"Last month, 18 people came together in Louisville to dig up a yard to become a vegetable plot.
That's not too unusual nowadays: Boulder County nurseries report a surge in interest in home vegetable gardening, and a revival of World War II-style Victory Gardens is a trend nationwide. What makes this particular patch of dirt different is that it's part of an effort called Transition -- whose members have a goal considerably more comprehensive than supplying local families with fresh produce. They envision nothing less than a community that has made the transition away from fossil fuels to a sustainable, locally based economy, able to largely feed itself and create local jobs.
The Transition movement, which got its start in the United Kingdom, is a model being implemented in 150 communities in various countries, including locations in the United States. Transition Boulder County was the first Transition initiative in the United States, getting its start in May of last year. It is an extension of Boulder County Going Local, a re-localization group that has been in existence since May 2005. What's different about Transition, says Michael Brownlee, who heads the Boulder County group, is that it offers a more comprehensive plan to accomplish its goals.
The plan includes 12 steps, such as forming an initiating group, raising awareness, networking with existing groups, staging a large community event called "The Great Unleashing" to draw in the wider population, forming working groups from that event and working in the community to create an "energy descent action plan."
While the model might sound a little vague and squishy to outsiders, it's purposely designed that way to let each community come up with a plan that includes as many people as possible.
"I think more people are open to the reality that really deep change is necessary now," Brownlee says. "These are not minor adjustments in lifestyle, but changes in commitment that our whole society begins to take on. ...
Last year, when gas hit $4 a gallon, Transition folks were not surprised.
Many had been sounding the alarm about peak oil -- the point at which the world's oil supply reaches its high point, thereafter becoming increasingly expensive to extract. Many expect a "long emergency" in which the United States and other developed countries will be forced to make a wrenching adjustment to the end of the cheap fossil fuel on which much of their economic growth has been based.
After gas prices rose, however, they began to fall again as the global financial system, which was based on unsustainable credit, nearly collapsed, causing a deep recession. While the price of oil is lower, Americans have been left with a queasy feeling that their lifestyle may be in for a major readjustment.
"We thought peak oil would end the party," says Todd Siegel, initiator of Transition Boulder. "It's a lot more difficult to get the message out in a down economy. People are worried about trying to make their mortgage payment and put food on the table."
But, he says, "I believe it's all related and still as important as it ever was."
That's because the key idea behind Transition is building a sustainable community that is better able to insulate itself from globally driven shocks, whether they're caused by oil prices or problems in the financial markets. The Transition movement's advocates believe it can offer an orderly, community-based process to make the changes needed to live with fewer resources.
However, Siegel says, that doesn't have to mean a dreary, deprived life.
"I wouldn't say Transition is about transitioning to a spartan lifestyle," he says. "It's not about reverting to a more primitive state. It's about understanding the limits we face. If we preemptively decide to make the transition, we can take all the good stuff with us and move into the future that way."
By "good stuff" he means things like advanced medicine and technology, but probably not two-car, big-house families that gobble up huge amounts of precious energy. He envisions more multi-generational households with close community ties." - Cindy Sutter