Discovering the Transition Way

Melanie Strickland attends the Environmental Law Foundation’s David Hall Memorial Lecture, ‘Planning in Transition’, and discovers the positive vision behind the Transition movement

Rob Hopkins was an apt choice of keynote speaker for the Environmental Law Foundation’s 2010 David Hall Memorial Lecture, entitled Planning in Transition. In an impressive address, Rob spoke lucidly about the ideas underpinning the Transition Towns movement, which he co-founded.

The major transition that human society must make, he proposed, is the transition away from dependence on fossil fuels. Transition Towns are developing and implementing strategies to prepare their communities for a future without cheap, plentiful oil, and with the increasing pressure of unpredictable climatic changes. The strategies are aimed at building in resilience at the local level, or as Hopkins put it, “intentional re-localisation.”

Why should people want to get involved with this? The answer is simple: building in resilience to community life is a good thing, even without the pressing twin challenges of peak oil and climate change. Communities across the UK – and increasingly across the world – are taking back control.

Food is a particularly good example of an area of life where ‘transitioners’ can and do make a big difference in a short space of time. Food is fundamental to our survival and wellbeing, but many of us shop in large supermarkets and buy food that is imported from far away countries. The energy and carbon cost of these products is high.

Some transition groups have set up ‘garden share’ schemes, to match people who want to grow with those who have the land. Often both parties will benefit, for example those doing the growing look after the owner’s garden and may share the resulting produce with the garden owner. More ambitious projects include fully functioning community farms, run by groups of committed volunteers, with the support of the wider community.

The aim of these initiatives is not to enable a community to become self-sufficient, but to make the community’s food supply more diverse and resilient. It’s not unlike the Dig for Victory campaign, launched by the Ministry for Agriculture at the start of the Second World War, which encouraged all households to turn their gardens into mini allotments. The campaign ensured that Britons did not starve during or after the war, and coupled with government rationing of essential food items, even the poor benefited from a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet. Transitioners certainly share something of that wartime spirit.

The transition model also addresses the psychological barriers to behavioural change – including the feeling of helplessness and anxiety. The transition model is a positive one; it is about what we can do right now as individuals, without waiting for the government to take action.

But clearly transition is a journey. It starts with a few key individuals, then grows within the community like a plant and continues to flourish with the support and commitment of more local people. There is no end to that journey – transition is a way of life. And this way of life sounds much more fulfilling than our current ‘throwaway society’, perhaps best epitomised by a plastic supermarket bag.

So, I applaud Rob Hopkins and urge readers to look up their local transition group, which they can search for on the transition website. Finally, it is worth sharing some wisdom from Ben Brangwyn, co-founder of the Transition Network who spoke outside the Houses of Parliament on December 4 2010 during a national climate change march. To illustrate the transition approach, he gave the example of how to respond to a development threatening a community, such as a proposed supermarket.

According to Ben, there are three main ways to resist. The first is engaging with the democratic process, such as writing to your MP and lodging objections during the planning stage. The second is taking direct action, like standing in front of the machinery that is setting about the work of building the supermarket. Thirdly, you can join forces with others to create a local food network that makes the supermarket superfluous to requirements. The third way is the transition way.

But there is nothing to stop people doing all three of course! There has not been a more important time, not since the Second World War, to embrace the transition spirit, and to find our own ways of building resilience.


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