Local, self-sufficient, optimistic: are Transition Towns the way forward?

June 14, 2013
John-Paul Flintoff
Publication: 
The Guardian

Locally grown food, community-owned power stations, local currencies … can small-scale actions make a difference? Yes, according to the Transition network – in fact, it's our only hope

Late last year, Rob Hopkins went to a conference. Most of the delegates were chief executive officers at local authorities, but it was not a public event. Speaking in confidence, three-quarters of these officials admitted that – despite what they say publicly – they could not foresee a return to growth in the near future.

"One said: 'If we ever get out of this recession, nothing will be as it was in the past,'" Hopkins recalls. "Another said: 'Every generation has had things better than its parents. Not any more.' But the one that stunned me said: 'No civilisation has lasted for ever. There is a very real chance of collapse.'"

Shocking stuff – shocking enough to leave many people feeling hopeless. And Hopkins has heard MPs and others in positions of power confess to similar fears in private. But the co-founder of the Transition Town movement is determined to offer courage and inspiration, and to do that he has published a short book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, showing what people are already doing to develop a more resilient economy.

For instance, a Transition group in Brixton raised £130,000 to install the UK's first inner-city, community-owned power station, consisting of 82kW of solar panels on top of a council estate. A group in Derbyshire created a food hub that makes it economically viable to grow food in back gardens for sale, as an affordable alternative to supermarkets. And groups in Totnes, Stroud, Lewes, Brixton and Bristol launched their own local currencies. Taken on their own, these initiatives may not make a vast difference. "But when there are thousands of communities worldwide all weaving their bit in a larger tapestry," Hopkins says, "it adds up to something awe-inspiring and strong."

What he is arguing is that sweeping changes in history are made not only by "big" people doing big things but by groups of "ordinary" people doing smaller things together. And that it's a mistake to overlook those small steps.

"There is no cavalry coming to the rescue," he says. "But what happens when ordinary people decide that they are the cavalry? Between the things we can do as individuals, and the things government and business can do to respond to the challenges of our times, lies a great untapped potential. It's about what you can create with the help of the people who live in your street, your neighbourhood, your town. If enough people do it, it can lead to real impact, to real jobs and real transformation of the places we live, and beyond."

The Transition network was founded in 2005, as a response to the twin threats of climate change and peak oil. Unlike other campaign groups, the Transition network never set out to frighten people, but seemed resolutely upbeat, determined to find opportunity in what most regard with dismay.

One of the movement's most fundamental ideas was to ask what the world might look like in the future "if we get it right" – then work out backwards how to get there. Generally speaking, the Transition vision is of a move towards self-sufficiency at the local level, in food, energy and much else, but the specifics of what "getting it right" might look like were never handed down from above.

Read full article.

Newsletter Signup

Donate