see what will happens next … In the meantime, we appreciate those who continue to love and replenish the earth and each other and we will endeavor to do likewise.

8th idea: noticing the gifts others have

Everyone has something to offer. There are always skills or friendship to swap in some way. There are lonely people and there are people who like to communicate. Everyone has something to offer. It’s just matter of finding it.

John Wardle (1996)

For many, finding what they have to offer is a problem. So a suggestion for Mondays is to start to notice and appreciate the gifts others – family, friends and strangers, human and non-human have to offer.

In order to co-create flourishing societies in flourishing local ecosystems, we will need to get into the way of recognizing and tapping into the skills and talents we all have.

In praise of ANDs

New Zealand scientist Mike Joy presented a 3-minute elevator pitch to an audience that included Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. See Mike Joy: My message to Jacinda. In it he shows how New Zealand has become locked into an industrial model of intensive dairying with catastrophic consequences for its ecosystem and human health.

How to transition off this industrial form of dairying to something that is still profitable but less damaging is the question often asked. But is this the right question as we are coming to the end of the oil age and urgently need to transition towards more localized, sustainable, less energy intensive life-styles.

We think it would be helpful to make more space, here, for some ANDs.

Yes, there will still be pressures to keep the “just in time” globally coordinated, energy-intensive systems, such industrial agriculture, but on the side and on the edges of our villages and communities, how about quietly adding some ANDs:
AND a provision for growing food locally that’s not reliant on fossil fuel
AND a provision for a more sustainable, more localized transport infrastructure
AND spaces for local people with practical local knowledge (including indigenous knowledge) for working on how to replenish our local ecosystems
AND progressively create livelihoods without dependence on fossil fuels
AND taking time to really understand about energy and the principles of thermodynamics, so we can recognize and thus support the innovators and creatives in our midst who can help us with the challenge of our life time – building a new self-powered energy system that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.

What do you think? Let us know.

7th idea: the need to understand local ecologies in order to heal our Planet

To transition effectively to a post-fossil fuel world, we need to begin a process of re-localization. What might this look like?

For some understanding about of what is needed, we highly recommend Molly Melhuish’s article, Heal the Planet: A new (but ancient) approach to the Climate Crisis first published on Our climate Declaration website, July 22, 2020. The following are some excerpts from this article. The artwork added here is by Frances Ashton.

Biodiversity is the key to healing the planet and restoring our living communities.

Each species, each life type, is required, starting with the fungi and bacteria, which are fostered by particular species within the macro-flora and fauna.

Each contributes to building soils, absorbing and generating rain, and providing food for the ecological communities and for humans.

Researching the science of our local ecologies is the first critical step.

“Heal the planet! By using the sun’s energy to rebuild the plant and animal systems we have destroyed.

“Near to human settlements, aim to get all our useful energy from sun, wind and biomass.

“Plant ‘trees on streets’, also in town surroundings especially hills and some river flats.

“That requires technologies to collect and burn biomass efficiently for heat, electricity, fuel gas, and biochar which sequesters carbon for thousands of years.

“Use biogas from appropriate waste products.

“It means walking and cycling for transport on mostly-car-free shady streets – health benefits!

“It means choosing the species to rebuild planet health according to the soil and climate of each location.

“Our economic system must recognise the need for local provision for human needs, and the value of local activities which provide for the entire ecology of our particular locations.”

Thank you Molly Melhuish. We hope this will help stimulate conversations on the hows of transitioning successfully to a post-fossil fuel world that all can inhabit.

For more on burning biomass see also:

MILD Combustion For Clean Energy And Healing The Planet (30 October 2020)

Molly Melhuish says “Research on MILD combustion, especially at regional scales, would support employment ranging from academics, technology and land use researchers down to unskilled labour, and all levels in between.

“Demonstrating the use of local trees to provide energy, cool the climate and sequester carbon…”

6th idea: Make ourselves aware of the complexity of our energy systems & their limits

Our 6th idea to do on Mondays is to bring awareness to the growing complexity of global systems that most of us rely on to meet our basic needs, like food, and therefore the limits and fragilities entailed.

To give an idea what we mean, this is an example from David Korowicz’s 2010 paper, On the cusp of collapse: complexity, energy, and the globalised economy:

“Our daily lives are dependent upon the coherence of thousands of direct interactions, which are themselves dependent upon trillions more interactions between things, businesses, institutions and individuals across the world. Following just one track; each morning I have coffee near where I work. The woman who serves me need not know who picked the berries, who moulded the polymer for the coffee maker, how the municipal system delivered the water to the café, how the beans made their journey or who designed the mug. The captain of the ship that transported the beans would have had no knowledge of who provided the export credit insurance for the shipment, who made the steel for the hull, or the steps in the complex processes that allow him the use of satellite navigation. And the steel-maker need not have known who built the pumps for the iron-ore mine, or how the oxygen for the furnace was refined.
Every café has customers like me who can only buy coffee because we are exchanging our labours across the world in ways that are dependent upon the globalised infrastructure of IT systems, transport and banking. The systems and the myriad businesses upon which they depend are only viable because there are economies of scale. Our global infrastructure requires millions of users across the world, the ship needs to carry more than coffee beans, and my café needs more than a single customer. The viability of my morning coffee requires the interactive economic and productive efforts of the globalised economy.”

Being aware of the complexity of the system is important because:

  1. It is a systems issue that needs to be addressed i.e. it can’t be fixed just by blaming people or changing politicians.
  2. When there are current problems with the system (economic, social, housing, food etc) the tendency has been to want add even more layers of complexity (e.g. bureaucracy and technologies) and use yet more energy. This is understandable, but it is then causing more, largely unacknowledged problems.
  3. For instance, it locks us in to depending more than ever on net energy from oil always being available to access all other forms of energy, yet we see the looming end of the oil industry (see Resources).
  4. At the very time we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels and simplify our system, the system requires more and more complexity which will use much more energy to keep functioning.
  5. We need to understand and introduce ways of simplifying our systems so we can keep on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels as we transition to an era when they are no longer available.

Do you think the question of how to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel energy, given our reliance on a complex, globally interrelated system based on energy, could be usefully discussed locally and nation-wide on Transition Mondays? Let us know if you think such Monday conversations could be a useful way to move together towards a future that works for all?

5th idea for Mondays: exploring alternatives to resource wars

Our 5th idea for Mondays is to begin by making ourselves aware of the ways many have benefited from and continue to benefit from being from countries who control (directly or indirectly) access to the planet’s limited resources by way of oil wars, crippling sanctions, and coups etc. (See ‘We Will Coup Whoever We Want’: Elon Musk and the Overthrow of Democracy in Bolivia). It takes a huge amount lot of fossil fuel energy and money to carry out such military operations and maintain the forces. Given we have reached the end of the oil age and are saturated with debt, we at Transition Monday think we need to explore alternatives to spending more on fighting over the remaining resources.

On Mondays can we focus some of our time and energy on finding or creating peaceful Flows, Paths, or Ways – for effective and equitable transitions to a flourishing future beyond fossil fuels for all?

Energy Matters to all of us: energy to live and energy to transition. As Louis Arnoux rightly says, distributional equity is the only way.

This is the Transition Monday symbol or logo, representing balancing and finding ways equitable ways forward and through for all. Let us know what you think?

Energy Matters

What do we mean by energy? And why does energy matter?

Energy is the basis of life. Put simply, energy comes from the sun. It is stored in plants and it is also stored underground as a concentrated energy, in the form of fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas).

Humans have become reliant on this concentrated fossil fuel energy, particularly oil, to help meet the necessities of life (producing food, providing transport, building homes etc). For instance, most of us are reliant on planes, ships and trucks using fossil fuel energy to deliver everything we need and want (either directly or indirectly) to our homes.

This easy to access highly concentrated fossil fuel energy, with a much higher EROI (energy return on energy invested) than for instance, human or horse power or current renewables, has led most modern humans to believe our necessities have been (miraculously) taken care of and we can safely give our attention to matters of the day like “What’s hot and What’s not” and “What’s for dinner?” so we almost never have to think of pesky matters like growing or catching food, or how we can manage if there’s a shut down of oil supplies.

Because many in this generation have had ready access to an abundance of fossil fuel energy – and because oil prices are currently very low and supplies are high – it’s not surprising that very few are noticing that the easy-to-access fossil fuel energy (oil, gas, coal) is no longer available and it’s now taking more and more energy to access what remains.

Because many who care about our planet have been focusing on the negative impacts of fossil fuel use, the widespread instinct has been to celebrate the impending collapse of the oil industry, without seeing the need to work out how to transition to another energy source that doesn’t rely on fossil fuel energy and cause more negative impacts, such as many renewables currently do, while time and energy is still available. (See our resources section and Q&A for details).

Understanding energy – what it is, where it comes from, what happens if there’s a major disruption to our energy supplies does matter. What we put our energy into right now does matter.

You are warmly invited to join us on Mondays to focus on ‘energy matters’. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments.

For anyone wanting a more in-depth understanding of energy matters and needed solutions we highly recommend this recent 2 hour 18 minute interview with Dr Louis Arnoux THERMODYNAMIC OIL COLLAPSE & FUTURE There will be follow up interviews which are more focused on solutions in the next few weeks.

4th idea: asking good questions seeking out good information

Our 4th idea is for Mondays to be a day when we are encouraged to have conversations about practical ways of transitioning to a post-fossil fuel future that all would like to live in.

We need to begin by asking good questions and seeking out good information.

For instance, at a more general level, taking time to understand more about energy matters – how we all need energy to live, how societies and everything in the economy needs secure energy supplies to function. And about the many ways fossil fuels, particularly oil, currently meets our energy needs and underpin our modern way of life e.g. just about everything in our homes is transported directly or indirectly by ships, planes, and trucks, which rely on oil.

And at local levels, taking time to understand the specific contexts e.g. the local terrain, soils, food, climate, and how these might be changing.

In this interview with independent journalist Max Blumenthal about his article defending the highly controversial Planet of the Humans’ documentary, US comedian Jimmy Dore points out challenges in accessing good information with respect to the practicalities of transitioning to a post-oil future.

Yes, there are many challenges, but we think our future is too important to leave these needed conversations on transitioning to a few individuals to make decisions for the rest of us. What do you think? Do let us know.

The picture is by Frances Ashton, who called it, Talk while there is yet time.