To mark the release of ‘Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation’, the new book edited by Thomas Henfrey and Gil Penha-Lopes, we hear from some of the book’s contributors. For the first one, Andrea Connell, Cheryl Lyon and Dave Sumner of Transition Town Peterborough in Canada discuss their chapter.
This interview is published with thanks to Gesa Maschkowski, Celayne Heaton Shrestha and Tom Henfrey from the Transition Research Network.
Could you give us a brief introduction to your work?
The ‘work’ of Transition Town Peterborough (TTP) is to build a resilient community. In permaculture, TTP’s basic philosophy, we work over the long term to create a system that puts less work into getting more benefit and/or an energy surplus in the end. TTP is trying to build a consciousness of this type of system thinking in the community and among decision-makers via (re)education in every conversation about climate change and in all our initiatives. In the ‘work’ we aim to include and bring forward the diversity of people’s gifts to build resilience.
Our initiatives include festivals – celebrations of Spring (Dandelion Day) and the Fall Harvest (Purple Onion Festival) seasons – and a free quarterly magazine called The Community Greenzine that promotes Transition. They also include research and promotion of local food through various means: our study (Part One) on increasing local food production and consumption by 25 per cent; the annual Local Food Month, which also has its own publication; a new initiative to start a Local Food association; through municipal government support; and the Purple Onion Festival which showcases local food producers. We are also restarting our Transition Skills Forum for reskilling, beginning with an introduction to permaculture and hoping to include Heart & Soul ‘skills’ for the spiritual and emotional side of Transition. Finally, TTP is trying to introduce Transition Streets (if we can find some funding!)
You are author of the chapter Transition in Peterborough, Canada. Could you tell us, in a nutshell, what your chapter is about?
It’s about the local social, economic and worldview challenges to adaptation to climate change in a mid-sized Canadian city. These challenges include deep adherence to capitalist economic forms that perpetuate the ravaging of Nature and poverty of people; our culture’s ‘addiction’ to comfort and affluence based on fossil fuels; a looking to government and business leadership for solutions; and moving municipal authorities from their traditional focus on things like roads and keeping taxes low towards a perspective based on adaptation to create a resilient community. The chapter also indicates TTP’s responses to these challenges via our initiatives (as listed above).
What makes it so complicated to become more resilient as community?
We all adhere to ‘myths’ in our daily lives, the stories about how the world and life are in family, government, work, business, nature etc. We are conditioned to the prevailing story or myth of endless growth, profit, nature being there for our use and exploitation. Moving away from these stories involves addressing contextual ‘complications’.
These stories shape citizens into lives that are too busy, too focused (necessarily for the poorer, unnecessarily for the wealthy) on maintaining or increasing their income based on their labour or their investments, and keeping up standards of affluence that leaves them no time to consider what TTP has to offer and what a climate-changing world is demanding. So TTP has a hard time attracting enough volunteers and getting its perspective or message across.
Another complication is with our municipal government which (within its particular ‘story’) is more concerned with pot holes and low taxes than climate change. Moreover, its planning horizon (politically) is three years when longer horizons are needed for adaptation strategies. The City sees itself as manager of a big Corporation and not also as a set of human services.
TTP’s work is complicated by our seeing ourselves not as environmentalist (though we are that) but more as ecologists, using as our guide ideas and approaches which are less familiar to people in our community, for instance system thinking and complexity (as in permaculture).
Though the municipalities (there are eight plus a county level of government) officially subscribe to their Sustainability Plan, it is an aspirational, voluntary compliance document with no money behind it. The same goes for their emissions reduction plan.
Lack of funding is another complication. We have become in essence a social enterprise, barely supporting ourselves as an organization through selling advertising to pay for publishing our magazines and seeking sponsors in the community for our festivals.
Do you see any possibilities how governments could support communities in becoming more resilient?
At the local municipal government level, we urge the Council to adopt the lens of transition/resilience in all policy and budget decisions. So far, we’ve had no luck in making this a regular part of their analyses.
Electing resilience-minded councillors would help. Here, the grassroots’ role is to work at effecting this by getting involved in elections.
TTP has floated the notion of a public trust to help finance economic localization in the Peterborough area. We hold that it requires participation of the municipality who can contribute, from local tax revenue, more than any other body or investor and thus attract more investors.
This money would go to support local small and medium-sized businesses and farms. So far, the municipality is not interested.
At the next level of government – provincial – there is not much more they can do.
At the federal level, TTP would like to see our current PM stop saying that Canada can ‘balance the environment and the economy’. It’s too late. There is no understanding (or admission) among all three levels of government that the current global capitalist economic story or myth is deeply implicated in the environmental problem. Legislation at all three levels fails to reflect an understanding of the interconnectedness and complexity of the natural environment with all aspects of life. This understanding is vital to all adaptive decisions and policies they need to make. Their legislation is in the language of ‘protecting’ the ‘environment’, not working with it, learning from its complexity.
TTP would like to see governments support local communities’ efforts to take back some of their agency in both governance and citizenry.
What makes you hope that we can change towards a more resilient and sustainable society?
Hope springs from the celebratory, positive, constructive initiatives TTP offers. It comes from the sense of our volunteers working on something very very meaningful; from so many people realizing that their lives are overstressed, tedious, overly busy, etc, and that they are perhaps looking to Transition Towns for what we have to offer for effecting real life change, a new story and how they can regain agency in their lives – ‘Wow! I can grow strawberries! I can ditch my car!’ – and that money is not the ultimate value. That a loving, helping community is. Then resilience becomes possible.
It includes accounts from people and organisations at the front line of efforts to build community resilience, cutting edge theory and analysis from engaged scholar-activists, and commentary from sympathetic researchers.
It is available from permanent publications.
The Transition Research Network’s goal is to support research that is mutually beneficial for both Transition Initiatives (part of the Transition Towns movement) and academic researchers. Find out more.
Special pre-order offer
You can pre-order your copy of Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation here at a 10% discount, and if you use the code GS-RESILIENCE-13 when you order, Permanent Publications have very generously offered an extra 20% discount! This brings the price from £19.95 all the way down to £13.96. Don’t miss out…