Rebel without a clue
I’m often asked how involved I am with the Transition movement. I feel very involved mentally but not physically. Yes, I am what’s known as a ‘transitioner without initiative’, which for some reason makes me think of the phrase ‘rebel without a clue’ - very me! I think it’s important to have a term for those of us not actually involved with a local initiative. It’s inclusive and makes you feel part of something even if you’re not actually out there creating allotments, running re-skilling workshops or generally localising your socioeconomic milieu.
I’ve been involved with peak oil campaigning since 2003. I remember reading with much excitement about what Rob Hopkins had done in Kinsale with his permaculture students and contacting a friend in Portobello, who was involved with a similar idea there. PEDAL (Portobello Energy Descent and Land Reform) is a project which arose from the joy of stopping a Tesco supermarket from coming to the area. Portobello, three miles (5 km) to the east of the city centre of Edinburgh, is now a flourishing Transition Initiative - one of many across Scotland.
I attended meetings in Edinburgh when the whole movement was kicking off up here in Scotland but as time went on, it seemed wrong to be linked to a group 25 miles from where I live. My nearest town is West Calder and while I do know one woman who’s interested in the movement, we’ve never found that third individual to form a workable core. That said, I’ve never taken the plunge and put posters up in West Calder - it’s 4 miles away and I really should be working here, where I live.
My community consists of 4 small settlements (about 300 houses in all) and is not ready for transition. At the moment, there is a big division over wind farm developments. I’m ambivalent on wind farms - we have one less than a mile to the north which is fine as it’s on degraded land which has suffered the ravages of coal mining and plantation forestry. The one two miles to the south, however, is on peatland, which is not so smart. I’ve lived here for over 20 years and have dabbled with local campaigns, from opposing opencast coal and other developments to community council meetings and the like. But other things have always ended up taking priority, as individuals move on or arguments arise. I know that where you live is the most important place to care for but it’s not easy, is it? These aren’t anonymous bureaucrats you’re annoying with your views - they are your neighbours. You’re going to bump into them from time to time.
Community Development Trust
Several years ago, a private developer built the not-so-smart wind farm two miles to the south of my village. I went to the first public meeting about it, held before he’d carried out the scoping study. The developer didn’t have answers to specific questions at that stage but he wanted to involve the community from the outset. The meeting was far from convivial and I decided this wasn’t my fight, despite having much more faith in wind energy then as I do now. Several years and 6 turbines later, applications for more wind farms encircle this community. While there is still much opposition and anger, some people have started to ask how we can access money from these developments to bring improvements to the area.
Last August, I returned from an excellent ‘gathering’ in Hampshire knowing that there was another public meeting about wind farms. Feeling so energised, I went along and when it descended into a shouting match, rather than leave never to return, I surprised myself by agreeing to chair a public meeting to set up some kind of trust fund. The private developer really did seem to want to help the community to access funding. Indeed he has given money to several local groups from his own pocket. But the only way to get serious money into this area would be by negotiating a contribution from a new application.
Since that fractious meeting last August, a few of us have been working to set up a Community Trust which would access funds from all kinds of sources, not just wind farms. We have collected ideas from local people from planting flowers and growing food to sheltered housing for the elderly, community transport and even bringing mains gas to the area. See what I mean? Not ready but it’s vital that the Transition movement considers all aspects of community including areas of deprivation - whether of infrastructure or imagination. If a community is not ready for Transition, what is it ready for?
Whether we set this Trust up or not, my main aim is to try to bring the community together. Now I’m not a complete idiot and know that many disputes have been rumbling on for years, if not generations! But if we can make links between various groups (it does get a bit cliquey here!) and start working together on wider community projects, then I will no longer be a transitioner without initiative. I know that there’s been a lot of debate over exactly what makes a group a transition initiative. Personally, I don’t care how a group sees itself so long as it is working towards resilience, whether it knows it or not. After all, you cannot change the past - you can only change the future.
Photos: a wind farm and a no birds sign
Mandy Meikle lives 25 miles south-west of Edinburgh and is excitedly awaiting the return of the swallows. She has been speaking on peak oil issues since 2004. Mandy writes an occasional blog as the Cheery Pessimist and gives talks on energy issues.