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Sunday, 24 May 2009

While working on the chapter about 'Resilience and the Transition Movement', I came across this remarkable UK Government report released last November - entitled 'Powering our Lives Sustainable Energy Management and the Built Environment, Its a fascinating read, commissioned by the Foresight programme of the Office of Science and Technology. While Transition towns gets two explict mentions, what I've found particularly interesting is one of the four scenarios outlined in the report - 'Sunshine State' - which contains some elements of the Transition vision. Here's some quotes from the report:

"International solidarity has fallen by the wayside in response to climate change and expensive energy. Instead the Government has fostered an emphasis on localism to respond to energy problems supported by a shift in social values after a period of outages and fuel shortages. A Sunshine Index is the main metric of progress, not Gross Domestic Product. Home insulation and other energy efficiency measures are universal following strong regulation. Retrofitting is sometimes done alongside adaptation work to help buildings cope with warmer and wetter conditions. Green roofs and parks are common as part of comprehensive local sustainable drainage systems to counter flooding. There are more local shopping streets and other community resources, partly because of planning decisions intended to promote local autonomy and partly because of municipal enterprise. New build commonly uses off-site construction methods, often from overseas. (Foresight, 2008: 71)

However, unlike Transition, the Foresight study has the ‘Sunshine State’ scenario involving greater fossil fuel use (Foresight, 2008: 75), but like Transition, it notes that “In one of the Project’s future scenarios, Sunshine State a community approach, relatively uncommon in the UK today, becomes increasingly prevalent” (p.92). However, there is an intruguiing mention (nothing more) to an Energy Reduction Strategy (p.174)

The 'Sunshine State' scenario (who or what committee came up with this lame and non-informative title?!) is outlined in the report as follows:

"It was a world away from the ‘live for the present’ consumerism of the last part of the 20th century, and the shock has led to the emergence of new social values, which reinforce the importance of self-direction and self-determination, but also the need to try new ideas to resolve problems. Although there is technological innovation in this world, the principal driver of change is the development of new social institutions, many of which are about better ways of sharing limited resources at a local or community level. One of the motivations for this has been deteriorating mental health outcomes, worsened by climate change anxieties, which could have had huge public health costs if not addressed. Many of the new social institutions consider tackling mental health to be their priority, particularly in terms of the impact it has on the isolated and more vulnerable members of society who perhaps do not have strong family support structures in place. This is a world where almost anything which can be decentralised has been…. Expectations have shifted from the turn of the century, this world is slower and it is different, but it is still an affluent world by any historical standards". (Foresight, 2008: 171; 175)

However, from reading the coonclusion and recommendations of this report, its clear–and perfectly in keeping with the UK government’s strategy as outlined in its 2006 Energy White Paper – that energy decarbonisation is preferred to energy descent. That is, decarbonisation with energy consumption the same or rising (based on use of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage or sequestration) is the strategic option as opposed to prepating our people and infrastructure for a life with less energy (based on renewable, green and clean sources of energy). That an official document even comes that close to considering a future energy scenario such as 'Sunshine State' one out lined in this report, while welcome, it only adds to one's disappointment to see it will have absolutely no effect on UK energy, climate change or sustainable development policy.

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