transition town: DE PIJP

Transition Town de Pijp

The rocky road to Transition 17 February , 2009

The following is a quotation from a booklet with some positive critics on the english tt movement. Things we can learn from. The complete booklet can be downlaoded here

There’s been a lot of talk about Transition Towns (TT) lately. In a
nutshell, the TT approach offers a permaculture-influenced model for a
transition to a low carbon society. The original idea grew out of a full
time permaculture degree in Kinsale, Ireland where in 2005 Rob
Hopkins and his students developed a town wide Energy Descent Plan
for a ten-year period. The idea spread quickly to Totnes and Lewes and
now there are neighbourhoods, villages, cities and whole islands
embarking on the journey. There are currently over 35 towns and cities who are officially part of the transition network, and more than 600 are considering joining in the UK alone. TT foregrounds the big twin threats as climate change and peak oil, (the point when the maximum rate of global production is reached and begins its terminal decline.) TT argues that these problems, can be tackled only if we develop robust community responses, forming local groups that grapple with issues like food, health, transport, energy, textiles, and waste and working out how they can become less fossil fuel dependent on a local level. There are twelve steps to transition which are laid out in their ‘Primer’ document and the aim is to draw up and implement an energy descent plan following this model which involves local businesses, councils and participation by everyone. Local groups can ask to affiliate to a national network, which offers national co-ordination. 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: “For all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?” “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. We have written this booklet as part of a debate about this movement as it emerges. From the beginning we want to make it clear that we really welcome what the TT initiative is trying to do and that this response is meant as a constructive but critical intervention as to what exactly a ‘transition’ might mean for social change. We write this as people who fully support and work hard with grass-roots initiatives who are tackling climate change through a whole raft of responses: community food projects, sustainable living through appropriate technologies, autonomous health initiatives, do it yourself bike workshops, social centres for education and debate – you name it! We are not calling for a rejection of the concept of Transition Towns, nor a halt to their expansion. Quite the opposite. We support any transition away from the hugely ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust structures and ways of life that dominate in our towns and cities. But we also believe that we should be prepared to fully engage with and challenge the causes of these problems. As popular educators we believe that asking questions, knowing our collective histories, understanding root causes, encouraging public debate no matter how uncomfortable, and inspiring action are an essential part of this
process. Over the past few years there has been an unprecedented level of media coverage and initiatives around climate change. Arguments that environmentalists have been making largely ignored for decades have rapidly moved in to the public debate since Blair chose climate change to top the G8 agenda in 2005. Since then the scale of the problem, media attention and the striking evidence of the rate of change have left many scared and anxious. People desperately want ideas for positive action, for how we can turn things around and somehow limit the scale of the disaster facing our world. The Transition Town model
is, as Rob Hopkins says, “unleashing a spirit and a depth of engagement” with this practical action. While this is clearly a welcome development compared to the total denial of the previous decades, let’s not shy away from asking problematic questions, even when they may not always have clear answers. As thousands of hours of precious human resourcefulness are poured into these projects around the UK,
we want to ask: a transition to where, and from what? And what models of organising can help us along the way? As authors, we make no excuses for this. Yes, now is the time to act. But there are powerful
forces to confront and it is essential to learn from past experiences and be clear about our aims. TT could be merely the latest fad, a ray of hope in an otherwise despondent world. Or they could offer something
to be genuinely excited about. There are no easy ways round these issues. And only by being realistic about the scale of change needed and what change might really mean, as well as feel and look like, can
the difficult times ahead be tackled. Putting the transition movement in its historical and political context can help to deepen and strengthen the important conversations happening in Transition meetings all
around these islands. Of course there are many people who are already familiar with the arguments we are making, our intention is not to patronise or thoughtlessly snipe from the sidelines. We also recognise that many of the problems discussed here are not exclusive to TT, and that some of the suggestions could take years to incorporate in to the TT model. But as an open and developing process we hope that this booklet provokes constructive debate and provides some points for reflection for all those who are engaging or not with this exciting new movement.

While preparing a recent workshop with a Transition group about climate change, one of us from Trapese suggested the issue of Rossport as a possible point of discussion and action. For the past five years, the
local community in Rossport, County Mayo, Ireland, has been struggling against Shell and a consortium building a high-pressure gas pipeline through their community. People from around Ireland have
supported them and their situation has been brought to international attention through many solidarity actions. The people helping to plan the workshop explained that according to the TT model, this was not
an appropriate topic. In order to be as accessible as possible, Transition groups do not support particular campaigns but rather develop a model that forms around what many different people have in common. It’s a model about positive responses and not something that takes positions 5‘against’ institutions or projects. While it may seem obvious to try and limit political wrangling in a burgeoning movement, this position raised some serious questions about the effectiveness of a depoliticised movement and was one of the motivations for us to write this booklet. Perhaps in this particular instance it was not relevant to talk about a campaign, but there are many reasons why it is important to be more confident and defiant when calling for transition and actually take a stance against the exploitative and polluting corporate practices that are happening all around us. How can we talk about climate change and peak oil and not deal with
politics or side with communities struggling against the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure? If we want to avoid catastrophic climate chaos we must leave the majority of remaining fossil fuels where they
are – in the ground. Yes, finding ways of dramatically reducing our personal consumption and demand is one part of this, but it is only one side of the equation. It seems naïve to assume that companies such as
Shell and Stat Oil, BP or Esso will easily give up and go home or fundamentally change what they do while it is still so enormously profitable. Shell by the way, makes £7 million clear profit, every day!
The experience of the communities fighting Shell around Rossport is one of corruption, police collusion and profit hungry multinational companies riding roughshod over every safety and environmental
concern. This pipeline project is not about merely meeting expanding consumer demand for energy, but is an aggressive, profit motivated project, which has needed the collusion of malleable politicians. It is
also about a grab for the last remaining energy reserves as access to oil fields abroad become more geo-politically unstable. Around the globe, in Wales, Nigeria, Georgia, Mexico and Alaska, to name a few, people are struggling against energy multinational corporations in similar ways. Their lives and livelihoods are directly threatened, not just by future climatic catastrophe but also by pollution, repression and loss of land as the extraction happens. Those who challenge or try to prevent these things are often portrayed as needlessly angry or violent which is a divisive tactic that we should guard against. Providing support for communities who are resisting the efforts of the industries to extract and burn ever-increasing quantities of fossil fuels is one of the most important strategies in dealing with climate change and this solidarity and exposing the companies and the political systems that facilitate them must surely be a central part of transition. Being against climate change doesn’t have to be political position. But the analysis of how we got into this mess, and the best way to move on,  does bring us back to politics. It involves taking on power and those who hold wealth and influence. People could be drawn to TT for a
number of different reasons – fear, solidarity, a desire to rebuild communities, looking for direction, or as a platform for their own political pet project. While this is fine and to be expected, problems will
occur along the way if big political debates are brushed aside because we only talk about what we already have in common. Communities must face up to issues such as nuclear expansion, market based
solutions to climate change such as carbon trading and offsetting, agro-fuels and food scarcity, developments such as airport expansion and resource extraction. These things all occur through active government policies, which try to maintain the economic and political, “business as usual” scenarios. Unfortunately, left unchallenged they could also wipe out the best efforts at local sustainability, like a tsunami in front of a sand castle. In these difficult times, it’s not good enough to say that TT doesn’t have an opinion on these issues, or does not want to alienate people by discussing them. As well as building local resilience, these struggles are the bread and butter of what our future will look like and
therefore these political debates need to be at the heart of TT. This does not have to translate into a ‘party line’ or other dogma. Information can be presented with space for questions, dialogue and groups can develop their own responses to these issues. But it is fundamentally important to identify and name the enemies in the battle to make a real transition. Responding to climate change could mean new niche markets for capitalism, greater social inequality, closing borders and strengthening state power. An agreement “not to rock the boat” will not help TTs long term viability, as it would mean not really changing anything. People are generally aware of the bigger political and economic forces influencing their lives and only talking about these issues honestly will build true momentum for change. One major challenge are the enormous budgets and state-of-the-art PR campaigns that have already swung in to action to positively influence the public perception of everything from the coal industry, agro-fuels to nuclear power. This greenwash tries to make an unsustainable, polluting industry appear environmentally friendly to preserve its legitimacy in the eyes of the general public. It’s essential that these unsubstantiated arguments are challenged; they do not tackle the root causes of the problem and in many cases make things a lot worse. (E.g. see


One Response to “The rocky road to Transition”

  1. trix Says:

    you keep me awake, thanks

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