September 7, 2015

Why We Don’t Need Government to Get Green: How to Build a Transition Town.

Wiki Commons

When faced with a radical crisis, when the old way of being in the world, of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn’t work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life-form—or a species—will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

How can we, as individual citizens, create real change in our town toward living in a Low Carbon Society?

I get so frustrated when people say that it’s difficult to effect change on a large scale.

That’s when I say,

“Have you heard of Transition Town?”

I first heard of the Transition Town movement while trekking across England—250 miles on foot. I had stopped in a book store in Hay-On-Wye, a spectacular village on the Welsh Borders—no word of a lie, every other store is a book store! It’s Bibliophile Heaven.

I bought a book called The Transition Handbook—From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins. I have lugged many books across that mystical and rain sodden land, and it’s been worth the strain on my back.

This particular book opened my eyes to the concept of thinking globally and acting locally.

It seems to me that a low carbon society would be one which remembers that our planet is a unique gift—perhaps the only of its kind in the entire universe—which we are indescribably privileged to be born into. It would be a society that could look back on the six degrees nightmare scenario as just that a nightmare, one which humanity woke up from and avoided before it’s too late. More than anything, it would be a society which survived and prospered, and which passed on this glorious inheritance—of caps, rainforests and thriving civilizations—to countless generations, far into the future.” ~ Mark Lynas

Although I do not agree with Mark Lynas about everything—his stance on GMOs in particular—his quote from The Transition Handbook still makes me crave the society he mentions.

Transition Town is an initiative that addresses peak oil and climate change from a proactive rather than reactive stance.

Small scale can be big change in an industrialized world; individual effort can create a collective harmony between the needs of a community and the will of local governments.

Sometimes we wait for government to create the framework for climate change in society. But within the Transition Town movement, we, the people, need not wait for their local politicians to provide us with legislated environmental advancements.

We can create change ourselves and invite government to be part of it.

Now that is a revolutionary idea: grassroots change can save us.

Hopkins created the first Energy Descent Plan for the town of Kinsale, Ireland, where the town would work towards being locally resilient in the event of an oil shortage crisis. There are now many communities world-wide transitioning to such resilience.

Some Transitional Objectives:

-Rebuilding Local Food Production
-Localizing Energy Production
-Rethinking Healthcare
-Rediscovering Local Building materials in the Context of Zero Energy Building
-Waste Management
-Community Gardens
-Bike Paths
-Local Currencies
-Energy Descent Planning
-Re-learning Lost Skills
-Compact, Sustainable Cities, with Energy Efficient Public Transport Systems

By moving towards such objectives a community decreases their dependence on fossil fuels and gains control of its local economy.

Hopkins is also passionate about Permaculture. He sees the basic philosophy of Permaculture—working with, rather than against Nature—fitting well into the design framework of Transition Town.

Some of the 12 Principles of Permaculture:

-Observe and Interact (with nature)
-Catch and Store Energy
-Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
-Produce no Waste
-Use Slow and Small Solutions

Cheap oil has meant that city planning has not had to consider human relationships and communal efforts. Within a Transitional Town, for example, a mother pushing a stroller could access the farmer’s market as it would have been planned to take place within the town core not in the outskirts where she would need a car to get there.

There would be bike lanes, solar initiatives, wind turbines, park land within walking distance to housing developments, green roofs, smaller and a healthy downtown with privately owned stores amongst other things which we have not had to plan with oil being such a cheap commodity.

Of course, it’s not cheap really but we have fooled ourselves into thinking it is and pillaging the land (ours and everyone else’s) for more of the stuff.

To begin with, despite the name, one can organize Transition Cities, Transition Islands, Transition Hamlets, Transition Valleys, Transition Anywhere-You-Find-People.

This is an action based movement, so you need to do your best to move it beyond the idea stage—you know, the endless meetings, discussions and disagreements stage.

The Twelve Key Ingredients to the Transition Town model: (List via Transition United States. Check it out here!)

1. Set up a steering group and design its demise/transformation from the outset.

The idea is meant for community development, so while the initial steering committee is necessary, it should not become the focus.

2. Start raising awareness.

This stage will identify your key allies, build crucial networks and prepare the community in general for the launch of your Transition initiative.

Not everyone has heard of TT so consider running movie nights/creating posters to gather community members and share the movement.

Screenings of key movies (In Transition 1.0, Inconvenient Truth, End of Suburbia, Crude Awakening, Power of Community) along with a facilitated question and answer session at the end of each, are very effective.

Bring in speakers who understand peak oil and community development, hold a radio interview, a newspaper expose and find allies in the community to help you spread the word.

3. Lay the foundations.

Network with existing groups and activists who are already laying the groundwork for such changes.

4. Organize a Great Unleashing.

Organize a feast, music fest, whole town festival that when the energy is right, exposes the whole community to the TT plan.

5. Form theme (or special interest) groups.

Sub groups will be needed for all aspects of life that are required by your community to sustain itself and thrive.

Examples of these are: food, waste, energy, education, youth, economics, transport, water, local government.
Each of these groups will help to form the Energy Descent Action Plan, each according to their own expertise.

A meeting for folks to sign up into specialized groups is one way to do this.

6. Use Open Space.

Open Space Technology to be a highly effective approach to running meetings for Transition Initiatives. Think park or a local wood, where in the spirit of a round table, a large group can gather and discuss ideas.

7. Develop visible practical manifestations of the project.

This is where you move from the idea stage to action plan. Beware of the never ending meeting stage. At this time, community gardens would be initiated or plans for markets.

8. Facilitate the Great Re-skilling.

Engage anyone in your community who still practices largely forgotten skills such as food preservation, bicycle repairs or traditional building techniques.

9. Build a bridge to Local Government.

In a non-confrontational inclusive manner make friends on city council who would be willing to aid the cause. Remember, you will be driving it and they will be co-operating, not the other way around.

We are not waiting for government in this case to bring this to the people, the people are showing the way.

10. Honor the elders.

For those of us born in the 1960s when the cheap oil party was in full swing, it is very hard to picture a life with less oil. Every year of our lives since WWII (apart from the oil crises of the 70s) has been underpinned by more energy than the previous years.

While you clearly want to avoid any sense that what you are advocating is ‘going back’ or ‘returning’ to some dim distant past, there is much to be learned from how things were done, what the invisible connections between the different elements of society were and how daily life was supported.

And to reassure those who might be concerned that Transition is trying to recreate those times—that’s simply not going to happen. Human society is a complex system and complex systems never return to a prior state. If we take the best of what’s gone before, mix it up with the best of what we have now and in the future, we’ll have the best chance of ending up with a future that will work for all of us.” ~ From my article on The Transition Town in Natural Life Magazine.

11. Let it go where it wants to go.

With ego’s set aside, let this project take its own direction. It’s not about who started it, or who’s running it, it’s about how this makes for sustainable society.

12. Create an Energy Descent Action Plan

I could go on but this is a good place to begin. I hope that your town can be a Transition Town and that you will have something to do with it.



Carless, Monika. The Transitional Town: Moving Toward a Low Carbon Society. Natural Life Magazine, February 2010, pp 28-31.

The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins

Transition Town

The Transition Network International Conference 2015
September 18th-20th 2015 @ Seale-Hayne, Devon, UK



The Power of a Grassroots Movement. {Video}


Author: Monika Carless

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Images: Wikimedia Commons & Paul Krueger/ Flickr

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Monika Carless  |  Contribution: 125,490