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Saving the planet
'THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY': Ted Howard of Nelson and the Nelson home page for Transition Towns

To the great unwashed, the Transition Towns movement might seem to be largely about single-issue throwbacks to the hippie movement planning for, perhaps even praying for, an end to the world as we know it.

This view does it an injustice. Propelled by belief in an imminent double-whammy of global warming and dwindling oil reserves, the movement's main focus is to encourage communities to act consciously and decisively to reduce the likelihood of planetary and economic catastrophe. Its key buzzword is sustainability and its mantra, "think globally, act locally". At its centre is the belief that a small, dedicated, persuasive group can spearhead change within its own community. It is built on a framework of core philosophies, including a 12-step plan to help the world modify its addiction to oil.

The Transition movement started in the United Kingdom just two years ago and has spread quickly, taking hold in countries around the world. The New Zealand website records 50 towns taking part, although just seven have officially formalised their involvement. The only South Island group to take this formal step so far is Nelson, where the movement's ideas and ideals have been embraced enthusiastically. Members speak of the need to think positively rather than being overwhelmed by fear, and to act now and embrace a more "sustainable" lifestyle rather than waiting passively for things to get worse.

Ironically, perhaps, the greatest threat the movement currently faces is not oil or water wars, a rising sea level, a sudden surge in biosecurity breaches or epidemics of exotic diseases. The Ministry for the Environment has decided against continuing to fund the Nelson Environment Centre's key climate change projects, Transition Nelson and Code Red, a website-based carbon reduction rewards scheme. The ministry last year paid $152,000 from its contestable Sustainable Management Fund for these projects, but has now opted out for next year. The centre's general manager, Katy Steele, is seeking a review of the ministry's decision, but says the projects will be wound down in two months if the funding is not found.

Environment Minister Nick Smith is taking some stick from supporters of the Nelson projects; however, his explanation does sound convincing. With less than $4 million available in the fund and applicants seeking more than five times that amount, there were bound to be some disappointments and, as he points out, the who-gets-what decisions are made by an independent panel. National is demanding that all government spending be considered carefully, and in the current economic circumstances, this is appropriate. The panel has made some suggestions that the environment centre might learn from before preparing future funding applications.

Where to next for Transition Nelson? The loss of paid support workers would be keenly felt. However, sufficient impetus has already been built to suggest Transition Nelson is likely to continue, even if at a reduced energy level. Key members have attacked the task with religious zeal, and the loss of funding, while disappointing, should not be fatal. Maintaining the Code Red initiative might be more problematic, in that dozens of prizes ranging from coffee coupons to $1000 packages for people who sign up for green initiatives have been negotiated. Perhaps the main legwork has been done and some form of the programme can be kept alive pending a fresh funding application for the next round. Saving the planet was never going to be easy. Nelson's greenies are resourceful enough to bounce back from this blow.

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