Tag Archives: Rob Hopkins

Climate Stablization Wedges – an update, responses and critiques

A well know proposed strategy for reducing carbon emissions was the 2004 “wedges” paper in by ecologist Stephen Pacala and engineer Robert Socolow (Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1100103). For more on wedges see Carbon Mitigation Initiative website at Princeton.

Robert Socolow has recently published an update on the wedges paper, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which discusses the failures of their proposal, he reaffirms the wedges approach and argues that they should have presented their work differently – specifically:

…advocates for prompt action, of whom I am one, also bear responsibility for the poor quality of the discussion and the lack of momentum. Over the past seven years, I wish we had been more forthcoming with three messages: We should have conceded, prominently, that the news about climate change is unwelcome, that today’s climate science is incomplete, and that every “solution” carries risk. I don’t know for sure that such candor would have produced a less polarized public discourse. But I bet it would have. Our audiences would have been reassured that we and they are on the same team — that we are not holding anything back and have the same hopes and fears.

and he proposes that:

To motivate prompt action today, seven years later, our wedges paper needs supplements: insights from psychology and history about how unwelcome news is received, probing reports about the limitations of current climate science, and sober assessments of unsafe braking.

There are responses onThe Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website and Climate Central that include the Nicholas Stern and others.

Andrew Revkin on DotEarth has an number of US and energy oriented comments from earth system scientist Ken Caldeira, my former colleague at McGill economist Chris Green and others as well as response from Socolow.

Rob Hopkins from Transition Town movement presents a view from local sustainability action.  He worries that the wedges approach can actually make our current situaiton worse – in Giving Robert Socolow a Wedgie (so to speak). He argues that systemic strategies that improve local resilience could be much more successful by addressing multiple issues that focusing on energy and CO2.

Socolow argues that part of the blame for the fact that the world hasn’t adopted the wedges approach can be laid at the door of the environmental movement, for being so upbeat and chipper about the impacts and not acknowledging that there will be ‘pain’ alongside the ‘gain’ (as it were).  …  I think it is far more likely that most of Pacala and Socolow’s wedges are, ultimately, unfeasible due to their own energy intensity and cost in a contracting global economy.

Socolow and Pacala’s wedges were conceived and proposed solely as responses to climate change.  Yet, of course, climate change is not the only challenge we face.  As the World Economic Forum’s recently-released analysis of the risks facing the world over the next 10 years identified, extreme energy price volatility and the fiscal crisis sit alongside climate change, closely followed by economic disparity, collectively leading the field in terms of risks we need to be building resilience to as a matter of urgency

Reports on 2010 Transition Network Meeting

The transition network, which we have repeatedly covered on Resilience Science, had its fourth meeting recently in Devon, UK.  About 300 people from the over 300 official Transition initiatives attended the meeting in Devon.  Where they discussed peak oil, climate change, and financial crisis; but more importantly what they could do about.

Design guru and founder of sustainable design conference Doors of Perception, John Thackara discusses the meeting in Of apocalypse and forest gardens, on his site Doors of Perception.  One of the categories on his site is transition and resilience.  In his reflections he writes, among other things, about translating transition to France, and local money.

I was keen to discover if the Transition model was being, or could be, developed in France, where I live. …

It turned out that a number of early stage groups is active in France, and a francophone group in Montreal has built a comprehensive site

Exporting the Transition model in a box to France, or any other country, is not an option, we agreed. For one thing, the array of exiting sustainability and permaculture projects in France is extraordinarily rich. There are possibly more more websites, magazines and events about all things ‘developpement durable’ in France than in the UK.

On the ground, degrees of resilience already exist in parts of France without the existence of Transition initiatives. France has hundreds of thousands of active local associations; these are a form of social glue that Britain lacks.

The persistence of local food webs is another example. AMAPs (a French version of Community Supported Agriculture) are spreading fast. ‘Monnaie locale’ is being trialled in several places (see above). There is also a fast-growing debate about economic fundamentals in France in the ‘Decroisasance’ (De-Growth) movement.

So what are the gaps, that Transition-ness might fill?

What’s missing, we concluded, are three things:First, a perceptual framework, a story, that links together peak oil and energy, climate change, and the prospect of a massive financial discontinuity.

Second, France would benefit from a more explicit means to connect together and leverage the multitude of stand-alone projects that are already there.

And third, the Transition model brings with it a degree of inclusivity – of cultures, ages and backgrounds – that is uncommon in socially fragmented France.

A meeting of Transition France takes place in Trieves on 27 June.

I got back from the coppice in time to hear Peter North introduce his brand new book Local Money. Open Money is one of those subjects I’ve enthused about enthused about in print. But North has spent 14 years traveling the world – from Curitiba to Russia to Venezuela – to learn first-hand how different approaches actually work (or not).

North’s book describes in practical ways how people have coped with financial armegeddon in the past. Following economic collapse across the world, communities have often created their own forms of money. Local Money shows how people manage to make it through even when official money disappears.

There’s a database of local, open or complementary currencies here.

I pondered whether local money is necessarily hand-made and ultra-local? This being a Transition Towns gathering, I soon met a software designer, Matthew Slater, who is building customisable digital barter money platforms in Drupal. SELs (a European version of Local Economy Trading Scheme) are already being trialled in Belgium (5) France (2) Switzerland (2) and India.

Community Forge as the platform is called, is community currency trading software build on a social networking platform. This means thousands of software developers can set up similar sites, and many of them could easily modify the software. As a popular open source project, the code is very high quality and continually improving.

John Thackera also points to the transition network’s founder Rob Hopkins’ reflections on the meeting. Rob Hopkins writes:

One of my personal highlights was the response to my workshops about ‘Seeing Transition as a Pattern Language’ workshop, which introduced the work I have been doing for the past few months, exploring whether a pattern-based approach might be a more suitable way of explaining and modelling Transition.  You can hear a recording of my first workshop here, as well as see some photos.  It was great to get people’s thoughts, critiques, suggestions and input, which will be worked through over the next few months.  Thank you so much to everyone who came, and who offered their input.

Another highlight (if that’s the right word) was the talk by Stoneleigh (see left), called ”Making Sense of the Financial Crisis in the Era of Peak Oil”, which you can hear in full here.  Stoneleigh is one of two editors of the ‘Automatic Earth’ blog, and her talk was stark, stunning and very much strengthened the case that economics needs to become a third ‘leg’ of Transition alongside peak oil and climate change.  Her talk affected people deeply, and people’s reaction to it went on to become one of the things that defined the rest of the conference.  Her prognosis was that the world is on the cusp of an economic collapse on the scale of the Great Depression as the debt bubble bursts.  Not much that would have been new to Transitioners, but the way she built her argument was very compelling.  You can read Shaun Chamberlin’s reflections on her talk here, along with some insightful comments from other people.

And on Transition Culture, reflections from Sophy Banks the conference organizer. She writes about both the planning and the dynamics of running a conference focussed on learning and change:

It felt important in the design of this year’s event to include the fact that Transition has been going for four years – and that the wider context around us has moved on since we started back in 2006. I wanted there to be a journey in the flow of the three days, so that as well as sharing information and meeting people, having fun and gathering inspiration, there would be an element of deepening together, a sense of building trust and engaging with something challenging.

This was reflected in a number of new elements.

  • People were invited to form “Home Groups” at the start of the conference – about 6 people who get to know each other at the start, and meet fixed times throughout the three days, as well as meeting informally if they want to at other times.
    We scheduled a longer, 3 hour workshop session to give a chance to go deeper into topics.
    We included a session where the whole conference came together in their “Home Groups” to explore thoughts and feelings of what is really coming in the next one, five and ten years into the future. This was not a “positive visioning” session such as we often do in transition, but a wider ranging naming of what we fear as well as hope for, what could be really dangerous or challenging as well as what might not change at all, and what might transform to something wonderful.

  • In the afternoon we moved to another variation on previous conferences – workshops that lasted three hours, rather than the 1½ that we have had before. Several were specifically included to be places to continue to work with anything that had come up in the large group session, (though I think we could have done more to signpost them clearly).

    These included –

    * Somewhere to express your own, and witness others’ feelings (a Work that Reconnects “Truth Mandala”),
    * To explore more creatively Stories for Transition – using Storytelling as a way of working.
    * Workshops on Diversity, on Community and Conflict, and on Inner Transition – all pieces of building the inner structures that can help a community cope with the fall out of shocks – whether they are economic, physical, or emotional.
    * For those who wanted practical support for the Transition process we included sessions on Holding Good Meetings, the Energy Descent process.
    * And for those wanting to get on with building the business, organisations and systems we will need to create there were sessions on Working with Business, Local Food, Social Entrepreneurship, Local currencies. There were also visits to projects in Totnes and Occombe farm to see some pieces of the resilient future already up and running.

    Rob Hopkins and Neil Adger on transition towns and resilience

    Rob Hopkins founder of the Transition movement has a long interview with Neil Adger on resilience, peak oil, and climate adaptation on Transition CultureNeil Adger is a professor in Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia and a member of the Resilience Alliance (Neil briefly explains social resilience in a video here).

    RH: I was reading a piece of yours yesterday where you wrote “some elements of society are inherently vulnerable, and others are inherently resilient.” What is it that determines the degree to which things are vulnerable or resilient?

    NA: First of all both vulnerability and resilience need a referent, so we need to be vulnerable to something, or resilient to something. I think the things that parts of society are vulnerable to are environmental change at the large scale, and the changes in the way the world and society works, which you can capture in the idea of globalisation. Some parts of society are, in effect, vulnerable to the large scale structural changes that are happening around the world – the changes in the flows of capital and labour and the restrictions on those, and the impact that that has on their life and livelihoods.

    So if you think about the farming sector, it’s vulnerable to large scale price shocks, and we as consumers are vulnerable to large scale price shocks around the world. Some parts of society are vulnerable to environmental change and in combination are vulnerable to the sorts of things that are going on in terms of economic globalisation around the world. Others are more resilient. But being resilient to the forces of globalisation doesn’t necessarily mean that those parts of society are immune to them or even aren’t integrated into them.

    I don’t think you can simply isolate yourself from the globalised world and say, “well, that’ll make us more resilient”. It’ll make us more resilient in some senses, but the world is as it is and I think we just need to deal with the fact that it’s more globally integrated and look on the positive side of that and reap the benefits of it.

    Would you not have any truck with the idea that a resilient society is one where local economies are stronger?

    I don’t disagree with that. What I’m saying is that local economies, for all sorts of reasons, are actually stronger and likely to be more resilient, because if we go back to the definition, they have more autonomy and room for self organisation and adaptability and change. Hence, I think it’s impossible to isolate a community or society from a globalised world.

    Simply looking to give more autonomy to a community is a positive thing, but trying to isolate it from the rest of the world and not realise that we’re globalised and all the rest of it isn’t a sensible thing to do. As I say, there are a lot of benefits to globalisation (not necessarily economic globalisation) such as the flow of information around the world, global solidarity with places in other parts of the world. There are all sorts of up sides to globalisation. I’m sure you’re familiar with all those arguments and you know this on the ground.

    Continue reading

    Transition Towns – resilience indicators & upcoming conferences

    Rob Hopkins, Founder of the Transition movement, published ‘The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience’ in 2008. Here is an extract from the book under the headline ‘What are resilience indicators’,

    Carbon footprinting and the cutting of carbon emissions are clearly a crucial part of preparing for an energy-lean future, but they are not the only way of measuring a community’s progress towards becoming more resilient. In the Transition approach, we see cutting carbon as one of many ‘Resilience Indicators’ that are able to show the increasing degree of resilience in the settlement in question. Others might include:

    – the percentage of local trade carried out in local currency

    – percentage of food consumed locally that was produced within a given radius

    – ratio of car parking space to productive land use

    – degree of engagement in practical Transition work by local community

    – amount of traffic on local roads

    – number of business owned by local people

    – proportion of the community employed locally

    – percentage of essential goods manufactured within a given radius

    – percentage of local building materials used in new housing developments

    – percentage of energy consumed in the town that has been generated by local ESCO

    – amount of 16 year olds able to grow 10 different varieties of vegetable to a given degree of basic competency

    – percentage of medicines prescribed locally that have been produced within a given radius

    Interestingly, the book goes on to say that,

    This is a new area the Transition Network is currently exploring. Your thoughts on what form other Resilience Indicators might take are very welcome. The core point is that we need more than carbon footprinting, that we could cut settlements’ emissions by half, but they would still be equally vulnerable to peak oil.

    There are two upcoming Transition-related conferences in May 2010:

    The 2010 Transition Network conference will be held in Forest Row in Sussex on the 29th, 30th and 31st May

    The European Transition Conference from Wednesday 19th May 19 to Monday, 24th May 2010 in northern Germany

    Transition Towns and Resilience Thinking

    straplineThe concept of resilience appears to be really spreading.  One interesting group of people attempting to build resilience in specific communities is the Transition town movement. A global network of communities each of which is attempting to build their resilience to climate change and peak oil while addressing the question:

    “for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?”

    Rob Hopkins is co-founder of the Transition Network, which connects together the Transition Town movement.  He recently wrote an article about Resilience Thinking and transition for Resurgence magazine.  The definition of resilience from the RA’s wesbsite  starts his article Why ‘resilience thinking’ is a crucial missing piece of the climate-change jigsaw and why resilience is a more useful concept than sustainability

    Resilience; “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganise while undergoing change, so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks”

    In July 2009, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband unveiled the government’s UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, a bold and powerful statement of intent for a low-carbon economy in the UK. It stated that by 2020 there would be a five-fold increase in wind generation, feed-in tariffs for domestic energy generation, and an unprecedented scheme to retrofit every house in the country for energy efficiency. In view of the extraordinary scale of the challenge presented by climate change, I hesitate to criticise steps in the right direction taken by government. There is, though, a key flaw in the document, which also appears in much of the wider societal thinking about climate change. This flaw is the attempt to address the issue of climate change without also addressing a second, equally important issue: that of resilience.

    The term ‘resilience’ is appearing more frequently in discussions about environmental concerns, and it has a strong claim to actually being a more useful concept than that of sustainability. Sustainability and its oxymoronic offspring sustainable development are commonly held to be a sufficient response to the scale of the climate challenge we face: to reduce the inputs at one end of the globalised economic growth model (energy, resources, and so on) while reducing the outputs at the other end (pollution, carbon emissions, etc.). However, responses to climate change that do not also address the imminent, or quite possibly already passed, peak in world oil production do not adequately address the nature of the challenge we face.

    Resilience thinking can inspire a degree of creative thinking that might actually take us closer to solutions that will succeed in the longer term. Resilient solutions to climate change might include community-owned energy companies that install renewable energy systems in such a way as to generate revenue to resource the wider relocalisation process; the building of highly energy-efficient homes that use mainly local materials (clay, straw, hemp), thereby stimulating a range of potential local businesses and industries; the installation of a range of urban food production models; and the re-linking of farmers with their local markets. By seeing resilience as a key ingredient of the economic strategies that will enable communities to thrive beyond the current economic turmoil the world is seeing, huge creativity, reskilling and entrepreneurship are unleashed.

    The Transition Movement is a rapidly growing, ‘viral’ movement, which began in Ireland and is now under way in thousands of communities around the world. Its fundamental premise is that a response to climate change and peak oil will require action globally, nationally, and at the scale of local government, but it also needs vibrant communities driving the process, making unelectable policies electable, creating the groundswell for practical change at the local level.

    It explores the practicalities of building resilience across all aspects of daily life. It catalyses communities to ask, “How are we going to significantly rebuild resilience in response to peak oil and drastically reduce carbon emissions in response to climate change?”

    By putting resilience alongside the need to reduce carbon emissions, it is catalysing a broad range of initiatives, from Community Supported Agriculture and garden-share schemes to local food directories and new Farmers’ Markets. Some places, such as Lewes and Totnes, have set up their own energy companies, in order to resource the installation of renewable energy. The Lewes Pound, the local currency that can only be spent in Lewes, recently expanded with the issuing of new £5, £10 and £20 notes. Stroud and Brixton are set to do the same soon.