The end of the oil-rich era?

The end of the oil-rich era?

Huge and rapid increases in the price of oil last July may well have marked the “peak” of oil supplies and are part of the financial crisis we are now experiencing. This was the context set out by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns movement when he spoke before an audience of more than 200 at the Regal Theatre in Minehead on 2nd April.

The talk could not have been more topical and relevant as the G20 nations met in London. Action the G20 agreed was based mainly on ‘business as usual’ despite the approaching crises of Peak oil and Climate change, said Mr Hopkins. A teacher of permaculture and natural building for many years, he has been involved in practical responses to environmental changes and is a leader in the task of identifying and addressing the effects of these changes on communities. He set up the Transition Network to enable communities to develop resilience to the shocks to come (see www.transitionculture.org and www.transitionnetwork.org).

Rob Hopkins went on to say that we cannot expect infinite growth when we have finite resources. The prospect of scarce, expensive oil in the future is daunting, but Somerset as a county is leading the way in dealing with this and climate change. Transition groups are forming across the county, as well as nationally, to raise awareness of the challenges and to support organisations which are helping to make the changes needed for communities to thrive in the future.

He gave examples of projects from his native Totnes and from abroad. Totnes introduce their own Totnes Pound each year for a limited period. It is accepted in local shops and keeps money local by encouraging shopping in locally owned businesses. This prevents wealth seeping away and means that money spent locally is of greater value to the community than that spent in chain stores where the profits go out of the area. This novel idea has led to tourists taking the “pounds” away as souvenirs!

Rob emphasised that crises can have positive results and gave as an example Cuba, which lost cheap oil when the USSR collapsed in 1989. The loss of petroleum based fertilizer and transport could have been catastrophic for food supplies, but instead the population turned over any available land to organic food production and Havana now produces 60% of the food for its community. A film “The power of Community” is about this event and will be shown at West Somerset Community College on June 25th.

It is necessary to rethink many of the basic assumptions that underpin our planning for the future and why the end of the age of cheap oil and of economic growth present a huge opportunity for redesigning our towns and cities, so that they become more self reliant, more diverse and more resilient. An example from the past was the thriving local food production that existed in towns and cities right up to the sixties before the land was usually made into car parks. A photo of Bristol market gardeners from the late 1890s showed a group of prosperous businessmen who owned some of the better houses in the city.

In conclusion, Rob Hopkins said our resources are fast depleting, but the resourcefulness of the human race, which has enabled us to get to this point, can also help us to meet the challenges of the future. The oil age will be seen to have been a short period in human history.

The evening was jointly hosted by Forum 21(www.west-somerset-forum21.org.uk and Transition Minehead and Alcombe. (Tma2009@hotmail.co.uk 01643 709478).

A follow-up ‘Open Forum’ for all interested residents and supporters to have their say is being held at St Michael Archangel Church Hall, Church Road, Alcombe on Thursday 7th May at 7.30pm.

For more information contact Maureen Smith on 01643 709 478 or 07802 247 761 or tma2009@hotmail.co.uk