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Transition and campaigning: a trade-off

When we heard that Deal in Kent in the UK was responding to the threat of a shale gas fracking project in their locale, we thought it would be a good opportunity to explore this "edge" of transition and campaigning - it's something that lots of groups have to deal with, and for some it can end up being quite a contentious issue.

DealWithItLogoAlthough "Deal with It" appears to have started from a campaigning roots - tagline "campaigning to make Deal a greener town" - it's now a transition town, doing all sorts of interesting "building resilience" activities such as a chicken audit, garden share, draft busting, waste reduction and a zero carbon concert.

So when they learned that Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd had been given a PEDL licence that covers the whole of our district, how were they to respond?

I asked Deal with It's coordinator, Rosemary Rechter, how they were dealing with the trade-off between campaigning and building resilience. 

Ben: Deal With It has been going a while and has a tagline of "Campaigning to make Deal a Greener town". When you decided to become a transition town, how did you deal with the sometimes competing approaches of "campaigning" vs "building resilience"?

Rosemary: This has been a difficult one.    If your local district council is planning to build hundreds of houses( but no jobs in the immediate area) on green field sites when there are plenty of brown field sites available, and sometimes in flood plains, and all in an area that does not have sufficient water for present needs, that seems an issue that needs to be addressed as it seriously undermines your ability to build resilience.   Then on top of that you have the threat of fracking for shale gas throughout your district, my personal response is that you have to address the immediate and urgent threat.   

I think the group is maybe at risk of becoming divided on this and to try to avoid this I have personally given a great deal of my time to it , but it is distracting me very much from launching our energy group.  On the other hand , our partnership with the town council may be strengthened as they share our concerns, and many local people understand our concerns on these issues more easily than they can , as yet, relate to resilience building, so in the course of this so annoying campaigning I feel we are all the time creating  alliances that will help our main programme to become steadily more mainstream.

Ben: When you realised that a shale gas fracking license had been granted in your area, how did you decide to divert energy away from "building resilience" and into "campaigning against"?

Rosemary: I think the initial response was not so much “ decided” as a gut reaction!  Also there was  press response to which we felt we had to respond.   As the hearing for the application for the test drilling has been delayed three times (cunning people theses developers!) the campaign on this issue lost momentum, helped by a local geologist saying they only had a 10% chance of finding what they were looking for , so everyone happily buried their heads in the sand, including our group.  

Now as a result of research several of us have been doing since a new date has been given for the hearing of the application, our concerns have been sharply focused by the discovery that their licence covers  just about the whole of our district, and additionally a close reading of their application does nothing to inspire confidence in their competence.   

We are trying to resist  having all our energy diverted but I feel that the possible contamination of our water, the taking of good agricultural land for industrial sites, all the environmental damage, and the loss of amenity  means that in the short term we have to fight this fight .

Ben: how would you like others to help?

Caroline Lucas has started an Early day Motion (#2159), and it would be a great help if people could email their MPs and ask them to sign it. The easiest way to do this is via the "WriteToThem" website.  Also check out this flier from Campaign Against Climate Change - this is a really serious issue that affects us all in our transition efforts.

Having read the flyer and heard about the movie "Gasland", this is an issue that would be hard to overestimate the impact of. If you're drawn towards campaigning, this looks like a good one to put a bit of time into. If you're not, then doing all the wonderful resilience building stuff is absolutely crucial too. And if you have superpowers and endless stamina, you could, of course, do both.

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My journey towards and within transition involves me a) asking myself what I have done, unwittingly or otherwise, to contribute to the global crises of climate change, oil addiction and inequality; b) really acknowledging my “contributions” c) trying hard to understand the consequences and impacts within our complex ecological, social and economic systems d) working at both the personal level and also alongside my fellow citizens to come up with ways of making sure my/our contributions switch from exacerbating these situations to ameliorating them, and/or making sure they stop; e) trying as much as possible to work at root cause level.

Transition, with its creative, positive and “can-do, will-do” approach is, for me, the most appropriate mechanism for doing this work.