Transition Towns Research

Emily the director from Urban Reforestation was lucky enough to visit Rob Hopkins office yesterday to research the Transition Towns Movement. Thank you very much to Transition Towns Network and in particular Francis for being such a wonderful host. There is a movement for sustainable living going on and it is grounded in place. This means there is tangible ways for communities and individuals to be active citizens in making a difference towards sustainability together under an exciting movement called Transition Towns.

Why Transition Towns?

According to Rob Hopkins new book Transition Companion this is why:

“Because it feels way more fun than not doing it”

“Because of Peak Oil”

“Because of wanting a fairer world”

“Because it means they can do the project that they have always been dreaming of”

“Because of Climate Change”

“Because of Fear”

“Because of the economic crisis”

“Because it feels like the most appropriate thing to be doing"

“Because it gives me hope”

What is a Transition Town?

It's a place where there's a community-led process that helps a town/village/city/neighbourhood become stronger and happier.

It's happening in well over a thousand highly diverse communities across the world - from towns in Australia to neighbourhoods in Portugal, from cities in Brazil to rural communities in Slovenia, from urban locations in Britain to islands off the coast of Canada. Many of these initiatives are registered on the Transition Network website.

These communities have started up projects in areas of food, transport, energy, education, housing, waste, arts etc. as small-scale local responses to the global challenges of climate change, economic hardship and shrinking supplies of cheap energy. Together, these small-scale responses make up something much bigger, and help show the way forward for governments, business and the rest of us.

Really, it's the opposite of us sitting in our armchairs complaining about what's wrong, and instead, it's about getting up and doing something constructive about it alongside our neighbours and fellow townsfolk. And people tell us that as a result of being involved in their local "transition initiative", they're happier, their community feels more robust and they have made a lot of new friends.

The video above is a brief introduction to Transition from Rob Hopkins, author of the Transition Handbook, co-founder of Transition Network and Transition Town Totnes.

What are we "transitioning" away from?

All industrialised countries appear to operate on the assumption that our high levels of energy consumption, our high carbon emissions and our massive environmental impact can go on indefinitely.

And most developing countries appear to aspire to these ways of living too. However, any rational examination of our energy supplies, our economic inequalities, our diminishing levels of well-being, our ecological crises and the climate chaos that is already hitting millions of people tells us this can't go on much longer.

We're saying that the best place to start transitioning away from this unviable way of living is right within our own communities, and the best time is right now.

What are we "transitioning" towards?

Whether we like it or not, over the next decade or two, we'll be transitioning to a lower energy future - essential because of climate change and inevitable because of diminishing supplies of fossil fuels (particularly oil).

There are a variety of possible outcomes depending on whether we stick our heads in the sand or whether we start working for a future that we want.

Transition Initiatives, community by community, are actively and cooperatively creating happier, fairer and stronger communities, places that work for the people living in them and are far better suited to dealing with the shocks that'll accompany our economic and energy challenges and a climate in chaos. And here's how they're doing it...

Here's how it all appears to be evolving

It begins when a small group comes together with a shared concern about shrinking supplies of cheap energy (peak oil), climate change and increasingly, economic downturn. This group recognises that:

  • Life with less energy is inevitable. It is better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise.
  • Industrial society has lost the resilience to be able to cope with energy shocks.
  • We have to act together, now.
  • Infinite growth within a finite system (such as planet Earth) is impossible.
  • We demonstrated great ingenuity and intelligence as we raced up the energy curve over the last 150 years. There’s no reason why we can’t use those qualities, and more, as we negotiate our way up from the depths back towards the sun and air.
  • If we plan and act early enough, and use our creativity and cooperation to unleash the genius within our local communities, we can build a future far more fulfilling and enriching, more connected to and more gentle on the Earth, than the life we have today.

This small initiating group starts learning more about the Transition Model, adapting it to their own local circumstances in order to engage a significant proportion of the people in their community. Some may attend training courses, others buy books, some watch the movie "In Transition 1.0", many search this website for information on how Transition works, or for otherpeople / initiatives / projects near them.

They then:

Each of these groups then starts up practical projects such as community supported agriculture, shared transport, local currenciesseed swaps, tool libraries, energy saving clubsurban orchardsreskilling classesdraught-busting teams. As they do this work, they draw other people in.

As the initiative becomes more experienced, they often engage in a community-wide visioning processthat recognises how crucial is it for us to a) cut fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions urgently and b) proactively figure out the kind of future that works for ALL of us rather than waiting for someone else to create a future that works for just a FEW of us.

These groups are beginning to create formal Energy Descent plansand to rebuild their local economies by starting up, for example, local energy companiessocial enterprises and cooperative food businesses.

This co-ordinated local response strives to rebuild the resilience we've lost as a result of cheap oil, to address issues of inequality in terms of access to key resources and also to drastically reduce the community's carbon emissions.

And incidentally, in general these initiatives are not asking for permission to start this work - they're just getting on with it, sharing their successes and failures, their hopes and fears.

Where it goes from there is a path as yet untrod...

What about local and national governments and businesses?

When we emphasise the vital impact that communities can make in this process, we're not saying that national governments are irrelevant or that institutions like businesses aren't important - we know they're all vital. What we are saying is that for most people, their own local community is where they can have the quickest and greatest impact. Our hunch is that when the governments see what communities can do in terms of this transition, it'll be easier for them to make decisions that support this work.

The different shapes of Transition

The Transition model evolved in the UK, quickly moving to other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the US. We often wondered whether the model would be flexible enough for other cultures that face different challenges. It seems, from a couple of recent notes from Brazil, that it might be:

"In Brazil, climate change and peak oil aren't issues with the same public appeal of that in Europe. Other Brazilians working with TT probably will also have other subjects of main concern, such as assuring education and health for all, protecting biodiversity and enhancing authonomy of traditional (indigenous or not) local communities."

... and another:

"Just a brief message to say that we have enriching Transition processes going on in Brazil right now. Some examples: in Sao Paulo, transition is happening in Granja Viana, Vila Mariana & Brasilandia; there is a strong group in Joao Pessoa and emerging initiatives in Salvador and Recife; Santa Teresa, Grajau in Rio. Petropolis; in your region there is also a small town Andrelandia starting the process. Most recently, after the big land slides, Teresopolis decided to use the principles in their reconstruction process. In two weeks time I'll be running a Transition Training in Vicosa, organised by the Federal University, for which we have opened places for a group from Teresopolis.

We debate peak oil in the context of presal [Brazilian off-shore oil deposits] and as you know Brazil has also been hit by climate change."

We're working hard to ensure that the very broad range of groups experimenting with the Transition model across the world are able to share successes and failures, adding strength and momentum to the whole movement.

So far, initiatives have started up in over 35 countries around the world. It's a start, and there's a long way to go.

Cheerful disclaimer!

Just in case you were under the impression that Transition is a process defined by people who have all the answers, you need to be aware of a key fact.

We truly don't know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale.

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 just be enough, just in time.

Everything that you read on this site is the result of real work undertaken in the real world with community engagement at its heart. There's not an ivory tower in sight, no professors in musty oak-panelled studies churning out incomprehensible papers, no inflexible plans that MUST be adhered to.

This website, just like the Transition model, is brought to you by people who are actively engaged in transition in their own community. People who are learning by doing - and learning all the time. People who understand that we can't sit back and wait for someone else to do the work. People like you, perhaps...