Thursday, October 22, 2009

Transitioning Barrie to resiliency

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

The only thing constant in Barrie is change, but there is one thing we learn slowly and painfully: change works best when we prepare for it. And preparing is the role of a new local group, Transition Barrie.

Transition Barrie is a local formulation of the Transition Town movement, which began in England just a few years ago; there are now hundreds of Transition Towns around the world. The nearest is Peterborough. But the different towns are not so much part of an organization, as places that have each recognized a local need to build resilience.

What is resilience? Basically, it means the ability of a person, community, or whole economy to survive and function in the face of change or outside shocks. Someone or something resilient can roll with the punches and adapt as needed, absorb disturbance and reorganize, still retaining essentially the same function, structure, and identity despite undergoing change.

For what shocks should we prepare? The city already has plans for various local or temporary emergencies such as tornadoes or floods, but there are signs of wider-scale shocks on the horizon, for which Barrie is not ready. One is climate change, and the radical emission reductions which may be required to reduce it. The inevitable reduction in the amount of cheap oil available is also a concern. As energy cost rises, it will profoundly affect our lifestyle, especially if we aren't prepared for lower-energy living. With so many people commuting a great distance each day by car, how will we cope when regulations, taxes, or shortages make gas more expensive?

Even the current recession shows the need for resilience. If the jobless recovery continues - or worsens - how will our community adjust to unemployment? Can we find ways to keep people occupied and prosperous in a new, resilient local economy? Can we put food on the table and keep our houses if big transnational corporations don't arrive to provide good jobs?

The Transition movement grows out of some key realizations. A lower energy lifestyle is inevitable; it is better to plan for it than be taken by surprise. Towns like Barrie lack the resilience to weather the severe energy shocks the future promises. We have to act collectively, and we have to act now. But by unleashing the collective genius of our community to creatively and proactively design our transition, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and stay within the biological limits of our planet.

This is a positive, solutions-focused approach to meet this shared challenge together. Many of the solutions will come from within, through a process of rediscovering what is already here, rather than from outside experts and consultants. As individuals, what we can do is not enough; if we wait for government to solve the problem it will be too little, too late; but if we act as a community, we just might do enough in time. That's where you come in.

Transition Barrie started forming this past May, but is having its big public launch this Saturday in the Huronia Room at city hall from 1 p. m. to 4 p. m. Groups will form around various initiatives, such as "reskilling" (re-learning traditional skills such as making and mending clothing, cooking and preserving local produce in season, or growing vegetables), alternative energy, efficiency and conservation, cycling, and other aspects of making Barrie more resilient. Groups such as Living Green and Simcoe County Farm Fresh are already partners, but there is lots of room for skilled, knowledgeable, or just plain concerned individuals to make their mark. Some of us can teach; all of us can learn.

Oil and gas are limited resources, and we urgently need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. Transition Barrie will explore what our city will actually look like as we deal with this. How will we live? Where will our food come from? What will daily life be like if we aren't driving a car all the time? Come to the meeting and help us explore these questions and start making local answers.

Visit for more links and information about the movement, including what other Transition Towns have already begun.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a local teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Time to look forward instead of to the Left or Right

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Canada's economy is a many-splendoured thing. It produces huge amounts of wealth, employs millions, feeds, clothes and houses us, while providing energy, materials, and services to customers all over the world.

Yet our system has some failings, too.

There is a widening gap between rich and poor. In a nation which grows and exports wonderful food, some go to bed hungry, while others pollute their bodies with unhealthy foods or chemicals. Our soil, air and water must constantly be defended from toxic effluent, and our natural species disappear at an alarming rate. We work longer hours and spend less time with family, while buying more cheaply-made junk that finds its way to the landfill sooner and sooner.

The burning concern of governments seems to be to "get the economy running again," ignoring that all of these problems existed even when the economy was running fine. Surely, instead of just re-starting the old car, we can come up with something that better meets our needs, and does less ecological harm in the process?

The traditional solutions of the Left (higher taxes for bigger government) and Right (shrink government and solve our own problems individually) have been tried and found lacking, and both still involve eating up the planet just as fast as we can. It's time to look forward, beyond left or right.

One person who has spent decades looking is Canadian author Mike Nickerson. As a director for the Institute for the Study of Cultural Evolution in the 1970s, he helped produce the Guideposts for a Sustainable Future and the book, Change the World I Want to Stay On. In 1993, he followed this up with the paperback Planning for Seven Generations, and, in 2006, released his most comprehensive work, Life, Money & Illusion: Living on Earth as if we want to stay.

Nickerson notes that as children we want to grow bigger, but when we reach adult size, we stop growing and our focus shifts to maintaining ourselves in good health and happiness. Yet our economic structure is not the same. It seeks only perpetual growth. If it pauses, it crashes, like a child riding a bicycle.

Our economy has no concept of "big enough" or what is a healthy, happy size. Instead, our goal seems merely to be bigger than last year, last quarter, last month. Is this a healthy direction on a finite planet? Surely not.

Nickerson has studied all aspects of the human question of direction -- biology, physics, money, religion, and capitalism. He writes about problems with our markets, but also ways we might solve them.

There are indeed many different paths to satisfying our needs and achieving prosperity through meaningful work and exchange. Instead of debt-based money created by private banks, we could have local currencies drawing upon (and returning) community value. Instead of trade goals based solely on maximizing our own benefit, we can have systems which are fair and beneficial to all. Instead of an endless rat race taking more time to make more money to buy more stuff, we can find time for our families, our hobbies, ourselves. We can learn to take pride in the value we create in our communities instead of just higher numbers in a bank account. Most of all, we can live lightly on the Earth, enjoy living, and preserve the planet for generations to come.

Nickerson's work is not prescriptive; it shows that there are diverse ways of dealing with today's tough issues and building something that works better for our community, nation, or world.

Nickerson is returning to Barrie to discuss Life, Money & Illusion, and share ideas about better ways of organizing society. He will be at the Barrie Free Methodist Church (284 Cundles Rd. E.) tomorrow night from 7 p. m. to 9 p. m. to present and discuss some of the ideas he's compiled and sign copies of his book's new second edition.

The public are invited to attend this free event, share refreshments, and ask questions or give feedback. He'd love to meet you, and, I'm sure, you'll enrich each other through the experience. I hope to see you there.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a local teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A day for compassion, the ultimate renewable resource

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Friday, marks Barrie’s first ‘Day of Compassion’, an event bringing the community together in mutual support of those in poverty to help them prepare for winter.

This initiative is organized and hosted by the Barrie chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, an umbrella group of social agencies, government programs, charities, religious groups, and non-government organizations working to serve the vulnerable in society. As Green Party housing critic, I’ve been an Alliance member for several years.

People helped by Alliance members include the homeless and those lacking suitable or affordable housing, but also people with physical or mental health issues or disabilities, addiction problems, broken family situations, as well as victims of violence, or anyone else who is having trouble coping or thriving on their own.

Not just street people but children, families, and seniors. Taken together, they represent a large segment of our community. It is said that a society can be judged by how it treats its least fortunate. From that perspective, the Alliance partners are on the leading edge of keeping Barrie special, instead of becoming a rather unpleasant place.

But we shouldn’t leave it all to those dedicated few – we can each do our part. The Day of Compassion is a chance for every part of the community to pull together in offering a hand up. It’s an all-day event providing a full spectrum of services to those in need.

There will be free winter clothing, blankets, groceries, toiletries, and other needed items distributed. Free services such as hair cuts will be provided. Professional advice from nurses, dental hygienists, and diabetic specialists will be given, along with support for pregnant women and new mothers. Information on how to receive assistance, or access Ontario Works or disability or other programs will be available. All that plus lunch and dinner served for anyone who is hungry.

Many in the community have already come forward to offer goods, time, or other support; Barrie’s generosity is truly great. But the need is great, too, and there is always room for more caring.

How can you help? You can provide donations of clean, serviceable used clothing to be distributed for re-use. Socks and winter clothes are in highest demand; sleeping bags are a treasure.

You can bring dry goods to refill the shelves at the Grocery Assistance Program, which provides food bank services. You can donate money to help the various programs, or find out how to volunteer your time. If you are a business and can donate clearance items folks would need, we’d love to hear from you – it’s great when the business community can assist the working poor and help prevent poverty. Toiletries like razors, toothbrushes, and toothpaste are in especially high demand. If you are a restaurateur or food preparer, you can bring a pot or tray of food to help us feed some of the attendees and volunteers. We have a kitchen to re-heat or keep warm as necessary.

If you know someone having trouble making ends meet, you can let them know about the event, or even offer them a ride. If you are finding your own finances strained, don’t be shy about coming down. There is no stigma, and we’re not asking anyone to lay out their finances or fill in a form in order to take part; anyone requesting help will be helped. It’s better to get a hand up now to stay on level footing as we enter another Barrie winter.

The event is today from noon to 8 p.m. at the Barrie Community Health Centre and Barrie Young People’s Centre, on Maple Avenue at the corner of Ross Street. With your help, it will be a great success. If you’d like to volunteer, or can bring a meal to serve, please contact 725-0163, ext. 224, or e-mail

Your assistance will be greatly appreciated, by the volunteers and by the needy. What’s more, it will give you a great feeling as you help to share your good fortune with those less fortunate. Donating used clothes is a great way of recycling, but ultimately it is love and compassion which are our greatest renewable resources.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer and politician.