Friday, September 28, 2007

Bringing together ideas from around the world

I don’t know about you, but I’m really concerned about climate change and peak oil. I mean really concerned - lay awake at night concerned.

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who is, but it doesn’t take long on the laptop to find plenty of other people who feel the same way.

I find inspiration browsing through my favourites and seeing all the other individuals and groups who are trying their hardest to do something and to make changes despite, at times, immense opposition and apathy.

These sites have become places of inspiration and kinship for me even when I don’t know the people involved. When I feel like giving up, a quick connection to the 'www' and there they all are – busy networking, educating, offering their skills and time and most importantly of all inspiring others all hours of the day and night, every day of the year.

It’s heartening to know that around the globe people are joining together and starting to generate positive action focussed on local, practical solutions.

Like me, people are being buoyed along by texts such as Powerdown and the Oil Depletion Protocol by Richard Heinberg, groups such as the Post Carbon Institute and Community Solutions, site like this one and, particularly for me personally, the work of people like David Holmgren in Australia and Rob Hopkins in the UK.

Now some communities and councils are starting to plan, prepare and make changes for a positive post carbon future thanks to the words and actions of these leaders. More and more groups are coming online all the time and there would be a whole lot more who are online, but are still working very hard in their own communities to get action moving forward.

Where I live in Queensland Australia, things seem fine and dandy, we worship the sun and surf, we celebrate our coastal lifestyle - the envy of many who make this their holiday destination year after year.

We enjoy good rainfall at our place despite the rest of the country being in a severe drought. Our rainwater tanks are full, our soil here on our little farm is excellent and full of organic matter, plants grow overnight in our subtropical climate, our chooks enjoy a diet better than most humans thanks to our excess. We have plenty of fresh organic food to eat, clean water to drink, and the air is clean and clear.

Which makes it so much harder to convince people this is under threat and is going to change unless we do something NOW.

We are vulnerable, our food supply is fragile, water is wasted in irresponsible and immoral ways, solutions from government are ludicrous at best, downright dangerous at worst.

Not being one to sit around and complain – well, not much and not without coming up with some sort of solution eventually – a couple of us, both with permaculture backgrounds, got together to try to come up with a solution.

But what could I offer. My background is in corporate communications, strategic planning and crisis management within government agencies and universities, I left full-time work last year to put my time and energy into permaculture. Rather than ignoring my ‘past life’ skills, I’ve decided to embrace them and use them to communicate as best I can about these critical issues.

After years as a ‘book permaculturist’, that is reading all I could about the concept, I finally completed my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) last year a with local Sunshine Coast permaculture educator who is now my mentor.

The PDC uses Bill Mollison’s text: Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual, as its basis and applies permaculture principles to the landscape to create sustainable human settlements – needs such as food, water, shelter and energy are all addressed in a way that not only complements but also aims to improve the land.

Just prior to my PDC I attended a presentation by David Holmgren, co-originator of permaculture, at the local uni. He spoke about ‘regional sustainability in an energy descent future’ and mentioned the Kinsale model of action planning - he inspired me to ‘do something’.

Also, a student in my PDC group spoke about the relocalisation network and I started a group in my local area.

Dots were starting to join up for me. Solutions were on the horizon. There was light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train!

Reading Holmgren’s book, I found his seven domains of action compelling. It addresses everything we need to fix. the built environment, tools and technology, culture and education, health and spiritual wellbeing, finances and economics, land tenure and community governance and land and nature stewardship.

Here was the basis of the practical framework we needed for social reorganisation to prepare for energy descent. Excellent, the blueprint was there, all we had to do was put it into action.

With the support and guidance of my mentor and with her expertise in curriculum development, we began working together, fleshing out a course that would apply Holmgren’s principles to regional energy descent preparedness.

I discovered Rob Hopkin’s Skilling Up for Powerdown course on the internet and we used that as a model for a course focusing on climate change and peak oil. We were on our way…

The course
So, the course began to really take shape. The trial 10-week course started in July this year.

Each week we examine an area of our society that will be affected by energy descent. Each issue is discussed as to how it applies to our region specifically and how we can use permaculture to not only survive, but thrive. Permaculture principles are applied each week to determine the feasibility of solutions. We will look at – what is the current situation, what is the ideal situation and how do we get there?

We look at society in general, and how permaculture, climate change and peak oil all fit together. We then explore the relocalisation of; our food supply, waste, water energy, infrastructure, built environment, health, education, communication systems, economy, financies, community governance, land stewardship, emergency preparedness, and finally personal and community attitudes.

Energy Descent Action Plan
Throughout the course, students work on developing individual and group projects as installments of the first Regional Energy Descent Action Plan, and we have the support of our local council for this plan.

While developing the course it soon became apparent that we needed ongoing support for students to continue to progress the EDAP after the 10-week course. I didn’t like the idea of getting people all fired up and then not giving them an avenue to use that energy and to try out their ideas.

Also, I volunteer every Saturday morning at our local community gardens and I found visitors there were starting to link home food production with energy and water issues (we are currently on water restrictions with Australia in the midst of an extended period of drought). Offering the community the chance to learn more about energy and water issues from a permaculture perspective was appealing and the idea for the Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre was born.

A community education centre is born
The Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre (SEAC) operates out of an old Queenslander (a timber house built off the ground, common here in Queensland). The house is at our one and only community garden here on the Sunshine Coast.

SEAC is open every Saturday morning and our aim is to raise awareness in the community about peak oil, energy descent and the positive and practical solutions on offer.

With my background in communications and community education I’m following the path of; awareness – information – education – action – and hoping it makes a difference.

We run free weekly events including; dvd screenings, we have presentations by guest speakers from sustainable businesses, the local university sustainability section, and from within the permaculture network We offer free workshops (composting, worm farming) and free consultations. The course runs straight after the SEAC information sessions.

My hopes for the Centre is that it becomes a one stop shop of information about action groups and activities on the Sunshine Coast, somewhere people can be inspired and find some respite from the mainstream material world and some hope for the future.

We provide resources and information so visitors can join an existing local group (such as climate change action or a relocalisation group), or – with support and guidance from SEAC – start their own group. Information about permaculture, re-skilling and related courses across the Coast is also available.

We plan to gradually retrofit the old house to demonstrate how that can be done while maintaining a high standard of living within a home. Being sustainable doesn’t mean sitting in the dark, in the cold and being hungry!

We offer the community a range of resources; books, dvds, web addresses, courses (from free community courses right through to university level), networking and social events will be organised with the aim of raising community awareness, informing, educating and empowering and hopefully inspiring the community into action. I hope one day, SEAC will emulate the Solar Living Institute in the US.

Richard Heinberg’s texts; Powerdown and the Oil Depletion Protocol also feature highly at SEAC and I am currently working on developing a way to enable individuals, businesses, organisations, communities, and councils to sign up to the protocol in our region.

This all fits with my own personal aims too and a new direction in my life I didn’t expect to be taking. I am doing my Master of Communications, with the support of a great supervisor, and I plan to base my thesis on these projects; how we can best communicate the urgent need for action in the community, while at the same time empowering them into positive solutions rather than alienating them.

I hope to produce a document that is useful and user-friendly to others and can be shared around the place. A document that helps crack that forcefield of apathy in the community and finds ways to make people see the need for urgent and complete action.

Bringing all these ideas from around the world is made possible with time, energy and the internet! By applying permaculture principles to my time and energy - this was the best way for to obtain maximum yield.

I see a future when, as more and more people come ‘on-line’ looking for solutions they will be able to access websites with models of different action approaches from different bio-regions from around the world. A real virtual community of information sharing, support and extraordinary resources.

Being able to pick and choose the most appropriate scenario for their situation and add their own take on what works for them – we will be able to build a useful resource of information while networking and supporting each other as we develop these ideas and work together finding inspiration and information to bring the world into a successful energy descent region by region.

Despite being very concerned, I’m just as hopeful that we as a species can get ourselves out of this mess we’ve created and that we do have a very real chance at making a much better world for generations to come.



Anonymous said...

Sonya - take a look at the Transition Initiatives Primer that Rob Hopkins and I put together for communities wishing to join the transition network: Primer22.pdf

Seems to be working pretty well in helping people engage with a significant proportion of their local community in forming a cohesive holistic energy descent group. Lemme know if it works for you.

Ben (co-founder Transition Network)

Rob said...

Hi Sonya,
Great site, and lovely to hear how our small efforts here are helping you in galvanising your community on the other side of the world. I'd love to post your piece on Transition Culture... would that be OK with you?
Thanks so much, and keep up the good work!

Sonya said...

Hi Rob,
More than happy for it to go on the Transition Culture site, that would be great, thanks for the offer.

The site is getting a lot of hits, and we've had media coverage locally on what we are doing about peak oil preparation and how the community can get involved.

I'm hoping to get a fellowship next year to travel over to the UK and the US to see what else we could be doing here.

Ben - thanks for the link, I'll check out the primer. I've seen Adam's (from Victoria here) and spoken with hime on the phone.

I've written my own thoughts down on how I see the EDAP process forming... I'll email them to you Rob.