One of my secret indulgences is a British eco magazine called Permaculture, home to what Mr. Objector calls, deservedly, "the worst art direction EVER" (lots of photos of people in tie-dyed garments throwing their arms open, welcoming the Spirit; bearded young men clutching rutebagas, etc). Goofiness aside, Permaculture has introduced me to many green developments and movements long before they hit the mainstream, here or in Europe (which is light years ahead of these United States in green innovation). So I was pretty well-versed in the essentials of Transition Towns — municipalities moving towards an oil-free existence in a purposeful fashion — when I saw the New York Times Magazine's coverage of transition movements popping up on these shores.
In case you didn't read the article, "The End is Near! (Yay!)," here's the skinny. The transition movement started in Britain a few years ago, a more radical approach to climate change and the end of cheap oil. Transition assumes that change is afoot, that oil will run out sooner than we think; it encourages communities to work together, toward a deliberate, well-thought-out alternative to our present-day global, oil-dependent culture.
Sure, there's something to be said for toting an AK-47 and fighting to the death over a few jerry cans of gas to fuel your chopped ATV, but perhaps the end times could be a bit calmer? Transition hopes to mobilize and inspire people before the shit hits the fan, Mad Max-style, so we don't all end up wearing leather pants and ammo belts (though everyone should have a blue heeler sidekick).
So what does this have to do with life in NYC? Well, though planning for a future without oil might seem impossible, there are many steps that could be taken that would better prepare us for societal collapse. Many truly sustainable options will take years and years to become fully operational (that's where the transition comes in): fruit and nut trees planted now won't produce anything edible for years — better to plant them now and have them "online" when they're really needed. Gardens and open space need to be protected and developed. Alternatives to conventional energy sources need to be found and implemented.
Let's say Williamsburg (where I live) became a Transition community. Stalled construction sites might be preserved and turned into community gardens/composting sites; the food they produce, the trash they transform, and the air they clean would be far more valuable to residents than the few shoddy condos they would otherwise hold. Some part of McCarren Park, now given over entirely to playing fields and the giant lights that illuminate them, might be converted into a garden, farm, or even an orchard. Biogas generators could produce energy, whole streets might be given over to bicycles, and the paved areas around our schools, now used, obscenely, as teacher parking, could become places for solar panels, trees, gardens and outdoor ed. Permanent, everyday farmers' markets might be established under the BQE, and a local currency would allow residents to trade amongst themselves for goods and services.
Looming disaster can begin to be addressed today. And whether or not the worst-case scenarios come to pass, or we magically sidestep the calamities that Peak Oil adherents forsee, Transition planning is sure to make wherever we live more pleasant and environmentally sustainable. And transition can turn green action into greener action: we're already planting trees to clean the air and cool our streets — why not plant food trees to provide for us when we need it? Fancy bike paths are spreading across the city — why not turn the dividers that protect them into planting areas instead of painted asphalt?
May 16 and 17, there will be Transition training in Manhattan, at Union Theological Seminary, run by regenerativeculture.org — there's an introductory lecture the evening of the 15th, for those who'd like to learn more before committing to a full weekend of alterna-planning.
Give it a try: for those of us often driven to the edge of despair by the state of the environment, and the apparent obliviousness of most of our politicians (Reverend Billy for Mayor!), transition is a way to imagine, and create, positive change.
For more info, visit transitionnewyork.ning.com