Transition Culture

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

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

5 Sep 2008

Responding to Various Critiques of Transition

Critiques of Transition come in all shapes and sizes, and are often fascinating.  In the US, Robin Mills recently described it as “mistaken, appalling and dangerous” (one of my favourites) and Jim O’Neill, Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs, recently said on the Business Daily Show on BBC World Service that he had just read a book by a Californian with no geological or economic background (that’s me apparently…) calling for Transition economies, and stated that he had never read such rubbish!  It has been intriguing in recent weeks to follow the various, and largely more coherent debates and discussions that have emerged in the wake of the Climate Camp, and also as the discussions about Transition that the Trapese Collective’s ‘Rocky Road’ document stimulated have rumbled on.

A recent piece from Peace News by Kelvin Mason entitled When Climate Camp Comes Home, drew on his reflections as an activist who attended previous Climate Camps and also as someone with an involvement in Transition Aberystwth, raising many of the issues that various other critiques have also explored.  I want to explore some of the key themes these various pieces raise in their critiques of Transition.  I will also make reference to Sophy Andrews’ review of Transition Handbook that appeared in the latest Land magazine.

Mason quotes me, from my review of what he calls Trapese’s ‘detailed critique’ (although it is to be remembered that it was written by neither reading the Transition Handbook, nor talking to anyone involved), as saying that Transition initiatives and the radical deep green left are ‘far stronger for standing on their own ground and by each doing what it does best.’ He interprets this as being me saying that “the approaches begin stronger for being isolated from each other”. This is a misinterpretation of what I said.  I never spoke of isolation.  Also interesting is what Mason says about the Climate Camp, which echoes Ewa Jasiewicz’s piece about George Monbiot, writing that those who attended the Camp have

“experience of organising and building a socially, technologically, environmentally, and educationally viable community from scratch … instead of policing our society, we had the irresistible Tranquillity Team in pink cowboy hats; we held workshops on everything from building compost toilets through climate change to citizenship; we generated our own renewable energy, met our own needs…”.

Let’s start from the beginning. I don’t believe for a moment that we will navigate a way through peak oil, climate change and the end of economic growth without both the positive solutions and proactive responses which engage people in the possibilities inherent within creative responses that give them a sense that they are making history, and without non-violent direct action when it comes to stopping the more insane responses it generates from government, i.e. coal, nuclear and airport expansion. That much is clear. I also don’t believe that Government and other institutions will vanish overnight; we need proactive responses wherever we can get them from, from international agreements to national policy to a regeneration of regional politics and engaged and dynamic local communities. I don’t believe that any one of these things on their own will do it.

As Monbiot argues, there are elements of the process of radical decarbonisation that we simply can’t do at a community level, such as reforms of public transport infrastructure and stringent carbon emissions agreements. At the same time, there is a great deal that can only be done at the local level in terms of the redesign of neighbourhoods, the creation of community gardens, the spectrum of activities we can already see Transition groups engaged in. Something like carbon rationing can only come from Government, but Transition initiatives can develop a momentum for it locally, an identification of it as one of the key strategies required in order for their local transition to be possible.

That’s one of the reasons why Transition Network is increasingly finding itself invited to work with Local Authorities, large organisations and businesses, and why the fact that The Transition Handbook was the 10th most popular book MPs took on holiday with them this summer is so fascinating. Trapese pour scorn on this, arguing that such institutions will never change and are inherently flawed, but I would respond that such institutions will have to change, and at present they have no idea what to do. We have so much to do, and so very little time, that to me it feels more skilful to engage at all levels, to look at what the twin aims of radical cuts in carbon consumption and the rebuilding of resilience will look like at each level.

This is why Somerset County Council’s recent decision to become a Transition Council is so fascinating, as it recognises that it is the communities themselves that are doing this, and that their role as a Council is to support that. Part of the resolution commits the Council “to providing support and assistance to all towns in Somerset that wish to join this initiative to help them achieve the goals they set for themselves as local communities”.

What I question strongly in Mason’s piece, and in the Trapese document, is the skilfulness of bringing the confrontational activism and the positive, solutions-focused (or what Sophie Andrews dismissively terms ‘fluffy’, stating that many of the tools used “do my head in”) approach emerging so vigorously through Transition initiatives together explicitly. Mason writes “surely a strong environmental movement requires solidarity not isolation?” Absolutely, but two friends can be close friends without sharing a flat or going everywhere together… and indeed they are stronger and more effective as people as a result.

Mason assumes that solidarity is needed between the 2 approaches he approves of – Climate Camp and Transition – but my sense is that what we want to see is solidarity between not only these 2 but lots of other approaches too. Hence my writing in my review of ‘Rocky Road’ that “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”. My point is that both approaches are more skilful for standing on their own distinctive ground, being skilful about what they make implicit and what they make explicit, as well as reaching out far far beyond the usual suspects.

As Monbiot stated in his response to Jasiewicz, Climate Camp is Climate Camp, and the world outside it is the world outside it. Just because a mode of organisation, and the wonderful demonstration of consensus decision making and respectful organisation works in that context, doesn’t mean it is automatically transferrable to people who aren’t already interested or involved in the discourse.

For me, a lot of what I disagree with that Trapese and Mason argue for comes down to language and perception. I learnt a great deal about this the hard way, trying to develop an ecovillage project in deep rural West Cork. I remember holding a public meeting to announce the project we were clearly very excited about, having put a great deal of time, organisation and research into it, telling sceptical locals that we were going to build low energy ecological buildings and grow organic food, only to be met by folded arms, suspicious looks and “What’s wrong with my house? What’s wrong with my farm?” I had never encountered this before, and it took me very much by surprise.  We were out of step, somewhat arrogant and completely oblivious to the fact.

However, I would argue that those of us who are happy at a Climate Camp, (which I wholeheartedly support by the way), and who assume it offers a replicable model for the rest of society, are being very naive in assuming that this model, because it is ‘right’, will convince everyone else that there is a better way to do things. Like my former neighbours in Ireland, most people see a bunch of activist troublemaker hippies, whose arguments have little or no relevance to their everyday lives. As we enter deeper and deeper into the post-credit crunch, zero growth world, and people’s priorities shift increasingly to keeping the roof over their heads, this will only increase.

What Transition tries to do, is to realise that our only hope of getting through the next 20 years lies, as I have written elsewhere, in a wartime mobilisation scale of response, one which draws together business, community groups, educational establishments, local authorities, church groups, pensioners and so on. And I’m sorry, but “Tranquility Teams in pink cowboy hats”, delightful though they may be, are really best left at Climate Camp if we want this to happen.

We have to be so aware of how what we say and how we say it come across. In ‘The Transition Handbook’ I quoted Eric Stewart;

“It seems to me that permaculture houses two virtually polar impulses: one involves removal from larger society; the other involves working for the transformation of society. While the case can be made that removal from the larger society represents action that is transformative of society, I believe that there is an imbalance within the cultural manifestation of permaculture that has favoured isolation over interaction. The cultural shift we need depends on increasing interaction to increase the availability of the resources permaculture offers.”

I think the same can be said for much of the alternative/protest movement. We take up a position outside of mainstream culture, use language, dress codes, behaviour and forms of protest which at best bewilder and at worst enrage mainstream society, yet we expect them to see the error of their ways and the validity of ours and embark on a radical decarbonisation. What failed to come through in Mason’s piece, and in the Trapese piece, was any sense of humility, any sense that the answers might be found anywhere other than in their fondly held beliefs. It is the difference, as identified in Motivational Interviewing, between Information Dumping and Information Exchange. We don’t have all the answers, we never have and we never will.

Another strand that Monbiot challenged which I agree with is the argument, put forward in Sophie Andrews’ review, that Transition is doomed to failure because it fails to state that the root cause of climate change is capitalism, and without getting rid of capitalism any actions we take would be a waste of time. I feel strongly that this is an absurd statement. We are where we are, we are surrounded by the world we are surrounded by, and our neighbours are our neighbours. They don’t walk around in pink cowboy hats, and they don’t want to remove capitalism from their lives thank you, although there are many issues they are concerned about which may be quite different from those that concern us.

I recently saw an interview with the comedian and activist Robert Newman, for whom I have the deepest admiration, who stated that we cannot address climate change without radical social change. In that case, we have had it. We’re toast if that is a pre-requisitive for us getting going on solutions to this vast problem. Ewa Jasiewicz makes much the same point as Newman;

“Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the “solution”, we need a revolution”.

If we hamstring ourselves to the extent that we don’t believe we can do anything effective until capitalism has met its demise first at the hand of a revolution, then we give away such a great deal of power that we become, in effect, marginalised and useless. Three years ago, that point of view may well have argued that we need to direct our collective energies to campaigning against the airline industry, against the economic growth model, against increases in road transportation, against the construction industry, and indeed many people did. Now all of the above are in freefall, kicked sideways by a recession which is the first recession in history underpinned by an energy peak, one whose effects we are only starting to feel. Radical social change is here and it is happening, and society is like a rabbit in the headlights, being told by economists and politicians that it is a temporary blip, that it will all turn around, and that we just need to grin and bear it for a couple of years and all will be well, but increasingly questioning whether it might actually be best to leap out of the glare of the headlights altogether.

Andrews is critical that the Transition Handbook contains no references to the word ‘capitalism’… I don’t explore that in the book because I don’t think it would have added a great deal. What I would have included more about, had I managed to do sufficient background reading in advance, would have been to explore the area of Affluenza, the myth of economic growth, and the psychology of that. Indeed, perhaps Transition needs to make more of that, as it is a fascinating analysis that is increasingly resonant with people. Actually, to argue that Transition is not a radical idea is a misinterpretation, I feel. I would argue that it is more radical to set up a complementary currency scheme which involves local businesses and growers as it is to critique the evil stranglehold of the supermarkets.

Andrews also criticises Transition for being excessively middle class, and asks “where are the black people in Transition?” This is not an issue exclusive to Transition. Where are the black people at Climate Camp, in the Trapese Collective, among the readership of ‘The Land’, in the Green movement as a whole? Transition is still very young, but the issues Transition encounters around language, and how we communicate these issues in such a way as to be inclusive and appealing to the diversity of society, are universal challenges, not exclusive to Transition. Time will tell, and I often state that in essence, Transition is a simple idea and a simple set of tools, which is being tried and tested in a huge diversity of settings, geographic, cultural and economic, and we try and draw from that experience and see what works. It is by no means fully formed. We are very aware of this, and are actively working at it, we’ll see what emerges.

Mason makes a few points which are just a misreading of what Transition is about. He writes “on a cautionary note, if the Transition movement concentrates on peak-oil because it’s easier to frame in terms of people’s self-interest, then this global sense of responsibility may not manifest”. This is why Transition initiatives focus on both peak oil and climate change, as well as increasingly on the credit crunch and the zero growth economy. It is likewise a nonsense to state that “Transition needs to harness the creativity of climate camps”… that somehow all the creative engagement tools are being developed outside Transition. I think he needs to get out and visit other Transition initiatives a bit more.

A look at the current TTT programme shows Transition Tales storytelling workshops with local standup comedians and poets, films made by local schoolchildren about Totnes in 2030, storytelling events, drama, innovative ways of debating issues that avoid polarisation, Open Space days among others. We are about to embark on an international collaborative film, inviting people to document a period in the life of their Transition initiative for inclusion in a film. These all strive for maximum engagement from across the community, finding ways in for people with a variety of interests.

For me, an important issue is about what is implicit within Transition and what is explicit, as well as what we gently nudge people towards working out for themselves, rather than being told this is how it is. That’s why Transition, to me at least, appears to work, because it strives to be powerful and inclusive at the same time – we’re very clear that we need to set out on the journey to a truly sustainable world beyond oil (as well as articulating why we need to) but we don’t say “this is where we’ll end up” – we invite everyone to join us in navigating. One of the principles of Transition as set out in the Transition Network Structure Document is “Help People Access Information and Trust Them to Make Good Decisions”. When your home is threatened with repossession due to the credit crisis, the last thing you want to hear is someone telling you that it is due to the failings of Western Industrial Capitalism.

I agree very much with Mason when he writes;

“Working with Transition Aberystwyth is tough, tougher in a way than standing one’s ground against a giant oncoming member of the Caterpillar family or escaping a police kettle. Transition calls for a different set of virtues: patience, tolerance, perseverance… Above all perseverance. Transition isn’t glamorous or romantic, it’s a slog – more Sisyphus than Achilles: (re)forming community, building capacity to engage with lack of awareness, apathy, complacency, fear, hostility, bureaucracy, inertia…”

I would also add that it also requires compassion, humility and an absence of expectation what we are going to be welcomed as heroes, or even welcomed at all. We have to go to people where they are at, rather than expecting them to come to use just because we’ve been to Climate Camp. To restate, I think it is entirely sensible that Transition initiatives focus on the positive, in a sea of doom and gloom that is one of the key things that seems to attract people. There are, of course, many overlaps between the two. Many people from Transition projects attended Climate Camp, and many of them are also involved in various campaigns. Mason’s piece shows the perspective of someone whose life is committed to both methods of action. In many individuals’ lives, these two perspectives complement each other, but we need also to be mindful of those for whom the explicit association of the two things is a distinct turn-off. If we are to be successful, we need people to be more than just informed and angry about the issues, we need people to be hungry for a low carbon future they can see in their minds-eye, and which keeps them awake at night with the thrill of its possibilities.

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


Finn Jackson
5 Sep 9:04am

This blog moves me to say a number of things.

The first is the obvious quote from Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

The second is something I once heard Schumacher’s widow quote him as saying: “If you want to make dinosaurs extinct, don’t waste your time fighting dinosaurs — just build a gazelle!”
(Or perhaps a breeding pair of gazelles! :o) …which is why it is important for Transitions not to operate in isolation…)

Climate change and peak oil are not things in themselves. They are both symptoms (outputs) of weaknesses in the human “geopolitical” system we have created. If we had had a different system then these things would not have happened. (At least not in the way they now are.)

The people who attack “Transition” understand this> They understand (consciously or unconsciously) that if these two Symptoms are going to be addressed, then the whole system is going to have to change. And that scares them. Perhaps simply because they are afraid of the unknown, afraid of the dark, afraid of change.

Mirroring our overall (systemic) lack of respect for the Planet is an underlying lack of respect for each other. This is what Rob’s blog talked about the other day: “the utterly bloody rudeness of everyday life.”

So, if we want to change the way we relate to the planet (at the macro level), we will have to change the way we relate to each other (at the micro level).

That is what we see Rob (and others) saying when they describe the non-coercive, cooperative, mutually-supportive ways of setting up Transition Initiatives. And that is why this approach is so important.

If we can do that successfully at the micro level, then we have the chance to repeat it successfully at the macro level.

And it doesn’t really matter what other people say about Transition. What matters is what we do within it.

All things are connected, and we are all part of one big system.

So to close with Gandhi again, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Jane Buttigieg
5 Sep 10:08am

This is a really great article which I’m sure will generate many comments over the next few weeks. I think that the ultimate success of the Transition movement to communities on a large scale will depend on how accessible we make the language.
Why aren’t black, working class or any other under represented groups strongly presented in green, socialist or other radical groups, fighting for change? I believe that until now a lot of it has been the language and the general publicity used, rather than the relevance of the message.
Would anyone struggling to make ends meet on a low income feel inspired on the way home from a hard days slog by a badly put up poster with an image of a large fist and wording about international workers revolutions? I think not. I recently saw a sticker on a lamp post in the St Werburghs area of Bristol declaring ‘Global warming is your fault’. Great. Nicely inspiring that.

Thankfully the Transition movement is not on that route at all, but I do feel that a lot of language modification will be necessary in order to make the messages put across relevant to people’s lives. Some of the wording frequently used in Transition will not make it easy for people to engage with it. Putting up a poster with a question regarding how to make a community more vibrant, resilient and sustainable may work in some areas. In others it will be about as useful as the poster of the fist declaring international workers’ revolutions as the only way forward.

Relevance to people’s lives and language they can relate to is key. This is not about being patronising. Sure people can look these word up if they feel so inclined, but if they have busy lives it would be far better to speak in immediately accessible terms rather than making them bring out a thesaurus every time we want to make a connection with them.

What is happening to people in their lives right now is a good opportunity for connections to be made. High food, fuel, energy bills etc are something everyone feels. This moment could really be ripe for the Transition movement to get into areas previously unreachable with messages put forward in a language everyone can understand about why this is happening to us, and, very crucially, what can be done about it.

One example of how this could be done would be through community Transition projects advising people on home or community building insulation as a measure against high energy bills. If Transition groups were to get involved in this, it would be giving people something really useful and would provide a joint opportunity to give them information in the form of talks and literature about why it is happening and what other effects it might have on their lives and what measures can be taken at community level to bring about possible solutions. Not a clenched fist or radical jargon in sight, but a way to get people to connect international scenarios with what is happening to every aspect of their lives and take empowering action.

One of the beauties of Transition is it’s lack of self righteousness in it’s departure from ‘us and them’ visions. Let’s look for every way possible to speak in plain language so that the boundaries between ‘us and them’ can be further removed.

By the way, the Trapeze Collective are obviously keen to debate with the Transition Movement. There is an anarchist bookfair in Bristol on 13th September with a talk on the ‘Rocky Road’ pamphlet. It is advertised as follows:

‘A Short presentation about the recent Trapese pamphlet on Transition Towns, followed by a group discussion around the politics of Transition Initiatives, tactics, strategies and how to move forward. Transition members are especially welcome.’

5 Sep 11:38am

Thanks for this Jane! In Glasgow we’ve having to rethink how to use Transition because some of the academic language used appears to be at least as offputting to some as pink cowboy hats, which may be in the way of making the amazing underlying ideas attractive to people.

By the way, the transformative potential of pink cowboy hats (or red noses, colour and carnival) is greatly underestimated in Rob’s piece :o) I wish we could all appreciate and listen to each other’s strategies and ways of doing things a bit more – the polarisation between “oppositional” and “positive” activism seems unhelpful at least, as in reality (as both Rob & Trapese, Kelvin etc) recognise, it’s all much more fluid and mixed up.


5 Sep 1:36pm

Personally- Rob- beware the temptation to be sucked into long intellectual responses to criticism. I truly think it’s mostly a waste of your time. The opposition is unreachable, the choir is already on board, and the fence-sitters will likely get lost in the noise.

You may be better off responding with a laugh and “yeah, right!” Every bit as effective as journals full of erudite discussions.

Just say “Ha! And now I’m going back to work. You coming?”


5 Sep 3:57pm

Hi Greenpa,
Thanks for that. Indeed, it is always a balance wondering whether to respond to criticism or not to. Some of the stuff that I encounter is just so daft as to not warrant a response, like the conspiracy theorists who accuse me of being a member of various secret societies I have never heard of, and one who talks of ‘Rob Hopkins and his Paymasters’. Sometimes though, I do think it is important to address these things when the same questions emerge from a range of perspectives. As much as anything it is useful for ordering and clarifying the thoughts in one’s own head, and it also hopefully helps those out there doing Transition work when they encounter the same questions.

5 Sep 4:13pm

What Greenpa said. Make it clear that you want to find common areas and join forces. Show the honourable members of the opposition how you see that happening, and invite them aboard.

If they continue to do nothing but criticize and cavil, put them off at the next station stop and keep right on doing what you’re doing.

One way to prove that your opponents are ineffective is to make them ineffective by wasting their time. Don’t let this happen to you.


Matt Mills
5 Sep 4:59pm

A very interesting piece Rob, I would agree with the response of David above to tr and explore common ground for the basis of collaboration to dilute the possible us and them situation.

I would question what you say about the economic situation causing folk to cling on to their way of life and values even tighter.

In our experience people are becoming more open to change, perhaps realising that the current model is not working or sustainable. Also Jane says above we have been engaging the public quite successfully for a year now with Info events on How to Save Energy and Money in the Home. This is often a good way to start up the dialogue process and get people thinking about the Peak Oil & Climate Change.

By the way I heard from Davie at Electric Picnic that Bristol has signed up to become the first Transition City, is that through the City Council? I know they became the first Cycle City earlier this year for which I felt a sense of pride even from the depths of West Cork!

Well Done, Matt.

Guy Fox in Key West/Havana
5 Sep 8:09pm

There will be NO calm and orderly transition to a post petroleum $ociety if the DOCTRINE OF PERPETUAL GROWTH of the human population and the global economy on Planet Earth, a host organism of LIMITED space and FINITE resources, is not seriously addressed. Perpetual growth has been hailed as progress for millennia… but Old Coyote Knose it isn’t progress. IT’S CANCER!

5 Sep 9:25pm

Again, another interesting article and good on you for responding – although your skills, expertise and energy are really needed to move this whole thing forward, I guess there must be some time given to address these issues in case they get out of hand.

Like the first comment here, the first thing I thought of was a quote about the truth – first it is ridiculed (or tolerated as a quaint new idea), then it is vehemently denied (argued about, debated, debunked as it gain cred and momentum – seems TT might be at this particular stage), then it is accepted as fact (“well I’ve always believed that!”). The secret is to get the process happening quickly, we don’t have a lot of time.

Any new idea is confronting and you need to address that with many people. Their own personal ideals are being questioned and that is difficult for them to accept. They have to go through their own grieving process of loss.

Transition Towns is rather complex. It brings in so many ideas. I wonder how much I would have understood if I didn’t have years of permaculture thinking behind me. To me it made perfect sense from the very beginning.

When questioned about why particular groups of people aren’t included – I think it’s two fold. There is a very small percentage of the population of immediately understand and ‘get’ these issues. About eight percent I believe. There is another small percentage who will always deny, debate, discredit, (this is a very vocal group whose airtime is often an overrepresentation of their actual numbers) and then there are those who are indifferent – it’s just not at the front of the thinking at the moment. They have family, bills, debts, children’s after school activities, ill parents, a broken down car and a million other family things to think about.

I’ve also noticed in this process there are distinct groups of people; those who are whiners (they will never be happy and will always complain, they just like to argue rather than contribute) there are those who seem engaged (but are really white anting the process from within – you can often identify these by there extreme overenthusiasm), there are those who are neutral (and you have the chance to influence them with a dam good argument about why something should happen), then there are those who totally get it and are kindred spirits.

Keep up the excellent work Rob and team, don’t let the detractors get to you (you must be having an impact if you’ve come to their attention) and don’t waste too much time responding to there uninformed comments.


5 Sep 10:18pm

Hello again,

reading some of the comments above (don’t let the detractors get to you and don’t waste too much time responding to there uninformed comments”) I’m getting quite frustrated. I guess people feel the need to protect what they feel passionate about – Transition – and see this driven forward without losing ourselves in endless debates.

Yet many of the critics are pretty well informed, even if they may come from different perspectives, and be assured that many feel just as passionate about Transition, but are nevertheless needing some crucial topics (such as looking beyond energy descent towards social justice, environmental refugees etc) to be addressed. The task at hand is mammoth and we need not get lost in debating, but some of the issues addressed by critics really matter if we are to create true resilience worldwide – we’re looking at wars and destitution over increasingly scarce resources if we do not include popular education and basic fairness (which involves replacing the current model of unlimited economic growth) into our models of resilience.

While greatly admiring the Transition model and working towards it myself, it is very new and like all great ideas will be modified in popular discourse which is direct democracy in practice – if all those people who criticise Transition are simply being thought of as not “getting” Transition there might be a communication problem (language matters, as Jane said earlier).

Transition Councils and MP’s reading the Handbook on their holidays are great! I would also like to see the concept being embraced more by marginalised communities – once everybody “gets” Transition it will be truly accessible. Yes, the environmental movement is largely privileged but it increasingly tries to counteract that through having environmental justice high on their agenda, and since Transition happens at particular localities, addressing both social and environmental justice becomes perhaps even more important.

It would be great to see more humility and openness for engagement not only from Climate Campers (as Rob requested) but also from Transition Initiatives. Let’s get talking – we can do that while we’re digging in our allotments and erecting our wind turbines, but by all means please let’s not stop engaging in critical democratic dialogue!

5 Sep 10:53pm

Great post Rob.

Another fundamental argument is that nobody is going to bite the hand that feeds them, and almost all of us are dependent on the globalised capitalist food chain. We need working alternatives more than anything.

In my many discussions I’ve come to wonder if some activists choose unwinnable battles because winning is unthinkable.

As Derrick Jensen put it in describing why native americans post European invasion often fought to the death rather than be relocated, (I paraphrase):

“If your experience is that your food comes from a landbase and your water comes from a river, then you’ll defend to the death that landbase and that river, because your life depends on them. If your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap…”

Defending Tescos from a riot consisting in part of your former associates would be an unusually embarrassing way to meet your end. Don’t let it happen to you.

Community resilience, local food and resource production can actually underpin our autonomy and our ability to take more genuinely radical positions, while simultaneously reducing the arenas in which we need to.

6 Sep 5:34am

I read your article several times, because I had to, to extract your point. While I found most of your points valid, and valuable, it was a tough slog.

I sense that you are frustrated, which is probably justified, but in order to achieve your goal, effective communication is essential.

I was continuously assailed by run-on sentences that verged on rants.

In times like this, clear communication is vital.

Please. say what you mean and mean what you say.

This is not a criticism, but an encouragement.

I wish you well.



6 Sep 2:38pm

Ah the hazards of the brief, terse communication. 🙂

Sure; I didn’t mean don’t ever talk to them- though I see I didn’t say that flat out. Yes, some good layout of your thinking is necessary and useful. It already exists, though, in abundance.

Sometimes; sure. Necessary; sure. But- for those with a good solid belief in “democratic dialogue” – (which I do plenty of) – we also need to be aware that “we need to talk about this some more” can also sometimes be nothing but a delaying and confusing tactic.

Just take a look at current US campaign dialogue, if you need an example! Manifestly- there is virtually no real conversation going on- only chants to freeze people into their emotional places.

That can- and perhaps IS – happening here. It’s not an accident; the “opposition” knows that action can be slowed by demanding a good thorough conversation; first- in which they can then get their chants going-

Basically, Rob, I think you’re doing a wonderful job of balancing this stuff so far- it is just that it looks to me like the opposition may be stepping up their “block by dialogue” tactics now; and I just wanted to say- watch out. 🙂

Kamil Pachalko
6 Sep 3:41pm

Jane Buttigieg wrote:

*****Why aren’t black, working class or any other under represented groups strongly presented in green, socialist or other radical groups, fighting for change? I believe that until now a lot of it has been the language and the general publicity used, rather than the relevance of the message.****

I agree with you on that. Which makes me think how we could improve on how we are working with underrepresented groups.

Transition is about finding solutions and one I recently started thinking about is the method used by Paulo Freire who worked with the peasants in Brazil. Through that work people were being radicalized in the real meaning of the word radical which is ‘root’. As in root of reality and understanding of the real causes of the challenges they faced.

The peasants lives resembled the lives of slaves and they were passive against their oppressors and circumstances at first. After working with Freire’s educators they were able to understand the reality surrounding them and act upon it. They became critical thinkers and able actors in their own life story.

We could support people in being more critical with the reality they encounter and the stories they are being told to believe in and offer them to think with us about solutions – this way Transition could go forwards very quickly.

Hey! We are already doing much of it:) but as Rob always says Transition is work in progress so we will be getting better at what we are doing.

Josef Davies-Coates
6 Sep 6:44pm

Hi, I’ve not read all of the article yet (and not even started on the comments) but just wanted to highlight this fascinating discussion happening here:

Looking forward to catching up with the debate…

6 Sep 8:08pm

It’s interesting that many advocates of permaculture also promote alternative lifestyle choices which have little relevance to climate change/peak oil, e.g. home schooling, walking barefoot, stone circles. If energy descent is to have broad appeal, it seems renewable energy, local food production etc will have to shake off the ‘hippy’ image.

6 Sep 10:11pm

Just to clarify my comment about ‘don’t let the detractors get to you’ I was alluding to a common problem that occurs when you take a new idea out into the public.

There will always be those who disagree and those who want to debate and discuss the issue to the ‘nth degree.

While this is valid and an expression of freedom of speech and in no way do I want that to stop, you cannot spend precious time or energy waiting for everyone – or even the majority – to understand and support your idea.

A much better approach is to have confidence in and sound foundations for the idea you have. You then have to work with those who get it, and understand fundamentally what it is you are aiming for.

Bring those people with you on the journey. There will always be those who want to discuss and debate and most often this lead to improvements and refinements of the idea.

But it is important to also understand there are those who just like to debate issues. Action speak louder than words and the Transition Initiative is action.

Rob is only one person and the very public international face of the Transition Town movement although of course we realise there are hundreds of people behind him and thousands (probably tens of thousands) who have gone before clearing the path through decades of environmental and permaculture action in the community and across the world.

Understand that you to are a resource with finite time and energy, using that in the most productive (maximum yeild) way is crucial to ensure this keep moving forward, growing and becoming what it needs to become to fulfill its aims – of moving society, community by community from oil dependence to local resilience.


jenny smith
7 Sep 1:05pm

Hi,Its great, TT is a vibrant and dynamic movement and hopefully an open model, just as the Trapese collective is dynamic and questioning and must keep its own integrity. Debate, dialogue and dialectic are an important part of these processes.

I have been involved in a course on Environmental Justice,from Friends of the Earth SCotland and Queen Margaret University. Aspects of the course are informed by the work and thinking of Paulo Friere, action, reflection and action or “conscientisation” a sort of consciousness raising. The work and thinking of Trapese is also underpinned by Freire.

Working for a F.O.E.Scotlaand book called ‘Community Sustainability Audits’ I have been involved in an audit in the local community. This is hard work, tough going reaching out to different groups in a widely dispersed and somewhat fragmented rural community, yet with positive initiatives in it.. There is a ‘mapping ‘exercise similar to Planning For Real (Google) geared towards discovering what people value about the community and what are their needs.

There can be all sorts of issues to redress in communities from the need for a new playpark to housing to childcare to community facilites to employment opportunities within the local area.
Having an analysis of how, why things became the way they are could be the beginning of a tool to move beyond passivity and the current disaffection with democracy that exists for a lot of people.

Amongst our audit team there have been interesting conversations stimulated, beginning to look at some of the power structures that exist along with how much say do we have in the community, and with the democracy, and how does it work.

Currently, some community based work, is now being informed by development work from developing countries, often underpinned by Friere too. Participatory Rural Development (Google) and urban development, Appreciative Enquiry that contains envisioning. There are also organisations working for community empowerment and the decentralisation of power, the Social Enterprise Network, Local People Leading(in Scotland), and Carnegie Trust (Charter for Rural Communities). All worth checking out even if it exists in a reformist framework.

Other social movements are informative. The Womens Movemnt was one time analytical, dynamic, challenging and argumentative. There has been considerable change for women in society, yet with the advent of Thatcherism it was co-opted, remember the self-help movement, and now there are some women in society, working incredibly hard, in considerably high powered and stressfull jobs, with their children in before-and-after school childcare, eating ready meals well incorporated into the current economic and social system.

I think TT can run this risk of being incorporated, as Rob says we also live in a time of great flux and change and we dont know the outcome, where we are going. I also think TT s doing a great job, and when it asks councils to consider transport strategies in the light of Peak Oil and rising fuel prices. More tools are needed in the TT kitbox and finding the issues that matter to people most in their immediate environments, and a greater analysis of the social and economic contradictions we live under. Knowledge and awareness of other social movements and how change happens in society are all part and parcel of the process. Just as is dialectic and debate. Keep it moving.


[…] Hopkins and friends are way out ahead of the curve in the UK, developing community responses to climate change and peak oil, and building local resilience in the process. They’ve also drawn strong criticism. We can learn a lot from Hopkins’ response to the critics. Read his piece here. […]

Pat Driscoll
8 Sep 3:39am

I am a member of a Permaculture Guild in Oregon, and also member of several progressive groups. They all suffer from the same problems: inability to express themselves simply, exclusiveness, arrogance, and an acute avoidance of organization, politics, business, money, and hard work (all attributes of “the system”). There’s also a fair amount of discrimination against older folks (“they made the mess we’re in”). As a result, these groups are marginalized and mostly ineffective at achieving their stated goals. It’s rather ironic, they are incapable of thinking outside their box, which is exactly the accusation they make about the rest of society.

Graham Burnett
8 Sep 12:41pm

Hi Rob, I think the discussion between TT and Trapese/Climate Camp/etc, etc is highly important and valuable in the crucible of ideas and responses that are emerging in this most challenging of times, but equally I don’t think that you should feel dutifully bound to personally respond to the criticisms (whether valid or otherwise). Bearing in mind 2 of criteria of how to successfully form a transition project, ie, “a group of 4-5 people willing to step into leadership roles (not just the boundless enthusiasm of a single person)” and “let it go where it wants to go”, maybe it is time to begin considering uncoupling yourself from TT at least in terms of being a ‘personality’ that is seen to be ‘driving’ (and by implication is seen to have’all the answers’)

Personally I used to spend alot of time debating issues around permaculture, veganism, etc, etc, on various online forums, chatrooms, etc, Although some was the kind of waste of time you’ve alluded to in other posts, much of it was also valid, interesting, thought provoking, challenging to my own thinking and made me seriously reconsider my own stand on certain subjects, etc, But now find I simply don’t have the time or energy for such pursuits (apart from today of course!! But at the moment I’m procrastinating from an important bit of work i’m getting paid for and really should be cracking on with, which is always a valid reason for an online debate!!). We all only have so much time and energy in the day, use it in the way thats most effective (or at least enjoyable to you!) Have faith in ‘the process’ and trust that others will effectively fill the niches opened up by the discussions and debates that are emerging. Unless of course you WANT to get stuck in, r have a deadline you are anxious to ignore 🙂

Graham Burnett
8 Sep 12:45pm

‘Rob Hopkins and his Paymasters’.

have they got any more vacancies Rob, I could do with the work right now…

8 Sep 12:46pm

Yes, I’m still waiting for the brown envelopes myself…

8 Sep 1:06pm

Hi Jenny

How can I find out more about your project? Fancy a chat on the forum?

Ale Fernandez
8 Sep 1:06pm

I’m pleased to read all this, as it closely mirrors what’s happening at a local level in East Bristol, and inside me too. I think that’s what’s missing from Rob’s great quote there:

“I also don’t believe that Government and other institutions will vanish overnight; we need proactive responses wherever we can get them from, from international agreements to national policy to a regeneration of regional politics and engaged and dynamic local communities”

I think it goes even futher – in our hearts there’s always a struggle between destructive anger, resignation and powerlessness – the force within that tells you you’ve already failed, and with the positive anger for justice, and the belief that you alone can change things and have the power and wisdom to do so. To defeat this negative voice in every moment is a revolution at the human level: if revolution is what detractors want, let them have it, but in their lives first.

And I think Rob’s points in general aren’t really just about transition movements but common sense wisdom about unity of purpose, in overcoming problems and taking a large diverse population through any kind of transition or change. I think anyone who works this way will be successful and will create great change, not just transition initiatives and not just in this current situation. I’m a buddhist, and I can say that Rob’s arguments, when I first encountered them, were surprisingly buddhist in nature – encouraging dialogue, inclusion and peaceful transition rather than violent revolution and discord between people.

What I find the most upsetting failure of the great 19th century ideologies has been the violence and anger at their heart: hatred of people different from you in some way or other. With the left wing extreme it’s rich people, people with money, people with power and big titles.

As an ex refugee of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile I know all too well what happens when there is hatred, mistrust or exclusion of anyone – even the privileged classes. The law of Cause and effect doesn’t just hit “bad people” – everyone has good and bad in them, and we all came from the same roots. With all these groups it’s the same: they have someone to pick on and make their enemy, and to hold hatred in your heart is to make a cause to experience it in your own life. But even in the capitalism-damning film “The Corporation” I saw one of these rich and influential people confess to activists who had descended on his roof to write “Murderer”, that he felt as powerless as them and wanted similar things but felt unable to do them. I find the words they exchanged over tea and biscuits on his lawn that day to be much more powerful than the angry words written on his roof.

8 Sep 10:21pm

Personally, I’ve encountered people who think I’m making a fortune out of energy descent planning. They think it’s a business, not realising I’ve not had any income at all for two years while I’ve been working on this. My husband and I have been using our savings to support the project this far (funding systems are very different in Australia)

Kamil Pachalko
9 Sep 9:19am

Hi Jenny Smith – you seem to be doing interesting work. Could you get in contact with me as I’d like to learn more details. Thanks

Jim Newcomer, Portland Peak Oil
10 Sep 12:24am

Ale, I love your understanding of the humanity of rich as well as poor people. We all have to be in this together. The truth is this turning point, to use Joanna Macy’s term, is different from all others. There have been two or three big era changes in European history so far since the first one, which was the beginning of agriculture. One occurred when the Roman Empire collapsed and de-centralized political life into feudal estates, and another emerged from the cutting of the forests in Europe that forced production to rely on coal for energy. From that one came a tendency toward centralization (eventually ending in nation-states and huge corporations) that we live with today, toward mass literacy, and toward the reinvention of democracy, including democratic churches. The Marxist framework, of course, was aimed at the class structure that emerged from the capitalism that was the corporate expression of that centralization.
Our present movement, Transition Towns, takes us in an opposite direction. It is about de-centralization. It is about organizing communities to take positive action in the face of the cancer-like growth of centralization, which had no way to counteract its ultimate self-destruction. I just finished reading Joseph Tainter’s great classic, The Collapse of Complex Societies. What I learned there is that the collapse may look a lot like forming communities. Local governments become dominant over national ones. Hierarchies collapse. People may actually be better off. And that is what we are working on: how to be better off – resilient.
One point here is that after the turning point, i.e., in a de-centralized, local society, class warfare is nonsense. Rich and poor must cooperate; both are needed to assure mutual survival because both bring needed talents and resources to the party. The alternative is a kind of Mad Max landscape of death and despair, the wart of all against all that Heinberg has hinted at. The suggestion to create gazelles instead of killing dinosaurs makes sense. We waste our efforts being against others.
For that reason, rooting for the success of, for example, local small business owners is supporting our movement. Paul Hawken recently suggested we distinguish between corporations, which were formed originally to aid kings in the conquest of colonies, and commerce, which humans have always carried on to trade for things we need. In our neighborhoods we are looking at ways to support emerging small stores, bars or pubs, restaurants, and services. That’s how we will replace the multinationals that keep calling for globalization even as shipping grows prohibitively expensive.
Here in Portland, Oregon (in the US), where I am, we are just beginning to learn about the Transition movement and forming a team to design strategies. Some of us have worked with our City Council in the past on the Portland Peak Oil Task Force, which developed a strategy for city government to begin preparing for the descent. We also realize that organizing communities from the ground up is very different from running a government no matter how well the mayor and agency heads understand the implications of environmental changes – and that it requires the cooperation of local authorities, neighborhood associations, churches, environmental organizations, farmers associations – ultimately everyone! We have had enough experience with these authorities and their staffs to realize that we can support them in doing the right things within the present limits of their responsibilities, laws, building codes, and budgets, and they will help us in return. Their limitations – budgets, codes, regulations – will change with time. Meanwhile we also need public order, streets, clean water, sewers, and telephone connections, health services (such as they are in the US), and all the other aspects of daily life that support our present well-being.
The important thing for now is to get started where we are with the people we can reach, including minority people, in the time we have. We can and must also learn from great traditions rooted in the people. It was Chairman Mao who advised his movement to go to the masses and trust the masses. Just so, we can learn from the people we want to reach and trust that they want to learn from us when we get it right. Freiri was in that tradition too.
What we try to remember here is that we are moving into an era that has never existed before, trying to do something that hasn’t been done. We are moving toward decentralization in a fully-functioning (at least on the surface) centralized society and trying to do it peacefully – because that is the only way it can be done. So in that context, we must keep open minds. We must learn as we go. We must remain sensitive to the people we reach out to because they are going to teach us what to do and what our ultimate goals will be – beyond Open Spaces, beyond EDAPs, beyond permaculture and into questions of how we maintain laws and democracies, even banking and fraud protection, if we have no armies to protect us, how we maintain the kinds of sophisticated technologies – in medicine, for example, communications and energy generation – that have made our lives comfortable and rich and bathed in world-wide information flows. All that is going to require enormous creativity and continuous prevention of violence. In the end we (and our descendants) are likely to evolve societies with morals, customs, even religious and spiritual beliefs that are very different from what we have now. To get an idea of how fundamental that is, look back at the Renaissance and think of the changes Europe has grappled with since then.
For all those reasons, I rejoice that you, Rob, are grappling with these criticisms. Writing answers to them requires you to think a step or two further into the mystery that shrouds this unknowable future. (Actually, given the local nature of our aspirations, each community will have its own face, develop its own version of a local civilization, and so it is more appropriate to say “futures.”) I urge you to stay focused on these questions. But of course I’m a policy wonk, so I would say that.

10 Sep 3:02am

I read the post, was getting grumpy and halfway through the comments I had a phone call: It looks like we’re organising our first inter-Transition Neighbourhood soccer/football match between Transition Bell 3215 and ‘Mullers’in nearby postcode 3216! I don’t care what any thinks…we’re having a ball in our neck of the woods.

Craig Barnett
10 Sep 3:57pm

Sheffield’s (very) new Transition group is working closely with the local City of Sanctuary movement, which offers a connection to all of the refugee groups and activities in the city. There are other City of Sanctuary groups (so far) in London, Bristol, Bradford, Nottingham, Swansea, Leicester, Coventry and Oxford, aiming to build a culture of hospitality for refugees and asylum-seekers throughout their cities. This seems to me like an important aspect of our transition to a liveable future too. Given the potential numbers of climate and resource-war refugees in the near future, I want to make sure that we retain a commitment to the value of offering places of sanctuary to people whose lives are threatened.
If anyone would like to get in touch with their local City of Sanctuary group see or contact me.

Ale Fernandez
31 Oct 4:31pm

I just came here because I saw a new critique of TT, this time on the p2p foundation’s website – but I think it criticises decentralised societies such as middle ages post-rome rather than directly TT.

And I spotted your comment Craig – great because here in Bristol we’re working on launching as a City of Sanctuary in a few years, but this is led currently by humanist organisations supporting refugees, but I think the whole thing might be easier if more people like yourself (but based in Bristol!!) saw the connection between refugee issues and “decentralised” environmentalism. As a sometime refugee and migrant myself, I think the long distance links are as important as the close ones.

Jennifer Mazer
1 Nov 8:21am

I love very much the whole idea of the
Transition Town. I am deeply concerned however
that in matters of trying to get help from the local government;the Transition Town Initiative may fail. Because people rely too much on the
status quo when they could be taking matters into their hands and offering their own candidates.

Craig Barnett
19 Nov 4:41pm

Thanks for this. I am offering a workshop on ‘Sanctuary in Transition’ at the the Transition Cities conference in Nottingham – hope you can make it. It seems to me crucial that we broaden out our vision of transitioned communities to explicitly include the practice of sanctuary for those disposessed by climate change and resource wars. Otherwise the inevitable tendency will be towards ever-harsher border controls and anti-refugee hostility.