14 November 2009

Leaving the pleasuredome

By Charlotte Du Cann

Last November at an Energy Fair in a Suffolk village John Gummer MP declared how people like us were making a difference and how that lady in the front wearing the woolly hat had the right idea about keeping warm. He then went on to say how frightfully important it was he kept his five cars and in particular the 4x4 outside in the car park.

In another era I would have spent this column denouncing the politician. But the fact is my attention has shifted. The times have shifted. Because all across the region ordinary people are doing the extraordinary. Though they have been educated to believe the top of the world is the place to be, they are discussing how to proceed down the mountain. They have not yet turned their heating on. They are walking to work and darning their socks. They are swapping clothes and vegetable seeds, showing The Age of Stupid in their village halls. And I'm not writing as an observer. I'm one of those people.

Whatever happens in Copenhagen next month a wave of low-carbon communities and Transition initiatives across East Anglia are already cutting their carbon emissions. We're not doing it because the government have told us to, but because something like conscience has entered our field. And even though, like everyone else, we have been dazzled by the pleasuredome of the Western World, we know that no matter how many buttons we push or planes we take the walls that have allowed us not to see or feel the consequences of our daily actions have become thin. We can only live this way by exploiting the natural resources of the planet and millions of our fellow human beings. And it's not just the trees and animals and people who suffer. It is ourselves, in our rages and our depressions, our children who run crazy in the schoolroom instead of running free, our parents who lose their minds instead of becoming elders.

Today people from 27 Transition initiatives across the Eastern Region are converging in Diss to discuss how to co-ordinate this downshift into a low-carbon world. They are engaged in a movement that began in Totnes in 2005 in response to peak oil (the imminent decline of oil supplies) and climate change that enables communities to make active steps towards energy descent. Their hardest task is to communicate the fact that to reverse the downward spiralling of eco-systems and resource wars, we can’t hold on to our fossil-fuelled life-style. At some point you have to stop eating the disappearing fish in the ocean. You have to put on your woolly hat.

To see the reality of our situation beyond our fairy stories of heroes and saviours is to see that we live in a world run by a corporate machine that is munching its way across the green earth, like a vast voracious caterpillar. For things to change that caterpillar has to transform and become something utterly different. What grassroots movements realise is this is not just a top-down political decision that can be agreed in a climate change summit, it's a personal task for everyone. Because when you dissolve your old world, that's when you start to dream of the butterfly.

If you had told me I'd be writing a column about not turning on the central heating 17 years ago, I would have laughed. I was a consumer journalist, finding meaning and solace in little black dresses and designer chairs, jet-setting to Tokyo and Madrid without a qualm. Now I'm part of a response to the greatest challenge people have ever faced, creating a culture that can live in synch with the planet, one amongst millions of ordinary people doing the extraordinary thing. Walking down the mountain together. Dreaming of the butterfly.

The Transition East Regional Gathering is taking place in Diss on 14 November 2009. Charlotte Du Cann is a member of Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay.

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