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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: shakti ()
Date: May 27, 2010 01:14AM

Just round this out, here are a few more articles on Transition Town, both with generally positve things to say about TT, but also revealing in other ways... This article is a little "woowoo" in its own right, with its "Bright Green Citizens" and such. But it makes some valid points...


"Yet, ultimately, the Transition Town approach stifles its own potential impact.

The Transition movement seems saturated with what Michael Lerner called "surplus powerlessness" disguised as practicality. All over the world, groups of people with graduate degrees, affluence, decades of work experience, varieties of advanced training and technological capacities beyond the imagining of our great-grandparents are coming together, looking into the face of apocalypse... and deciding to start a seed exchange or a kids clothing swap.

Transition thinking seems obsessively focused on coordinating individual actions (like helping people barter their free time or connecting people who want to garden); even at its most ambitious, it generally focuses on building alternative systems (say, starting a local currency scheme) rather than reforming the larger systems that shape life all around us (say, starting an actual credit union or rewriting banking regulations).

Part of this is the legacy of the counter-culture out of which it emerged. Part of this is that Transition Towns aim to offer a way to step out of emotional paralysis by saying "just go ahead and do something, anything." Part of it is intentional: groups spread more rapidly when the demands placed on their members are minimal. However, the approach also betrays a far darker mindset.

3) The Dark Side of Transition Thinking

The movement's founder, Rob Hopkins, talks almost cheerfully about passing peak oil, widespread food shortages and the idea of globalization crashing suddenly. Jennifer Gray, the founder of Transition U.S. (the American wing of the movement) told a New York Times reporter that she expects “a big population die-off." Board member Richard Heinberg says that central governments will "have to self-destruct in favor of local autonomy" and that "overpopulation will eventually be solved by starvation and disease."

That sort of casual eagerness for the death of others is appalling. Worse, the strategy implicit in this vision of transitioning -- that there can be local soft landings in the event of a global hard crash, that indeed the only proper scale at which to prepare for a soft landing is at the local level, and that perhaps collapse will solve some of our problems -- is delusional.

Collapse is not a tool for social change. It's essentially impossible to look at history and find a case where large-scale collapse has lead to anything other than lots of destruction, hunger, disease, suffering and a decline into widespread violence and warlordism. If you want to see what happens when large numbers of urban people encounter situational collapse, look at what happened in Liberia. Anyone who thinks an energy descent plan prepared by a community group future-proofs them against people like Charles Taylor has simply taken a vacation from reality.

Local efforts can't protect against the violence of a systemic breakdown. The same thing is true of public health and epidemiology, of disaster response and trauma care, of famine protection and crop insurance, and so on and so on. To plan for the collapse of large-scale systems is to plan for widespread evil and suffering; ethical planning for the collapse is impossible: post-collapse idealism is oxymoronic.

Indeed, if anything, places that are by global standards rich and well-educated need to be preparing to be bulwarks of stability in a chaotic world, to be more deeply invested in making things work for everyone."

NOTE: I agree with almost everything said above. "To plan for the collapse of large-scale systems is to plan for widespread evil and suffering; ethical planning for the collapse is impossible: post-collapse idealism is oxymoronic." Perfect.

Very solid article from the NY Times.

April 19, 2009
The Green Issue
The End Is Near! (Yay!)

The stage lights went up at the Panida Theater, a classy old movie house in Sandpoint, Idaho, and the M.C. stepped out of the dark with one finger high in the air. There was an uprising of applause and cheering. Then, shouting like a head coach before a bowl game, she said, “Sandpoint, are you ready?”

It was a Friday night last November. All around the little town of Sandpoint, beetles were blighting north Idaho’s pine forests. The previous day, the U.N. reported that emissions from automobiles and coal-fired power plants were collecting in brown clouds over 13 Asian and African cities and blocking out the sun. Iceland’s main banks had crumpled, and American auto executives were about to fly to Washington in private jets to plead for a bailout. Off the coast of Africa, Somali pirates were hijacking oil tankers. But the folks at the Panida Theater wouldn’t stop clapping. The Sandpoint Transition Initiative, a new chapter of a growing, worldwide environmental movement, was officially coming to life.

The Transition movement was started four years ago by Rob Hopkins, a young British instructor of ecological design. Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. “Sustainability,” Hopkins recently told me, “is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast, Hopkins said, Transition is about “building resiliency” — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive.

Transition’s approach is adamantly different from that of the survivalists I heard about, scattered in the mountains around Sandpoint in bunkers stocked with gold and guns. The movement may begin from a similarly dystopian idea: that cheap oil has recklessly vaulted humanity to a peak of production and consumption, and no combination of alternative technologies can generate enough energy, or be installed fast enough, to keep us at that height before the oil is gone. (Transition dismisses Al Gore types as “techno-optimists.”) But Transition then takes an almost utopian turn. Hopkins insists that if an entire community faces this stark challenge together, it might be able to design an “elegant descent” from that peak. We can consciously plot a path into a lower-energy life — a life of walkable villages, local food and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world — which, on balance, could actually be richer and more enjoyable than what we have now. Transition, Hopkins has written, meets our era’s threats with a spirit of “elation, rather than the guilt, anger and horror” behind most environmental activism. “Change is inevitable,” he told me, “but this is a change that could be fantastic.”

After developing the rudiments of Transition with a class he was teaching at an Irish college, Hopkins moved to the English town of Totnes, and, in 2005, began mobilizing a campaign to “relocalize” the town. The all-volunteer effort has since been busily planting nut trees, starting its own local currency and offering classes on things like darning socks in order to “facilitate the Great Reskilling.”

More than 80 other initiatives across England have followed, including one in Bristol, a city of nearly half a million people. Worldwide, there are now more than 150 official Transition Towns (communities with an active group of citizens), and last winter, trainers from Totnes traveled the globe to run workshops, leaving activists on three continents to begin the relocalization of their own communities — autonomously and with whatever financing they can raise. (The Transition revolution is, loosely speaking, a franchise model.) Sandpoint, Idaho, was the second Transition Town in the United States after Boulder County, Colo. They have been joined by more than 20 others in the last year, including Portland, Maine; Berea, Kentucky; and even Los Angeles. But the American arm of the movement is expanding far faster than it is accomplishing anything, which is why the event in Sandpoint that night was so significant. The Sandpoint Transition Initiative was the first in North America to hold this kind of coming-out party, meant to engage the community in its work. This constituted Step 4 in the 12-step Transition Process laid out in Rob Hopkins’s Transition Handbook, the jargon-filled manual at the center of the movement. The handbook calls this event “A Great Unleashing.”

The Transition Handbook reads like an imaginative take on a corporate-management text. It recommends techniques for building consensus, from bureaucratic-sounding protocols like Open Space Technology to an exercise in which people decorate a potato like a superhero. “The Transition model,” the founder of one English Transition Town explained to me, “provides a structure, a foundation for organizing.” And along with Transition’s emphasis on hopefulness over fear, this rigorous playbook seems to set it apart from earlier grass-roots crusades. It is, Transition leaders say, what they hope will allow the movement to bring in the people that conventional activists have failed to reach and, just as important, keep everyone focused through the messiness and disillusionment every community-organizing effort encounters and many do not survive.

At the Panida, the keynote speaker was Michael Brownlee, the director of the Transition effort in Boulder and a representative of Transition U.S. — an even newer group that is forming to help the movement spread in America. He was like the Transition equivalent of a middle manager flown in from corporate.

Brownlee gave his own variation of the standard PowerPoint presentation distributed at Transition trainings. Up on the screen behind him came a slide showing the three convergent emergencies that Transition aims to help us through: climate change, the unraveling of the global economy and peak oil. The theory of peak oil concludes that the productivity of the earth’s oil wells will soon peak — if it hasn’t already — and, once production falls short of demand, the market for our fundamental resource will rapidly spiral into chaos, potentially pulling much of society down with it.

Brownlee spelled out some probable outcomes, quoting peak oil’s pantheon of thinkers: Oil hits $300 a barrel by 2013. Middle Eastern exports cease. Things we take for granted — supermarkets, suburbs — quickly become impossible, and the world sinks into an “unprecedented economic crisis” that will “topple governments, alter national boundaries,” incite wars and “challenge the continuation of civilized life.” Brownlee paused after reading that last quote. He hadn’t even gotten to climate change and the implosion of the American dollar.

It was all surprisingly easy to imagine. Lately, an apocalyptic bile has been collecting in the back of America’s throat. Our era has been defined by skyrocketing line graphs, and it’s easy to wonder if we have finally pushed something just a little too far and are now watching everything start to teeter over. Maybe it’s not our dependence on oil, but the carbon we have plugged up the atmosphere with. Or global population. Or credit derivatives. We’re all starting to career down the other side of that hill — which hill, specifically, is up to you. But it’s the shadowy side, and none of us can see the bottom.

In Sandpoint, though, people were trying to move the stale chatter of environmental collapse out of the health-food store and into the 21st century — to pull each incongruous part of their community together and make their town, collaboratively, the blessed place they all knew it could be. At a time when so much fuzzy energy for change ricochets through our culture, and even Chevron ads ask us to use less oil and harness “the power of human energy” instead, Transition seemed to offer this sold-out theater in Idaho both a vision and a lucid, 240-page instruction manual with which to give it a try.

Would it work? Nobody could say. But as Brownlee finished, and the crowd suddenly re-erupted into applause, even just trying it seemed to feel wonderful. Next, a group of kids raced onto the stage in Sgt. Pepper garb, holding inflatable guitars. Later came a “sustainable performance arts” troupe (they use biofuels when fire dancing) and a woman who sang about rain and peace. By the time the last guitar duo performed “Here Comes the Sun,” everyone in the room was so keyed up — so ready to turn the impending dark age of peak oil and climate change into a renaissance — that no one heard the slightest menace in the line “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting.” Or if they did, they just kept singing along anyway.

The second phase of the Sandpoint Transition Initiative’s Great Unleashing weekend began the next afternoon. A four-hour meeting was called to divide people into working groups, Step 5 in the Transition Handbook. Each working group would focus on a necessity of the town, like food, energy or transportation. They would develop projects, then research and write a plan delineating what steps Sandpoint must take in order to relocalize over the next several decades. The Transition Handbook calls this crucial document an Energy Descent Action Plan. Producing one is Step 12.

More than 100 people turned out for the meeting in the gymnasium of a local charter school. Everyone wore name tags. Richard Kühnel, who started the Sandpoint Transition Initiative with some like-minded friends in his living room, drew a shining sun on his.

Kühnel, 54, is a smiling stick figure of a man, with wispy hair and a whitening beard. He has worked as a software designer on and off since he was a teenager but also has a degree in “ecosocial design” from Gaia University. (He is Austrian and moved to Sandpoint in 1995 with his wife, an alternative-medicine practitioner.) Kühnel organized the initiative’s first meeting early last year after returning from a pilgrimage to Totnes, where he attended one of the first Transition trainings. He was attracted to the movement, he told me, because it alone seems to understand how to persuade people to address the world’s gloomiest challenges without shoving them into denial or depression. “We are not fighting against something,” Kühnel told me. “We are for something. I wanted to be part of the solution, positively responding to all these challenges here in Sandpoint.”

Sandpoint is a town of 8,100 people, rimmed by the Cabinet and Selkirk Mountains and bordered by picturesque Lake Pend Oreille. Like many Western towns, it is the mottled product of a century of migration. Railroad workers were followed by timber workers. In the 1970s, young, long-haired back-to-the-landers arrived, and many persevered even as northern Idaho ossified into a conservative stronghold. Last year, after the rise of Sarah Palin, who is a Sandpoint native, a local magazine ran an account of the couple of months she spent there as an infant before moving to Alaska. “I was in the eighth grade,” a former baby sitter told the magazine. “I held her.”

Transition seeks to “unleash the collective genius of a community,” as Hopkins often puts it — to unify a town behind a single, critical purpose. And at first glance, unifying Sandpoint might seem impossible. But those living on the land, whether out of a left- or right-wing ideology, do have a lot in common, including an astounding amount of resourcefulness. Peggy Braunstein, who came to Sandpoint from New York 27 years ago, told me that for her and her neighbors, many of whom live off the grid, life without oil “isn’t so overwhelming or shocking. People here have already lived a scaled-down life. We’ve already bartered and shared, canned together.” A local green-tech entrepreneur told me that Transition should not have too much trouble “bridging the rednecks and the hippies.” (“The best way to bring them together is a Willie Nelson concert,” he joked.)

At the charter school, everybody found seats in a circle. Many balanced legal pads on their laps. Kühnel’s wife, Berta, began by asking everyone to join hands. She instructed them to close their eyes and transmit energy around the circle in a clockwise direction. “We’re going to journey into 2030 and see what’s there for us,” she said. She told them to feel their bodies lifting into the clouds, falling back to earth as rain, then joining a river, “flowing forward in time.” The river ran through Sandpoint. It was the future now, and Berta asked everyone to look around: “What’s the technology? Is there technology? How do we dream? How do we live?”

Sandpoint’s mayor, a painter and former hardware wholesaler named Gretchen Hellar, was sitting next to Berta. When I asked her later what she made of the exercise, Hellar told me: “First of all, I’m not a good-feelings, touchy-feely kind of person.” She added, “People wanted to talk about where we can put community gardens, how can we make our downtown more viable.” John T. Reuter, a Republican city councilman a few seats over, told me that when Berta told them to hold hands, he was looking around the room, counting up the people he knew Transition just alienated.

The crowd split into groups of nine to draw their visions. Bruce Millard, a local architect who builds with straw bales, quickly emerged as his group’s moderator. Quite tall, with a ponytail and mustache, Millard bent over and drew several circles on his group’s sheet of paper with an orange crayon. He envisioned a hub-and-spoke system: many villages, each with a different specialty, with downtown Sandpoint as a trading post in the middle.

The group started brainstorming, assuming there would no longer be cars or a power grid. One village might grow food. Another should educate children.

“Where are we going to put the corpses?” someone asked.

“Eat ’em!” said a woman in braids.

“Can you just make a rule that everybody’s cremated?” a somber-looking woman in a blazer asked. Her husband was sitting with his face in his hands.

“Well,” Millard said, “it takes a lot of energy to cremate people. Besides, now we’re getting into rules.”

Millard’s sketch happened to look a lot like the master plan of Fourierism, one of the most popular secular utopian movements in American history. In the early 1800s, Charles Fourier, a Frenchman, proposed, in a series of jargon-filled writings, a self-sufficient community model called a “phalanx.” A central estate or “phalanstery” would be surrounded by tradesmen’s workshops, cultural institutions and farmland.

Fourier was horrified by what he saw at the outset of the Industrial Revolution. His fears may sound familiar: that dishonest lending and capitalism in general would lead to the enslavement of humans by big companies; “industrial feudalism,” he called it. And, not unlike Transition, he aimed to overhaul society one phalanx at a time. Fourier claimed to have reduced all possible human personalities to a number of essential types. From there, it was simple math. He calculated that if precisely 1,620 men, women and children were collected in a 6,000-acre phalanx, they would — all by merrily following their individual passions — end up satisfying all the phalanx’s essential needs. “The new amorous world,” he wrote, would rise out of “the new industrial world” by the force of “passional attraction.”

By the mid-1800s, more than 15,000 Americans had experimented with Fourieristic living, many drawn to its promise during a severe economic downturn. But Fourier’s belief that acute scientific modeling could bring disparate people together didn’t hold. It reflected, the historian Carl J. Guarneri writes, “the naïve faith that . . . Baptists would get along with freethinkers and intellectuals would make great farmers.” Arguments tore phalanxes apart. So did debt. All but eight failed within three years.

It has been an American impulse since the Puritans: feeling the world racing in the wrong direction and withdrawing to a small, insular place to start over. Hippies came to Sandpoint in the 1970s for similar reasons: to live solitary, self-reliant lives. But going back to the land was tough, particularly since many never lived on the land in the first place. (“I couldn’t build things with my hands,” one man, once part of a small commune called Huckleberry Duckleberry, told me. “It was futile.”) By the early ’80s most had either moved into town or left the region.

Now, maybe because our various crises have escalated, or because it costs so much to disappear into your own parcel of wilderness, opting out no longer feels like a possibility. One of Transition’s more oblique arguments may be that we can’t escape anymore. We have to work together to remake the places where we already live.

By now, around the charter-school gymnasium, one group was imagining year-round farmers’ markets in the buildings that would, by 2030, no longer be banks. Another discussed bicycle parking and nodded benignly at a man who pictured everyone living in caves with Internet connections. Millard’s circle was ticking off ways they could travel between the villages they had drawn. “O.K., so we’re walking, we’re bicycling, we’re skiing,” he said.

“Kayaking!” someone offered.

Peggy Braunstein spoke up, worried about the snowy north Idaho winters. “We’ve got a problem,” she said.

“There’s no problems,” Millard told her. “In a dream there’s no problems. There’s only solutions.”

Karen Lanphear, who has been steering the Transition Initiative alongside Richard Kühnel since its inception, found this portion of the meeting excruciating. “I thought we squandered at least an hour or an hour and a half of people’s time,” she told me later. Lanphear is a commanding woman of 62 with short, styled gray hair and a doctorate in education. In many ways, she is Kühnel’s temperamental opposite. She feeds off his visionary energy but felt compelled to run their earliest meetings with timed agendas.

In the six weeks before the Unleashing, Lanphear met with the Downtown Sandpoint Business Association, the University of Idaho extension office and the branch manager for U.S. Bank. She was the keynote speaker at the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Women in Business luncheon and penned six editorials on Transition for the local paper. Lanphear told me she has a gift for “building coalitions.” This was apparent. But it wasn’t clear if everyone she briefed had the same frame of reference. Karl Dye, head of the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation, told me, “All the things Transition’s doing basically line up with what we’re trying to do, which is create better-paying jobs.” He saw a lot of promise in Lanphear’s group, though he also said: “If you start a business to produce food locally and there are opportunities to make money by taking it to other areas, you’re going to do it. You may believe in Transitions and local production and local consumption, but hey, man, we’re still Americans.”

At the time of the Great Unleashing, most people in Sandpoint presumably hadn’t heard anything about Transition. But the ones who had often found a way to interpret the movement as extensions of their own visions. Having watched second- and third-home owners, retirees and tourists rush into Sandpoint, many latched on to Transition’s vague promise of building a better, quainter community. A minister told me she was glad that Transition wasn’t “a greenie, hippie, far-out thing.” But Michael Boge, the City Council president, seemed to complain of exactly that, telling me he didn’t understand why the group had to cheapen a good idea by “inventing a new word for it and wrapping themselves in that catchphrase.” (The new word Boge objected to wasn’t “Transition”; it was “sustainability.”) Still, Boge, who owns five drive-in restaurants and is active in a long-distance motorcycling club called the Iron Butt Association, told me that he felt allied with Transition’s ideals. “I’ve bitched about this to my friends for years: we need to make a concerted effort to get off fossil fuels,” he said. “And I truly believe that with the country and God behind us, we can do it.” Transition was a prism, offering a slightly different view of Sandpoint depending on how each person turned it, but always shooting out lots of rainbows.

Transition’s message is twofold: first, that a dire global emergency demands we transform our society; and second, that we might actually enjoy making those changes. Most people I met in Sandpoint seemed to have latched onto the enjoyment part and run with it. The vibe was much more Alice Waters than Mad Max. (Jeff Burns, a local food activist who joined the food working group, was a conspicuous exception. “Some people on the food group want to feel good,” he told me, “and some people want to figure out how to feed 40,000 people in case the trucks stop rolling.”)

Michael Brownlee, the keynote speaker from Boulder, sat silently in his chair during the charter-school meeting. That night, he told me that the unflinching cheeriness of everyone involved made him optimistic. But he also worried that people didn’t yet understand that “just because you’re passionate about a particular issue like transportation or water or local food doesn’t mean that you have the skills to do the research, analysis or planning around that issue.” He later added, “If I knew how to convey how serious, how urgent the situation is without sending people into fear and helplessness, it would take a great burden off of me.”

During the next few days, I surprised myself by actually arguing with people in Sandpoint about whether they were doing Transition properly — with enough intensity, given the stakes. “I can’t live with the ambiguity of pending disaster,” Lanphear told me. “I was raised to believe there are no problems without solutions.” She said she didn’t believe things would become as bad as Brownlee and others predicted. She had a lot of faith in the ethic and ingenuity of younger generations and also told me, contradicting what seems like a central tenet of Transition, “I think technology is going to be one of our saving graces.”

A few months after the Sandpoint Un-leashing, I went to a meeting of the new board of Transition U.S. in Sebastopol, Calif., north of San Francisco. The organization had just partnered with the Post Carbon Institute, another peak-oil-focused nonprofit group, and received $280,000 of seed money. The board had signed the lease on its new headquarters 12 days before I arrived.

Transition U.S. is designed to offer guidance to Transition initiatives forming around the country and to organize trainings. Already it had communicated with activists in more than 900 communities. Jennifer Gray, who started the second Transition Town in England and then went to California to found Transition U.S. last year, was spending most of her time fielding phone calls and e-mail messages. She took it as a good sign that no one in Sandpoint was reaching out to her.

Transition insists that initiatives be completely bottom-up organizations. There’s no central oversight, and the movement is expected to evolve slightly differently wherever it springs up. The trajectory of each initiative shouldn’t be controlled too tightly even by its local leaders; Step 11 in the handbook is really more of a mantra: “Let it go where it wants to go.” Like a Fourierian phalanx, a Transition Town should be the product of the passions of its residents — all of its residents, equally. Unlike Fourierism, though, Transition doesn’t claim its method is mathematically guaranteed to succeed. It simply posits that our best hope is to “unleash the collective genius of the community” and hope all the right pieces spill out. “We truly don’t know if this will work,” Rob Hopkins asserts in a mission-statement-like document called the “Cheerful Disclaimer!”

Consequently, the structure Transition sets forth is intentionally very minimal, and improvisation is encouraged. The handbook’s 12 steps needn’t be done in order (Hopkins now calls them the 12 “ingredients”), and communities are free to skip ones they don’t find useful. Ultimately, the most profound thing Transition offers isn’t a methodology at all but a mood.

“The genius of the Transition message, as I see it, is that it takes what we should be doing to avert these crises and turns it into something that sounds inviting and positive and uplifting,” Richard Heinberg, a Transition U.S. board member, told me in Sebastopol. Heinberg is an icon of the peak-oil fringe and the author of the seminal, comfortless book “The Party’s Over.” In 2007, he published a wider-ranging volume called “Peak Everything.” Still, Heinberg said he worries that Transition risks losing people in the elation it inspires. He has been debating with Hopkins whether, in addition to devising a long-term descent, Transition should emphasize preparing for disasters that Heinberg says are unavoidable or already unfolding, like volatile gas prices or “being sideswiped by economic catastrophe and weather disruptions.”

Eventually he expects the energy grid to weaken or shut off entirely and, like Michael Brownlee, he told me he considers martial law or worse persecution possible as resources become scarcer. Jennifer Gray, meanwhile, told me she expects “a big population die-off.” Heinberg said, “There’s nothing wrong with being motivated by fear if there’s something to be genuinely afraid of.”

I returned to Sandpoint in late February. The 11 working groups formed at the charter school in November were meeting regularly. They ranged in size from half a dozen to about 20 people and were all filing minutes to a steering committee as they plotted their first projects.

Jennifer Gray describes one of Transition’s goals as creating a “parallel community,” putting things like local power generation or local food networks in place to survive the slow crumbling of our current ones. But for the most part, the projects evolving in Sandpoint seemed designed to make the town’s current infrastructure a little greener and more livable. One group hoped to facilitate energy audits, making Sandpoint’s buildings more efficient users of the energy grid. The mobility working group, meanwhile, was planning to install a barrel of brightly colored flags at a dangerous intersection downtown. Pedestrians could pick up a flag and cross the street waving it, making themselves more visible to automobile traffic. Ideally, one member told me, they would persuade the city to put a traffic light there, “but that’s two, three years down the road.”

I was also surprised by the degree to which Transition members were intermixing with city authorities. Shortly after the Great Unleashing, Shelby Rognstad, a young cafe owner and an early Sandpoint Transition Initiative board member alongside Kühnel and Lanphear, was appointed to the town’s planning and zoning commission — a significant position, because Sandpoint was writing its first new comprehensive plan in 30 years. Rognstad spent the winter reading thick books on urban planning and cut down his involvement with Transition significantly. His outlook was changing. “Philosophically, I want to look 100 years down the road and just shoot for that vision,” he told me. “But the city’s only going to go for what’s real and achievable right now, in this fiscal year, in this election cycle.” He said he was thinking of running for office.

Kühnel was serving on the mayor’s advisory council on sustainability, a panel that was assessing a proposal by Transition’s food working group for an organic community garden.

By all estimates, the food group was far ahead of the others. When Jeff Burns approached the city about doing a garden as a first project, the parks director immediately pulled out satellite maps and started recommending plots. The parks director and the mayor had already scouted locations for gardens and were only waiting for some kind of volunteer organization or beautification committee to come and ask for one. Transition was given a third of an acre of an unused athletic field near the center of town and agreed to help keep the rest of the property weed-free in exchange. The food group had already lined up donations of seeds and tools and had a built-in pool of exuberant volunteer gardeners. A groundbreaking party was planned for early May.

And so, the Sandpoint Transition Initiative was taking its first steps. They were baby steps and, it seemed, pointed in only the general direction of the revolutionary postcarbon future the Transition Handbook had called them toward last fall. Other working groups are now volunteering to help the Chamber of Commerce, which happened to be starting its own “buy local” campaign. Transition Initiative members will organize a contest to design the campaign’s logo and will go around town, asking shop owners to hang up posters. Lanphear told me, “As long as we get the work going in the right direction, it doesn’t matter who gets the glory or the credit.” Richard Kühnel chose to see it in an even more positive light. He told me, “I feel whoever wants to participate and whose ideas are aligned with ours, that’s who the Sandpoint Transition Initiative is” — whether those people know it or not.

“I love Richard’s energy,” Councilman John T. Reuter told me during my last afternoon in Sandpoint. “I can’t say that enough times. I just think he’s the best thing since sliced bread. But I guess I can’t really say that because sliced bread is a problem — that’s part of the industrial-food complex. So he’s better than that! Richard is the best thing to recover us from the crime of sliced bread.”

Reuter is 25. Bearded but otherwise baby-faced, he is one of three City Council members under the age of 31. He comes from a family of Greek Orthodox sheep ranchers in southern Idaho and now heads the county Young Republicans. He talks fast, scurrying through wry digressions like a comedian at a Catskills resort.

“Have you read Rob what’s-his-name’s book?” he asked me, meaning the Transition Handbook. Almost before I could answer, he said, “I read that whole thing.” Reuter didn’t like it, though. “There’s no question oil is a limited quantity,” he said, adding that we should prepare for a life without it. But the handbook struck him as overly pessimistic, resigning humanity to the sort of druidic life people at the charter school were romanticizing. “I guess I don’t celebrate the loss of energy the way some of the people in the Transition group do,” he said. “I like having a dishwasher.”

What Reuter said he felt was wonderful about the Sandpoint Transition Initiative was how quickly it was rejuvenating people’s faith that the changes they craved were worth working for. “To say the group has only created a community garden so far really isn’t sufficient,” he told me. “It’s something really more substantive: they’re bringing people to the process.” It was easy to argue that at the initiative’s core, in place of any clearly defined philosophy or strategy, was only a puff of enthusiasm. But Reuter seemed to argue that enthusiasm is an actual asset, a resource our society is already suffering a scarcity of. “There’s just something happening here that’s reviving people’s civic sense of possibility,” he later said. “Politics is ‘the art of the possible,’ right? I think what the Transition Initiative is doing is expanding what’s possible in people’s minds. It is expanding people’s ability to dream bold. And that’s what we need to do: dream bold. Because people have been limited by their own imaginations.”

More than anyone else I had spoken to in Sandpoint, including the initiative’s own organizers at times, Reuter was able to articulate a cohesive understanding of what Transition was actually doing. The movement wasn’t going to unify everybody in Sandpoint, he said: “I know that’s their dream, but I just don’t see it happening.” But it was inspiring for Reuter to watch the group emerge as one fervently turning gear in the larger mechanism of self-governance.

“It’s like any other civic organization,” he said approvingly. It wasn’t a very romantic notion, and maybe achieving that status so easily was a sign that the initiative wasn’t really tackling the level of paradigm-busting work Transition wants to awaken us to. Maybe that will turn out to be regrettable. But, as utopian movements go, it also struck me as an unusually constructive outcome.

Writing an Energy Descent Plan or building a parallel community — bridges to carry us over the terrible time ahead and into a world we long for — wasn’t going to be Transition’s strength or its usefulness, as Reuter saw it. “Government used to be the place in our community where people came together and made civic decisions,” he told me. “That’s what we should do again, and that’s what’s going to bring us back together: not having government be this force somehow outside of us, that’s bearing down on us or annoying us, but as a force that we actually embrace and want and that does what we want.”

Reuter had a utopian vision, too: the one laid out in the U.S. Constitution. And the Sandpoint Transition Initiative seemed to be moving Sandpoint closer to that ideal in its own small way, even though it was working out of a totally different handbook. They were managing to make the functioning democracy in their town a little more productive. For a wide range of not-always-consistent reasons, people in Sandpoint decided that Transition could help them build the world they wanted. And now, only because enough people stepped forward and made that decision, Transition actually looked like a good tool for the job. They were picking it up by whatever handle they grasped. They were swinging it as earnestly as they could.

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: Graham S ()
Date: May 27, 2010 07:24AM

Hey, I had posted a reply to some of Shakti's points about 24 hours ago... did it get lost?

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: rrmoderator ()
Date: May 27, 2010 08:59AM

Graham S:


Nothing has been lost.

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: karenb ()
Date: May 27, 2010 10:13AM

I really hate that loons like this have corrupted *gardening.* Gardening! What chaps my ass about this kind of culty stuff is that it makes normal behavior like learning to darn a sock or make a sheet mulch seem as bizarre as crystal healing. You freaks have a lot to answer for. You are undermining the process of rebuilding community and preserving what's left of a healthy ecosystem by your obvious and undeniable association with genocidal maniacs, fascists, and occultists, and sometimes I have to wonder if that's the whole point.

And don't try to front like you're not slavering for the great die-off, after which you think can restructure society in your own (freaky, freaky) image. Before Rob showed up on this thread I thought that maybe these were just a bunch of relatively innocent Steiner-worshipping ororganic-farming whackadoodles, but his total lack of humility or even interest in anyone else's perspective confirm that this is Blut und Boden lunacy. People who are really interested in saving the world don't get butthurt like you do, Rob. They have humility instead of giant egos. They're more interested in helping people and getting their message out than in getting in fights because someone said something kinda mean about them on a message board.

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: shakti ()
Date: May 28, 2010 12:30AM

. You are undermining the process of rebuilding community and preserving what's left of a healthy ecosystem by your obvious and undeniable association with genocidal maniacs, fascists, and occultists, and sometimes I have to wonder if that's the whole point.

Wait, but there's more...

So, of course, Transition Town has "nothing" to do with Waldorf. Well, other than connections like this...

This first excerpt from the interview is not relevant to Triodos, but does showcase some of Rob's oil market analysis skills. As usual, no mention of how tightly OPEC was reducing production during this timeframe.

"Then you really reach the end of the age of cheap oil, not the age of oil itself. And that’s where we seem to be finding ourselves now, with oil costing
about $120 a barrel. By comparison, when I started writing ‘The Transition Handbook’, the price was around $70 a barrel."

And now it is back down to $70 a barrel.

"What role to sustainable banks like Triodos have to play?"

Rob: I think they have an enormous role to play. We need a banking system that’s responsive to wider movements of which the Transition Movement is just one part. In his book ‘Blessed Unrest’, Paul Hawken calls the environmental movement, ‘the biggest movement that’s ever existed in all history’. What this massive popular will needs to deliver change is institutions that are engaged and supportive. Triodos Bank has proved itself to be in tune with this growing movement. Transition groups and other environmental groups need to start building and putting in place infrastructure that’s
ready for a post-peak oil society, to take over from what’s there at the moment. We can’t do that without money and institutions like Triodos Bank – they’re an essential part of this process and crucial to making transition happen on the scale that’s really needed."

And what is Triodos Bank? Note: this is a mostly positive take on Triodos.


"The Triodos Bank supports a very wide range of socially and environmentally positive projects. The bank does appear to be actively promoting the Bhuddhist faith and Steiner and Waldorf schools based on the (partly occult) ideas of Rudolf Steiner and this might reflect the spiritual beliefs of those managing the bank. Some potential investors may wish to find out a little about anthroposophy (Steiner's ideas) and Buddhism before they decide to use the bank. However, the Bank does also support the projects of other religious faiths."

And, yes, Triodos Bank is helping to fund Transition Town initiatives like this one...

"So we have to find the money. We have until May 4th. We are working very hard at this and we’re confident. Triodos Bank is backing 80% of the bid price based on a sound business plan. Unity bank is backing local food co-operative Just Trade to the tune of 100K. We have pledges on our site of over 100K. We have five or six businesses keen to relocate to Harveys Yard. "

Also, Rob is being very disingenuous about his connections to the New Age in general, and Waldorf in particular. For example, here is Rob's online bookstore Walnut Books.


"Walnut Books was set up in 1996 by Rob Hopkins, permaculture designer and teacher, to provide a source of books on all aspects of practical sustainability within Ireland and beyond. "

Now many of the books here seem pretty harmless. However, there is plenty of New Age stuff here ( I don't really care how Rob defines New Age at this point, read the titles yourself and make up your own mind).

Here is one of the authors who is NOT so harmless. If you go into the section on energy, we find only one author deserving of his very own icon, Viktor
Schauberger. Unfortunately, none of the categories seem to open. (Rob, you may want to contact your webmaster if this is still supposed to be a functioning store, part of your server appears to have crashed).

Who was Schauberger? He is the subject of many conspiracy theories about "Nazi UFOs". Note: there is a mountain of disinformation out there about this guy, most put out by Nazis themselves. However, he is also one of those "Free Energy" guys that supposedly Rob Hopkins makes fun of. Yet Rob feels confident enough about Schauberger's "work" (mostly crackpot pseudoscience if you ask me) to have a section on him on his website.

"....Schauberger's theories appear not to have received acceptance in the mainstream western scientific community, as replication proves either too difficult or results vary from previously published data. However, Schauberger's work remains an inspiration to many people in the Green movement for his own observations of nature."

NOTE: In a thread that has been filled with non-oil guys being treated as oil experts, New Agers being treated like scientists, psychologists like Velikovsky who consider themselves "astronomers", is it any surprise to find a guy like this in the mix?

"In 1934 Viktor was meeting with Hitler, and had discussions about fundamental principles of agriculture, forestry and water engineering.[citation needed] Schauberger is believed to have lent his ideas in order to aid the German Reich. Although whether this was under duress or willingly is still a matter of debate;it appears that his aim was to see this theories put to the test (he had offered his log flume designs to several countries). There is no indication that he supported Nazism, and his private feelings about the Nazis seem to have been disdainful. At any rate, his later (post-1941) work for the regime was enforced by the threat of execution, Schauberger being a KZ prisoner at that time. In 1941, an intrigue caused by the Viennese Association of Engineers resulted in Schauberger's enforced confinement in a mental hospital in Mauer-Öhling, under continuous observation by the SS. In Augsburg, Schauberger worked with Messerschmitt on engine cooling systems and was in correspondence with designer Heinkel about aircraft engines. In 1944, Schauberger continued to develop his Repulsine machine at the Technical College of Engineering at Rosenhügel in Vienna. By May 1945 a prototype had been constructed.

In 1945 Schauberger started to work on his "Klimator". The function of the Klimator is to cool and warm the air in living spaces.[4]

At the end of the war Schauberger was apprehended by US intelligence agents, and kept in custody for 9 months. They confiscated all his documents and prototypes, and interrogated him to determine his activities during the war."

NOTE: This is not an easy thing to sort out, and I would suggest that many of the things attributed to Schauberger never happened. But why is Rob interested in him and selling books dealing with him? Was Schauberger truly "forced" into the SS? Did he truly use slave labor from Malthausen? And most importantly, what is the point of those who have created myths about him (mostly Nazis themselves)? But either way, it is weird to see Rob ripping on people into the "Free energy" scene (deservedly so), yet selling books about one of the main figures cited by that "movement".

Next up, we find Hopkins also selling books by a guy named Nick Kollerstrom. (I can already hear Rob's "rebuttal": "You are merely picking out a few authors from our catalog. Borders doesn't necessarily agree with all the authors it sells" But, Rob, you are a specialty bookstore. You sell Peak Oilers like Dale Alan Pfeiffer, books on holistic gardening, etc. You sell books about guys into "Free energy". You are clearly picking the topics and books you wish to promote.)


Nick Kollerstrom is ALSO a Waldorfer, but more significantly.... a Holocaust Denier. One of many Holocaust Deniers within Anthrosophy. Hardly surprising in a movement founded by a raging anti-semite like Steiner. You sure know how to pick 'em, Rob.

"Jewish Holocaust or German Holocaust? Auschwitz Gas Chambers Myth
May 13, 2008

by Nicholas Kollerstrom, PhD

As surprising as it may sound, the only intentional mass extermination program in the concentration camps of WW2 was targeted at Germans. From April, 1945 five million Germans were rounded up after surrendering, and deliberately starved until well over one million had died, in French and American-run concentration camps[1] - an event soon erased from the history books. There was, in contrast, never a centrally-coordinated Nazi program of exterminating Jews in Germany. Lethal gas chambers did not function in German labour-camps, that’s just an illusion. The traditional Holocaust story has developed out of rumours, misunderstandings, and wartime propaganda. From stories pre-dating the Second World War to the Nuremberg Trials which gave official sanction to the notion, to subsequent trials, books and films, we have had it imprinted on our collective psyche. In most of Europe now, it is a thoughtcrime to believe what you have just read, punishable by imprisonment, so think carefully before deciding to read on."

Straight-up Nazi propaganda.

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: shakti ()
Date: May 28, 2010 01:25AM

For those unfamiliar with Steiner and Waldorf anti-semitism, here is a little primer. While it would be easy to say "his views on Jews don't invalidate his views on gardening, mysticism, etc. Walt Disney was a right-wing nut, but that doesn't mean his movies were bad", Steiner's views on Jews were not "separate" or "secret", but openly espoused and tied directly, inextricably into the Waldorf religion. My summaries of the quotes are above the quotes:

Jews worship the moon, not the sun. They are materialistic, not spiritual ("all Jews care about is money") This despite the fact that Judaism is the source of much of the "western tradition" and even thoroughly mystical schools like Kabbalah.

"As you know, we distinguish the Jews from the rest of the earth's population. The difference has arisen because the Jews have been brought up in the moon religion for centuries [i.e., they worship the Moon being, Jehovah] ... The Jews have a great gift for materialism, but little for recognition of the spiritual world." [Rudolf Steiner, FROM BEETROOT TO BUDDHISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 59.]

Only Jews are inflexible about religion, everybody else is tolerant and pluralistic. You know, like Islam and the Catholic Church!

"Monism or monotheism in itself can only represent an ultimate ideal; it could never lead to a real understanding of the world, to a comprehensive, concrete view of the world. Nevertheless, in the post-Atlantean age the current of monotheism also had to be represented, so that the urge, the impulse toward monotheism devolved upon a single people, the Semitic people. The monistic principle is reflected in this people by a certain rigidity or inflexibility, whilst all the other peoples, in so far [sic] as their different divinities are comprehended in a unity, receive the impulse toward monism from them. The other peoples are inclined to pluralism." [Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 115.]

Jews are terrible as they brought us science.

"[T]he ancient Jewish people ... did not wish to learn anything in addition to what the human being brings with him as a capacity because of the fact that he was an embryo ... Old Testament thinking [led to] the atheistic science of the modern age." [Rudolf Steiner, THE CHALLENGE OF THE TIMES (Anthroposophic Press, 1941), pp. 28-33.] J

Judaism is outdated and needs to die. Gee, I can't imagine why Nazis like Rudolf Hess found Steiner so appealing?

"Judaism as such has long outlived itself and no longer has a legitimate place in the modern life of peoples; the fact that it has nevertheless succeeded in maintaining itself is an aberration in world history the consequences of which had to follow." [Rudolf Steiner, "Vom Wesen des Judentums" {On the Nature of the Jews}, DIE GESCHICHTE DER MENSCHHEIT UND DIE WELTANSCHAUUNGEN DER KULTURVOLKER, Dornach, 1968.]

Anti-semitism doesn't exist. Interesting attitude for a "psychic" living in 1930s Germany.

"Actual antisemitism [sic] is not the cause of this Jewish hypersensitivity, but rather the false image of the anti-Jewish movement invented by overwrought imaginations. Anyone who has dealt with Jews knows how deep runs the tendency to create such an image ... Mistrust of non-Jews has completely taken over their souls ... I consider antisemites [sic] to be harmless people." [Rudolf Steiner,"Die Sehnsucht der Juden nach Palästina," Magazin für Literatur, vol. 66 no. 38.]

Jews get diabetes more easily as they have a tough time absorbing sugar. In reality, Jews are LESS likely to have diabetes.

"Diabetes is today more prevalent among Jews. Certainly others also have diabetes, but it occurs with particular frequency today among Jews. These people have a tendency to diabetes. The Jew has more difficulty absorbing sugar, yet on the other hand he requires it ... Pork makes the assimilation of sugar extremely difficult — pork aggravates diabetes unusually in the human being — so the prohibition of pork was calculated particularly to prevent diabetes." [Rudolf Steiner, FROM COMETS TO COCAINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 284.] All racists, Steiner included, believe that there are deep physical differences between the races, not just superficial differences such as skin color. Steiner spoke of the occult significance of blood, for example; there are important differences, he claimed. [Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD (Health Research, 1972.] (By the way, diabetes does not occur more frequently among Jews. About 6% of the people in the world have diabetes. Among Jews, the figure is 7%. In the USA, among all population groups, the average is 8%. (For non-Hispanic whites, it's about 10%; for non-Hispanic blacks, about 25%.) In Europe, it's 9%. In Jordan and other Muslim countries, the figure may be as high as 15%. As for whether "the" Jew has special trouble absorbing sugar, the answer is no. [American Diabetes Association, , EUobserver, Encyclopedia Britannica, etc.])"

Jews could help us best by disappearing into the rest of humanity. In other words, ethnically cleanse themselves.

"The best thing that the Jews could do would be to disappear into the rest of humankind ... so that Jewry as a people would simply cease to exist." [Rudolf Steiner,"Vom Wesen des Judentums," DIE GESCHICHTE DER MENSCHHEIT UND DIE WELTANSCHAUUNGEN DER KULTURVOLKER, p. 189.]

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: Graham S ()
Date: May 28, 2010 01:41AM

And don't try to front like you're not slavering for the great die-off, after which you think can restructure society in your own (freaky, freaky) image. Before Rob showed up

Let me get this straight: your are saying that Rob- in common with PO doomers- are actually "slavering" for a die-off. I dont want to be an apologist for Rob, but I really do not think that is a justified comment. Culty, New Agey, pseudoscientific etc yes. Genocidal- no, and doesnt that count as a personal attack?!
I should point out that ever since Transition started, Rob has been consistently opposed to the Die-off doomer notion. The whole point of Transition since its inception has been to promote a more positive "transition" seeing it as an opportunity etc.. He wrote several blog posts debunking the survivalist mentality, much to the chagrin of real doomers.
You may think he is naive and plain wrong and even irresponsible and dangerous, but claiming he wants mass death to be perpetuated on humanity is conspiracy theory gone nuts.

"However, he is also one of those "Free Energy" guys that supposedly Rob Hopkins makes fun of."

Good point!! Yes it infuriates me that Schauberger always pops up on permaculture courses- what use is it at all??
However, just in the interest of accuracy I should point out that Rob sold Walnut books about 7-8 years ago, so you cant hold him responsible for its current content; of course he very likely sold Schauberger books when it was his, and all the Biodynamic Steiner stuff as well. I dont know anything about Kollerstrom, never previously heard of him.
Permaculture magazine in the UK is lamentably just as bad.
Very few people realise Triodos is Anthro- I only discovered that recently when researching Waldorf schools. Of course, the folks involved with that project have no excuse not knowing who their sponsor is.

Shakti I wrote a long post responding to some of your points on PO but it seems to have been lost in the ether, Ill see if this one gets through and re-post if I have time.

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: shakti ()
Date: May 28, 2010 03:57AM

"However, just in the interest of accuracy I should point out that Rob sold Walnut books about 7-8 years ago, so you cant hold him responsible for its current content; of course he very likely sold Schauberger books when it was his, and all the Biodynamic Steiner stuff as well."

-Thanks for info, I stand corrected. About page was about Rob, so I figured he was still in mix. Either way, it's a weird company with a weird book list.

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: shakti ()
Date: May 29, 2010 12:00AM

Slightly tangential, but it was a weird coincidence to see the first New College article I've seen in a while right while doing this Transition Town research. And what an article! New College is not to blame for this guy, and appears to have been conned by him. But it was the investigation into this freak that triggered further investigations leading to them being de-certified. New College is where Heinberg taught for some time.

Note, however, that the New College teacher that recruited him is STILL in contact with him and "sympathetic" to him, even after all that has happened. Seems typical of weird New Age "no blame" ethics...

"He did not respond to an interview request sent to him in jail. But he still talks often on the phone to Jerry Dekker - the New College instructor who recruited him back in 2002 - assuring him he is innocent. "He said, 'Jerry, you know me better than anybody. I'm just a poor Nepali boy from south Kathmandu,' " Dekker said. "He said he wants to go back to school, get his degree and get a job in the U.S. State Department." Dekker said he does not condone any of the acts of which Niroula is accused, but has some sympathy for him. Niroula has suffered from homophobia and the greed of others, he said, and his story "could be instructive to all of us about the hopes and aspirations of people from poor countries." He was asked if Niroula might be manipulating him.

"Of course, that's his genius!" Dekker said. "You don't think I know that?"

'I am a predator' - ruin follows him everywhere

Demian Bulwa, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, May 23, 2010
Kaushal Niroula, who arrived in San Francisco as a studen... Martin Hamilton, head of now-defunct New College of Calif... David Replogle had won big money for Danny Garcia. More...

Looking back, those who crossed paths with Kaushal Niroula - an exchange student accused in a dizzying binge of graft and murder - wonder if anything he ever said was true.

He wasn't royalty in his native Nepal, as he once claimed, nor was he an estate lawyer or a luxury condominium buyer. Considering he is gay, it appears he did not fall in love with the Japanese tourist to whom he became engaged - while allegedly relieving her of half a million dollars.

With wonder and horror, authorities and associates are recounting a singular crime spree in which, they say, a dogged con man exploited others' goodwill or greed.

"This guy wanted that quantum leap," said Greg Ovanessian, a veteran San Francisco police fraud inspector, "from zero to everything."

In his wake, authorities say, he left ruin. He contributed to the 2008 closure of New College of California in San Francisco, which had been around for 37 years. He is accused of conning an art collector out of $400,000 - money he blew in Las Vegas.

In the capper, police say, Niroula and an odd band of accomplices killed a Palm Springs retiree and tried to sell his home. That has the 28-year-old Niroula - whom San Francisco prosecutors call the "Dark Prince" - in a Riverside County jail awaiting a Sept. 7 murder trial.

"Honey," Niroula once told a friend in a text message revealed by prosecutors in the Palm Springs case, "everyone believes me until they have been conned ... some even after that."
The promise

Niroula had many believers after arriving in 2002 on a visa sponsored by New College, an alternative school in the Mission District.

The instructor who recruited him, Jerry Dekker, said Niroula had lived in a one-room home in Kathmandu but had a striking personality. "Being poor, gay and incredibly sharp," Dekker said, "he wanted to escape that world."

At New College, Niroula showed promise. His manners were regal, and he called instructors "sir" and "ma'am." He also spun a story.

Although he wasn't paying tuition, he was rich - but cash-poor because his accounts were frozen amid unrest in Nepal. When he could, Niroula said, he would give the school $1 million.
The scandal

New College needed the lifeline. And its leader bought in.

"He was very good at showing just enough little crumbs," said former New College President Martin Hamilton.

Once, he recalled, he went to dinner with Niroula and a man the student introduced as Nepal's former deputy foreign minister. Another time, Hamilton got a call from a banker in India who explained how Niroula was busy making arrangements for the $1 million donation.

The money never came, but scandal did. Niroula, faculty members said, gave the registrar papers with fake grades and Hamilton's signature.

Hamilton said the signature was forged, but the resulting probe helped cost the school its accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Hamilton, who resigned in 2007, now admits he tried to help Niroula even after being conned out of thousands of dollars of his own money.

"He had me convinced that his sister - and this sounds embarrassing - had been kidnapped," he said. "He needed a few thousand dollars to get her released."
The veneer

As the school sank, Niroula built an image that awed some people and turned off others.

He didn't work, but amassed enough cash to frequent the Four Seasons and ride in limos. At Martuni's in San Francisco, bartenders recall him peeling off $100 for two drinks.

"Image is everything," Ovanessian said. "When you buy a round for the house, it has an effect."

Former housemate Thomas Avona, who was briefly married to a Nepalese who came to the United States with Niroula, described him as a childhood "nerd" who took flight in San Francisco.

"He destroyed money," Avona said. "He made you feel like everything was going to be OK, because he had either the money or the scheme to take care of it."
The con games

The schemes that followed included the one that hooked the Japanese tourist.

After meeting the woman on a 2006 trip to Waikiki, Niroula said he could get her a U.S. visa for investors if she wired more than $500,000 into a domestic account.

When she did, Niroula drained the account with forged checks, the woman wrote in a lawsuit.

Soon, he explained that he had only borrowed the money to help relatives flee Nepal. He was a member of the royal family, he said, and there were complications - his sister had been kidnapped. The woman then gave another $41,000 for ransom.

She later told police - who doubt Niroula ever had a kidnapped sibling - that she planned to marry Niroula. They had not had sex, she explained, because "he respected her," Ovanessian said.

Then there was the tale of the pretend painting. In September 2007, police say, Niroula and an art dealer boyfriend told collector Gary Heidenreich that he could acquire a work by surrealist Yves Tanguy.

The British crown wanted to sell it quietly - the Nazis had once owned it - and needed $400,000 of the $990,000 price up front. Heidenreich gave the money to the boyfriend, who gave it to Niroula, who spent much of it at Bellagio in Las Vegas, police say.

If Niroula was ambitious, he was also sloppy, authorities say. Heidenreich's money was traced to him, and on Feb. 29, 2008, San Francisco police arrested him.

By then, though, he had made a fateful connection - befriending an attorney and his client who had filed a high-profile, and lucrative, lawsuit against a San Francisco financier.
The sex case

According to a friend, Niroula read about the attorney, David Replogle, and his client Danny Garcia in People magazine. He soon grew close to them and partied with Garcia.

Garcia had become well known in 2003 by suing Thomas White, saying the wealthy financier had sex with him as a teenager. Two years later, White settled the suit - and a second suit Replogle filed on behalf of Mexican boys who said White abused them in Puerto Vallarta - for $10 million. Garcia, who is now 27, had helped recruit the Mexican plaintiffs.

Today, White remains jailed in Mexico and faces federal sex-tourism charges in San Francisco. But he is appealing the deal with the Mexican boys, claiming that Garcia, Replogle and others conned him.

It was Replogle, records show, who paid Niroula's $250,000 bail in the art caper. Niroula allegedly tried to pay him back by stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry from a friend in Novato, and was arrested in August 2008.

A month later, a Marin County judge released Niroula, pending trial, when a hearing had to be postponed. The lead detective, records show, was unavailable while on honeymoon.
The soap opera

Within weeks, authorities say, Niroula was planning his two most startling crimes.

"I am a predator," he texted Garcia in November 2008. "That's why you love me."

Niroula, Garcia and Replogle had unusual relationships. Replogle once got a restraining order against Garcia, who countered in a court declaration that Replogle had showered White's alleged Mexican victims with cash and didn't care if they told the truth.

Garcia and Niroula were "hot and cold," a boyfriend of Garcia's later testified. During a cold stretch, he said, Garcia hacked Niroula's e-mail and called people Niroula knew to warn them about him - including the Japanese tourist.

He told others Niroula had tried to infiltrate the sex-tourism case to get some of White's money.
The inheritance

Still, in late 2008, Niroula and Garcia were in close contact. Prosecutors say they texted each other about "Operation C.L.," which targeted Cliff Lambert, 74, a Palm Springs retiree who was about to vanish.

Lambert knew Garcia first, having met him online, Riverside County prosecutor Lisa DiMaria told a judge last year.

Then, she said, Niroula became estate lawyer "Samuel Orin." He called Lambert to say he was in line for a big inheritance, prompting Lambert to invite him over.
The unraveling

On Dec. 5, 2008, prosecutors say, Niroula showed up at the house with two Heald College students from San Francisco whom he had offered a split of $30,000. One grabbed a knife and stabbed Lambert repeatedly, DiMaria said.

She said Lambert was stuffed in the trunk of his own car and buried in the desert. His body has never been found.

Garcia immediately splurged with Lambert's bank cards, DiMaria said, while Replogle posed as Lambert to give Niroula's art dealer boyfriend, Russell Manning, power of attorney over the dead man's affairs.

On Jan. 6, 2009, DiMaria said, Manning deeded Lambert's home to Niroula, who deeded it to San Jose telecommunications executive Jay Shah - who had once bailed him out of immigration custody.

The next day, though, police caught a break.

The man who allegedly stabbed Lambert, Miguel Bustamante, was caught cleaning out the victim's home. In jail, prosecutors say, he detailed the conspiracy to an informant.

Detectives also heard from a Saratoga real estate agent who had once let Niroula stay with him and his wife. Mark Evans said Niroula and Replogle had asked him to sell the Palm Springs house.

The explanation: Lambert had offered the property in a secret deal after he and another man tied up Niroula, raped him and gave him AIDS.

"It's always a wild story," Evans said.
The condo con

Even as police investigating the Lambert killing closed in, authorities say, Niroula was scheming another audacious crime.

In early 2009, while acting as home-shopper "Syd Jones," Niroula got a look at a condominium in One Rincon Hill, San Francisco's tallest residential tower, said city prosecutor Michael Troncoso.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor said, an accomplice, Winston Lum, forged papers to take title of the condo and two others worth $7.5 million - then applied for equity loans.

Before the real owner of the three condos discovered what was going on, the lender visited the units to make sure the deal was solid.

Lum took on the role of a Chinese-language speaker, Troncoso said, while Niroula became his translator. Lum didn't speak Chinese, though, and spouted "gibberish," the prosecutor said.

An investigation began when the real owner, Shirley Hwang, started getting Lum's mail and discovered he, not she, held title with the city recorder.

Lum, along with two other alleged participants - Jay Shah and San Jose attorney Melvin Emerich, who once aided Niroula in his Marin County case - have pleaded not guilty to multiple criminal counts.
The takedown

Niroula was also charged in the condo case. But by the time San Francisco prosecutors went to court, he and Replogle had been arrested on suspicion of murdering Lambert.

The two were taken into custody March 2, 2009, outside a hearing in the art fraud case.

Later that week, the $2.2 million condo loan was paid out to various accounts that police say are linked to the suspects. One check, for $869,000, was cashed in Zurich.

But Niroula "barely missed the money," Ovanessian said.

In July, police found Bustamante's Heald College classmate Craig McCarthy and charged him with Lambert's murder.

Manning, Niroula's art dealer boyfriend, was arrested the next month. Authorities couldn't tie the 68-year-old to the killing, so he pleaded guilty to fraud and got five years in prison.

As for Replogle and Garcia - who is also charged with murdering Lambert - they say they had nothing to do with his disappearance.

Replogle's lawyer, John Patrick Dolan, said his 61-year-old client thought Niroula had traveled to Palm Springs to finalize a settlement with Lambert over his purported sexual assault of Niroula.

Later, Dolan said, Replogle posed as Lambert only after his life was threatened by his alleged accomplices.

But prosecutors say Replogle spoke on the phone to Niroula, Garcia and Bustamante more than 160 times in the days before Lambert's disappearance.
The last believer

As a trial nears, Niroula is still trying to sell his story. He is acting as his own attorney.

He did not respond to an interview request sent to him in jail. But he still talks often on the phone to Jerry Dekker - the New College instructor who recruited him back in 2002 - assuring him he is innocent.

"He said, 'Jerry, you know me better than anybody. I'm just a poor Nepali boy from south Kathmandu,' " Dekker said. "He said he wants to go back to school, get his degree and get a job in the U.S. State Department."

Dekker said he does not condone any of the acts of which Niroula is accused, but has some sympathy for him.

Niroula has suffered from homophobia and the greed of others, he said, and his story "could be instructive to all of us about the hopes and aspirations of people from poor countries."

He was asked if Niroula might be manipulating him.

"Of course, that's his genius!" Dekker said. "You don't think I know that?"
String of cons

Kaushal Niroula, who came to San Francisco as an exchange student from Nepal, is linked to a string of crimes and scandals, including:

2003-08: Niroula says he can't pay tuition at New College of California San Francisco because unrest in Nepal has frozen his accounts, but promises to give the school $1 million when he can. The money never comes, faculty members say, but a forged grade sheet for Niroula prompts a probe that closes the college.

July to October 2006: Niroula takes more than $500,000 from a Japanese tourist he meets on a trip to Hawaii, according to the victim's lawsuit. A judge later orders damages against Niroula, who is not charged criminally.

September 2007: Niroula and an art dealer boyfriend, Russell Manning, steal $400,000 from a collector, police say. They say Manning asked for a deposit on a painting by Yves Tanguy that actually sits in the National Gallery of Scotland. Niroula and Manning face charges.

February 2008: Niroula steals more than $300,000 worth of jewelry from a friend in Novato, in a bid to raise bail money in San Francisco, police say. The jewelry is recovered. A trial is pending.

December 2008: Niroula and four others conspire to murder a Palm Springs retiree, drain his accounts and sell his home, authorities say. The victim's body has not been found, but the suspects face a Sept. 7 murder trial.

Early 2009: Niroula and three others fraudulently take possession of three condominiums in San Francisco worth $7.5 million and take out a $2.2 million equity loan, authorities say. Niroula faces charges along with his alleged accomplices.

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Re: Transition Town Movement
Posted by: OutofTransition ()
Date: June 08, 2010 08:25PM

Hello, an update:

I recently ran into one of the local Transition Town members who said he hadn't seen me around for a while and wondered what was going on. Since he is one of the more stable members of the group I felt I could speak freely with him about my concerns. I did not bring up any of the issues that have been raised on this forum as, while I have no doubt in my mind that there is plenty about Transition to be concerned about, I did not feel that was the time and place. Instead we discussed what happened at the meeting that spooked me, and the use of rituals. By rituals I do not mean simply sitting around in a circle, but actual ceremonies centered around equinoxes, solstices, things that many people here would consider to be part of a New Age/neopagan/Wiccan/Native American religious spectrum.

To his credit, I think he understood what I was objecting to, which was the fact that the group does not inform prospective members that they may be asked to attend/participate in such rituals, and therefore people cannot make an informed decision as to whether they want to do so. An analogy would be if someone were to be invited to a Neighborhood Watch or Mothers Against Drunk Driving meeting only to find that reciting the Rosary is part of the meeting. It doesn't matter if it is just the local Transition group or Transition as a whole--if these "rituals" are an integral part of belonging, then people need to know that this group does in fact endorse a particular religion and is NOT secular despite what is advertised.

I suspect that the person I talked to does not know why or how these rituals are part of the group, or indeed anything about Transition apart from what he has read in the Transition materials. He said he thought the rituals were part of the Native American influence. He said they were having an upcoming "reskilling" session and were going to be issuing their own currency soon. I find this very interesting because there is little enough to buy using regular money in the community he is talking about let alone their bogus bucks. We shall see how the few local merchants react to this. As for "reskilling", this does not involve retraining for new jobs--it has to do with food preservation Amish-style. Apparently they are all expecting society to revert to the Amish standard of living fairly soon. They think this is a wonderful thing. I think it would be an unmitigated disaster. The Amish are known for a lot of things, but innovation, science, medicine, invention, knowledge, education, technology and research are not among them. They also are a highly controlled society. They have deliberately chosen to stay stuck in a time warp and members who deviate from that are strictly dealt with. Is this the model the Transition Town people have in mind?

Furthermore, the atmosphere of hysteria that I experienced at that fateful meeting was not an aberration, but an apparently on-going thing. He said to me, "You have to understand. People are afraid. They are scared. They are worried." And who and what is stirring up that fear and why? It is one thing to be concerned and to look for solutions, it is another to foster an environment of panic, and I believe that this is what is going on here. The less emotionally stable and rational individuals seem to be steering the group--and this is definitely a danger sign according to Rick Ross.

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