The Transition Initiative

Art: Nikki McClure
Art: Nikki McClure

A WHILE AGO, I heard an American scientist address an audience in Oxford, England, about his work on the climate crisis. He was precise, unemotional, rigorous, and impersonal: all strengths of a scientist.

The next day, talking informally to a small group, he pulled out of his wallet a much-loved photo of his thirteen-year-old son. He spoke as carefully as he had before, but this time his voice was sad, worried, and fatherly. His son, he said, had become so frightened about climate change that he was debilitated, depressed, and disturbed. Some might have suggested therapy, Prozac, or baseball for the child. But in this group one voice said gently, “What about the Transition Initiative?”

If the Transition Initiative were a person, you’d say he or she was charismatic, wise, practical, positive, resourceful, and very, very popular. Starting with the town of Totnes in Devon, England, in September 2006, the movement has spread like wildfire across the U.K. (delightfully wriggling its way into The Archers, Britain’s longest-running and most popular radio soap opera), and on to the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The core purpose of the Transition Initiative is to address, at the community level, the twin issues of climate change and peak oil — the declining availability of “ancient sunlight,” as fossil fuels have been called. The initiative is set up to enable towns or neighborhoods to plan for, and move toward, a post-oil and low-carbon future: what Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Initiative, has termed “the great transition of our time, away from fossil fuels.”

Part of the genius of the movement rests in its acute and kind psychology. It acknowledges the emotional effect of these issues, from that thirteen-year-old’s sense of fear and despair, to common feelings of anger, impotence, and denial, and it uses insights from the psychology of addiction to address some reasons why it is hard for people to detoxify themselves from an addiction to (or dependence on) oil. It acknowledges that healthy psychological functioning depends on a belief that one’s needs will be met in the future; for an entire generation, that belief is now corroded by anxiety over climate change.

Many people feel that individual action on climate change is too trivial to be effective but that they are unable to influence anything at a national, governmental level. They find themselves paralyzed between the apparent futility of the small-scale and impotence in the large-scale. The Transition Initiative works right in the middle, at the scale of the community, where actions are significant, visible, and effective. “What it takes is a scale at which one can feel a degree of control over the processes of life, at which individuals become neighbors and lovers instead of just acquaintances and ciphers. . . participants and protagonists instead of just voters and taxpayers. That scale is the human scale,” wrote author and secessionist Kirkpatrick Sale in his 1980 book, Human Scale.

How big am I? As an individual, five foot two and whistling. At a government level, I find I’ve shrunk, smaller than the X on my ballot paper. But at a community level, I can breathe in five river-sources and breathe out three miles of green valleys.

Scale matters.

We speak of economies of scale, and I would suggest that there are also moralities of scale. At the individual scale, morality is capricious: people can be heroes or mass murderers, but the individual is usually constrained by inner conscience and always constrained by size. While a nation-state can at best offer a meager welfare system, at worst — as the history of nations in the twentieth century showed so brutally — morality need not be constrained by any conscience, and through its enormity a state can engineer a genocide. At the community level, though, morality is complex: certainly communities can be jealous and spiteful and less given to heroism than an individual, yet a community’s power to harm is far less than that of a state, simply because of its size. Further, because there are more niche reasons for people to identify with their community, and simply because there is a greater per-capita responsibility, a community is more susceptible to a sense of shame. Community morality involves a sense of fellow-feeling, is attuned to the common good, far steadier than individual morality, far kinder than the State: its moral range reaches neither heaven nor hell but is grounded, well-rooted in the level of Earth.

STARTING WITH a steering group of just a handful of people in one locality, the motivation to become a Transition community spreads, often through many months of preparation, information-giving, and awareness-raising of the issues of climate change and peak oil. In those months, there are talks and film screenings, and a deliberate attempt to encourage a sense of a community’s resilience in the face of stresses. When members of the steering group judge that there is enough support and momentum for the project, it is launched, or “unleashed.”

Keeping an eye on the prize (reducing carbon emissions and oil dependence), Transition communities have then looked at their own situation in various practical frames — for example, food production, energy use, building, waste, and transport — seeking to move toward a situation where a community could be self-reliant. At this stage, the steering group steps back, and various subgroups can form around specific aspects of transitioning. Strategies have included the promotion of local food production, planting fruit trees in public spaces, community gardening, and community composting. In terms of energy use, some communities have begun “oil vulnerability auditing” for local businesses, and some have sought to re-plan local transport for “life beyond the car.” In one Transition Town there are plans to make local, renewable energy a resource owned by the community, in another there are plans to bulk-buy solar panels as a cooperative and sell them locally without profit. There are projects of seed saving, seed swapping, and creating allotments — small parcels of land on which individuals can grow fruit and vegetables.

“The people who see the value of changing the system are ordinary people, doing it for their children,” says Naresh Giangrande, who was involved in setting up the first Transition Town. “The political process is corrupted by money, power, and vested interests. I’m not writing off large corporations and government, but because they have such an investment in this system, they haven’t got an incentive to change. I can only see us getting sustainable societies from the grassroots, bottom-up, and only that way can we get governments to change.” In the States, the “350” project (the international effort to underscore the need to decrease atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million) is similarly asking ordinary people to signal to those in power. If change doesn’t come from above, it must come from below, and politicians would be unwise to ignore the concern about peak oil and climate change coming from the grassroots.

The grassroots. Both metaphorically and literally. Transition Initiative founder Rob Hopkins used to be a permaculture teacher, and permaculture’s influence is wide and deep. As permaculture works with, rather than against, nature, so the Transition Initiative works with, rather than against, human nature; it is as collaborative and cooperative in social tone as permaculture is in its attitude toward plants and, like permaculture, is prepared to observe and think, slowly.

One of the subgroups that Transition communities typically use is called “Heart and Soul,” which focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects of climate crisis, of change, of community. Importantly, people are encouraged to be participants in the conversation, not just passive spectators: it is a nurturant process, involving anyone who wants to be a part. Good conversation involves quality listening, for an open-minded, attentive listener can elicit the best thoughts of a speaker. Giangrande says that the Transition Initiative — which has used keynote speakers — is also exploring the idea of keynote listeners as “a collaborative way of learning how to use knowledge.” When I asked exactly what that would involve, he couldn’t be specific, because it was still only an idea, which is revealing of the Transition process, very much a work-in-progress. The fact that they were trying out an idea without being able to predict the results has a vitality to it, an intellectually energetic quality, a profound liveliness.

The Transition Initiative describes itself as a catalyst, with no fixed answers, unlike traditional environmentalism, which is more prescriptive, advocating certain responses. Again unlike conventional environmentalism, it emphasizes the role of hope and proactiveness, rather than guilt and fear as motivators. Whether intentionally or not, environmentalism can seem exclusive, and the Transition Initiative is whole-heartedly inclusive.

While in many ways the Transition Initiative is new, it often finds its roots in the past, in a practical make-do-and-mend attitude. There is an interesting emphasis on “re-skilling” communities in traditional building and organic gardening, for example: crafts that were taken for granted two generations ago but are now often forgotten. Mandy Dean, who helped set up a Transition Initiative in her community in Wales, describes how her group bought root stocks of fruit trees and then organized grafting workshops; it was practical, but also “it was about weaving some ideas back into culture.”

In the British context, the memory of World War II is crucial, for during the war people experienced long fuel shortages and needed to increase local food production — digging for victory. In both the U.K. and the U.S., the shadow of the Depression years now looms uncomfortably close, encouraging an attitude of mending rather than buying new; tending one’s own garden; restoring the old.

To mend, to tend, and to restore all expand beautifully from textiles, vegetables, and furniture into those most quiet of qualities; to restore is restorative, to tend involves tenderness, to mend hints at amends. There is restitution here of community itself.

FOR ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY, people have engaged with the world through some form of community, and this is part of our social evolution. Somewhere deep inside us all is an archived treasure, the knowledge of what it is to be part of a community via extended families, locality, village, a shared fidelity to common land, unions, faith communities, language communities, co-operatives, gay communities, even virtual communities, which, for all their unreality, still reflect a yearning for a wider home for the collective soul. The nineteenth-century artist William Morris spoke of the gentle social-ism that he called fellowship: “Fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death.”

People never need communities more than when there are threats to security, food, and lives. The Transition Initiative recognizes how much we need this scale now, because of peak oil and climate change. But beyond this concrete need, the lack of a sense of community has negative psychological impacts on individuals across the “developed” world, as people report persistent and widespread feelings of loneliness, isolation, dispossession, alienation, and depression. Beyond a certain threshold, increased income does not create increased happiness, and the false promise of consumerism (buy this: be happy) sets the individual on a quest for a constantly receding goal of their own private fulfillment, while sober evidence repeatedly suggests that happiness is more surely found in contributing toward a community endeavor. (The Buddha smiles a tired, patient smile: “I’ve been telling you that for years.”) Community endeavor increases “social capital,” that captivating idea expressing the value of local relationships, networks, help, and friendships. A rise in social capital could be the positive concomitant of a fall in financial capital that a low-carbon future may entail.

Many people today experience a strange hollow in the psyche, a hole the size of a village. Mandy Dean alludes to this when she explains why she was drawn to the Transition Initiative: “One of the awful things about modern culture is separation and isolation; we’ve broken down almost every social bond, so the one bond left is between parent and child. In this extreme isolation, we don’t interact except with the television and the computer. We’ve lost something, and we don’t know what it is, and we try to fill it with food and alcohol and shopping but it’s never filled — what we’ve lost is our connection to our community, our place, and nature. Stepping back away from that isolation is very healing for people; getting people into groups where they can do things together starts to reverse that isolation.”

FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS, nation-states have attacked communities. Earliest and most emblematic were the enclosures: when governments passed laws to privatize common land, the spirit of collectivity was undermined as surely as the site of it. The vicious system of reservations for Native Americans robbed people of communities of land and stole from them the communal autonomy central to their cultural survival. Indigenous people all over the world have found their language communities assaulted, fracturing even their ability to speak. From the monster-enclosures of colonialism to the subtle but strangulating enclosures of Time, through which people ceased to “own” their own time, instead being corralled into the factory-time of industrial capitalism, the idea and the actuality of community has been eroded in countless ways. “There is no such thing as society” — the most sociopathic lie ever uttered by a British prime minister — was Thatcher’s summing up as she and Reagan broke the unions, and for decades agribusiness has destroyed the lives and dignity of campesinos in South America, while neoliberalism has wreaked havoc on communities across the world. And there are seemingly trivial examples that nonetheless are cumulatively important; in contemporary Britain the mass closures of pubs tear the fabric that knits communities together.

The colonial powers practiced the policy of “divide and rule,” usually dividing one community from another, but in contemporary society there is a more insidious policy of “atomize and rule.” The world of mass media fragments real societies into solitary individuals, passive recipients of information, consuming the faked-up society that television, in particular, provides, and one result of this is that the public, political injustices that communities have habitually analyzed and acted upon (food-poverty, housing-poverty, fuel-poverty, or time-poverty) have been rendered as merely an individual’s private problems.

It’s interesting (and not a little sad) that although the French Revolution announced that it stood for three things, only two of these (Liberty and Equality) have survived in political parlance while the third, Fraternity, has been made to sound both quaint and unnecessary. For decades, the voice of the State has declared that community solidarity is occasionally dangerous (unions are “too powerful and need to be destroyed”) or, like fraternity, rather parochial. What, though, could be more parochial than the voice of the mass media? Rejecting the rainbow of pluralism (the magnificent myriad Other upon Other upon Other, the Pan-Otherness by which all communities are Other to someone), the mass media broadcasts itself in mono. Narrow. Singular. Very, very parochial in its tight and exclusive remit.

In the long fetch of the wave, the Transition Initiative should be seen as a new formulation of a very old idea. We are ineluctably and gloriously social animals. We want fellowship. We flock, we gather, we chirp, we howl, we sing, we call, and we listen. If the Transition Initiative is empowering for communities, that is because there is an enormous latent energy there to be tapped, so that communities may be authors of their own story, hopeful, active, and belonging, rather than despairing, passive, and cynical.

Naresh Giangrande, in Totnes, tells me about a session they are designing on the theme of Belonging. Belonging, of course, is a lovely boomerang of an idea — where do you belong? Can that place belong to you? “Through the Transition Initiative,” says Giangrande, “we can talk about things in public which are normally only talked about privately. We all have a deep wound about belonging to the Earth.”

The Transition Initiative, says Giangrande, is “a movement that could be world-changing. And it is heartwarming to see how good-natured and good most people are — it revives my sense of community. It completely contradicts the image of human nature in the media, portraying it as greedy and selfish, competitive, nasty, and unsocial. That’s a self-reinforcing prophecy. We’re setting up the reverse. And we’re asking: will you join us?” People have flocked to do so. At the time of this writing, there are 146 Transition Initiatives, and by the time you read this there will be far more.

One of its techniques is in strengthening all that is associative, and attempting to democratize power, with a fine understanding of that particular social grace which seeks to create what Martin Buber called The Between.

What is it, The Between? Fertile, delicious, and powerful, it is the edge of meeting. The cocreated place of pure potential, a coevocation of possibility. The delicate point of meeting between you and him. Between them. Between us. What is the geometry of The Between? I could explain best if we went down to the pub, you and I (mine’s a glass of red wine, anything as long as it’s not Merlot, yeuch, that’s like drinking cold steel), and the geometry of The Between is as simple and direct as the line of our eyes across the table. It’s horizontal, equal, fraternal. We might have a chat with a couple of the old farmers, and my pal the vicar might be there with his guitar and best of all is when the harpist plays, which he does, very occasionally.

Warm with conviviality and wine, I might wander home and switch on the television (except for the fact that I gave it away some years ago), and Sky News would be showing me a parade of celebrities, each making me feel that little bit more insignificant. Celebrity culture is an opposite of community, informing us that these few nonsense-heads matter but that the rest of us do not. Insidiously, the television tells me I am no one. If I was Someone, I’d be on telly. In this way, television dis-esteems its viewers, and celebrity culture is both a cause and a consequence of the low self-esteem that mars so many people’s lives. So, the unacknowledged individual is manipulated into a jealousy of acknowledgment, which is why it is so telling that huge numbers of young people insist that when they grow up they want to be a celebrity. They are quite right. (Almost.) That is nothing less than they deserve, for we all need acknowledgment (but not fame). We all need recognition (but not to be “spotted” out shopping). We all need to be known, we need our selves confirmed by others, fluidly, naturally. A sense of community has always provided these familiar, unshowy acts of ordinary recognition, and the Transition Initiative, like any wise community, offers simple acknowledgment, telling us we are all players.

“MISTAKEN, APPALLING, AND DANGEROUS” is how the Transition Initiative has been described, which is the kind of criticism you covet, knowing that the speaker is an oil industry professional and author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis. Others have criticized it for being insufficiently confrontational. There are also criticisms from within: a tension between those who prefer fast action and those who prefer slow consideration, for the movement is both urgent and slow. It is transformatively sudden, and yet uses the subtle, tentative questioning of long dialogues within communities, a very slow process of building a network of relationships within the whole community.

In the language of climate change science, there are many tipping points, where slow causations are suddenly expressed in dramatic, negative consequences. The conference I attended when I met the scientist speaking of his unhappy son was called Tipping Point, and in a sense the Transition Initiative places itself as a social tipping point, with dramatic and positive consequences where the sudden wisdom of communities breaks through the stolid unwisdom of national government.

“We’re doing work for generations to come,” says Giangrande. You can’t change a place overnight, he says, but you have to begin now in the necessary urgency of our time. “We’re facing a historical moment of choice — our actions now [are] affecting the future. Now’s the time. The system we know is breaking down. Yet out of this breakdown, there are always new possibilities.” It’s catagenesis, the birth of the new from the death of the old. The process is “so creative and so chaotic,” says Giangrande. “Let it unfold — allow it — the key is not to direct it but to encourage it. We’ve developed the A to C of transition. The D to Z is still to come.” Brave, this, and very attractive. It is catalytic, emergent, and dynamic, facing forward with a vivid vitality but backlit with another kind of ancient sunlight: human, social energy.

Orion columnist Jay Griffiths is the author of Wild, winner of the inaugural Orion Book Award and of the Barnes & Noble Discover Award. She lives in Wales.

Comments

  1. Jay, this is a beautiful piece. Your thinking – the meandering flow of your thoughts – just lights up my computer screen.

    I’m a member of Transition PDX in Portland, Oregon, USA, and I plan to send this to leaders of all the fledgeling neighborhood organizations that are just starting to peep (never mind getting to the edge of the nest) to give them direction, understanding, and hope. You have written what I would write to them, only better.

  2. As one who is critical of Pollyanna-ish, feel-good, change a light-bulb approaches that sell pipe dreams rather than honesty about the need for dramatic change, I am fast becoming a fan of Transition Towns. This is the real deal. These people get it, and they are working out a way to bring people on board without setting the bar low.

    Dave Gardner
    Producing the documentary
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
    http://www.growthbusters.com

  3. What a wonderful way to start my day–reading your evocative essay, Jay. Many thanks for the joy that resonated within me.

    It seems to me that there needs to be clear articulation of 3 ideas which are at the core of truly grassroots movements.

    First, community already exists. It only needs to be uncovered and its existence appreciated. Then, it naturally strengthens. Community can never be built. It totally destroyed.

    Second, community cannot be uncovered by individuals who are only listening to each other. Rather, it is the hearing of the other that is required. And hearing involves being open to new information, being willing to receive it and then honestly accepting the fullness of what is being shared.

    Third, the grassroots relies upon the personal, owned understanding of its members rather than the acceptance–no matter how carefully considered–of outside, expert authority. The grassroots must make each truth its own.

  4. Thanks Jay,

    Lovely article, yes community spirit and the practical function of a community has been eroded in so many places by a financial system we do not own but feel the need to follow.

    Most of us will talk of indigenous people as if separate from what we think of as our developed lives, but if we do think about it we all are indigenous and completely dependent upon our environment and of course each other.

    We have our own transition initiative, the sleepy Cotswolds in Minchinhampton in the UK, an unlikely demographic but even here people are listening, thinking and energising inner resources to be proactive in helping each other, that’s an initiative worth more than its weight in gold.

  5. I recently attened a training in Albuquerque, New Mexico and facilitate symposiums Awakening the Dreamer Changing the Dream http://www.awakeningthedreamer.org. I feel we need to move forward and not depend on the government for change. I recently listen to an NPR discussion on the Presidents climate change and the issue is moving toward innovation. Innovation according to the program is what the public will relate to and not the raalities. This is where these initiatives are important. I feel there are many people who want to be proactive and not wait on innovation and return to basics.

  6. Thank you Jay for this lovely piece. I want to let you and everyone know that as someone deeply involved with the Transition movement, I have just published “Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse” which is an emotional and spiritual roadmap for navigating the unprecedented transitions ahead. Please visit my website Speaking Truth to Power to receive not only daily breaking news but options for enhancing our transitions. The book may also be ordered at the site.

  7. A very beautiful piece. I especially liked the idea of a Keynote Listener! What a deeply respectful, loving, open-to-potential, enabling phenomenon that would be!

  8. Great piece, Jay. About the best article on Transition I’ve seen. You talk about the deeper issues that elude the newspaper coverage of Transition.

    I posted an excerpt/link of this article on Energy Bulletin, and sent emails about it to the people at Post Carbon Institute.

    Bart / Energy Bulletin

  9. Transition U.S. is the central clearing house for initiatives in the United States. The website is: http://transitionus.org

    This movement is just getting started in the U.S., perhaps it will be of some value, despite terrible circumstances expected as the oil era ends and catastrophic climate change and mass extinction accelerates. We will have to deal with nature’s terms and limits. Human population declines are inevitable. Perhaps we can soften the blow and avoid barbaric anarchy. Perhaps we can find a kinder way to reduce populations – voluntarily through non-fertility years punctuated by fertile ones. We must reduce consumption – i.e.: population – not try to maintain the status quo. Are we smart enough and cooperative enough to survive?

  10. I am so glad you wrote this piece. I mentioned Transition towns in the discussion of Derrick Jensen’s “World at Gunpoint” but it got little attention as it seemed anger and debate drove the discussion – I was a culprit there – gave into the temptation.

    Your article is a nice contrast to Jensen’s current “Forget Shorter Showers” piece in Orion. The most striking contrast is the way his piece once again is filled with the energy of anger while yours is filled with the energy of compassion, as is the Transition Movement itself filled with the energy of compassion.

    Your piece reminds me of Margaret Wheatley’s piece in Shambhala Sun on “The Place Beyond Fear and Hope.” She wrote:

    “Many years ago, I took [Thomas] Merton seriously and abandoned all hope of ever saving the world. This was extremely heart-wrenching for me, more difficult than letting go of a love relationship. I felt I was betraying my causes, condemning the world to a terrible end. Some of my colleagues were critical, even frightened by my decision. How could I be so irresponsible? If we give up saving the world, what will happen? Still today, I have many beloved colleagues who refuse to resign as savior. They continue to force their failing spirits and tired bodies back into action one more time, wanting angry vehemence to give them vigor.

    I didn’t give up saving the world to protect my health. I gave it up to discover right action, what I’m supposed to be doing. Beyond hope and fear, freed from success or failure, I’m learning what right action feels like, its clarity and energy. I still get angry, enraged, and frustrated. But I no longer want my activities to be driven by these powerful, destructive emotions. I’ve learned to pause, come back to the present moment, and calm down. I take no actions until I can trust my interior state—until I become present in the moment and clarity emerges undimmed by hope and fear. Then I act, rightly, I hope.”

    She ended the piece with the same beauty embodied by the Transition Movement:

    “My heart holds the image of us journeying in this way through this time of disintegration and rebirth. Insecure, groundless, patient, beyond hope and fear. And together.”

  11. Interesting article recently a book came out on this subject. “Ecotherapy healing with Nature In Mind” is the title. The editors of Buzzell and Chalquest. It is published by Sierra Club books

  12. Thanks, Larry. Great to know of a new ecotherapy resource. It’s been a while since Roszak and others came out with their anthology on Ecotherapy.

  13. I’m a stay-at-home mom in New England and Transition is just right for me, and you put your finger on why exactly: I have a hole in my heat the size of a town. Reading your piece, along with Jensen’s in this same issue, gave me the necessary push to start a Transition movement in my own town.
    Inspiring and beautifully written. Thank you.

  14. Thanks for the great article Jay.

    The UK Secretary of state for energy and climate change – Ed Milliband – came to the transition network conference in London in May as a keynote listener.

    I saw him on TV this morning telling people that the situation re climate change really was serious and that urgent action was necessary. He used the word transition more times that I could count.

    More here: http://transitionculture.org/2009/05/25/ed-milliband/

  15. Fine article, Jay. Although I really tire of ‘intelligent’ people constantly inferring that all television offerings as basically trash. Public television networks have long offered vast amounts of quality information and insights, more than I ever gained from school, university, churches, or the internet, for that matter. It’s been incredibly valuable to me during my lifetime. Let’s give PBS a break.

  16. The article seems to be describing a new religion rather than the transition to a new community. Clearly the Transition Town Initiative is meeting peoples psychological and spiritual needs and mobilising them into action with a new sense of purpose. But will the movement enable the transition of present communities to a post carbon society? My experience of transition town initiatives so far is that they only partially reflect the reality of the world that is unfolding. And I think the movement would be further strengthened if was more inclusive of the whole of the community.

    I think the transition initiative needs to go further and start contingency planning as a priority. What I have in mind starts with the local telephone book and every individual. group and authority listed and the question – How do we as a community include everyone in the transition to a sustainable future?

    Transition town could take the lead to form a coalition of community leaders, policy makers, planners, legislators, practitioners, magicians, producers. Such a coalition could be inclusive of all people, ideas and creation and start a planning process. My idea is this group could form a planning framework that is inclusive and that can be added to during the journey that is the transition.

    I acknowledge what has been achieved so far but I do not see the relationships being established with politicians, health service planners, big land owners etc and other “transition initatives that our outside of the transition town framework. I co-lead a significant community biodiversity project and there are many similar ones in my region but tentative efforts to link up with a transition town did not work. We did not seem to fit the profile. Our community of volunteers reflect a wide range of world and political views and the one thing we have in common is getting rid of the pests and restoring nature.

    A last thought – the infrastructure of society has extended beyond individual towns and this also needs to be the focus of the transition.

  17. Allan, these are serious suggestions and comments, and I would like to explore them further with you off-line. I am forwarding them to our TransitionPDX (Portland, Oregon, USA) Core Hub to incorporate your experience in our strategic thinking. We are always trying to figure out how to make it work. Some of us are actually working on contingency planning, and we have never conceived of being as thorough as you suggest – although we are in a metropolitan area of over 1.5 million people, so it would be complicated.

    Second point: inclusion of everyone – I have been working several months to reach out to minority people – so far we are nearly all white and old – and younger people, and we are beginning to make some progress here, and we will make more.

    Third: community leaders. We have participated in critiquing our city-county Climate Action Plan in cooperation with people who drafted it. We are in touch with city staff and police in the neighborhoods. And we are now reaching out to as many social and environmental groups (that’s many in this green city) as we can to join us in a common goal – and not necessarily a common path – a framework that makes all our individual missions fit into a vision of a shared future.

    We’re just starting. we’ve been working at this just about one year. We’ve run up against our own limitations and we’ve made mistakes. But we will improve and learn constantly, and we will reach a place where we can include all the groups that want to align with us in our planning and in appreciating their actions. Everyone should fit our profile. So thanks for pointing this out, and please contact me – maybe invite me through Facebok or Linkedin?

  18. In the days of yore, information was distributed by crier. Commerce took a back seat to social needs. When a member of the community died, everyone stopped what they were doing, picked up an instrument and marched from one end of town to the other end of town, shuffling out their sorrow. We understood grief, having life and losing life.

    Our food came out of the ground we tended. Our social fabric depended on each of us as thread.

    In the recent age, moving from Industry to Information to Experience, we’ve been distanced from the Earth as a source. The benefit we’ve created is the development of an independent meta-lobe where fact sourcing and virtual collaboration can happen with near automation.

    The cost of arriving here has been both an impact on Nature that will serve to remind us of its essential importance, and on the fabric of society as individuation became isolation while we self-herded into the the lazy-boy corrals of the modern-age.

    As the benefits of cloud technology arrive at a harmony with nature, our distance from other is re-orienting to become close-knit human experience, now with a global availability that is historically unparalleled.

    So far humankind as an element of Nature has proven to overcome our self-imposed limitations time and again.

    It is human nature to persist in our reinvention.

    Excellent to read of an initiative that allows for reasonable response to re-creating our world.

    Thank you for this post! I’m sharing it everywhere.

  19. What a wonderful comment! I remember as a small child growing up in Iowa when community was somewhat together and local was everything.

    There was a butcher who took care of the steer you would eat for a year and a community locker. Harvesting was shared by the neighbors and fed very well by my aunt and grandmother.

    When someone died as the funeral passed cars would stop by the side of the rode and men would remove their hats in respect.

    My Aunt who died recently at 104 told me about the local mill and canning from the garden near the cornfield.

    Growing up in the sixties Garst and Thomas and the beginnings of agibusiness and Kruchev visited along with all the Presidential candidates.

    The great gardens and food are gone and it is a desert of corn and soybeans.

    I recently attended the Slow Money Alliance in Santa Fe, New Mexico concerning natural capital and funding local organic growers within fifty miles. Maybe will will see a strong return to local

  20. Yes, Transition initiatives are definitely moving in the right direction, and I especially value their emphasis on heart and soul. But it is hard to incorporate everyone when not everyone wants to be involved…busy shopping at Superstore, busy with family, busy with work. All perhaps justifiable, or in any case, real. So it is left to the people who are interested and who make time, to do a lot of the start-up work. Beyond a reasonable, regular sort of outreach to the larger community, there are many more important ways Transition can take place than in constantly trying to convince people to sign on. I believe that it will gain momentum, and lead by example.

    I agree with Allan that the Movement would do well to look at some contingency planning – at least, in a safe and inclusive way, look at some worse-case scenarios and how the community (and each individual) might respond. Then, a return to such wonderful ideas as workshops on Belonging and Keynote Listeners to balance out the heart and feed our souls through this challenging time of change.

  21. For obvious reasons, it is challenging to read the nearly two dozen coments posted to date on Mr.Jay Griffiths’ candid, eloquent “The Transition Initiative” and then conjure up a comment worthy of anyone’s attention. Yet striving to engage one’s self in words or in deeds of a fresh, constructive nature seems to me to be Jay Griffiths’ hope. “NO COMMENT” silence or cynicism or rigid policial partisanship or merely sitting at the feet of the “celebs” of all stripes as the global drama moving between tragedy and the theater of the absurd continues to unfold are not bright options. I refer, among other things, to the ongoing and terribly brutish warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan (sectarian and on the part of a deteriorating “coalition”) as well as the projected reduction of carbon emissions by the year 2020 –even as methane now swirls out of melting glaciers and polar ice caps like funereal incense and Big Oil today sells for less to coax vehicle owners to be less eager to switch to electric/solar electric power.

    Mr. Griffiths’ evident compassion, predicated on the model exhibited by the Al Gore who refused to succumb to bitterness as well as that of scientists willing to do moe than lament polar bears drifting on ice floes, leads me to consider more than one meaning to the word. He is committed to more than pity or sympanthy when he is told that rain forests could wither and burn, along with the food millions must have!

    This man, making his ideas and words available as 2009 begins to fade,invites everyone everywhere to initiate dialogue, refreshed communities, find “alternatives to the inevitable,” as the old phrase put it. Thank you, Jay Griffiths and ORION!

    Frederick G. Rodgers, Ph.D. Portland, Oregon

  22. As I read about the Transition Initiative and our need to function as part of a real community, I wondered if this would turn out to be just one more activity in already too busy middle class lives. One more reason to be stressed as we run (or more likely drive) from one thing to another. Churches, synagogues and other religious bodies, schools, fraternal organizations and sports programs already try to create communities. Are they succeeding? How will the Transition Initiative be different and have a real lasting impact on humanity and the planet?

  23. Over the last seven years I have established, to the best of my own ability, the makings of a permaculture allotment environment at the Ventnor Close allotment site, here in dormitary town Swindon U.K. As permaculture works with, rather than against nature, so the transition initiative works with, rather than against, HUMAN nature – care of earth, care of people, fair share – it is as collaborative and cooperative in social tone as permaculture is in its attitude towards plants and, like permaculture, is prepared to observe and THINK, slowly.

    Whilst the last seven years of thinking and observation, has brought me to the conclusion that the bottom-up positive thinking at the root of the Transition Towns movement IS an absolute first step in the establishment of an “energy descent plan mindset”, IT remains the case that a similar localised top-down positive thinking mindset should be established in order that an appropriate energy descent plan be established for a town the size of Swindon, with all its diversity of 250,000 inhabitants.

    It is therefore a fact – that Allan Parker has raised issues in need of consideration and urgent action, with which I totally agree.

    I would like to report, however, that the Transition Network’s latest document – Who are we and what do we do – does at long last begin to address the inclusive top-down/bottom-up Transition mindset issue.

    Here in the UK Somerset County Council has set the ball rolling so to speak by “agreeing to undertake a review of its budgets
    and services to achieve a reduction in dependence on fuel oil and produce an energy descent action plan in line with the
    principles of the Transition Initiative.”

    Leicester City, North Norfolk Council and Bristol City have, I believe, all made similar commitments, to the extent that “a lead by example””top-down/bottom-up transition mindset initiative” may finally be in the offing.

    In consideration of the fact that the demographics of the people of Swindon constitute the very core of the European Economic Computer Model it would be an encouraging step forward, to address the issues raised by Allan Parker, if the Swindon Unitary Authority were to follow suit.

  24. I´ve heard of Transition Towns before but never took the time to read about it until now. I´m so happy to found this article. Everything in it is encouraging and enlightening. I´m even more happy to see that this movement arrived to Sweden, Malmö and I will not be late to join it.
    Thanks for a wonderful reading. I will send it foward to all my love once.

  25. Global capitalism in its current iteration is not democratic nor just in its failure to provide for the common spirit & wellness of living beings & living systems, as it systematically violates every principle of a market economy, instead setting up an interesting juxtaposition because it points to the possibility that there really is an alternative.

    An alternative based on what is good for the goose is good for the gander where relationships on every level, between hominids & their living environment have the capacity to reach a level of balance & harmony to achieve mutual dynamic equilibrium, to create a new paradigm of relationships built on trust,honor,integrity,and cooperation, that will bring harmony, and balance to ultimately restore both our humanness with the natural world, and respect for the dignity of all living systems.

    Living capital having the ability to continuously regenerate itself, is ultimately the source of all real wealth, and to simply destroy it for the sake of money with no intrinsic value being created out of thin air as both fiat & usury to the end user on a fictitious ledger by criminal international banking empire’s to manipulate & control the ultimate health, wealth & prosperity of nations for its own accumulation of wealth & thus power, is an act of collective insanity — which makes capitalism a mental, as well as a physical pathology.

    As Professor David Korten articulates in “ Life After Capitalism”, “to create a world in which life can flourish and prosper we must replace the values and institutions of capitalism with values and institutions that honor life, serve life’s needs, and restore money to its proper role as servant. I believe we are in fact being called to take a step to a new level of species consciousness and function”.

Commenting on this item is closed.