Dynamic Transition Network Forges Ahead
30 Apr 2008
Rob Hopkins and Caroline Lucas speak out from the Second Transition Network Conference.
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Caroline Lucas, a Green Party Member of the European Parliament representing the South East of England region, opened the second Transition Network Conference during the weekend of April 11th-13th 2008 at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, England, with her words of support for the Transition Town movement, which has ‘gone viral’ throughout the U.K. and beyond: ‘The Transition Town movement is the most exciting, most hopeful, most inspirational movement happening in Britain today. It is a fast growing, grassroots, direct response to a crisis, which doesn’t wait for government, which doesn’t wait for politicians, which doesn’t wait for corporations. It just gets on and does it: communities taking action for themselves. It is exciting because it is facing the two greatest challenges we face today, Climate Change and Peak Oil and it is exciting because it does it in such a hopeful way.’
193 people attended the conference, with participants from as far away as Australia, the U.S. and Japan. In just over eighteen months, on the very evening of the opening of the conference, the Transition Network reached 50 official member communities ñ towns, cities, villages and even islands that have met a list of criteria set by the Network for being a ‘Transition Town,’ a community that is transitioning from extreme oil dependency to a vibrant post-carbon existence through a process of simultaneously curtailing carbon use and massively increasing community resilience. In addition, another 650 communities are ‘mulling’ over the possibility of becoming members of the Network. The Transition movement is now an international phenomenon, with Transition initiatives springing up all over the world, including Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Canada, France, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, and the USA, all of this before the guidebook to the model, entitled The Transition Handbook, written by movement founder Rob Hopkins, came off the presses just last month. The ‘Transition Town’ movement may soon need to change its name, with just the sort of flexibility it embraces, to encompass its ambitious scope, aiming to include local governments and businesses in the ‘Transition’ model. ‘Transition Islands’ have joined the Network, a ‘Transition University’ is in the works, and there is even talk of ‘Transition hospitals.’ There is also a pervasive recognition that the ‘Transition’ movement calls for a deep personal Transition for each individual.
The following is an interview that took place during the weekend of the conference in the pub, with the notably light hearted and accessible Rob Hopkins, after his game of football (soccer) among the conference participants.
I understand that the Transition model arose out of a Permaculture course you co-led in Kinsale, Ireland, in 2005, where the students developed the first Energy Descent Plan for Kinsale. Upon returning to Totnes in England, what were your initial thoughts from which the Transition idea really gelled?
They arose from finding out about Peak Oil, which, despite myself having been a Permaculture enthusiast for years, was a bolt from the blue. It was a kind of Eureka! moment, really. And then a personal time spent in a Peak Oil pit. I think those of us who do this work should never forget what a huge shock it is for people. So, the tools that I had then for what to do about it were Permaculture design principles. They are the principles that have underpinned everything I have done. It made sense, really, to put those two things together. I suppose it is like with music when there are really great musical breakthroughs. What happens if you mix heavy metal and hip hop? You get a whole new interesting sort of music. You get hybrids which are more interesting than the sum of the two things they came from. So, I think putting Permaculture and Peak Oil together, it just seemed to gel really well.
Do you have any follow up on Kinsale?
In terms of what we now understand to be the Transition model or Transition approach, Kinsale is a funny example because what we now think of as a Transition process, there are 12 elements to that process. In effect, Kinsale went straight to number12 and did their Energy Descent Plan without having done all of the underlying community building, awareness raising work underneath. So, in terms of Transition Kinsale, as a group, they have largely gone back to stage one and started the awareness raising, but they have done it with the Energy Descent Plan in hand and they found it a really useful document. So, while they haven’t taken the document and implemented it year by year by year, a number of projects have emerged which are really exciting. They have been doing nut tree and fruit tree planting; they have a farmer’s market going again; they have started a community garden. There are quite a few initiatives having been started there and there are some very good, dynamic people there. It helps having the Permaculture course there at the college, which provides a lot of inspired training of young people. In the context of how the Transition movement has grown so quickly, the role of Kinsale has really been to introduce the idea of the Energy Descent Plan. The concept was really experimented with there, and they certainly have a very vibrant Transition project happening there now.
What do you see as the importance of the principle of self-organization and the tool of Open Space Technology to the Transition Town movement, particularly given how quickly and how large it is growing?
Open Space is just one of the different tools that we use, and I am sure there are lots of others that we haven’t heard about yet. We use this term in the Transition movement about ‘the collective genius of the community,’ unleashing that genius to really focus on issues and to draw out solutions that are intimately linked to and emerge from the local terrain. These are the things that cannot come from top down. They have to have to come from the bottom up. So, you need tools that can offer that collective genius, and Open Space is a really useful one because it brings together people who don’t know much about each other, and it means that they create the agenda and they create the discussion. It starts to introduce people to the idea that Transition isn’t a process that is about imposing solutions. It is a catalyst. It is something that starts and then it triggers lots of projects and initiatives. People take ownership of the process with great energy and great passion and it is really exciting to see that.
There is a spectrum of opinion on how much to engage with government and on what level. Where would you say the Transition Town movement falls on that spectrum?
At the moment, Transition has developed a model which is about Transition communities. It is a grassroots model which local government can support, but which it does not drive. The local community self organizes and starts the process going. What we need to develop as well is the concept of Transition local government, Transition national government, and Transition business, so that all the different layers start working together. If the community pulls together and creates an Energy Descent Plan and it has good community support, a community of people saying ‘look, we realize the problems, we want to move in a different direction in terms of development, and we want to get to a place that’s a significant improvement on where we are right now.’ It then needs the local government to play its core role, which is to enable that to happen. But, at the moment, local governments aren’t yet stepping up. So, we are trying to develop a process where we can work with different councils, Transition local government, and Transition business, putting resilience and carbon cutting together into it, which goes beyond just being a low ca
rbon business. It is much deeper than that. So, at the moment, I think the model we developed works on all levels, but in order to be really successful, they all need to really be working together.
Humility really comes through in your presentations and how you seem to sit back a bit on the sidelines during the Transition Network conference. How does it feel to be at the center of a phenomenon that has so taken off?
It feels a mixture of bewildering, terrifying, and exhilarating. What is really exciting about it is that I don’t drive this process and I am not in the center of it. It is a process that has really developed its own momentum, its own dynamic. That is how it was always supposed to be, really. When we come together at something like this, and there are people from all over the world, who have taken this really simple idea and tried it out in their own communities, that is really fantastic. I think the thing that may come through about me is that people have really taken to heart that we don’t do this work for ourselves. This isn’t work where one’s ego is really appropriate. Transition work is for future generations. That is who we do it for. It helps, for me, because I have children, so the future generation is highly tangible. I get the sense that the people who are here doing this work aren’t doing it for themselves, or to get rich or to be famous. What they share, what drives them, is a sense that we are extraordinarily fortunate to be alive at this time of the Great Transition, the Great Turning.
The Transition movement is renowned for its hopeful, upbeat attitude. As new information about Climate Change and various post-Peak Oil scenarios come to you, where do you currently find yourself on the meter of hope?
I never think it is a very useful way of thinking about it because how hopeful or hopeless you feel can vary within seconds. Thinking about whether you feel optimistic or pessimistic is such a trap to get lost in. It really doesn’t help very much. A man named Tom Atlee in North America talks about the need to shift from probabilities to possibilities. So, rather than sitting down and looking at all the figures and figuring out what the probabilities are that we are going to get runaway Climate Change by 2018, it is more about looking at possibilities: what can we create from this? There are times when, particularly with the latest data coming in on Climate Change, it is easy to have some sleepless nights. But, then, again, when you shift from probabilities to possibilities, you can’t get to sleep at night because your head is racing with all of the possibilities of what you can do about it, and how inherent in Peak Oil and Climate Change there is the potential for the greatest economic, social, cultural, spiritual renaissance in history. That is what I hold on to. We can DO this! Are we really the first generation that just collectively chose to commit suicide? I don’t believe so. If you take a human being and throw them in the sea, they try and swim as long as they can. Our instinct is for survival and Vandana Shiva says the uncertainty of our times is no reason to be certain about hopelessness. The beautiful thing about Transition is that is keeps you going; it is so tremendously fantastic to see what we can do.
Susan Sawyer is a writer and a Social Worker with Masters Degrees in Counseling Psychology and Social Ecology. She currently lives in Alameda, California.
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