Clare Short: Birmingham should become a transition city
May 13 2008 By Clare Short
Just before Easter, I accepted an invitation to contribute to a course on development at Schumacher College which is situated in the grounds of Dartington Hall, near Totnes.
The college is famous for its commitment to environmental sustainability as is the Dartington Trust. On the road sign for Totnes someone has painted "Twinned with Narnia".
It is a beautiful part of the world and large numbers of green minded, alternative sorts of people live there. This has made Totnes the ideal place for the birth of the Transition Towns movement.
I have spent the last year or so reading and thinking about where politics is going. It is clear that people are sick to death of current British politics.
The tide is going out for Labour and therefore coming in for Cameron. But I detect little enthusiasm for the Tories. They are the instrument available to give the government a kick in the pants, but few people are excited about what they have to offer.
I myself doubt that things would change much if Cameron became Prime Minister.
The really big change that is coming will result from the challenge of global warming, peak oil and the strain on global resources resulting from growing populations and massive economic growth in China and India.
Our whole way of life, since the industrial revolution is based on massive energy use. And most of that energy comes from oil. But oil also produces all our plastics, fertiliser and most of our pharmaceuticals.
New oil resources are not being found and usage has increased massively particularly in Asia. This explains the doubling of oil prices over the past year and the likely doubling yet again.
The Transition Towns movement, which started in Totnes and is spreading across the country and the world, is about local people coming together to prepare for the change that is coming.
Its founder, Rob Hopkins, who lives in Totnes, is convinced that we must localise massively to live in the future.
So groups in Totnes meet to think of how food will be provided, where energy will come from and how people will survive.
They have even launched a Totnes pound which local businesses agree to take in order to encourage business to source their products locally.
I do not know how quickly peak oil will create a crisis for our way of life, but I am sure that the combination of forces at work will drive massive change and risk a global economic depression.
The only way through will be more localisation. And the beauty of this is that it will draw people together into greater contact with each other and greater community co-operation.
I have in recent months visited villages that are co-operating to reduce their carbon emissions, met with the founder of the Transition Towns network and found other community groups across the country working together locally and trying to face up to the environmental challenge.
I think this is the force of the future. And the beauty of it is that people are working together to create change instead of sitting around predicting doom and gloom.
My question is could we make Birmingham a transition city? Bristol has joined the network as have Brixton and Nottingham and many smaller places. I would love Birmingham to get involved.