Up much earlier than usual because of the shrill and squeaky and very enthusiastic voice of Anna's 6 year old daughter, who is adorable, very expressive and even more excited to see me again. We last met when I came down to do her fifth birthday party, which she has lots of memories of! So, I'm not John to her, but Fiddlesticks. Anna was going to have got up at 6am and go for a bike ride, but didn't so we all had breakfast together, and then at something after , Edward and I trundled off to the bus and one came within 10 minutes, dropping us off outside the Battersea Arts Centre about half an hour later.
So we were there in good time to have a coffee and listen to the announcements at 9.20, and then it was straight into the first workshops of the day. I had chosen 'How communities can take control of their food systems' with Julie Brown from Growing Communities, based in Hackney. This is a social enterprise employing 18 people part time, providing a veg/fruit box/bag scheme to about 530 households. It is fully organic and 93% of the customers come to the pick-up points on foot or by bike. The boxes/bags are delivered to several pick-up points by an old electric milk float called Maisie, which (who?) is painted up like a cow. The box scheme uses local green salads grown in market gardens ('Hackney Salad') and is just starting an experimental scheme using salads grown in a vicarage back garden! This links in to their Key Principles, which link it in to the wider perspective of sustainability. They have developed a manifesto and food zone diagram which looks at where geographically and distance-wise the food in the boxes is produced. This has figures for what is actually in the box scheme now (divided into veg and fruit) and a target contribution. For instance, at the moment, they would like 17.5% of produce to come from zone 2, peri-urban land, but currently none does. They would like 20% of their produce to come from the rest of the UK, but currently just about 3% does.
There was some discussion about where the UK gets its food from and a short workshop looking at what we, as small groups, thought the problems were, what the barriers to change were and what some of the solutions were. All in all a very useful and interesting example, inspiring.
This over-ran a bit, leaving little time for coffee and cake, and the coffee had run out so it was more or less straight into the second set of Open Space conversations. The matrix was up on the wall and I was intrigued by four of them, Population, Avoiding Burnout, How To Engage People Other Than The Usual Suspects and How To Deal With Denial. I only managed two, most of the time on the Population table, and a short time with Burnout. I didn't take note with either of these, but suffice to say the conversations were interesting, wide-ranging and enjoyable.
Lunch was preceded by a lot of queueing, but when I eventually got to eat, it was lovely.
Then was the highlight of the day for me, I think, the 'Transition Movie' which was made in an unusual way, perhaps even more unusual than Age of Stupid's 'Crowdfunding'. The film-maker, Emma Goude, had a very limited budget to start off with and wondered how she could get around the World to see all the exciting Transition projects on just a few quid. She had the bright idea (or someone did!) of getting different projects to film themselves and send her the tapes and discs. When Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition model, heard this, he said 'Oh great, a Wiki-Film', which is what it has become, except Emma spent a month loading up stuff from 70 tapes and DVDs that were sent to her, plus 55 of her own tapes, and then 2 months sorting it out and cutting it into a meaningful story. The film is not finished yet but it is fantastic, and got a standing ovation. One of the reasons for showing the film here was to get feedback, and plenty was offered. This may improve the resultant product, released sometime in the Autumn.
The final chunk of the day for me at the Conference was a workshop or seminar run by David Wasdell, called Climate Change Goes Critical, and it was basically his work on the various feedback loops which exist and drive climate change. A well-known accelerating feedback in acoustics is where sound put into a microphone comes out of the speakers and goes back into the mic and a scream or screech occurs. On the planet, there are several similar occurrences connected with temperature. One 'easy to understand' one concerns methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. When the permafrost melts as it warms up, it releases trapped methane and frozen material starts to decay, both releasing methane. This accelerates the warming, releasing more methane, and a heating 'scream' begins to happen. This used to be known as a positive feedback, but in this scenario, it is far from positive!
This information is certainly worth trying to get your head around, as it indicates the depth of the problem we have, and the speed at which it is happening. One of the more recent complications is that we now realise that these different feedback loops do not happen in isolation, they feed each other, and this is why some of the measured changes are happening more quickly than anticipated. I recommend visiting the Apollo-Gaia project website, and spending some time watching the video resources. There is also a DVD of his lecture available, and a book which is almost as up-to-date. These are called 'Planet Earth, We Have A Problem'.
I was really keen to hear if he favoured any particular remediation or technology to 'solve the problem', but he shot me down saying you wouldn't ask a guru for straight answers, as the answers are withing the people around you... He said he wasn't an expert on technology, just feedback loops and 'non-linear systems'.
I knew I couldn't take much more info, especially as I knew there was an excited 6 year old (and possibly her friend) waiting for some entertainment back in Peckham, so I had a quick chat to Edward and headed to the bus. Good chats with another buzzed-out Transitioneer, and soon back with Peckham Anna. I'd bought her a copy of Wasdell's book as a present, just the sort of thing she gobbles up, uses, lends to friends, etc etc!
My entertainment services were much needed, which helped me temporarily forget the climate nightmare which faces us, the unimaginably steep hill we have to climb together if we're to overcome this situation we find ourselves in. These two little girls didn't have a care in the world, until the visitor burst her balloon, and her little world fell in on itself.... I did manage to make her a new one, eventually, when her Dad came and she regained some of her composure.
Anna rang up and ordered a take-away curry. I went to collect it, with her little daughter bouncing along beside me. However, bouncing back resulted in her falling over and grazing both knees and screaming oh so loudly...
But the Curry was nice, and once the little one was in bed, we watched the DVD which came with the book, which was good apart from it had a scratch on it which spoiled the middle of the film...
Edward came in just after we finished that, he'd had an excellent evening with the discussion and 'Transition Everywhere' talk, with some of the leading characters in the movement.
We all chatted til nearly midnight... I then did my blog-record of this conference, finishing at 2.04am.... head for bed!