Energy Descent Action Plan

The “energy descent” is the phased decline in energy dependence needed in response both to climate change and to the depletion of fuels (Energy Prospects).E103

The idea of descent in this context was suggested by Howard and Elisabeth Odum in A Prosperous Way Down (2001). Ted Trainer, in his Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society (2007), pointed out that the decline in fossil fuel supply will leave a gap which cannot be filled in the foreseeable future, leaving no alternative to a steep reduction in our dependence on energy. And the permaculturist David Holmgren’s work over many years has shown that this reduction in energy use will require change and invention in every aspect of the material consumption on which we now rely.E104

The idea was taken forward to an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) by the 2005 class of second year students at Kinsale Further Education College in County Cork, Ireland, and their course tutor, Rob Hopkins. As their local plan developed, it became clear that it provided the framework for constructive thinking on the ways in which a community could work out how to live with a drastically reduced demand for energy and materials, and increased local competence in providing for the community’s diverse needs from its own resources. So this tells us the first thing we need to know about Energy Descent Action Plans—they are not just about energy, but they are a reminder that energy is there at the heart of everything we do. And the idea can be seen as the starting point for Transition—the movement in which local people commit themselves to working with their communities to find ways of living with less.E105

The Kinsale EDAP’s breadth of vision was impressive. It covered food, youth and community, education, housing, economy and livelihoods, health, tourism, transport, waste and energy. It was guided by the twelve principles of permaculture. And lessons were learned about how to work with the talent that already exists in a community for the common benefit: include everyone—don’t blame people (the local council, for instance) for the lack of action so far; inspire visible and interesting events—projects, conferences, happenings, carnivals; have a coherent and positive view of what the plan is aiming for; and be flexible in the light of experience about what that plan should be. Underpinning this is the technique of “open-space” meetings, which are a way of involving quite large numbers (100+) of people in thinking through the needs and opportunities of the community they live in. The principle is simple: the people present are asked to suggest subjects for discussion; they then (choosing the subjects that interest them most) come together in small groups to discuss them; their conclusions are collected together and worked up into objectives and plans for making things happen.E106

And now we have a new generation of plans in other communities, building on what has been learned since 2005.E107 Several local authorities have written their first EDAPs, documents that can be expected to have increasingly ambitious sequels and, in part, to shape their future. The plan developed by the City of Bristol in the UK, Building a Positive Future for Bristol after Peak Oil, is explicit about the extent of the change that is in prospect:

An oil crunch would fundamentally threaten the way our city operates. . . . Current alternatives aren’t scalable—there is no alternative available that can replace the amount and type of energy that we receive from oil at a comparable cost.E108

The plan then develops responses with respect to emergency planning, transport, food, health, public services, energy and the utilities. Clearly a future of radical thinking is unfolding here, and as further evidence for this, the 2009 EDAP from Oakland in California begins its transport planning for conditions of energy scarcity by making the case for “urban villages”:

Petroleum independence is proposed in a way that will build and strengthen local communities.E109

This is lean thinking in action. The plan provides the framework, inviting or requiring the community to think about how to make their visions for their future happen. And the practical detail of how this works is demonstrated by the Devon town of Totnes’ experience of having done it—or, at least, having made a start. They suggest eight steps:

1. Develop a framework—the core organisers define the area in question and do the research about its history, its present character and its needs.

2. Develop the communications tools—posters, leaflets and an initial vision of the future to form the starting point for discussion.

3. Involve the community in many different ways at once—public events, open-space meetings, talks, meetings with the Parish Council and other local bodies.

4. Hold a celebratory public launch to communicate the developing collective vision of the future and invite speakers—community leaders and others—to contribute to this.

5. Organise public workshops on specific themes such as energy, food and education. These are the crucial ideas-harvesting events, in which people develop their visions, practical ideas and strategies for the transition.

6. Begin the “backcasting” process, in which participants work out the timing of the steps that need to be taken to accomplish what they have imagined.E110

7. Draft the EDAP and consult on it. This is the stage of intensely grounded detail, with the community working out the implications and detail of the plan. The key is to ensure the widest possible knowledge about it and participation in it, so that there is a sense of ownership and empowerment: here is the area’s own plan, made by the hard work and imagination of its people.

8. Make it happen—put the plan into action.


Idealistic? Well, not necessarily. We should not rule out vision on the grounds that its convergence with reality is approximate. As Shaun Chamberlin shows in The Transition Timeline, the EDAP . . .

. . . is, as much as anything, a new story for the community . . . a celebration of the creativity of the community, weaving together artwork, ‘Transition Tales’, local history, the practicalities of moving away from oil addiction, and much more. We often stress in Transition that we need to create visions of a post-carbon world so enticing, so compelling and attractive that people leap out of bed in the morning determined to dedicate their lives to its implementation.E112

In fact, an example of such ideals has been worked out and accomplished in practice in the form of the Totnes EDAP, which was published in June 2010. The detail is there; the realistic view of what the landscape and local resources will actually allow; and the timelines, with step-by-step advance from 2010 to their target year of 2030. Can a community write a book? A brilliant one? Full of detailed local knowledge, tested and discussed? Well, yes. They had a little help from someone who did most of the actual writing (Jacqi Hodgson, with assistance from Rob Hopkins)—but the task couldn’t go wrong, because it had assistance from 500 people who applied their minds and did the work. A lot of it, anyway. Enough to make it their plan. And Totnes’ former inhabitants had a hand in it too—Mr. Heath, for instance. George Heath once supplied the local shop with year-round vegetables from his nursery in the centre of town—now a car park. On the timeline for 2016: turn it back into a vegetable garden.E113


Related entries:

Lean Energy, TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas).

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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