The Oil Drum: Europe
Dealing with Climate Risks: Adaptation
Posted by Chris Vernon on May 14, 2009 - 11:05am
The Transition Handbook brings together the thinking behind the Transition initiative. This is a recent, grass roots initiative which has gained impressive support through its simple response to a commonly perceived problem. The Transition initiative recognises the impact that climate change and fossil fuel depletion can have on a community and works to increase resilience. Hopkins defines resilience as “…the ability of a system, from individual people to whole economies, to hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shocks from outside”.
Specific changes and shocks are not evaluated in detail but the fact that impact will be felt and that today’s communities are not as resilient as they can be is argued as reason to adapt. Critically it is argued that resilience can be increased without defining the precise nature of the impact. Strong communities are proposed as key to resilience and Hopkins outlines what can be changed within communities in adaptation to climate change and fossil fuel depletion and more importantly in my opinion how, socially, this adaptation can be realised.
The adaptations a community should work toward to increase resilience are focused on becoming more local and small scale, this includes adaptations such as local composting, local procurement of local produce, local currencies, local building materials, playing football etc. This is in contrast to other adaptations such as centralised recycling, internationally imported organic food, imported ‘green building’ materials and Sky Sports, none of which make a community more resilient to external shocks. David Fleming, quoted by Hopkins, wrote “Localisation, at best, stands at the limits of practical possibility but has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative”
The contrast to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ report is striking. The proposed increase in transport capacity to increase resilience is countered by reducing the amount of transportation. The increased imports of food as areas become less suitable for agriculture is counted by adapting local agricultural methods, improving soil and adapting diets. The most significant difference between the two approaches is that the engineers’ proposals are limited to hard systems, never suggesting in the report any adaptation of soft systems. Hopkins’ approach involves soft systems at every stage, it is inspirational and hopeful and to date has been remarkably successful at bringing communities together in a common cause.
By Ruth Ann Smalley
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I’m thinking we’re about due for another “British Invasion.”
This time, instead of fresh musical influences, look for the entrance of the Transition Towns movement, a set of exciting ideas for creating and organizing social change in response to the challenges of peak oil and global warming.
The Transition Town movement has been gaining momentum, with 146 places — cities, towns and villages — in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Chile, the U.S., and several European countries now officially designated. Another 600 worldwide are in the process of “mulling it over.” You can find out about these forward thinking communities at www.transitiontowns.org. Some, like Portland, Maine are so freshly minted, their content hasn’t arrived at their website yet.
Rob Hopkins, a permaculture teacher, is a prime mover behind this grassroots effort, starting primarily in Ireland and England. His book, “Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependence to Local Resilience” has just become available in the U.S. from Chelsea Green, a spunky, small, independent publisher.
The book takes on the prospect of decreasing oil supplies and a warming planet with refreshing optimism, and offers itself as a tool for ordinary people. Transition Town initiatives start from the premise that “If we collectively plan and act early enough there’s every likelihood that we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more in touch with our environment than the oil-addicted treadmill that we find ourselves on today.”
I find Hopkins’ approach attractive because, 1) it faces up to both our energy and our climate challenges simultaneously, 2) it reaches out to people as members of communities, who may never have thought of themselves as activists or environmentalists, and 3) it departs from fear and guilt as motivators, and emphasizes the power of groups to create the kinds of places they value and want to live in together.
Transition Town initiatives promote the development of creative local solutions, as people meet to pump up the ideas and energy required to address the needs of their specific region or city in relation to larger scale concerns. It supports actions on the ground, by fostering relationships, communication and caring, as people work together to figure out how to build resilient communities. It doesn’t duplicate the efforts of existing organizations, be they environmental groups, social justice groups, community caregiving groups, etc., but helps strengthen the network by infusing new, broader-based energy.
Resilience is the key word in all of this. It basically refers to a community’s ability to maintain a degree of equilibrium and health in the face of severe disruptions.
We probably all know of towns that seem to have been able to weather economic downturns because of some unique combination of assets, while others have lost population, lack services, and rely on nearby cities for basics such as groceries, clothes, medical supplies, even schools. Having to drive to another city to get the stuff of daily life erodes communities, squanders energy, and adds to environmental damage.
Consider the social and ecological impact of this statistic alone: “Between 1990 and 2001, the number of miles driven by the average household for shopping increased by more than 40 percent” and “the extra 95 billion road miles that Americans are logging for shopping (over 1990 levels) account for 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 300,000 tons of hydrocarbons, and 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxide released into the atmosphere each year” (“Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses”)
With this in mind, Hopkins lays out some interesting measures of resilience, in addition to cutting carbon footprints and C02 emissions. Some of his “Resilience Indicators” are familiar, but others might surprise you. Here’s a sampling:
* Percent of food consumed locally that was produced within a given radius
* Percentage of essential goods manufactured locally
* Number of businesses owned by local people
* Proportion of the community employed locally
* Percentage of local building materials used in new housing development
* Ratio of car parking space to productive land use
* Percentage of local trade carried out in local currency
* Percentage of medicines prescribed locally that have been produced within a given radius
* Amount of 16-year-olds able to grow 10 different varieties of vegetables to a given degree of competency
A number of these indicators are already the focus of organizations in the area. Western Massachusetts has seen the initiation of a local currency called Berkshares; the Regional Farm and Food Project (www.farmandfood.org) has been established for several years; Community Supported Agriculture has grown and local farms have found more outlets in groceries and food co-ops such as Honest Weight; Capital District Local First has been building its member base and visibility; and groups such as Roots and Wisdom (www.rootswisdom.org) in Schenectady and Youth Organics in Albany (www.grandarts.org/gsca/youthorganics) are working to bring young people into the garden.
In the Transition Towns model, the emphasis is on communities that can support themselves to a great extent. Not to be self-sufficient, necessarily, but self-reliant: able to provide for their basic needs in a way that also positions them to be strong trading partners for the things they desire, rather than insular outposts fearfully hoarding their resources and trying to protect themselves from outside forces.
That such a local focus produces strong communities is not news, even though we may have lost sight of it in the urban sprawl, and the viral spread of chain businesses that defines much of our current landscape. Studies as far back as the 1940s revealed that both agricultural and manufacturing communities of varying sizes survived better and provided a higher quality of life by several measurements when they were predominantly made up of family owned farms or small businesses rather than large agribusinesses or large, outside firms (“Big Box Swindle”). These studies were ignored by politicians of the time, and in some cases, actively suppressed. We’re living the consequences.
The Transition Town movement is about taking ourselves into the next positive step, through an empowered response to the transitions that are already upon us. It argues that by identifying our values as communities and focusing on our well-being as a group, we augment our existing strengths and open up more possibilities, not just to survive, but to thrive. While admitting that all this is a grand experiment, with no guaranteed outcomes, the website asserts, “What we are convinced of is this:
* if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
* if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
* but if we act as communities, it might be just enough, just in time”
You can learn about the movement by visiting their website (www.transitiontowns.org) where they generously provide many of the core materials that are in the book. Chelsea Green is also making substantial discounts available on orders of 5 or more books, for people who want to form a reading or action group.
I’m hoping to see the Capital District added to the list of those who are joining the movement in 2009.
About the author: Ruth Ann Smalley, Ph.D., is an educator and a certified Eden Energy medicine practitioner with a practice in Albany. She’s also an Honest Weight Food Co-op member worker, and writes a monthly column for the co-op’s newsletter.
Ultra-Brief Reviews: Heretics / Ecclesiology / Transition [ Vol. 2, #4 ]
by Chris Smith
In Transition Handbook (Chelsea Green [sic] 2008), Rob Hopkins uses the ecological concepts of resilience and permaculture to argue for the emergence of local cultures in a world after peak oil. Hopkins is founder of the “Transition” Movement, which seeks to move communities in the direction of greater resilience. The latter chapters of the book tell the stories of “Transition towns” in the UK that have committed to moving in this direction. This book demands the attention of any church that would seek to share life together in ways that nurture creation in the places where they are. It provides language for helping us to understand where we need to go ecologically and furthermore offers us practical advice for moving in that direction.
Volume 18, Number 12
All elements of the American political spectrum now agree on the importance of getting America off its dependence on foreign oil. Fueling this agreement is a collective awareness of the deleterious impact fossil fuels have upon the environment, the crippling impact of high fuel prices upon the American economy, as well as the national security implications of being so dependant upon the occasionally hostile foreign nations supplying our oil imports. Rob Hopkins draws upon his many years as a teacher of permaculture and natural building in "The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency To Local Resilience" to write a seminal instruction manual on just how communities can go about growing their own food, generating their own power, building their own houses using local resources and materials -- thereby reducing the need for imported oil to fuel their economies and activities, while at the same time keeping money in the local area and strengthening the local economy and fostering local prosperity. Enhanced with References, Resources, an Index, "The Transition Handbook" offers a thoroughly 'reader friendly', informed and informative text laced with figures and 'Tools of Transition' commentaries on everything from making the most of public events to designing productive meetings. Simply stated, 'The Transition Handbook" is a critical important contribution to the growing body of Environmental Studies literature and a 'must read' for environmental activists, city administrators, and governmental policy makers.
Speaking Truth to Power
Sunday, 04 January 2009
THE TRANSITION TOWN MOVEMENT: EMBRACING REALITY AND RESILIENCE
By Carolyn Baker
For several months I have been meaning to write a review of Rob Hopkins' The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, but other things got in the way-like a planetary economic meltdown and out of control climate change that exceeds some of the most dire predictions by climate scientists. I should have spoken out earlier in support of this movement, but I didn't. Now, as we commence this new year, I am.
I will begin this book "review" by telling you that I find nothing-absolutely nothing wrong with The Transition Handbook. If that then makes this article into a commercial for the book instead of a review, so be it.
For nearly a year I have been emphasizing in my writing that a positive vision must be held in consciousness alongside all of the abysmal events unfolding around us. Even as I have been insistent on staring down the collapse of civilization, I have embraced at the same time, what could be and have held in my mind and heart the threads of the new paradigm that so many of us are working to create.
Thus it has been with great pleasure and relief that I have looked deeply into the Transition Town movement and found it to exemplify everything that I believe comprises effective relocalization and the shaping of alternative economies and vibrant communities. Not only am I in awe of what the people of Totnes, the first Transition Town in the U.K., have accomplished, but more so, that the Transition Town model has become contagious and is spreading to a variety of places throughout the world, in the United States, and closer to my own local community here in Vermont. I'm additionally pleased that the Transition Handbook is now being distributed here in the U.S. by a Vermont publisher, Chelsea Green.
The Transition Town movement is all about preparing for energy descent and climate change and addressing the relationship between the two by essentially viewing them as two different aspects of the same problem. James Howard of Powerswitch in the U.K. states:
Peak Oil and Climate Change are a bigger threat together than either are alone. Our biggest hope is to similarly converge our understanding of them, and how to deal with the problems they present. Peak Oil and Climate Change must be fused as issues-an approach is needed to deal with them as a package. If we are looking for answers, the environmental movement has pushed suitable ones for a long time. Peak Oil presents a tremendous chance to push those solutions ahead; failure to incorporate a full understanding of Peak Oil into the solutions argument for Climate Change would be an abject failure.(38)
Fundamental to the Transition Town movement is the notion of resilience. It is defined in the Transition Handbook as "the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change, so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks." (54) In other words, resilience does not mean putting a fence around one's community, refusing to allow anything in or out. It means "being more prepared for a leaner future, more self-reliant, and prioritizing the local over the imported." (55)
Three requirements for a resilient system are: Diversity, Modularity, and Tightness of Feedbacks. Diversity simply refers to the number of elements in the system-people, species, businesses, institutions, and sources of food. What matters is not so much the number of any of these entities but the connections between them and the diversity of responses to challenges, the diversity of land use, and the diversity between systems. Not only does an analysis of the diversity of the place make top-down approaches redundant, but it reinforces the wisdom of "working on small changes to lots of niches in the place, making lots of small interventions rather than a few large ones." (55)
Modularity of a structure refers to the parts of the system that can re-organize in the event of a shock. It is a key facet of designing an energy-descent plan because the more modularity, the less vulnerability to disruptions in wider networks. As the Transition Handbook states: Local food systems, local investment models, and so on, all add to this modularity, meaning that we engage with the wider world but from an ethic of networking and information sharing rather than of mutual dependence." (56)
Tightness of feedbacks analyzes how quickly and strongly one part of the system can respond to changes in another part. Globalization and national systems can weaken feedbacks, whereas in localized systems, the results of our actions are more obvious and allow the community to bring the consequences of its actions closer to home. (56)
In summary, it is possible that a future with less oil could be more positive than the current addiction to fossil fuels, but only, says the Transition Handbook, "if we engage in designing this transition with sufficient creativity and imagination" which is indeed what the handbook is all about.
The format of this mini-workbook sized manual is extremely appealing. It is printed on heavy recycled paper, designed with simple, natural color tones, and is chock-full of exceedingly practical group exercises for clarifying and practicing its principles.
To its credit, this book does not sugar-coat the daunting reality of Peak Oil and Climate Change, but rather, offers a positive vision of preparation and myriad practical steps for manifesting it. An entire chapter is devoted to the somewhat paralyzing terror of everyone's "End of Suburbia" moment and the resulting "post-petroleum stress disorder", but also emphasizes that alongside that epiphany, we must cherish not only a positive vision, but one that we can realistically and pragmatically implement.
A fabulous chapter in the middle of the book on the "Psychology of Change" underscores how change happens and how we tend to proceed through it emotionally, emphasizing that "change doesn't happen all at once. Rather it occurs in increments or stages." (85) The various stages of change are explored, with emphasis on their characteristics and what may be helpful to move people on to the next stage of the process. Some aspects of addiction diagnosis and treatment are utilized in order to address the depths to which most people in the developed world are addicted to the fossil fuel/consumption-based lifestyle. Fundamental to this addiction, as with all others, is the belief that change isn't really possible. With remarkable skill, the Transition Town movement utilizes a number of effective strategies for assisting people who are stuck in abject pessimism by helping them envision the possibility of change and the certainty that it can be made.
Read the whole review here.
Groovy Green Book Review
October 16, 2008
By Matt Mayer
When I requested a copy of the Transition Handbook I had the idea in my mind that I was going to get a book that would tell me step by step what I needed to do to get my town prepared for a future with short energy supplies. Instead what I got was a book that talked about what one town was doing, which I could use to glean information from, and ideas of what to do to transition to a low energy environment from a 10 thousand foot view, but not a 12 step program for this transition.
Is that a bad thing? Not really, it just messed with my perspective of what I thought the book was about. It’s an interesting read with a lot of information. There is a lot of personal information here and personal examples of what they have done, but what I gathered from reading this book is that each situation is unique. While you can have a general outline of what you want to achieve, you really need to look at your specific situation and adapt your strategy to your area.
Practically every state in this country would have a different strategy because they all have different climates, urban/rural ratios, population differences, natural advantages or other unique circumstances. Upstate NY will have to develop much different strategies than Albuquerque, NM. I think that is what I most got from this book. That the key to start moving and not wait for someone to provide you a general idea of what needs to be done. That you should look at your situation, make a few decisions, start moving and then modify your ideas as you go to develop the best answer to your specific areas needs.
Amazon has the following summation of this book which I think is an apt description:
We live in an oil-dependent world, arriving at this level of dependency in a very short space of time by treating petroleum as if it were in infinite supply. Most of us avoid thinking about what happens when oil runs out (or becomes prohibitively expensive), but The Transition Handbook shows how the inevitable and profound changes ahead can have a positive outcome. These changes can lead to the rebirth of local communities that will grow more of their own food, generate their own power, and build their own houses using local materials. They can also encourage the development of local currencies to keep money in the local area.
There is a lot covered in that description just like there is a lot covered in this book. If you need to adapt your town, city or village to a low energy lifestyle you should check out this book.
I found this review for the book also that I thought was interesting and that you might enjoy it. It’s hosted on the website for the Transition Group.
Books: Useful Advice for Building Sustainable Communities
By Carol Polsgrove Special to the Berkeley Daily Planet
Thursday September 25, 2008
With the rise of oil prices, the movement for sustainability has new wind in its sails. Farmers markets make ever more sense, alternative energy networks scour the territory for small-scale solutions, and even in red states, city councils set up peak oil committees.
For communities where transformational breezes are stirring, Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience offers useful advice.
Based on his own experience as a motivator of “transition towns” in Ireland and England, Hopkins presents strategies for nudging communities to action through a democratic consciousness-changing process. A staged plan for the community’s future emerges from months of conversations, speeches, films, and group discussions on topics from waste to transportation.
The goal is not isolation but resilience—the ability to survive shocks without going under. “The UK truck drivers’ dispute of 2000 offers a valuable lesson here,” Hopkins writes. “Within the space of three days, the UK economy was brought to the brink, as it became clear that the country was about a day away from food rationing and civil unrest.”
If more communities could at least feed themselves in a pinch, a country as a whole would be less vulnerable to disaster in a world where insufficient oil supplies twinned with global warming are undermining the global economy.
While Hopkins joins others in the peak oil movement in believing there is not much time left to make the needed turn, he reminds readers of how quickly British communities learned to feed themselves during World War II. What’s required, above all, is a conviction that things must change.
The strategies he offers for bringing about that conviction—above all, many guided discussions by many citizens—may seem less likely to succeed in a city like Berkeley than in smaller towns like those Hopkins has worked with. He himself suggests the ideal candidate for a transition initiative would be “market town” of, say, about 5,000. But later cities can try organizing themselves into networked “villages.”
Will this really work? Can grassroots efforts like this successfully challenge entrenched power inside and outside the community? Can they get around laws that restrict what they can do without the approval of higher authority? Can they defeat economic interests that stand to lose ground?
Hopkins can’t promise success-the strategies he puts forth have only been tried in the short term. The first transition town, Kinsale, Ireland, launched its movement just three years ago. The Transition Towns WIKI (transitiontowns.org) even offers a disclaimer: “We really don’t know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale.” Or, in Hopkins’ words, it is “a collective adventure.”
There are not yet many Transition Towns, as such, in the United States, but California communities have started coordinated transition efforts under other names. In fact, a speaker from Willits Economic Localization (WELL) presented a workshop at Kinsale, and Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow from Sebastopol’s Post Carbon Institute (which has a Relocalization Network) has spoken in English transition towns.
Author of his own books on the world after cheap oil, Heinberg contributed a foreword to “The Transition Handbook,” pronouncing it “accessible, clear, and upbeat.” He has that right. Hopkins has written is a reader-friendly, optimistic guide to building a local movement, and if its ideas are not helpful in all circumstances, it is still well worth a read.
Carol Polsgrove is an emeritus professor at the University of Indiana.
Library Journal Starred Review
Monday, September 01, 2008
This book happily describes the British grassroots "Transition Towns" movement, the group Robin Mills (see below) called "mistaken, appalling and dangerous." Meant to be a guide and motivator, the handbook discusses how several U.K. towns are preparing for the twin threats of climate change and peak oil. Hopkins, a teacher of permaculture and natural building and a cofounder of the Transition Network, urges a community response—local sustainability made fun—in which groups grapple with issues like food, transportation, energy, building materials, and waste and even develop their own local currency. Hopkins takes our "addiction" to oil literally, and so we will read of "post-petroleum stress disorder," and see applied addictions psychology helping to ease the townies' withdrawal symptoms. It's a handsome book, thoughtfully designed, which may make its message a little more palatable to oil addicts on this side of the Atlantic. [See the author speak about his book and ideas at www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGHrWPtCvg0.Ed.] Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Review: The Transition Handbook
March 1, 2008
by Graham Strouts
“The concept of energy descent, and of the Transition approach, is a simple one: that the future with less oil could be preferable to the present, but only if sufficient creativity and imagination are applied early enough in the design of this transition.”
—Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook
The publication of the much anticipated Transition Handbook marks the latest landmark in what has become the fastest growing environmental movement since CND in the 1960s: the phenomenon that is sweeping the UK, the Transition Towns movement.
The book is clearly written and entertainingly illustrated- including some original line drawings by the author. Primarily it is a handbook for inspiring and guiding communities into a new sustainable future with less dependency on fossil fuels. Comparisms with the recent early-industrial past- food production and allotments during Britain’s “wartime mobilisation” in the 1940s for example- make fascinating reading and give some kind of pointers for how large-scale change could happen again- if we only had the collective will and sense of urgency to achieve it.
What makes it unique is that this is not merely aspirational, but also documents the meteoric rise of the transition movement. Its advice and exercises have been hewn on the workbench of real local communities making the first steps of a radical transformation that the whole of the developed world will have to confront over the coming years.
Placed through the book are 12 “Tools for Transition” describing in detail different workshop activities that can be used to help develop a process and facilitate discussions, including “Open Space” and “World Café”; the “web-of-life” game is described, but has become the “web of resilience”- a game whereby participants stand in a circle and pass a string back and forth between them representing links between different elements of a woodland or a community:
“it is becoming clear that the cheap oil required to sustain our oil-dependent lifestyles is not going to be with us indefinitely, we find ourselves looking around at the severed strands of web and starting to wonder which strands might reconnect to which others. The Transition approach is one of re-weaving this web, and remaking the connections which will be needed by a resilient post-oil economy. Every new harmonious relationship we forge is a step back to sanity.”
It all started at the end of the summer of 2004 when Rob was teaching permaculture in Kinsale, the course he had set up three years earlier- a 2-year Practical Sustainability course, one of the only courses of its kind anywhere in the world. Davie Philip of Cultivate had just shown me The End of Suburbia and I gave a copy to Rob just before the start of term. He immediately arranged to show it to the students along with a talk by Colin Campbell, and presented with them what must still be the greatest challenge to have faced permaculture students on that course: to write an Energy Descent Action Plan for the town of Kinsale.
This daunting task was undertaken with considerable enthusiasm and the document they produced has been hugely influential in framing the tasks ahead for those seeking effective responses to peak oil and Climate change.
The Fuelling the Future conference followed, and then Rob moved to Totnes and I took on his job as permaculture teacher in Kinsale.
Transition Towns kinsale Inspired by the EDAP and keen to see it develop, one of the first projects I undertook was to ask the town council to locate a suitable piece of within the town boundaries which we could do a design for as a potential community garden. Although the first site located was eventually deemed unsuitable, the following year a small plot on a council estate was designed by students and continues to serve as a community garden for the Transition Towns group in Kinsale. Permaculture Students continue to play a major role in developing TTK, organising events, building school gardens, and through their course work, engaging in more design work in the town with a view to creating more gardens.
In the meantime, across the water a small revolution has been brewing, with Transition initiatives now numbering dozens around the UK- and beyond- and groups that are “mulling” – considering starting a process- now in the hundreds. Somehow, Rob has hit upon an idea, a theme for our times that has captured the imagination and in less than three years shown what power there can be in community.
All this and more is described in the handbook, which is divided into three parts, the “Head, Heart and Hands” of energy descent.
In the first section, Rob outlines the issues of climate change and peak oil but skilfully weaves them together and shows how the two must be considered as two sides of the same coin if we are to make an appropriate response: just cutting carbon emissions, as proposed in some “conventional” programmes for addressing climate change, for example, will never be enough: our dependency on systems that require high energy inputs from fossil fuels may make us even more exposed as we begin to run out. Equally, Rob’s wit and sharpness is put to good effect to expose some of the more absurd- and dangerous proposed solutions to energy depletion. For example, of tar sand he writes:
“Tar sands are akin to arriving at the pub to find that all the beer is off, but so desperate are you for a drink that you begin to fantasize that in the thirty years this pub has been open for business, the equivalent of 5,000 pints have been spilt on this carpet, so you design a process whereby you boil up the carpet in order to extract the beer again.”
The key theme that he introduces early on and builds on throughout the book is the idea of resilience. This is essentially the quality that allows communities to provide most of their essential needs- food, energy, water and raw materials- from multiple sources so that in the event of the large-scale system failures we are faced with collapse is averted because the smaller-scale local community has the wherewithal to fend for itself. This is the quality that has been systematically eroded by the globalization process as small communities have over the last hundred years in the west and much more recently in the developing world- as described for example by Helena Norberg-Hodge in Ladakh- and this is the quality that the Transition process aspires to recreate.
“The move towards more localised energy-efficient and productive living arrangements is not a choice; it is an inevitable direction for humanity… The time for seeing globalisation as an invincible and unassailable behemoth, or localisation as some kind of lifestyle choice, is over.”
The second section, the Heart, deals with some of the defining features of the transition movement which have made it so successful: the insistence that a positive vision of the future is more important to galvanise change than focusing on the various dystopias all-to-common in peak oil literature.
“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”
Rob admits,” I am aware that being one of those people who can read a desperately depressing book about peak oil and societal collapse and draw from it the inspiration and motivation to do something practical puts me in an extremely small minority.”
This is perhaps the most original contribution of the transition project, looking at the psychology of change and integrating an understanding of what motivates people and what can hold them back into an understanding of the environmental crisis we are dealing with.
The two main ways this is looked at are addiction therapy and community visioning. The first is covered by an interview with Dr. Chris Johnstone who talks about the Stages of Change model and how it can be applied to kicking the oil habit.
The idea that we are “addicted to oil” is a controversial one; nevertheless, these tools may have a significant role to play in helping us to understand the grip that a consumer lifestyle has on people, and addressing the obstacles to change like fear that may come up. I think it is essential for the environmental movement to begin to take seriously the psychology of change and ask more often “why don’t more people appear to care about sustainability?” There is a huge amount of work still to be done in this area- it would have been nice to see for example some references to what evolutionary psychology can contribute- but this is a handbook and we are given some useful practical tools to get started.
The section on visioning describes the process of scenario planning where people are asked to envisage a post-peak future in which the community has successfully achieved the transition to a low-energy, sustainable and localized state – and then come up with imagined newspaper stories in the future- some of which are reproduced in the book and make hilarious reading- check out the Beckham’s cob retirement home from 2029!
By way of getting us to think about things in a different way, Rob also invites us to question whether “Peak” oil is really the best word to use:
“The idea of energy descent is that each step back down the hill could be a step towards sanity, towards place and towards wholeness. It is a coming back to who we really are, similar to how members of a busy family rediscover each other during a power cut. Energy descent is, ultimately, about energy ascent – the re-energising of communities and culture – and is the key to our realistically embracing the possibilities of our situation rather than being overwhelmed by their challenges.”
The final section is “The Hands” in which Rob takes us through the transition concept- including a look at some of its inspiration such as Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles- and how it fills a gap between the “light-bulb syndrome” of useful but wholly inadequate individual changes, and government actions on the national scale:
“The transition model explores the ground between these two: what could be achieved at a community level”.
It is significant I think that Rob includes a table showing the difference between this permaculture-informed community response and conventional environmentalism which has often only had piecemeal solutions which address the symptoms, not the cause. One of these is the emphases not only on carbon footprints, but on the need to build resilience in every facet of a community.
The following chapters cover How to Start a Transition Initiative, including the 12 steps of transition; an account of the first year of Transition Town Totnes, the most interesting project initiated there being the Totnes pound, a local cash currency that has generated huge media interest in the Transition Movement; and how the process went viral and spread in a matter of months to hundreds of communities across England, Wales and Scotland, with stories of how the process has developed in some of these pioneering places.
The emphasis of the book is primarily on community processes and in this it is an excellent and inspiring resource. This is important also because the first steps of any such process is the enrollment of the local community into the idea of preparing for the inevitable changes ahead.
It would have been good also to see perhaps an extra appendix on, for example, the basics of energy and how to conduct a simple domestic energy audit;. more detail on the assessment of needs in terms of per capita energy use, amount of land available, amount of land required per capita to grow food; approximations of land needed to grow bio-fuels for on-farm use; population trends; etc..
This is the area now ripe for moving into with Energy descent Planning- counting, calculating, assessing. There is a lot of work to be done, much of it technical and requiring specialist skills and as such perhaps beyond the remit of the transition handbook. What Rob does do is lay the important groundwork and show how to go about finding those within the community who have the necessary skills.
Reading through the handbook and reflecting on the process as I have observed it blossoming under Rob’s gentle guidance over the last couple of years, I got the impression that the future was already here, that somehow all the things we all want to see in our communities- the cycle lanes, the school gardens, the walnut tree plantations and the solar panels- that these features of a sustainable society really can be here because there is just no reason not to have them. To get there will take tremendous effort, but if the apocalyptic visions of petrol riots, food shortages and flooded coastal cities are the stick, the Transition Handbook is surely the carrot we need to lure us on.
“While peak oil and climate change are undeniably profoundly challenging, also inherent within them is the potential for an economic, cultural and social renaissance the likes of which we have never seen. We will see a flourishing of local businesses, local skills and solutions, and a flowering of ingenuity and creativity. It is a Transition in which we will inevitably grow, and in which our evolution is a precondition for progress.”
Bring it on.