On June 11 2016, over 110 people came together at the Resilience, Resistance, and Regional Equity Convergence in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. The gathering was convened by the New England Resilience & Transition (NERT) network, a network of grassroots groups working to build resilience, sustainability and equity in their communities and the region as a whole. NERT members were joined by groups and individuals fighting new fossil fuel infrastructure in New England. The crowd was highly engaged throughout the day, connecting around a variety of topics such as renewable energy, group dynamics, food justice, and equity.
Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute kicked us off with a keynote address, sharing thoughts from his new book, Our Renewable Future. (To read more about Richard’s book, see this summary on YES! Magazine.) Richard reviewed the basic contours of the world’s situation, pointing out that our entire globalized economy has only been possible because of the use of fossil fuels. One slide depicted a man trying to push a car down a highway. “It would take you 6 to 8 weeks to go 30 miles if you were using human muscle alone,” Richard pointed out. With gasoline, we can do that in about 30 minutes.
Richard’s talk helped participants gain a clearer picture of what it will take to transition to a fully renewable economy. He and his co-author, David Fridley, identified three categories of changes from the “easy” to “really hard.” It would be fairly easy, for example, to switch the sources of our electric power to renewables such as wind and solar. However, electricity only represents about 25% of our energy use. In the “very hard” category were things like the production of concrete and steel, which form the basis of our built environment. In a “it may not be possible” category (my language, not Richard’s) were the continued widespread use of aviation and some forms of telecommunications. Some of these things simply may not be possible.
Richard also pointed out that the energy transition must “pay close attention to equity issues.” It will take significant investment now in renewables if people want to use them in the future, potentially leaving poor countries with little or no sources of energy in a renewable future.
In sum, the renewable future will have to use less total energy, and that energy will be less controllable and predictable. Our lives will be less mobile and much more localized. This won’t be a “plug and play” transition, simply switching out solar and wind for fossil fuels—if it were that easy, we might have done it already. Rather, we are looking at a full “civilization reboot.”
The good news is that a civilization reboot provides the perfect opportunity to correct the ills that are prevalent in our current society—everything from racial injustice to ongoing wars to social isolation and the loss of community. This re-visioning of society is what drives and motivates our movement for a new economy, resilience, sustainability and equity.
Richard’s talk was followed by two respondents from the NERT network, Marla Marcum of Resist the Pipeline and Karen Spiller of Food Solutions New England. Marla powerfully encouraged people to notice the emotions kicked up by the facts that Richard touched on in his talk. “When we talk to new people about this work,” she reminded us, “we need to come from a place of emotions and values. Facts alone will never convince people to join us.”
In Q&A, Marla gave a rousing appeal to become involved with the upcoming 10 days of action against the Spectra gas pipeline currently being built in the Boston neighborhood of West Roxbury (read more here). Marla also gave a workshop later in the day on the crucial relationship of resilience and resistance (read more in this blog post by Sarah Byrnes & Chuck Collins). One participant chimed in, “I am really grateful to meet more folks aligned with both resistance and resilience, and that these two frames are being unified and highlighted within a network orientation in our region.”
After Marla’s response to Richard’s talk, Karen Spiller underscored and elaborated upon Richard’s point about equity. In Q&A, she encouraged the group to reach out and make human connections with everyone, everywhere. “People of color are everywhere,” she pointed out. “And we can do a better job of bringing them into our work by paying close attention to our language, when we hold our events, and how we reach out. The human touch is essential.” (Stay tuned for a video of the morning session at http://nertnetwork.org.)
The morning talk was followed by lunch (big thanks to Onsite Organics!) and a full group networking session where Ben Roberts of the Conversation Collaborative helped folks connect with each other in pairs. “I felt really connected to the group and enjoyed hearing from folks from around the region,” said one participant about the session.
Next, folks were treated to an array of workshop options. Topics included renewable energy, food justice, the new economy, biodiversity, equity in Transition and resilience organizing, the intersection of resilience and resistance, group dynamics, and the use of story.
There was also a workshop designed to continue the conversations begun in the full group networking session. People were able to offer support and ideas to each other about their community work. One woman came away with some new ideas for helping her university become more sustainable, and the full group coalesced around an idea to identify an interested person in every New England community and connect them to each other in order to create new systems for food, energy, economy, and more. This “big idea” inspired people to think about how NERT can become that network.
Elsewhere, Samantha Wechsler of Wildwise helped workshop participants explore building beneficial relationships using a permaculture framework. In the food justice workshop, Karen Spiller of Food Solutions New England (FNSE) shared the FSNE vision and plan for a sustainable New England food system that provides 50% of the region’s food by 2060. Orion Kriegman illustrated what the Boston Food Forest Coalition was doing that helps contribute toward the development of such a system. Participants in the workshop shared what food projects they were or hoped to work on in their communities. Karen closed by suggesting that we find a way to keep the lines of communication open between FSNE and our grassroots efforts, and invited five NERT members to the MA Food Summit debrief.
In summary, the day was a “a really good mix of everything,” according to one participant. “Conversation, collaboration, informative presentations, action steps and lovely everything.”
NERT was thrilled to offer this opportunity to local and regional activists, and is excited to keep working with participants and others in our common quest to build a resilient, sustainable and equitable region.
To stay involved or jump in, join an Online Discussion on Wednesday, June 22, from 12pm – 1:30. We will use an Open Space format (on the Zoom platform) where participants will suggest break out topics and join small groups on topics that interest them. Read more here. We hope you’ll join us!
For more information, visit http://nertnetwork.org.