this text is an extract from the 'The Transition Handbook' of Rob Hopkins
A growing number of writers and thinkers now argue that the decline in availability of liquid fuels and their rising prices will inevitably lead to the local scale becoming more important. As David Fleming writes, 'Localisation stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative.'
[Rob Hopkins] argues that we need to build the capability to produce locally those things that we can produce locally. It is, of course, easy to attack this idea by pointing out that some things, such as computers and frying-pans, can't be made at a local level. However, there are a lot of things we could produce locally: a wide range of seasonal fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, timber, mushrooms. dyes, many medicines, furniture, ceramics, insulation materials, soap, bread, glass, dairy products, wool and leather products, paper, building materials, perfumes and fresh flowers - to name but a few. We aren't looking to create a 'nothing in, nothing out' economy, but rather to close economic loops where possible and to produce locally what we can.
This raises enormous questions as to what a more localised manufacturing sector would look like, and the practicalities and economics of rebuilding a zero-carbon (or ideally carbon-negative) localised manufacturing sector - a sector that has been, over the past two decades, largely dismantled and outsourced to China. Although China had become a voracious consumer of oil, coal, gas and most other raw materials, more than half of the energy and raw materials it takes are used to make products for export. When considering the reduction of the EU's carbon emission, it is worth remembering that at the moment we don't factor in what they would look like if we started making things again, as we shall doubtless have to.
When peak oil is dropped into the mix, localisation is no longer a choice - it is the inevitable direction in which we are moving, one we can do nothing about, other than decide whether we want to embrace its possibilities or cling to what perceive that we are about to lose. The oil age can be seen as a 200-year period which enabled us to move away from a primarily local focus and then to move back to it again.
The principle reason for this is transportation. Peak oil is primarily a problem of liquid fuels, and liquid fuels are rarely used now to generate power. Coal tends to be used to generate electricity, gas for power and also for domestic heating, but the liquid petroleum products are key to transportation. Some of this consumption is essential, such as emergency services, public transport and agriculture, but much of it has been necessitated by work options, settlement designs, the systematic undermining of local economies over the past 50 years, and our deeply ingrained cultural perception that we have the right to go where we want, when we want, and how we want. The availability of cheap liquid fuels has allowed us to design a food supply system in which huge amounts of energy are used moving food and other goods around just for the sake of it.
To recap, given that our current global, centralized supply systems are entirely dependent on cheap fossil fuels and the uninterrupted supply of those fuels and their continuing cheapness is increasingly in doubt, we need refocus on the creation of local production systems.
What is inevitable, though, is the return of the local and the small scale, and the turning away from the global. This will not be a isolationist process of turning our backs on the global community. Rather it will be one of communities and nations meeting each other not from a place of mutual dependency but of increased resilience.
top-down and bottom-up
Transition initiatives will function best in the context of a combination of top-down and bottom-up responses, none of which can address the challenge in isolation.
Governments generally don't lead, they respond. They are reactive, not proactive. It is essential that we remember that many of the decisions they will inevitably have to make as part of preparing for powerdown are perceived to be pretty much inconceivable from an electoral perspective. Take carbon rationing, for instance: few people would be brave enough at this stage to run for government on a ticket which promises people less every year - less car use and less energy availability.
However, there is no reason why these ideas could not be made attractive to the electorate by right candidates. If, through the creation of an energy descent plan which has engaged the community and which offers a positive vision of lower-energy future, communities have set out where they want to go, then a very dynamic interface is created between communities, local and national government.
Communities could set the agenda, saying to the government: 'Here is our plan: it addresses all the issues raised by the coming challenges of climate change and energy security, and it also will revitalise our local economy and our agricultural hinterland, but it will work far better if carbon rationing is in place, and if the true costs of fossil fuels are reflected in goods and services.' The fear of change is removed for government, and they become swept along in a huge movement for change. But until then we still have a long way to go and time is getting short.
On an individual level, we should offer our support to any campaigns that drives forward the building of resilience and the cutting of carbon emissions, and direct our spending power when we go shopping to support businesses with a genuine commitment to lower energy use and sustainable business practice, in particular those whose practices build local resilience.
2. rebuilding resilience
back to local level
Rob Hopkins (2008): The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience, Green Books, p.68-77