Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Transition Tabling

with Nancy Severance

I helped staff the Transition Charlotte table at the Charlotte Town Party, and it was an illuminating experience. For one thing, we learned that in order to draw more people to us, we should have either had a plateful of free snacks or teamed up with the Pug Rescue folks because those curly-tailed little snorters were getting all the love.

What was interesting about the day, though, other than coining the new adjective “pugly” (meaning gone so far around the homely bend you’re back into cute before you know it), were the responses we got from all the passers-by.

Some folks ignored us (no interest/no snacks/no Pugs), others took a flier and moved on, a number of people stopped to chat and share stories of their own eco-activism. But the really juicy encounters were with the people who wanted to challenge us, who approached with either cynicism, defensiveness, or even anger.

To be honest, I can understand where that kind of reaction might come from. Here’s the town of Charlotte, trying to have a fun little summer celebration, and over in the corner are a bunch of folks who seem to be saying, “Hey everyone! The world is sliding rapidly towards runaway global warming and serious ecological collapse, and also, we’re on the downslope of global oil discovery and production while demand for fossil fuels is going up, up, up, and oh, by the way, it’s all your fault so you better give up everything now, live in a yurt, and become a mule-riding potato farmer with no snacks and no Pugs. Have a nice day.”

While that’s not exactly what we were saying, the truth is that climate change and peak oil are real and they’re happening - which is a scary reality. More than scary, it’s overwhelming. It’s hard to imagine how we could even begin to address these problems, much less make any significant headway towards fixing things. It’s really no wonder that people would be aggressive or cynical – which I think is really just masking a sense of deep despair. Or as economist Paul Hawken said in a commencement address at the University of Portland, “If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data.”

But Hawken followed up that comment with an entirely different statement: “if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

That’s what the Transition Town movement is really all about. It’s about acknowledging the seriousness of our situation, but believing firmly, passionately, that we are absolutely capable of addressing the problem. It’s about building community, disseminating knowledge, and coordinating action. It’s about approaching our lives on this planet with an attitude of love and compassion and caretaking and stewardship. It’s about tackling our challenges head-on, with intelligence, creativity, courage, innovation, vision, and a gigantic bucket-load of hope. It’s about knowing that you’re not alone.

Signs of the Times?

I've been doing a bit of traveling lately, and I keep seeing some rather interesting billboards in airports and metro stations. Talk about getting a lot of media hits. I think it's rather clever - though, of course, with some of these I'm a little suspect about what the company is actually up to. But still, even using the language means they think this is the way to reach people. The rising tide floating all boats may be the seas rising due to melting ice, but at this point, I gotta think: whatever it takes to keep the conversation going.