“Parking Lot Love” - Interview #2 with Peter Ruddock, Transition Palo Alto by Willi Paul, Magazine

Enjoy my first interview with Peter: NorCal Transition Yeast: Interview with Peter Ruddock, Slow Money, Transition Palo Alto & San Mateo County Food System Alliance. (3/12)

“What… is reskilling? The answer to this question is not so obvious. Someone might respond by defining reskilling as the acquisition of those skills that are essential to satisfy basic needs in a localized and carbon-constrained future. That makes sense, and it is hard to dispute, but the issue with the definition is that it is circular reference. It defines reskilling in terms of skills. It also makes it sound like reskilling can stop at some point, that once a community acquires the skills to satisfy many of its basic needs in a localized and carbon-constrained way, then there is no further need to reskill. Perhaps it is better to think about reskilling as an ongoing and never ending process that evolves as conditions and contexts change. It is not a onetime affair any more than it is a fixed end state.”

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Interview with Peter by Willi -

What American values are getting in the way of Transition Movement values?

I'm not sure that consumerism is an American value, but it is a value that is common in America and it is something we have to overcome.

Individualism is an American value that has to be tempered. There needs to be a balance between the individual and the community, a healthy tension between getting your own way and doing what is best for the group, for society.

Advertisers equate the individual with consumption: you should own one of these. Better for many things to share it with your neighbors, as in the new Sharing Economy, like ZipCar, or borrowing from the library, or even creating a gift economy, like Transition Palo Alto's Garden Shares and Sharing Expo.

To me, Transition means freely sharing knowledge, goods and services with each other. Is this a sustainable vision, given the dire straits that we face now? Isn’t Goodwill and Daily Acts already doing this work?

I am not sure that all knowledge, goods and services need to be shared. There is value in labor that should be rewarded. Value, as expressed by money, has over time become corrupted, with some labor valued more than others. Some labor has not been valued at all, often that which can be reproduced, like writing, music and some kinds of art. Copyrights were invented to address this, but are now corrupt. Timebanks are an interesting method of addressing labor value.

We need to ensure that everyone has the basic necessities to live: housing, clothing, food, access to health care, community, perhaps more. There is a famous graph that shows that once people have the basics covered an increase in goods does not increase happiness. Once people are assured of the basics, they are free to produce knowledge, goods and services which are free, or which return other knowledge, goods and services in a gift economy. This is sustainable.

What is the Transition Palo Alto'sAction Plan (i.e. goals and objectives) for the next year, 5 years and beyond?

Transition initiatives have often been accused of being “talk shops.” Some talk is necessary; too much talk is stagnation. Transition Palo Alto has been trying to find the balance between talk and action.

Transition Palo Alto actually does a lot: Garden Shares, Sharing Expos, Re-skilling events, small and large, movies and lectures every Fourth Friday, crafts, some of them public, supporting local institutions, conferences that Re-imagine the Future and more. There is no particular Action Plan behind this. Rather, TPA has set out to enable the people it attracts to create projects under the umbrella of Transition ideas: to create things that address climate change and other ecological degradation through building a resilient community and local economy.

Some of us would like to do more – more projects that is. Perhaps bigger projects: certainly supplementing the Sharing Expo with a Reskilling Expo or a Great Unleashing would be good. And we have been discussing how to do this. We are not sure that an Action Plan, that a lot of central control, is the way to do more though. Bureaucracy can lead to inaction, rather than action. A bad Action Plan can have us working furiously on wrong things. It may be better to improve the infrastructure and let people use it to create their own projects. To use the power of the Transition Crowd to guide them in doing so. Stay tuned. I expect interesting things to develop.

Why do you participate in so many organizations?

There are actually two different reasons that I work with such a diversity of groups. First, I think a number of different things have to be done to create the world we want to live in. We need to re-build community and build a more resilient economy. We need to educate people on why this is so ('educate' can be a loaded word, but I'll use it here to mean the dissemination of a Transition point of view). And we need to work within the system to change the policies that inhibit this new society and to create new policies which foster it instead. Transition, even with its broad umbrella, is not addressing all of these issues, while others are. Other organizations focus. I like to be the connection between these organizations, hoping to add value by looking for the commonalities between them and creating synergies by getting them to work together.

Beyond that, I find that at the grass-roots level, I have overwhelmed more than one organization. I have chosen to work full-time on these efforts, at this point whether I get paid for it or not. My colleagues often work in the same grass-roots organizations a few hours per week after their paid job. By having multiple outlets for my activity, I do not work more, or much more, than anyone else in any given organization. This, of course, may change as I find something that I become passionate about focusing on.

Egos, profit and self-interest dominate much of our community psyche. Can you tell us how our “collective genius” might be harnessed for a better way?

I'd like to say that we can educate people to see a bigger picture, teaching them that helping their community will help themselves more than acting as an individual will. But I can't say this. Many studies have shown that appealing to people with factual, scientific or other rational arguments doesn't work – more studies showing how much carbon will do what to the atmosphere are actually turning people off from addressing climate change.

Rather, I think we have to do things. Things which begin to address the problems we see, at a local level. Things which have a visible effect on the people who do them. People who attend Sharing events seem to be happier. Not because they got something for free that they would have had to pay for. But because they engaged in community. And often because they gave something away that they didn't need any more, keeping it out of the landfill. They used fewer resources, but didn't really have to think about doing so.

We need to tell the story of these things we do. And in such a way that the happiness and the community are played up and the resource savings are mentioned as wonderful side-effect. I think this is how we have to engage the majority of people.

Isn’t building resilience both a top down and bottom up strategy? Any examples of this in the food sector?

I spend a lot of time working on food. It is an environmental gateway. Everybody eats. Food is tangible. Unlike climate change, which is not visible to most people, or wilderness protection, which may happen far away in places people won't ever visit, food is right in their faces.

Resilience in our food system is created from both ends. From the bottom up, we start with encouraging local consumption, growing your own, sharing with your neighbors, knowing your farmers. Creating demand should have a ripple effect as producers change to meet your demand – voting with your fork. There is much you can do on your own.

But there are things that are beyond our individual control. For these things we band together and try to affect policy, working down from the top. Changing laws which allow beekeeping, for example, in jurisdictions that do not currently permit it, enables more people to work from the bottom up, without fear of being held to account for breaking a law.

“The Transition Movement believes that is up to us in our local communities to step into a leadership position on this situation. We need to start working now to mitigate the interrelated effects of peak oil, climate change, and the economic crisis, before it is too late.” How do we all know when it’s too late?

If you give up, it is too late. Never give up.

Two of my personal interests are localization and security. Many of my New Myths describe the inevitable haves and have not’s, both now and in the future. Will some of us benefit from gardens and green tech water systems while others will not?

In a sustainable world, there cannot be haves and have-nots. If there are, we create problems. If those who have-not do not have the basics, then they would be justified in protest in order to get them. But even when everyone has the basics, those who have significantly less are justified in asking why. Some will be envious of what they do not have; envy can lead to crime. The size of inequality is one of the greatest indicators of trouble, and unrest, and health!, in any society.

It is our job as part of Transition to figure out how to include everyone. And to decrease the inequality of our society. This is not something we currently do well, being a rather homogeneous group of mostly well-educated, middle-aged, white people. And it is not something that we seem well able to address. Nevertheless, we have to figure out how to be inclusive – we only win when everybody wins.

Capacity issues loom large in any localization scheme. Are fences around future sustainable encampments likely?

Fenced encampments are not sustainable. Fences will be breached. If we are fencing off resources and creating haves and have-nots, we will eventually fail. We must rather accept the finite nature of those resources and use fewer of them. Tear down the fence! Share!

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Peter’s Bio –

Peter Ruddock is a sustainable food activist and business consultant. He is working toward creating a more sustainable world, by changing the way we interact with our environment and with each other. He concentrates on food systems change, because given that everyone eats everyone should be able to relate to a healthier, more sustainable food system. He believes that there are four areas where he can best work on fostering this change: educating people about sustainability; creating a resilient local economy; creating vibrant local communities; and changing policies to foster such changes. He is active in a number of grass-roots non-profits to help accomplish these goals: Slow Food, Slow Money, Transition Palo Alto, and the San Mateo County Food System Alliance and the California Food Policy Council.

Connections –

Peter Ruddock
Sustainable Food Activist and Business Consultant
peterruddock at

Willi Paul
New Mythologist & Transition Entrepreneur | Magazine |
@planetshifter @openmythsource @PermacultureXch
415-407-4688 | pscompub at

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