Skip to Main Content

Energy Descent is Cool! Even When It's Bloody Cold


Creating an “Energy Descent Action Plan” (EDAP) is one of the key 12 steps in the original Transition Handbook and the first ingredient in the Building section of the Transition Companion.

nergy descent plan cartoonTransition initiatives work within their communities on a vision for building local resilience, whilst becoming less fossil-fuel dependent, and reducing carbon consumption. Then they 'step up' with this plan in order that it informs the actual decisions and policies to be implemented in the local area.

During 2009 and 2010 a group of people in Transition Norwich set about preparing a version of the Energy Descent Action Plan, called the Resilience Plan. Although it remained incomplete, an example of the work required for preparing such a plan can be seen in this detailed outline of a Food Chapter for the Resilience Plan for Norwich by Tully Wakeman (see Charlotte's post on Monday). And this is just the food section.

As part of Sustainable Bungay's 'unleashing' in May 2009, between 60 and 70 people created a timeline on the wall of the community centre, with the aim of 'backcasting' later on.

SB Unleashing and timelineThis is probably as far as we have got to creating any kind of energy descent plan in the sense of a material document. Although we are a strong Transition group and "pull together" on many different (and successful) projects and events (see Transition Companion p.236 box What Would a Transition Initiative need to start creating an EDAP), at present there are neither funds nor people with enough time to work on such a plan.

Then there is the fact that so far the concepts of Descent, Degrowth and Downshift, and what's behind them, have not yet caught fire with most people in the modern West. So much of our lives revolves around the comfort and convenience fossil-fuel use has made possible. The feeling it is our right to be in one and have the other at all times, has become almost pathological in our culture. Both on a personal and a grander scale the attachment to comfort absolute keeps us insular and blinds us to the heavy social and environmental costs that comfort is based on.

How many times a day do we say or think "I'm comfortable with this" or "I'm not comfortable with that"? How often is it a way to avoid looking at what's going on and our part in it, as much as a valid expression of something really being not quite right?

The mining and burning of fossil-fuel energy whether it's for the oil, coal or nuclear industry is destroying the atmosphere. You could call it short-term comfortism.

Seakales at Sizewell

(ii) Making it an Adventure

"We'd love you to come and stay," we said to Kristin and Sim, "But we must warn you - it's cold here in December!"

The experimental Transition Norwich Strangers' Circle lasted one year between 2009 and 2010. All the people in the group were aiming in that time to reduce our carbon emissions to half the national average or below. Some drove less and cycled more, some bought fewer goods, the group ordered food in bulk. In our household we turned off the oil-fired central heating. We haven't turned it back on since, apart from on really cold, damp winter days when clothes just won't dry.

The first winter was tough. We lit two fires a week in the woodburner and discovered the amazingness of the Hot Water Bottle and wearing more layers of clothes. The group's monthly meetings were important for keeping our spirits up in that first year and we could report on our successes and failures. Going into buildings with the central heating on began to feel unnatural, and going outside on a winter's day was sometimes warmer than staying indoors. 2010 was easier, though the group was no more, and last year (which was a milder winter) was almost a doddle.

So at present there is no EDAP in Bungay or Norwich, but some of us have engaged in energy descent anyway, and have learnt a few things on the way, which we're happy to share.

And Kristin and Sim? Did they visit us in December? Yes, they did. And they braved the cold for almost a week with the utmost goodwill and sportspersonship. Well, they do manage aka Energy Bulletin! We worked all together in the front room during the days, under layers of blankets and clothes with hot water bottles at our feet, editing our various blogs and newspapers. Transition Towers indeed. It was really good fun, too, and when the evening came we all really appreciated that woodburner!

Keeping warm in low temperatures = inside the house

At the Dark Mountain meeting in Norwich that week, Sim told the group, "You know, because it's cold I'm much more aware of temperature. That it's warm inside the bed, for example, and cold outside. I don't pay attention to that normally. The physical season and the outside has really entered my awareness. And this is how humans have lived for most of our time on the planet."

Energy descent. It's not particularly comfortable. Though at some point it's inevitable. Best to start now and make it an adventure.

Photos: Cartoon from Transition Town Worthing Energy Descent Plan by Steve Last; Sustainable Bungay unleashing 2009, with Timeline; Grumpy amongst the seakales, Sizewell Beach May 2011; meets Transition Free Press, Kristin and Sim in our front room office, December 2012 - 8 degrees


David MacLeod's picture

"Comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility"

This post ties right in with John Michael Greer's "The Beginning of the World" ("With that in mind, dear reader, I’d like to ask you to do something right now, before going on to the paragraph after this one.  If you’re
in the temperate or subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere, and
you’re someplace where you can adjust the temperature, get up and go
turn the thermostat down three degrees; if that makes the place too
chilly for your tastes, take another moment or two to put on a sweater. 
If you’re in a different place or a different situation, do something
else simple to decrease the amount of energy you’re using at this
moment.  Go ahead, do it now; I’ll wait for you here.")

And of course, I'm also reminded of the movie "My Dinner with Andre":

What does it do to us, Wally, living in an environment where something
as massive as the seasons or winter or cold, don't in any way affect us?
I mean, were animals after all. I mean... what does that mean? I think
that means that instead of living under the
sun and the moon and the sky and the stars, we're living in a fantasy
world of our own making.

Yeah, but I mean, I would never give up my electric blanket, Andre. I
mean, because New York is cold in the winter. I mean, our apartment is
cold! It's a difficult environment. I mean, our life
is tough enough as it is. I'm not looking for ways to get rid of a few
things that provide relief and comfort. I mean, on the contrary, I'm
looking for more comfort because the world is very abrasive. I mean, I'm
trying to protect myself because, really, there's
these abrasive beatings to be avoided everywhere you look!
But, Wally, don't you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you
like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can
lull you into a dangerous tranquility.

I wouldn't put on an electric blanket for any reason. First, I'd be
worried if I get electrocuted. No, I don't trust technology. But I mean,
the main thing, Wally, is that I think that kind of comfort just
separates you from reality in a very direct way.

My follow-up post is here: