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.
12 Mar 12:32am
what about the prospect of polar cities for the future survivors of all this? ever heard of this adaptation idea? see my blog above
12 Mar 8:43pm
Well, James Lovelock has said that by the end of this century humanity may be reduced to a few “breeding pairs” in the vicinity of the North Pole – ans I see the link shows imagined “polar city images”! Seriously, I can’t imagine what any circumstance in which these might come about. If we get to the point where polar areas are the only habitable ones because of the severity of climate change, the world’s economies and societies will have long been so comprehensively devastated that there will be no possibility of building such futuristic, energy intensive structures anywhere. One might as well propose to evacuate the world’s population to the Moon.
13 Mar 12:19am
That is my POINT exactly! I mean, the time to begin planning and building these polar cities, aka “sustainable population retreats” in northern areas of Alaska, Canada, Russia, Norway, etc, even Oslo or Colorado and British Columbia, is NOW, while we still have time and fuel and transport and people to build them. In other words, get ready for the future. Be prepared. That is part of my project mission. Start planning and building them NOW. Of course, in 500 years, if the shite hits the fan, it will be too late to do anything. So let’s get them in place now. Test them out. we have 30 generations to prepare.
this is just a PR tool to wake people up, at the same time. Just an crazy idea so people can say HOLY EFF, WE ARE EFFED. we better work on mitigation NOW. that is the main goal of my project.
There are many naysayers. that’s good. I like naysayers. Here is one bloke from Australia who says:
[Dave has left a new comment on the post “Polar Cities in the Year 2121 A.D.”: ]
“Polar cities are just a bit silly really, and promoting them will just make people either think “nutter” or “Oh well, if Global Warming is that bad, I can’t do anything.”
Really, if civilisation is in retreat to the poles, exactly what energy sources are we going to have to BUILD a high tech under water city as depicted in these photos? This campaign strategy is a waste of time.
It’s just another “hobby” that grabbed Dan. Who’s behind it? How is this different to any of the other million online chat rooms or blogs? Won’t this just be another talk fest? What are the strategies for IMPLEMENTING this?
At least Simpol has an organised strategy of targeting marginal MP’s and Senators and gets MP’s signed up to a new worldwide online set of goals for fighting global warming and addressing peak oil. Then we promise to support MP’s signing on with our VOTES! It makes your VOTE count towards INTERNATIONAL problems! Simpol already has a whole bunch of MP’s signing on and agreeing to swing their nations policy towards Simpol objectives. Think about how close elections may have been in your country… how many MP’s can make a difference when passing new legislation? That’s all we have to target… the marginal seats, and Simpol is organised enough to do so. This is a strategy that can WORK, instead of rabbiting on about fictional cities made from fictional energy sources in some fictional worst-case global warming disaster 500 years into some fictional future. Most people just think, “Huh? 500 years? So what, I’ll be dead, and so will my children, grand children, and great grand children. 500 years…. so what? Won’t we be on Mars by then?”
NOW WHAT YOU SAY, ROBERT? Understand better the method of me madness?
by the way, i have renamed the site the jAMES E LOVELOCK VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF POLAR CITY IMAGES , look here again: