Media on Transition

By Bart Anderson / Transition Palo Alto

The Transition Movement has been extensively covered in the American and British media. The following are a few excerpts. Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

The End Is Near! (Yay!)
(NY TImes on the Transition Movement)
Jon Mooallem, New York Times Magazine
… The Sandpoint Transition Initiative, a new chapter of a growing, worldwide environmental movement, was officially coming to life.

The Transition movement was started four years ago by Rob Hopkins, a young British instructor of ecological design. Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. “Sustainability,” Hopkins recently told me, “is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast, Hopkins said, Transition is about “building resiliency” — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive.
(16 April 2009)
Long article about the Transition Movement with on-the-spot reporting from Sandpoint Idaho Transition. One of the best pieces written about it in the mainstream press. Recommended by MC. -BA

Transition mission – Outstanding individual winner: Rob Hopkins

Jon Mooallem, Guardian (UK)
Later this month Rob Hopkins and colleagues will publish a detailed sustainable living plan for the Devon town of Totnes – the first of a wave of so-called “Transition Town” plans that are being researched and drawn up in 250 other locations in the UK, the US, Sweden and elsewhere.

It has taken Hopkins and his collaborators just five years to establish the Transition Town movement. Back in 2004 he was teaching what he thinks was the world’s first two-year practical course in sustainable design in Kinsale, west Cork, Ireland, when he and his students started searching for local solutions to the twin problems of climate change and peak oil. Moving with his family to Devon, he then began developing a transition plan for Totnes. This sets out what the 8,000-strong local community needs to do to become sustainable and no longer dependent on oil within 15 to 20 years.
(16 April 2009)
For background on the Green Community Heroes awards, see the accompanying article from the Guardian: A green trail others must now follow.

The Transition Initiative: changing the scale of change, from The Orion magazine

Jay Griffiths, The Orion Magazine via Transition Culture
A WHILE AGO, I heard an American scientist address an audience in Oxford, England, about his work on the climate crisis. He was precise, unemotional, rigorous, and impersonal: all strengths of a scientist. The next day, talking informally to a small group, he pulled out of his wallet a much-loved photo of his thirteen-year-old son. He spoke as carefully as he had before, but this time his voice was sad, worried, and fatherly. His son, he said, had become so frightened about climate change that he was debilitated, depressed, and disturbed. Some might have suggested therapy, Prozac, or baseball for the child. But in this group one voice said gently, “What about the Transition Initiative?”

If the Transition Initiative were a person, you’d say he or she was charismatic, wise, practical, positive, resourceful, and very, very popular. Starting with the town of Totnes in Devon, England, in September 2006, the movement has spread like wildfire across the U.K. (delightfully wriggling its way into The Archers, Britain’s longest-running and most popular radio soap opera), and on to the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The core purpose of the Transition Initiative is to address, at the community level, the twin issues of climate change and peak oil—the declining availability of “ancient sunlight,” as fossil fuels have been called. The initiative is set up to enable towns or neighborhoods to plan for, and move toward, a post-oil and low-carbon future: what Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Initiative, has termed “the great transition of our time, away from fossil fuels.”

…Scale matters.

We speak of economies of scale, and I would suggest that there are also moralities of scale. At the individual scale, morality is capricious: people can be heroes or mass murderers, but the individual is usually constrained by inner conscience and always constrained by size. While a nation-state can at best offer a meager welfare system, at worst—as the history of nations in the twentieth century showed so brutally—morality need not be constrained by any conscience, and through its enormity a state can engineer a genocide. At the community level, though, morality is complex: certainly communities can be jealous and spiteful and less given to heroism than an individual, yet a community’s power to harm is far less than that of a state, simply because of its size. Further, because there are more niche reasons for people to identify with their community, and simply because there is a greater per-capita responsibility, a community is more susceptible to a sense of shame. Community morality involves a sense of fellow-feeling, is attuned to the common good, far steadier than individual morality, far kinder than the State: its moral range reaches neither heaven nor hell but is grounded, well-rooted in the level of Earth.

…In the British context, the memory of World War II is crucial, for during the war people experienced long fuel shortages and needed to increase local food production—digging for victory. In both the U.K. and the U.S., the shadow of the Depression years now looms uncomfortably close, encouraging an attitude of mending rather than buying new; tending one’s own garden; restoring the old.

To mend, to tend, and to restore all expand beautifully from textiles, vegetables, and furniture into those most quiet of qualities; to restore is restorative, to tend involves tenderness, to mend hints at amends. There is restitution here of community itself.
(26 June 2009)

Transition communities gear up for society’s collapse with a shovel and a smile

Alastair Bland, North Bay Bohemian
Cheer Up, It’s Going to Get Worse

Three years ago, David Fridley purchased two and a half acres of land in rural Sonoma County. He planted drought-resistant blue Zuni corn, fruit trees and basic vegetables while leaving a full acre of extant forest for firewood collection. Today, Fridley and several friends and family subsist almost entirely off this small plot of land, with the surplus going to public charity.

But Fridley is hardly a homegrown hippie who spends his leisure time gardening. He spent 12 years consulting for the oil industry in Asia. He is now a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute in Sebastopol, where members discuss the problems inherent to fossil-fuel dependency.

Fridley has his doubts about renewable energies, and he has grave doubts about the future of crude oil. In fact, he believes to a certainty that society is literally running out of gas and that, perhaps within years, the trucks will stop rolling into Safeway and the only reliable food available will be that grown in our backyards.

Fridley, like a few other thinkers, activists and pessimists, could talk all night about “peak oil.” This catch phrase describes a scenario, perhaps already unfurling, in which the easy days of oil-based society are over, a scenario in which global oil production has peaked and in which every barrel of crude oil drawn from the earth from that point forth is more difficult to extract than the barrel before it. According to peak oil theory, the time is approaching when the effort and cost of extraction will no longer be worth the oil itself, leaving us without the fuel to power our transportation, factories, farms, society and the very essence of our oil-dependent lives. Fridley believes the change will be very unpleasant for many people.

“If you are a typical American and have expectations of increasing income, cheap food, nondiscretionary spending, leisure time and vacations in Hawaii, then the change we expect soon could be what you would consider ‘doom,'” he says soberly, “because your life is going to fall apart.”
(17 June 2009)
Re-posted at Energy Bulletin HERE (this version may be easier to print out). Recommended by MC.

Santa Cruz Group Gears Up for Life After Cheap Oil
Alastair Bland, Santa Cruz Sentinel
In late May, a small grassroots organization called Transition Santa Cruz convened for an evening meeting at the police station on Center Street. The subject of the hour was how the community could bolster Santa Cruz’s public transportation system and steer residents away from sprawl and dependency on cars for every outing and errand. Led in part by Micah Posner, director of the cycling advocacy group People Power, the discussion quickly veered into a debate over whether or not high-density housing would facilitate a public rail system or do the opposite and lead to more cars on the streets.

One woman, who identified herself as a 30-year resident of the Westside, stood to say that dense residential infrastructure will likely lead to more traffic and congestion, and she scorned the 20-acre Delaware mixed-use development as a disaster in local neighborhood planning. Posner countered that residents of densely populated neighborhoods tend to demand public rail transport, which in turn facilitates the growth of adjacent high-density housing, a virtuous cycle that eases urban sprawl and the need for people to drive cars at all.

But architect Mark Primack, who led the planning of the Delaware project, said city policies are partly to blame for traffic; Santa Cruz, he noted, pointedly favors building proposals that promise to include parking infrastructure in the blueprints—a recipe for cars and congestion that must change.

All of this, however, seemed far beside the point to Julie Voudreau, who stood after an hour of debate to remind the 70 attendees just why they had gathered on this Thursday evening. Voudreau, a member of Transition Santa Cruz’s steering committee, said that drastic change is coming whether we want it or not, that there is no point in discussing whether or not we should be driving, and soon, in fact, the luxury to make such choices will not even exist.

“We’re here,” she said, “to talk about peak oil.”

“Peak oil” is a familiar catch phrase, though the gravity of its truest meaning still eludes much of the populace.

… Among those who believe oil is peaking and that humanity is looking at tough times ahead is David Fridley, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a regular speaker at Transition Santa Cruz meetings. Fridley believes the effects that peak oil will have on the world are going to be unpleasant for many people.

“If you are a typical American and have expectations of increasing income, cheap food, discretionary spending, leisure time and vacations in Hawaii, then the change we expect soon could be what you would consider ‘doom,’ because your life is going to fall apart.”

Fridley, a firm believer in Transition, adds that too many Americans believe in solutions to all problems. Peak oil, however, is a terrible anomaly among crises, he explains, because there is no solution other than to face reality and prepare for a dramatic change of lifestyle. Fridley does not believe in abiotic oil. Nor does he see much hope in solar, wind, water and other renewable energy sources. Even nuclear power only creates electricity.

… Asher Miller has been trying to convey the urgency of peak oil to the public for several years. As executive director of the Post Carbon Institute in Sebastopol, Miller believes global peak oil occurred last summer. From here on out, he says, we will see severe price instability of many foods and products as the age of cheap, easy energy comes to an end. Miller likens the last 150 years to a feeding frenzy.

“This kind of thing happens to any species that suddenly finds an abundant food source. Its population explodes and things go way out of balance. Oil was our food source, and we went crazy for a while.”
(18 June 2009)

What is Transition?

By Paul Heft

The Transition movement is a community organizing effort intending to help small, local communities plan for a difficult future, and transition to a sustainable way of living. The key threats that are addressed are:

  1. The looming disappearance of cheap oil, which has underpinned industrial economies’ expansion for over a century—a problem often known as “Peak Oil”
  2. Climate Change, which can be minimized through drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

Facing these threats is very uncomfortable for most people, but the Transition movement asks that we look at them squarely. While developing nations increase their demands for oil and other resources—gradually catching up with the US and other developed nations—supplies are being strained. Extracting the additional barrels of oil is becoming more and more expensive, so we can expect prices to rise significantly. Substituting other sources of energy is likewise very expensive. We will see the cost of all energy going up, while at the same time we must use much less of some sources of energy—oil, coal, natural gas, etc.—because they create carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases that are dangerously changing our climate.

The Transition movement encourages a growing awareness of the challenges of energy supply and climate change, asking us to discuss how those may affect our communities. There will be effects on our food, energy, transport, health, economics and livelihoods. It asks each community to consider how to increase its resilience in the face of our changing circumstances—planning to depend less on such fuels and drastically reduce carbon emissions, which implies greatly reducing energy usage. It asks us to develop plans covering 15 to 20 years into the future.

Some people in the Transition movement are adding a third major threat to consider, in addition to tight energy supplies and climate change: the threat of recurring or prolonged economic crises.

Increasing resilience means being able to roll with the shocks and disturbances, whether foreseen or not. The alternative will be terrible strains on our systems of supplying food, energy, medical care, housing, finance, and the various goods and services we have come to depend on.

A key strategy proposed by the Transition movement is relocalization: modifying our way of life, and our economic systems, to become less dependent on distant sources of what we need to live, thereby drastically reducing our need for the fuels and other energy sources that will become very expensive. The idea is to produce as much as possible locally, and to not depend on national governments and multinational corporations to lead.

Another key strategy is encouraging bottom-up planning, relying on the increased creativity that arises from engaging as many people as possible within a community. The Transition movement expects that local solutions will vary, and will consist of many small interventions that point to a future of abundance on different terms than at present. Our collective genius can lead to ways of living that are more connected, more enriching, and fit the limits of global resources.

The Transition movement is a grassroots movement. While it has formed an international network, it expects local communities to act autonomously, to be creative in asking questions and setting goals for change. The movement does not attempt reforms in government, it doesn’t campaign, it isn’t political.

My particular interest is gardening and food security, so I start by asking related questions. As fuel and other energy costs rise and we try to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, can we continue to ship food from hundreds or thousands of miles away? Can farms continue to rely on fertilizers made from natural gas?

We may want to grow a very large proportion of our food within our own community, with minimal inputs. Might gardens look much like they do now, but show up in more yards? Or might we grow a lot more fruit and nut trees? Potatoes? Compost crops? Might we rely more on large plots than individual yards? Share the labor with other people who don’t own the gardens? Farm the foothills or the baylands? In what ways might we suffer hardships, or enjoy advantages over our present lives?

Paul Heft
Palo Alto, California
December 3, 2009

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