In a world of global warming, other environmental crises ranging from species extinction to the proliferation of toxics, peak oil and sometimes-skyrocketing energy prices, an economic collapse, and swine flu (possibly started because of factory farming), it often feels like the world is ending.
But all over the world, people are entering their own personal phone booths and emerging in brand spankin' new capes and spandex, ready to fly.
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I was thrilled when I stumbled across a very long discussion in the New York Times Magazine about Transition Towns.
As the New York Times states, "Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. 'Sustainability,' [the founder of the Transition Town movement] recently told me, 'is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.' But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast...Transition is about 'building resiliency' — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive."
The paper continues that unlike traditional survivalist approaches, "Transition...takes an almost utopian turn. [The founder of the Transition Towns movement] insists that if an entire community faces this stark challenge together, it might be able to design an 'elegant descent' from that peak. We can consciously plot a path into a lower-energy life — a life of walkable villages, local food, and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world — which, on balance, could actually be richer and more enjoyable than what we have now. Transition...meets our era’s threats with a spirit of 'elation, rather than the guilt, anger and horror' behind most environmental activism. 'Change is inevitable,' he told me, 'but this is a change that could be fantastic.'"
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My elation about the fact that others are so publicly talking about the joys that can come with environmental activism was eclipsed when I heard about another article.
Elle Magazine--ELLE MAGAZINE!--has an article about these very issues. The secondary title of the article suggests that we need to "get in fighting shape for the coming storms--psychologically, economically, and environmentally." Although the subtitle suggests that we may need to fight for survival, the term is not intended to suggest a bunker in the mountains full of guns and MREs. The magazine is talking about the same movement that the NYT writes about: the Transition Town movement.
While many bloggers making forecasts for 2008 and 2009 predicted that Peak Oil would go mainstream during these two years, I never quite imagined that it would be so mainstream that fashion magazines would be discussing ethical social response.
The folks in the Transition Town movement apparently were equally shocked. Their first response was: "I think it’s worth acknowledging from the start that ELLE doesn’t exactly espouse the sort of values we consider are needed to take us through this transition to a lower carbon, higher resilience way of living." But after thinking about it more, the leaders in the movement realized how revolutionary this could become. I suspect they swallowed hard when they realized that the question might become "What does relocalization mean for someone who loves Manolo Blahnik shoes?"
This movement is at once more radical and more joyful than traditional environmentalism. It teaches us to respond to fear with not only personal resilience but with community. It is this sense of joy and love and community which has helped me work through some of my own worries about the coming storms.
Although deciding to revolutionize our lives requires us to make a few sacrifices, it also gives us joy in relationships as well as pride in the work of our own hands. Sometimes we don't even need to change into our superhero costumes while we are in the green phone booth. Let's occasionally use it the way it was originally intended--to forge new friendships and keep making connections with each other!