This time last month (30 May), there was a gathering at Glastonbury Town Hall to discuss the town’s ‘transition’ to a post-oil world. It began with a talk from a leading light in Transition Town Totnes (TTT), the pioneers of transition thinking in the UK. Sadly, amidst all the joyful envisioning of local self-sufficiency, there did seem to be a few basics missing. It was like the 1960’s all over again, a fantasy world where everything is possible. In truth, in the future, everything will not be possible and hard choices will be needed.
We were told to expect millions of ‘climate refugees’ and make plans to welcome them to our communities. It seemed not to have dawned on anyone that, since a post-oil economy will not support more than a fraction of our current population, we should most certainly not be trying to add to it. Among the key characteristics of the future brainstormed in workshops was the hope that this would be a world of ‘happy, smiling people’. From time to time they might well be that, if instructed to be. Just not while they’re busy killing each other for possession of productive land and its outputs.
TTT’s website carries Buckminster Fuller’s famous words, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” That’s partly true. It’s how successful nationalist groups have dismantled the empires from which they have struggled to free themselves. You defeat the enemy by systematically disregarding its authority. But those who make it sound all that simple are in for a shock.
Transition towns will find that when Tesco want to build in their midst, or there’s a new trunk road coming up the valley, the answer doesn’t lie in digging the allotment. Gandhi won because he was fighting the British. Gandhi versus Hitler or Stalin would have had a very different outcome. The planning system today is owned by the likes of Tesco and the Highways Agency. With every passing day, Labour makes it more so. The Tories’ only cavil is that the supermarkets and the motorways aren’t being built fast enough.
Local action, however twee, is not going to make the difference it needs to make until there is a region-wide reaction against Westminster diktat. A Wessex Parliament will do what local initiatives cannot. It will ensure that the price structures are in place to help local producers compete fairly. It will rebuild the region’s rural railways, renewably-run, to enable communities to exchange goods of the highest quality. It will protect productive land from crazed housebuilders by establishing an optimum population level and sticking to it. It will redefine the housing market to ensure that local people are not squeezed out as a result. It will counter any wider power that fails to place Wessex interests first. In short, it will work for our communities and not against them.
Or… we can go on kidding ourselves that acting locally is enough, that Westminster is full of thoroughly decent chaps and chapesses, that Whitehall too really is on our side, and that if all this isn’t so then there must be some absolutely sound reason for it that we’re just too dense to grasp. More flowers anyone?