11 Mar 2008
A Third Review of The Transition Handbook
Review of The Transition Handbook. By Robert Morgan.
The “converging crises” of peak oil and climate change are spawning an increasing number of popular books. These include grim forecasts of the consequences such as JH Kunstler’s The Long Emergency and Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees, explorations of alternative scenarios requiring massive government policy change such as Richard Heinberg’s Powerdown and George Monbiot’s Heat, and fiction such as Kunstler’s World Made by Hand. What most if not all of these lack, is any clear guidance for individuals and communities on what they can actually do to deal with the crises which short-sighted governments and profligate lifestyles look set to bring upon us. Rob Hopkins, forefather of the Transition movement which in two years has developed from the spark of an idea to a strengthening international force, has at last provided this guidance.
Essentially, Hopkins’s arguments are that a future with more expensive and ultimately less energy is inevitable, so that localisation is also inevitable. To avoid economic and social meltdown, local communities need to start preparing immediately to reduce their dependence on cheap energy and the low-cost, remotely-sourced goods it makes available. Instead, they must reconstruct themselves as resilient, almost self-sufficient units. As explained by Hopkins, the logic is nearly irrefutable and techno-fantasies of a “hydrogen economy”, fusion power and life amongst the stars are rapidly dismissed. Instead, the vision is of people reconnecting with their fellow beings and the Earth, living genuinely satisfying and purposeful lives, freed from the curse of consumerism.
One of Hopkins’s greatest skills is the way in which he guides readers through the scientific evidence for climate change and peak oil, without glossing over essential details. Crucially, he sees these two issues as intertwined with neither being amenable to solution without reference to the other. This is one of the most crucial aspects of the sustainability/localisation argument as most of the “business-as-usual” techno-fixes suggested in the last few years, deal with one of these problems while making the other worse.
In places, Hopkins makes himself a hostage to fortune by using some predictions of near-term oil production decline (for example figure 3 on page 27), which can already be seen to be inaccurate. As Dr. Colin Campbell, founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) says, the precise date of the peak is not so important. What is, is the certainty that it will be soon and that individuals and communities planning to rely on central government (in)action, will almost certainly find themselves ill-prepared to deal with it. Addressing this issue is the great strength of this book, as it describes in almost obsessive detail the precise steps groups of individuals can take to alert and mobilise their communities to withstand the coming shocks.
In conclusion, the book succeeds brilliantly at every level: as a precise, detailed, what-to-do manual for those developing Transition Initiatives; as a guide for those curious as to what Transition is all about; and even as a lay-persons guide to peak oil, climate change and what to do about them. Chapters which might otherwise be heavy going and earnest are relieved by Hopkins’s easy-going writing style and often-hilarious excerpts of supposed future headlines (“Imelda Platt proudly displays a bottle of her company’s new liquid gold fertiliser ‘N-Pee-K’ “ – you can guess what it is!). Seriously, this is one of the most important books in the sustainability field to appear in this decade. It is essential reading for all environmental activists and all concerned about what we can actually DO about the threats now bearing down on us. The future well-being of us all, depends on its success.
Robert Morgan is Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science at the University of Glamorgan and Co-Director of The Green College.