Peak Oil

Transition Design – thoughts

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Gideon Kossoff, in the event last Monday evening at UWS, was attempting to articulate a theoretical framework for transition design, design approaches intended to move towards resilient communities that can address peak oil and environmental, social, existential crisis. This is an important area for theoretical development as well as practical activity. I’m offering these observations from memory, so apologies for any mistakes or misunderstandings.

This project is understood to be undertaken in the context of current design theory, in particular ‘wicked problems’ and ‘user-centred design’. I have reservations about the current assumption that design, in whatever configuration, can solve all the world’s problems. It seems to me that we might offer an alternative argument along the lines that education could solve all the world’s problems. Ascribing solutions to any single discipline or practice is inherently problematic in itself. Graham Jeffrey has argued that any articulation of ‘design’ needs to have a parallel and complementary articulation around ‘performance’. This construction is likely to be more fruitful.

Kossoff framed the complex challenges that are interacting with each other, challenges that we are all familiar with – climate change, food security, existential crisis, pollution, peak oil, etc. At root he argued that, whilst the externalisation of environmental impacts may be one problem, another is the way in which our needs are met externally or within our homes, communities or regions. At the core of his argument is a critique of neo-liberal consumerism.

He set the stage for the idea of sustainability and resilience in terms of basic needs, but he defined these more broadly than work, housing and shopping. His definition included spiritual, creative, security, communality, etc.

Core to Kossoff’s theoretical framework is a developed understanding of holism which he unpacked in detail. Holism is nested and exists at the domestic, community, regional and city level, and there are historical examples of these, but holism at the global level remains something to be understood. He did differentiate between holism encompassing diversity and holism as uniformity (Nazism).

His idea of holism becomes operative when related to holistic therapies: he hinted at, but didn’t explore the role of intervention in holistic therapies – a subject that perhaps Aviva Rahmani is currently exploring in her work on Trigger Point Theory from an ecological perspective.

But the constant juxtaposition with modern and pre-modern, pre-industrial cultures, developing the contrast between mass production of bread with local production of bread, romanticised the pre-modern in ways that we know are deeply problematic.

Gavin Renwick’s work with the Dogrib in the Canadian North West Territories, in which he highlights the Elder’s rubric “strong like two people” is significantly richer and more provocative. The Elders are acknowledging the necessity of young people operating in the western culture, whilst also valuing and understanding traditional culture. This is a richer and more productive construction which does not romanticise the pre-modern, but rather values it for what if offers to life now. Renwick also highlights a correlated idea which is “being modern in your own language”, an idea which is strong in Scottish writing of the 20th Century including the likes of MacDiarmid and others.

Kossoff’s articulation lacked a strong practical articulation of ways that the ethical can be woven into the fabric of life – I’ve elsewhere talked about Eigg’s move to renewable energy and the importance of the ‘cut-outs’ built into the system ensuring that no one person can be greedy at the expense of others.

Finally in the discussion the issue of technology was raised. Our extensive dependence on digital devices is a problem for Kossoff’s construction of the ‘good life’. If holism is about the satisfaction of needs within nested structures, what is the role of the internet, mass communications, social networking, etc? I’m not sure I have an answer, but I was very struck by the argument made by James Wallbank of Access Space in Sheffield. He said that their organisation will offer anyone a free computer, but they have to come and learn to build it themselves. Buying a computer off the shelf is buying ignorance. Like the example of social justice embedded in the renewable energy system on Eigg, the example of Access Space is one which addresses resilience whilst also embedding learning and empowerment in the satisfaction of everyday needs.

I’d really like to revisit the conclusions that Kossoff offered as well at some point.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Brief to make KEYSTONE XL an international issue

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Brief for a campaign extension

Bill McKibben‘s team along with a number of other NGOs and activist groups in the US and Canada have been campaigning to stop Obama signing off the Keystone XL project.  The extension of the Keystone pipeline is a fundamental to the development of tar sands oil.  Tar sands are one of the most polluting forms of oil extraction and only viable because of the approach of peak oil.  We are faced by a choice: get off our addiction to fossil fuels, or continue into even dirtier and more destructive habits.

The Keystone Pipeline and its extension run from up near Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, down to Houston, Texas (see transcanada’s map).  They are literally a throat down the middle of North America with which to feed the addiction.

The Tar Sands Action campaign in the US is well supported and reaches out to a large environmental community, but there is relatively low awareness in other parts of the world.

In an email exchange with members of McKibben’s team it became clear that there was a need for creative and environmentally active people outside the US to create artworks, actions, logos, graffiti and other forms of intervention in order to raise awareness and show solidarity.

Current campaigning in Washington seems to be focused on encircling the White House, visibility at all Obama’s public engagements, securing mass arrests of celebrity figures to maximise news coverage.

If you are interested in responding to this (unofficial) brief then do something.  If you want to, you can send proposals to ecoartscotland.net and also to the Tar Sands Action team, but we’ll just say “get on with it”.

Budget: whatever you can invest in time and materials.

Timescale: sooner the better – 6th November is a key date when it would be good to have some shared plans.

Insurances: none required.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Tradable Energy Quotas: a solution for peak oil and climate change?

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Beth Stratford edited the recent report on Tradable Energy Quotas for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil Peak Oil on Wikipedia).  She is Energy and Finance Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, and an MSc student in Ecological Economics.

If information campaigns are inadequate for motivating behaviour change, and carbon price rises are regressive, is there another approach?

This lunchtime seminar will critically consider the role that Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) could play in shifting social norms, engaging ordinary people with the task of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and guaranteeing fairer access to energy when the going gets tough.  It will also explore barriers to implementation – including issues of public perception and policy space – and try to identify useful areas for future research.

Lunchtime presentation and discussion

1:30 – 2:30pm  9th March 2011

Lecture Theatre D, Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh (Peter Wilson Building, Kings Building campus, EH9 3JG)

For thoughts about Peak Oil please also look at PLATFORM London’s blog.

Beth Stratford edited the recent report on TEQs
<http://www.teqs.net/report> for the All Party Parliamentary Group on
Peak Oil: www.teqs.net/report <http://www.teqs.net/report>.  She is
Energy and Finance Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, and an
MSc student in Ecological Economics.Beth Stratford edited the recent report on TEQs <http://www.teqs.net/report> for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil: www.teqs.net/report <http://www.teqs.net/report>. She is Energy and Finance Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, and an MSc student in Ecological Economics.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Halesworth’s Smooth-ie Transition to Pedal-power

On Saturday 10th July, passers-by in the Thoroughfare were offered a free Smoothie in the blazing heat. The only snag was that they had to pedal for it!  but they soon saw how little energy it takes to pedal yourself a smoothie, and keep fit at the same time.

Meanwhile the Bike Aid scheme (formerly Cycle Aid) received contributions to its emergency repair kits: puncture kits, tyre levers, spoons, spanners, inner tubes all to be placed in pubs, shops and other public places in and around the town.

Each Bike Aid location will have a window-sticker to advertise the kit.  If you’d like to know more, go towww.surveymonkey.com/s/P6GDKQJ At the same time, you can look up the route of the Halesworth Wheel, a 20 mile circular route on quiet roads around the town.

The Wheel and the Bike Aid scheme will be launched by a family fun ride on Sunday 5th September organised by Sustrans. Find out more on the website and look out for posters around the town.

Event organisers Halesworth in Transition (HinT) are part of a widespread and growing grassroots movement of people who are taking a positive attitude to preparing for the impacts of climate change and peak oil (“peak oil” is when cheap and easy-to-get oil runs out).  Cycling is a practical, cheap, healthy and non-polluting alternative to generating power by using oil. The smoothie-maker is just one way of having fun while getting fit, saving money, and protecting the environment.

Many towns are already part of the international Transition movement. Locally, this includes Bungay, Beccles, Framlingham, Woodbridge, Norwich, and Ipswich. HinT is not affiliated to any political party and is a non-profit-making organisation run entirely by volunteers.

For more information about this event and other activities phone 01986 875323 or email hint@talktalk.net.

Halesworth in Transition: Uplifting upcycling! Stopping shoppers in their tracks

On Saturday May 22nd May Halesworth Thoroughfare saw an upcycling event, complete with hand-powered sewing machine converting cloth into shopping bags, companionable knitting of one garment by two knitters, and making logs from old newspapers.

The event stopped shoppers in their tracks. They were delighted to be given (no cost, no strings attached) a cloth bag to replace their plastic ones and many took patterns to make their own. The organisers now intend to continue their bag-making evenings at the Library, helped by the on-the-spot donation of a stunning Singer hand-powered machine by a generous passer-by. Brampton Primary School, who helped make bags for the event, will be continuing their sewing sessions.

Upcycling is a new word for taking old or unused things and making them into something better.

Organisers Halesworth in Transition (HinT) are part of a widespread and growing grassroots movement of people who are taking a positive attitude to preparing for the impacts of climate change and peak oil (when cheap and easy oil runs out).

For this event HinT had gathered material from generous Halesworth people including members of ‘Time Out’, Halesworth library’s social group for older people. HinT volunteers have been sewing up bags in evenings in the library. Brampton’s Primary School, who already have a reputation for their environmental awareness, also helped to make bags in the week before the event.

Every minute hundreds of thousands of plastic bags go into circulation globally. This wastes precious oil, creates mountains of waste and kills wildlife.

Many towns are already affiliated to the international Transition movement. Locally, this includes Bungay, Beccles, Framlingham, Woodbridge, Norwich, and Ipswich. HinT is not affiliated to any political party and is a non-profit-making organisation run entirely by volunteers.

For more information about this event and other activities phone 01986 875323 or email hint@talktalk.net

The Berlin Wall and other falling dominos


Upright Figure No 7, 1970, Berlin, by my uncle René Graetz

I grew up in a world in which East was East and West was West. People operated in separate realities that seemed absolute, even if they were only four decades old.

I had an aunt and uncle – both artists – and cousins living in East Berlin. When we visited them it felt like another world. In some ways it was.

This week we remember the fall of the Berlin wall. In space of two months between now and the New Year a world suddenly changed. The entire Eastern Bloc fell apart as the Eastern economy crumbled and the popular desire for change ripped the old accommodations to shreds.

Though both my uncle and aunt had been famous artists in the East, friends and collaborators of Brecht’s, the world they existed in was swept aside. Their considerable reputations vanished overnight as the communist East was absorbed into the free West. Not only was the cultural structure that supported their work suddenly swept aside, the work itself seemed suddenly old-fashioned and irrelevant in the new paradigm. The fundamentals changed within the blink of an eye.

We are living in a world of old assumptions that are about to be knocked apart. Today’sGuardian leads on the remarkable story that a whistleblower in the International Energy Agency claims that the IEA has been fudging its figures to keep oil prices low. The facts of the story aren’t what are remarkable. Scientists have been discussing peak oil for years; what is signficant is that the IEA, who for years have been producing figures which make little sense, is finally starting to show signs of cracking. Supplies, say the whistleblower, will struggle to meet a low target 90 – 95 million barrels of oil a day in the next few years. “We have already entered the ‘peak oil’ zone,” says the source.

The Transition Town movement has for years asked serious questions about how we will live in the post-peak oil world. It is an optimistic viewpoint, looking to the positives of what a new era can bring. Of course it has remained largely a fringe movement, its policies given a lukewarm welcome by the administration but almost entirely ignored. In Britain we still have no serious plan to make the most of the coming paradigm shift.

Rising oil prices will mean massive changes in our culture and society. We are used to imagining ourselves only as part of the triumphant West. We were, until recently at least, theend of history. What if right now we’re more like the old East whose fall was said to create history’s end? If oil prices rise as fast as may predict, like the fall of the Berlin wall, they will catch everyone by surprise and sweep much of what we know aside unless we start getting our heads round what’s about to happen.

We will look back, like the marooned men of the old regime and wonder how come we didn’t see that coming.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

Art, peak oil and imagining the future

David Cross of Cornford and Cross writes on the RSA Arts & Ecology website today about how he believes the rules of artistic engagement are about to change :

As producers of visual culture, our moments of autonomy can be
frustratingly elusive. We must inform and persuade, and appeal to both
reason and emotion if we are to replace passive spectatorship with
conscious action. CONTEMPORARY ART SHOULD TEST CONCEPTS, ASSUMPTIONS AND BOUNDARIESBut in the market, attention is finite, and the
demands on our audiences’ time are many. Even our most original and
radical messages are assembled from borrowed fragments and framed by
preconceptions. To be meaningful, they must be palatable to audiences
accustomed to more familiar narratives.

Following established procedures can bring acceptance, and conforming to received ideas is often well
rewarded. But now the cheap oil is gone and the climate is badly
damaged; we are entering a new era. Though the nature of the coming
risks cannot be exactly predicted, a safe bet is that their reach,
scale and variety will demand many different responses. We cannot
prepare for all the uncertainties and surprises ahead, so diversity
offers a better chance of success than centralization and uniformity.
Besides, experiments are more interesting than blueprints…

Of course it is vital that visual communication is used to promote a
massive reduction in consumption. But if society is to adapt in time,
the issue is no longer simply about raising awareness. Rather, it is
about developing more radical ideas and alternatives. In
addition to producing aesthetic and contemplative experiences,
contemporary art and design should test concepts, assumptions and
boundaries in everyday life, and imagine new ways — material and
intellectual — of going about the world.

More here.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog