4 Mar 2008
Another Review of The Transition Handbook
By Richard Barnett, editor of Pulse.
The newly published Transition Handbook is so important that I am tempted just to confine this review to five simple words ‘You must read this book!‘ But to do so would, of course, completely fail to communicate its message which is, I believe, so profound and inspiring that I want to do my very best to encourage its spread far and wide. Rob Hopkins is described on the book cover as ‘The Founder of the Transition Movement’. I would add to that that he is a superb communicator, visionary and one of the most important thinkers in our chaotic 21st century world.Like many people I have been hearing snippets about Transition Towns for quite a while now. It seemed an interesting, if faintly ‘New Agey’, thing adopted by the usual suspects and really rather marginal at best. But now I know what it’s all about and for the first time in years I can feel genuine hope for the future.
The subtitle for the book is ‘From oil dependency to local resilience’ and that’s exactly the journey you are taken on when you read it. It’s divided into three sections – The Head, The Heart and The Hands – in other words get your mind round the need, become impassioned and then get working. It will engender very different reactions in readers depending on their current point of view and understanding. But I guarantee that everyone will feel a sense of change once they have read it.
The first section, The Head, starts with some familiar territory – climate change. Hopkins succinctly presents the key facts and issues that have gained so much attention in the last few years. He then moves on to what might be regarded as more esoteric ground – Peak Oil. Reactions to reading that term will have already occurred when you read it. For some it will be a reasonably well understood concept, for others something that has vaguely entered their consciousness, still others may not have come across it.
Wherever you stand at the moment I guarantee that you will learn more by reading this book. For the uninitiated, Peak Oil describes the point at which production of the world’s finite store of ‘liquid gold’ starts to decline in real terms. There is much debate about when this will happen, or indeed whether it has already happened. But one thing is certain – it will occur, and it will require fundamental shifts in the way we live. The price alone, of what will be increasingly scarce commodity, will dictate a radical new approach to energy and global economics.
Hopkins’ feels that oil has brought with it so many wonderful things that we have become addicted to it. And he invokes the language of addiction to consider how we wean ourselves of it. The ‘cost’ of our addiction in one sense is that the nature of communities and local networks that existed pre ‘The Age of Cheap Oil’ has vanished and our current world is shakily reliant on global infrastructures powered by cheap energy.
The twin threats of climate change and peak oil, which have to be viewed together, require drastic action to prepare for a way of life that can be sustainable. This is a scary prospect but Hopkins presents a positive framework within which to undertake the changes. The Transition Town model begins with the notion of building ‘resilience’ back into our villages, towns and cities so that they can continue to function without the underpinning cheap energy we currently take for granted.
Resilience is a truly positive and dynamic concept. It urges us to rediscover the potential for local production of food, services and goods that was commonplace only a few decades ago. To rebuild the kind of networks and close links that enabled people to actually know who lives next door and talk face to face with craftsmen and food producers. To rediscover how best to make use of local resources for building.
This is no rose tinted pipe dream. There are Transition Town initiatives in place across the UK. It is a fast growing movement that makes so much sense. Importantly it is about change coming from the community upwards rather than being imposed from above. And the book is packed with ideas, examples and suggestions that will help us all to move in this direction.