Bioregional Systems: R4

January 24, 2012

Since my last post I have been busy building a Local Future for Tarbert and the rest of Kintyre.  Big Green Tarbert came to an end (in terms of funding) in March 2011.  I carried on working for Tarbert and Skipness Community Trust, becoming the Chair of the Directors.  This led to me heading up Local Produce, a transnational project aimed at building local food resilience in Kintyre and the Islands.

I have now moved to Muasdale in the middle of Kintyre, in the midst of good farmland, with views of Islay, Gigha and Jura, well placed indeed to help build resilience in my local bioregion.

I have also been more active as a Permaculture Diploma Tutor, taking on apprentices who are building up their Permaculture Design Portfolios.  It has been great to get back into Permaculture designing once more.

A lot of discussion has been going on about Transition and Permaculture.  Well, to me Transition is a permaculture design that sprouted wings and is now well and truly flying, with its own momentum.

The success of Transition has prompted me to come up with my own design, which has grown out of the community development work that I’ve been doing in Kintyre over the past few years.  I have called it R4: Revitalised, Resilient, Rural (Bio)Regions and hope that it will support Transition work, particularly in remote areas.

I’ve uploaded the design for you to look at.  I’m launching it here and will keep you informed when I’m running workshops on it, or when it appears in any publications. Hope you find it useful. bioregional systems article   table bioregional system


Ethical Economy

March 22, 2010

The Eagle flies!

What’s an eagle to do with an ethical economy?

An Eagle Economy involves 3 core concepts:

GREEN: ethics used to be solely about people but this has now changed: it includes the whole of the planet and its creatures.

LOCAL: economies desperately need relocalising. I am not against global trade but the balance has shifted far too far toward the global: and that has had many detrimental consequences in a host of ethical areas. We need to rebalance the wider Economy so that local economies can thrive once more.

EQUALITY: more equal societies do better. This has brilliantly been proved in The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett who analyse societies across the world and show this to be a pretty well universal.

Why the eagle? I live and work in Scotland: the beautiful county of Argyll: and two species of eagle have come to symbolise a Scottish sense of renewal.  Scotland is well known as a European stronghold of the Golden eagle and a couple of decades ago the magnificent White-tailed eagle started breeding again here after a gap of 70 years.

But remember: it’s not just a “green” thing! Eagle stands for Equality and equality is the foundational quality of an Ethical Economy.

I am a committed Transitioner and am trying to get my local community of North Kintyre to explore the Transition concept with me.  But I am anxious to ensure that Transition is not seen as a comfortable middle class preserve. I see Transition as all about ethics and equality.  So it is by its nature political.  Rebuilding local economies must mean redistribution of income within communities as well as between communities.  As well as improving the lot of those sweating away in other countries to provide us with cheap goods we also need to focus on our own communities and foster greater equality here, in our own back yard.

This sounds Socialist – and is – so I think that us Transitioners should not be afraid to use this word as it has a long history and has much to remind people of.  I refer you to an excellent article in last Saturday’s Guardian review by the historian Tony Judt, who says:

“IF we had to identify just one general consequence of the intellectual shift that marked the last third of the 20th Century, it would surely be the worship of the private sector and, in particular, the cult of privatisation.”  He goes on to show how this has resulted in far greater levels of inequality.  The graphs shown in The Spirit Level prove this.

I believe we need a national sense of renewal which involves the state once again taking on its ethical obligations.  We as Transitioners are all for empowering communities but this power must be clearly underpinned by ethical considerations.  Unless we campaign for a reinvigorated, ethical state we will just be going it alone, and some middle class enclaves will thrive whilst the rest go under.

Do It Ourselves: DIO.

November 13, 2008

What I find inspiring about the Transition Movement is that it’s about “doing it for ourselves”. Not waiting, theorising, despairing, but getting on with it.

There is danger here. I worry about us creating parallel communities rather than engaging with existing ones. I try to apply a test to what I get involved in socially and work-wise: are we looking out rather than in, are we reaching out rather than sticking to the familiar pattern, which inevitably looks inward?

We are trying to co-opt new directors to our local community trust from a wide range of backgrounds. (I have been recently brought in as part of this process). We are having another DIY Health and Wellbeing day at Tarbert Health Centre on Saturday 29th November where we’ll be making our own Christmas/Solstice decorations from locally gathered materials. These two distinct but linked activities “feel” right: they pass the test.

So – come along on the 29th, or think with us and make your own celebratory object. I’ll actually be teaching on a permaculture course at Kilmartin, but I’ll be making contribution prior to the event. Happy “do it ourselving”…DIO

Transition Sweden

September 15, 2008

It was great to get a prompt response (re. my previous post “Clachan smallholders”) from a David in Lochgilphead who wants to join the smallholders network. The address for anyone else who wants to join is:

Travelling through Sweden in the summer showed me other European countries are further along the Transition journey that we are in the UK.  Sweden isn’t a Utopia but hopefully we have now learned that Utopias are doomed to failure (“Utopia” means “no place” so doesn’t exist anyway!).

What impressed me most about the people of Sweden was their continuing belief in equality which is also coupled with their consensus approach. In the UK a belief in equality has long been polarised politically.  For decades it was seen as the province of the Left; nowadays New Labour has almost abandoned it altogether.  Instead what is talked of is “equality of opportunity” which is a nonsense when you consider the contrast in life-chances of a child born on a sink estate as compared with one growing up in a nurturing, comfortable, suburban household.

You may ask: why do I not write about how good Sweden are at recycling, at managing their forests, at going over to renewables and other green measures?  The reason is that environmentalists have always put the cart before the horse.  The fact is that if we genuinely care for eachother – not just our family and friends but the human “family” as a whole –  we are far more likely to genuinely care for the planet as a whole.  In other words, change in terms of how we feel about Nature can only come about if we change the way we feel about eachother.  This demands that we pay attention to issues of fairness, justice and equality.

Our last holiday accommodation was a hostel in Stockholm which until the 1970’s has been a prison.  In Sweden they are closing their prisons whilst in the UK we are still building them!  This for me summed up the contrast between the two countries.  In one of the corridors was a fascinating exhibition describing how the prison came to be built and closed.  It ended with a simple statement that the Swedish aim was to have no one in prison at all!  Imagine someone in the UK standing up at a party conference and saying this!

So – forget Ikea and Volvo as Swedish exports: long live their vision of fairness, justice and equality!

Clachan smallholders

September 12, 2008

Hello folks, I am back on the scene after long months plugging away at the Big Green Challenge which ultimately led to Tarbert failing to make the last 10.

In many ways I am pleased because we now have the chance to apply to the Scottish Climate Challenge Fund.

Also, I have been inspired by a number of events and happenings: regular (kind of!) mindfulness practice which I’ve been doing since Easter, a weekend of Transition Training in Dundee in June, a family holiday in Sweden in July, the start of this year’s Permaculture Design Course which I teach at Kilmartin House and, most recently, a smallholders’ gathering at Clachan, a village 11 miles S.W. of Tarbert.  This event was organised by Gareth, a community activist like myself who got the event together without any funding from anyone.  As he said to me, “we could wait forever, man.”

The event, whose main focus was the swapping and sale of the surplus harvest from people’s gardens, offered – to my eyes – a glimpse of the future when this great upheaval we call “Transition” has actually happened. Bathed in late summer sunshine, I felt that this is how things will turn out: people will pull together, hold their own markets, make their own entertainment. In the evening a celidah was held featuring local musicians and a barbecue using local produce.  Call me an optimist, an idealist even, but I have a very real positive feeling about the future.  As for the reasons behind my optimism, please look out for future blogs which will explore further the events I mentioned above.

Crisis and Opportunity

April 22, 2008

When I first got into green issues I read somewhere that the Chinese have a word that means both “crisis” and “opportunity”. I found this empowering then – and even more so now – more than 20 years on.

Below is my latest encapsulation of the crisis/opportunity we face;

How to move mindfully from our present state of unsustainable affluence

To new patterns of consumption based on self-restraint and seasonal abundance achieved through ecological design of settlements/landscapes and the rebuilding of local communities..

Thereby avoiding ecosystem and societal collapse

Permaculturists focus on the middle bit: the nuts and bolts of positive change (we talka lot about “toolkits”). As designers used to being on the edge we are now being assisted by the Transition Movement which addresses all three bits particularly the psychological issues facing us as the true nature of the crisis sinks in. Personally I feel empowered by the heart and soul work of the Transitioners: it’s important to me as well as to the folk I work with.

In Tarbert we are also benefiting from the Big Green Challenge, having reached the second stage of a prize fund set up by a UK agency called NESTA. We are one of 100 communities across the UK spending the next couple of months designing an action plan to reduce our carbon footprint by up to 60 per cent.

I was in two minds about entering as I’m not into competitions but in the end went for it. Those who have got through to this stage are getting support to develop their ideas further so it will have been worth it even if they don’t get any further, but the 250 groups who didn’t succeed are likely to feel let down. Hopefully they will consider joining the growing Transition Movement which could provide the necessary umbrella to work up their schemes further.

I’d like to end with a summary of the three steps outlined above: with an extra step added for good measure!

From affluence to individual mindful awakening to local resilience to world mindfulness

Resilience: the new zeitgeist?

April 6, 2008

A couple of days ago the word “resilience” jumped out at me as I was walking along a corridor in my son’s school (no, we haven’t signed up to the Transition Network yet). On closer reading I discovered that Tarbert Academy subscribes to the Health Promoting Schools Initiative whose cornerstone is – guess what? – resilience!

It is defined thus: “resilience describes a person’s capacity to cope with changes and challenges and to bounce back during difficult times.” Substitute “community” for “person” and you have a neat summing up of what communities across the world are in great need of – now.

According to the poster, a resilient person is someone who:

1 recognises and manages their own feelings and understands the feelings of others

2 has a sense of independence and self-worth

3 forms and maintains positive, mutually respectful relationships with others

4 is able to solve problems and make informed decisions

5 has a sense of purpose and goals for the future

These points help widen my sense of what community resilience is all about. For instance, point 3 emphasises the need for interdependence and interconnectedness, showing that communities need to maintain good relations with their neighbours and with wider “circles” right up to the whole planetary community, whilst of course still standing up for themselves.

Point 1 reminds us of the importance of recognising people’s individual and collective feelings and emotions in the process of building resilience. It is encouraging to note that Transition initiatives are strong on the heart as well as the head. Point 5 reminds us that we have to create a whole new culture – accepted by everyone if only tacitly – if we are to succeed.

The health-promoting schools concept is itself adapted from “A Bright Future for All” by the Mental Health Foundation. Health in its widest sense is vital to process of building community resilience. Creating a true “health” culture across the whole community involves being positive, friendly, supportive, trusting, varied and fun-filled (all are mentioned on the poster).

Carina, my wife, is one of the village’s G.P.s and we are organising a series of health and wellbeing days at the health centre along a variety of themes. The first is on 14 June. I will keep you posted.

For more on health promoting schools see

The Future Of Permaculture

March 27, 2008

Permaculture has been steadily evolving across the world for over 30 years and I have been involved with it for over half of this time.

There have been a number of recent developments within the movement, perhaps the most significant being the publication of David Holmgren’s book, Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability. In this book Holmgren explores the issue of energy descent; a subject he returns to in a later paper, in which he describes permaculture as: “the wholehearted and positive acceptance of energy descent, as not only inevitable but as a desired reality.”

The Transition Movement aims to engender just such an acceptance. Rob Hopkins has just written a book, The Transition Handbook, which explores the peak oil issue in great depth and comes up with practical community based solutions to it. Rob and his team have developed a whole raft of courses to skill people up in this respect. To catch up with the latest developments regarding communities from village up to city size see their WIKI site.

I also recommend watching The End of Surburbia and the sequel, Escape from Surburbia both of which are frank assessments of the energy descent/peak oil challenge.