It has been ten months since the High Wycombe Society kindly invited me to deliver a talk about Transition Towns. On Friday 6th July 2012 it was finally time and we gathered with a group of 40 members of the public upstairs in the Guildhall at 7.30pm to see the result. Now this isn’t the first time for me. I have delivered talks about our work to groups as diverse as Ecobuild and Flackwell Heath Women’s Institute.

Still… I had to be persuaded to do this gig. I normally think I am the last person to tell people about Transition. Still, they insisted… The name given to the talk seemed to confuse people. It was intended to engage the High Wycombe Society via their mission of “…caring about our town: past, present and future”. Unfortunately this message seems not to have got through to the Bucks Free Press events page which published the talk as being JUST about “The History of High Wycombe”. No wonder we had no young people in the room. Which was a pity because the talk was about the world our young people will inherit – and about what we have already borrowed from them.

Actually I have to say I was delighted by how it all went and by how engaged the audience was. Certainly the questions at the end showed that people had thought a lot about the talk. We had some great questions, sometimes some tough questions. How do you answer something like “Just how much oil SHOULD we use?” or “How does climate change influence the jet stream?” Thankfully the audience was quite forgiving; I had made it clear that I was no expert and had no crystal ball. Our guesses about future technology are just guesses, but our belief that the future will be slower and relocalised are entirely rational. We know the direction, we have a compass, but the map eludes us. It is enough for us to be talking about outcomes in an era where we have moved from simply worrying about the planet, to a period of living with the consequences of our actions.

So, what will be the history of the next one-hundred years? What will it be like to walk down the High Street in 2112? What will people be eating? What stories will there be in the newspapers? How will people spend money? Where will they work? Will we be rich or poor, happy or sad? What will THEY think of US? For one hour we tried to guess just what the future would hold based upon what we know, not how we wish it could be.

Transition (in my words) forges a new narrative of the future. It is somewhere between the two greatest myths of our time: Myth One: tomorrow will always have more stuff than today and our children will be richer than us. Myth Two: if tomorrow is not richer than today then IT IS THE END OF THE WORLD. I opened, not with the word of any Transitioner, Rob Hopkins, Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, but with a March 2012 projection from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development): “the world economy is expected to quadruple by 2050 and consume 80% more energy than today. This is projected to lead to an energy system that sources 85% of its power from fossil fuels and carbon emissions 55% higher than today…”

Then I followed it by the results of a 2010 University of California study that said: “At the current pace of research and development, global oil will run out 90 years before replacement technologies are ready”

So what we have is not the end of the world but a significant lag in our technology. Fossil fuel production cannot possibly keep up with demand and certainly carbon emissions MUST not rise. Entirely the opposite. This promises a 90 year period where tomorrow is challenged by the lack of access to the cheap energy we expect today. Transition arises from the belief that communities have a responsibility to prepare for this future – and it could be a lot of fun. If technology can’t keep up then we must up our game and change our culture. Hence: “Transition offers a different story, one that is about living more within our means, connecting to place, returning power to people and communities, building resilience at the local level.” (Rob Hopkins – July 2012) Transition is a social experiment. There is not a right way of doing it. In fact none of us know how to make this work. But we are going to have a darn hard go at making it work. There is no choice. We will not be the victims of the future.

My talk then moved on to study the results of the World Economic Forum’s work on Global Risks, their likelihood and costs. These were primarily “fiscal crises”, “extreme energy price volatility” and “climate change” suggesting that the future will not all be about hover boards and holidays on the moon. Consider the increasing chances of disastrous flash flooding in High Wycombe. Consider out food security in a world where your yearly food bill could be £1.5million if we replaced the fossil fuels, used in food production, with human labour. Consider our ballooning debt bomb as a weapon of mass destruction undermining our economy. We are on an unsustainable path.

I then talked about where the Transition Movement came from, its global coverage, its many publications and the work we do in High Wycombe: the local food guide, energy saving kits, warm home heroes, Wycombe Harvest 2012, Baregardens, outreach, Wycombe Homepower, Superhomes, etc, etc. We are gently pushing the juggernaut back towards sustainability by working with multiple partners in local business & local government.

Finally we moved onto that “history of the future” starting with “your world is about to get a whole lot smaller” (and why that is a really good thing). The past gave us a transatlantic Concorde at twice the speed of sound in an era of cheap oil. Nowadays our latest technological marvel is a solar-powered plane, with one passenger travelling, at 49 mph. So, let’s think about the slow and the more local: local food, local energy and local money. Maybe we won’t need cars in the future; everything we need could be in walking or cycling distance. If you need a car you will borrow it or take public transport. Consider the planters on Frogmoor full of carrots and potatoes. Consider every home its own power station. Consider a new electronic currency for High Wycombe that makes your mobile phone your wallet. Consider a row of wind turbines along the M40 motorway.

Let us also consider adaptation to climate change and beating the urban heat island effect with more urban trees, more urban running water (revive the Wye) and a lick of white paint over our homes. Climate change will bring drought and flood so we’ll all need to store a lot more rain water. The futuristic homes of tomorrow are already here: 80% of the homes we live in in 2050 have ALREADY been built by 2012. We are going to retrofit a lot of homes to make them far more energy efficient. These are exciting times and you can visit homes where this has already been done.

The food and energy infrastructure of High Wycombe will change. We will have our own power stations again. This supply chain will be re-balanced in favour of a mix of far-more local generation with distant wind & solar farms in regions rich in such resources. The new local resources will (probably) be biomass-fired “combined heat power” plants operating district heating networks. Our organic waste will be fed into local anaerobic digestion plants which will turn out the biogas that could power our buses and heat our homes.

But it is more than just technology. It is about us and our wellbeing – OUR flourishing. We had all the money in the world. Did it make us happier? No. Not since the early 1970′s have we actually grown our life satisfaction. In that time GDP took off. We will need to re-measure our lives and accept that there is a lot more to our happiness than money.

In the year 2100 we may still have the Red Kites circling overhead but they will be climate change refugees. Their original homelands of southern Europe will resemble sub-Saharan Africa and these environments will not sustain them. They will survive here with us in High Wycombe with countless other species that moved north. No doubt there will be many human beings moving here too.

So the future is what we make it. In the words of futurist Gaston Berger: “The purpose of looking to the future is to disturb the present. It is only by being disturbed that we stand a better chance of shaping the future rather than being its victims”

Transition is “self-organised, self-replicating, driven, motivated and positive”. It equips communities “for the dual challenges of climate change and energy scarcity through socioeconomic relocalisation”. Transition Town High Wycombe is thinking ahead for a durable economy, a resilient local economy and a better quality of life through local food, local energy and local money. What will you do to make this tomorrow happen? Join us. Let’s not be the future’s victims.

To respond to this blog go to http://www.post-carbon-living.com/blog/index.php/2012/07/07/the-history-of-high-wycombe-2000-to-2100/ or drop us a line on Twitter (twitter.com/TTWycombe) or Facebook (facebook.com/TTWycombe) or via our web site at www.transition-wycombe.org.uk. You can next meet Transition Town High Wycombe at the Pann Mill on Sunday 15th July. We look forward to meeting you.

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