Transition Culture

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

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6 Nov 2008

Why, for today at least, I’m celebrating Obama’s victory

I feel I just lived through a seminal moment in history.  Yes, I know all the reasons why we ought not be excited about Obama’s election as President of the US (it will inevitably go sour at some point, his Afghanistan policies, he is still an economic growth man etc. etc. etc.), but just for now, for a few days, I want to bask in the glow of something really quite extraordinary having happened.  In Naomi Klein’s seminal ‘Shock Doctrine’ (a must-read) she explores how neo-conservatism has pounced on (and actively engineered) moments of shock and social disorientation in order to intervene with drastic and self-serving measures that would have been otherwise unimaginable.  The reverse of this is that times of disturbance also offer the potential to do positive things.  Sharon Astyk put it beautifully when she wrote;

I think it is true that had Americans been told after 9/11, “We want you to go out and grow a victory garden and cut back on energy usage” the response would have been tremendous – it would absolutely have been possible to harness the anger and pain and frustration of those moments, and a people who desperately wanted something to do.

I never thought I would live to see a black President of the US.  I never thought I would watch a Presidential acceptance speech that moved me to tears.  I never thought I would then read the same speech 2 hours later in the Evening Standard on the London Underground and it would do the same thing to me a second time.

Part Two | Part Three

I never thought I would see a US President who actually took climate change seriously, talked about a Green New Deal for the US, and whose policies included;

  • Reduce the US’s carbon emissions 80% by 2050 and play a strong positive role in negotiating a binding global treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol
  • Withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months and keep no permanent bases in the country
  • Establish a clear goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons across the globe
  • Close the Guantanamo Bay detention center
  • Double US aid to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 and accelerate the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculoses and Malaria
  • Open diplomatic talks with countries like Iran and Syria, to pursue peaceful resolution of tensions
  • De-politicize military intelligence to avoid ever repeating the kind of manipulation that led the US into Iraq
  • Launch a major diplomatic effort to stop the killings in Darfur
  • Only negotiate new trade agreements that contain labor and environmental protections
  • Invest $150 billion over ten years to support renewable energy and get 1 million plug-in electric cars on the road by 2015

I always used to think there was not much point in voting.  I was struck by something Starhawk said when the spoke in Totnes recently.  She talked about Hurricane Katrina, and how many hundreds of people are now dead who would have been alive had a different administration been in power, indeed pretty much any administration other than the utterly appalling, wretched and self-serving Bush administration.

Yes the Obama presidency won’t be perfect, it will undoubtedly disappoint, frustrate and infuriate.  It has picked up a poisoned chalice in that it is taking a nation in economic freefall, at a time when it is no longer the powerbase it once was, and energy geopolitics are rapidly changing, and yes we could do without that “to those who would tear down the world, we will defeat you” nonsense.

Yet, I still remain, for now at least, deeply moved by such an extraordinary event.  Imagine the devastation of waking up yesterday to find McCain and (heaven forbid) Palin giving their acceptance speech.  Millions of ordinary people campaigned, fundraised and voted to end the dreadful tyranny of the Bush years and for something better, and it worked.

I am rarely moved by political speeches.  Yet I loved the bit in Obama’s talk where the spoke of “young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy”, and his power as an orator.  For tonight at least, I want to celebrate.  I am thrilled by a generation of young people finding the political process accessible again, and seeing the emergence of hope.  I celebrate for my children to be able to see what has happened, and the possibilities inherent within it.  Naomi Klein writes powerfully of the need to keep the momentum and pressure that got Obama elected focused on ensuring that his policies are implemented.

I was struck by how different the world will be when it sits down in Copenhagen for the climate change negotiations, for the first time with a US delegation not sent there to fudge, sabotage and undermine.  These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary shifts happening around the world (in Waterstones today I picked up a book called ‘Future Files: the 5 trends that will shape the next 50 years which didn’t even list peak oil as one of the 5 trends!). Something powerful has changed, and on this day at least, that is something to celebrate.

Categories: General

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Bob Thorp
6 Nov 8:46am

I agree with your sentiments – a great day in so many ways, there has been a restoration of hope.

Most impresive for me has been the apparent transformation in the relationship between grass roots activists and leadership. There has been the use of the internet to raise funds and communicate with voters but there have also been large numbers of people doing real work in their communities to re-energise people and politics around progressive issues and values. I think that these are hopeful signs that American’s are re-discovering empowerment and value in community. This is something that we also need to rediscover.

Dave Moreman
6 Nov 11:49am


This really was an election that united the globe. I don’t know if the world wanted Obama, or just wanted shot of the Bush administration, but this survey showed that 80-90% of 850000+ people from a staggering 213 countries were all thinking as one :

[…] Rob Hopkins at Transition Culture does a great job of summing up the election result. […]

Graham Burnett
6 Nov 12:20pm

Call me a cycnical, unreconstructed old anarchist, but does anybody remember the First of May 1997???

Stephen Watson
6 Nov 2:57pm

Thanks Rob – very well expressed. I posted this on on choir website yesterday:

“I haven’t followed the election campaign at all as I get very tired over politics and the corporate greed and cynicism that pollutes so much of it. But tonight I watched Obama’s acceptance speech, 17 minutes of it, and I found myself in tears with the potential of something really new and positive. To hear the President of the USA mention the word ‘gay’ (amongst many others) in an inclusive statement in a Presidential Acceptance Speech must surely be a first, and give hope to so many people. Of course there are all the grandiose expected big show phrases and the usual election puff and it has to be borne out in practice, but in there, at the core, it seems to me was a real sense of honesty and humanity that I’ve not felt from the US government (and few UK politicians!) in a long time. I hope this can be the start of a process of healing and a reality check for the USA and that that engenders a new spirit of co-operation and inclusivity in the world. I believe that’s something that all of us across the world are certainly are in desperate need of right now and in the decades to come.

Go Barack! :-)”

I would also go along with Graham’s comment and would also add one of my email signatures:

“I promise that truth shall be the policy of the Nixon administration” – Spiro Agnew, Vice-President, 1968

We need to be realistic about both the task ahead and the forces conspiring against radical change, BUT, I felt something from the heart of the man in that speech, or else something that seemed just like it. So for now, like Rob, I’m believing that another world is possible, and that it’s coming. The truth of it will unfold in time.

And as for not voting, I’d also say that we have a chance here in the UK, in Brighton specifically, of electing the ever Green MP – Caroline Lucas – to the House of Commons at the next General Election. It will not have the same ramifications as Obama, but in terms of the symbolism, it will be huge.

Mike Grenville
6 Nov 4:48pm

What a great moment his election and speech was. All thoughts of being saturated with coverage of the election and disbelief and the vast sums of money spent on it were swept away in the realisation in that moment of what has happened. No one dared believe it until really was true half believing that something would happen to snatch it away.

Born in Kenya of mixed race parents, a church going Christian with a Middle Eastern name, who went to school in Indonesia followed by an Ivy League education as an immigrant to the USA. He grew up in Hawaii that was itself invaded and taken by America.

Whatever happens next it won’t be because he dosn’t have some real sense of the diversity of views and perspectives in the world.

There is something someone said in the film ‘Argentina: Hope in Hard Times’ that has stuck in my mind: “We got in this mess because we didn’t participate.” Hopefully now all those suppoerters and activists who helped make this happen will not go back to sleep now and stay involved to help him realise those hopes, promises and aspirations that the whole world is longing for.

May it be so.

6 Nov 6:29pm

Wow!!! Don’t you ever get the feeling you are being played? It’s a great story,yes but the u.s is full of great stories not many of which bear much resemblance to the truth. As for saying “i never thought i would live to see a black president of the US” that just shows at best a lack of imagination.
I hope his apparently more progressive politics will help people especially those oppressed by america’s systems of control domestically and internationally. However there are obviously forces that will not allow this and this is before we look at the realities of his politics.(Looking at the people he will appoint will be interesting).many of his statements have been alarming such as his call for a civillian national security force.As David Holmgren points out we have to be aware of the green fascist state scenario.
This is a time when elite elements will be looking to centralize world institutions such as banking and now the U.S has a unifying figure who can gather support around him. This is why i’m dismayed to see people lose a sense of perspective on this one.
Colin Powell said recently that there will be a world crisis soon after obama becomes president in january something echoed by joe biden.We have been here before. our minds have been manipulated many times before. Obama is right that change is on the way- what kind of change remains to be seen.
You can label me a conspiracy nut but thats just a label. Its time to get beyond that.

Ian Campbell
6 Nov 7:27pm

I too was moved to tears by his acceptance speech. His success has a lot to do with his power of oratory, and a key element has been his use of the slogan “Yes we can” (echoed by the crowd) throughout his speeches. It seems to have hit the mood of the moment – that change can happen, and that we can make it happen.
So how about adopting the same slogan (“Yes we can”) for Transition? Can we use it to strengthen our resolve and our groups, and to inspire others?

Joanne Poyourow
6 Nov 8:07pm

People find it so easy to overlook that Obama was financially supported by the nuclear power industry, and that he preaches the virtues of “clean coal.”

The fact that he is, as Rob put it, an “economic growth man” in a time of “economic freefall” means he will likely pour more financial resources down the black hole of attempting to preserve the growth paradigm, rather than broadcasting the ideas people need to understand to move into the inevitable Transition.

Yes, it is a far sight better than Rob’s waking up to a McCain/Palin acceptance speech, but this election was a choice between “frightful” and “won’t-go-far-enough.”

Obama or no Obama, we aren’t going to get a “savior” from the top. We can’t hold our breath in anticipation of his promised “changes”. We need to (continue) creating those changes ourselves.

Through it all, our grassroots Transition work hasn’t changed. We still need to raise awareness, reskill and rebuild our local communities. Yes, there is now very real hope for an international climate agreement. But without changing minds “on the ground” in all of our local communities, we won’t get very far toward power-down, nor post-petroleum preparedness, nor toward achieving those climate goals.

Joanne Poyourow
Los Angeles, California USA

6 Nov 11:55pm

I echo Graham’s comment about the first of May 1997. But whatever his failings, Blair made two lasting and historic changes to the UK: he abolished hereditary peerage and he conceded devolution to Wales and Scotland (and if you happen to be a fox you’ll probably count three historic changes). Now there is an opportunity for Obama to make some lasting changes. No doubt he’ll be co-opted (by the coal industry and/or the oil industry and by the military-industrial machine). But along the way he’ll have a chance to make his mark on the US. And I’m looking forward to that. I wrote to Obama last night to ask that he’ll end the terrible Bush-era acceptance of torture. If he only achieves one thing…

Paul Montgomery
7 Nov 12:04am

I feel so frustrated when I read liberal political mumbo jumbo. It is as if we are looking for someone to run the world with the ethics of our culture. As strongly as I believe in non-violence, as clear as I am that clean coal and nuclear energy are not the way to respond to energy and climate challenges, as much as I am aware that Barack Obama does not resemble the perfect liberal ideals (I guess this might be Nader or Kucinich). He is someone that can lead America. America is not Findhorn, America is not Bhutan, America is not Berkeley, or Portland, or Totnes.

We can not skip the journey from where we are to where we want to be. We have to learn, LISTEN, and walk the journey together.

It is not a matter of not being able to imagine a black president for me, but more that we must recognize what we are and have done as a culture.

What use is it to say that there are “those who will not allow this to happen,” when we talk about Obama’s politics. How very disempowering! Maybe these “evil people,” who are people by the way do not want this to happen. But I remember a video with Naomi Klein in which she said these people won’t let Obama be elected. Look, it happened.

One of our biggest dangers is to hold on to the idea that there are evil villains we need to defeat, they are called conservatives, and that in order to stand on our pedastool of the righteous we need these villains. This is the most polarizing, stagnant reality we can live in. It is how the liberal movement has been stuck for so long. Let’s let go of that and step into the awkward ground of relating to those we are afraid of without demonizing them.

It is the visionaries that gather momentum, this is the power of Obama, this is the power I see in Rob Hopkin’s work. I remember hearing about Peak Oil and Relocalization but the flavor I received at those times were not imbued with enough vision to encourage me to engage. Maybe Obama put it best in his acceptance speech. He spoke of where we have come as a nation but then invited us to imagine where we can go in the next hundred years. Let us do the same, let us take the energy Obama has ignited and work with him, teach him learn from him. Let’s take this energy and put it towards the manifestation of a world we want to see.

Albert Bates
7 Nov 2:39am

It was just about midnight here, a clear and warm night with the forest just starting to shed leaves in a light breeze, a quarter moon rising, and like most I watched and wept as he spoke to my dreams.

I nearly wept again today, when Rahm Israel Emanuel accepted the job as his Chief of Staff. The tears this time were for my friends in Gaza and the West Bank, who have suffered too long, and on whose fate any peace in the Middle East is predicated. With Emanuel in that position they have no chance at justice, and without justice, there will be no peace. Their only hope now rests with the Israeli elections in February, and that is very scant hope indeed.

The nuclear and coal deceptions, the Afghanistan quagmire … we can only hope that Obama’s NSA briefers are better than his campaign speechwriters were. Maybe James Schlesinger’s recent words will reach him, or Jim Woolsey’s. What he is getting daily now are screes from the thralls of Cheney.

A real and lasting gain would be someone with integrity being named as Attorney General. There will be no peace in the USA, either, until there is justice for the past eight or more years.

And another hope is that there might be a renewed call for a Department of Peace to balance out the Departments of War, and give heed, at last, to the last warnings of Eisenhower that proved so prophetic, that the greatest threat to the peace of the world lay not in weakness or irresolution (as Churchill would have it), but in the Military Industrial Complex.

Paul Montgomery
7 Nov 2:52pm

Edit: I want to clarify that I was referring to Naomi Wolfe when I said Naomi Klein.

Also, this post was a response to a few of the replies that I read on this topic.


7 Nov 4:31pm

I grew up in America and continue to live here (with a few short stints abroad) and something big has happened here. Of course none of us will agree completely with any particular leader or her/his policies. But despite that this election reflects a massive shift away from the dominant sense fear and helplessness that has plagued many people. It has empowered (cliche, but accurate) so many individuals. My neighbors haven’t voted for 30 years; they did this time.

Did you see the woman who sang the US national anthem prior to Obama’s acceptance speech? I told my Dad that it was the first time since I was a young child that the song actually meant anything to me. Not in a nationalistic, flag-waving sense, but in a feeling that the better parts of us as a culture can actually become manifest.

So, for the moment, I’m very very glad.

pat allen
7 Nov 7:05pm

Read below for a reason to feel hopeful about Obama. he took the recent Michael Pollan article seriously and I believe will act on it. Clearly he is able to understand and appreciate the issues and connect the dots.

thanks for your inspiration,
Pat Allen

Obama Response to Pollan Article.

“I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it’s creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they’re contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That’s just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board. For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security and drives our economy, that’s going to be my number one priority when I get into office, assuming, obviously, that we have done enough to just stabilize the immediate economic situation.”

entire Pollan article, i.e. “Farmer in Chief,” at the Growing Power Platform

Albert Bates
7 Nov 10:19pm

Lisa wrote: “My neighbors haven’t voted for 30 years; they did this time.”

I was particularly moved to hear the story of the great literary critic, John Leonard. He is of my favorite writers, and I often turn to his reviews when Harpers Magazine arrives. He has spent the past year confined to a bed, in the terminal stages of cancer, but continuing to read 5 books each week. At his request, his family helped him to walk the steps to the poll, although he had to request a chair when he found a long line there. He cast his ballot and returned to his bed to watch the historic speech on television. He died Thursday.

8 Nov 11:22am

I think the thing that strikes me is that we now have what has become a very rare commodity – we have hope. What we also have is a role model – we see someone who come from a poor background like he has – someone who said as a child that the job he wanted as an adult was to be President. Now look at him. Few of us have the high level of intelligence he has – so he had one big natural asset. But some of us do and others of us have other natural assets that we could be using to greater effect. How about coining a new phrase “If he can – we can”.

Am moved by Albert Bates’ level of observation, seeing through Obama’s first instinct to hold torches for War, atomic energy, coal, Cheney’s insistent PNAC supremacy, the so-long-on-the-automatic-runway Megamachine-snatching-away-of-soul. Yet I also see the willingness of new engrams being grooved by Permaculture and Transition Town into brains, hearts and hands, agile at renewing the paradigm the vision of Me + You to replace the industrial pump-em-with toxins-to-keep-the-power-over going.

I do believe that in Obama we have a possibility to have him work through rewriting our re-visioned action plans with us, to train him to give the training through Permaculture, relocalization, Peak everything, to meet all the interstices that bring on the inevitable ungrowthing – un growth thing – of human Being. Obama has just begun noticing the dearth of mycelium, witness his immediately linking health into his answer to M Pollan’s article, as he reaches further into awareness and diagnosis of post-growth from a post-oil economy with all its post-Industrial drawdowns.

Kucinich and Nader could not reach out with what they know yet until things we know we should know (TWKWSK), replaces things I know you should know (TIKYSK), which is where we have gridding for so long. We ‘re moving back to indigenous Nature sound albeit through getting any Nature sound to sound ourselves by. Until more people are primed in community scale of resiliency and self-reliance beyond the job-is–a-job-and-the-work-is-an-addiction, appropriate living goes beyond appropriation and grows into our providing place, the process Obama will go through can model the microcosmic orbital experience of Me + You.

Since Obama has attention across multi perspectives, his calm manner can be a model entry into de-Egoing the Eco.

I feel on edge still from fraudulent vote tampering attempts, from 70 years in my life of power ascents including my escaping the Holocaust, from a too easily enrolled aggressive might of fascist police-states of being, from businesses pyramiding everything including privatized incarceration, and Just from being made a target from the very first laws written in the name of cosmology.

Richard K Bernstein a wise Diabetologist-endocrinologist born diabetic says, “Anything that has the power to heal can also have an equal power to harm.” Wow! My insight from this is to learn to keep my place in health, learn to restore the retention of health in the earth, amplify old growth mycelium, invite non-believers to offer their genius in whatever gestures they can, watch for and act on commonalities, and, as nature often tells me in riddles, Look at Me, how “I” ( the St Vrain River) do things”, then suggests, “Do nothing”, as I shrug, let go deeper to manifest on automatic.

In 1991 during the fist Gulf War I wove a 14 foot long (Amazon forest) shawl to calm Bush #1, later revisiting that idea to calm Bush#2 by painting his head on my body doing yoga, and freefalling from the sky alongside me in bittersweet conversation. How I will “get” to Obama, I do not yet know. Perhaps planning a year round greenhouse with Watson;s wick under it will accelerate the progression from outward calming (the shawl), through sharing a healing process (the yoga and freefall sessions) to effecting good life, water, food, health and renewal (The energy descent action plan).


Tom A
9 Nov 1:53pm

Like Graham I still fell burnt after getting all emotional about Tony Blair winning in 1997. However the fact that Obama read the Michael Pollan piece in full (mentioned by Pat above) and made such a considered response to it is truly impressive.

Just as in Transition we say, Whoever comes is the right person, whatever is done is the right thing, however long it takes is the right time, Obama is here for us now and responding. this is the right time, the right person, and the right timing. More Michael Pollan’s writing in NOW to major media has been encouraged and is now about to happen, don’t we all feel it?

Jerome Ostenkowski CRMPI in Basalt is garnering articles about his visionary Permaculture operations, Les Squires is calling for a CABINET POSITION, named something like “Secretary of Transition and Localization” (like Secretary of Defense) or “Surgeon Transition General” (like Surgeon General). He offers: “I suggest Michael for Surgeon and Ning for platform of choice”.

Cheers/ Coco


11 Nov 7:30pm

Regarding Obama winning the election – as an American who voted for him I did so, not because I felt he was perfect and had all the answers, but because I felt and still feel that he is open to the questions that need to be asked, and is realistic enough to understand that the solutions to our problems will cause difficulties of their own. He is brilliant, well-educated, and an inspiring leader, able to unite rather than divide. I cannot express properly my enormous joy and relief that America voted for him and sent McCain and Palin (especially) packing.
Obama is someone who could get Americans to plant victory gardens, conserve energy, rideshare, etc. – all he has to do is ask. He makes me feel good about being an American, and I have not felt that way in a very long time.

Patrick Gibbs
9 Dec 6:27am

The Obama campaign coalesced a huge network (I’ve read that it’s appx. 13 million people) that is now looking for its future, and there’s uncertainty about how the network will change shape and what it will focus on. I see the current moment as an amazing opportunity to build on the foundation of this grassroots network and catapult the Transition Movement in the USA. The overlapping interests (local dialogue and action and relationships to enact broad-scale change) and philosophy (hope, inclusiveness, and hard work) and even the language of “transition” make the Obama Network and the Transition Movement a wonderful match!

Yes, they have plenty of differences, and it may not be possible to mobilize the entire Obama network on Transition pathways… and I think it’s worth a try, and at least some members of that network will decide to launch transition initiatives.

The biggest question in my mind is “Does the Transition Movement have the necessary internal foundations to support such a massive influx of transitioners?” And my answer is that we’re doing pretty well, and if there is an influx then we’ll create ways to deal with it gracefully enough.

The next step: I’m not sure how to contact to the Obama Network (or what to call it). I’ll start with a few hours of studying the structure of the Transition Network globally and in the US, and learning more about the Obama Network (a web search for ‘obama network’ returns many relevant results).

What are your thoughts on how we can connect these movements?

~ Patrick

Patrick Gibbs
9 Dec 6:28am

addendum: here’s the article in the LA Times that got me thinking down this path:,0,4289876.story