The end of suburbia: Transition Asheville’s getting ready for the future

July 20, 2010
Susan Andrew
Mountain Xpress

Ever ponder what life would be like without your car, a large grocery store with countless food items from around the globe, and dozens of box stores providing every gizmo you might need at any moment — much of it shipped from China?

The group Transition Asheville does, and they have a plan.

In this global age, climate change, global economic instability, overpopulation, declining biodiversity and resource wars have arguably stemmed from the availability of cheap, nonrenewable fossil fuels. Global oil, gas and coal production are predicted to decline sharply in the next 10 to 20 years, and the effects of climate change are being felt around the world.

The Transition Town movement attempts to address these problems. First developed in Europe and now taking root in many communities in the U.S., its members attempt to engage people and communities to take action that mitigate the effects of declining fossil fuels, climate change and economic crisis. It’s an attempt to “re-localize” production and commerce, and produce societies that naturally reduce carbon emissions and build community resilience. The Transition model argues that it’s up to citizens in individual communities to step into leadership positions to address the current situation.

With this all in mind, on July 15, Transition Asheville met at local establishment Tressa’s for the weekly Green Drinks gathering — an informal group that meets to discuss sustainability issues in general. Transition members offered attendees a look at how things are going to be — sometime soon, they assert.

“Within our lifetime, we will see the end of cheap oil, and the collapse of our current way of life, which has depended on it,” said Stan Corwin, a Transition Asheville leader. “We’ll have to create a ‘new normal,’” he said, because right now, “Normal is consuming vast amounts of energy. Normal is living in suburbs.”

“We’re at the point of peak oil production now — the brief plateau before the decline. The Gulf oil spill is an outcome of our pursuit of deeper and deeper oil,” Corwin continued. “We’re going to have to downscale everything we do. The days of the 3,000-mile Caesar salad are over.”

Corwin’s message found an intrigued audience. “I abandoned my car, and lost 35 pounds in the process,” proclaimed Daryl Rantis, an Asheville architect in private practice.

Another anonymous attendee offered a perhaps unintentionally comic perspective on the changes Transition foresees: “We won’t have to go to work anymore!”

Mike Figura of Transition Asheville said that this town is in a good position to move forward. “We have a lot of local food production, and thus a lot of local resiliency already,” he said.

“If we can create a plan to do what’s necessary — such as creating networks of people who can provide local services that we now find outside — we’ll be better prepared as oil declines in the coming years.”

Corwin said the group will organize into working groups to cover the key areas of local food, local energy, transportation and other critical functions. Transition Asheville has grown to more than 150 Western North Carolinians; it’s part of a network of similar groups in the U.S. and Europe. Boulder, Colo., was the first American city to become a Transition Town. Certification is provided by the umbrella organization, Transition U.S., a nonprofit based in Sebastopol, Calif.

Transition Asheville is awaiting a key moment to launch their working groups — a moment they refer to as “The Great Unleashing” — when awareness has reached a certain level. Corwin explained, “It’s when we can walk up to someone on the street and say ‘peak oil’ — or the end of cheap oil — and they instantly know what we’re talking about.”

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