A Successful “Unleashing”

Albany’s Great Unleashing on May 22nd was a success.

Here’s an account by Kentaro Toyama on the Transition US blogsite, and here’s an account by Catherine Sutton.

A dedicated team of 12 planned a full program that inspired, motivated and educated those attending while allowing for lots of networking, and we implemented it beautifully, sticking to schedule 90% of the time, despite expectations to the contrary! The venue, a rather dark 1930’s building with some beautiful design features, looked welcoming and very human, thanks to the work of Catherine Henderson, a local healer who was intent on providing an element beyond words, and friends.

An unexpected last-minute gift was hearing Kris Welch feature Transition on KPFA’s “Living Room” the previous Friday. She gave away a DVD (donated by Transition US) of Rob Hopkins, the founder, talking at a Findhorn conference, and enthusiastically mentioned Albany’s Great Unleashing more than once.

We sold 130 tickets and some youth came free, as well as a handful of children for our well-staffed children’s area. This was the first time we had specifically catered to children and we’re glad some families took advantage of it, though we would have loved to have had 10 times as many. The hall was fullest during Richard Heinberg’s presentation, The End of Growth, but good numbers attended the Open Space in the afternoon (some came specifically for that) and a few stayed at the end for the musical performances from AshEL “Seasunz” Eldridge and our local contra dance band, Crow for Day.

After an introduction from Albany’s mayor, Farid Javandel, himself a transportation specialist who chooses one of the many available alternatives before getting into his car, the audience got to work in small groups to look at some of the challenges we face together, using images and words on cards that addressed the end of cheap oil, climate change, the effect of anomalies in food prices, comparative water footprints, and the state of the economy, national, local and personal. The exercise proved engaging and met its goal of getting people talking to one another.

Catherine Sutton, founder of the Transition initiative in Albany two years ago, gave a brief presentation on TA’s vision for the future before we launched into the main piece of the day, an Open Space process led by Alexa Hauser, to answer the Question: “What actions can we/do we want to take to make Albany more resilient given today’s economic, energy, and environmental challenges?”

The room was festooned with not only the Question, writ large above the stage, but also the five Open Space guidelines, painstakingly reproduced by Alexa, and visual reminders in the form of piñatas – a pair of boots (The Law of Two Feet), and a bee and a butterfly to represent the different ways people can approach the Open Space process. 13 lively discussion groups evolved, and notes were recorded for each. Songs brought us back together to summarize developments before a picnic dinner break (with food from a local High School culinary academy and deli) and more songs eased us back into the lecture with Richard Heinberg.

Richard talked of Net Energy Return on Investment (NEROI) and how shale oil, fracking, deepwater drilling and other new techniques for finding and accessing the increasingly hard-to-get fossil fuels, require huge outgoing expense, and then, even with all the expensive equipment, not every site actually yields fuel. 18 months ago, the cost of extracting a barrel of oil was $60. Now it is closer to $80. In short, we are fast running out of the cheap energy on which our entire economy is based.

A high point in his slideshow was a series of images to illustrate the US debt burden. Starting with a $100 bill, he showed images of piles representing larger and larger sums, up to one billion dollars (“You’d need an 18-wheeler for this”) to one trillion dollars (“Now we’re talking real money!”) – where a human figure was dwarfed next to the football-field-sized, 6′ high pile of bank notes. Current US debt stands at $14.3 trillion. It became crystal clear that there’s no way our economy can continue to grow given the finite nature of the resources on which it relies.

There was laughter when he appeared to sum up his presentation with words to the effect that “we’re all screwed,” but he ended with some hopeful ideas. Even though the cushy lifestyle we’ve enjoyed for the last 50 years can’t last, we’ve been through hard times before. We can create a more stable, interest-free currency based on local value – a steady-state currency independent of the US dollar. We can localize production. We can build strong community resilience and interdependence with Transition towns and similar efforts.

AshEL’s spoken word offerings brought the heart roundly into the room and when the music started, bodies began to move, relieved to “shake it out” after an intense day. At the end, there were just enough people with the energy to dance some creative square dances called by Edie Ladin to lively music from Albany’s own Contra Dance Band, Crow for Day, and we finished with a Breton circle dance.

If the goal was to create a memorable event that was the beginning of something community-driven to build resilience, I think we achieved it. A strong, self-led food group is evolving, as well as various other small groups – around a Time Bank and Herbal First Aid, for instance. More will follow.

Here are some more pictures.

A Brit who came to the US in 1988 and found California and the Transition movement to be a perfect fit. Now my life is replete with a dear husband, a small but productive permaculture backyard, a loving family and a very full calendar of work I love.

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Posted in Economy, Energy on June 13, 2011