While some venture off to Findhorn to find solace, others, such as Colin Keegan, headed there to learn.
The 22-year-old from Washington Township spent a semester during 2008 living on the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, which, he says was a "demonstration site for ecological living." Colin, then a student at Ramapo College pursuing a bachelors degree in social science with a concentration in environmental studies, chose to study abroad to better familiarize himself with sustainable living.
Initially begun as a spiritual community in the 1960s, Findhorn has since evolved into a model that strives to present principles of living sustainably in terms of the economy, the environment and society.
"A lot of people there were burned out activists who have been pushing for decades to get something done with varying degrees of success, but some sort of just burn themselves out& They tried to push for change and kind of needed to retreat for awhile," he says. "But for others, it was a vibrant place to get good ideas and experiment with something and then take it elsewhere. For me, it was something I wanted to learn and use& I kind of think we need to adjust the places we already have set up rather than going off into the country and living a completely sustainable life."
Colin says he regarded his time at Findhorn as "a three-month intensive," in which he lived an eco-friendly building, worked on the ecovillage's farms and attended classes.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect, says Colin, was learning about the array of sustainable technologies that have been developed and are presently in use at Findhorn — including renewable energy systems, ecological waste water treatment and organic food production.
In addition to enjoying learning about methods of living more in tune with the environment, Colin says he liked "the community aspect" of the Findhorn Ecovillage.
"There was a sense that we're all in this together in terms of big issues such as climate change. There was an immense awareness of issues and it was exciting to have a concentrated, hopeful group of people together," Colin says.
Now, he is hoping to impart some of that attitude right here in Bergen County.
Colin, along with fellow Pascack Valley residents Meredith Kates, Rob Holmes and Gene Wozny, recently organized Transition Bergen, an environmental group based upon the Transition Movement, a popular grassroots initiative that grew out of Europe.
Last fall, Colin, eager to share his experiences overseas, began attending meetings of the Pascack Sustainability Group, where he met Meredith, Rob and Gene. The three were aware of the movement in varying degrees, says Colin, but were curious to learn more.
At the time of Colin's stay abroad, the Transition Movement was spreading throughout Europe.
The movement emerged from the work of Permaculture Educator Rob Hopkins and his students at the Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland. The group worked to address challenges presented by climate change and the peak oil crisis by creating a "strategic community plan" that strives to "go beyond the issue of energy supply and find sustainable solutions for the economy, education, farming, food and health," according to transistionus.org.
During days off from classes and working, Colin says he, along with other eco-villagers took day trips to neighboring areas in Scotland, many of which were in various stages of "transition" in terms of the movement.
The initiative has since spread virally, with many groups throughout the world copying the model and initiating their own Transition process in their communities. Since spreading to the United States, there are 74 official "transition towns" across the country.
Colin says he talked a bit about his observations of the movement, which prompted Meredith, Rob and Gene to read "The Transition Handbook," a "how-to" book for establishing a "transition town."
Subsequently, the foursome wound up creating Transition Bergen, a group designed for people interested in learning how to practice more sustainable lifestyles.
"We have to do something to adapt to climate change, depleting fossil fuel and the economic situation. What we're trying to do is take a broader view and define it a little more."
According the group's mission statement, it hopes to "foster greater community resilience and develop a plan for the future that is less dependence on fossil fuels."
Transition Bergen hopes to work with residents, government, businesses and other organizations in the county to develop an "Energy Descent Plan", which will examine how communities can "transition away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner more reliable sources of energy," according to its mission statement.
Transition Bergen is aiming to host book and film discussions and workshops about sustainability, Colin says. In many cases, becoming more eco-friendly doesn't necessarily require large scale actions, he explains. Just some of the simple things people can do to boost their sustainable activities include changing to more energy efficient light bulbs, walking instead driving, composting leftover food scraps, buying local products and reusing items as much as possible, he says.
In sum, the Transition Movement is "about teaching people to live with far less," Colin states.
The group is presently looking to expand its membership base, says Colin, who estimated there are about 60 people in the group. Transition Bergen also hopes to be able to tie in some of their events with other local environmental groups, such as the Pascack Sustainability Group.
"It's a process of making people familiar with it," he believes. "It's a matter of educating& showing this can work and to use less energy in the process."
For further information on Transition Bergen visit www.transitionbergen.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.