TRANSITION: THE MOST INSPIRING
MOVEMENT IN THE WORLD
Michael Brownlee, November 2, 2008—Plan C Conference, Rochester, Michigan
[GLOBE] Because of the process of economic globalization, our communities—
which have been ravaged by what we call “affluence”—are now at the end of very
long and very fragile supply chains on which we depend for even our most essential needs. We are vulnerable, exposed, at risk. Without realizing it, we have given up our capacities for resilience and self-reliance in providing the essentials of life. And in the process, almost without our noticing it, we have been losing community—our most precious and most endangered resource. We will need to reclaim our power locally, rebuild our capacity to meet our essential needs locally, and learn to heal and regenerate community locally—everywhere people live and
[THE LONG EMERGENCY] Due to economic globalization, we are now facing three major converging global crises—Peak Oil, global warming, and economic
instability—which together represent a "perfect global storm,” bringing with it
massive waves of change, what James Howard Kunstler has named “The Long Emergency.” This situation is unprecedented in human history. If we were facing only one of these, it would be difficult enough. But the three together introduce dynamics that have never been seen on this planet. And like the citizens of New Orleans in the face of Katrina, our communities are almost completely unprepared.
The process of economic globalization will not continue for much longer. It has
just about run its course. We're now witnessing overwhelming feedback from all over the planet that tells us that economic globalization is about to hit a wall. The feedback is so profound that it raises very troubling questions about the future of humanity.
[HOLMGREN GRAPH] David Holmgren, one of the two co-founders of
Permaculture—who, by the way, is very busy these days—charts the relationship
between energy consumption and human population growth. Here he shows that energy consumption and human population are peaking, partly because cheap
fossil fuels are peaking.
On the other side of this peak is an inevitable decline.
Where we are at this moment is at the beginning of a transition from an industrial growth culture to a culture of descent. This transition will be characterized by
much cultural chaos, and then we will be declining or descending to a far more sustainable low-energy culture.
*HOLMGREN QUOTE+ About this, Holmgren says, “We have trouble visualizing decline as positive, but this simply reflects the dominance of our prior culture of growth… The real issue of our age is how we make a graceful and ethical descent.” It is no coincidence that Holmgren sees Permaculture playing a crucial role in this descent.
We’re talking about an energy descent here, a continual decline in net energy
supporting humanity, a decline that mirrors the ascent in net energy that has
taken place since the Industrial Revolution.
*HOLMGREN ENERGY DESCENT QUOTE+ Holmgren says, “I use the term ‘descent’
as the least loaded word that honestly conveys the inevitable, radical reduction of material consumption and/or human numbers that will characterize the declining decades and centuries of fossil fuel abundance and availability.”
But this is not all bad news. This is not about doom and gloom, or bunkering down and buying gold and guns.
What we're witnessing—and what we're engaged in here—is simply the moment
in the evolution of an intelligent species in which it has reached the end of species adolescence and must make the transition to adulthood. Humanity is not doomed, or fatally flawed, or a failure. Far from it. We must simply grow up—together. To
do that, we've got to be very realistic—not driven by fatalistic fear or unrealistic
Whether humanity passes through this threshold to adulthood will be determined by us, and by others who are gathering all over the country and all over the planet considering these questions.
[ALBERT BATES QUOTE] Albert Bates, author of The Post Petroleum Survival Guide
and Cookbook, says (slightly paraphrased), “The Long Emergency is an
opportunity to pause, to think through our present course, and to adjust to a saner path for the future. We had best face facts: we really have no choice. The
Long Emergency is a horrible predicament. It is also a wonderful opportunity to do a lot better. Let’s not squander this moment.”
[HOPKINS QUOTE] As Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition movement, says, “Inherent within the challenges of peak oil and climate change is an extraordinary
opportunity to reinvent, rethink and rebuild the world around us.”
*FUTURE ENERGY SCENARIOS+ What’s on the other side of the peak in everything
(including energy and population and waste and pollution)? It depends on our
Some think we’re headed for an inevitable crash. Others believe that through
advanced technology we’ll be able to continue growth forever—but that’s really a fantasy. Still others are hopeful that through green technology we’ll be able to
stabilize at about the level we’re at now—Al Gore is probably in this category.
A more realistic and more positive approach is to actually design our descent
down the energy curve, dramatically reducing our consumption and carbon
footprint on the way down, arriving at a responsible, sustainable level of planetary stewardship.
*HOPKINS QUOTE+ Hopkins likes to remind us that “It takes a lot of cheap energy to maintain the levels of social inequality we see today, the levels of obesity, the record levels of indebtedness, the high levels of car use and alienating urban landscapes. Only a culture awash with cheap oil could become de-skilled on the monumental scale we have.”
[THE NEED: ENERGY TRANSITION] We are facing an energy transition.
; The challenge of global climate change makes a shift away from fossil fuels
necessary for planetary survival.
; The impending peak in oil and gas production means that the transition is
; Our only choice is whether to proactively undertake the transition now—or
[HOPKINS QUOTE] But again, this is not bad news. Hopkins says,
“I believe that a lower-energy, more localized future, in which we move
from being consumers to being producer/consumers, where food, energy
and other essentials are locally produced, local economies are
strengthened and we have learned to live more within our means is a step
towards something extraordinary, not a step away from something
And in this more localized future, we must make our communities more resilient, less vulnerable to the changes that are coming.
*RESILIENT COMMUNITIES+ We’re learning that resilient communities, “self-
reliant for the greatest possible number of their needs—will be infinitely better
prepared than those who are dependent on globalized systems for food, energy, transportation, health, and housing.”
[RELOCALIZATION: the pathway to Transition] The essence of resilience is
relocalization, which means:
; Local production of food, energy and goods
; Local development of currency, government and culture
; Reducing consumption while improving environmental and social
; Developing exemplary communities that can be working models for other
communities when the effects of energy decline become more intense
*THE MOST RADICAL THING…+ Relocalization is actually quite radical. As the great
American philosopher-poet Gary Snyder said more than 30 years ago, “The most radical thing you can do is stay at home.”
[RESILIENCE INDICATORS] Relocalization is how community resilience and self-reliance are developed. But beyond reducing energy consumption and our
carbon footprint, what are some of the other indicators of community resilience?
; Percentage of food consumed locally that was produced within a given
; Ratio of car parking space to productive land use
; Degree of engagement in practical Transition/relocalization work by
; Amount of traffic on local roads
; Number of businesses owned by local people
; Percentage of local trade carried out in local currency
; Proportion of the community employed locally
; Percentage of essential goods manufactured within a given radius
; Percentage of local building materials used in new housing
; Number of 16-year-olds able to grow 10 different varieties of
vegetables to a given degree of basic competency
; Percentage of medicines prescribed locally that have been produced
within a given radius
But how does all this happen? How can communities actually make this Transition?
[KINSALE EDAP] I want to tell you a story of communities beginning to make the Transition, and the birth of a movement that is quickly going viral.
It began in Kinsale, Ireland, at a community college where Rob Hopkins was teaching the world’s first two-year Permaculture course. As he became aware of
the implications of The Long Emergency, he became fascinated by the possibility of applying the principles and ethics of Permaculture to whole towns, whole settlements, to design a Transition.
Hopkins and his students began developing an Energy Descent Action Plan for the
town of Kinsale, backcasting from the target year of 2021. When the plan was complete, they presented it to the city council, which officially adopted the plan—
a truly historical moment.
[HOPKINS QUOTE] From that experience, Hopkins began to perceive that it is possible to design the transition in such a way that people in a community would embrace it as a common journey, as a collective adventure, as something positive. His constant question was, “How can we design descent pathways which make
people feel alive, positive and included in this process of societal transformation?”
[TOTNES PHOTO] He moved on to Totnes, England, where he prototyped the process quite successfully, and it is now being replicated in about 100 communities in England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Chile and most recently Japan.
[GOOGLE MAP] The movement is catching fire, and there are now more than 900 communities (including at least 100 in the U.S.) seriously considering taking on this challenge and moving in this direction.
Transition now may be the fastest-growing, most inspiring, most significant social change movement we’ve ever seen.
[TRANSITION HANDBOOK] Rob Hopkins recently published a book to help fuel this movement, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience.
In this book, Rob lays out the process he’s been developing for a community becoming a Transition Town. Published by Green Books in the UK, and distributed by Chelsea Green in the U.S., this book is likely to be an international best-seller
by next year.
[HOPKINS QUOTE] The fundamental premise behind the Transition work is this:
“The future with less oil *and less energy+ could be preferable to the
present, if we are able to engage with enough imagination and creativity
sufficiently in advance of the peak…”
And emerging at the other end, we will not be the same as we were; we
will have become more humble, more connected to the natural world,
fitter, leaner, more skilled and, ultimately, wiser.
[WHAT IS TRANSITION?]
…A creative, engaging, playful process, wherein we support our
communities through the loss of the familiar and inspire and create
a new lower energy infrastructure which is ultimately an improvement on
[THE KEY QUESTION] For all those aspects of life that this community needs to sustain itself and thrive, how do we:
; dramatically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change);
; significantly increase resilience (in response to peak oil);
; greatly strengthen our local economy (in response to economic instability)?
[TRANSITION RECOGNITIONS1] The Transition work is based on several “recognitions.”
; Life with less energy is inevitable, and it is better to plan for it than be taken
; We have lost the resilience to be able to cope with energy shocks.
; We have to act for ourselves and we have to act now.
; By unleashing the collective genius of the community we can design ways
of living that are more enriching, satisfying, connected and sustainable.
As Hopkins says, “We used immense amounts of creativity, ingenuity and
adaptability on the way up the energy upslope; there's no reason for us not to do the same on the downslope.”
So if we together 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 what Hopkins calls “the oil-addicted treadmill
that we find ourselves on today.”
[SHIVA QUOTE] Much of the Transition work is based on a powerful and evolving visioning process, for as Vandana Shiva says, “The uncertainty of our times is no reason to be certain about hopelessness.”
Transition teaches that our best chance of making a successful transition will not come from presenting people with the worst case scenarios, but the best.
Hopkins says that we stand “on the cusp of many things, one of which could be an economic, cultural and social renaissance”—but only if we set about with a
vision and a determination to bring this vision into reality. So our best chance of dealing with climate change and peak oil will emerge from our ability to engage people in a vision of transition to a lower energy future as an adventure,
something in which we can invest our hope and energy.
We’re beginning to get a glimpse of that vision. It continues to evolve, but here’s what we’re seeing:
[VISIONING OUR FUTURE]
; Our vision is a future where life is more socially connected, more
meaningful and satisfying, more sustainable, and more equitable in a
greater community of relocalized communities…
; Where production and consumption occur closer to home…
; Where long and fragile supply chains—now vulnerable to economic
volatility and surges in oil prices—have been replaced by interconnected
; Where the total amount of energy consumed by businesses and citizens is
dramatically less than current unsustainable levels.
The longer-term vision is that such relocalized communities will naturally trade
their surpluses interdependently with surrounding relocalized communities, forming self-sufficient bioregions that trade surpluses with each other. This will
be a radical and welcome shift from the tangled web of codependent relationships that we call a globalized economy.
Of course, a transition to a local living economy will take some time, even though
we don't have much time. It’s a process! And Transition initiatives are already playing a crucial role in this process in hundreds of communities in many countries.
*THE TWELVE STEPS OF TRANSITION+ The process loosely follows twelve “steps” or phases:
1. Set up an initiating group…and design its evolution from the outset
2. Raise awareness—both about the challenges of The Long Emergency and
the opportunities of Transition
3. Lay the foundations
4. Organize a Great Unleashing—a “coming of age” for the project; powerful,
passionate, informative, inspirational;
5. Form working groups
6. Use Open Space Technology
7. Develop visible, practical projects
8. Facilitate the Great Reskilling (Colleges of Reskilling)
9. Build bridges to local government
; Cultivate positive and productive relationships
; You may be pushing against an open door
; Government should support, not drive
; Collaborate on community plan
10. Honor the elders
11. Let it go where it wants to go
; Focus on the questions
; Unleash the collective genius of the community
; Any sense of control is illusory
12. Create an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP)
; Start with a vision and then backcast
; Incorporate Transition Tales (from the future)
; Base it on current planning documents
[ENERGY DESCENT ACTION PLAN—HOPKINS QUOTE]—It’s a process!
“Your EDAP should feel more like a holiday brochure, presenting a localized, low-energy world in such an enticing way that anyone reading it will feel their life utterly bereft if they don’t dedicate the rest of their lives towards its realization.”
[WHY THE TRANSITION MODEL WORKS]
; Deeply rooted in Permaculture principles and ethics
; Offers awareness-raising as an invitation, not information-dumping ; Cultivates positive visioning (not merely a projection of our desires, but
actually being able to see the future that longs to emerge in us and
; Provides access to good information, trusts people to make good decisions ; Encourages inclusiveness and openness to peer-to-peer feedback ; Enables sharing and networking
; Engages whole communities in the process
; Promotes non-hierarchical, distributed decision-making
; Balances inner/outer, left/right brain, masculine/feminine
“Transition initiatives don’t just involve telling people about the problem
and campaigning. They also involve practical training in the skills needed
for a post-oil society. But as well as practical training, psychological
training is also needed in how to cultivate positive visions and finding
ways of dealing with inner ‘dreamblockers’ like fear, cynicism and
; Provides a replicable model, a clear pathway
; Scalable and adaptable to particular communities
; Spreads like wildfire!