Friday, January 1, 2010

The History of TLA

It all began with a story

In 2005, Joanne Poyourow wrote the novel Legacy: A Story of Hope for a Time of Environmental Crisis. Beginning in the year 2002 and rolling forward in fiction to 2040, Legacy illustrates how we might Transition our current energy-intense, consumption-intense society into a lower-carbon, "power down" future.

At the time Legacy was written (prior to the movie "An Inconvenient Truth") global warming was an edgy topic in Los Angeles. It would more likely raise a debate of whether global warming existed, than any productive discussion of what we were going to do about it. Peak oil was completely taboo, cast off as the ideas of a few "fringe quacks." Transition Towns did not yet exist -- Rob Hopkins was still working with Kinsale. Joanne read Rob's blog with some regularity, but Transition Town Totnes had not yet been put in place. Thus Legacy pioneered virgin territory. It is a saga of power down in Los Angeles that never quite mentions peak oil, yet is chock full of urban Permaculture and post-petroleum ideas.

In Legacy, the fictional characters gathered periodically in a support group that they came to call "Legacy LA." Melanie F, Joanne's neighbor and one of Legacy's early readers, declared "I want to belong to a group like that!" Melanie introduced Joanne and Peter, and Environmental Change-Makers was formed.

From its very origins, Environmental Change-Makers was a different sort of environmental group. It focused on What We Can Do about our environmental issues -- very specifically, global warming. Environmental Change-Makers braved the topic of Sustainability in very mainstream urban Southern California audiences. It introduced Permaculture ideas including David Holmgren's principles, and it created a circle where it was okay for mainstream Los Angelenos to learn about (and eventually compare experiences about) front yard vegetables, composting resources, city chickens and new paradigms. (Read about Environmental Change-Makers' accomplishments here.)

As Joanne publicized Legacy and interest rose about Environmental Change-Makers, audiences throughout the Southland requested talks about environmental solutions. Then "An Inconvenient Truth" was released, gaining widespread attention (One of the initial outdoor screenings drew nearly 5,000 people). But Los Angeles audiences quickly saw through the inadequate tips that scroll at the movie's end. The Environmental Change-Makers' "What We Can Do About Global Warming" talk -- which focused on power down ideas and paradigm shift -- was in high demand.

In late 2007, as oil prices began to escalate, the topic of peak oil -- in the form of "the end of cheap oil" -- lost its taboo status. Global warming was no longer alone on Environmental Change-Makers' What We Can Do narrative. It was replaced by the "triple header": global warming, peak oil, and biocapacity. Mainstream city dwellers received the cutting edge of Hopkins' developing ideas alongside those of Holmgren and other Permaculturists. They heard a healthy dose of Paul Hawkins' confident early vision of a multitude of environmental and social change organizations all working to effect a grand Transformation (later captured in Hawkins' Blessed Unrest).

With the banking crisis and stock market downturns of mid-2008, the "triple header" became the "triple header plus one" to include discussions of forecasted economic collapse (these forecasts were included in Legacy), and the solutions presented were distinctly Transition ideas. When Rob's Transition Handbook was published, early copies imported from the UK sold like hotcakes at Environmental Change-Makers talks.

September 2008

In September 2008, the Environmental Change-Makers held a "Life After Oil" series of events to try out Hopkins' exercises and explore post-petroleum ideas in Los Angeles. To their astonishment, the series' full-day session drew attendees from Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Frasier Park, San Fernando Valley, and Laguna Beach, in addition to more local West LA faces. For many attendees, Transition ideas were a brilliant new discovery.

Resources from the "Life After Oil" series are here.

As the UK Transition Network came into being, Boulder Colorado hosted the United States' first official Transition Trainings. Environmental Change-Makers member Vidya C heard about the Training for Transition (T4T) in San Francisco, but San Francisco had yet to decide on a site. Joanne joked to Vidya that perhaps the site for the San Francisco training was on Beach Avenue in Marina del Rey (Vidya's Los Angeles facility). The next day, Vidya contacted the Transition Network and scheduled a Los Angeles stop on the training's World Tour.

December 2008

In December 2008, Environmental Change-Makers celebrated its third "birthday" of free public meetings and simultaneously released its new book, Environmental Change-Making: How to Cultivate Lasting Change in Your Local Community.

The book tells the story of the group's early years, tells of Change-Maker projects such as founding a community garden and hosting a site for the "Step It Up" national campaign for global warming action, and gives an integrated explanation of environmental concepts including the "triple header" (global warming, peak oil, and biocapacity).

Environmental Change-Making was created as a how-to book, telling how Joanne, Peter, Vidya, Melanie, and many others got a very mainstream area of Los Angeles ready and receptive to Transition ideas. It is perhaps a "prequel" to Hopkins' Transition Handbook.

T4T Los Angeles

A week after the book's release, mere days before Christmas, with only mid-week dates available in the calendar, the Environmental Change-Makers hosted Southern California's first-ever official Transition Training (T4T).

Sophy Banks and Naresh Giangrande were our trainers. We had 35 attendees, from such areas as Santa Barbara, San Fernando Valley, West LA, South Bay, Laguna Beach, Pasadena, and Palm Springs. We were joined by guests from Tucson, AZ and southeastern Ohio.

Resources from the T4T are here.

An area-wide Hub

In the Open Space portion of the December 2008 T4T, the circle discussing city/urban issues concluded that the Environmental Change-Makers group had served an awareness-raising role for many Southern California "pods" of Transition activity. While some activities of the Environmental Change-Makers had been focused toward our immediate local area (our community garden and reskilling classes), other efforts (our outreach and speaking engagements) had been more area-wide or regional in focus. Environmental Change-Makers had been serving--in the lingo of the Transition concept--as the "initiating group" for a wide area of Los Angeles.

The team concluded that, as Transition concepts take root in Los Angeles, our area would best be served by a series of local "pods" supported by a new area-wide organization: Transition Los Angeles. Early functional organization "pods" included The Learning Garden at Venice High School and Westchester's Holy Nativity parish with its Community Garden.

With its calendar of speaking engagements throughout the area, its globalized context, its broad vision for the LA area, and its existing name recognition, Environmental Change-Makers would continue its regional awareness-raising, introducing Transition concepts and paving the way as Transition Los Angeles emerges.

In the local "Going Forth" portion of the T4T, Los Angeles attendees truly gelled as a team. The idea of a speaker's group was proposed, together with a speaker training workshop, to continue Environmental Change-Makers/Transition Los Angeles outreach beyond the limits of the calendar of any one individual. Our Los Angeles area-wide core team was born.