Jennah Ferrara, May 2011
"One thing's for certain, and that's nothing's for certain....
The only thing that remains the same is change...."
Hundreds of diverse international communities in 35 countries comprise the adaptable Transition movement, but everyone involved agrees on this: The world's cheap oil supply will soon run out, shocking a society dependent on fossil fuels for its way of life. Climate change will drastically alter the world. People working together with their neighbors can better prepare for whatever happens.
The Transition movement, which combines many approaches like a living, breathing Venn diagram, doesn't claim to have the answers, but participants in Transition initiatives try to ask the questions and provide solutions of their own. "It's very hopeful; a lot of people come to this because of that. We sure need a lot more hope right now," said Carolyne Stayton, executive director of Transition US.
Transition contains elements of movements and philosophies such as Sustainability, Buy Local, Slow Food, Slow Money and Urban Gardening. "Nothing about it is new," said Stayton. "[Transition] just puts this together." It partners with organizations such as the Post Carbon Institute, BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) and 350.org, which advocates "building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis."
This social experiment, designed to decrease dependence on fossil fuels, began in Townes, U.K., the original Transition Town, when Rob Hopkins applied a set of principles to an impending and overwhelming crisis. Transition Colorado co-founder Michael Brownlee traveled to the U.K. at the beginning of the movement in 2005, completing Transition training in Ireland and visiting Townes: "I had to see for myself if it was real."
Focus on Food and Using Slow Money
Brownlee's group, formed in 2005, eventually became the first member of Transition US in 2008. One of their most successful initial efforts dealt with the multi-faceted vision of permaculture, or permanent or sustainable living. (The Permaculture Institute definition is "an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.")
"[Permaculture] tunes into how life works," said Brownlee. "We partnered a flood of permaculture activities. 300 people graduated from permaculture design courses, creating an army of permaculture people. In that couple of years we logged over ten thousand people hours*mdash;it was so popular—people were so hungry for this information."
Although most Transition initiatives have several simultaneous goals, Transition Colorado now concentrates on a single issue. "I wouldn't say we're a model—we add to the diversity of the movement, with a focus on food, farming and economics," said Brownlee. To make it easier for their neighbors to act locally while making choices about food, Transition Colorado produced the comprehensive, user-friendly Boulder County's Eat Local! Guide and Directory, which includes information about local food producers, workshops and community resources.
Slow Money, an offshoot of the Slow movement, encourages "nurture capital," connecting local investment to the community. Following Slow Money principles, Transition Colorado created Localization Partners LLC, a $1.5 million fund formed to build local food systems. Active Slow Money groups also operate in Vermont, Northern California, Austin, TX and Brooklyn, NY.
These Slow investment clubs are open to nonaccredited investors, with the first one patterned after Maine's No Small Potatoes initiative, involving groups of up to 20 people. "Every one of these people has to participate equally. It's citizens deciding together to make a difference in the community," said Brownlee.
Transition Colorado's many-pronged Local Food Shift 2012 campaign in the Boulder County area encourages families, individuals and businesses to pledge to spend up to 10% of their food budget on locally sourced food. Local Food Month also includes a Local Food Festival, a food and farming film festival and opportunities for community involvement, while "shift[ing] our food and farming system towards significantly increased production and consumption of locally-grown, locally produced, and locally sourced foods. This will ultimately create hundreds of new jobs and shift millions of dollars into the local food economy,"according to a flyer for the event. Transition Colorado hopes to achieve 25% food localization in Boulder County over the next decade.
The Power of Reskilling
For individuals to grow their own food, they first need to learn how. Sharing skills, or reskilling (an essential part of the Transition model), can help meet local food goals while neighbors are simultaneously building community through teaching each other practical skills unfamiliar to some in the post-modern era.
Promoting "urban food production, retooling our supply chain, and making things less energy intensive" is key to thriving in the future, said Carolyne Stayton. "Meeting your food needs within a smaller radius is localizing power."
Joni James, active in Transition Pittsburgh, agrees. "We need to start with food, water, shelter; everything else is frivolous. Grow local food, create a local economy. We need to engage people. I think technology creates walls and barriers; we don't know our neighbors."
Reskilling workshops are a "creative opportunity for people to gather and share their creativity. This community fabric that gets woven in this sharing, that's resilience, helping a strong, more robust locale." said Stayton. These classes can include everything from gardening to canning to home repair to beekeeping. Stayton has practiced reskilling herself with great enthusiasm: "I love my bees; I can repair almost any tool.
"Alternative energy, small community gardens—the possibilities are endless—a book club, a knitting circle, retooling energy systems—so much to do! We long for it in our memories. Visceral experience is community being built, it's so potent. It's an invitation to be brilliant in their place. To give this gift, to get to know each other. It ignites people's genius: get a few people together, great things can happen. It's so heartening, regular folk with passion; we want people excited about it to learn how to do it."
Complexity and Enthusiasm of Transition
While Transition prompts excitement and creativity among its adherents, retooling myriad social systems without a clear template can be exhausting. Some challenges include involving enough people in the initiatives and building organizations from the beginning. Some of the questions Transition initiative builders confront are, "How do you get enough people involved? Who has enough time, how do you build organization?" said Brownlee. "You need extraordinary people to take this on," said Brownlee. "It's very tricky, it takes 2-3 years" to see results.
The freedom of applying Transition to individual communities is complicated in itself. Brownlee continued, "Every relocalization is totally unique. In an urban setting, challenge is [the larger] scale, how do you get to make much of an impact? Do you go on a neighborhood basis, citywide? In LA, not just city, it's the whole LA basin, 14 million people. "
Brownlee attributes some of this difficulty to the independence of Transition folk in the United States. In the US, the movement "doesn't have a coherent identity. What we saw was again and again and again, 'We're going to do it differently here,' without a thorough investigation of [the foundation in the UK]. A stereotypical American response. It's frustrating, they didn't care for the Transition model." Even Transition founder Bob Hopkins' recent "radical revision" of the original Transition Companion handbook caused "consternation in the movement, people didn't know what it meant."
Guiding Principles of Transition from Transition US' Transition 101:
- Positive Visioning
- Help People Access Good Information and Trust Them to Make Good Decisions
- Inclusion and Openness
- Enable Sharing and Networking
- Build Resilience
- Inner and Outer Transition
- Subsidiarity: self?organization and decision making at the appropriate level
According to Transition Network, the Ingredients of Transition are:
- Starting out
- Daring to Dream
With all its flaws, the somewhat amorphous yet still inspirational Transition movement does provide an active, yet apolitical, way for people to confront their concerns about an uncertain future. "People are being quite brilliant," said Carolyne Stayton. "Building the resilience of a place so it can withstand shocks better.... Let's make more sensible systems for the times we live in. Here's a way to just do something, it's very powerful. Anyone can do something. You can do what you can do. Really remarkable people are stepping up to do this work. Very competent people are coming to this work. "
Transition US Knowledge Hub
US Transition Towns
Transition US' Transition Challenge: May 1-31 2012 "Grow food, Save water, Conserve energy, Build community." Last year's 350 Home and Garden Challenge involved 1,503 total actions in 226 different cities in 37 states.
Transition 2.0: a story of resilience and hope in extraordinary times, is a film from Transition Network about international initiatives.
Presentation Based on Bob Hopkins' original ideas.