TESS unconference – a poetic reflection

On 28th May about 80 European researchers, policy makers and community activists met in the contemporary-Georgian surroundings of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation to participate in the TESS ‘unconference’ – entitled “Can the transition to a sustainable future be locally led?”.

One of the day’s highlights was a summary and reflection by Emily Hinshelwood, a ‘Poet, playwright, tutor, desk-top publisher and performer’ with a particular interest in climate change.

A full summary of the day will follow soon. Meanwhile, by popular demand, here is the poem’s text in full:


Emily Hinshelwood


So we’re gathered at the Centre for Carbon Innovation

with colleagues from half a dozen European nations;

the conference question for the day is planted in our heads:

‘Can Transition to a better world be … locally led?’


Is it just a question of persuading all the masses

to be a bit more careful when they’re burning greenhouse gases?

Or are we so addicted to our fossil fuel emissions, that we’d

better just sit tight and let our leaders make decisions?

Or is there scope – is there a role

for people – actual people – to take control?


It’s pretty clear that cutting carbon isn’t going very well:

Global markets, Crazy targets

Up the junction, with mass consumption

Tax incentives and entrenched

faith in the oath that capitalist growth

will fix this mammoth environmental threat.

That’s like – trying to cure cancer by prescribing cigarettes!


We heard about Transition Towns

De-growth that gets us all to slow down

Places that went to green from brown

Bikes in cities that were hand-me-downs

back on the street cutting down heat

by a ton of carbon everyday!

That’s local people leading the way!


We heard about Samso Island of Green

where they’ve cut back their use of gasoline.

And projects like the one in Berlin

where they’re grabbing out food that’s gone in the bin.

Hosting fridges, picking out pastries

This is good food and it’s usually quite tasty!


The Finnish farms, the sharing of cars.

Ordinary people leaving the bars,

or the pubs, or wherever it is they’re having a drink

and they’re thinking there’s a chink in this life.

We’ve got to do something if we’re going to survive:

“Wanna do something about Globalisation?

Plant some sweetcorn outside the station!”


It may sound simple but the idea has spread –

it’s just a case of building a few raised beds.

It doesn’t need to be clever or never been done.

It’s got to be simple, it’s got to be cheap

and it’s got to be fun!


This is just a sample,

of concrete examples.

But there’s no silver bullet

there’s no simple rule that

what’s good for Totnes

is good for Liverpool.

Coz everywhere is different

and it would be the case

that things aren’t the same

when they’re in another place.


And what level do we work at?

the household or the state?

Do we aim for adaptation

or try to mitigate?

or calculate?

or renovate?

or resonate?



or just….. wait

for that miracle?


Yet all the scientists agree

that we’re on the path to four degrees.

We’ve got to do something, we’re running out of time

before we pass the stage of no return.


Is it idealistic, is it naïve

to believe

that the answer will be somewhere up a politician’s sleeve?


And can we measure and analyse?

Can we question and prioritize?

and ask the whos and whats and whys?

and can we be fair and can we succeed?

and what does it even mean – to Lead?


And while we’re at it, what is Place?

And what is Local anyway?

And who are People and who are We?

and what is Sustainability?


But there is one thing we know – Goddammit

We’re going to bloody well save this planet!





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