Transition Tactics

Tangible steps for transitioning to a solarpunk civilisation.

This website is about practical steps—what we can really do to arrive at a sustainable future within our lifetimes.

My suggested action plan is to pursue a highly specific collection of practical steps: techniques which can be implemented by anyone right now.

List of practical techniques

Efficient arrangements of matter in spacetime.

To begin with, a list of existing online resources can be found here.

I’ve collected the resources I’ve found which actually explains how to do something in practice. This can be useful because 99% of online resources are junk and empty words. Here, I’ve filtered out the garbage and made a list of useful resources.

A rocket mass heater will heat your house at zero recurring cost, not just in theory but in practice. It can also work as a water heater, cookstove and oven.

The heater is built with a large thermal mass (clay-based, for instance). Heat keeps radiating for more than 24 hours after the fire has gone out, keeping your house comfortably warm overnight.

Rocket mass heaters use a fraction of the fuel that conventional wood stoves use (5 – 10 times less fuel).

They are powerful units which burn extremely hot, incinerating virtually all impurities.

The preferred fuel is small-diameter branches and sticks. You can heat your house with coppiced willow from a wastewater ditch. As the willow uses nutrients from local wastewater to grow, you will be hard-pressed to find a more environmentally friendly heating system.

There’s a good summary of rocket mass heaters on appropedia.

Air tubes for geothermal energy makes for a passive or semi-passive (many designs require a fan) heating- and cooling system.

Underground systems can be used in a wide variaty of climates such as the deserts or the temperate zones.

The most basic system, completely passive with no moving parts, would be to bury a 40 m (≈ 131 ft) long pipe as straight as possible from your house for passive airflow. Closest to your house, it should be 2 m or deeper below ground. Furtherst from your house, it should be 3 m below ground. The pipe should be 15 cm (≈ 6 in) Ø.

The airflow prevents mould, but you can put a rope through the pipe as an additional measure (before covering the pipe with soil). Once a year, tie a vinegar-drenched rag to one end of the rope. Then tie another rope to the rag and pull the rag and new rope through the pipe with the first rope. This prevents mould and leaves a rope in the pipe to repeat the process next year.

Radon build-up is prevented in two ways: 1) the pipe sides are airtight (do NOT use perforated drainage pipe) and 2) there is a constant downwards slope away from the house throughout the entire system (radon gas is heavier than air).

Non-violent communication is a way to think and speak which enables people to connect at the heart.

All living beings have needs. These needs range from basic such as the need for air and physical safety to complex such as the need for intellectual stimuli and expressions.

Nonviolent communication teaches to stop and observe a situation objectively (“in situation x I feel y”). Then it teaches to identify which needs are being compromised in the specific situation. Finally it teaches to express this clearly. This creates a benevolent environment which optimises the chances for a conflict resolution most suitable to both parties.

There’s a three hour long workshop video with the founder Marshall Rosenberg here.

Jean Pain composting (pronounced “ja pae”) utilises the heat from decomposing brushwood. This can be used to heat greenhouses and larger spaces anywhere in the world where brushwood is available.

Chip freshly cut brushwood into a pile. Thoroughly soak the woodchips as they build up. Place an empty hose inside the pile as you build it in order to extract the heat through water circulation once finished.

Jean Pain was able to heat 4 litres of water per minute by 50°C (122°F) for 6 months using a 50 tons heap (source: page 49 of the small book “The Methods of Jean Pain” — here’s a summary of the book). A more practical implementation is to build a much smaller mound with a closed-loop system in which the water doesn’t have to be reheated much.

Here are some tips from the book “The Compost-Powered Water Heater” by Gaelan Brown, pages 121 & 130:

  • Jean Pain’s special woodchipper produced unusual, stringy shreds of wood chips. This material worked better to create the ideal aeration and surface area compared to the uniform wood chips from modern chippers. To compensate for this, include as much fresh sawdust in the pile as possible (preferably 40%) and mix in manure (preferably 10%).
  • Never include rot-resistant wood such as larch.
  • Add straw bales around the Jean Pain mound for insulation, and a thick layer of straw on top to prevent evaporation. Vertical mound walls also creates better aeration due to the chimney effect.
  • Always soak the material excessively while building the pile. If moisture content drops below 40%, microbes goes into hibernation and stops generating heat.
  • (There’s a video summary of the book “The Compost-Powered Water Heater” by the author here. I cannot recommend the book nor the summary as they are not focused enough, but I added the video link for the sake of completion.)

Two shelves of kratky hydroponics will yield one head of lettuce per day indefinitely at the cost of light, fertiliser and seed ($0.04 per head of lettuce for fertiliser and seed).

Total time required for harvesting and replanting is a single-digit number of minutes per week.

Sprouts (image) will yield nutrient-dense vegetables in less than a week anywhere in the world. They require no light to grow and takes less than a minute per day of active work to maintain.

Makerspaces and permablitzes are benevolent gatherings of like-minded radicals where we actually do stuff.

Andrew Sage describes makerspaces here and permablitzes here.

Mutual aid is often encouraged in anarchist spaces. Basically, be generous and build community. This means giving for free at times, lending tools, talking to your neighbours, inviting friends over for dinner etc.

While this is just the pretext, it’s the practical way to make mutual aid happen. Good relationships between people must be there as a baseline for us to fluently help each other.

Not only is this good for everybody, but if people around us get the feeling that we are generous and happy, they will be more inclined to accept or even adapt our ideas themselves in the end.

Andrew Sage generally covers community building and activism well. You can learn about mutual aid from him here.

An earth cellar (root cellar) lets you store large amounts of food with no electricity.

A cement pipe, vertically buried, with a lid can act as poor man’s earth cellar if the real one cannot be built right away.

Here’s a simple list of long-storing crops to cover both nutrition and variety of taste:

  • Stored as-is or dried slightly below room temperature: nuts, beans, pulverised rosehips, winter squash & wax gourd/winter melon.
  • Stored in-ground, perennial behaviour: miner’s lettuce & stringy stonecrop.
  • Stored in-ground, annual: Jerusalem artichoke, carrot, parsnip, kale & winter lettuce/lamb’s lettuce.
  • Canned: tomatoes, Jerusalem artichoke & berry or fruit compote (lingonberry stores particularly well).
  • Stored on the plant: citrus (miyagawa satsuma/citrus unshiu and meyer lemon for instance) naturally stores on the tree for over a year and can be freshly picked midwinter in a frost-free passive greenhouse (see efficient greenhouses below).

With an earth cellar, everything mentioned here can be stored without electricity.

For the green leaves, I have given examples of the most cold-hardy vegetables. Layered covering (see below) will allow you to grow them in climates down to any temperature.

Here’s a list of different types of layered cover to grow plants in cold temperatures. Stacking more layers will allow you to grow/store (depending on latitude) cold hardy plants down to any temperature:

Efficient greenhouses come in a few types: geodesic dome greenhouses, walipinis, house-attached greenhouses (also sunroom/conservatory) and Chinese-style passive solar greenhouses.

Most designs orients the greenhouse east-west and heavily insulates the side closest to a pole of the Earth (for northern hemisphere, north).

The geodesic dome greenhouse is an exception. It compensates by being the most aesthetically pleasing and structurally durable. The dome shape encloses the most space with the least material and is the most wind-resistant. The odd shape also lets it fit where elongated boxes will not.

I have built a 5.6 m (18.37 ft) Ø geodesic dome greenhouse in my garden. You can contact me if you have any questions.

Timebanking is a system where members can purchase and offer services. The currency is time and the cost is however long it takes to perform the service. Like tool libraries and repair cafés (see below), timebanks build community and a parallel economy.

Time transactions are tax exempt and completely decoupled from state-issued currency.

Consider starting or participating in a timebank in your area.

Tool libraries are libraries where all sorts of objects are lent, rather than just books. Library hubs can serve a similar function to timebanks (see above) and repair cafés (see below) in ways of building community and a parallel system.

Consider starting or participating in a tool library in your area.

Repair cafés are based on the idea of repairing instead of throwing away. They are similar to timebanks and tool libraries (see above) in being hubs for community and creating a parallel system.

Consider starting or participating in a repair café in your area.

Carnivorous houseplants of the drosera species can be grown to naturally rid your house of fungus gnats and fruit flies.

My drosera capensis ‘alba’ completely annihilates fungus gnats. This is a good solarpunk and permaculture solution which doesn’t involve disposable products.

Three quick tips on this: 1) take leaf cuttings, 2) a plastic pot with sphagnum moss works best and 3) if you have a clothes dryer, you can use distilled water from it to water carnivorous plants.

Tiny forests are quickly established with the Miyawaki Method—10 times as fast as regular forests (introduction videos / in-depth how-to videos).

These forests can be scaled down to grow in as little space as 4 m × 3 m (9.84 ft × 13.12 ft). This makes them suitable to urban areas and even personal gardens.

A delivery bicycle (also utility bicycle, cargo bike, butcher’s bike or Deutsche Post bicycle) can be an excellent investement if the infrastructure is decent where you live.

Make a padded egg box if you want to transport your groceries.

Deep mulch gardening (also Ruth Stout gardening or Back to Eden gardening) essentially means adding a thick layer of mulch on soil. This can be any suitable organic material such as straw, woodchips or leaves. In order to plant, simply make a hole through the mulch down to the soil and plant there.

There are several advantages to this method: soil microbiology thrives under the mulch, weeds cannot grow when the mulch is thick enough to block out the sunlight, plants have a slight protection against frost, moisture is retained under the mulch and evaporation is minimised etc.

Some disadvantages include slug habitat and the need for a source of mulch.

The deep litter method is an elegant way to keep animals comfortable over winter.

A Stirling engine can be used to generate electricity from a fireplace.

I live in Sweden at the latitude of Stockholm (about 59° north), where 5 kW worth of solar panels, about $10 000 worth of solar panels, generates a measly 1000 Watt-hours per day in midwinter. This is so little electricity that no machines bigger than a laptop can be ran. No washing machine. No freezer. Nothing.

Solar panels are still the best option for the majority of the year, but to have any energy consumption beyond a laptop in midwinter, alternative electricity sources are required. An engine at a few hundred W would be useful. There have been attempts at commercial development of engines at 1000 W.

We need innovation to get quiet and powerful Stirling engines. They could be installed on top of any stove to generate the majority of electricity for the darker months in places with little sunlight.

Universal basic income (UBI) is a small income, sufficient for necessaries, given to all whether they work or not. Managing a UBI is one of the few ways government can be useful during a temporary transition phase.

In the paper “The Cost of Basic Income: Back-of-the-Envelope Calculations”, the cost of a basic income for the USA is explored. The payout is set to $12 000 per adult per month and $6 000 per child per month. The cost of this basic income is estimated at $539 billion per year.

Here’s a quote from the paper above: “This UBI would drop the official poverty rate from 13.5% to 0%, eliminating poverty for 43.1 million people (including 14.5 million children)”. An often cited study on poverty cost in the United States, “Estimating the Economic Cost of Childhood Poverty in The United States”, estimates the yearly cost of childhood poverty alone to about twice that of basic income—little over one trillion dollars.

Basic income would likely pay for itself many times over, unlock human potential and transform how we see work.

The action point here is to advocate in unison for basic income whenever the opportunity presents itself. You can also get a tiny cryptocurrency UBI from various projects right now.

Minimise economic activity wherever possible. We must all participate in the economic system to some degree, and we’re all in different situations. Go through what you spend money on and seriously consider cutting out each thing.

Make long-time purchases when possible. Buy a cast-iron skillet. Cancel a subscription. If you have to purchase a new cellphone, consider a Fairphone. Grow a small portion of your own food. Occasionally or regularly cook one week’s worth of moussaka or stew in a single go (if you want to take this a step further, use a haybox).

If enough people behaved like this, the economic system would grind to a halt. To make this effective, there needs to be a loud expression coupled with this: show others that your living is good and enjoyable. Politicians will then have to consider a shift in public opinion with their next move. Political leaders never lead—they always follow.

Aesthetics is my favourite topic, so I have put it last and will spend some extra time on an article. I will link the article here when it’s ready.

My subjective take is that the easiest guideline for a beautiful landscape is to shy away from anything with even a slightly mass-produced look. For instance, rock is better than cement, but the rock must not have been cut by industry machinery—a soulless material instantly exposes itself.

Aesthetics have functional importance even though many don’t think so, because they will invoke different feelings which will affect people’s mindsets and actions.

You can check out the aesthetics section under “Vision” if you’re interested in the reasoning.

Final thoughts

I’m considering writing longer articles for some points, explaining benefits and steps in greater detail.

I’m also pondering whether it’s worth addressing common misconceptions and talking points. I’m expecting my audience to be quite advanced. At the same time, internet spaces have fostered shallow counter-culture across the board. Strawman arguments and logic-chopping fallacies delivered convincingly are generally blown out of proportion. Thought-terminating reasoning is easy to digest.

Please trust that every transition tactic have had the common criticisms looked into before being added to the list.

As a specific example, indoor farms are discouraged on a general level due to energy for artificial lighting and plastic being too prominent issues. However, exceptions and fringe use cases almost always exists.

When I suggest kratky hydroponics for instance, it’s in the specific context of people’s homes. This is valid because 1) local lettuce eliminates transportation, 2) children seeing how their food grows is an invaluable benefit, 3) if the most accessible alternative to people right now is to purchase supermarket lettuce, it’s generally better that they start their own hydroponic shelf (which have less issues) and 4) in some places, containers can be sustainably built using local bamboo if desired.

A final note is that this list is currently incomplete. I can add hundreds of transition tactics. I will keep adding to the list when I have the time.

Stay tuned!

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

— Alan Kay

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