Transition Culture

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

Transition Culture has moved

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.

25 May 2009

Ed Milliband Visits the Transition Network Conference as a ‘Keynote Listener’

bacmillibEd Milliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, visited the Transition Network conference on Friday afternoon as a ‘Keynote Listener’, which all went very well.  He was meant to only stay for half an hour, but ended up stayed nearly an hour and a half.  When he arrived I explained to him how Open Space worked, and he looked through the list of Open Space sessions and picked a few he’d like to go to.  After sitting in on 3 sessions, including a very interesting one about how to communicate the idea of ‘less’, he came back down to the atrium where Peter Lipman and myself (well, Peter mostly…) interviewed him.  It was a fascinating conversation, one you can hear below.

Categories: General

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


26 May 3:13pm

Very good interview.

Ed basically confuses the idea of ‘economic growth’ with ‘maintaining standards of living’ at a local level. Individuals who aren’t engaged in the Transition movement are only against the idea of limiting growth in terms of the possible consequences for their jobs and their ability to live lives with a certain level of material wealth. It’s important to distinguish between these things so we’re all on the same page.

Jon Barrett
26 May 8:30pm

Did I hear Ed Miliband correctly? He describes climate change as a massive threat to people’s welfare and yet he says that there are only 10 or 15 people in Government committed to addressing it? Perhaps – and even more alarming – he meant in the House of Commons as a whole. 10-15 people out of 600 odd MPs! . Given the general public disenchantment with Parliament how about a Transition Party or at least some Transition Independents standing next time round?

Tom A
26 May 8:31pm

A fascinating conversation indeed – with excellent questions from Peter.

Without wishing to be rude, Milliband comes across as quite stupid to me (although anyone who constantly defends economic growth does – so that’s most people). His assertion that his constituents wouldn’t have central heating without economic growth – therefore we must have more economic growth is just daft! When will our ‘standard of living’ ever be enough for these guys?! (Yes I know there are lots of poor people in the UK but that is caused by politics and economics not a lack of economic growth…). There’s also a massive disconnect between the idea that the only problem with making and consuming ‘stuff’ is the fossil fuel used at present. There seems to no acknowledgment at all that the ‘stuff’ (wood, metal, plastic) might also be finite.

I suggest that the best place for Milliband is a 2 week residential with David Holmgren and his ‘Energy Future’s’ graph. If he still thinks ‘green-tech-stability’ is the answer after that then I’ll eat my cellulose insulation.

Marcin Gerwin
26 May 9:43pm

I think that Ed Milliband made an important point though 🙂 The concept of “no growth” might be hard to sell. While for environmentalists it’s obvious, many people from the consumer culture may find it distracting. However, it’s not that there’s something wrong with the idea of “no growth” itself. It’s just the packaging that makes it hard to sell.

What does the “no growth” imply? It means better quality of life, better social ties, secure livelihoods and ecological economy. Who wouldn’t vote for that? So, after re-labelling it, here’s what we get: on one side you have economic growth while on the other you have a good life. Which one do you choose?

[…] 26, 2009 at 5:39 pm · Filed under General chat A comment on a recent Transition Culture post gave me a minor Aha! moment just […]

Ben Brangwyn
27 May 12:41pm

I think we missed a trick challenging the word growth. Ed just understands “growth” as economic growth. But there are plenty of other types of growth, and one of those which we’d like see more attention on is “human happiness” (as long as it’s not at the expense of biodiversity or long-term climate stability). It’d be interesting to see what kind of policies Ed would put in place if his guiding metric was human happiness rather than economic measures.

marcus perrin
27 May 5:32pm

The energy (and a degree of warmth) in this conversation was great to hear. Congratulations Transition Network for getting Ed to the conference and securing the interview. When the multimedia story book of Transition is created, I can already hear this audio piece opening a new chapter!

I believe Ed is more intelligent than a previous contributor is giving him credit for and he probably sees the threat of Peak Oil and will be questioning the growth idea in his own mind. But let’s put ourselves in his shoes for a moment. To adopt the PO & no growth outlook, Ed would be adding another fright to the growing list of serious national concerns and would be in effect, accepting that there will be no recovery or not a recovery of the magnitude that his colleagues in the rest of government keep talking about.

Personally, like many of us using Transition as a tool in our communities, I see the current growth model as bankrupt. However, selling this view alongside the idea of Transition will, I feel cause us great difficulty. As a society, we have had the ‘growth is good’ mantra ringing in our ears for decades and Transition initiatives will struggle to reverse this outlook. Also, are we in danger of getting our logic in a twist? If we believe that Peak Oil will be upon us soon and will severely damage the global economic engine, surely that will keep growth at bay and make the whole debate irrelevant? Furthermore if economic wellbeing has to be part of the wider sustainable future then maybe some localities will see economic growth (even as currently measured) following successful Transition Initiatives. I can see unorganised ‘Transition Tourism’ doing very well in Totnes in a few years time!

The growth debate, is for me like many other topics that we find ourselves discussing (e.g. population, political structures) in that it is close orbit around the key aims of Transition projects – namely reducing carbon emissions and developing more resilient communities. For me, economic growth is a large scale economic discussion, not one well suited to ‘the local’. Are there not already other national and global groups lobbying on this issue?

So my personal request is that we accept Ed’s answers on growth and Peak Oil for now and move to ground where we share aspirations with his department. By showing government that we can continue to help reduce emissions and strengthen communities, our credibility will be reinforced. Judging by the people I had the privilege of meeting at the Transition Conference, our global initiative has a wealth of talented, credible and positive individuals to help make this happen.

My final observation surrounds how we engage with National Government. How easy is it for Transition to speak with one voice? Should we try? Maybe National Government should recognise the local nature of the movement and develop ways to engage at that level? Recent experience tells me that some inidividuals active in Transition do not warm to the idea of being represented. Just one thought to consider for budding national government engagement plans around the world…..

So what questions would I ask Ed in a future meeting?

How can National Government help increase the flexibility of local government to act in relevant areas? e.g. pushing housing standards beyond current regulatory requirements

What role can the UK’s other Government Agencies/Forces play in supporting the core aims of Transition? (e.g. providing land, free training, meeting space, technical expertise)

And finally…
Which members of his team is he nominating for Transition Training later this year? 🙂

[…] Ed Milliband Visits the Transition Network Conference as a ‘Keynote Listener’ Ed Milliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, visited the Transition Network conference on Friday afternoon as a ‘Keynote Listener’, which all went very well. He was meant to only stay for half an hour, but ended up stayed nearly an hour and a half. […]

Lewis Cleverdon
28 May 12:03pm

Given the current hegemony of the economic growth ideology, I doubt whether withdrawing from the debate over it with the establishment would achieve anything more than bolt-holer status for the transition initiative in the eyes of politicians, that is, persons to be patted occasionally and then ignored.

The fact that cogent questions are being put to Ed M, and taped, is in my view an essential advance for the transition initiative, since govt has, and will have, the power either to utterly hamstring or properly endow that initiative for the foreseeable future.

(Those who don’t believe in advancing representative democratic government are of course entitled to their views, however misguided).

In our depopulated, de-hedged, de-skilled rural society, I see great need of what might well be described as “ecological growth”, being the advance of human society’s prosperity via its productive integration with the region’s native ecology.
E.g.: a coppice-fuelled district-CHP plant could justify the planting of trad. native coppice on bracken-slopes etc, and thereby establish an ecology “that can hold the highest biodiversity of any European ecosystem” [Prof Alistair Fitter, 1994, York].

To put it simply, fossil fuels have supported an economic growth model that is proving evidently unsustainable; we need to redefine what is meant by “growth” in a sufficiently practical manner that it can be included in party manifestos for national consideration.



Philip Valentino
28 May 5:23pm

The Sustainable Development Commission has just published a report “Prosperity without Growth ?” see

Wikipedia: The Sustainable Development Commission is the UK Government’s independent watchdog on sustainable development, and a non-departmental public body. Members report directly to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales.

Lets hope the Prime Minister and First Ministers read the report, and might consider that i) “Growth” for growth’s sake ii) “GDP” a simplistic measure by (city) economists, and iii) “Globalisation we must protect” are largely irrelevant to people’s real daily quality of life.

Perhap the Media could move onto more important topics such as this too.

Yours Truly (bored of MPs expenses)
TT Haslemere, Surrey

[…] and Climate Minister Ed Milliband visited as a ‘keynote listener’ […]

29 May 5:08pm

@Marcin Gerwin

Economic growth please and a higher standard of living, please.

I don’t think being forced into slave labour on someones’s farm for the rest of my life will be much to smile about. You people do talk a lot of rubbish.

29 May 5:10pm

@Marcin Gerwin

Economic growth and a higher standard of living, please.

I don’t think being forced into slave labour on someone’s farm for the rest of my life will be much to smile about. You people do talk a lot of rubbish.

30 May 1:32pm

Congratulations on getting Ed to the conference and conducting the interview.

In the discusion about economic growth and standards of living, I was surprised that neither of the interviewers made the obvious point that GDP and ‘living standards’ in the UK are already rapidly declining, and unlikely to recover, due to the decline in domestic oil and gas production and the collapse of the world financial system. Ed made the obvious logical error of perceiving TT as ‘opponents’ of growth rather than acknowledging the fact that, not only is infinite growth impossible, but GDP is *already declining*!

The same argument can/should be made re the Heathrow expansion, i.e. why is the airport expanding when the global aviation industry is declining/collapsing?!?

Philip Valentino
1 Jun 11:46pm

In reply to “Economic growth and a higher standard of living, please”

Growth is a word with many meanings from the personal (e.g. the Seven Habits) to increasing various statistical measures of the size of the economy. Clearing up a massive oil-spill increases GDP.

I am all for “growth and improved living standards” – the key point is what kind of growth (recovery) and what kind of living standards ? Are they of quality, and sustainable over the long term ? Bigger flatscreens ? malaria in the UK ? children leaving school with well developed skills for joining adult society ? a pensions system we can trust that provides adequately ? national food and energy security ? etc etc etc.

What is for sure is that if we keep growing the economy the way we are at present, by consuming nature’s finite and literally priceless** resources faster than they can replenish themselves (e.g. fishing out the seas), and faster than they can process our waste (our CO2 thats acidifying the seas) – we are screwed – whether its in 5 years (peak oil ?) 50 years, or 500 years.

This is where Transition Culture is coming from. Its time to change from the bottom up. Government is on the record that it can’t do everything from the top, and why should we abdicate all to “government” anyway ? Community and Responsibility are two words that come to mind.

My favourite books on the topic i) E.F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful ii) Herman Daly: Beyond Growth (a former world bank economist), and iii) Thom Hartmann: The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight – the one that brings it all together for me. 11th Hour is the best film on the subject – balanced wisdom from some of our best informed elders – and as an aside, where we learn that the services provided by nature** e.g. pollination, making oxygen, etc are worth (OK using money as a measure) about twice global GDP.

When I take a walk in the woods and touch the earth, “economic growth” seems a little less important to me. Having a wood to walk in, and the time to do so, that’s a “living standard”, and one that is sadly disappearing for many humans. Indeed our dependence on the forests is very well described by Thom Hartmann. enjoy.

still sharpening the saw…

Jim Adams
2 Jun 12:37am

I was at Ed’s presentation in Brighton some months back, having written to him beforehand on Climate Change and Peak Fossil Fuels.

I had a look at some of his speeches and voting record, and thought it wasn’t particularly progressive, but on the other hand it was ‘balanced’, so I was eager to hear what he had to say (and I had comments of my own to make – on the Chinese ’32 saplings’policy to absorb CO2 ,and that Carbon Capture and Storage won’t be ready in time). I do support him more than his brother, against whom I have an occasional ‘rant’!

Yes, he adheres to traditional ideas of growth, for example the Heathrow runway (against which there was a protest in the hall at this meeting), but I would like to make clear that he stated that aircraft using Heathrow will be forced to be very fuel efficient.

I think events will force the government to come round to abandoning some aspects of globalisation (which has been a centuries-long item of debate in British politics) – but I would like to say that my position here is deliberately ‘nuanced’ – globalisation will and should continue to advance in some areas – for heaven’s sake, we need to cooperate internationally on issues of climate change and peak fossil fuels, if we are to optimise solutions – (that goes along with local solutions too) but in other areas, it needs to be, and will be forced to be – reined in. It is quite clear that projections for global growth in China and India require, in the former case, such large uses of coal, that this growth is either unsustainable or it amounts to a climate change catastrophe.

I would also like to point out that the government has been, as they ought to be, ahead of public opinion on issues of renewable energy and climate change – Hilary Benn was a principal instigator of much policy here, and I must say, after much effort in this direction which has seemed like banging my head against a brick wall, or shouting in the middle of an empty desert, that I feel the message has got through.

So my comment is, some people in what the Russians call the ‘Centre’ – i.e. where decisions are taken – are aware of what people in Transition are saying, and a concommitant challenge is to broaden this awareness out, so it is stable across changes of government or changes to personnel in the ‘permanent government’ – the civil service, because it has democratic support.

Jason Wingate
2 Jun 2:28pm

Of course there’s people losing jobs now Miliband! They’re in jobs that depend on oil or on aspects of the economy that are going to get into deeper and deeper water. You don’t know it’s bad they’re losing those jobs — they may find other ways to live apart from depending on the outdated notions you’re peddling! The people on the tall buildings have much further to fall.

Miliband didn’t show too badly here considering he’s actually, like, in the cabinet. I have some more respect for him now. But it’s that whole thing of ‘what’s going to play?’ Wondering what will sell stymies so many.

Just imagine the impact if one really big hitter did come out and say, peak oil is real, downshift is not madness but sanity. If anyone in any reasonably powerful position did, that might change the situation overnight. Even (or especially?) if a weak government tried to backtrack on it. There don’t seem to be any Clare Short types left though.

Of course, ‘low carbon economic growth’ is a completely stillborn infant. Growth ‘lifts people out of poverty,’ yes, but a sustainable initiative with appropriate technology doesn’t look the same as western industrialization! There will be enough future economic shocks to make people realize how far we have to fall, the question is only — when? And will people react resourcefully? I don’t believe we are facing a choice between ‘growth now’ and ‘cutting back now’ — that was the choice we faced in the 70s. There is no growth now.

Stuff from Rob at 13:00 is perfect.

Does Miliband even know there’s already an all-party committee on peak oil? All that stuff he’s saying around 5:45 is being totally repudiated at every talk they put together. So yeah let’s have that talk whenever you want Mr Ed. It’s not about ‘we’re not accepting the positivity of economic growth’, it’s about ‘you’re not accepting the negativity of the shrinkage which must inevitably follow it.’

Dave A (TT Derby)
2 Jun 10:37pm

Economic expansion has little to do with a better quality of life. That, I believe, is just a way of justifying it to the public.

Economic growth is a necessity due to the way that money is created within the economic system. See Money as Debt on YouTube etc.

The economic system in its present form will continue to create environmental, health and social crises because of failings such as externalisation of costs, inability to place value on things which can not be owned or traded (eg. the atmosphere), and the systemic requirement for growth. Even if we did move to a low carbon society, but maintained the present economic systems the problems would just move elsewhere.

It is not in the interest of government or banks to reveal or altered the present systems.

[…] Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, turned up at the Transition Conference as a ‘keynote listener’, but still managed to drop a few […]

Chris Rowland
15 Jun 8:06pm

Ed Millerband should be congratulated for turning up and listening to what people at the TT conference were discussing. The points I picked up on were: how can grass roots groups/projects work with government at all levels to influence/assist change, is economic unlimited growth possible in a finite world, in what way will government fund a green revolution to implement a more sustainable way of life in terms of energy power generation, transport etc? On a positive note Mr Millerband was open to discussing all the issues Transition Towns concerned about. A key point was the question around giving people, at a local level power to influence government policy and spending in their local environment (re: Local Works). So long as this kind of dialogue continues with open minded representatives in government there is hope that big changes can be made over the next decade, but talk will have to be backed with policy change and redirection of funds to allow a truly sustainable way life to take effect. From my own perspective the issue of ‘at risk funding and feed in tariffs’ was of particular interest. Working with Transition Town Lewes and OVESCo over the past couple of years we have struggled with making steps forward to generate local sustainable decentralised energy for the benefit of the community.

[…] visited the Transition Network Conference as keynote listener on the weekend of 22nd May. Go to to hear the interview with him – very interesting! Categories: Uncategorized Tags: […]