Thursday, March 26, 2009

Transition Towns - The Way Forward


What do Bristol, Brixton and Brampton have in common...apart from the fact that they all begin with the letter ‘B'?

The answer is that alongside at least another 600 towns and cities across the UK, they are taking up (or already following) an initiative known as the ‘Transition' movement.

You may be fortunate enough to live in an area where communities have already formed Transition groups, and those of you who listen to ‘The Archers' on Radio 4 will know that even the residents of Borchester are following the model, but what does it mean and how is it going to make a difference?

The Transition movement addresses, simultaneously, the issues of climate change and peak oil. It provides a model for communities to make the transition from the world we live in now, to a world with reduced carbon emissions where we no longer depend on oil.

For those of you who haven't come across the term ‘peak oil', it refers to the fact that the age of cheap and abundant oil has now peaked. Like many of the earth's resources, we humans have taken oil for granted, and although we haven't used it all up, it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to extract. We really do need to take steps to reduce our dependency upon oil and look for alternative, renewable ways to provide us with energy for the future.

To tackle these new challenges, society needs to adapt and change.

The wonderful thing about the Transition movement is that it brings communities together to think about how to tackle the problems we face at a grass-roots level. It brings together growers and producers, schools, local authorities, transport providers, traders, environmental groups and any other group or individual with an interest in working together towards a more decentralised and community-based future. Once these groups and individuals begin to work together they become greater and more effective than the sum of their parts and something positive and exciting begins to happen!

Transition towns are equipping themselves for the future by looking at what strengths, skills and resources they already have within the community and then enhancing and adding to these. The key is for us to become more resilient and to ‘decentralise'. We rely too much, at the moment, on a centralised system where almost all our needs are met by importing food, clothing and even energy from other countries. This is not about ‘doom and gloom'; if we rise to the challenge, dig deep and tap into the wealth of collective experience and knowledge contained within our communities, we can move forward in a wonderfully positive and empowering way!

By shifting our mind-sets, pooling our resources and thinking ‘local' there is nothing we cannot achieve together...and one of the most fantastic things about the Transition movement is that it works from the bottom up. It is not driven by government, local authorities or by one single person. It is driven by the people living and working within communities and the model can be easily adapted to suit a small hamlet, a middle-sized town or a large city.

The Transition Town movement was born in 2005 when Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande initiated a series of talks and film screenings in Totnes, Devon to raise awareness about peak oil. (Rob had previously taught permaculture in Kinsale, Southern Ireland and had already worked on an energy descent action plan with his students.) Following the talks and screen showings, the Totnes community responded by holding regular meetings to discuss how they could work together to become more resilient and decentralised, and in September 2006 they officially launched ‘Transition Town Totnes'.

Rob Hopkins embodies the nature of the Transition Town movement. He is optimistic, resourceful, self-effacing and inspiring. He does not preach and he certainly doesn't fill you with doom and gloom. Rob's book, ‘The Transition Handbook' provides a wonderfully valuable resource for any individual or community wanting to find practical solutions to the enormous challenges we face through climate change and peak oil. I highly recommend it...although I have to say it's important that you use this book as a ‘handbook', not as a ‘bible'. I have seen groups getting stuck and becoming inert because they believe they can't go on to ‘step 3' if they haven't completed ‘step 2' yet. The Transition Handbook is based on the way things have developed in Totnes and your community may be very different, so you may want to do things slightly differently.

If you can't afford to buy this book, ask your local library if they have it! If you buy it though Amazon, please remember to go through the affiliate page on the Big Green Idea website.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Transition movement you could also have a look at or You might also want to watch the film ‘The End of Suburbia'...but as it could leave you feeling a little pessimistic, I suggest you follow it quickly with ‘The Power of Community'!

To find out more about peak oil, read ‘The Party's Over' by Richard Heinberg.

As I said earlier, you may be fortunate and find that your town has already formed a Transition group. If not, maybe now is the time for you to take the initiative...

Brigit Strawbridge

Our affiliate merchant AMAZON has lots of books for sale around this subject. The Big Green Idea is paid a commission if you choose to buy via our links. These are not recommendations by the author and are chosen purely to give a representation.