Commentary: Can we transition away from fossil fuels?

By Tim Wulling

Should St. Anthony Park become a Transition Town?

The District 12 Community Council’s Energy Resilience Group hosted a conversation around this question at the first of a series of community meetings on Jan. 17.

Can we as a country—and as a world—transition away from our use of fossil fuels that is leading us to greater climate disruption? Three dozen people arrived already convinced of this connection. One wrote, “We clearly have access to enough fossil fuels to fry us all. The question is whether or not we have the self-control not to burn it.”

A thousand cities, towns and neighborhoods worldwide have signed on to the Transition Town movement. Each is finding ways toward a better, more local future that includes a plan for reducing their total energy use.

The need for transition is the downside. The upside is that the attendees, as individuals and members of organizations, enthusiastically shared what they are already doing and their visions of a post-carbon, sustainable future for St. Anthony Park in 2020—just seven years away.

A school is working on composting and a student-run garden. A few homes are drop sites for Community Supported Agriculture farms. A church upgraded to fluorescent lighting, changed its down lights to LEDs, and expects its electric bill to be cut almost in half. Contractors are installing solar and specializing in building performance.

Participants’ visions encompassed transportation, energy, housing, gardens and food, garbage and composting, and a sense of being responsible citizens.

One participant sees “bike, mass transit, and feet [as] dominant forms of transportation” in seven years. Others talked of cooperation within a block for composting, pickup or trailer sharing, sharing garden and fruit production. Many suggested repurposing housing for granny flats or carriage houses as options, for example, when the children are grown and gone.

Several people want more shared information and cross-fertilization of ideas. Homeowners who have researched energy improvements, contractors, architects all have found practical steps that would benefit others. Could there be a forum for sharing best practices? Could models and posters of retrofits be on display in a public space?

In this neighborhood where so many homes are shaded by large trees and many light-industrial buildings are in the clear, many would like community-owned solar installations on flat roofs with a larger scale than those on an individual home.

The next community meetings will broaden the conversation. Perhaps groupings of people will emerge to work on particular projects—more food production in the neighborhood, transportation options, energy reduction in buildings. What projects can we do together that would be too big for individuals to do on their own?

The next meeting will continue visioning and considering whether to become a Transition Town. The meeting will be held on Thursday, Feb. 21, 7–8:30 p.m. in Northwestern Hall at Luther Seminary. Transition Town All St. Anthony Park? Transition ASAP?

Tim Wulling is a member of the District 12 Community Council’s Energy Resilience Group, which is spearheading the Transition Town series of meeting.

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