A Traveler’s Perspective on Kinsale: Visioning the Future of Hope

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One of my inspirations to travel is to explore the sustainability projects around the world. Simply put, sustainable living is the concept of human society living in balance with the resources of the world. For many modern critical thinkers, such as Richard Heinberg of Post Carbon Institute, this has become an increasingly important idea.  Even more than an idea, it’s a prescription for much of what ails our modern societies today across the world.

As the science and ideas about peak oiland global warming become a clearer reality to more people, questions arise. Many of these questions seek to uncover a path out of our current system of ever-increasing consumption and monumental redistribution of resources away from the majority of the human population into fewer and fewer hands.Countless organizations and groups exist that have long cultural traditions promoting the values of sustainable living. Others are young upstarts looking to change the current system while having the audacity of vision that another world is possible.

The Transition Movement is the latter. And it’s being embraced the world over.

Birth of A movement

Sometimes it’s in the smallest places that one can find the greatest ideas—ideas so simple that they force you to consider how exactly you could have overlooked them before.

The story behind the inspiring sustainability movement in Kinsale came when permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins and his small class at the Kinsale Further Education College decided to take a refreshing and different viewpoint from conventional social problem solving. The key concept in the Transition sustainability model is the practice of permaculture.

Permaculture seeks the design of agriculture systems and human settlement based on the models of relationships found in nature. Each process is part of a whole that supports and feeds into other elements of the system, maintaining an equilibrium.

Since 2005 the simple idea of Transition and its relationship to permaculture has taken hold across the globe. As of the date of this writing there are 382 official initiatives and 458 Muller initiatives (those still in the planning process) in approximately 34 countries.  There must be something to the success of this monumental and unprecedented spread of such a small and simple concept.

A model of hope

Transition Towns are communities that have chosen to use permaculture methods to tie together environmental, social and economic spheres of life. The goal that inspired the student project was the creation of the Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP). This has become a main aim for many subsequent groups, whether they’re actively working on an EDAP, or hope to in the future.

Each Transition Town can comes up with their own unique EDAP reflecting the needs and visions of their own community. Or, rather than reinventing the wheel, they can follow the Kinsale or Totnes plans, and adapt it to suit their needs.

Every EDAP revolves around localizing the social and economic foundations of the community, making them more resilient and able to handle shocks from the outside world. Resilience and localization are design responses to withstand and overcome the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. This response is the driving purpose of the Transition Movement.

For Transition members, engagement within the community, between neighbors and other individuals, is the welcoming and enlivening vibe that attracts so many. Re-localizing the community and economy evokes a spirit of kinship in small and close knit social circles.  Even if members of those circles are still living in a commuter society, this presence in the Transition model can be felt. Transition embraces this sense of kinship and uses it as a catalyst for visioning within a community on questions about its transition to sustainability.

Every community’s model and EDAP is wholly their own vision, undertaken and steered by the individuals within that community. Areas of the community life that are reviewed, planned and restructured include food, energy, housing, transport, waste as well as many other aspects of the local economy.

The community of Kinsale chose to be bold when they constructed their EDAP.  They considered and tackled some of the key challenges in descending the energy peak.  Some of their ambitious plans were to build a wind farm built by 2010, supply half of their energy needs locally, get 60 percent of school food from local producers, and to host the World Youth Conference in 2011.

While not all of these goals were met, this type of bold visioning is exactly what the world so desperately needs. While trial and error, failure and success highlight exactly what is feasible for this engaging community, they choose to take the courageous first steps into a novel living arrangement with the planet.

Heart of Kinsale

Unhindered by its small size, the Kinsale Further Education College is the embodiment of the community’s Transition Movement spirit. And it’s the birthplace of the great ideas happening within the community.

The outside grounds of the campus show the devotion and playfulness taking place within. Experiments into different types of low-carbon construction methods such as cob building are scattered about, highlighting the projects undertaken by the permaculture students every year as part of their studies.

Roughly forty students from all over the globe are admitted each year for the Permaculture Program. Demand for space in the program is great and there’s a waiting list for each upcoming semester. The college’s work around sustainability has made the town a hub for progress, attracting a youth culture vitally interested in this new movement. I made sure to visit while on my travels through Europe.

The college’s contributions to the local community are substantial. Projects range from an anaerobic digestor to cut down on town waste to the Kinsale Food Club to produce local oats and potatoes. The Kinsale Food Club works under the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, strengthening local food, farming, and economic security.

My visit to the birthplace of the Transition Movement reignited my interest in sustainability.  I hope to carry this inspiration along the rest of my travels, visiting as many sustainable communities, permaculture farms and Transition Towns across the globe as I can.  If ever there were a ripe time for displaying to the world another model for our time, Transition is doing it.  From Athens to New York, the people are reaching out.

Links:

Transition Town Kinsale Website
Transition US Website
Ning Transition in Action Social Network
The Transition Primer (Introductory PDF file)
International Transition Network Website

About Author

Post by Kurt Trumble
The Low Down:

Kurt grew up on Long Island in New York. He spends his time learning emerging open source technologies and social media. He runs Travel With Drupal, focused on Drupal webdesign and blogging. (http://www.travelwithdrupal.info). Beatnik literature and The Beatles top his list of interests when not backpacking around.