31 January 2008 - Waiheke Gulf News


Waiheke gets NZ's first 'transition' community status

Waiheke is the first place in New Zealand to meet the criteria for joining a growing global network of communities with active programmes to reduce local dependence on oil and to meet the challenges of climate change.

Announcing that the island had met the standards set by the Transition Towns’ network founded in Britain 15 months ago, the organisation's website formally welcomed Waiheke's inclusion, saying: “Looks like you have the makings of a really strong initiative there. Congrats on doing such an inspirational job – we're all extremely heartened by the progress that New Zealand is making, particularly on Waiheke Island.

"Transition Network is barely out of nappies and here's the first New Zealand community to join the Transition tribe. Kudos, congrats and ‘kia ora’ to all involved over there.

"Waiheke could teach us a lot about resilient homes," says the bulletin. "Each house on the island must maintain its own water supply, most collecting rainwater in cisterns, and must install a septic tank and septic field to handle sewerage.     They've done well on waste too – the community established a charitable trust which bid on the City's contract for solid waste disposal. After winning the bid, it was implemented with such success that the recycling centre soon had to be expanded to handle the volumes."

The bulletin continues: "And as for food, get this - the Growing Healthy Communities (GHC) project aims to increase the knowledge and practical experience of growing food among young people and includes the setting up of edible gardens at all three Waiheke schools."

Waiheke, population 8000, joins 35 communities including the Isle of Wight (130,000) as well as Scottish and English fishing towns, several Welsh villages, a forest and Australia’s Sunshine Coast as members of the network. Orewa,  with a population of 6000, has since met the criteria as well.

The Transition intiative aims to "re-localise communities, making them vibrant, resilient and truly sustainable”, says the website. “We know we don't have all the answers but we believe we have the innovation to create those solutions."

At the Green Party's fourth Picnic for the Planet this month, co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said it was fitting that Waiheke – "an island within an island state, a paradise of sun and sea and laid-back lifestyle, grapes and olives and alternative ways of doing things" – should be the country's first Transition community.

"I was delighted", says Waiheke spokesman James Samuel after receiving the email from the British Transition network. "As such, it has put Waiheke on the map as the first New Zealand Transition initiative."

Transition Waiheke – in the first stages of a carefully structured process – involves a group of six people who have committed to working with the island's existing community organisations and initiatives to "positively and creatively address the effects of climate change and peak oil, and together, build a resilient community capable of weathering environmental, economic, and energy storms."

As a key concept, says James, "humanity used immense amounts of creativity, ingenuity and adaptability as we ascended the energy up-slope – there's no reason for us not to do the same on the down-slope”.

"If we collectively plan and act early enough, there's every likelihood that we can create a way of living that's significantly more connected, more vibrant and more in touch with our environment than the oil-addicted treadmill we find ourselves on today.

"It's about adapting to change. The ocean we swim in now is the one that has acknowledged climate change and peak oil – this is the context. Now for the creative part of responding to that, and taking care of ourselves and meeting our needs in the most gracious and creative ways."

The Transition model was developed by Rob Hopkins while teaching a permaculture course in Kinsale, Ireland. He showed the film The End of Suburbia to students who were shocked that the planet would enter a major energy crisis when the extraction rate of oil peaked, says James. As the rate of extraction then declined, prices would climb, pushing up the cost of transportation, food, medicine and plastics.

The permaculture class worked with Rob and the community to develop the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan.

Rob then moved to Totnes in Devon to write his PhD on ‘transition initiatives’, coining the term and then dropping his studies to instead apply his model to the town. Since then, 33 initiatives (at the time this article goes to press) have launched in the United Kingdom, one in Australia and two in New Zealand.

The Waiheke core group are James Samuel, Claire Mortimer, Derek Hayward, Jan Bakuwell, Sue Connor and Deb Lyttle. James is also the national coordinator for Transition Towns Aotearoa.

He suggests that one of the reasons many people seem to relate to the Transition Towns’ model is due to its flexible and inclusive qualities.  It's not about a pre-determined method, or re-inventing anything, he says, but about embracing the existing diversity. The core group is keen to work with other groups already in place on the island.

The core group is following the 12 recommended steps. These include setting up a steering committee, and awareness-raising (which began here three years ago at the Artworks cinema when James organised documentary nights and networking with existing groups and activists).

After the next stages – organising a milestone event to propel the initiative forward (which could include speakers, films, food, workshops and music) and developing working groups to address food, health, education, transportation and energy – the core group replaces itself with people from the working groups.

The new group then moves the initiative through the next steps, which conclude in the writing of an Energy Descent Action Plan  for the island.

Waiheke's core group is now focused on networking with other groups and interested individuals, while at the same time being aware of many practical projects underway or being suggested. There are workshops being organised, awareness-raising films and speakers being scheduled and festivals being planned.

"We will soon be offering a calendar of events so that people can connect to the diverse offerings that are each serving to build a stronger community," says James.

On that score, the Tuesday Doco night next Tuesday at 8pm features a documentary, Peak Oil: Imposed by nature (see the movie pages for a write-up on this). It will be followed by a five minute video, Rob Hopkins on Transition Towns, then time for questions and dialogue. The Tuesday Doco nights are on the first and third Tuesdays of the month and will continue to screen films that serve to support Transition Waiheke awareness-raising and initiatives.

For those who can't make it to the cinema on that night, Tivoli bookshop in Oneroa has a growing selection of relevant DVDs which can be borrowed for free.

On Saturday 9 February, Transition Waiheke will set up a stall at the Ostend Market to share information. "Come along and bring your ideas, your enthusiasm, your offerings and ask whatever questions you might have," says James.

Interested individuals and organisations are invited to network with Transition Waiheke by contacting James, 372 8737, or email: james.samuel@transitiontowns.org.nzThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

Web pages: www.transitiontowns.org.nz, www.transitiontowns.org, and www.#

In Transition

As reported in this issue, Waiheke has just become the second community in New Zealand to join the international Transition Towns’ initiative which plans for a post-Peak Oil world.

Meanwhile, while visiting Penzance in Cornwall last June, former Gulf News writer Deb Lyttle read about Transition Towns in national newspapers. Several days later she discovered she was actually staying within a ‘transition region’, namely Penwith.

"Seventeen Transition Towns had been launched in the nine months since its conception, she says. “I attended two meetings in Penzance and was so inspired by the speaker – and the attendance. There were 200 people who had pre-booked and bought tickets to hear Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association and an organic carrot farmer. He spoke of being  proud of his farm's organic status, only to recognise the wasteful petroleum usage inherent in centralised vegetable distribution.”

Deb says she couldn't resist interviewing Jennifer Gray, the passionate Transition organiser for Penwith. "She told me about the practical projects being introduced there: Edible landscaping within the town, a community farm and a farmer's market, a slow food festival and how the week-long 2008 Golowan music festival was going to be sustainable. There were also workshops planned, including food farming-in-transition, composting toilets, wetland treatments and skilling-up for powering down.

"On another day, I took part in their "open space technology" – about 40 people broke into groups, choosing their favourite transition topic to discuss and share practical answers. I was buoyed up by the creativity and positive energy of those who were giving their Saturday towards making sustainability happen locally.

"I knew we could do this back on Waiheke. I returned to find James was only just beginning the initiative here. The timing and the connection was perfect and I was enthusiastic to be in the core group."