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The Seven “Buts” Blocking Your Town’s Transition Off Oil

The following article has been adapted for the web from The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience by Rob Hopkins.

You might, hopefully, be thinking that you would like to start a Transition Initiative in your community. You might be looking around you and wondering where to start, how on earth you might be able to even begin planning such an Initiative. In the book I introduce the Twelve Steps of Transition, which addresses your ‘Where do we start, and then what?’ questions.

Before that, though, it is useful to address some of the questions that often arise for people at the early stage of planning a Transition Initiative, and which may well prevent them from proceeding any further. I call these ‘The Seven Buts’.

The Seven ‘Buts’

“BUT . . . We’ve got no funding”
This really is not an issue. Funding is a very poor substitute for enthusiasm and community involvement, both of which will take you through the first phases of your transition. Funders can also demand a measure of control, and may steer the Initiative in directions that run counter to community interests and to your original vision. It should be straightforward for your Initiative to generate an adequate amount of income. Transition Town Totnes began in September 2005 with no money at all, and has mostly been self-funding until recently. The talks and film screenings that we run bring in money to subsidise free events such as Open Space Days. You will reach a point where you have specific projects that will require funding, but until that point you’ll manage. Retain the power over whether your important Initiative happens, and don’t let lack of funding stop you.

“BUT . . . They won’t let us”
There is a fear among some green folks that somehow any Initiative that actually succeeds in effecting any change will get shut down, suppressed, attacked by faceless bureaucrats or corporations. Transition Initiatives operate ‘below the radar’; as such, they don’t incur the wrath of any existing institutions.

On the contrary, with corporate awareness of rising energy prices and climate change building daily, you will be surprised at how many people in positions of power will be enthused and inspired by what you are doing, and will support, rather than hinder, your efforts. You will find your Transition Initiative is constantly pushing on open doors. The unanimous endorsements of many Transition Initiatives by their local councils is one example of this.

“BUT . . . There are already green groups in this town, and I don’t want to step on their toes”
We’ll go into this in more detail in Step 3 (page 152 of the book), but in essence, you’d be exceedingly unlucky to encounter any ‘eco-turf wars’. What your Transition Initiative will do is form a common goal and sense of purpose for the existing groups, some of which you might find are a bit burnt out and will really appreciate the new vigour you will bring. Liaising with a network of existing groups towards an Energy Descent Action Plan will enhance and focus their work, rather than replicate or supersede it. Expect them to become your allies, crucial to the success of your Transition process.

“BUT . . . No one in this town cares about the environment anyway”
One could easily be forgiven for thinking this, given the existence of what we might perceive as an apathetic consumer culture surrounding us. Scratch a bit deeper though, and you’ll find that people are already passionate about many aspects of what Transition Initiatives will focus on. The most surprising of people are keen advocates of key elements of a Transition Initiative – local food, local crafts, local history and culture. The key is to go to them, rather than expecting them to come to you. Seek out common ground, and you’ll find your community to be a far more interesting place than you thought it was.

“BUT . . . Surely it’s too late to do anything?”
It may be too late, but the likelihood is that it isn’t. Your (and others’) endeavours are absolutely crucial. Don’t let hopelessness sabotage your efforts. It is within your power to maximise the possibility that we can get through this – don’t give that power away.

“BUT . . . I don’t have the right qualifications”
If you don’t do this, who else will? It matters not that you don’t have a PhD in sustainability, or years of experience in gardening or planning. What’s important is that you care about where you live, that you see the need to act, and that you are open to new ways of engaging people.

Useful qualities for someone starting a Transition Initiative are:

• Positive

• Good with people

• A basic knowledge of the place and some of the key people in the town.

That, in truth, is about it. You are, after all, about to design your own demise into the process from the start (see Step 1 overleaf), so your role at this stage is like a gardener preparing the soil for the ensuing garden, which you may or may not be around to see.

“BUT . . . I don’t have the energy for doing that!”
As the quote often ascribed to Goethe goes, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” The experience of beginning a Transition Initiative certainly shows this to be the case. While the idea of preparing your town (or city, hamlet, valley or island) for life beyond oil may seem staggering in its implications, there is something about the energy unleashed by the Transition process that is unstoppable.

Everyone I have spoken to who has initiated a Transition project, has had a period after a few weeks of thinking, “What have we started here?!” It may feel that you will have to do it all yourself. You may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of all the work and complexity, but people will come forward to help. Indeed, many have commented on the serendipity of the whole process, how the right people appear at the right time. There is something about seizing that boldness, about making the leap from ‘why is no-one doing anything’ to ‘let’s do something’, that generates the energy to keep it moving.

Very often, developing environmental initiatives feels like pushing a broken-down car up a hill; a hard, unrewarding slog. Working with a Transition Initiative often feels like coming down the other side – the car starts moving faster than you can keep up with, accelerating all the time. Once you give it that push from the top of the hill it will develop its own momentum. That’s not to say it isn’t hard work sometimes, but it is almost always a pleasure.

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