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.
In the spirit of urban camping, Transition Milwaukee members have sponsored "Power Down Week" each summer since 2010.
"Power Down Week was conceived by TM member Sarah Moore and basically represents our direction. It is a way of experimenting with Transition concepts and inhabiting a future it envisions for a week," says Lindberg.
Power Down Week 2012 is July 7-14. People interested in taking part this year can contact Natalie Berland through TM's website. Berland joined TM's steering committee about two years ago, and is an expert in green technology management.
Here's a list of ideas and tips to power down compiled by TM member and former political candidate Sura Faraj.
TM lives up to its motto, "we're all in this together," through its collaborations with other groups in the Milwaukee metro area, like the Victory Garden Initiative.
Food security is important to the Transition movement because of its permaculture principles, which are the core of the Victory Garden Initiative, as founded by TM member Gretchen Mead.
"Transition Milwaukee is currently building out a formal partnership program to fold in already existing local organizations, to become a hub for local organizations and local representatives to begin discussing resiliency efforts within Milwaukee. We are just beginning to build an operational structure that will support individuals, groups and projects that will provide local abundance," says Cohodes.
"Abundance" is a catchword in the Transition movement, whose members believe in sharing surplus food, building non-competitive and regenerative societies, all as part of transitioning away from oil dependence.
"It's TM's mission to let people know that (fossil fuel) depletion doesn't have to go hand in hand with disintegration (of society), but can lead to abundance in things that really matter," says Brandstetter.
Milwaukee is the 93rd official "Transition Town" in the U.S. and a "Transition Coordinating HUB."
"This is different than many Transition Towns with smaller populations. Milwaukee's large metro-area forces Transition Milwaukee to consider scale as we organize the operational structure," says Cohodes.
The idea of a "HUB" is to empower smaller neighborhood groups within the region to develop their own ways of transitioning toward energy independence.
"Transition works to build highly localized communities of friends and neighbors who are experimenting with finding alternatives and building the communal structures necessary to get them up and running. We thus work on urban farms and gardens, work on rainwater harvesting and control, learn new urban homesteading skills, and importantly find new ways of enjoying ourselves and each other not based on consumption," says Lindberg.
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