Making a change and saving the planet, one step at a time

SUSAN OLIVER explains why Croydon needs to become a Transition Town

You don’t have to look hard to find bad news about the state of the planet today.

Transition logoWhether it’s droughts, or floods, or Greenland’s ice melting, or the oceans becoming more acidic…  Then we hear distant rumblings about oil: the ever-rising price and this thing called “fracking”. Funny how we now need to pump water into subterranean rock to get the stuff – what happened to all those big underground reservoirs?

It could be all gloom and doom, but some people – including in Croydon – are organising themselves to stand up for the Earth and do anything it takes to bring about a change.

That organising has been made easier thanks to a movement called Transition Towns. TTs are about responding positively to the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil*.

TTs were first suggested by Rob Hopkins. Hopkins, a Briton, was a permaculture teacher in Kinsale, Ireland, eight years ago when the idea caught hold. He took the idea to Totnes, Devon, where he and others worked on it further. There are now 421 official Transition Towns all over the world and 566 more that are in the mulling stage.

The Transition Town's handbook, written by Rob Hopkins

The Transition Town’s handbook, written by Rob Hopkins

A major activity of Transition Towns is to educate and discuss the realities facing the Earth. Another major theme in Transition is strengthening the community. TTs are named with their town or city’s name: Localism is at the heart of the movement; it’s about acting locally and getting to value one’s neighbour and town.

The oil-based economy has encouraged us to look away from our communities for our well-being. With the decline of physical resources, it’s time to look within and see our strength here in Croydon. What can we do to increase the town’s self-reliance? How do we develop cooperative networks that we may need to rely on in the future? With more extreme climate trends – despite drought warnings in April, 2012 was the wettest in England for a century; three of the wettest years since records began have happened since 2000 – we can’t be complacent.

TTs try to boost is resilience, which is a community’s ability to bounce back or just cope with less oil. This scenario isn’t hard to imagine for Croydon. Most of our food is trucked in by lorries, and a petrol price-war, strike or bad weather could precipitate a food crisis even before we encounter a long-term problem with fuel.

Transition works from the bottom up, meaning they don’t try to influence large governments or corporations. Instead, they take a grassroots approach and work with local people and businesses. Power is not sought after by influencing the upper crust; it arises simply as the result of people cooperating and valuing each another.

TTs are shaped by the individuals that make them up, and creative ideas for projects are being developed all the time. This is where vision comes in; that’s where you come in. What are your ideas? How can we encourage a culture that is less oil-dependent, more resilient and resourceful?

I must admit it’s difficult to know what to do. How does one change a culture? But at least it’s better than doing nothing.

TTs are not looking for leaders nor do they groom people for positions of importance; they cultivate the idea that everyone is important. And, as you may expect, Transition Towns are apolitical and are not connected to any political party nor do they endorse political candidates. We in Croydon know that this can only be a good thing.

I see the Transition movement as a response to a time when we desperately need some honesty about what’s going on with our world. This may start humbly – a community garden here, a movie night there – but underneath, what grows unseen is much more important.

* = “peak oil” has become short-hand for the fact that we have used up the easy-to-reach oil and are now scrambling to get what’s left.

  • Susan Oliver (@beesnbeans on Twitter) is a gardener and bee-keeper who lives in Addiscombe.
  • Contact Croydon Transition Town at or on Twitter @croytransition . There’s already a Transition Town in Crystal Palace:
  • Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
  • Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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11 Responses to Making a change and saving the planet, one step at a time

  1. I checked all the links.
    Croydon is not listed but it is, perhaps, “in fieri”.
    I subscribed to and will research further.
    I just love IC because it informs about anything going on around us.
    I am concerned about one word in the article: “localism”.
    It is stained and covers up a lot of tory lies.

  2. mraemiller says:

    Then we hear distant rumblings about oil: the ever-rising price and this thing called “fracking”. Funny how we now need to pump water into subterranean rock to get the stuff – what happened to all those big underground reservoirs?

    Actually the oil price isn’t as high at the moment as it has been – it sort of potters between $60 and $80 per barrel. Day to day, year to year the oil price is mainly driven by by speculation and kinks in the supply chain. As it isn’t possible to store much oil above ground any short term disruption to the supply chain can have a massive short term impact on the price because generally the oil price driven by the oil above ground … as much as the oil below it. That isn’t to say the oil isn’t running out but it’s kind of more like an emptying tank of water … the supply will dry up suddenly and people wont generally notice till they turn the tap and nothing comes out. The first signs are, of course, political instablitiy. There was a time when OPEC could rigidly control the oil price – either flooding the market to make it drop in their own internal price wars … or turning the tap off and giving everyone three day weeks. Those days are gone now as … as the number of reservoirs depletes … it’s every country for themselves.

    “Funny how we now need to pump water into subterranean rock to get the stuff”

    Injector wells are nothing new – they are as old as the hills. A lot of work is done to figure out the optimum point and the optimum speed at which to take old from a reservoir.

    “this thing called “fracking””

    Fracking is not new technology either. What is new is that seismic processing technology has improved to make it easier to figure out the sweet point of the reservoir and the oil price has risen enough to make it financially viable. Many wells are drilled today that simply would not have been drilled in 2000 as the oil price was too low. Wells like the Deepwater Horizon BP well that blew out due to them throwing the drilling rule book in the waste paper basket in order to try and save a few quid at the price of safety … would simply not even have been attempted 10 years ago. They are a sign of many of the shallow water and land reservoirs running dry. Still Iraq still has lots of oil …erhm… cough… Anwyay, I dont think you have to fear much of a mass outbreak of fracking in the UK …from what I’ve heard it’s not geologically suitable to most of the exisiting reservoirs …and most of our reservors are well on their way to empty anyway … their life has been extended by improvements in drilling and extraction techniques.

    “The oil-based economy has encouraged us to look away from our communities for our well-being”

    Our entire economies are built on cheap oil. At least 60-80% of each barrel goes to the government in tax. When it runs out, which it will in the next 70-100 years, millions of people will simply die due to the fact that, for example, they will have no heating. Looking to you community isn’t going to fill the energy gap. The only thing that can do that is government investment in energy saving technology, nuclear technology, alternative energy technology …or the holy grail of fusion …and that isn’t actually as green as people think either. Mankind’s need and desire for energy has outsripped supply since the invention of fire. If there is a solution to this I doubt it is to be found “locally”.

    “Power is not sought after by influencing the upper crust; it arises simply as the result of people cooperating and valuing each another”

    Translation : we did try moaning to people with actual power they just ignored us so we’ve decided to give the man in the street a guilt trip?

    Erm …my personal plan for peak oil is that hopefully I will be dead by then.

    • Always the joker, eh, Anthony: “kinks in the supply chain” used to describe global insecurity and OPEC’s control of much of the world’s oil supply.


      • mraemiller says:

        Not at all. I’m merely pointing out that the media tends to respond to the oil industry only when it sees short term supply problems.

        A while back the oil price went famously to over $100 a barrel. This was not driven by long term supply and demand but by speculation. A very limited number of speculators on the oil futures market actually control the day to day oil price. The result was that the US government had to change the speculation rules. The oil price then fell again. For many years (say 1995-2005) the oil price was static around $10-20 dollars a barrel. $30 was considered high. The current oil prices of $60-80 dollars per barrel would have seemed fiction to most in the oil industry even 10 years ago.

        I’m not denying there is an oil crisis – I am just pointing out that yearly fluctations in the oil price can be misleading as they do not reflect the reality of how much oil there is left to be exploited and that actually the impact of the falling reserves upon the oil price its self is not immediate… Professor Colin Campbell likens this effect to drinking a pint of beer – on presentation with a pint of beer most people will keep drinking it till it is gone and it is only when the glass is empty and they go for another and there isn’t another that they become alarmed …if you follow that.

        For example in the past few years the oil price has fallen by $20 ber barrel. This is not because there is now more oil or more reservoirs have been discovered – so all I’m saying is you have to look at the long term trend rather than the year to year prices. The media seldom reports decreases in the price of oil because they do not result in motorists throwing all their toys out their pram or mass unemployment – but they do happen. How many publications covered the OPEC price war of 1999-2000 when the market was flooded? Virtually no one. The oil price fell by 100% – this was not because the oil industry had discovered twice as many new reservoirs as were previously known about. For some reason it isn’t headline news when the market is flooded and the oil industry lays off 50% of its staff creating a massive skills gap. The average age of the membership of the Petroleum Exploration Society member is now 55. So one has to wonder why geology graduates are moaning that they cant get a job and Cameron makes them work in Poundland … ? but I’m wandering off topic.

        If you ask me OPEC is fairly toothless today – it hasn’t even growled in ages – if could bite if it wanted I suppose … but it has many problems with internal political schisms which seem to prevent it doing anything much… not for nothing do people jokingly call it the “toothless tiger”.

        I dont suppose it can hurt educating people about peek oil but it is slightly misleading to present it as a problem that’s going to be solved by buying vegetables locally – still every little helps

        Also … One intrinsically distrusts political organisations that state they are not about power and dont have leaders …

  3. I admire and fully support all the excellent work that Susan Oliver is doing in the local community. However, I think that her comments about the Earth are a bit over the top.

    She writes about climate change. But the record shows there has been no significant warming in fifteen years — and that’s very different from the alarmist predictions. There has certainly been bad weather — but there’s always been bad weather. We’re hearing about an exceptionally hot summer in Australia, with forest fires in Tasmania. We hear less about the exceptional cold in the USA, India and China. More and more scientists are questioning the theory of man-made climate change. Indeed early leaks from the next IPCC report suggests that even the high priests of climate change are set to admit that CO2 has less effect, and the sun more effect, than they previously believed.

    Meantime many of the initiatives we see “to fight climate change” do little or nothing but damage our economy. Europe is set to give itself the most expensive energy in the world. We’re driving energy-intensive industries out of Europe altogether, along with their investment and jobs. We’re forcing pensioners into fuel poverty.

    And emerging evidence shows that “renewables” make very little net contribution to energy generation or CO2 reduction — because the conventional back-up required by intermittent technologies is hugely inefficient. They push up costs, but they don’t save the planet.

    We’ve been hearing about “Peak Oil” since Paul Ehrlich wrote about it in the 1960s. He predicted that oil would run out in the ’80s — but it’s still going, and we keep finding more.

    Clearly Susan Oliver has read all the scare stories about fracking, which are promoted by “green” NGOs using scares to raise funds, and by the Russians and Gazprom, who are terrified of losing their lucrative gas exports. But in the US they’ve been fracking for decades, with no more problems that you’d get from coal mining or oil drilling. The USA is the most litigious country in the world. If there were serious problems with fracking, they’d have been closed down by class actions by now.

    But as it is, fracking has cut the cost of gas in the USA by two thirds, and has set up a manufacturing renaissance. We in the EU are being left behind.

    As I say, I admire much of Susan’s work, but by looking at the problems and not the opportunities, she gives a very one-sided view of our energy options. The glass is half full, not half empty. And despite the dire warnings of green lobbyists, the real danger we face is not fracking or climate change. The real danger is running out of electricity.

    • mraemiller says:

      Mr Staverly. Me prodessional Geoscientist telling you UKIP man – we do not “keep finding more oil”. There is some more to be found and the end is some way off and we are considerably better at extraction and as supplies decrease previously uneconomic fields will become viable BUT there will be an end. It is a finite resource – there is only so much of it …like there is only so much gold and silver. One day it WILL run out …just as many of Britains coal mines ran out of coal it was economic to recover. Sooner or later there will be an end and it is prudent to plan for it.

      There are more people alive today than ever lived. This is not unconnected to fossil fuel consumption. When there is no more fossil fuel it will be at the least a tad difficult

    • cr7green says:

      Peter, those notorious tree huggers at The Ecomonist irritatingly point out that the 10 hottest years on record have happened over the last 15 years. Australia has also had to add new colours to the weather chart to show the +50C temperatures.

  4. There are hundreds of years of coal left in this Country alone with thousands of years of coal and oil left around the World. As energy prices increase so technology develops meaning that more coal mines/oil wells become viable so further increasing the reserves. Also if you are being really long term then coal and oil is created from dead trees so that supply will become available eventually.

    In the meantime we are spending money on renewables making our energy prices higher than in China or India or South America. That in turn reduces our economy so making more people unemployed.

    By the way any possible savings in CO2 emissions that we are making in the UK are being absorbed by the two full-sized coal-fired power stations that China is building EVERY WEEK.

    Of course if you are being super long term then the Sun will die and so solar-powered power stations will not work either.

    • mraemiller says:

      Mr Staveley, the peak of oil discovery was passed in the 1960s, and the world started using more than was found in new fields in 1981. The gap between discovery and production has widened since.

      The ASPO is not staffed by a bunch of environmental tree hugging peace and love tree huggers in cardigans. It is staffed by geologists many of whom have PhDs and up to 30 years industry experience of drilling wells in cardigans.

      It is true we keep finding more oil. But then it is true we keep finding more gold and platinum. However all the world’s gold will fit in 4 large swimming pools and all the world’s platinum will fit in one large swimming pool. We will always find some more gold and platinum but we know enough about how the Earth was formed from exploding stars and the geology of the planet to know with some certainty that barring a load of aliens having used the planet as a safety deposit box of sorts …we are not going to find that there’s a second swimming pool full of platinum or a fifth swimming pool full of gold that no one knew about. Similarly we also know that there are not any more large, near surface, easily accessible oil fields like the Rumalia and Kirkuk fields in Iraq that nobody knew about. It is false to imply that there is enough oil to last for 1000 years. Probably a couple of hundred at the outside and that is an optimistic outlook.

      Of course as supply dwindles more money will be pumped into exploration but despite this I am unaware of any massive oil discoveries that were previously unkown about. The oil price has risen over 100% in the last 10 years – the volume of available reserves has not risen over 100%.

      There may be plenty of offshore oil that could be recovered but it will be more expensive to recover and more dangerous to recover. The average depth of most of the oil wells I used to see in the 90s was 20,000-25,000 ft – now it is 25,000-30,000 ft. It simply isn’t possible to mechanically drill down below 30,000 ft using current drilling techniques. There may be a load of oil and coal at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean but we will never recover it economically.

      Of course the end of the oil industry will not be a dead stop … extraction will gradually become more and more expensive and uneconomic. At that point other energy generation methods will become more economically viable. Wind and solar power is now about 2/5 of the cost of oil fired energy generation in real terms … it used to be 1/5 … as the oil price rises and more money is invested in the technology the gap will narrow. If the government doesn’t invest in these technologies we will be left behind and have to buy in the technology from countries that were forward thinking and did invest. I’m not sure what the numbers are for nuclear – it is more debatable because of the long term decommissioning costs. But while I’m here I’d like to point out that there isn’t a bottomless pit of U235 either. We will have to invest in different types of nuclear reactors as well as simple fission.

      It is true Britain has unexploited coal still but unfortunately Mrs Thatcher and Mr Heseltine made an ideological decision in the 80s to close mines and not even keep some of them ticking over till they became economic again. Once a mine has been flooded you cannot just switch it back on again – you have to spend a small fortune attempting to make it viable again…

      It is true The End of the World is nigh is a beloved money raising cry by many lunatic cults the world over – but it is also true that the reason UKIP do not want to believe in peak oil is not primarily driven by scientific evidence but the fact that if peak oil is true then their isolationist foreign policy is going to look a bit silly.

      I don’t think either that it’s particularly helpful to the oil industry for you to misinform the public about the risks of exploration. Low level fracking if not done properly can cause water table pollution – perhaps you think all those films of people setting light to their domestic water supply in the US are fakes. It can also create minor earth tremors … but in a geologically stable area like the UK this is not a serious risk. If you’re near the intersection of two major plates it may be less sensible. All fossil fuel extraction is dangerous. People die on rigs due to blowouts all the time just as people used to die down the pits all the time. The only times when the public tend to notice that it is a dangerous industry is when they themselves are in danger but even with the best risk management in the world the industry depends on risking lives – if only of the drillers

      “Also if you are being really long term then coal and oil is created from dead trees so that supply will become available eventually”

      I think you may be thinking very long term indeed!

  5. I have to challenge the extraordinary claim from mraemiller that UKIP has “an isolationist foreign policy”. Exactly the opposite is true. It is the EU that is inward-looking, self-referential, protectionist. One of the key reasons why UKIP wants to leave the EU is because it prevents us from negotiating our own trade deals with the rest of the world — and remember that while Europe declines, the rest of the world is where the growth is. Britain is a great global trading nation, but currently held back and trammelled by EU membership. We want Britain to take its rightful place in the world — not to be a nation of “Little Europeans”.

    Regarding Peak Oil mraemiller is ignoring the new oil discoveries around the world. But he should also remember that gas can do most of the things that oil can do (including powering motor cars), and the world is awash with gas, which will last many decades and probably centuries.

    • mraemiller says:

      “Regarding Peak Oil mraemiller is ignoring the new oil discoveries around the world”

      No, he is not ignoring anything he is saying one can make a reasonable guess at how much oil there is left to easily find and recover …

      There are many different versions of this graph
      some more optomistic and some more pessimistic.
      But what remains unquestionable is that the rate of discovery has decreased significantly from a massive peak in the 1960s and from the mid to early 1980s we’re been producing more than we discover.

      There can only be two reasons for this
      1) The entire oil industry is lazy
      2) It’s getting harder to find and harder to recover.

      At the current consumption rate it will take quite some time for the known reserves to run dry, but it is at least sensible to plan for a drop in discovery and try to prevent an increase in consumption.

      You tell me where the cheap oil is that I dont know about, Mr Staveley, and we will go and get it.

      “One of the key reasons why UKIP wants to leave the EU is because it prevents us from negotiating our own trade deals with the rest of the world — and remember that while Europe declines, the rest of the world is where the growth is”

      Perhaps it is. But do they really want Europe’s debt ridden fair weather friends ?

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