Deepening Our Analysis: Connecting the Dots Between Social Justice, Extractive Economy, & Ecological Crises

As part of our new campaign “From What Is to What If: Reimagining and Rebuilding Our World,” on July 28th, Transition US hosted the first in a series of National Network Strategy Conversations, on “Deepening Our Analysis: Connecting the Dots between Social Justice, Extractive Economy, and Ecological Crises.” The conversation was co-facilitated by Don Hall, Transition US Interim Executive Director, and Ayako Nagano, a member of Transition Berkeley and the TUS Social Justice Working Group.

Like every conversation in this series, the topic was chosen to reflect key themes that emerged from the first round of input gathered from 60+ stakeholders in the initial phase of the Transition US strategic planning process, catalyzed by the Transition US Board in late 2019. You can read a 25-page overview (and summary) of the rich reflections and ideas that were shared by local, regional, and national Transition leaders, partners, and allies here.

Transition leaders from across the country came together to explore how Transition US could deepen, shift, or adapt our analysis of the crises we face: away from an emphasis on peak oil & resource depletion, and toward a more nuanced understanding of the extractive economy and its connection to both social justice and ecological crises.

Background & Context 

As noted in the strategy input paper as well as in opening remarks by TUS Interim Executive Director Don Hall, peak oil is still a useful concept for our movement. The peak of conventional oil was predicted accurately by experts–but the rise of unconventional fossil fuels was not. Meanwhile, in the 14 years since the original framing of the Transition Movement as a response to peak oil, climate change, and economic instability, other issues have become increasingly salient and more relevant to our society – including the awareness of systemic social and racial injustice, and the connections between climate change and other ecological crises, social injustices, and a dominant economic model that is based on extraction and exploitation. 

The need to better understand and integrate social justice into our work is not just a response to recent events in the US; in fact, the input we received on this topic as part of the first round of our strategic planning process was gathered in early spring of 2020–well before the Floyd Rebellion. Rather, it is an organic evolution of the maturity and consciousness of our network and the larger social movement and culture in which we exist. You can read more about the evolution of social and racial justice work within the US Transition Movement here, and you can read about Transition Network’s commitment to social justice here.

The goal of TUS in convening this conversation was to gather any additional insight or feedback from participants, and begin thinking together about how this more relevant and nuanced approach to our movement’s analysis could shift our messaging, culture, and practices.

Participants were invited to reflect upon some of the feedback on this topic that was gathered in the strategy input paper, including quotes such as these:

“If we are not able to adapt, grow, and deepen, in particular by integrating social justice and a more critical understanding of the economic crisis into our central mission, Transition will likely be replaced by other networks or movements that are more relevant.”

“If we don’t deal with climate change there won’t be a planet to live on, but, without social justice and equity being strongly represented, we won’t have enough Humans on board to make it happen. Aggressively unite with allies to share the burdens and victory.”

“Transition US has not been successful in having an impact outside a largely white, middle-class, mostly middle-aged constituency (certainly in my area).”

“Transition US should be willing to address the need to restructure all aspects of current society (which means to confront the reality of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy).”

“Now is a moment when many, many people are suffering from the fragility of our globalized economy. This is an extremely rare, almost unheard of circumstance in which we are collectively prioritizing the well-being of the most vulnerable in our society–both physically and financially–at the expense of economic growth. If we do not seize the opportunity to speak to the relationship between economy, social justice, and climate, we lose the opportunity of engaging millions more people than those who are currently involved in climate activism. We will be hurting our own likelihood of success in addressing climate change, as well as abandoning the most vulnerable members of our society.” 

In small breakout groups, participants shared their reactions about evolving our analysis to de-emphasize the role of peak oil while raising up the need for social justice and deepening our understanding of the extractive economy. You can listen to the “harvest” of those small group conversations here.

Key Takeaways

Generally, participants supported the idea of making social justice more central to the work of Transition and communicating the intersections between social justice, extractive economy, and climate change, as long as we continue to prioritize responses to climate change and integrate social justice in a way that stays true to our roots as a non-partisan, systemic, solutions-oriented movement. As we discussed in our June national network call on “Connecting Social Justice and Community Resilience,” there are two categories of strategies for building a more just and equitable society that seem especially aligned with Transition: those that heal the damage of systemic racism and injustice, and those that build new and alternative systems that center justice and equity. 

Of course, healing and building go hand-in-hand: in order to create new, more equitable systems, we must first do our own “inner” work to understand the ways in which societal conditioning around racism, privilege and oppression show up in ourselves and our organizing spaces. To support Transition leaders in doing this work, Transition US and Cooperation Humboldt are partnering on a Social Justice Community of Practice which begins September 28th.

One participant encouraged Transition US to identify and share stories of examples of Transition Initiatives that are successfully integrating social justice into their work. Cooperation Humboldt and Eco Vista are two examples of local TIs that have integrated economic justice into their missions and practices. For example, Cooperation Humboldt is running a training on worker cooperatives and is exploring launching a community land trust–both key models of the “solidarity economy” that democratizes wealth and access to resources. A number of Transition Initiatives are educating themselves about social and economic justice issues and exploring how to better integrate justice into their work, as shared in last month’s national network conversation. And if you have a story to share, we welcome you to submit it to be featured as part of Transition US’s new national campaign “From What Is to What If: Reimagining and Rebuilding Our World” starting in September.

Finally, several participants expressed the importance of understanding intersectionality–the ways in which so many of the challenges we face as humanity on this planet are connected–in building the sort of powerful, strategic alliances with other aligned movements that are necessary for Transition to achieve its goals. You can read more about this idea, also known as “collective liberation,” in a recent blog post by TUS National Network Organizer, Marissa Mommaerts.