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From Permaculture to Transition Towns: How a Movement Got Its Legs

In this vast, sprawling land of ours, is relocalization even possible?

A lot of people seem to think so. Since its founding in the UK four years ago, Transition Towns have emigrated across the pond, sprouting up in places as diverse as L.A. and Vermont—places with very different challenges. All they have in common is a desire to reconnect with “real” living and preparing for the post-peak shocks of climate change and peak oil. And the scary thing is this: no one really knows if this massive social experiment will work.

From Whole Life Times:

Imagine for a moment what the world might look like without a ready supply of oil. Or save yourself the energy and consider Cuba in 1991. That’s when the former Soviet Republic (Cuba’s primary source of cheap oil) collapsed, triggering a sudden and unexpected energy crisis on the island. Transportation slowed to a brisk walk. If buses did run, they ran late and were packed beyond capacity. Electricity became spotty and frequent blackouts cut the use of everything from water pumps to air conditioners for up to 14 hours a day. Food production and delivery came to a halt, which consequently lowered Cubans’ caloric intake from 2,908 calories a day in the ’80s to 1,863 in 1993. Malnutrition rose, birth weights fell, and the average Cuban lost 20 pounds.

That’s certainly one way it could go. Though it’s hardly the way Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement, would choose.

In 2005, while teaching a course on Practical Sustainability in Ireland, Hopkins and his students created the Kinsale Energy Descent Plan, the first strategic design for weaning a community off fossil fuels. That same year, Hopkins turned his PhD thesis into a roadmap down from the twin peaks of oil dependency and climate change. He called it the Transition Model: “a social experiment on a massive scale” that, incidentally, may not actually work.

The humble caveat didn’t stop the people of Totnes in Devon, England, from becoming the first official Transition Town in 2005. And it hasn’t dissuaded more than 145 towns and cities worldwide — including 17 in the United States — from signing on since.

If America’s interest in an unproven social experiment came as surprise to Jennifer Gray, Hopkins’ longtime friend and the current president and cofounder of Transition US, she quickly recovered. “I expect the movement will be bigger here,” says the Bay Area denizen, who was instrumental in launching the second Transition Town in Penweth, England, in 2006. “People are entrepreneurial. They have a very strong pioneering spirit and the uptake of new ideas is much faster here than in the U.K.”

Of course our never-say-die spirit can have a downside. “We have had challenges dealing with big egos,” Gray admits. Case in point: Two very strong characters tried to establish competing Transition initiatives in the same California town, which Gray declines to name. “People want to take it in different directions. They’re used to doing things their way, aren’t they?”

Read the whole article here.


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