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Life After Oil in America

Life After Oil in America
The full article is here: http://commongroundmag.com/2009/04/lifeafteroil0904.html

The Transition Town movement aims to wean us off our fossil fuel addiction — without knowing if it’ll work. How an unproven social experiment is becoming a phenomenon

Twelve Steps to Community

At first blush, Transition Towns might look strikingly similar to other cultural responses to climate change and peak oil, from EcoVillages to urban homesteading. But one key — and provocative — distinction is that Transition is grounded in the principles of addiction psychology.

According to Transition founder Rob Hopkins, most environmental organizations operate under the premise that awareness naturally inspires action — i.e. if people only knew how awful things really were, they would change their profligate ways. But our brains don’t work that way, says Hopkins. Instead, we’re more like addicts, hooked on fossil fuels — and our recovery is likely to be as fraught and incremental as that of any lifelong, hardcore abuser.

For an inkling of the monumental challenge we face, consider the stages of addiction recovery: After years of abuse — marked by periods of denial, fear, defiance, and destruction — an addict comes to realize that something must change. So he contemplates the pros and cons of life without his chosen drug. If the pros prevail, the addict commits to breaking his addiction and prepares a plan. Then comes the action stage, which implements and revises the plan. In time, the addict stops using completely and eventually integrates abstinence — no longer an acute struggle — into his new lifestyle. At any point during this cycle, there is strong potential to lose heart or become complacent, leading to relapse to an earlier stage.

Hopkins designed the Transition Model to acknowledge and respond to people at different stages of their recovery from fossil fuels. To meet the challenges of the contemplation stage — when an addict needs a place to voice his thoughts, concerns, ambivalence, and desire — Hopkins created Open Space events, where large groups of people engage on questions like “How will our town feed itself beyond the age of peak oil?” Hurdling the preparation stage requires a plan, which Transition accomplishes through its development of positive, forward-looking, community-based projects.

What makes the Transition Movement so appealing is its fundamental positivity. It posits that a group of creative, intelligent, and dedicated people actually can transition our modern, maxed-out, and alienated global culture into a harmonious and social community. In this way, the grim specters of peak oil, climate change, and economic collapse are recast as entry points to a more beautiful, enriching and peaceful world — a world in which we rely on each other. Unlike the treeless desolation of post-Apocalyptic sci-fi films, the future for Hopkins is lush and bountiful, filled with music and art and honest connection. The end of the world as we know it is a good thing.

A skeptic might argue that Hopkins’ image of what life could be assumes that humans are genuinely good and sensible, while history proves otherwise: people are inherently self-destructive and self-serving, motivated by a desire to attain rather than sustain. And if addiction recovery is the model, Transition can expect roughly 70 percent of people to return to oil dependency within the first year.

But Hopkins is no skeptic. “He’s hopelessly optimistic,” says Gray, “which is one part of what makes him so endearing.” And for a small and growing group of people set on bringing about a better world after peak oil, that optimism is fuel for their fire. “I see a potentially better life ahead,” says Transition Laguna’s Becky Prelitz. “I’m not Pollyanna; I realize there are big problems. This is an opportunity to find ourselves, to give back.”

The full article is here: http://commongroundmag.com/2009/04/lifeafteroil0904.html