The attractive thing about Rob Hopkins‘ Transition movement for many (most?) is the complete 180° tack it takes away from the scare tactics and depressing statistics of the traditional environmental movement. From “when oil peaks and climate change reaches the tipping point, we’re pretty much f***ed” to “actually, if we prepare ourselves and our communities, we’ll probably be OK, and could conceivably emerge stronger and relatively unscathed” is a nice change. Rather than making you want to crawl under the bed and suck your thumb to await the inevitable collapse of civilization and the endless hordes of shotgun-toting, petroleum-hoarding psychopaths straight out of Mad Max, the Transition movement actually empowers you—kick-starting the part of your brain hungry for proactive solutions. Farmers markets. Local currency. Re-skilling and cooperative communities. Resilience!
In this article from Elle magazine, Lisa Chase thinks about the future and pumps up for the coming storms:
Fifteen of us were gathered in the TV room of a house in Larchmont, our New York City suburb, where we were about to watch a documentary about the imminent, anarchic demise of the suburbs. “I assume you’re prepared to be hated by everyone in the room,” my boyfriend said as I headed out the door to the screening one bitterly cold night in February. “People do not like to be told that their way of life is coming to an end.”
He had a point. For four years, I have been quietly freaking out at the e-mails that arrive daily in my inbox, most of which don’t bode well for civilization. One news report that recently showed up said that as the arctic permafrost melts, it releases not only CO2 into the atmosphere, but also methane, which is 25 times more potent, so that we are, in the words of one scientist, “looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations.”
Back in 2005, the documentary The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream sent me into the abyss about global warming and energy depletion. Lately, however, the movie has plucked me out again, because it turns out to be central to a new movement that proposes an eyes-wide-open yet fun (yes, fun) path forward for mainstreamers like me who know we have a serious environmental problem but aren’t willing or able to ditch life in “the great megalopolis smudge,” as one grim End of Suburbia wonk describes my living arrangement.
What attracted me to Transition, as the movement is called, was the word resilience, with its implications of being skilled, being ready, being confident, and therefore being optimistic about The Day After Tomorrow. The word is all over Transition’s literature, all over its YouTube clips. It seemed such a superior word to green and sustainable and eco—once hot, now almost clichés, and subject to corruption by the market. But resilience, you can’t fake. A resilient person is who I want to be. And if I’m not inherently resilient, can I learn to be?
Transition was founded by Rob Hopkins, an adorable-looking English academic with jug ears and a growing mob of admirers. According to the foreword of Hopkins’ engaging new Transition Handbook, he has “found a way for people worried about an environmental collapse to invest their efforts in ongoing collective action that ends up looking more like a party than a protest march.”
Transition began for Hopkins when he showed his students The End of Suburbia and they all got supremely depressed, before resiliently bouncing back to found Transition! In short, the film is about how in 1956, a geologist named M. King Hubbert, using a bell curve to chart the world’s petroleum reserves, predicted that global oil production would peak sometime around the year 2000 and then decline rapidly. Energy companies, government officials, academics, and environmentalists disagree on whether the peak has happened, or whether it’s five, 10, or 20 years down the pike. It’s impossible to know a precise date, because between half and two thirds of the world’s oil is in the Middle East, and those nations treat information about their reserves as if they were state secrets. However, since 2005, world oil production has not increased, even though global demand continued to rise (until the recession).
The descending slope of Hubbert’s bell curve is pretty damn steep, so if oil sources are depleting, the stuff will stop flowing faster than we can kick our addiction. Given that our electricity, our transportation, and most of our goods depend on oil, we’re pretty screwed.
This is where Transition taps in. The movement offers a framework for planning an orderly and even a “prosperous way down” the curve, to quote a book well known among Peak Oilers, to a world with less oil. Transition is about communities—in particular “relocalizing” them, and this you probably know something about: eating local and buying local, but also manufacturing local. It’s also about “reskilling”—learning to do the things our great-grandparents knew how to do, such as growing food and building things. Most importantly, Transition is about resiliency, or, as Hopkins says in his book, “a culture based on its ability to function indefinitely and to live within its limits, and to be able to thrive for having done so.”