Friday, 18 January 2008

asking the right questions

I went to a Transition Town event in Wadebridge on Wednesday to hear both Rob Hopkins, the founder of Transition Totnes and the wider Transition Towns movement, and Anthony Gibson, Communications Director of the National Farmers Union and founder of Taste of the West, speak about Peak Oil and the future. Without digressing too much I already felt that Transition seems the only way forward for western culture, and certainly for those of us at the geographic/geopolitic margins – never mind that rural areas are the food and water providers.

Although both speakers had areas of common ground (eg locally produced food, return to importance of British farming, great need for re-skilling people) they diverged strongly over the sourcing of energy beyond peak oil. Rob believes in addressing a powerdown, there being no serious feasible option to provide a fuel replacement to oil (petrol) to give us and our culture the mobility it has become accustomed to. Anthony is still selling biofuel as the future solution, though I don't feel he is as strong an advocate as he used to be. He indicated that second and third generation biofuels should overcome some of the problems of currently produced biofuels. He believes that British farmers further in the future may not be producing crops for biofuel (other than for farm use) and instead will be producing high quality food for domestic consumption with biofuel being imported from developing countries. But for now he encourages farmers to go for growing biofuel crops, even where it displaces food crops, as it's where the market is at now.

The market? As a member of the audience pointed out, the market, the existing economic system, seems to be causing the problems as it doesn't recognise that nature and the planet are finite, and can the answer really be to chase money all the time. Frustratingly this economics discussion often and did also on Tuesday lead to the dead end/let's-not-go-there-now of if not the market then there is only state control. When really we need another system, one that looks beyond GDP and competition or quota and control to... something modelled on nature's patterns, planetary capacity. Yes I'm no economist and I don't know the answer except change is needed.

As events are meant to, it got me thinking. Certainly I am looking to make my practice sustainable and ecologically sound, but is attempting to use quantitative measurement the right way? After all, the tipping point for irreversible climate change cannot be proved without actually going there, which only apocolyptickers would advocate doing. I am attempting to use carbon equivalent emissions as a measurement tool, which I still think is OK. But can I really pitch a petro-chemical method with no conceivable long-term future against one of renewable abilities? Do I really need to prove it? Have I been asking the right question?

Shouldn't I instead be asking:

How should I be making batik in a transition culture?

What purpose will batik hold for my community? What can batik give?

Or even:

Should I be making batik? Or something else?

Yeah yeah, sounds a bit drastic eh. But as a Transition Network leaflet says:

"The need for change is urgent and these profound changes can't happen overnight. We still have some time - if we act now. By thinking and acting together, the transition to a way of living that consumes substantially less carbon energy yet is a happier, more fulfilling and abundant place will become much more achievable."


Stephie said...

Your batiks in particular show us just what we'll lose if we don't change our attitudes and do something.

I was talking to an environmental scientist recently who was saying that the world could survive without artists, but not without scientists. Bollocks! To cut a long conversation very short he was saying that we need scientists to sort out global warming, etc... But the world wouldn't be in the state it's in if it wasn't for 'scientists' in the first place. He was saying that he couldn't live without his mobile phone, yet we have no idea who invented it, but we all know about a shark in a tank and what use is that? He could live without the shark, but not his mobile, he said. Poor you, I thought. There are plenty of cultures in this world that live without all this technology and have very little impact on the environment he's now working to protect. (Although, I think protection is too late.) I suggested that we, as societies, need art (of all disciplines)to comment on science, make us think about it's implications. He said that scientists are "pretty good self-regulators", so still we don't need artists. I cited Hitler (a bit obvious I know!) and his excellent self-regulated use of science. I think he said he was an anomaly! I my humble opinion both disciplines need each other.

And the point of all this rambling?! Robin please don't consider not making your batiks! Apart from absolutely anything else it shows us what we can do with so little in terms of materials: a bit of fabric, some wax, dye, heat and water. There isn't much in this world that can be made so beautiful with so little.

Robin Paris said...

Thank you Steph you're very kind... and I agree with you that the world would be a hellish place with no art, and artists (saying what they think of science) behind the art!