Transition Towns, UK
Judith Hitchman, October 2009
The Transition Towns’ approach is therefore practical and highly prospective, as it prepares and helps us to adapt to the idea that our daily lives will be disrupted. Now is the time to start organizing the transition towards communities capable of living together in a sustainable manner with the existing resources of our planet.
An international network of local initiatives to meet the challenges of peak oil and climate change
Although Totnes in the U.K. is often thought to be the home of the Transition Town movement, it actually all started in 2005 in Kinsale, a small town in West Cork in Ireland. This is where Rob Hopkins, the founder, was then lecturing in the Kinsale College of Further Education. It is also where he started the first full-time 2-year permaculture course in the world. The movement is based on the concept that our planet is facing the dual threat of peak oil and climate change, and that all people and local communities need to develop a bottom-up energy descent action plan to become less energy dependent, build resilience and capacity, and learn how to become responsible consumers in all ways. The movement has spread rapidly: today it is not just Transition towns, but also Cities, Islands, Hamlets, Valleys and Forests… The approach has developed already developed extensively in the English-speaking world (it is increasingly widespread in the UK, Ireland the US, Australia, NZ and Canada), although there are also some initiatives in Latin America and mainland Europe.
What it is and how it works. The objectives are to · Build resilience and develop the capacity within the community to prepare for the transition away from the dependence on fossil fuels to a safe and sustainable future · Ensure a supply of fresh local food, support local farmers and food producers · Relearn from our elders how to grow our own food as well as all sorts of other traditional skills · Develop community solutions to reducing carbon emissions · Protect the local environment, its ecosystems and biodiversity.
The emphasis is on “local” and “small-scale”, and convincing people to grow their own food in their gardens or allotments is one of the key goals of the movement. There is no blueprint, although there is a handbook, based on 12 steps. Each community has to empower itself to find its own solutions. This means that the speed and way in which each community works is variable and unique. Some initiatives have even gone as far as developing local currencies. (Kenmare in Ireland, Totnes and Lewis in the UK.).
An interesting comment by Sally Sweeney, instigator of an initiative that started up under a year ago in Tramore in Ireland: “It’s important to learn how not to be alarmist so that you can make a difference, make people aware of how serious the situation is; and make people want to act.” In the case of Tramore, both the “energy” group and the “food” have developed well and fast, and there are mutual visits between similar group in other towns, which helps empower, create emulation and also helps maintain interest and enthusiasm. The stage of interfacing with local authorities is a critical aspect. Once a local community becomes empowered, with a dedicated core group, they become credible. And this in turn helps to develop a virtuous circle where local authorities introduce measures that support the approach. The outcomes are citizens’ empowerment, a more committed approach to responsible consumption and sustainable local development.
DD et résilience (forum oct 2009).
As the author of the text on Transition Towns, I am replying to try to clarify and respond to some of the remarks:
1) Many Transition Towns are in fact large cities. The approach involves different commissions on sbjects such as energy. Once people have started to become aware and act at micro level (individual citizens), they then learn to work with local authorities and elected representatives, scaling up the process to neighbourhood/town/territorial level. This involves a bottom-up approach, with everyone playing a useful and constructive approach, with everyone playing their part.
2) Many Transition Towns have linked the process to local currencies, as I believe I mentioned in the article. You are quite right on this point: it is indeed important
3) The question of food is a key element in today’s and tomorrow’s society. Unless we achieve food sovereignty and food security and break with the increasing stranglehold of multinational societies on food production (underpaying producers who often end up so seriously endebted that they commit suicide, growing GMO crops, using pesticides that poison our bodies and the earth, making farmers dependent on seed merchants, increasing climate change through carbon emmissions from « food miles » and intensive animal farming….). Local authorities have a vital role to play in supporting peri-urban collective access to land, CSA schemes (community Supported Agriculture) setting aside land for agriculture and preserving it from real estate speculation, introducing priviledged clauses for locally grown produce in public procurement tenders for school canteens…the list goes on. Locally grown organic food (low input, high quality, low carbon) is definitely part of a global solution to both global hunger and environmental problems.
4) Resilience in English is a powerful and positive term: it is linked to the individual’s ability to « bounce back » when times are tough. Which they undeniably are. And it certainly does not mean renouncing pleasure. The whole TT movement is a collective one, with groups and exchange between towns at all levels. And yes, our global society will have to learn to live differently or die. And forgo the excessive consumerism of make-more-sell-more-ever-cheaper goods, a form of capitalism that is killing our planet. Some people will indeed have to give up what are excessively consumerist lifestyles (even the poor have been pulled into irrational spending and over-endebtment in many countries, in spite of their lack of means…), developed and encouraged by clever marketeers of the last 30 years… But there is no Catholic undercurrent. (If anything, the sobreity of Protestantism is more prevalent…). Nor is it a yuppie trend… It is a genuine bottom-up civil society approach that Is spreading fast in English-speaking countries. We are running out of time to save our planet, and this approach, which does have a strong element of solidarity is definitely part of the solution in terms of both methodological and theoretical dimensions.
If you read a little more background, all of these points are well documented (mainly in English), you will find considerably more information.
International Newsletter of Sustainable Local Development n°62