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Oil Used Up

NEWS_ENERGY_KidsPlantSeedsWorkshop teaches skills for a low-energy future

“Generally we don’t go up to people and say, ‘Do you know that the world as you know it is coming to an end?’” Michael Levy is a reasonable man. He’s not going to try to convince you that the Apocalypse is nigh or of some other doomsday scenario. He just believes that our current standard of living in the United States and other industrialized nations is unsustainable.

That’s why a year and a half ago he founded Transition Santa Cruz (TSC), part of the growing worldwide transition movement. Originating in England in 2005, and now with hundreds of chapters worldwide, transition initiatives are grassroots local movements. They seek to educate their communities about the possibility that energy resources like oil will soon grow so scarce and expensive that they will be unavailable to the vast majority of people, a development that will radically alter our current lifestyle, which for the past century or more has relied heavily on the availability of low-cost oil, coal, and natural gas.

“The idea behind it,” Levy explains, “is to build a local community so that we’re more able to handle the shocks that are coming our way as a society. This cheap energy stuff is an anomaly and it’s probably not going to happen again. This is a geological reality. How are we going to handle this without everybody just blaming each other and infighting? As a community, we can have a positive and proactive response.”

For these reasons, TSC is holding a “Reskilling Expo” on Oct. 17, designed to showcase some of the practical skills that might be needed in a “low-energy-use” society. Demonstrations will include composting, rainwater catchment, solar cooking, canning, beekeeping, propagation of medicinal herbs, and more.

“We have a broad spectrum of people [participating],” says Bonnie Linden, a TSC member and creator and chief organizer of the event. “We have master gardeners from the UC farm and garden, the Santa Cruz Bee Guild, master composters, several landscape designers, and a bunch of lay people who have skills that they want to share. It’s been so encouraging that people have been so excited about it. And it’s free. Nobody’s getting paid for this.”

Levy recognizes that these brief demonstrations are only the first step to teaching people these survival skills, which in some families were lost generations ago.

“Obviously you won’t learn how to live like our great-grandparents did in one day of little demonstrations,” he says. But he believes it is a first step towards fundamentally changing our attitudes towards the things that we use in our day-to-day lives. For example, he says that “we will have to learn how to repair things a lot more,” such as electronics. “Knowing how to repair computers and stereos and those kinds of things, hardly any of us know how to do that,” he says. “If you can’t go out and buy a new one when your old one breaks, you’re going to have to learn how to fix the one you have.”

For her part, Linden was inspired to join TSC and start thinking about these practical skills when she took a class at the fire station to become a volunteer disaster relief team member. “It was a pretty comprehensive course,” she explains. “At one point they said in the event of a disaster where water and garbage are out, you’re instructed to bag all human waste and just wait. I thought that was so depressing. I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’” She started reading about composting toilets, which, although illegal under current health code laws, would be pretty useful in a situation where sanitation services are unavailable. From there, she says, “I started thinking, ‘there are all these other things I’d like to do to make my life more sustainable.’”

The challenge, Linden and Levy agree, is presenting the urgency of establishing a less wasteful lifestyle, but without coming across as unnecessarily alarmist. But Levy hopes the expo will convince people of the value of learning practical survival skills and community-building, even if they remain skeptical about the possibility of a “low-energy” future.

“One of the reasons I was attracted to the transition movement is that a lot of these are good ideas anyway—getting to know your neighbors, not wasting a bunch of stuff, maybe slowing down a little bit,” he says. “[The expo] is all good and fun and positive. People can bring their kids. They can enjoy seeing these skills and taking some of them home. They can learn at their own pace.”


The Reskilling Expo will be held on Saturday, Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the United Methodist Church, 250 California St., Santa Cruz. Admission by donation, $0-$25. For more information call
(831) 427-9916 or visit transitionsc.org.
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