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Planning Post-Oil Towns

This article was written by Hana Loftus in October 2006. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.

word.jpg The story of the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan is an extraordinary one. A mid-thirties Englishman with a penchant for permaculture and an interest in peak oil moves to rural Ireland, starts teaching at the local further education college, and ends up writing, with his students, a ground-breaking document: the first timetabled strategy for weaning a town off fossil fuels. And what is more, that small Irish town actually adopts the action plan and starts to implement it.

Kinsale is a seaside town of 7000 inhabitants renowned as Ireland’s gourmet food capital, as well as the home of a well-known jazz festival. Kinsale 2021 is the title of the document: Rob Hopkins is the man, who persuaded Kinsale Further Education College to start the first full-time two year course in Europe training in people in Practical Sustainability.

He had a simple idea for his students: to ask them to think practically about all the aspects of a town that would need to be changed if a low-energy future was to happen, and how they could do so over a fifteen-year period. So far, so standard college project. But what was extraordinary was the way they went about it – seriously, meeting the movers and shakers of the town in a “community think-tank,” and researching and writing with every intent of making the project real. The result was named ‘Version 1’, because the plan they devised was all about continual refinement, community input and gradual growth. As the team says, “We describe what we are doing in Kinsale as a process, not an imposed plan in the town.”

The first draft was launched at a conference in Kinsale in June 2005, and two of the students set up a not-for-profit company to handle the project, called Transition Design. Then the big step came when in December 2005, Kinsale Town Council unanimously passed the motion to support “its initiative to act as process leaders in Kinsale’s transition to a lower-energy future and in developing the concept of a ‘Transition Town;’ making the transition from fossil fuel dependency to a state of energy independence.” Kinsale really hit the headlines.

Kinsale isn’'t, of course, the first community to try to plan for a localized, post-oil world (Willits in California is another example) and their process wasn'’t perfect, as Hopkins himself is the first to analyze – parts of the report read as naïve. But it was the first to actually write down a real plan for every year of the process, and the best bits are impressively thought through – food, for example, which is deliverable to the point of mentioning the EU funding streams it would tap into.

In the last year, Kinsale has inspired many other towns globally to come together to form EDAPs, including Totnes in England, where Hopkins now lives. Kiinsale itself continues to further develop and implement the early stages of the action plan –inevitably slower than the plan envisaged. Delivery is difficult, but the first stage is to write a practical and detailed plan, and even this, before Kinsale, was a step that most didn't dare take.

The plan is worth downloading and reading in detail – it is a remarkable piece of wor. But there are many remarkable things about this story. It is extraordinary that the principal of the college actually supported a course in Practical Sustainability. It is fantastic that Hopkins found students who not only took the subject matter to heart, but took it so seriously that they would do what no-one had thought to do before. I wrote a while back about the big-picture thinking of Mayer Hillman and how we need to radically contract our energy use. Here’s how to do it in practice.

How to Wean a Town Off Fossil Fuels is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.

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