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The Transition Town movement began in the UK around 2005. Today there are over 400 Transition Towns around the world and over 100 in the US. The goal of the Transition movement is to build community resilience to confront the triple challenges of Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Economic Instability. These converging crises mean that we will be living in a less energy-intensive world in the future. However, Transitioneers believe that this future can be fulfilling, inspiring, and fun. Here in the Capital District, we are organizing three efforts:  Transition Troy, Transition Albany, and Transition Schenectady.

The best introductions to the Transition movement are the website http://www.transitionus.org/ and Rob Hopkins’s TED talk viewable at http://www.ted.com/talks/rob_hopkins_transition_to_a_world_without_oil.html. For those wishing to delve deeper, Transition has published four books describing our vision for the future. The first appeared in 2008, written by one of the movement’s originators, Rob Hopkins. In The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, Rob describes the movement’s origins and goals, and explains how he launched the first Transition Towns in Kinsale, Ireland and Totnes, England. Rob divides the book into three sections: The Head, The Heart, and The Hands. These are the essential components of the movement. First, we must understand the challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change and why they mean that we will be living in less energy-intensive world. Small is not just beautiful, as E.F. Schumacher famously told us forty years ago, it is also inevitable. Although this future may appear bleak to some people, Rob emphasizes in the second section that having a positive vision is critical. In this section, he explains the psychology of change and how to harness the power of a positive vision. He urges us to have a positive vision for 2030 and to “backcast” how to make that vibrant world possible. In the third section, Rob explains how the Transition concept evolved, took root, and spread virally. This section displays all the tools that can help us build successful Transition Towns.

Shaun Chamberlain provides a wealth of detail on how to implement the Transition vision in his book The Transition Timeline for a Local, Resilient Future. Shaun starts where Rob left off in the Transition Handbook. Shaun starting point is the need to maintain a positive vision of the future, so he uses a vision of the year 2027 as his organizing theme. He also emphasizes systems thinking, to view the world holistically. He takes us through several concrete aspects of the world we will inhabit in the coming years, and how the Transition movement can help us navigate these practical challenges. For instance, he discusses population and demographics, food and water, electricity and energy, travel and transport, and health and medicine. For each of these topics, he gives us its present state of play and likely future trends. One important goal of the movement is to create an Energy Descent Action Plan covering the next thirty years for each Transition Town. Shaun’s Timeline explains how to do that and what Energy Descent means for each of those topics discussed above.

Food is an important part of the Transition movement. Our industrialized agriculture system is unhealthy and is extremely dependent on oil for fertilizer, farm machinery, and transportation to the grocery aisles. So one of the most important ways we can build resilience and relocalize economic activity is by promoting local food production. Tamzin Pinkerton and Rob Hopkins explain how to do this in Local Food: How to Make It Happen in Your Community. Tamzin and Rob take us through several ways to rebuild a local food system, including home gardening, communal gardening for apartment dwellers, garden shares like those available here through Capital District Community Gardens, Community Supported Agriculture farms, farmers’ markets, food co-ops, and many more ideas. In addition to reducing our fossil fuel footprint, local food has two other important purposes. First, all of these activities also build community. We get to know our neighbors, CSA farmers, and farmers’ market vendors in ways we don’t at the Price Chopper. Second, an important part of Transition is the Great Reskilling, an ongoing community-based skill building to help us relearn skills our grandparents knew. Growing our own food is one of those skills that, unfortunately, many of today have lost.

The final book published by the Transition movement to date just appeared at the end of 2011, Rob Hopkins’s The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times. Here Rob expands on his earlier work. Because many readers might not be familiar with the Transition concept, Rob begins by explaining why the Transition movement does what it does and what it looks like in practice. However, he devotes the majority of the book to outlining the ingredients for successful Transition Towns. The Transition Handbook delved into philosophy, psychology, and even economics to explain the challenges we will face in the future and how we are likely to face them. The Transition Companion is very different—it is resolutely practical. Rob organizes most of the book into sections describing how to start a Transition Town, how to deepen its reach in the community, how to connect with like-minded community groups, and how to build practical community-based responses. He offers 21 Tools for Transition explaining how to recruit volunteers, engage with the media, hosting a Transition Training, even how to launch community-owned solar and wind projects and community-supported bakeries, farms, and breweries. He concludes by “daring to dream,” by “imagining what it might look like if every settlement had vibrant Transition initiatives setting up food networks, energy companies, growing food everywhere and catalyzing a new culture of social enterprise.”

As I write this, the spot price of Brent crude oil is $110 a barrel, gas pump prices are on the rise, and too many Americans think global warming is a myth. These trends make Rob Hopkins’ dream of Transition Towns springing up everywhere that much more imperative.

All four books discussed here are available through Chelsea Green (http://www.chelseagreen.com/). Transition Albany has several copies of The Transition Companion available for the discounted price of $20.

Tranistion Schenectady is organizing and setting up meeting location and times. Contact Michael Cellini for more information at MACellini@hotmail.com

Transition Troy meets on the first non-holiday Sunday of each month. For information on Transition Troy, go to http://www.carbon-negative.us/T4T/ or contact Emily Rossier at emily.rossier@gmail.com   

Transition Albany meets monthly on the third Tuesday of each month at 7 PM and we usually meet at a local restaurant for a working dinner before the meeting. We try to meet at the downtown branch of the Albany Public Library, but we can't always get meeting space there. Please contact David Hochfelder for meeting information at dphochfelder@gmail.com


Comments on "The Transition Network"

  1. OEIC default avatar Don White January 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    TRANSITION TOWN NETWORK (TTN) is a wonderful activity. It tries to ease the transition from our current life style to one that will approach sustainability as our non-renewable natural resources continue inevitably to decrease in their availability. I call this the downward slope, and there is much that we as individuals and as neighborhood groups can do to ease the attendant discomfort. TTN can guide and encourage and coordinate such activities. We can’t know what the path will be or how long the trip will take, but it will certainly be a major challenge.

    I want to point out two factors which could turn this downhill slope into a cliff, both of which should provide motivation for all to start now on this effort to improve our resilience.

    First factor is the occurrence of events which could suddenly reduce our access to the remaining supplies of such dwindling natural resources, e.g., oil. War with Iran for example could tend to block the Straits of Hormuz, which would abruptly reduce the availability of oil to us. Failure of the euro would cause widespread financial turmoil, possibly reducing the acceptability of the dollar and our ability therefore to compete in the purchase of oil. Global warming is resulting in greater fluctuations in weather, and a Gulf hurricane knocking out a lot of our refining capacity would send gasoline prices skyrocketing. And more.

    Second factor is the adverse actions of government at all levels. Severe financial problems resulting from the failed assumption that growth would continue is leading to every effort possible to reestablish a growth economy. This is not possible without cheap energy, and that is gone forever. So all the stimulation programs (using borrowed money) are counterproductive. The longer this continues the greater the overshoot will be from anything like a sustainable society, and the more abrupt (if not calamitous) the correction will be. TTN has the potential to get the attention of our politicians, and maybe to make it easier for them either to learn or to get out of denial about where we are and where we’re going. Any chance to advance this objective should be seized.

    In addition, an overarching and undiscussable problem is that of the continuing growth of population. Long term, any acceptable sustainable lifestyle even at the present level of population is hard to conceive. When TTN is more firmly established hopefully it may be able to make overtures toward addressing this problem.

    In the meantime, as one finally becoming more of an activist in this challenge of developing resilience, I applaud TTN and look forward to interaction with them.

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