The Great Unleashing: Transition Towns

20 March 2008

Unleashing the Children in Forest Row; photo: Mike Grenville

“We are the most useless generation in history” says Rob Hopkins, pioneer of the fastest-growing social movement in the UK: Transition Towns, “most people in the past had many skills.” This is not a lament for bygone ages, however, but a call to action.

Fed up with obfuscation on climate change from central government people are voluntarily banding together to reduce their carbon footprint and green their area in transition to a low-carbon lifestyle. “A Transition Initiative is a community that is unleashing its own latent collective genius to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and to discover and implement ways to address this BIG question:”

A transition town, village, or city is more a state of mind – people finding empowerment by taking action. The first was Kinsale in Ireland in 2005. Rob Hopkins, teacher of Permaculture at Kinsale Further Education College, produced the groundbreaking Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan with his students, exploring ways in which the community could prepare for the imminent peaking of global oil supplies. Soon the initiative to work towards local energy independence was adopted by Kinsale Town Council.

Delegates at the first Transition Town Conference; photo: Mike Grenville

Rob moved to Totnes in Devon to “unleash” (in their phrase) the second Transition town. Since then they have spread like wildfire – from tiny communities like Mortonhampstead (pop 1500), to towns like Lewes in Kent, and even cities such as Bristol and urban areas like Brixton. Transition Towns are bottom-up “open source” networked happenings, and often eschew formal structures of committees for “imaginative facilitation”. Rob Hopkins describes freewheeling events with slogans like “Honour the Elders” and “Let it go where it wants to go.” This apparently anarchic form seems to draw in people who would run a mile from a formal committee.

Transition towns have energetic, positive statements such as: “if we collectively plan and act early enough there's every likelihood that we can create a way of living that's significantly more connected, more vibrant and more in touch with our environment than the oil-addicted treadmill that we find ourselves on today. “

The movement has impinged on the consciousness of national trendsetters that a reliable source tells Carbon News that a major storyline in The Archers will feature a Transition Initiative soon.

It is early days yet – it would take some time to “powerdown” to a low carbon lifestyle, although Woking Council, though not a transition town, managed to reduce its carbon emissions by 77%. An impressive achievement which sets the benchmark for other communities.

What do Transition Towns do? A wide range of initiatives, depending on location and persons involved. Some of it is familiar organisational outreach: fairs, film shows and talks; some is radical in form and structure – fun learning days where people spark ideas off each other instead of formalised lectures. Other aspects are historical – relearning skills from the past, or replanting heritage varieties of trees, for example.

Urban Agriculture; photo Transition Town Brixton

There are now 44 official transition towns, according to Ben Brangwyn, co-founder of the Transition Network, and 600 groups working towards Transition Town status. The movement has also spread overseas from Uraguay to New Zealand, Australia, and a number of other countries.

The Transition Towns Primer says:

“We demonstrated phenomenal levels of ingenuity and intelligence as we raced up the energy curve over the last 150 years, and there's no reason why we can't use those qualities, and more, as we negotiate our way down from the peak of the energy mountain.”

It is this positive attitude in the face of challenges that distinguishes Transition Initiatives from many other campaigning groups.

Transition Towns Wiki

Transition Town Brixton

Transition Bath

The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience

By Rob Hopkins

Mike Grenville Photography

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