Transition Culture

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

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17 Jul 2007

Local MP Enthuses About Transition Town Totnes.

as1How’s about this? Anthony Steen is the Conservative MP for Totnes, and isn’t the first person you would necessarily think of when looking for a green leaning thinker. He has recently undergone what one might call a climate change conversion, and now, seems to have also really grasped the Transition Town thing in a big way. He helped with the launch of the Totnes Pound, and last Saturday, in his monthly column in the local paper, the Herald Express, wrote a piece which was staggering in its enthusiasm for the work that TTT is doing (see below). How this translates into other areas of policy and so on remains to be seen, but credit where it is due for openeness to new ideas.

**Small is Inevitable after oil runs out.**
By Anthony Steen MP.

How do you wean a nation off its addiction to oil? Transition Town Totnes is an experiment trying to do just that and find the answer using a small, historic market town of 4,000 people as its model.

‘Peak Oil’ is the phrase used to identify a high point, probably reached this year, when the world’s conventional or crude oil production rate will reach its maximum output only to then fall into decline. Whilst this gloomy picture may be seen as scare-mongering it contains one vital and indisputable truth: that the world will face a ‘supply crunch’ around 2012 when reduced output will collide with ever-increasing demand.

Currently 86 million barrels of oil are produced each day but since production recently stalled the price per barrel has sky-rocketed to US$76. Whilst the International Energy Agency believes that there might be as much as 20,000 billion barrels of oil or ‘black gold’ running through the veins of our planet, most of it will never see the insides of our petrol tanks remaining undiscovered below earth’s surface. Historically we are at the ‘tipping’ point, as we are now using more and more oil to support our ever affluent lifestyles. Yet we know from the lorry drivers strike in 2000 how little resilience we have when oil stocks don’t reach us.

Our dependency on cheap, readily available oil has allowed us to become complacent. Organic carrots grown in Cornwall, are driven to the Midlands for washing and grading, then to London for pricing and finally back down to the West Country for sale in a local supermarket because oil is cheap. That also explains why vegetables continue to be flown daily from Africa, fruit from Mexico, apples from China, and lamb from New Zealand.

Whilst access to cheap oil has allowed the economy to grow year by year, the thought that the supply should restrict the organic carrot’s journey is something which has not even been contemplated. When cheap oil is no longer available – what prospects then? What will happen to our lifestyle? In our modern world we burn oil indiscriminately. We use it to heat our home, get us to and from work, fertilise our food, and fly us around the globe. It fuels not just our cars but our lifestyles. With climate change leading the global action agenda, we have to consider life after oil ideally through an Energy Descent Action Plan.

Is it possible that a future with less oil could improve the quality our lives resulting in a renaissance in agriculture and small businesses? Could Peak Oil help change attitudes and rebuild ‘social capital’ by bringing people and disparate groups together to cooperate and focus on a common goal. Peak Oil could well be the amber light warning us that there is a major obstacle on the road ahead.

as2So what is happening down at the grass roots? Transition Town Totnes has already published its first food directory in which local growers, food producers and caterers are listed with the aim of encouraging people to ‘buy local’, reducing food miles and therefore oil consumption. Last March I launched the Totnes Pound, together with Rob Hopkins the inspiration and initiator of the scheme to offer an incentive to buy locally. The Totnes Pound gives 5% off every purchase of local goods, ie – for every £9.50 Stirling one receives £10 of Totnes currency. Shortly 10,000 more Totnes notes will be issued as 70 businesses have agreed to take on the currency. This will build economic resilience as well as creating locality loyalty. The Totnes Pound is only available to purchase locally produced goods. The theme of Transition Town Totnes is not so much that small is beautiful, but rather that small is inevitable. This is a move away from the concept of the Global Village, back to the Local Village as highlighted by Tom Stevenson in the Daily Telegraph (10 July 2007):

>“Looking a generation and more ahead, I think the unspoken truth about the looming oil crisis is that the so-far inexorable march of globalisation should not be taken for granted. In the great sweep of history, the 200-year oil age may be seen as a blip before a return to a more sustainable, more local economic system.”

The aim of Transition Town Totnes is to raise awareness that oil is not here forever and alternative ways of living must be pioneered. There are already there are 20 transition towns in Britain and 90 more expressing interest. The work of Rob Hopkins has resulted in Liverpool University creating the facility know as ‘Oil Vulnerability Auditing’ which offers local businesses an individual evaluation on how well they will manage with possible oil shortages.

Transition Town Totnes is not some PR gimmick. It is based on two fundamental truths: that the world supply of oil has peaked, and global warming is in full swing. If the Totnes Pound stops the travelling carrot, encourages holidays in Britain and reinvigorates a declining agricultural industry, then it will have already achieved its purpose. But there are many other spin offs not the least as T. S. Elliot put it in ‘The Four Quartets’:

>“We will arrive where we started
>And know the place for the first time.”

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


17 Jul 9:55am

nice article. One thing though, do we really use oil to “heat our home”? I’m pretty sure we don’t. Often i also read people stating we use oil to generate electricity in the UK, which is obviously wrong. There does seem to be a general lack of knowledge in the public about what energy sources are used for different services in society.

18 Jul 4:28am

According to Wikipedia there is one currently- working oil-fired power station in England: “Fawley Power Station is located on the western side of Southampton Water, between the villages of Fawley and Calshot. The station, operated by N Power is oil-fired and contains four 500 MW generating units although two have been mothballed since the 1990s so it currently produces 1,000 MW of power.” (

Mike Grenville
18 Jul 9:19am

Lots of people heat their homes with oil. According to The National Energy Foundation “The number of homes with oil central heating systems is growing, as more houses are being built in villages away from the gas main.”

Mark Donaldson
18 Jul 10:47am

Yeah i think it supplies about 2% of our demand. The onyl reason it is there though is as an emergency backup for the other fuel sources. It obviously makes no economical sense to burn oil for electricty in this country. I was wondering if Anthony Steen MP was referring to burning oil in the home for heat – can you actually do this? Rather than supplying a fraction of electricity demand for electric heating.

Ben Brangwyn
21 Jul 3:22pm

What a ground-breaking article!

Rather than debate oil usage for home heating (see thread above), how about recognising that this is a significant development in the inexorable stages of Peak Oil going mainstream. Not only that, but this politician has really understood the implications.

Apart from Caroline Lucas (MEP), he’s the only one that’s gone on record with this, to my knowledge.

If you’re from another constituency than South Hams, how about cutting and pasting this into an email to your own MP and seeing what their response is.


23 Jul 6:14pm

I agree with Ben. Good for Anthony Steen, he is clearly a true conservative, not one of these Thatcherite neo-liberal types who have taken over the party since WW2.

I particuarly enjoyed his recognition of the fact that globalisation is a dead end, and that we need to be decentralising and localising.

24 Sep 10:22am

I wonder how Anthony Steen squares this with the fact he owns shares in Shell