Transition Colchester put on a film at the Friends Meeting House in town this evening. They showed The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived the Peak Oil Crisis (http://www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/index.php). I first came across this film a few years ago when I was doing research on climate and energy issues, but I'd never watched it. [Instead, I watched films like Fire on the Amazon (see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106913/) which was awful and some equally awful ones which were only slightly worse off for the lack of Sandra Bullock's sex scene.] There have been a bunch of movies on the topic of peak oil. This one uses Cuba as an example for an artificial peak oil and how we might overcome the challenges that peak oil might present. Though the title points to community, the film downplays it in favor of organic agriculture, creative approaches to energy production (such as solar hot water, some solar, small scale wind, and sugar cane plantations that double as power plants), and transportation (bicycles and camel buses). There was a little section on community when it briefly mentions cooperatives and also farmers providing food for free to schools, the elderly and the pregnant.
It's a very interesting film and well worth a watch (especially at 53 minutes long).
The event was put on by Transition Colchester which is in the very early stages of becoming part of the Transition Town movement. In general, I think the movement is a fantastic thing: building up local resilience to face anything that might come up, environmental, economic, community or otherwise. I do take issue with what I perceive to be an over emphasis on peak oil. We just passed in comments on a brochure for Transition Wivenhoe (the next town over) and one of the comments that I agreed with quite strongly was that in introducing the idea, the bright future needs to be the selling factor, not scaring people into compliance. Certainly the one advantage Cuba had for converting its agriculture to be 80% organic was necessity and also leadership from its dictator lead government.
One of the farmers speaking in the film was talking about the soil. He spoke about pesticides (oil based) killing off the life of the soil -- the microflora and microfauna that live within it and make it healthy and living. Another man commented on how organic agriculture works with nature and commercial pesticide based agriculture is trying to work against it. We have to take care of nature or it will take care of us, he said, by getting rid of us.
This lead me to think about how resilient nature is and how resilient we are. Within 3-5 years, they said, the soil recovered from traditional agriculture. It changed from being sand-like to being this amazing brown-red soil, full of worms. Within a couple of decades, Cuba has turned itself around from an economic nose dive in which everything from the outside was being cut off to being able to take care of itself. Doctors, architects, whoever, started vegetable gardens in empty lots. Tractors were abandoned and the old tradition of working with oxen taken back up. Farmers are now one of the higher paid professionals. This is all good news.
Nature can overcome a hell of a lot. I've visited Hiroshima. I've seen trees that have continued to grow after the bomb. Chernobyl is now a wild green place. And there's the book, The World Without Us, which looks at how quickly nature would take over after humans. We can be resilient in different ways and very resourceful, but we're lazy. I think often times we don't do things unless we need to. I'd like to see us get a head start on necessity and start to move towards a more diverse energy portfolio. One of the quotes from the film went something like "You can't be economically independent unless you're energy independent." (Nudge nudge, US.)
Cuba is an interesting example of how political ties can bite you in the ass. After the soviet union fell, Cuba was cut off, left to fend for itself. All this interdependence can be an amazingly positive thing, but I think as it stands right now--the ways in which we're interdependent--it's rather dangerous.
In the opening of the film, which I believe is geared towards a US audience, it mentions the 1970s oil embargo and then President Jimmy Carter. Some days I wonder if President Carter cries himself to sleep. So much that he warned us against back then and tried to prevent is coming to fruition. The PR problem back then was greening, renewable energy, were all framed in terms of sacrifice--what we needed to give up in light of the unfortunate circumstances. But as soon as things went back to normal and oil was cheap and plentiful, we forgot (for an entire generation, as the film puts it).
May we again be inspired--not out of necessity, but out of possibility and hope--to make this world a better, healthier, happier place with healthy air, water and seas.