Transition Town Movement

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Definition

"The idea of Transition Towns is radical relocalization of politics, economics and culture to autonomous and self-sufficient communities, in order to cope effectively with the twin perils of Peak Oil and Climate Change, to become resilient to such mega-changes. Hopkins decided to create a working model of such a community in 2006, in Totnes, UK, and there are now over a hundred networked transition towns in existence or in the planning stages, built on that model." (http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2008/09/16.html#a2244)

Description

1.

"For participating communities, it involves a three-step process. First, acknowledge the strong probability that in the near future, our communities are going to have much less cheap energy available to them than at present. Second, recognise that pretty much all our systems – for food production, clothing, house-building, making a living – are more or less completely dependent on the availability of cheap energy sources. Third, embrace the reality of energy descent as an opportunity to re-design our communities and entire societies along more human-scale, inclusive, equitable and convivial lines." (http://www.newstatesman.com/200803170007)


2.

"Transition initiatives are community organised social innovations present in 44 countries that are attempting to build local resilience to climate change, peak oil and the current economic crisis. The Transition movement aims to develop local economies which are not orientated towards growth, and communities that are resilient and which enhance well being.

The Transition movement aims to empower communities to respond to climate change, peak oil and the economic downturn. The cumulative effects of multiple projects and initiatives are, it is hoped, able to contribute to a wider movement developing a more sustainable society.

The first Transition initiatives emerged as a pro-active, community led response to deal with the perceived threat to local communities from peak oil – the decreasing availability of low cost hydrocarbons. These early initiatives focussed on the idea of energy descent.

Transition initiatives are mostly led by citizens working voluntarily. However, a key element of the approach is to forge positive links with businesses, politicians and other organisations." (http://www.transitsocialinnovation.eu/resource-hub/transition-towns)


3. Jon Mooallem:

"The Transition movement was started four years ago by Rob Hopkins, a young British instructor of ecological design. Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. “Sustainability,” Hopkins recently told me, “is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast, Hopkins said, Transition is about “building resiliency” — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive.

Transition’s approach is adamantly different from that of the survivalists I heard about, scattered in the mountains around Sandpoint in bunkers stocked with gold and guns. The movement may begin from a similarly dystopian idea: that cheap oil has recklessly vaulted humanity to a peak of production and consumption, and no combination of alternative technologies can generate enough energy, or be installed fast enough, to keep us at that height before the oil is gone. (Transition dismisses Al Gore types as “techno-optimists.”) But Transition then takes an almost utopian turn. Hopkins insists that if an entire community faces this stark challenge together, it might be able to design an “elegant descent” from that peak. We can consciously plot a path into a lower-energy life — a life of walkable villages, local food and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world — which, on balance, could actually be richer and more enjoyable than what we have now. Transition, Hopkins has written, meets our era’s threats with a spirit of “elation, rather than the guilt, anger and horror” behind most environmental activism. “Change is inevitable,” he told me, “but this is a change that could be fantastic.”

After developing the rudiments of Transition with a class he was teaching at an Irish college, Hopkins moved to the English town of Totnes, and, in 2005, began mobilizing a campaign to “relocalize” the town. The all-volunteer effort has since been busily planting nut trees, starting its own local currency and offering classes on things like darning socks in order to “facilitate the Great Reskilling.”

More than 80 other initiatives across England have followed, including one in Bristol, a city of nearly half a million people. Worldwide, there are now more than 150 official Transition Towns (communities with an active group of citizens), and last winter, trainers from Totnes traveled the globe to run workshops, leaving activists on three continents to begin the relocalization of their own communities — autonomously and with whatever financing they can raise. (The Transition revolution is, loosely speaking, a franchise model.) Sandpoint, Idaho, was the second Transition Town in the United States after Boulder County, Colo. They have been joined by more than 20 others in the last year, including Portland, Maine; Berea, Kentucky; and even Los Angeles. But the American arm of the movement is expanding far faster than it is accomplishing anything, which is why the event in Sandpoint that night was so significant."

Status

2011

By Simon Veazey:

The "grass-roots localisation movement that has grown around the world since it took off in the UK five years ago.

In those five years, founder of the “Transition movement” Rob Hopkins says it has not only produced countless local economic and ecological innovations, but also rekindled the sense of community all-too-often eroded over recent decades.

From setting up local currencies in London, creating a community-owned solar power station in Suffolk, to providing renewable local street-lamp gas in Worcestershire, and perfecting methods of draft-proofing Victorian buildings, each initiative is tailored to its own challenges and resources.

At the heart of the movement is the notion that cheap oil has created unsustainable and unhealthy economic anomalies that will collapse as oil supplies drop – the Peak Oil theory. According to the theory, the effects will begin to unleash not as oil supplies dry up, but as the peak production passes, leaving communities high and dry unless they have already made the “transition” to a stable localised economy, hence the name “Transition movement”.

Hopkins often uses the example of the exporting and importing of potatoes.

“Every year the UK exports 1.5 million kilos of potatoes to Germany, and every year the UK imports 1.5 kilos of potatoes from Germany. I’ve never been able to distinguish between a German potato and a British one. I’m sure Germany does nice potatoes but so does Devon. If we just kept those ourselves, there are all kinds of economic and social benefits there,” he explains.

Without the availability of cheap fuel in abundance, such a situation makes no economic sense, says Hopkins.

“It’s taken an enormous amount of cheap energy to live on a street and not know anyone who lives on the street – and I think we are all the worse for it.”

He says that their research suggests that a lot of places could ultimately supply up to about 80 per cent of food and building materials locally.

The movement has so far generated 950 registered Transition groups in 34 countries, although the UK still leads the pack. Hopkins says it is hard to translate this into total numbers of people involved. Membership of some Transition groups might number in the dozens, others in their hundreds, and events organised by Transition groups can number in the thousands and spill over into many other community initiatives and even activities of the local council.

Hopkins’ first book, published four years ago when the movement was in its infancy, sold 25,000 copies.

Last week Hopkins published his second book, called The Transition Companion, which charts the growth of the movement and the experiences accumulated over the last five years." (http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/united-kingdom/transition-towns-going-local-going-green-and-meeting-the-neighbours-63628.html)

Discussion

John Robb

"the real value of the Transition Towns approach isn't its emphasis on energy descent (which may neither be sufficient nor ultimately valuable for resilience), but rather its concisely crafted methodology for catalyzing community participation via a messy open source organizational process (which allows people to deviate from the "energy descent approach" if they desire to). " (http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2009/04/rc-journal-transition-towns-as-a-means-to-participative-problem-solving.html)

Resilience and Participation

Jon Mooallem:

From a conversation with Councilman John T. Reuter, of Sandpoint Idaho (a Transition Towns site:


"What Reuter said he felt was wonderful about the Sandpoint Transition Initiative was how quickly it was rejuvenating people’s faith that the changes they craved were worth working for. “To say the group has only created a community garden so far really isn’t sufficient,” he told me. “It’s something really more substantive: they’re bringing people to the process.” It was easy to argue that at the initiative’s core, in place of any clearly defined philosophy or strategy, was only a puff of enthusiasm. But Reuter seemed to argue that enthusiasm is an actual asset, a resource our society is already suffering a scarcity of. “There’s just something happening here that’s reviving people’s civic sense of possibility,” he later said. “Politics is ‘the art of the possible,’ right? I think what the Transition Initiative is doing is expanding what’s possible in people’s minds. It is expanding people’s ability to dream bold. And that’s what we need to do: dream bold. Because people have been limited by their own imaginations.”


Reuter had a utopian vision, too: the one laid out in the U.S. Constitution. And the Sandpoint Transition Initiative seemed to be moving Sandpoint closer to that ideal in its own small way, even though it was working out of a totally different handbook. They were managing to make the functioning democracy in their town a little more productive. For a wide range of not-always-consistent reasons, people in Sandpoint decided that Transition could help them build the world they wanted. And now, only because enough people stepped forward and made that decision, Transition actually looked like a good tool for the job. They were picking it up by whatever handle they grasped. They were swinging it as earnestly as they could." (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/magazine/19town-t.html?sq=the%20end%20is%20near&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=print)


Key Book to Read

  • Barry, J., and Quilley S., 2008. Transition towns: ‘survival’ ‘resilience’ and the elusive paradigm shift in sustainable living. Eco-politics online, 1 (2), 12–31.

More Information

  • case study on social innovation aspects: Longhurst, N. (2015) Transformative social innovation narrative of the Transition Movement. TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement: 613169

URL = http://www.transitsocialinnovation.eu/resource-hub/transition-towns

"Transition initiatives are an interesting case of social innovation because it has explicit transformational ambitions in its desire to change society and a model of change that is based on community empowerment. It also has a strong experimental ethic which means that Transition initiatives create the space for other forms of innovation to emerge."


  • Listen or watch:
  1. Watch: Rob Hopkins on the Transition Movement and Resilience:Three part introduction, by the founder of the Transition Movement, very well done
  2. Marcin Jakubowski on Transition Towns and Open Source Villages
  3. CBC Podcast (see March 26 coverage in directory)

See Also