Monday, 19 May 2008

The Transition Home

To be thrown upon one's own resources, is to be cast into the very lap of fortune; for our faculties then undergo a development and display an energy of which they were previously insusceptible.

—Benjamin Franklin

Many of you who read this blog will be aware of the concept of transition towns. For those of you not in the know, "Transition Towns" is a charity which helps communities prepare for the eventual economic and social changes which may occur in their communities because of the double whammy of climate change and peak oil. Many towns and villages in the UK have become "transition towns" and it is really great to see communities working together with forethought to make their towns good places to live in uncertain times. The idea of "transitioning" in green circles is a relatively new one. Basically, climate change is going to happen, it has started already and it is too late to stop it, we must therefore prepare ourselves for the worst but hope our responsible actions will expedite things for the best. The same goes for peak oil, it's either happened already, is happening now, or will happen in ten years time! So, again we must prepare ourselves for the social and economic changes which will occur because of our reliance on fossil fuels. Ironically, this preparation is basically the same as the stuff we should have been doing to slow down peak oil and halt climate change in the first place. That old mantra, "reduce, reuse and recycle", and more importantly self-sufficiency. Reducing what we buy, reusing what we have and recycling things we cannot reuse will be a reality for all of us, as will be being more self-reliant! So, transitioning is all about preparing ourselves and our communities for the shock this may cause us all! But moreover, it is a positive movement. They see themselves as creating more vibrant, creative and caring communities, whether the global economic changes caused by climate change/peak oil are minor or major. Here's what they say about themselves:

A Transition Initiative is a community working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question:

"for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"

I've been thinking about this for some time now. I may indeed dip my toes into the waters of political activism (once more) and see if I cannot set up some kind of transitioning in my own town (I am not however a born leader, nor indeed a born organiser...).But I have been known to say that homemaking itself is a form of grass roots activism, especially if the homemaker is mindful of the importance of their vocation*. It seems quite grandiose to say, but "green" homemaking or "simple" living (or whatever we want to call what we do!), is in fact a very viable form of transitioning. We may already be growing a reasonable amount of our own food, we may be baking, preserving, spinning, sewing, keeping chickens and pigs, brewing... and although we may not be completely self-sufficient (or, in my case hardly at all) we have developed a knack for practical living, and indeed seen the beauty in a more practical, natural way of life. So, by being practical we are cushioning ourselves against the affects of peak oil, by being mindful and careful with our resources we are mitigating the affects of climate change.

Moreover, we are bringing our children up in a household where we "do for ourselves". This, I am beginning to feel is incredibly important, as it will be their generation which will shoulder the burden of our profligacy, they will need to be practical, rather than be practical by choice. And, although we can never fully protect our children from what the future may bring we can teach them the life skills they may need to lead a fulfilling and healthy life.

I'm going to leave you with a few thoughts on the thing I need to do to make my home a more self-sufficient unit. And, just to give you a bit of background information, I live in a house built in the 1980s, on quite a well planned 1980s suburban estate. My garden is small, but I am surrounded by green space and am only fifteen minutes walk from open farm land. I grow enough food in the summer months for several good rataouilles, bowls of pasta and more salad than I can stomach, we all get one or two bowls of home grown blueberries and strawberries in the summer. I grow very little in the winter months, chard and herbs, to be honest. I use hedgerow foods for preserving (and gin infusing) I am also making my own hedgerow wine (I can't tell you if it has been a success yet!) My house is well insulated and pretty energy efficient, but I am absolutely reliant on the gas and electric companies for all of my energy needs. Here are my ideas:

  1. I shall think about the best way to use my small plot effectively. I will grow winter veg and more fruit.
  2. It may be time to think of coming off the grid...even just a little bit. We could probably afford to put in a solar water heating system, even if full solar power is out of the question. Although solar panels take a while to pay for themselves, we will be prepared when the price of gas goes even higher and we can no longer afford it.
  3. I need to think about fixing stuff. Neither the DH nor I are very mechanically minded. It would be a good idea for one of us to take a course in basic mechanics, so we can keep the car in order, and perhaps even take a course on repairing household goods. In the future we may not have the money to pay for a repair man or buy new electrical goods.
  4. Oh, and talking of the car...biofuel? Or, just enjoy the car responsibly and keep in mind that one day, we may again be car free (we've only had a car for a year).
  5. I need to look at a better way to collect rainwater, and if there is any practical way of using it in the house. I've heard of rainwater systems which use rainwater for flushing loos, but is it possible to fit such a system into a 1980s suburban home?
I'd love to hear of anybody else's suggestions for making a suburban house more self-sufficient, so please comment if you have any ideas.

*When I say that homemaking is a vocation, I mean it! It is also open to people from all walks of life; regardless of political or religious views, how much money we have, or whether we choose to stay at home, work at home, or even work outside the home. As, when you get down to brass tacks, homemaking is really all about having a "heart for home", prioritising family life and understanding how very important the home really is.


Jenny said...

Transition towns - what a great idea. Whether the effects of climate change are great or small it sounds like a marvelloous way of bringing a community together.
I agree we need to equip our children for what may be a simpler and more difficult time ahead. Teaching them that they are resourceful and can problem solve is very important.Letting them see that a home needs to be run and managed not just lived in and have them gradually take part in the running of the home will help them when they are on their own.
That's what I liked about the Alison Uttley book I just read. Because she had spent so much time as a child just observing her parents and the various helpers as well as helping them she knew, in her bones, how to manage her home.

Anonymous said...

Just out of interest, will you be returning to outside work when your children are both in full-time school or are you going to stay a full-time homemaker?

I'd not heard of transition towns before, how interesting, thanks!

Hugs n' stuff

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Linnet

I've answered your question, somewhat long-windedly, in my post "Not Anglican Fudge With Nuts". I hope you like it!

Shropshire Girl said...

Such an interesting post! I hope the link below will take you to the Guerra's garden on youtube. They use permaculture on their small plot and grow alot! I work in the oil distribution industry and believe that we really need to start to hone our skills to get us through this 'long emergency'

I will be sure to visit again