Sunday, 15 March 2009

Transcript of Transition Town speech 4 - Lifeboat preparation

Of course, there are many things governments and corporations can do to help create a Green Tech future, and we can start lobbying them now, but I recommend our top priority be to cover our most basic needs first – to have gardens and skills and know that, in a Lifeboat situation, we could live and help our neighbours. When a critical mass of such people are so prepared, they can organize more ambitious neighbourhood and county-level projects, and work our way up to a Green Tech future. That is how good changes tend to happen – they start in living rooms and library cellars and percolate into the halls of power under sustained pressure.

For example, if the power went out, how could be store food? Well, the same way people did for thousands of years before refrigerators – they ate seasonally, they staggered their planting and harvesting, they left food in the ground for longer, they stored potatoes under earth and straw, they pickled, salted, dried, fermented, kept in oil or liquor, and made jams for vitamins in winter.

Many medieval people had skills few people remember. Eastern Europeans kept warm with masonry stoves, which used a giant thermal mass of cob or brick to absorb a fast-burning fire of straw or sticks and then radiate the heat through the house. The English built homes out of cob that still stand; the home of Walter Raleigh, made this way, is standing today. Arabs used systems of pools and ventilation for keeping cool in a desert. People made beeswax or tallow candles for light. It would be worthwhile for you and your friends to each cultivate skills that survive today mainly in last names – thatcher, smith, cob, tailor, mason, miller and wright. Even if you never need to use them, your children might, and the few people left who have these skills are often very old.

But no matter what happens, we won’t be simply turning back the clock to any era – we have many innovations and discoveries that don’t require fossil fuels and electricity, that no one had simply thought of until recently. For example, people suffered terrible plagues because they didn’t know about germs, and that simply keeping clean and boiling drinking water goes a long way towards wiping out illness.

Knitting is a recent innovation -- Neanderthals could conceivably have knitted clothing for themselves, but no one winkled out the technique until around the Renaissance. Author John Michael Greer, uses the example of slide rules, which can be made easily out of wood and allow you to make the complex calculations that put men on the moon. Tools like sextants and calculus; techniques like semaphore, four-crop rotation, the scientific method; discoveries like evolution, Gaia Theory or perma-culture -- all these are recent inventions that require little technology but can be very useful.

One thing to keep in mind about the future is that this world we live in, with its roads, bridges, homes and suburban infrastructure, is not going away. This was always a problem I had with science fiction set 30 years in the future – everything in it looked futuristic, there were no working-class families driving only slightly futuristic cars. The plastic littering the streets might still be around thousands of years from now, as will galvanized rubber tyres.

Salvage will become a major opportunity, as we will still have many of the items we have now, but they will not be as useable in their original forms. Some of them can be used for new forms – Greer, again, uses the example of turning car alternators, which transform motion into electricity, into wind turbines. Plastics, for example, are lightweight and waterproof, and could have many uses even beyond what we use them for now – say, for roofing -- if we can smelt enough milk bottles. Tyres could be used to make walls, as in the Earthship method of building, or can be cut for shoe soles, as Vietnamese used to do.

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