11 Dec 2007
Ted Trainer’s Transition Q&A Part One.
**Ted Trainer** is author of the essential Renewable Energy Cannot Power a Consumer Society, which is one of the best arguments for the inevitability of energy descent yet to appear. He has spent many years arguing for localisation, reduced consumption and the end of affluence. He recently received the Transition Primer, and was highly enthused by the whole concept. He sent me a list of 17 questions about it all, which my crap typing has thus far prevented me from launching into. Given the assumption (which I have observed repeatedly as a teacher) that if one person has a question, it is usually the case that it is also a question that lots of other people would like to ask too, and given also that they are great questions, I am going to work my way through them, 2 a day, here at **Transition Culture**. It is also an opportunity for readers who are involved in Transition Initiatives elsewhere to chip in their thoughts, and perhaps how they might have answered the questions, thereby offering a snapshot of the Transition movement in relation to these questions. So, here we go, Question One…
**1. How many in the most energetic towns are involved; is it a fringe thing or is the whole town more or less working with the cause?**
In a recent piece on a local Sussex radio station, an incredibly inane reporter visited Lewes, and went around asking people if they had heard of Transition Town Lewes. Out of the 4 people he asked, only one had. When he later interviewed Adrienne Campbell of TTL he said something like “in my straw poll, only 25% of people have heard of your group!” Struck me that 25% is really rather good after such a short time!
In Totnes, which is the one I am most familiar with, it is hard to ascertain how many people are involved. It also depends what one means by ‘involved’. In terms of those who are actively involved in groups, that figure is less than those who are enthusiastic and supportive but have less time to dedicate. At the moment, in a town of about 8,000 people, our email bulletin goes out to about 800 people, although admittedly not all of those are in Totnes, although the large majority are.
The various working groups have memberships of anything between 10 and up to 70 or 80. In Totnes we are certainly not a fringe thing, we have the full endorsement of Totnes Town Council, Totnes Chamber of Commerce and the local Strategy Group. We are designing our work so that we increasingly reach out into areas we haven’t worked in before, so in April we are working with all of Year 7 at the local school with our Transition Tales initiative, we are planning a street makeover, events for young people, all the time we are designing the programme so it reaches out into new demographics in the town that we haven’t touched up to that point.
At the end of the day, I think the idea that we can get everyone on board before we can start work is a dangerous one. I see the Transition model as being based on an ethic of service. It is about working around peoples’ lives, putting in place the infrastructure that will be needed post-peak in such a way that it is fun, engaging and non-threatening. This has been the beauty of things like the Totnes Pound and the nut tree plantings. What they are doing is important, putting in place essential resilient infrastructure, but they are universally seen as positive and good for the town. If 10% of people are actively engaged, and the majority of everyone else are supportive, then that seems to me to be an excellent basis for action, with any increases on that being an added bonus.
**2. How did the consciousness get where it is; did this take a lot of work, or was it more or less spontaneous? (Either way it is very encouraging that it has got up such momentum so quickly.)**
I have no idea, I guess this is a big question and is one that is more appropriate for other people to answer, I guess I am too close to it to wonder how it grew so fast. My sense, for what it’s worth, is that it emerged into a vacuum. Peak oil is starting to be seen as a big issue, and the Transition approach is the possibly the best thought through response to it. As such, when people find out about it and wonder what to do, unless they plan to head for the hills with their baked beans and their shotgun, then Transition tend to be where they turn.
The answer to “did this take a lot of work, or was it more of less spontanteous?” is both. It has developed an extraordinary viral momentum, but at the same time it has required a lot of work to support and enable that. That is really where the Transition Network comes in and why we have been so fortunate to secure some core funding for that, which is what has enabled the Network to form and support this viral growth.
What I find amazing is how the concept and the inspiration is reaching further afield, in terms of what is happening elsewhere in the world. Without our going on extensive international lecture tours, people seem to be hearing about it and being inspired by it, which I think will be facilitated enormously when the book comes out in February. It feels to me that one of the reasons it has grown so fast is that it is positive in a time where it is hard to find positivity, solutions-based in a time when the problems are so glaringly obvious, and fun, in a time where we’re not supposed to have time for that any more. I’d be interested to hear other peoples’ thoughts on this one…
11 Dec 10:18am
When I gave my first PO talk in March 2005, near the end I quoted Julian Darley who as asked, “”Where is our plan D? A plan to help us de-automate, de-centralise, and disconnect from big energy, from big money, and big food so that we can try to start rebuilding local cultures and local economies that will have to provide the food, water, shelter, identity, energy, mobility, and crucially, both the vital stuff of everyday life and employment as the present wasteful system finds that the fuel supply is being choked off.” At that time, I too had no answer, but the moment I read about TTs I knew that this was the Plan D of which he spoke and I believe that others feel that this too. There have been many, many people before now with great individual ideas, but this it seems is the first time that there’s been a ‘plan’.
12 Dec 10:13am
If the numbers of people who are getting involved in TT, wherever it pops up, continue to grow at the rate I am witnessing, then it will not be fringe for long.
Though the numbers are not of people banging on the door wanting to “join up,” as if it was a club or a religion. One of the beauty’s is that the TT framework is open enough and inclusive in its character, for people to feel very easy about connecting to it. So if they are involved in some initiative which at its root is supporting and strengthening the community, they are likely to relate to the TT model once the awareness raising step has done its job.
And this relates to the second question. My sense is that the attractiveness of the model has to do with a process which occurs when an individual can see all the initiatives that are being developed or that are already in place, especially when he/she knows some of the people (from their town) who are involved in those projects. At this point they see where they are, or can be, playing a valuable part in creating the abundance needed to thrive. This engenders a growing trust since they notice that others are doing the same in their area of endeavour, and together they are cocreating a healthy and bright future of mutual support for each other and future generations.
Thanks for the questions and the opportunity for dialogue.
13 Dec 2:39am
Rob says: “If 10% of people are actively engaged, and the majority of everyone else are supportive, then that seems to me to be an excellent basis for action.”
I think perhaps 10% might even be generous for a minimum seed group, although it depends on the culture. In small towns where everyone knows everyone for generations, it might need to be higher. In large metropoli, far lower is quite enough. Most people have lives to live and are not wanting to be bothered with the latest new project, even one that affects their future profoundly, so it is really a matter of tacit support for the movers and shakers.
We all know what Gregory Bateson’s partner had to say about this, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed
citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Here is another, less used quote (yet) from Al Gore’s Nobel lecture: “The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do.
Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.” I’d say a big part of that shadow is self-doubt and weakness of resolve. If only a few have the resolve, then that is what we have, and grateful for it. I concur with James that trust is not taken but built, brick by brick. And the thing about resolve is that it can be contageous.
13 Dec 8:46pm
oh dear, i’m getting very frustrated. No matter what anyone here says, it IS a fringe movement. This is the biggest challenge facing the transition movement, and has always been the biggest issue facing the environmental movement. I’m not a doom and gloom person, but I’m not directly involved in the transition movement either and I meet many people every day who either have absolutely no interest in getting involved in any of these issues – this may be for a variety of reasons (they truly don’t care – there are actually people out there who truly don’t care; or they have more perceived immediate concerns, how to feed the children, how to pay the bills, how to walk up a flight of stairs if they have a disability, how they are going to survive the next day if they have a mental health problem, they are struggling with a terminal illness; they are working 2/3/4 jobs to make ends meet, they are living on the streets; they are living in poverty and can’t afford to eat, let alone buy stuff to do the gardening to grow their own food (if they wanted to). There are many people who have not had the luxury of living with people who want to support them, who want to develop their skills. There are many others who have not had the luxury of an education where many of these issues are learnt. There are also many selfish people out there – please don’t live in a bubble. There are also numerous cultural differences which have a great impact on peoples thinking.
I don’t think these issues are ever addressed properly anywhere, purely because because they present such a challenge. The questions that need to be asked and considered; how do people use their time, why do they use their time in the way they do, how could people use their time. How does western society prevent people from using their time in a way that produces sustainable actions. What about those people who are most vulnerable in society. as you can see I have a interest in those people who are most excluded from society, in human behaviour and how people use their time.
Please address these issues. It sometimes feels like they are ‘swept under the carpet’, and while a few people have changed the world in the past – this is not one of those times when a few people will make the difference that is needed. And if only a few people are involved this makes the movement elitist and exclusive.
Also, lets not give ourselves too many pats on the back for wanting to potentially save the planet for its inhabitants– it can come across as arrogant and will only alienate others. Its our duty, lets be humble about it.
Ps, just wondering how people see the future of this form of communication which relies soley on electricity.
okay, i’m not playing devils advocate either….!
14 Dec 9:22pm
To tcatherb: I will offer a few “words” since I have some electricity at the moment, and a few minutes before I go and help sort a coop order with some friends – yes, able bodied friends who are not struggling to get up a set of stairs – unlike my first wife of 15 years who had polio as a baby.
I hear the pain and the call for radical change, and I would love to have some conversation face to face – typing is so unsatisfactory when we delve into matters of the heart. I trust that as I am able to have such conversations with others near me, you also have people with whom you can confide and share deeply.
I don’t have answers for all your questions, and ask them often enough to myself too. I ma choosing to work to support this Transition Town initiative because it embraces so many of the things I have been getting going in my community, and because I see it is attracting people and drawing them (in a gentle transitional way) towards a way of living and being that has potential to impact on others who need support in the ways you have described.
Blessings and love, James
14 Dec 11:45pm
People change for all sorts of reasons – and later on people change to save money now, or in the future, for moral reasons (because they cannot bear the effect their behaviour is having on other people or beings) or because Leonardo deCaprio is doing it, or because it’s forced on them because of policy, or worse, circumstance.
I don’t think Transition Towns are about making people change, or even persuading people to change; in Lewes we are trying to get information out widely and inviting people to be involved when they are ready – and there’s plenty to do when they turn up with ideas!
Numbers-wise probably the majority of Lewes residents have heard of us but probably a minority have changed their behaviour as a result.
For me, it’s felt exhilarating to be involved in transition towns and to feel my and other people’s experience is of use in these changing times.
16 Dec 12:50pm
Hi James – thank you so much for your reply and kind words. I am lucky enough to have people to talk with. I don’t think the environmental movement was/is very good at building (or even talking about) an inclusive approach, and as you can’t separate people from their environment, it is crucial to at least debate/talk about these issues. I think many people are very much disallusioned and worn out with 21st century living , and caught up in the trap (in this part of the world anyway), and would love to find a way to support their own health and wellbeing and that of their communities. How to support these people maybe a good place to start, if the transition movement is to be begin to talk to those who are not already involved in environment/community issues (and those lucky enough to have the luxury of theorising and experimenting with sustainable living – it is a luxury, even if it is I believe an essential part of our health and wellbeing (there’s a paradox)). for example, perhaps simply talking about how people can grow more food locally is not enough – many may not have the time or the ability or inclinination. Talking to people on a more personal level about their own health and wellbeing and how the transition movement may be able to support them and their families, may be a better place to start for many people. As transition is all about grassroots action it may be well placed to begin to talk about what the environmental movement to date hasn’t addressed. those involved have a responsibility to consider these issues alongside all the other (positive) stuff. I don’t have the answers about how to achieve this, but do feel it is the most crucial part of the challenge, so will carry on thinking about it….
19 Dec 9:58pm
I’ve been handicapped most of my life with Asperger Syndrome and didn’t even know it. Now the root condition is gone thanks to diet, but I can never forget the blessings, relevant to Transition, which are to be found in manifold quantity the other side of the coin of handicap. Because I didn’t fit in and couldn’t get on in work, I worked out creative survival patterns. Then when I woke up to global issues I was ALREADY prepared to look and think for myself. And I was ready to help others with deep problems. The original handicap has eventually been such a source of blessing that I want (and you inspire me) to write a page responding to your issues (and more ie “Stumbling-blocks Into Cornerstones” on our website http://www.greenworldtrust.org.uk. Do visit it. Or even help me improve it – all for the sake of Transition With Grace!