Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hippies in Denial

This time last month (30 May), there was a gathering at Glastonbury Town Hall to discuss the town’s ‘transition’ to a post-oil world. It began with a talk from a leading light in Transition Town Totnes (TTT), the pioneers of transition thinking in the UK. Sadly, amidst all the joyful envisioning of local self-sufficiency, there did seem to be a few basics missing. It was like the 1960’s all over again, a fantasy world where everything is possible. In truth, in the future, everything will not be possible and hard choices will be needed.

We were told to expect millions of ‘climate refugees’ and make plans to welcome them to our communities. It seemed not to have dawned on anyone that, since a post-oil economy will not support more than a fraction of our current population, we should most certainly not be trying to add to it. Among the key characteristics of the future brainstormed in workshops was the hope that this would be a world of ‘happy, smiling people’. From time to time they might well be that, if instructed to be. Just not while they’re busy killing each other for possession of productive land and its outputs.

TTT’s website carries Buckminster Fuller’s famous words, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” That’s partly true. It’s how successful nationalist groups have dismantled the empires from which they have struggled to free themselves. You defeat the enemy by systematically disregarding its authority. But those who make it sound all that simple are in for a shock.

Transition towns will find that when Tesco want to build in their midst, or there’s a new trunk road coming up the valley, the answer doesn’t lie in digging the allotment. Gandhi won because he was fighting the British. Gandhi versus Hitler or Stalin would have had a very different outcome. The planning system today is owned by the likes of Tesco and the Highways Agency. With every passing day, Labour makes it more so. The Tories’ only cavil is that the supermarkets and the motorways aren’t being built fast enough.

Local action, however twee, is not going to make the difference it needs to make until there is a region-wide reaction against Westminster diktat. A Wessex Parliament will do what local initiatives cannot. It will ensure that the price structures are in place to help local producers compete fairly. It will rebuild the region’s rural railways, renewably-run, to enable communities to exchange goods of the highest quality. It will protect productive land from crazed housebuilders by establishing an optimum population level and sticking to it. It will redefine the housing market to ensure that local people are not squeezed out as a result. It will counter any wider power that fails to place Wessex interests first. In short, it will work for our communities and not against them.

Or… we can go on kidding ourselves that acting locally is enough, that Westminster is full of thoroughly decent chaps and chapesses, that Whitehall too really is on our side, and that if all this isn’t so then there must be some absolutely sound reason for it that we’re just too dense to grasp. More flowers anyone?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Note from Abruzzo

Guest contribution by Colin Bex, Wessex Regionalists' London Bureau

Staying near a village in Casoli, some eighty miles south-west of L'Aquila, I awoke at 3.30am on Monday 6 April, but was unaware of any particular reason other than as part of an irritating cycle of broken sleep to which have become accustomed for some time now.

Neighbours say they did feel a tremor at the time, and some English people a few miles away, said their cat jumped in through the window at the time although they also were not aware of anything unusual. This it appears forms part of the quarter of grade II 'seismic' territory which was not affected – this time anyway........!

Well now we know the extent of the death, injury and deracination, in addition to something of the building fabric damaged - reportedly 205 dead, several thousand homeless, 40,000 evacuated - not only failure and collapse of traditional masonry construction in churches and houses, but also of modern reinforced concrete structures including a school, a hospital, a student hostel and a road-bridge.

Buildings in some 84 Abruzze towns and cities are reported as having suffered damage of some kind - much of it to historic buildings of national importance. This gives some idea of the magnitude of this seismic disaster affecting nearly three-quarters of the region.

It seems that timber rather than masonry construction fares well in such circumstances, however, from what I have understood in the regional papers here (Il Tempo, Il Messaggiero and Il Centro), the Richter force of the 'terramoto' was 5.8 and one estimate of its effect is that L' Aquila has moved 15cm.

Incidentally, geologist and seismic specialist Antonio Moretti has been publicly condemned by establishment politicians here for warning on radio that on the evidence, within the next ten years another likely candidate could be Sulmona - a fine city I visited last year high up in the mountains with a splendid statue of Ovid in one of its squares.

At the very least it is ironic that this particular seismic event should have struck when the impact of its psychological, emotional and logistical effects were to be most greatly felt – springtime at Easter when religious, atheist and heathen alike expect to be able to sense relief from the rigors of winter and to experience hope from the new cycle of life.

On Good Friday, I attended part of one of the region-wide candle-lit religious processions held in sympathy of which two took place on successive evenings in Lanciano.

The turnout was impressive – probably several thousand people comprising four generations of families from babies to great grand-parents who lined the streets waiting patiently for the pallbearers to pass by. Also, I was deeply saddened to reflect on the passion and immeasurable suffering of the bereaved, so powerfully portrayed at the numerous public funeral gatherings held also in cities, towns and villages throughout Abruzzo on Easter Saturday.

Not surprisingly, at L'Aquila itself it is reported 5,000 people attended the funeral service for the 205 who died.

'Per Sempre Insieme, Dolore in tutto Paese, inno di speranza dalla Via Crucis del Papa' - so ran Il Messaggero's headline: 'For all together, Sadness throughout the country, hymn of hope through the Way of the Cross by the Pope'.

Laid out in seried ranks, flower-bedecked coffins provided copy for the press and the focus for the Requiem in L'Aquila's main square, but it was the substantially pervading silence of this grieving assembly, not the Papa's nor his cardinal's words, which testified more eloquently to the profundity of dismay which bound those present in an exemplary gathering of regional unity.

In my role as co-ordinator for external affairs for the Wessex Regionalists, the incident has been an object-lesson in the emergent power of latent cohesion of a regional people when confronted by the consequences of a natural event within a seismic zone.

Albeit purloined as part of a centralist Republic, how the Abruzzese survivors may be coping with the additional impact from the man-made financial fiasco, requires more research.