Living on the Cusp

2005 June 20
by Chris Vernon

Living on the CuspFrom Friday 17th to Sunday 19th June 2005 I attended the Living on the Cusp seminar at Braziers Park in Oxfordshire, UK. The seminar was presented by Naresh Giangrande and covered peak oil, non-renewable alternatives to oil, renewable alternatives to oil, energy return on energy invested (EROEI), carrying capacity, ecological footprint, ghost acreage, exponential growth, Jevons paradox, Easter Island, St Mathew Island, the Cuban case study and personal and community responses. Naresh also provided a CD with a collection of essays, articles and presentations on the topics. The film End of Suburbia, Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream was also shown on the Saturday evening.

The course material was at times necessarily quite technical and detailed however Naresh succeeded in communicating the above topics in a clear and down to earth manner and ensured everyone understood before moving on. It’s not that carrying capacity or ghost acreage are particularly complex subjects to grasp, they just need a different way of thinking about the world to fully appreciate.

Attendance waxed and waned somewhat as resident community members balanced other work and the demands of children but approximately 8 people were usually present. The format was very relaxed with every opportunity for discussion as the material was presented.

Whilst little of the material was new to me, I gained a lot through discussions with the others who were very receptive to the material. Of particular interest was the Sunday afternoon session where personal and community response was addressed. At this point I need to say something about the Braziers Park community. Braziers Park itself is a ~£4million 17th Century Grade II* listed building in approximately 50 acres of Oxfordshire countryside. Since 1950 it has been home to a secular community of ~20 people (though numbers vary and the community edge is understandably blurred).

I think it is fair to say it is an aspiration of the Braziers community to become self sufficient and ecologically sound though by their own admission they are far from there currently. The motivation for this is two fold, firstly it’s just a generally smart thing to do from both economic and moral points of view but secondly and perhaps more importantly is the credibility this would provide. The community has a history in education and has a strong desire to expand educational activities, running seminars (like Living on the Cusp) and training courses. The energy crisis we are approaching is expected to stimulate demand in ecology, self sufficiency and alternative technology teachings and if Braziers Park is to offer training in this area they need to be seen to be living what they preach.

The responses ranged from the easy wins like rain water collection and comprehensive replacement of incandescent with compact fluorescents bulbs through to more ambitious projects such as replacing the oil fired central heating system. Looking wider there also seemed to be agreement that Braziers could and should have more influence on the wider community, running an out-reach programme, recognising that the transition to a more sustainable way of life can not end at your own front door and needs to involve the whole community.

From what little I saw of the community over the weekend I believe they have incredible potential. Braziers is currently dealing with the same everyday challenges everyone else is whilst aspiring to something better, I am very pleased to see people starting to take peak oil seriously and hope a successful transformation can be an inspiration to others. I wish them every success over what could be difficult times ahead.
Braziers Park

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