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Awareness raising: Finding out more and wishing you knew less

Awareness raising (Ingredient #9) has definitely been my favourite part of the whole Transition Initiative experience. We ran some amazing events with inspiring speakers, challenging movies and great discussions. Thanks to being geographically close to the Centre for Alternative Technology, we managed to grab some really interesting people who were visiting there, including a little-known chap called Rob Hopkins.

Rob HopkinsIn the early days, it was peak oil that people were mostly interested in, especially in our area , where a lot of the usual suspects had known about climate change for donkey's years. Many had already realised that oil wasn't an endless resource and that it might get scarce someday, but thought of it as something that would maybe happen in their great grandchildren's time. And then TBDT showed “The End of Suburbia”, delivered a peak oil presentation to the local town council and soon the streets were awash with wild eyed locals proclaiming that the end was nigh.

peak oil curveNo, not really (although that might have been a preferable reaction to the current pervasive and enduring apathy), but with the credit crisis bubbling up as well, there have been a few memorable “moments” where it dawned on us that the future would indeed not be quite like the past, nor necessarily better. We hadn't really thought about oil getting expensive beyond affordability long before it would actually run out. Nor had we considered what that would mean for our economy whose success is so dependent on plentiful supplies of cheap fuel.

front cover of long descent JM GreerAlong with other members of TBDT, I found myself going through various stages of “Post Petroleum Stress Disorder” and a great thirst for information on this new concept of Peak Oil and it's consequences took hold of us; we devoured movies and books: Crude awakening, The Great Squeeze, Crude Impact, Money as Debt, Richard Heinberg's writings, Colin Campbell, John Michael Greer, David Strahan, Kunstler and many more. Some of the movies we shared with the local community and we “peaked” at an audience of nearly 150, running out of chairs to seat everyone, quite an achievement in little old Machynlleth!

roberto perezA definite low point was “What a Way to Go - Life at the End of Empire”, an unbelievably depressing catalogue of all the issues and predicaments, delivered in a slow monotone with a soundtrack that makes Joy Division sound like like a happy clappy pop band. I think that's when I had enough of bad news and started concentrating on positive responses. By then TBDT had already put on Rob Hopkins giving his transition talk, we'd shown “The Power of Community”, followed a few days later with a talk by Roberto Perez, the Cuban permaculture designer featured in that film (he just happened to be in town) and this was a real turning point for me. His words: “If you have food and you have community, you are very strong!” have become a bit of a motto.

powys transition groups with bannerThere were some parallels between my own awareness raising and what our initiative put on for the local community, but the latter had a far more balanced info diet. The focus was much more on positive responses. We made sure that we always framed our events within an empowering transition message: As a community, we can weather this storm, we can prepare, we can create a positive future. And we tried to use each opportunity to create more of a community by getting people to talk to one another, before and after the movie or speaker. If there's one thing I am sure of, it's that thanks to the TBDT events, more people got to know each other, found out about what others were involved in and learned about local projects and activities.

sunflower head with smiley faceBecause finding out what people are doing worldwide in order to make a better future is, in the end, far more exciting. If you want your local community to feel inspired to take action, don't show “What a way”, but put on “Grow your Own”, a delightful comedy about allotment life. Invite the founders of Incredible Edible Todmorden to talk about their amazing project, show “In Transition 2.0” or get a local bee keeper to show off his bees. As much as we need to let people know about the challenges ahead, we need to tell them the success stories, so that they get excited and enthusiastic about what is possible, rather than depressed about all that's wrong with the world.

The problem with information gathering in the world of peak oil, climate change and economic downturns is that sometimes what you learn, on the whole, can be quite overwhelmingly negative and it's easy to get lost in the gloom of doomsday scenario's. But believe me, once you start mining for good news and learn about all the people and organisations and projects that are out there doing amazing, exciting stuff, you'll want to be part of that, if only because it's really good fun!



Adrienne Campbell's picture

Way to go!

Thanks Ann for that upbeat post. I find we need a mix of information in Lewes. Miss out the 'background', the edge, and you're in danger of producing something like the WI. Recently, I've been forwarding on articles and commentary on issues of global significance   from various people to our 'active' group of 65 people. The ones that give me feedback say they're appreciating it. As Sophie Banks said a while back, you need the active ones deepening our awareness too, as a way to bring in new people, who want to see that we're remaining active and not just stagnating after a few years....

Ann Owen's picture

Thanks Adrienne,  Knowing

Thanks Adrienne, 

Knowing what to put on is such a steep learning curve. Around here we've upset people by having posters bilingually (tokenism) and then again by having them just in English. They've hated us for making them sing and for inviting Starhawk to speak (you don't associate with people with silly names like that). We were accused of being doomers, dreamers or just plain daft. But on the whole, I think we got it more or less right. And the silent majority kept coming back.

But do you remember, when you first smelled the coffee, that drive to find out how bad it really was, the reading, watching, listening, anything you could get your hands on? A bit like an intellectual feeding frenzy. What motivated me most though was Joanna Macy's words about enabling life to go on and that being an exquisite reason to get up every morning. Yeay!

Jo Homan's picture

food and community = strength

when you did the training for transition in Finsbury Park, I remember you saying that about Roberto Perez and your words really stuck. I have quoted you quite a few times, you'll be pleased to know. It's interesting how some very simple ideas can become underlying principles which actually shape our actions.