Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

Transition Culture has moved

I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

21 Mar 2007

Transition City Bristol Kicks Off Tonight With A Talk By Dr. Chris Johnstone.

bristolThis evening sees the first event from Transition City Bristol, the largest scale Transition project in the UK (yet). Dr. Chris Johnstone will be giving a talk tonight at 7pm at the Trinity Centre, Bristol. Chris was a star at the Official Unleashing of Transition Town Totnes, and his talk will be called “Personal Power for the Planet: looking at ways you can deepen your determination, cultivate enthusiasm and become more inspired”. In the current edition of The Spark magazine, “a free quarterly magazine about positive change for the West of England especially the Bristol, Bath, Stroud, Taunton and Glastonbury area”, Sarah Pugh wrote the following piece which gives introduced the concept to the good people of Bristol.

**transition bristol.**

**A movement away from dependence on fossil fuels has already started, led by small, pro-active communities in Devon and Ireland. Now permaculture teacher Sarah Pugh is mobilising Sparkland’s army of activists and environmentalists to work towards a shared vision of a real sustainable Bristol.**

pughCan you imagine Bristol after oil? There’s a few ways to approach this. One involves clammy palms and a sense of unease as we begin to realise that everything we do, from heating our homes to producing our food, relies on finite and dwindling fossil fuel resources. The disquiet deepens when we remember that our over-use of this energy is creating greenhouse gasses that damage the environment we rely on to survive. Another way to respond would be to relax a little and conjure up images of lush green streets filled with people cycling and walking to their local shops, of fresh fruit and vegetables growing in urban gardens.

Of public transport linking a city planned to minimise travel. Of vibrant, co-operative communities sharing skills, resources and produce. Of buildings designed for energy efficiency, where nothing is wasted and everything is valued. You begin to wonder why we’re not doing this anyway. The reason seems to be that our indulgence in cheap fossil fuels has taken us a very long way from common sense over the past 200 years, altering the climate and creating a risky dependence on dwindling resources.

The twin threats of climate change and peak oil require some radical changes to the way we use energy. So how do we, as a community, start rethinking the way we live and lighten our ecological clodhopper?

Transition City Bristol is a new grass-roots, notfor- profit initiative that aims to invite the people of Bristol to bring together their skills and ideas to create and implement a plan of action. We will be seeking practical and cultural answers to the question ‘How will Bristol survive and thrive in a postoil world?’

The Transition Town approach is based on an approach set up by Permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins in Kinsale, Ireland. After hearing about Peak Oil, Rob and his students set their minds to how the town could prepare for the imminent time when Kinsale could no longer rely on cheap fossil fuels. They realised that it would be no good just consulting experts and coming up with yet another document. They understood that to make effective changes, everyone needed to be involved. What followed was a number of talks and film showings to raise awareness of the issues.

Ordinary people were invited to submit their ideas and concerns, creating an inclusive vision for the town. Meanwhile, practitioners such as local organic growers and alternative energy producers were asked for their input. The local council were included from the beginning and after 8 months the resulting ‘Energy Descent Plan’ was formally submitted to them. The proposal was unanimously passed and Kinsale is now working towards implementing progressive changes.

Rob is now based in Totnes and Transition Town Totnes is forging ahead along similar lines and developing the approach to include initiatives that empower people to become part of the solution. Local people have formed sub-groups to look at specific issues like how to involve young people. Over one hundred towns across the globe are following in these trail-blazing footsteps. UK Transition towns include Stroud, Lewes, Falmouth and the Cornish area of Penwith. Until now it hasn’t been tried in the UK on a city scale.

It’s long been accepted by the ‘green types’ that our energy hungry culture isn’t heading in the right direction. Recently the scientific evidence has become overwhelmingly clear and everyone is waking up to the stark reality of climate change and peak oil, both of which require us to use less energy. Transition City Bristol is about helping people get to grips with that reality and find ways to deal with it. We will be looking at all aspects of the energy question including food supply, energy use and production, transport, building, waste minimisation, education and strengthening communities.

There are already a number of community-based groups and larger organisations that are working to raise awareness and find practical solutions to the myriad of related issues. We hope to be working with these networks, taking a whole city view and inviting Bristol’s communities into the mix. We have a limited amount of time to make and implement an Energy Descent Plan so the more groups and individuals who are actively working together, the more we can achieve.

We’re lucky in Bristol to have a good network of green individuals, groups and organisations. We hope the project will bring all that experience together to plan for a city that will be resilient to a fall in energy supply and sustainable for future generations. We recognise that there’s no single approach to making sustainable change happen so it’s a matter of everyone getting stuck in and sharing skills and knowledge.

An inspiring example is that of Cuba who lost their oil supply practically overnight when trade embargos were imposed by the US. It took Cuba several years to regenerate their soils after decades of relying on fossil fuel based agro-chemicals. Organics was their only option but it took time to rebuild the fertility. Change takes time. Cubans have had to work together to generate power, develop sustainable transport and produce food.

Interestingly, since these changes, the average Cuban’s health has improved rather than suffered. We see these crucial times as an opportunity rather than a crisis. Human beings are adaptable creatures. We can be incredibly inventive and creative if we really need to. And we really need to right now. We have the luxury of having time to plan ahead and start moving in a sensible direction. The bottom line is that if we work as a community we have a much better chance. Who knows – we could make things a lot better than they are now!

A series of public events, talks, workshops, skills training, networks and consultations will be happening across the city from March 2007. The first confirmed date is a meeting at 7pm on Wednesday March 21 at the Trinity Centre in Bristol. The meeting will start at 7pm, with Chris Johnstone as guest speaker.

**Ffi: Trinity Centre, Trinity Road, St Phillips, Bristol. Tel 0117 935 1200. To find out what’s going on and what you can do, visit or email transitioncitybristol@ Ffi on other Transition Towns visit; for Peak Oil go to**

**Chris Johnstone will also be hosting a talk called Personal Power for the Planet: looking at ways you can deepen your determination, cultivate enthusiasm and become more inspired. Info to follow on**

**Paul Mobbs, author of Energy Beyond Oil, will give a talk on Peak Oil: The Facts. Tuesday April 17. See transitioncitybristol. org for venue and times.**

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


21 Mar 1:48pm

Best of luck with the events, if I lived closer I would love to attend.

I did my permaculture design course last year and Sarah Pugh’s talks were part of the teaching programme. Since doing the course my eyes have been opened to the solutions rather than the problems when confronting a post oil society.

Chris Vernon
23 Mar 12:34am

It was a fantastic event. Very positive and inclusive, a wide range of people motivated with a common purpose. The details are perhaps hazy, the specifics of peak oil and climate change, how many parts per million of CO2 or million barrels of oil etc but the message is now clearer than the details (though they remain important). Things need to change.

Jennifer Lauruol
25 Mar 6:51pm

Bristolians, this is fantastic. I’m sorry I no longer live there, as I would join the effort. Instead I’m working with a local group on setting up Transition City Lancaster. Help and advice welcome!

Steffi Bednarek
26 Apr 8:58am


I have just moved from Totnes to Bristol and would like to get involved with the Bristol transition town movement. Can you please add me to your mailing list and keep me informed about events?

Many thanks