Transition Culture

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

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15 May 2008

“The Rocky Road to a Real Transition”: A Review.

picThe Rocky Road to a Real Transition: the transition towns movement and what it means for social change. Paul Chatterton & Alice Cutler. The Trapese Collective. A free download available here (warning: it is a huge file): 2008. 41pp.

It is flattering that so early in a movement such as the Transition movement, people take the time to sit down and write such a detailed critique of it. Trapese Popular Education Collective were previously behind the excellent ‘Do It Yourself Manual’. As the first published external examination of the Transition model it is to be welcomed, and the authors raise a number of important questions. From my perspective, “The Rocky Road…” does a very good job of identifying many of the key areas where Transition is distinctly different from other approaches to social activism.

Two Distinct Yet Complementary Approaches

The authors write from a perspective strongly rooted in their work as left wing activists and educators, with a strong anti-corporate, anti-globalisation stance. One of the aspects of their critique of Transition is that it shies away from directly confronting what they see as being the enemy. Their starting point can be summed up in the sentence “it is fundamentally important to identify and name the enemies in the battle to make a real Transition”. From my perspective Transition is a fundamentally different approach, and in offering a review of this booklet, it feels important at the outset to address the distinctly different starting positions here.

I have always been inspired and motivated by Vandana Shiva’s assertion that “these systems function because we give them our support, but if we withdraw our support, these systems will not be able to run”. I argue in the Transition Handbook (which unfortunately the authors neglected to read before writing ‘The Rocky Road’, nor did they speak with or interview anyone directly involved) that we need to move beyond the approach of making our starting point trying to work out who is to blame for the predicament we are in.

Yes there are tremendously powerful global forces at work, doing appalling things with increasing boldness, but they function as such because, in many cases, we have given them, consciously or unconsciously, the power to do so. The individuals involved in those global forces are locked into them just like everyone else and there is nothing to be gained by demonising them. There is also always the danger that by adopting demonising, depersonalising approaches means that there is a risk that we do whatever it takes to bring about the change we want, rather than modelling, through our daily lives, the kind of change we want to see.

There are precedents. The Zapatistas, mentioned in this document as being examples of good political action, are in many ways similar to Transition. They set off on a journey of change with no idea where it would lead, asking for nothing more than to be given the space to do what they want and to be left alone to live the way they want to. They argue that change starts with them, and what is important is to be the change, as Gandhi put it, that you want to see in the world.

Transition is determinedly inclusive and non-blaming, arguing that a successful transition through peak oil and climate change will by necessity be about a bringing together of individuals and organisations, rather than a continued fracturing and antagonising. It seeks common ground rather than difference and realises that people who run businesses and people who make decisions are all similarly bewildered and forced to rethink many basic assumptions by these new and challenging times we are beginning to enter. I make no apologies for the Transition approach being designed to appeal as much to the Rotary Club and the Women’s Institute as to the authors of this report.

Time and again the authors of this booklet re-state their belief in a them-and-us perspective. They talk of “taking on power and those who hold wealth and influence”, of there being “powerful forces to confront” and that Transition is “only realistic if people are also prepared to take on the vested interests in the media, government and business”. Yet these extraordinary times into which we are moving extraordinarily fast demand new tools, both practical and thinking tools. It has always struck me that as we stand on the verge of the monumental changes that peak oil and climate change will impose, to have confrontational activism as the principal tool in our toolbox is profoundly unskilful.

Diverging Opinions of How Change Happens

One of the reasons behind this is that little account is taken of the psychology underpinning how people change. The approach is usually one of information dumping, giving people a large amount of distressing information and expecting them to change. What we try and do in the Transition movement is to design in an acceptance of the fact that information about peak oil and climate change can be very distressing, and that it can lead to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. An approach based on information exchange, allowing people to discuss with others how peak oil and climate change ‘feel’, and to enable them to feel part of a wider community of people exploring this, is very empowering and much more healthy.

One fundamental misunderstanding in this document is the belief that change is something that we have to fight for, that those in positions of power will cling to business as usual for as long as possible, that globalisation will only wobble if we shake it hard enough. This is not my experience though, nor, from the anecdotal evidence I hear from Transition Initiatives on the ground, is it what is happening around the country. Here is a quote from the Guardian in an article announcing the arrival of $122 a barrel oil.

“The Ernst and Young Item Club said the modest upswing in economic growth it was predicting for 2009 and 2010 was predicated on the price of oil remaining below $100. But it warned that if the cost of oil increased to $120, or $150, in the long-term, it would have serious implications for the strength of the wider economy”.

The following day Goldman Sachs announced that its forecast was for $200 a barrel oil sooner rather than later. Yesterday’s London Evening Standard reported that the housing crash has now officially begun. The end of the Age of Cheap Oil is arriving very fast, regardless of whether we decide to campaign for it or not. It is my experience that most of the people I meet who are local politicians, business people, whoever, haven’t even started to think about this. I spoke last week at an event in Gloucestershire which ended with my sitting on a panel with a number of people working for the South West Regional Development Agency. A question came from the audience to the effect of “do SWRDA take peak oil into account in their regional development strategies?”. It was clear it was something they hadn’t even begun to think about.

By the end of the evening, the Area Head of SWRDA promised to the audience that he would get his economic team looking at this, analysing how their regional development strategy holds together (or doesn’t) in the light of various forecasts of future oil prices. I find the same in a series of other prominent organisations, they haven’t thought it through at all, and they have absolutely no idea what to do, yet become enthused to begin to explore it when approached in a constructive manner. These are, in the huge majority, not wicked people, rather they are as lost and emeshed in the way the world works at the moment as the rest of us are, they have families they return to at night. We are all in this together. W.H. Auden put it nicely;

“There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die”.*

In my opinion, the shift in focus from the global to the local will not be a choice, nor is it something we have to campaign and protest for, it is utterly inevitable. Without cheap oil it becomes unfeasible, and we are already starting to see this. What the Transition model attempts to do is to try and design a process for rebuilding resilience and cutting carbon which Richard Heinberg describes as being “more like a party than a protest march”, something which is inclusive and feels positive and historic.

Does Transition Shy Away from Confronting Politics?

Transition’s refusal to engage in confrontational approaches to change (a direct experience of which appears to have been the authors’ trigger for writing this critique) has been a conscious decision from the outset, although clearly not one that the authors support. For me, Transition is something that sits alongside and complements the more oppositional protest culture, but is distinctly different from it. It is a different tool. It is designed in such a way as to come in under the radar.

The authors are highly doubtful of the ability of politics to initiate the kind of change we need. They write “a politician cannot win an election by saying they will make the country poorer by reducing export earnings”. I think that they haven’t quite grasped the scale of the change that peak oil and climate change will initiate.

We will need politicians who are able to run on a platform of being honest about energy descent, of the need to move to other measures of economic success than growth in GDP, who drive for the rebuilding of local resilience. I think there are people who could do that, and in the changing world we are seeing the beginnings of, may well be successful. Indeed, it is hard to see how, in 10 years, people will be able to run on any other platform.

We surrender our power to governments at our peril. In her forthcoming book “Depletion and Abundance”, Sharon Astyk puts it thus;

“The sad truth is that governments mostly don’t lead – they follow. And who do they follow? One way or another, most governments follow the will and anger of their people. That is, they are waiting for us to lead them, to tell them what we really care about. It is time — and past time — that we do”.

I think that one of the reasons why Transition is growing so fast, and why it is attracting a lot of people who have not usually been involved in environmental campaigning, is precisely because it is addressing and responding to the very real concerns people feel about rising fuel costs and the changing climate without polarising people. It is positive and solutions focused, it is undogmatic, and it allows space for people to explore how change on this scale will affect them personally. The authors write;

“while local sustainability is important, so are high impact actions that shake people to question the habits of high consumer lifestyles, cheap flights and unnecessary car journeys and the political systems that facilitate them”.

I don’t think that assuming that we can “shake people to question” their lifestyles is ever going to affect more than a handful of people, and will in fact alienate and entrench a lot more. It is the underlying approach that environmentalists have taken for years and in the main it has failed. In Totnes recently, the local Transition group held an evening about flying, called “To Fly or Not to Fly”, but rather than it being a polarising polemic about why we ought not fly, trying to shake those their out of their flying apathy, we used the Fishbowl approach, and created a space in which people could hear each other respectfully discussing their relationships with flying, how giving up would affect them, what they would miss and so on. Hopefully at this point in this review you are starting to be able to identify the differences in these two approaches.

Asking Important Questions of Transition

‘The Rocky Road to Transition’ does, however, ask some important questions of the Transition Movement. “We need to question models that look to a few experts for the answers, especially when these people are mostly well-educated, white males”. Absolutely, and this is an active ongoing debate within Transition. The authors assume that Transition is a top-down model, although the principle has always been to devolve as much decision making as possible to as local a scale as possible.

Thus we are seeing national Transition hubs emerging in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and other places beyond, as well as regional hubs such as in Cornwall and the South East, and urban hubs such as in Bristol and Brighton. We are running ‘Training the Trainer’ sessions so that the delivery of Transition Training can be devolved to more local levels. We will be rolling out Transition Talk Training around the UK so that there is an army of people around the country who can give talks on the subject. Following the recent Transition Strategy Day in Bristol we are looking at a diversity of models that could be adopted for this, so that the Network itself becomes much more self-organising and owned and driven by the projects themselves. This process is underway and dynamic.

The recent Transition Strategy day was far from exclusive, indeed we invited over 1000 people from the Transition Network’s database from active projects around the UK, and in the event a couple of people turned up who were actually quite hostile towards Transition, and aren’t even active within a Transition group. Hardly the approach of an exclusive top-down organisation. Transition has grown so rapidly that it has been a huge challenge to design a suitable structure for it while retaining the integrity of what it actually means, and this is an evolving process, but it is driven by the principle of maximising devolution where possible.

The Dangers of Being Co-opted

The booklet questions the wisdom of having contacts with local government as the dangers of being co-opted and becoming greenwash are too high, as (the authors argue although some may disagree) was the fate suffered by previous initiatives such as Local Agenda 21. What I think the authors miss is the fact that we are living in very different times now. The experience of Transition Forest of Dean is fascinating here. Their Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) failed to take peak oil and climate change into account, and, they felt, hadn’t consulted the community sufficiently, so they put in a separate expression of interest. The South West Regional Development Agency came back and said they would only consider one application from the area, so the two groups would need to work together.

This is now happening, with the head of the Council stating recently that Transition needs to be better reflected in the LSP. The fact that the thinking and the solutions that Transition initiatives are coming up with to problems that local authorities are only just starting to become aware of means that there is the potential for far more dynamic and productive relationships than previously, a realisation of much more engaged democracy.

The authors’ assertion that “focusing on individual actions negates the importance of structural change and working on the way we do things collectively” isjust not borne out by the reality of Transition projects on the ground. Transition does not just focus on individual actions, rather it creates a new and vigorous dynamic through which people can re-engage meaningfully in politics.

The Totnes Pound for example, is based on a deep understanding of and critique of globalisation, growth-based economics, the debt-based money system, but rather than theorising and criticising, it is an initiative which is about starting to put in place community-scale initiatives and responses. We feel that at this moment, practical, tangible and replicable projects that put in place resilient, post-oil infrastructure, are more important. Just because one’s responses to global problems are focused on the local scale, doesn’t mean they are not based on an understanding of the need for global change, rather they are based on a belief that that is one of the levels that we need to be working at.

I see that the danger for Transition Network, rather than its being co-opted, is the danger of its failing to demonstrate meaningful change, meaningful in terms of its influence on the political system, reduced carbon and increased resillence. These are the criteria against which, in the longer term, Transition should be judged.

Missing the Point.

One of the things the Transition approach does is to catalyse people around the things that they are already passionate about. The authors fail to appreciate the power that this can have. I have seen time and time again in school halls and meeting rooms up and down the country the amazing dynamic that a positive vision of life after oil can unleash.

The degree to which the authors miss the point about what Transition actually is is summed up in their closing section;

“A sure fire way of creating a movement with little impact or potential to be co-opted is to ignore the bigger challenges, what we are trying to transition away from, and to think that it will all be easy and can be left to others to do it for us. This just gets people’s hopes up, and blinds us to the tasks at hand”.

I wonder if anyone reading this who is actively involved in a Transition initiative can identify with this? It certainly doesn’t resonate with me. Just because one isn’t directly confronting the forces of capitalism and corporate power doesn’t mean that one is ignoring the bigger challenges and debates or is being any less effective for it. I don’t know anyone in this movement who “think(s) that it will all be easy and can be left to others to do it for us”. To repeat, Transition is, in essence, a different approach, and may turn out to be the more effective one, only time will tell. It is complementary to more activist approaches, but its rapid spread and the viral nature of the growth in interest in it is due, in part, to its more accessible and engaging approach.


In conclusion, “Rocky Road” is to be welcomed as a coherent and well-meaning critique of the Transition movement. It offers a detailed insight to how the radical left view the movement. However, ultimately its main success is in helping to highlight how, in spite of being motivated by many of the same concerns, the Transition movement and the activist protest movement are, ultimately, distinctly different approaches. In essence the report is the radical activist Left criticising Transition for not being sufficiently like the radical activist Left. I would argue that as distinctly different approaches they are both far stronger for standing on their own ground and by each doing what it does best.

*With thanks to Sharon Astyk for this quote…

Please regard this review as an invitation to debate the issues discussed. Use the comments box below and share your thoughts on ‘The Rocky Road’.


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


15 May 11:31am

What a fantastic debate! As a long-time corporate battler in the US, I have seen both the determination and the humanity of those on the “other side” who ideologically fight against all things environmental, so I suffer some of the same fears. I personally think however, that Transition is about the most strategic thing I’ve seen in a long time. Here’s why:

Power is a subtle thing. Power in the UK is distributed differently now, more networked than hierachical. It rests now more on what Michel Foucault would call “consent” and what Antonio Gramsci would call “accomodation”. In other words, it rests upon the strength of a very powerful dream, that of techno utopia.

But building the foundations of power upon a dream creates the risk that if the dream changes, power dissipates. Thus there is a huge potential for transformation to those who can supplant this dream, or “discursive” power. This process will be different from one in which there is a grand oppressor.

There may be a grand showdown, and this may get pretty hairy. At which point, this new dream will carry us as the cry of equity carried those Bolshevik fighters back in the day. But the new dream may also be seductive enough to create a “bloodless coup” as neoliberalism did over Keynsianismand so perhaps, it can be a win-win situation. Here’s hoping!

Louis Loizou
15 May 12:29pm

I was given this link by Chris Callard of T.B.H. in response to something I wrote myself []having read the Trapese pamphlet (a little unsatisfactorily in pdf format).

I have since read a hard copy more carefully, and my response remains the same. As a new Transitioner I was attracted to the initiative precisely because it was a-political. I have, for some years, perceived that politics is an anachronism – that those of us who have the luxury of existing in political systems that at least allow us to sleep safely in our beds at night, while not perfect and often deeply flawed in terms of social justice and true equality under government, local and national, have outgrown the need for government within a political context. We are no longer children to be dictated to either in the case of personal morality or life-choices at any level.

It is therefore the responsibility of those of us who have this luxury of (relative) freedom, and the luxury to develop ourselves into truly free individuals, to show the way by producing new ways of living that can exist alongside those old ways that are decaying as an inevitable fact.

It is also my perception of many years that politics is no longer politics in the Northern hemisphere but merely economics favouring this group or that.

I used to go to The Cowley Club in Brighton as I managed to meet some good people striving for positive changes there, but also found an element of naive “anarchism” which seemed often to be fuelled by anger and people’s own “stuff” (unfinished psycho-emotional business, usually based in childhood).

I was completely delighted to discover in the middle of a radio interview with a profoundly inspiring relationship counsellor that there was such an initiative as T.T. and Transition Brighton and Hove formed the basis of my next program.

Although T.B.H. is young and struggling with the challenges of being probably 10 times the size of Totnes as well as trying to find its own feet, I feel an honesty, a lack of personal agendas, by vast majority, and an openness to learn and adapt.

Without such open attitudes how could a local initiative even hope to be resilient enough to face all the uncertainties that the future holds?

One of the remarkable facts that I see is that “the shit is hitting the fan” big time right now, economically, the price of oil, food prices, already prohibitive for poorer nations, being driven up by cynical commodity opportunism as well as by the agro-industry’s onsession with biofuels, just as the T.T. initiative is spreading across the UK and the World like wildfire.

It is, however, always later than we think, and therefore I thank you Rob for clarifying this issue (much more compassionately and eloquently than my rather hurried effort) because we do not have the time for fighting. I agree that the time for fighting is long past, that the 21st Century needs to leave the past behind, just as each individual can only grow up if they do likewise (which is why I have joined the Heart & Soul Group).

As a society we need to recall, and allow the feminine way (in women and men)to rise to the occasion once again after being marginalised for 3,000 years.

Bless you for one of the most hopeful initiatives to arise in the North and West this century.

Louis Loizou.

Anna Harris
15 May 12:55pm

This review reflects directly a debate that has been happening in my local area, and also within me, and I’m really gratefull to see it stated so clearly here. The wording that we use in advertising events can easily lean one way or the other to emphasise confrontation or the opportunity to co-operate. We don’t want to play down the seriousness of the situation but equally we don’t want to breed fear and panic. Climate Camp which is happening again this year seems to be trying to marry the 2 approaches. And I have been torn between being attracted to the togetherness of ‘neighbourhoods’ and fear of clashes with the police. Though I admire those who are brave enough to make a stand physically, it’s not something I want to do. More than that it is the beginning of driving a wedge between us and them, the demonisation of certain institutions like Tesco’s, or ‘white middle class males’ which indicates that we haven’t yet rid ourselves of the desire to project blame outwards. We need to be able to acknowledge the humanity of every human being even while recognising their, and our, shortcomings. The means we choose to create a new society will have a profound effect on what we end up with. We want people to act, as Marshall Rosenberg says, ‘not out of fear of punishment, not out of hope of rewards, but because of the natural joy we feel when we contribute to one another’s well being’.

Mike Jones
15 May 1:02pm

A stimulating and timely piece. As someone who has worked in the arena of organisational change for some time, I very much identify with a more enabling approach rather than top-down, or change which is sought by exerting positional power. The principles entailed in the Transition process are much more aligned with natural systems and as such, are in keeping with a desire to move towards a sustainable pattern of living. In addition, the approach allows for people to adopt their own strategies and to experiment with different tactics/strategies. Joanna Macey talks about the need for 3 distinct, but interrelated, types of activity:
1. Direct action / activism
2. The creation of alternative structures and institutions
3. Paradigm shifting – adopting different world views
My experience within Transition Stroud, is that individuals have their own bias (or particular capabilities) and that we are able to weave all 3 types together in a relatively seamless way, albeit with varying degrees of frustration from time to time.
Rob’s point that individuals within business, and various other organisations, are not the enemy – they are the same as all of us, yet are having to operate within structures and cultures that require them to adapt in order to avoid being ‘ejected’. In fact, they are often the really corageous ones as they seek to influence from within (Shambala Warriors if you like).
As we begin to find ways of responding to what willnecessarily be a low-carbon future, we need to be pulling together and to be celebrating diversity and difference -it is from these different perspectives and experiences that true novelty will arise, and the building of greater resilience. It won’t be smooth and orderly, but it certainly will be exciting.
Finally, I offer genuine thanks to Rob for his own (enabling) leadership and commitment.

Jane Buttigieg
15 May 1:23pm

Totally agree. One of the great things about the whole Transition movement is the guilt free, blame free dialogue it encourages. Something I find offputting and even naive in these left wing activist approaches is that they seem to look for an easy ‘blame area’. Such approaches seem to rest on the notion of a cunning elite who will comfortably lock themselves in a gold plated underground bunker for the next 100 years when it all hits the fan. I don’t see it like that. To quote the words of a Bob Marley tune:
“When the rain falls down, it don’t fall on one man’s house”.
A lot of people who are very privileged now will also fall hard as a result of peak oil and climate change. That’s when we’ll be looking each other in the eye and wondering why we didn’t work together sooner. It’s why I don’t shout expletives at people who fly all over the place and drive 4x4s or see them as ‘them’. I’ve got my own carbon footprint so I’d better pull the plank out of my own eye first before confronting imaginary ‘enemies’.
I don’t want to march or shout or put an ‘x’ in a box to vote for a radical enemy basher. That’s easy. I think I’ll go for the harder but more rewarding work of getting really involved in my local community to spread the message of Transition. Really great article, thanks!

15 May 2:01pm

Based on your analysis of the two approaches, it seems to me that the Transition approach has a much greater chance of success than a model based on confrontation. Long experience of working in mental health has taught me that one cannot push somebody to change. No matter how frustrating someone’s behaviour, no matter how stubbornly they seem to be clinging to strategies which are obviously not working, no matter how misguided or illogical their thinking seems, in only a tiny fraction of cases have I found confrontation to be useful. In my experience, confronting somebody, telling them what to think or how they’re wrong, all this leads to retreat, defensiveness, and fear.

I have been most successful in effecting change when I have worked with the reasons why people don’t want to change, and when I have shown them in small steps that they do have power. Once people realise that there are other options and that those other options aren’t terrifying and world-destroying, then they are far more willing to change.

On a different note, in some ways I don’t see the relevance of traditional activism in this area. To survive peak oil (and peak everything else), what is needed is change in every household. Certainly we need to convince the big corporations to clean up their act, stop polluting, give us more eco-friendly options and so on, but that effort will come to naught if individuals aren’t on board. So although traditional protest and activism may have a role, it seems to me that change at a different level is needed, and the transition movement is ideally suited to that, based as it is on enabling individual change.

Finally, you (or somebody above) mentioned that governments follow their people. Irrespective of what governments do, corporations definitely follow the money. at the moment our society is based around consuming. Changing our consumption patterns as individuals is therefore an extremely effective way to change the behaviour of corporations. It isn’t the only way, and traditional activism e.g. writing letters/emails/generally making your voice heard certainly has a role, but shock tactics and aggression probably don’t.

Alice Trapese
15 May 7:02pm

Hi- Unfortunately I’m at CAT, (Centre for Alternative Technology) teaching a module on Environment Politics and Social Change just now so I don’t have time to respond fully to all these interesting points. Initially I would just like to say that its fantastic that these are debates getting out, and I would like to just reiterate that it is my belief that it is by bringing out the controversies, discussions and thorny issues of power that we will all collectively move forward on tackling climate change. My intent is not to ask people to be more like me, or any characterisation of the radical activist left but I’m also sure that we must also listen to the global movements struggling for justice around the world and the global south in particular. Couple of quick things, we are discussing Transition Towns with the students onm the MSC here so I will write up how that goes afterwards. And secondly I am not the best at internet forums I’m afraid, but we are planning to have some face to face discussions, one in Brighton on the 12th May. Sorry that we didnt’t contact you directly Rob, we have been meaning to but we are in touch with lots of people involved with Transition stuff and involved on the periphery ourselves and we are totally committed to having these ongoing discussions. I don’t believe in binary notions of enemies by the way, certainly not as people. Thanks, all the best, Alice

Alice Trapese
15 May 7:05pm

ps, have now got your handbook but wasn’t aware of it before we went to print, sorry about that

Phil Miller
16 May 10:01am

Im loving the debate. Many questions in my mind.

I do think that Rob is right that the transition movement can engage people like nothing else, because it is looking at what we can create in positive ways and taps into people’s own creativity and empowerment. Im involved in the ‘radical left’, and I do find that the things that work most to engage people are the ones that focus on creating new systems (eg Social centres, Food not Bombs, etc) rather than the raw rhetoric of
‘overthrowing capitalism’. I do believe though, that there needs to be an acknowledgement of the issues to do with the latter, and that a direct challenge to the forces destroying our planet is important. I feel that generally we mustn’t be mutually exclusive in our thinking. So taking direct action against an open cast coal mine is as important as working with communities to become more cohesive and sustainable.

The focus on being inclusive of who we involve sounds like a good idea. But we do need to bear in mind that history
can teach us that whenever there’s been an economic crisis (eg. the great depression, and other recessions), the corporate forces will do whatever they can do to hold onto their wealth, and its ordinary people (normally poorer people) who will see the rough end of the crisis. So I do find it hard to believe, that when peak oil hits us hard, the big corporations will really care about those at the bottom of society, and that we’ll all be in the same boat. For me the promising thing about transition initiatives is that its a chance for ordinary people to create our own change.

A hypothetical question: There’s a thriving transition town intiative happening somewhere, building community cohesiveness and working well towards relocalising its economy. Suddenly Tesco theatens to build a big supermarket in the middle of the town – affecting local shops, and bringing in food from the other side of the world. Does the transition group get involved in campaigning against tesco, as it could undo all its efforts and then make things worse?

Look forward to your views

Louis Loizou
16 May 11:53am

I have re-entered the debate just to share something that came up in a conversation. I am involved in something called World Family, and no it’s not some kind of cult, it’s a movement that began in Brighton as a result of the visit here of a Dr. Makuanjola Olaseinde Arigbede, an ex-neuroscientist and teaching doctor from Nigeria, winner of the Steve Biko award and pioneer for some 33 years as a smallholder farmer’s advocate.

He began his work, which may well prove to be a template for many Sub-Saharan African countries and nations, by dropping the comforts of academe and becoming a smallholder farmer himself in the 1970s (1st Interview on my website or go to to learn more)and is now a much sought after authority on Food Sovereignty.

The parallels between the Transition (in contrast to the complementary road of political activist) way and the road he and his fellow farmers have built which I know many millions will travel are striking, and I just wanted to share something he said on the subject of grass-roots work (literally) on the ground as opposed to political activism which was “Get on with your work, but always ensure you know who is holding the knife”.

I believe this simple saying puts the pamphlet in context.

I also wish to explore the question just written by Phil Miller above:

[A hypothetical question: There’s a thriving transition town initiative happening somewhere, building community cohesiveness and working well towards relocalising its economy. Suddenly Tesco threatens to build a big supermarket in the middle of the town – affecting local shops, and bringing in food from the other side of the world. Does the transition group get involved in campaigning against Tesco, as it could undo all its efforts and then make things worse?]

We have this situation looming in Brighton with a large new development in proposal & public debate stages for London Road, in which the developers wish to include a Tesco. We also have a smaller, more manageable version with a Starbucks opening (with or without proper planning permission, which is their strategy towards going from about 650 to 2,000 outlets in the UK)in the bohemian end of Brighton (St. James St & Kemptown) which has no chains at all other than Sussex-based chains in contrast to the over-developed shopping centre nightmares built elsewhere.

I am part of a campaign to try and stop Starbucks from destroying the local character of the area, as will be many individual members of T.B.H., especially later regarding the London Road development which is planned to be very large, but I, and probably other Transitioners, am dealing with this as a private individual coming together with others in a campaign about a particular planning issue. This is separate from the progress of Brighton and Hove towards Transition, still in emergent stages, but in my letters of opposition to the Starbucks presence I have reminded the Council of their agreement to support the TT initiative, and that it includes making the economy more resilient locally as well as food, energy and so on.

At this stage, and possibly even for the larger London Road development including a proposed Tesco’s, I believe the individuals coming together over a single issue is the way to deal with planning applications. Later, as the Council begins to realise (which as far as I am aware in B&H it has not yet) that TT’s are not just some “green feather in the cap” issue separate from their future planning strategies, but must in future be involved in such decision making, then it becomes a matter of consultation.

I don’t know how this issue has been faced elsewhere that is further along the road of Transition – clearly scale has something to do with it as B&H has a population of 265,000 and a constantly swelling population of both tourists and large conferences. I would be very interested to know whether, for example, as in say Racial or Homophobic issues collaborative teams of members of interest groups (Gay, Ethnic etc) with Police and other agencies and with Council representation and support, whether this kind of collaboration which we have had in Brighton on those issues, has been extended to include a kind of Transition Council Liaison Group anywhere in the TT movement or thinking, rather than a confrontation between the usual Council attitudes (which are rarely population-friendly in B&H – e.g. the farce over local waste and recycling here) and activist groups. The Council usually wins.

Is there such a strategy to get the Councils fully on board with all the areas including growing land, alternative local energy sources, waste and recycling and planning for a more local economy? Is that not the way forward – to all be on the same team? To work with the Council whilst knowing that Tesco “holds the knife”?

Jane Buttigieg
16 May 3:15pm

In response to Phil, I might campaign against Tesco, but to be honest would be more likely to boycott them as I am at the moment anyway, and let everyone I talk to know why. I am also far more likely to keep supporting the local food initiatives and make sure the connections between peak oil and the importance of local food were known.

17 May 8:00am

This has been an interesting debate. I think Rob’s response is very good and have very little to add.

Following the debate online and at CAT, I have found myself feeling alienated (and bored) by the socialist rhetorical language of Trapese. It has reminded me how many environmentalists invoke the same feelings amongst ‘non-believers’ in the general population. It is so easy to forget how our own rhetorical language and approach affects others’ attitudes so much more than the information carried by that language.

When we start on about our “carbon footprint” or if we (unconsciously) imply a holier-than-thou attitude in anything we say, it too often just turns people off.

Neil L
17 May 8:05am

Excellent stuff – I can’t believe how quickly things are moving at the moment and great to see all the really interesting debate and questioning going on.

One of the things that really attracted me to get involved with TT is that, based on my experiences of environmental initiatives/action they have struggled to engage with enough people and the social initiatives that I have been involved haven’t given enough, if any, consideration to environmental issues.

The TT movement brings these together to focus on practical solutions to local problems where people can get together and get their hands dirty doing something for the collective good whilst also contributing positively to the global situation.

TT can provide the basis for developing viable, local alternatives to what else is on offer. And this is where the Tesco/Starbucks battle can be one, I believe, because by providing viable, local alternatives to ‘clone town Britain’ people can then exercise their power as to how, where, why and what they consume. I just feel that a lot of places don’t have these viable alternatives at the moment.

So if I do happen to find myself in Brighton (or any other TT) at some point in the future I look forward to drinking locally grown herbal tea in the local, viable alternative to Starbucks!

Graham Burnett
17 May 9:26am

A hypothetical question: There’s a thriving transition town intiative happening somewhere, building community cohesiveness and working well towards relocalising its economy. Suddenly Tesco theatens to build a big supermarket in the middle of the town – affecting local shops, and bringing in food from the other side of the world. Does the transition group get involved in campaigning against tesco, as it could undo all its efforts and then make things worse?

Somehow this question feels like its still stuck in the ‘either/or’ paradigm that TT seeks to break out of… I don’t see the TT movement as a campaigning tool, to me it is more about applied permaculture design on a community scale. It is a completely different tool with a completely different function. Luckily both are available to me.

Perhaps an analogy might be that I don’t use my oven for building the shelves in my kitchen, and I don’t use my hammer and saw for baking bread. But luckily my lifestyle allows me a plurality of mindsets, skillsets and tools that are available to me. Which isn’t to say that their can’t be some beneficail connections where its appropriate – eg, left over wood from the shelves might go into my oven (its a Rayburn), and the shelves will be placed so that I can easily access the things like flour and oil I need to make my bread… Does that make sense?

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see any reason why I can’t be part of Transition Town Westcliff who are trying in our own currently modest way to make the post-peak oil future of our town look something achivevable and desirable, and at the same time be active with Save Priory Park , who are campaigning against a local road building proposal. In a way both concerns have the same ends, ie, less roads in the town, but as a TT activist I wouldn’t see picketing and leafleting local council meetings as a particularly useful way of promoting an EDAP, and as an activist against the road proposal I wouldn’t see holding an orchard celebration day as a particularly effective tactic. The reality is that I might well be involved in both at different times…

Graham Burnett
17 May 9:31am

PS. Three guesses what I should be getting on with in my kitchen this morning rather than involving myself in online debates…

Graham Burnett
17 May 9:43am

PS to Alice – did you get my request for some copies of ‘Rocky Road’ that I made via your website? I filled in the required form but didn’t get an acknowledgement so wondered if it got through OK??

Graham Burnett
17 May 10:49am

Later, as the Council begins to realise (which as far as I am aware in B&H it has not yet) that TT’s are not just some “green feather in the cap” issue separate from their future planning strategies, but must in future be involved in such decision making, then it becomes a matter of consultation.

In my personal experience, this is how the Agenda 21 process felt to me a few years back, ie, Southend Borough Council saw Agenda 21 as ‘green feather in the cap’, and moreover, a green feather they were obliged to wear rather than wore out of choice. From the start the whole thing felt tokenstic and not taken at all seriously, exemplified perhaps by a much trumpeted ‘Ecology Centre’ opened in a local park which in fact was just an old stable block with a few display boards about recycling and wildlife in it, but was never actaully open anyway because they wouldn’t pay to have it staffed.

Furthermore, one of the LA21 steering groups on transport would regularly meet to discuss things like improving bus routes and creating more cycle paths, yet when the major road ‘improvement’ proposal I’ve mentioned in my earlier post above came onto the table it wasn’t seen as up for discussion by the LA21 group, as this was a ‘serious’ local infrastructure matter, not something for the local greenies to put in their four pennorth about…

Im not trying here to rehash old ‘us and them’ arguements about local politics or the failures of LA21 here, but do however have a skeptisism that local and national government may at least initially see the TT movement as a way of doing a bit of green tinkering whist they get on with the ‘proper’ stuff like building more runways and coal fired power stations.

My hope is that TT will not actually allow for such a co-option process as it is a bottom up, grass roots led, inherently inclusive movement rather than something top-down which was basically the case with LA21, but thats not something TT can be complacent about…

As a slightly flippant aside, I’ve sometimes wondered if the kiss of death for LETS was actually that at the time much trumpeted quote from the Daily Mail; “So simple yet so revolutinary its bound to sweep the country”… If the Daily Mail likes it, somethings not right…

Louis Loizou
17 May 11:12am

Graham I do share your concerns, and have had little experience of dealing on a political level. What little I have had, directly dealing with both Councillors and Council employees on a waste/recycling issue, taught me not to trust them at all. They lied and cheated us into a corner and I felt used.

I believe it is the nature of the beast of government to see local consultation as a necessary interruption of their work, because they, of course, know best. This is the problem with politics. Politicians think they know best. That’s why they became politicians.

I am probably being a little premature here in seeking “alliances” with local government, and I know they do not respond well to sharing “their power”. But eventually, faced with the intractable global problems that are bound to upset their outdated notions of “viable solutions” from nuclear power stations to propping up failing banks, they will be glad of the work that has been done. That is the strength of the TT initiatives – they DO offer some solutions.

A friend I knew in the 80s who was a political lobbyist on behalf of NGOs once remarked to me “That’s the thing about the Tory party – they are essentially lazy, so if you offer them a well-worked-out solution on a plate they will grab at it”. I believe that any party shares this now, maybe not just out of laziness but out of a dawning realisation that their mass-consumer party is over – when the governor of the bank of England says as much, they may not need so much convincing.

As TTs grow and flourish they will have to have both documents on the table – their failing model and the viable models TTs will have built in the future. At this point they will not be able to play at tokenism.

I have long believed, at the risk of being thought naive, that government will become an irrelevance – it already is – but they will suddenly look round and find themselves marginalised.

If that’s naive, then naive I am proud to be 🙂

Graham Burnett
17 May 11:22am

“That’s the thing about the Tory party – they are essentially lazy, so if you offer them a well-worked-out solution on a plate they will grab at it”.

I had a boss like that once – the other part of the trick in getting a good idea implemented was to not only offer the well-worked-out solution on a plate, but to also make him think that it was him who thought of it…. 🙂

Louis Loizou
17 May 11:37am

Agreed. Another reason why Rob’s analysis of the Trapese pamphlet is so right. This is what we do with obstinate children, isn’t it? Let them see what doesn’t work for themselves and eventually they will adopt a better way.

“Dear Councillors, your brilliant unanimous acceptance of the Transition Brighton & Hove Initiative in Council Chamber last September was the first step in an historic process of which the Council should be proud….etc.” tee-hee

Graham Burnett
17 May 12:37pm

Following the debate online and at CAT, I have found myself feeling alienated (and bored) by the socialist rhetorical language of Trapese. It has reminded me how many environmentalists invoke the same feelings amongst ‘non-believers’ in the general population.

Hi Andy – Your points about how we engage and use our language resonate with me. were you at the CAT workshop Alice was refering to? I wasn’t so can’t comment but have attended a trapese workshop at last years’s Anarchist Bookfair, and have to say that, along with the DIY Handbook, it was refreshing to see members of the ‘socialist activist’ (probably not actually a very accurate or helpful label) end of the specturm running a workshop that was a genuine attempt at being inclusive, constructive and positive, using methods not a million miles away from the Open Space techniques used by TT, something anarchist rhetoric often talks about, but doesn’t always practice, more often what Jo Freeman once described as the ‘tyranny of structureless’ kicks in and the loudest. most opinionated (usually) men get to dominate. Indeed Trapese themselves have found themseleves at the end of ‘critiques’ from the Anarchist press for their DIY manual for being ‘too positive’ and for ‘liberalism’ like including sections on how to run inclusive meetings! So I was actually a little surprised that despite raising some pertinent issues so much of the ‘Rocky Road’ pamphlet seesm to have missed the point about the Transition Movement.

Graham Burnett
17 May 12:46pm

Oops sorry pressed ‘send’ too soon…

However I do think that the debate is a worhwhile one that needs to be had, and I’m glad its on the table. Some of the Trapese pamphlet certainly articulates some of the skepticisms that have niggled at the back of my mind, and its good to have a space to work through these doubts and maybe bring some rigour to the thinkng behind how TT will or might develop.

Perhaps to dismiss Trapese and the contributions of the radical left with language such as ‘bored’ and ‘rhetroical’ and ‘holier than thou’ is also falling into those very same language and thinking traps?

Blanche Cameron
17 May 2:42pm

I have really been enjoying the debate that this has sparked – so much of the problem around conventional politics is the lack of debate and engagement it has engendered – something like 30% of those who can vote, actually do?

Something I really appreciate about teaching at CAT on the MSc AEES Architecture is the wide range of views and opinions that can be encompassed in it, with plenty of room for discussion and debate.We have also had several inputs from George Monbiot this week, and a debate to follow tonight, led by Paul Chatterton of Trapese and George (GM!). I can’t wait, and I know many of the students are looking forward to it. Machynlleth is an amazing place, and a great place to teach – CAT embodies many of the attributes I enjoy in the TRansition Movement, and also in some of the material and approaches Trapese have been discussing this week.

As is visible on here, our freedom to express our views to each other, and feel comfortable about doing so, and take pleasure in doing so – is a great thing, something to be cherished. These views are not either-ors, as has been expressed above, and a debate of how to move beyond dualities was something keenly expressed by Trapese this week. They certainly have a lot to say about social historical movements, schools of thought, the history of anarchism, and so on, but never denying space for debate or room for alternative viewpoints to be discussed. Perhaps an attempt to appear objective when in fact I think there is a very clear personal take on these issues by Trapese, would be my only criticism. Apart from that, it is a question of opinion.

Ecology is about diversity and so – the more opinions – and the free xpression of them – the better!

On a personal note, I will continue to work around building resilient communities, particularly through teaching, training and my chosen route of Transition Towns. However, I will defend anyone’s desire to explore alternative routes and look forward to meeting them at crossroads along the way: as Trapese has said this week, not left, not right, but ahead. Avanti popoli!

19 May 7:06pm

A few responses have mentioned anarchism so I feel as an anarchist I should respond. Anarchism unfortunately has a serious image problem as reflected in most of the comments above. We have massive problems in communicating our ideas. Most people seem to make their judgments on anarchism based on how they perceive anarchists rather than on their opinion of the idea itself. I think the Transition initiative is a great idea. Of course I have reservations about the inclusion of local government, but that’s not the core issue. The truth, as I see it, is that anarchism has for a long time stood for localization, community, real, participatory democracy, solidarity and economies based on need rather than profit. We share many of Transition’s ideals, but we (spectacularly unsuccessfully!) have been banging on about it for an awfully long time. I think our methods have been inferior to those of Transition initiatives in many ways.

Politics is never irrelevant if politics is the means by which people organize themselves in groups. Anarchism, the political idea, is not about confrontation. It’s very fundamentally about cooperation. A comment above described anarchists the poster met as naïve and stunted emotionally. We’ve been called that forever. Public opinion has called believers in peak oil, localization or climate change naïve and childish too. Idealist of any kind are always open to that charge. Please question your own assumptions before dismissing us so lightly.

26 May 6:58pm

interesting debate!

I have read the Rocky Road and the responses here. Its great to see that so many local intiatives of all kinds are now developing – transition town groups, low carbon village efforts, urban environmental forums, local campaigns against climate change, and many other independent efforts and networks – along with all the traditional environmental and anti-authoritarian groups, campaigns and alternative projects.

Its a movement that has been growing slowly for decades, and is now about to mushroom into a truly global phenomenon..

I have read the Rocky Road and the responses here.
I think we need to help develop a movement which uses all of the suggestions and tactics so far raised in this debate, eg promoting:
– alternatives
– self-education
– empowerment
– protest
– lobbying
– direct action
– reforms
– class struggle
– communication by example
– mass mobilisation
– collective working
– initiative
– consensus
– abolishing capitalism and governments
– creating an anarchist society
– fun
– listening to each other
– debate
– street level organising
– global awareness

and many other things at the same time…

My main activity in my area is encouraging strong and active residents associations taking up a wide range of issues, including sustainability. [My own RA has set up our own local sustainability group].

We in Haringey are also trying to ensure that existing community groups and networks adopt the Sustainable Haringey basic ideas so that there is widespread ownership of the transitional process.

We’ve had a lot of initial such success (since we launched in 2007) – for example getting the support of the local Federation of Residents Associations, Friends of Parks Groups, Trades Union Council, some black and minority ethnic groups, Allotments Forum etc etc…

But we have become a bit stagnant at the moment and are now struggling to work out ways of involving more people actively.

I believe that we all have to somehow help encourage and inspire a genuine mass grass roots movement in every neighbourhood and street throughout the world in which people develop their self-confidence and assert their rights to be in direct control of the decision-making and resources that affect their everyday lives.

If anyone knows any short cut, please let me know – in fact, tell the world!

In reality of course, there may we be no short cuts… but history shows us that huge movements can develop very fast when the time is right…

in solidarity

– involved with Sustainable Haringey

2 Jul 5:58pm


I’ve been waiting for the Trapese pamphlet for ages I’ve I’ve been feeling a lot of what they write about here in Stroud. One of the reasons why others involved in TT groups might not, is that they don’t come from the background of Trapese/Climate Camp/ ‘radical left’ (I would say anarchist, more accurate) activism…

The central problem I have with TT is that all the positive stuff is fine, as long as it is both genuinely positive and combined with an acknowledgement that positive action has its limitations to and negative campaigning is necessary.

I have found a bizarre lack of awareness of the Climate camp and associated efforts within TT, and have found attempts to rectify this largely met with uninterest or vaguely derogatory remarks regarding the pointlessness of ‘agressive’ / ‘confrontational’ / ‘negative’ campainging.

The fact is, most social change in this country and the world has come about through such campaigning – a great example would be the roads protests of the 90’s, or anti-GM… even posts here dismiss negative campaigning as alientating but both these campaigns were anything but.

Such campaigns are necessary because tho some are turning around (and yes, more will do so when the shit hits the fan) there are DEFINATELY those out there whose aim in life is selfish, who have no concern for the environment or others and will resort to all sorts of nasty ways to protect their wealth at the expense of others.

Transitioners seem to assume this will change once peak oil hits, but inital responses don’t hint this will be the case. We are seeing rises in gated communities, the government is still stuck transferring wealth from poor to rich and spending enormous amounts on ‘defense’. Someone tell me how Transition initiative are going to stop our Government going to war for more oil?

I agree with the authors of the report that Transition initiatives are valuable, but I do fear that they are in serious need of research into social movement history, and serious thought about the dangers of co-option and being proud of limited successes.

This brings me back to the beginning where i mentioned about positive initiatives needing to be genuinely positive. I am really worried about the energy many transition towns etc are putting into projects that are not genuine solutions. local animal farming is still a disaster for many reasons, for instance. car clubs are similarly not really going to be that useful once peak oil really hits (car sharing is even more dubious), encouraging local economies is great, but encouraging local consumerism is almost as dodgy as normal consumerism… i could go on, but i’m not trying to dismiss everything or be overly negative, just to point out a danger i see in the transition movement – that of pushing for less radical changes than are needed, and being too self-congratulatory about small changes when they occur…

There’s also an internal problem of how decisions get made. Althrough Transition isn’t top-down, it is really lacking awareness of effective techniques for non-hierarchical organisation, an essential part of a truly cooperative, community movement. (and talking of elitism, what was with the charges for the Conference in Cheltenham – talk about inaccessible for the poorer sections of our communities!)

To conclude, I’ll probably stay involved with Transition Stroud, and believe it can help us in the struggle against peak oil and cliamte change, but really I’m far more inspired but the possibilities for change presented by the Climate Camp movement – which appears to have a much more realistic concept of both the changes needed and the strategies that will be required to prevent total catastrophe..

Cheers, good to see the debate taking place.

19 Jul 12:46pm

I’m truly trying to like the two-prong approach but……
Class. We all have to deal with climate chaos, true. But the rich have always dealt with problems at the expence of those of us who do the actual work. Think eg the acceleration of oil prices in the 70s. Think the smashing of the Unions in this country that duly followed. Think the massive increase in income for the already-rich. Think the blaming of the poor for “overpopulation” and etc. Think the increasing floods in Bangladesh, droughts in Africa etc. Even working class white North Americans are getting worse off. But the rich are getting mind-bogglingly richer. “Let’s all work together” sounds great. But really?

21 Jul 11:38am

I’ve written a response to this on my blog, I spent quite a long time writing and re-writing it so maybe someone will read it!

23 Jul 12:57pm

yes, humans can be treated with love and confrontational aproaches could be sometimes useless (only sometimes) … but do you think big corporations and global institutions are totaly monitored by the people in charge? I think that this institutions have a dynamic that overcome the humanity of those with “a family at home”. Can you be a bussiness man at a big corporation and ignore the mandate to permanent growht and constant generation of benefits? No, you can’t not, for example because of competence…

(sorry for my english, i’m from Barcelona!)


28 Jul 10:28am

I would like to point out that The Rocky Road to Transition is not a summation of the activist protest movement. It is Alice’s and Paul’s opinion. This is important because this document in no way represents the views of many people who are part of the protest movement, starting for example with me – active in Transition Town Brixton and at Climate Camp. The other main person at TTB (Duncan Law) is also an activist, and we both see the strategies as complementary.

A publication like this needs to be based on a much better understanding of the movement it is attempting to critique. The left has traditionally done a fantastic job of uniting its enemies and dividing its friends. I would not like to see the RRTT creating unnecessary divisions within the environmental activist movement, based on a lack of experience of the Transition Movement.

17 Aug 6:16pm

I think the main criticism of TT is that its rejects the lived reality of most people around the planet under capitalism, and is completely a historical.

“Yes there are tremendously powerful global forces at work, doing appalling things with increasing boldness, but they function as such because, in many cases, we have given them, consciously or unconsciously, the power to do so. The individuals involved in those global forces are locked into them just like everyone else and there is nothing to be gained by demonising them. There is also always the danger that by adopting demonising, depersonalising approaches means that there is a risk that we do whatever it takes to bring about the change we want, rather than modelling, through our daily lives, the kind of change we want to see”

It really hard to avoid making the piont that this statement could only come from someone with litle interaction with any real power over them. Sure i get the power over/power too duality.

Lets be clear, TT will be successful so long as it doesnt challenge the status quo in any real or meaningful way. Capitalism will absorb it, but if anyone is under the illusion that the rich and powerful elite willwake up some day and see that their power has been robbed from under there noses by a network of TT is either dillusional or dishonest or hasn’t really thought about it.

There are lot of validity in some of the rhetoric of TT, but it makes me blush when i here it supporter describe anarchists as ‘niave’.
Can anyone else the spot crossover of two of the significant misnomers of UK activism.
“That a life of ahistorical individual actions (however they might seem to be linked together)devoid of any understanding of capital, power, pedagody culture and resistance can ever take the place of though out political collectivity and action” Of course change starts with us but its a bit of an ego jump to then think that can all collectively work on transforming society, but dont mention capital-socail relationship etc. these are essentially vision as lots of Euro activist projects around place, full of good intent, full of fervour, but no recognition of the need for a clear critique of whats causing the problems, where tension lie etc. Everyone gets caught up in makin g themselves what is essentailly, a nice place to live.

If i could ever think of a good way of stopping people getting involved with the idea and practice of making meaningful radical change in society, id make sure a very non threatening, green tinge feel good, non political and overly permissive movement was at the lead making a rallying call. make poverty history was neutralised by Bono and Geldof…are we to repeat the mistake of unchallenging and resisting those at the center of empire, so long as our own project can keep running.

When the oil is running out, and say you have the land to grow food, whose gonna protect it when they come looking for it? Who really hold power? avoiding conflict( and i really hate conflict but know that it is part of the deal, just the same as having hope is part iof the deal)is like the school kid who sits in the corner afraid to contradict the teacher even though he knows teacher is wrong. The threat is enough to force us to unconsciously find dispersal activities.

Anyone who comment that there is an end to left versus right might have some validity since the collapse of actually exist socialism and the move of most former revolutionary groups across europe’s move to social democracies, however this does invalidate ideas. We either support equality and democracy and work/organise/struggle to that end, which by definition means understanding what makes up the relaionships that shape explotation and injustice and climate change etc.(here its pretty hard not to avoid the obvious role of capitalism deforming characteristic, patriarchy, nationalism etc) To be involved in transistion you need to know not just where you want to go, you need to know where you are and to that end you need history (local and global) and you need to take yourselves seriously politically (not po faced or anything but with genuine revolt for those that hold and shape power and welath for themselves) anything else is like religion, brilliant for individual comfort and useful, but ultimately a cover for respondsiblity and collectivity

19 Aug 10:12pm

With so many TT groups still in embrio form, all this high debate seems overwelming and unhelphul. TT will bring many new people to a place where they create changes they wish to see. People of all ages, class, and backgrounds. What they do and say and create is up to them. Each group is unique, a sum of it’s parts – all unique people. If a TT group want to chain themselves to powerstation, that’s up to them. If not, that’s ok too.

Why all this dogma and infighting? You can bet the heads of Exxon dont waste time aguing about the true nature of capitaism, they wake up early each morning, shave, put on a suit and set about screwing the planet. Whatever our response to Peak Oil and climate change, we should support eachother and learn from eachother – at the climate camp or the village hall.

(I’m bored of this debate already, Can we move on?)

Larry Saltzman
20 Aug 12:29am

When I studied systems theory as applied to human beings in college. I learned a profound maxim. “The attempted solution is the problem” Time and time again in dysfunctional families and organizations people would try the same solution over and over again with the same disasterous results. As in if I spank or belittle my child often enough I will get them to change. For decades now the attempted solution for environmental issues has been to confront the “bad guys”. While there have been some successes using this approach on the whole the ecology of the planet continues in its downward trend. that is why Transition Town is so important. It is an attempt in systems terms to break the cycle of attempted solutions and approach changing the system in an entirely different way.

I believe with Rob Hopkins that empowering people to make the the positive changes at a local level that will change the system. Every person who grows part of their food, and takes other positive actions to change how we collectively live, is striking a blow against the entrenched system in a powerful and new way.

Currently in the city where I live, Santa Barbara California, a group of dedicated environmentalists is fighting the bad guys to stop the use of pesticide. They are trying to change laws locally and at the State level to allow local authorities to regulate pesticide use. I intend to propose as part of a Transition Town effort that we also engage in providing people with the gardening skills and knowledge so that they have the confidence to not use pesticide. That is a simple example of “re-skilling” the population and handling them a positive solution instead of imposing laws and creating fights. If the majority of the population no longer feels that they need pesticides, the “bad guys” have lost their market and the laws don’t matter as much.

Ben Brangwyn
20 Aug 12:10pm


Brilliant comment. I was having a discussion with a transition group that are facing the prospect of ASDA supermarket coming into town and there’s a debate around whether the transition people ought to get involved.

I think it’s crucial that any protest has a flipside – a group working towards something that will render the offending institution redundant. If we take the local food subject to its logical conclusion, there’s no place for supermarkets with their hi-carbon, lo-resilience supply model. They’ll either transform or die.

The transformation will need to be something like this:
a) dig up the carparks
b) put the land into a community trust
c) encourage community supported growing
d) open up their retail space as an undercover market.

How likely is that? Not very, you may think. But what if the long distance food model falls apart quickly, their business model fails and the local authority compulsorily purchases the land under the “food security” measures? Some of these things could change much much faster than we can envisage…

Dan Dashnaw
25 Jan 1:25am

Rob’s response is metaphysical, middle class, and vain. Unless TT developes a sophisticated political awareness it will become just another problem. If you don’t recognize that the idea that all power flows from the people is false, then you in dire need of education.

25 Jan 10:13pm

You don’t need a a sophisticated political awareness to change your life and your community. You patronising know it all.

Dan Dashnaw
26 Jan 1:48pm

I have a real problem with this shallow response. Auden wasn’t thinking about the non-existence of the state when he fought in the Spanish civil war. As for the Zapatistas, they have fought pitched gun battles to defend their communities. Like it or not, the transition movement is going to have to craft a more sophisticated approach to entrenched elites than the metaphysical fog of “we give them our power”. When resources are in short supply-do you really think that the neo-liberal regime is going to “immagineer” themselves out of power? Look, it’s OK to say that there are areas of labor, capitalism, and economics that are not worked out yet in the Transition Movement. I have a problem with the Trapese critique in that it doesn’t acknowledge that TI is still so small that it has not yet come into abrasive contact with TPTB. But it will. And if TI ignores the big issues of social justice , it will not be destroyed, it will be subsumed into a conventional, capitalist, middle-class, white,”liberal” paradigm. We will power down. On the backs of the Third World. And nothing will have changed.

Dan Dashnaw
26 Jan 1:53pm

Henry, I’m trying to have a discussion. You are resorting to ad hominem attacks. I have a real concern. If we are all connected, then we need to at least approach issues of social justice, class,and power. Calling me a patronizing know it all will not silence me or quell this discussion

26 Jan 3:39pm

I wasn’t trying to silence you. Just to point out how patronising it is to suggest that noboby in the TI has a sophisticated understanding of politics. And that those without a deep political understanding of the nature of capitalism, can’t make valuable, lasting changes to their community.

It’s this elitist approach accounts for why nobody has heard of the Trapese Colective yet TI gets on the Archers. Of course TI wont smash the State. Nobody said it would or should.

26 Jan 3:40pm

very bad english, sorry!

Dan Dashnaw
26 Jan 4:39pm

I’m sorry to for being so strident. it’s my own fault that you did not understand me. And I would like to apologize also for the harsh tone of my first comment. I can’t have it both ways. I can’t urge a discussion if I start out so rudely. Let me try again. There are, obviously, a great many people in TI with “sophisticated understanding”. It’s apparent to me that many of the people who commented here are thoughtful and progressive. What was I was trying to say is that the entrenched elites can not be ignored by metaphysical sleight of hand. I think that Rob’s response to Trapese was not sufficiently thought out. And that’s OK. But to argue that we have the power to imagine ourselves into a positive future, and bring along TPTB is more damaging than saying: “Yes there are entrenched interests. Some of them have the resources and the power to resist us. We will have to engage them at some point. Sunlight is a powerful dis-disinfectant. It would be as foolish to take TI into a leftist “smash the state” mode as it is to assume that we will blissfully transcend all resistance by “being the change”. We need to consider what Louis said; “Get on with your work, but always ensure you know who is holding the knife”. How do we do that? Lets remember that the impending economic collapse might throw a lot of TI activists out of their conventional jobs. A fight for economic survival could drain resources from TI, as we find ourselves halfway between trying to survive in a dying neo-capitalist regime, and birthing a sustainable future. The issues of labor, models of resource ownership, how work is organized, and how how money works on a local level are vital questions. We would benefit from thinking about the assumptions we have about these issues in the context of economic collapse. What will “work” look like? What will be the relationship between capital and labor? How will we understand social justice? Before we lose our “energy slaves” they will become profoundly expensive. The re-skilling will happen in an economic context. We can chose to keep the old one as a default. Then, most likely, our great-grand children will probably have to start their on TI as the inequities of an unchallenged capitalist system inevitably gives rise to a new green elite.

Dan Dashnaw
26 Jan 4:58pm

“Transition is determinedly inclusive and non-blaming, arguing that a successful transition through peak oil and climate change will by necessity be about a bringing together of individuals and organisations, rather than a continued fracturing and antagonising.”

Here is the problem.
When I was getting my MS in Labor Studies, one of my research profs was discussing how labor think tanks get funding for research. ” We get money from the Ford Foundation, and a few others foundations set up by DWM (dead white male) capitalists.”
“Do they control your research?” I asked.
“Oh, no” she sighed . “If they approve a research project they never interfere.”
“Yeah, there’s a few topics the told us they would never fund research for”
“Such As?”
“Minimum wage issues”
There is such a thing as being too inclusive. Too non-blaming. There is such a thing as being subtly controlled. Of being co-opted. Especially in the area of funding. Does TI inclusiveness mean that they will accept any grants from any institutions with any strings attached? Is TI transparent about where its funding comes from? The people screwing up the planet right now have names and addresses. Are we welcoming them and their money into TI?

John Hoggett
19 Feb 11:25pm

It seems to me that to tackle peak oil and climate change we need change on the level of revolution, whether you think of that at political revolution or technological revolution.

We need a total transformation in the way energy is used produced and used in the whole world and this is needed quickly. We also need to adapt to the changes climate change will bring in a fair way.

In the UK we probably need a zero carbon energy policy.

A lot of the solutions to climate change and peak oil can only be bought about by government (a new transport infrstructure, massive investment in new energy generating technologies, stringent informcement of energy use in buildings, compulsory resinsulation of housing stock, the changes in agriculture policy to encrouage local food production).

I think that this can only be bought about by building a mass movement. There are people with theories of non-voilent change on this level, here is a link to one of the most well known devoted to the work of Gene Sharp. They have researched and advised on non-violent struggle around the world.

We need a conversion plan for a zero carbon britain that is fair and just. I’d like to see a movement that calls for this.

The transition town movement is using community development methods to discuss, plan and hopefully inplement energy descent on local levels. Trapese, from what I remember of them, use participatory education to discuss and plan actions around anti-capitalist/anarcho/eco activist struggles.

Both use particpatory education/community development models of organising, but no one, as far as I can see is calling for a mass movement that calls for a just transition for the UK, never mind the whole world. To creat the force necersarry to bring about the changes in government policy that is needed to tackle these issues a huge force is needed. Such a movement would probably need to be democratic in its organising (and therefore probaly use sinilar techniques to the ones Trapese and Transition Towns use) and form coalitions with unions, church groups, development groups, anti-poverty campaigners, peace campaigners, residents groups, student groups etc etc. Because coalitions are the way political force is built up.

I see many initiatives in the town I live amongst lots of groups on climate change these days but no one is pulling them together to create a well thought out strategy and concerted actions.

It would have to analyse what the blocks to implimenting a just conversion plan would be and tackle them. The techniques used by trapese and transition towns could just as well be used to decide how to tackle government departments as anything else.

Open space on possible allies in a UK climate mass movement anyone? Fishbowl on strategy on tackling the Department of Transport?

The last time I saw a popular, sutained, mass movement in the UK was against the Poll Tax, yet the changes needed to tackle climate change are much bigger than that. This is the sort of movement I want to see.

21 Mar 1:22pm

Mr. Danshaw might be pleased to note that the NRA recently bragged that gun sales are skyrocketing in the US. Also, militia survivalists will soon be returning from the borders and Iraq. This is good, no doubt, they can protect us against the United Nations. LOL.

Local Self Reliance, self determination, community resilience is not a new idea, so some of the criticisms being hurled seems non-productive or irrelevant. Either an activity is post petroleum relocalization or it is not – or perhaps a useful shade of transitional grey. How can it be accused of being white middle class? Co opting is always a danger, and as we GO LOCAL we will also find that corruption is just as possible in small town as it is on corporate high rises.

Speaking of co-opting, how about Republicans latest redefinition of McCarthyism? ugh?

There are several things we can do RIGHT NOW to radically cut down oil use. Eat Vegan, grow food, change lights, reduce auto use, car pool, use rapid transit. Our consumption habits can achieve some production changes.

How about these activists who eat meat, drive all over the planet and never change their lights? Right now millions of people are throwing out CFLs due to mercury scare, and re installing old bulbs.