June 29, 2009
The follow-up to Rob Hopkins’ seminal The Transition Handbook uses the method of “backcasting” from an envisioned future from which we create a timeline of how the transition to a more local, resilient world unfolded.
The first part goes through four different scenarios presented as “cultural stories” roughly along the same lines as the scenarios we are familiar with from Holmgren’s Future Scenarios, this time under the headings:
-Hitting the Wall
-The Impossible Dream
-The Transition Vision
The transition approach is to look at these possible futures in terms of the cultural stories that we tell ourselves, the idea being that we have the power to make our own cultural stories and thereby empower ouselves to guide the future to a more desirable outcome:
Human Nature is the ability to choose our own path
The second part of the book takes a deeper look at the Transition Vision in the five areas of population and demographics; Food and Water; Electricity and Energy; travel and transport; Health and Medicine.
Each of these sections presents a thorough and well-researched overview of the current situation, ending with a Timeline of how we reached a more desirable situation by 2027.
Read the whole article here.
Book Review: The Transition Timeline
Our understanding of the world is shaped by the stories we tell ourselves. The dominant story of our culture, says Shaun Chamberlin, is that of progress: we're led to believe "that we currently live in one of the most advanced civilisations that the world has ever known, and that we are advancing further and faster all the time." That's the story the advertisers and politicians tell us, but it has parted company with reality. Pursuing the idea of progress through constant growth is already destroying the environment, and isn't even making us happy in the process. We need a new story.
The Transition movement aims to be that alternative story, the story of how we changed direction and successfully came back down the energy mountain. To present this vision, Transition initiatives use a tool called 'back-casting' - telling a story from the perspective of the future, and this is what The Transition Timeline sets out to do.
The book begins with four different versions of the future, depending on how we choose to handle climate change and peak oil. Denial is the first response, investing everything in a technological revolution is another. A third option is to try to deal with peak oil and climate change within existing political and economic frameworks, and then there's the Transition. Each of these scenarios is explained, and then told in retrospect from 2027.
As I approached this back-casting exercise, I must admit I was a little sceptical. It sounded a bit gimmicky. Having read it, it's a lot more realistic and restrained than I thought it might be. For each possible future, Chamberlin explores the consequences of our action or inaction, for population, CO2 emissions, and global stability.
Needless to say, the only option that has a positive outcome is the Transition scenario, which the book then goes on to explore in more detail. A series of chapters addresses energy, transport, health, population, and food, each one ending with another view from 2027 to say how sustainability was achieved. Among the timelines are global agreements, laws passed, local initiatives and cultural shifts, and a way forward is therefore imagined and suggested.
Finally, for the benefit of Transition projects educating their communities, the last chapters of the book present the latest science on climate change and peak oil. If you follow either of those online, on sites like Celsias or The Oil Drum , there's nothing here that you won't already have heard.
The final chapter explores the UK government reaction to climate change and peak oil, which is rather sorry reading, particularly on the latter. This is useful stuff, but only if you live in the UK. (Note: I'm reviewing the US edition, by the way, and that still has the UK chapter.)
The Transition Timeline was written specifically for those engaged in Transition initiatives, as they work on Energy Descent Action Plans. It will be most useful for those groups, but remains an inspiring and thought provoking book for anyone who is interested in the life we must create for ourselves after cheap energy.
Open the Future
Shaun Chamberlin has written a book that, in my view, absolutely needs to be read by anyone who follows this blog.
The Transtition Timeline: For a Local, Resilient Future combines a scenario-based look at how we as a global society can respond to the combination of global warming and peak oil, with a practical manual for building the kind of world that can successfully manage such a crisis.
I saw a late draft of the work, and Shaun asked me for my reaction. Here's what I wrote, and I'm happy to see that it's included in the book's lengthy list of endorsements:
It's been said that pessimism is a luxury of good times; in bad times, pessimism is a death sentence. But optimism is hard to maintain when facing the very real possibility of planetary catastrophe. What's needed is a kind of hopeful realism -- or, as Shaun Chamberlin puts it, a dark optimism.
In The Transition Timeline, Chamberlin offers his dark optimism in the form of a complex vision of what's to come. He imagines not just a single future, or a binary "good tomorrow/bad tomorrow" pairing, but four scenarios set in the late 2020s, each emerging from the tension between two critical questions: can we recognize what's happening to us, and can we escape the choices and designs that have led us to this state? Chamberlin demonstrates that only an affirmative answer to both questions will allow us to avoid disaster -- and that's where the story he tells starts to get good. The Transition Timeline isn't another climate jeremiad, but a map of the course we'll need to take over the coming decade if we are to save our planet, and ourselves.
The Transition Timeline is a book of hopeful realism, making clear that the future we want remains in our grasp -- but only for a short while longer.