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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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In Living

Transition Milwaukee member Sarah Moore in front of a community garden.

In Living

TM member Erik Lindberg gives presentations on peak oil and related topics.

In Living

Victory Garden Initiative's Gretchen Mead has been involved with TM since its inception.

Transition Milwaukee: "we're all in this together"


Transition Milwaukee (TM) is part of an international movement formed, in part, in response to the peak oil crisis and more generally around issues of climate change, economic security and permaculture principles.

Peak oil is a non-controversial acknowledgement from government, academic and industry experts that fossil fuels, a finite resource, reach a peak moment of production and necessarily begin to decline.

Any controversy that peak oil generates is from determining when this peak production will occur, from a few decades into the future to it already peaking in 2007. Bigger questions about what a society that can't rely on fossil fuels looks like also stir up debate – and emotions.

Permaculture principles are those that inform design and systems theories about how to develop not only sustainable but self-maintained and regenerative ecological systems. Modern agriculture and societies based on oil consumption are not regarded as sustainable.

TM's goals involve a "whole-systems" approach toward making our economies sustainable and regenerative for seven generations into the future.

"Right now, Transition Milwaukee acts as a network of concerned activists who are working toward reducing the radius in which we get our goods and services, food, water and shelter," says Jessica Cohodes, TM steering committee leader, press contact and "big-picture synthesizer."

Members of TM don't really have official titles. Although it has a steering committee, TM is organized non-hierarchically.

"Transition Milwaukee has always been a group, grass-roots endeavor about the community, from the ground up. Part of its founding philosophy is that it isn't someone else's job to get us off oil, but our job," says Erik Lindberg, a former TM steering committee member who regularly gives presentations on energy and the environment.

Lindberg is also an active blogger and writer, focusing on the larger political and economic aspects of the Transition movement. He is currently half finished with a book about energy and liberal politics.

TM was co-founded in 2008 by Nicole Bickham, Tom Brandstetter and Cohodes, among others. Bickham now lives on a farm in Jefferson County. Cohodes got involved in the Transition movement after seeing "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" at a backyard screening.

"I felt the need to do something about increasing our local material and community needs in the face of peak oil," says Cohodes.

The Transition movement first developed in the United Kingdom around 2007 and made its way around the world shortly thereafter. A book by Rob Hopkins, "The Transition handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience," is a how-to guide as well as one the key statements on the movement.

Hopkins is often heralded as the founder of the Transition movement, but, being a movement, structure is very minimal in order to empower each local area.

Brandstetter distributed copies of Hopkins' handbook at early TM meetings. The organization has grown from 40 or so people attending those early meetings at the Urban Ecology Center to over 500 members now.

Brandstetter says 2008, when he co-founded TM, was a life-changing year for him. He attended two peak oil lectures at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association conference and was later given a copy of the Transition handbook at the Fighting Bob fest, held annually to continue the progressive traditions of former Wisconsin governor Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette.

"I was in a state of shock and had a loss of grounding, as with most people when it finally sinks in that we are at least 20 years too late for a painless conversion to renewables," Brandstetter says.

Brandstetter, who reduced his energy bill by 80 percent through a set of practices he calls "urban camping," believes we need to replace the concept of "off-grid" with "grid-minimal" instead.

"The black and white dichotomy of on-grid and off-grid is a falsehood, as none of us are really off-grid, even if some solar panels are over our heads. We are all in this societal grid together and the best we can honestly do is live as lightly on this earth as possible," he says.

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