Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tough Transition

From "The Farm" in Summertown, Tennessee, deep green thinker and activist Albert Bates on Tough Transition. Then one of the pioneers of localization and sustainable community, Dr. Mark Roseland. Alex reports on new ocean/climate movie to save... us. Rob Stewart's film "Revolution". Radio Ecoshock 121003.

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This week we're still talking about social change to save the environment and ourselves. From "The Farm" in Summertown, Tennessee, deep green thinker and activist Albert Bates on Tough Transition - how to make a local community work - even if people can't agree on why it must.

Then we're going to one of the fathers of movements like Transition and localization, Dr. Mark Roseland in his 1992 book "Toward Sustainable Communities" became a handbook for local and regional politicians, non-profits, and citizen groups. Now it's out in a Fourth Edition, with a goal of providing, quote "Solutions for Citizens and Their Governments."

We'll get a call for Revolution from the maker of the movie Sharkwater. Rob Stewart says the species we need to save now is us. I've just seen his new film "Revolution". It's the ultimate challenge, literally our do or die time to save ocean life, and all life, from mass extinction. Our coverage of the dying oceans continues.

All coming your way this week, on Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith.


Just like organisms, there are simple people. Others, like Albert Bates, are complex. He's a former attorney, a designer, bio char expert, author, speaker, and an international and local organizer. Albert has lived at the famous intentional community called "The Farm" in Summertown, Tennessee since 1972. His book "Climate in Crisis" was published back in 1990, with more following, like "The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook" in 2006, and "The Biochar Solution" in 2010.

In last week's program, we heard from successful Transition Towns in New England. That's easy enough with progressive voters. Albert, can it be done in a conservative "Red State" like Tennessee?

I've called up Albert to ask him about forming a Transition community in the rural Republican South.

When "The Farm" began in 1971 - it was part of the hippie movement. Bates tells us when the collection of school buses arrived from Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, in rural Tennessee - to local residents it seemed like Martians landing. Over the course of a generation, there has been a general acceptance and interaction between The Farm and its surroundings.

You can learn more about "The Farm" in Albert's book "Voices from The Farm" (1998) co-authored with Rupert Fike.


One sign of that was when Hohenwald Tennessee became the 25th Transition Town in America. That was accepted by all the local politicians, County Commissioners and so on - even though, as Bates tells us, practically none of the locals accepted the human-induced climate change or Peak Oil.

So how did they do it? The Farm organized a regular film and speaker night. Sure they showed "An Inconvenient Truth", but one of their most successful nights (garnering 130 people from a population of 4,000) was about "Financial Permaculture". In a very hard economy, people wanted to know how to improve their financial situation, and learned about permaculture almost as a side subject.

In fact Hohenwald had many Swiss settlers from the late 1800's. The Transition organizers were able to draw on a common community value of "frugality". It's frugal not to waste things, and so recycling and other ways to avoid waste are acceptable. It's a fantastic lesson: find out what your community values, and help deliver that as a road to transition.

In a bit of humor, one of their speakers was David Bloom, who explains how to make your own alcohol for energy and other uses. That was quite popular in rural Tennessee, where moon-shining is traditional. But the Transition group also brought in the Republican speaker Catherine Austin Fitts, who is quite aware of things like the energy decline.

Albert wrote an excellent book on the subject "The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook".

In Lewis County Tennessee the Transition group set up a community kitchen and a business incubator. Bates suggests it's better to fund local small business with funds raised in the area, instead of depending on big banks headquartered far away. They initiated their first local currency, namely "Chamber Bucks" which could be spent at any business that was a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

Now with Peak Oil and a rotten economy, we're seeing a surge of very different folks, some with guns and deep basements. Is "the great change” going to work with such different actors? Even the publishers of Mother Earth News have noticed an increase of survivalists and preppers in their readers. They want to grow their own food and make things themselves, in preparation for collapse.


I ask Albert Bates about the relationship between the Eco village Network, where he has been a leader, and Transition Towns.

First, let's look at what Wiki says about Albert and the Eco village Network:

"Bates has played a major role in the Eco village movement as one of the organizers of the Global Eco village Network (GEN), and served as GEN's chairman of the board (from 2002 to 2003) and president (from 2003 to 2004). He was also the principal organizer of the Eco village Network of the Americas and served as its president (from 1996 to 2003). In 1994 he founded the Eco village Training Center, a "whole systems immersion experience of Eco village living."[1] He has taught courses in sustainable design, natural building, permaculture and technologies of the future to students from more than 50 nations."

Bates is one of the teachers in Eco village training at The Farm, as well as teaching at Gaia University.

Essentially Bates suggests the Eco villages are like living laboratories. People experiment with ways to live together, sharing skills, learning how to produce locally. Some of the valuable lessons from those social experiments are applied more broadly in Transition Towns.


Albert is one of the first to point out there are no islands of security, even in an intentional community. If the rest of the society is falling apart, or even suddenly starving, they will come to take what you've got. It's a long-time point of discussion, which Bates labels the "Zombie Apocalypse" problem.

When I lived in a community of back-to-the-landers in the early 1980's, we often talked about what to do with starving city refugees. One local intentional community - a group of Russian Catholic nuns, decided they would put away lots of extra food and clothing, to welcome people who arrived.

For what it's worth, the historic record in Soviet Russia in the early 1930's, when the cities were starving, didn't work out that way at all. Instead, the army sent out trucks to take away all the grain, including the seed stock for the following year, plus any livestock and food they could find, hauling it back to the cities. The farmers and rural communities starved to death by the millions. It's in the Robert Conquest book "The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine" published in 1986.

Anyway, unless there is a massive solar flare knocking out the grid, I don't expect Western civilization to collapse that quickly. It's far more likely our over-extended system will decline more slowly.


As Bates knows all too well, the American South is experiencing record numbers of super-hot days, and recurring droughts. I ask what is the The Farm doing to prepare for a changed climate?

Albert describes the various ways they are collecting water, and more importantly, preparing their soil to hold more water and use it intelligently. This includes experiments with the Keyline system of agriculture, and using bovines to enrich both soil and water following the ideas of Allan Savory. It's also called "Mob Grazing". To learn more, listen to my 24 minute interview with Allan Savory in 2011 here.

The Farm is expecting 50 or more days where the temperature climbs above 100 degrees each summer - the range where plants stop growing and just go into a defensive dormancy. In the future, the Farm may see 5 or 6 months without rain. They are trying to get ready for all that, for the plants, the animals, and themselves.

Bates does travel around. He speaks at a lot of green fairs, to conferences, and international gatherings. Albert learned about global warming when he was researching deep injection of chemicals into the ground, in his former incarnation as an attorney. He spoke to his young Senator for Tennessee, one Al Gore, and then published his book "Climate in Crisis" in 1990, making Bates another of the pioneers of climate change.

To offset some of the carbon produced in traveling, way back in 1985 he established The Albert Bates Forest.


In general, Albert thinks the Transition Town movement in America has been held back by media fog and mistaken ideas of making everything "American" instead of learning from other parts of the world. There are many more Transition Towns and Eco Villages in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world than in the U.S. It appears Sri Lanka alone has more Eco villages than the U.S.A.

Follow Albert Bates on Twitter @peaksurfer and his blog is

You can find a lot more Albert Bates links, including some of his fascinating past writing and interviews, here.



We've been talking about Transition, from Europe through New England to the American Deep South. There is more to come, we can't stop talking about what to do, except to get busy doing it.

This wave has been building since at least 1992. As we'll hear, the few expert pioneers have become a big network of community builders, around the world. I'm going to challenge you to tune in, with a slightly different language, with new ears, to one of the pioneers of localization and sustainable community, Mark Roseland.

It's a messy world. We are bombarded by negative stories. Big governments fail to make our lives better, or save us from threats like climate change.

Many of our Radio Ecoshock guests say only local governments are worth your political attention. That's why you need to hear Mark Roseland. He's been advising local governments how to build on a human scale, for cities that can keep going through many challenges.

Dr. Mark Roseland is Director of the Simon Fraser University Centre for Sustainable Community Development, and he is a Professor in the Resource and Environmental Management Program.

Roseland came to world attention back in 1992 with the release of his best-selling book, "Toward Sustainable Communities: Resources for Citizens and Their Governments." That book is being released in a Fourth Edition by New Society Publishers in September 2012.

Mark Roseland on You tube



We talk for a minute about the strange resistance to becoming more sustainable. Unbelievably, in rural America, and even a few people in the Occupy movement in the United States, are afraid any move toward sustainability is just part of a United Nations plot to take over the world. They think everything is part of "Agenda 21" which came out of the first Rio Conference in 1992.

I ask Dr. Roseland point blank: "Are you part of a plot to take over the world?"

Then we both laugh. It's such a weird distortion. The United Nations has hardly managed to do anything, except a lot of good charitable work in the poorest countries. There is no U.N. army ready to conquer the world. In fact, in some U.N. sanctioned military actions, it's the U.S. Armed Forces in command.

That doesn't stop fringe talk show hosts like Alex Jones from drumming it into weak minds that the U.N. is out to take their liberties and the environmentalists and "sustainability" is out to take away their freedom.

One of the alleged villains is something called the ICLEI - the International Council For Local Environmental Initiatives. That is a vehicle where local governments can talk to one another to find out what works. Perfect for localization, and yet some Americans who allegedly want independence have convinced their governments to stop paying for membership!

I think some paranoid Americans are missing a chance at their best allies. They attack Transition Towns as a communist plot. But the same people call for local action, participation in local governments, and prepping for disasters.

Roseland knows where this attack on sustainable communities is coming from: the Tea Party movement (partly funded by the notorious fossil fuel billionaires the Koch brothers) and the Republican Party itself. Back in January 2012 the Republican Party targeted ICLEI as villains to be defunded and fought off if they are elected. It's a political ruse, working against the best interests of America and Transition.


When Roseland published his book "Toward Sustainable Communities" back in 1992, it quickly became THE handbook for local governments, NGO's and interested citizens. There were only a few academics and institutes working on sustainability.

Now in unstable economic times, topped up with rampant energy costs and climate disruption, there are literally thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of non-profits, local governments, academics, college-level courses, and resources of all kinds on making sustainable communities.

Roseland realized the movement was so big, and growing so fast, no resource book could hope to keep up. That is partly why at the Rio+ 20 Conference he announced PANDO. That's a kind of combined database and network for the sustainable community movement. Find it here.

PANDO is named after a giant community of aspen trees in Colorado that are all linked as one big organism by their joint root systems. It may be the largest single organism on land, and it's quite resilient.


As a long-time Professor at Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby Canada (part of Greater Vancouver) - Mark Roseland has been a guiding light in the redevelopment of the mountaintop where that university is situated. Amid some controversy, the University decided the system of staff and students living elsewhere, requiring giant parking lots, needed to be converted to a livable and sustainable community.

Now there are residences, a school, and other services right around the University, called "Univercity". Mark tells us about one day-care center which is not just net zero, but actually contributes more to the environment than it takes. Is that more expensive? No, it cost less than a conventional building.

There is a lot more to this interview. It's not in the usual activist language you hear on Radio Ecoshock, but it cuts exactly to what we are all really trying to accomplish in the real world: creating sustainable communities.

Look for Mark's new Fourth Edition of his classic "Toward Sustainable Communities: Solutions for Citizens and Their Governments." from New Society publishers.

During this show I play brief clips from Neil Young's song "Rumblin'" that's from his 2010 album "Le Noise", and earlier clips from Brian Eno's instrumental "The Big Ship", in the album "Green World".

There is a rumbling'. That kind of low noise of something big coming, but we can't quite tell what. The mass media news is one big distraction. As the headlines scroll by, I have this creepy feeling there are big stories not being told.

One of them is pretty simple. We have built a consumer machine that is chewing up the planet, spitting out toxic waste. Most of the greenhouse gases we pour into the sky are being sucked back into the ocean. Radio Ecoshock guests like paleoclimatologist Peter Ward have made one thing clear. The ocean makes the oxygen we breathe, the ocean determines the weather, and in the big picture, the state of the ocean dictates the big biological clock of abundance or mass extinction.


Today, I saw more graphic evidence the ocean is far more disturbed than our weather. Rob Stewart set out to save the sharks from the lunacy of shark fin soup. His audience, and then the ocean experts, told Stewart he's missed the big story.

Despite the success of his first film "Sharkwater" Stewart had to battle to make his second. He spent another four years travelling to the biological hot spots of the ocean, and to the dead zones. What he learned inflamed him. Stewart found out what we all know in our hearts: we need a big fast change in our economy, culture, and hearts to save not the sharks, not the polar bears, but ourselves. He's calling for nothing less than Revolution. That's the title of his new film.

The movie has just been released at the Toronto Film Festival, and again at the Vancouver Film Festival. It's a full-length bundle of astounding underwater photography, followed by a quest to find out who can stop our civilization from self-destructing.

We are introduced to creatures hidden below the waves. Like a relative of the Octopus that is smarter than your house cat. Crazy and adorable animals that only Nature could dream up.

Their world is dying. The ocean is becoming acidic. It's getting hotter, and it's filling up with plastic and chemicals. The single biggest threat to all sea life, greater even than deforestation, is the way we dump fossil carbon into the atmosphere. Estimates range from 33 up to 50% of all the carbon dioxide we emit goes into the ocean. Everything that makes a skeleton, from tiny plankton through coral to all fish and sea mammals, are endangered by ocean acidification. If we can't control our emissions, quickly, we can't save life in the sea.

Stewart rediscovers what I found out in 1990: the oceans campaign is the climate campaign is the oceans campaign.

So the shark man ends up at two U.N. climate conferences. Both fail miserably. Dependent on consensus, with a negotiations wrecker like Canada, out to promote the dirty Tar Sands oil, the talks go nowhere.

You and I aren't changing much either, even though we know. Stewart glumly tallies up his own carbon pollution, and it's too much. Just like me.

Who isn't invested in the climate death machine? The children. They will bear the ruined climate. Child activists are springing up all around the world. Stewart tirelessly reaches out to them, informing, warning, inspiring youth as our best hope.


Next week I'll bring you a full interview with Rob Stewart underground film-maker, and unlikely revolutionary.

We'll also hear from Lester Brown of the Earth-Policy Institute. He's got the facts on rising food costs at home, and food-less days abroad.

And we'll continue our Transition series, as guest Wes Regan describes food localization in the poorest neighborhood.

We opened Radio Ecoshock this Fall with Gareth Renowden. He and co-host Glenn Williams have managed a new edition of "The Climate Show" bridging the time gap between London and rural New Zealand. Check out the new program at

Another tip from the film Revolution: only you can educate yourself. Sorry, whatever school you went to didn't teach what we all need to know. The government won't tell you. Media plans to distract you.

As the hard facts roll away the delusions of a mass suicide pact, I encourage you to dig, dig, dig. You can get college level knowledge free in You tube and Google lectures. Watch the TED talks. Bulk up your list of blogs that tilt toward natural reality.

You can find every back show of Radio Ecoshock on our web site at Please tune in, and spread it around. Use those links, Facebook, Twitter, everything. Hand out copies to neighbors or on the street. Talk it up.

Some of the world's best experts teach us. We have to strip away layers of ignorance and greed. We need to know the truth, and then we need to act on it. Nothing else will save a livable future for our descendants. That IS the big story.

I'm Alex Smith. This has been Radio Ecoshock. Join us next week.

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