Transition towns

PUBLISHED: 09:05 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:37 20 February 2013

Transition towns

Transition towns

What would it be like living without oil? With predictions that oil production will start to decline soon, it's a question that a number of communities in Kent are trying to answer

Imagine a world without oil. At first glance most of us might think well have to change how we travel, which is true. But our dependence on oil goes far beyond filling the car up once a week. Oil permeates so much of our lives, whether its food production, manufacturing or energy, its absence would totally transform the way that we live.


So says Yvonne Fuchs, of Transition Town Whitstable. The Transition Town Movement originated in Kinsale, in the Republic of Ireland during 2006. One of the principle aims of the movement is to prepare communities for an age of diminishing oil and despite its relatively infancy, there are now more than 200 recognised transition communities.


According to Steve Plater, of Transition Town Sevenoaks, the problem of peak oil is not one that has been widely publicised. Climate Change has become part of the mainstream over the last decade to the extent, that almost everybody has an understanding of the issues that surround it, which is good, he says.


But with peak oil, the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached and thereafter starts to decline, the public are perhaps not so well informed.


Estimates vary as to when peak oil will be reached, with some industry experts claiming that it has already happened and others predicting it could happen as late as 2020. Despite their differences, the vast majority agree that peak oil is something that we need to recognise because it will start seriously impacting on peoples lives within a generation.


For some time, people involved with environmentalism have been saying that we all need to change our behaviour to stop or limit climate change, says Steve. Now there is the added problem of Peak Oil, which means that we all have little choice but to change our behaviour anyway, because our current way of life, which is hugely dependent upon oil, is simply unsustainable.


He adds: You could look at it like this: climate change makes carbon reduction essential, peak oil makes it inevitable. This is what Transition Towns seeks to provide, a way in which communities can alter their behaviour in a way that can both limit climate change and also prepare them to adapt to a world characterised by depleting oil supplies.


So what can people do? As Steve explains, the movements remit covers almost every aspect of our lives. Weve set up working groups to look at ways that the community can improve sustainability. We have a Transport group, an Energy Group and a Food Group.


The idea is that these groups can come up with ideas and projects that members can undertake, often in conjunction with other local organisations and also hopefully with the wider community, which would promote the idea of greater sustainability in the town.


To give you an example, earlier this year we held jointly with the Sevenoaks Cycling Forum a family cycle ride from Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve to the High Street. About 60 people took part, with a send-off from Michael Fallon MP and the-then Town Mayor Cllr Pam Walshe. Both spoke of the need to encourage cycling and to improve conditions for it in Sevenoaks.


According to Kate Sergeant of Transition Tunbridge Wells, despite not being in existence for very long, groups such as hers already have tangible projects up and running.


Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has given us permission to clear an overgrown, disused allotment plot to develop into a community allotment, she explains.


A small team has been hard at work strimming and digging, but there is still plenty of work to do. We have cleared about half of the site and created retaining walls out of recycled materials to make terraces, as it's quite a sloping site.


So far we have planted blackcurrants, raspberries, onion sets, potatoes, beetroot, lettuce, broad beans and courgettes. The allotment is our way of promoting the issues surrounding sustainability. So much energy goes into the conventional food chain, which means oil consumption and carbon emissions, that it makes more sense to buy locally or even better, grow your own. Our allotment is a great place for people to come and get experience and advice about growing food.


Over in Whitstable, Yvonne Fuchs says that their group have also been successful in the creation of a number of projects aimed at highlighting the issues surrounding sustainable food.


Two of our members, Becky Richards and Bear Hawkins have been integral in the establishment of the very successful Whitstable Farmers Market. This twice monthly market aims to bring fresh, local, organic food to Whitstable from the surrounding countryside (30 mile radius of the town), to support local farmers, and to help reduce food miles and carbon emissions.


We have also started producing a newsletter called Edible Whitstable, which reflects our Food Group's concerns with the production, supply and consumption of what we eat, and how this relates to climate change, diminishing oil resources and the need to build a resilient food economy here in Whitstable.


It contains something about the issues surrounding food production as well as information about local food related events taking place in the town. Aside from food we have also organised other events, including book swaps, a clothes exchange and advice on managing the home in a more environmentally friendly way.


For those involved with the Transition movement, one of the most encouraging aspects of many of these projects and events is the level of local interest. People are definitely interested in what we are doing says Kate Sergeant. The numbers of people asking for more information or coming along to events and meetings is increasing. Its something that encourages us to expand what we are doing.


We recently launched a Garden Share scheme in the town. The idea is a very simple one, people with gardens they cannot manage offer to share them with people who would like to grow food but have nowhere to grow. The grower gets a free allotment, and the owner gets a share of the tasty produce grown in their garden.


We have had a great response to this and are about to launch our first match. I think this shows that there is an appetite for change out there and people want to know more about what we do and get involved in our projects.


The idea of Peak Oil can sound dramatic. And yet, as the members of Kents various transition communities have shown, much of what they advocate is relatively simple. Buying local, growing some of your own food, cleaning in a more sustainable way, using the car less, cycling more, becoming more involved with your community. These are small changes that combined can make a significant difference and can also enrich peoples lives.

The effects of even a small drop in production can be devastating on the price of oil. For instance, during the 1970s oil shocks, shortfalls in production as small as five per cent caused the price of oil to nearly quadruple.
According to a study of the largest 811 oilfields conducted in early 2008 by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), the average rate of field decline is 4.5 per cent per year.
Many of the estimates concerning supply are based on existing oilfields. New sites are expected to be found, but the degree to which they will mitigate the oil problem will depend upon the extent to which they can be drilled. There is a field on the US outer continental shelf, which holds an estimated 100 billion barrels, but as things stand only 15 per cent of those reserves are currently exploitable.

World crude oil demand grew an average of 1.76 per cent per year from 1994 to 2007, with a high of 3.4 per cent in 2003-2004.


As countries develop, industry, rapid urbanisation, and higher living standards drive up energy use, most often of oil. Thriving economies such as China and India are quickly becoming large oil consumers. China has seen oil consumption grow by eight per cent yearly since 2002, doubling from 1996-2007.


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