Towns Build Community Resilience in Uncertain Times

By Tina Clarke Gazette Contributing Writer

A growing number of influential people in industry and finance are warning that the supply of cheap oil is in serious decline. This spring, a group of British business leaders advised their government to take action to prevent social, political and economic havoc from the coming “global oil supply crunch and price spike.” The insurance consortium Lloyds predicted that a cost of $200 per barrel for oil is not far away, and urged businesses to “global oil supply crunch and price spike.” The insurance consortium Lloyds predicted that $200-a-barrel for oil is not far away and urged businesses to “transition to a low carbon economy” for financial reasons. “Failure to do so,” the report warned, “could be catastrophic.”

Lloyds’ conclusion is in line with numerous studies supporting the “peak oil” hypothesis: that humans have used up a large portion, and maybe more than half, of all recoverable conventional oil. As supplies of easy, inexpensive oil decrease—and the risks and costs of drilling, such as the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, increase—costs will rise. The price of gas, home heating oil, transportation, food, medicines, manufactured goods and virtually everything else in our lives will go up. Every time oil costs have risen in recent history, our economy has gone into a recession. People lose jobs. Businesses go under.

Over the decades when oil was plentiful and cheap, we lost the resilience of previous generations. Many of us have grown up in a world where transportation and material goods were relatively cheap. Our towns sprawled and we became dependent upon others for our well-being. Today we lack many of the skills and community connections, businesses, institutions and ways of living that helped people get through hard times.

For the better part of 40 years the evidence has been growing: We need to transition to a new way of doing business, a new way of organizing our lives. In western Massachusetts and around the globe, groups of citizens are working together to make those changes in their own communities. Instead of avoiding the problem or worrying alone, they are coming together to transition their communities to greater economic resilience and local production of energy, food and other necessities.

Global network

Using a flexible model developed in England, a global network of “Transition Initiatives” is growing rapidly on every continent, and includes thousands of communities worldwide. The Transition movement appeals to many across the political spectrum because it is grounded in local action—not waiting for governments, corporations, experts or anyone else to help us shift from oil dependence to greater security. Our combined skills, experience, knowledge, creativity and abilities can enhance the well-being of our communities.

In the past six months, neighbors in 24 towns in our region—Northampton, Amherst, Williamsburg, Shutesbury and Westhampton, to name a few—have launched Transition Initiatives. These begin with educating people about the potential effects of both peak oil and climate change—the former demanding a drive to increase community resilience, the latter a reduction in carbon footprint. They involve screening movies like An Inconvenient Truth and Crude Awakening, organizing talks by experts, reaching out to the media, making presentations in public forums, and networking with existing organizations. The tone is positive and emphasizes solutions; the goal is to tap the collective genius of the community.

A recent gathering of over 350 people at Northampton’s Academy of Music heard leaders in the Transition movement speak about how Transition communities are responding to the fragile state of our economic, environment and energy systems. At a recent showing in Montague of the film In Transition, a diverse group explored the ideas of “community resilience” and “transitioning from oil dependence to local resilience.” One man, a decades-long member of the First Congregational Church of Montague, sat back thoughtfully, and then observed, “This is how we used to live.” Another resident, an artist raised in the 1970s, said, “This is my dream.”

Across the generations and political spectrum, we are coming together in the old wisdom of being good neighbors. By making smart choices in technologies, investing in the community and expanding local food, local energy and local economic strength, we are increasing community resilience in an uncertain time.

Tina Clarke has led and supported citizen-based organizations for over 25 years and is now a trainer for the Transition movement.

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