Why Transition Cambridge likes Green Enterprise

I have already mentioned my involvement with Transition Cambridge, but I dare say many of you won't know much about that, and Robert suggested I post something about it and why we think Green Enterprise in Cambridge is important, so here goes:

Transition Cambridge is part of the Transition Towns movement, which inspires and encourages the development of resilient, sustainable communities in a diverse, low carbon economy.

Resilience is arguably at least as important as sustainability. You can think of sustainability as protecting the environment we depend on, for instance by safeguarding the soil where our food is grown. Resilience is more about our ability to withstand shocks, like having the flexibility to bend rather than break in a storm.

The global economy is showing itself to be neither sustainable nor resilient. Increasing specialisation has, for example, brought us to the point where 60 per cent of the world’s buttons are traded through a single market in Wenzhou, China (1). As a result, a pandemic there could impact clothing manufacture throughout the world.

Even where there is a wide choice of suppliers, the system is not resilient without spare capacity, as a problem in one place simply switches demand to other sources, which in turn are quickly overloaded. For example, just the threat of a drought in a major wheat growing area like Australia triggers price hikes on the global markets in anticipation of shortages. (2)

Critically, the globalized economy relies on cheap transport, transport overwhelmingly relies on oil, and oil supplies are increasingly insecure – some say world supplies have already peaked (3) and growing economies will simply have to become more efficient. In the past, efficiency has tended to mean increasing output for less manpower. In the future it can only mean increasing output for less material and energy input.

Bulk freight is going to become a luxury; sewing jeans in Tunisia with cotton from Benin, which is spun in Northern Ireland and dyed in Italy, is going to become unreasonably expensive. For staple foods, unnecessary food miles will become untenable. Currently, 25 per cent of all freight is food related (4).

The Transition Towns movement prioritises relocalising our economy. This is both to reduce our dependence on oil and to increase our resilience before change is forced upon us. We need a diverse industrial ecology (5) that converts manufacturing waste into raw materials – as in the natural world, diverse ecosystems are more resilient than simple ones. Above all, we need our businesses to be sustainable because, once we've eroded the fens or poisoned our aquifers, we won't be able to move to another Cambridge.

Transition Cambridge aims to increase awareness of these issues, and to stimulate the growth of local, sustainable businesses by, for example: 

  • Strengthening links between local producers and local consumers; and 
  • Encouraging people to spend the money they have earned locally, possibly even introducing a local currency like the Brixton pound.

In this way, we can make Cambridge a less wasteful more resilient, and a more interestingly diverse place to live.

  1. http://www.hktdc.com/info/mi/a/imn/en/1X00K6NV/1/International-Market-News/China-s-button-capital-in-Wenzhou.htm
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/wheat-prices-soar-on-drought-fear-419559.html
  3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/09/peak-oil-international-energy-agency
  4. https://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg/reports/foodmiles/execsumm.pdf
  5. http://newcity.ca/Pages/industrial_ecology.html

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