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.

3 Jul 2009

Responding to Sharon Astyk on Permaculture and Transition

eden-salad-2Sharon Astyk is one of the bloggers I most admire, one of the most insightful and incredibly prolific writers out there.  It was fascinating therefore to read the two articles she recently posted, Permaculture Future Part One and Part Two.  Her basic argument is that permaculture and Transition are, as we head into the Long Emergency, the only two shows in town in terms of positive solutions-focused responses, but are they up to it?  Fair question.  I hope in this post to try and address some of Sharon’s points, which as usual, are very well argued, and deserve a lengthy muse…

Firstly, permaculture.  I love permaculture dearly.  I did my Design Course in 1992, and have been a teacher of it since 1997.  I live, breathe and dream permaculture.  It is family.  It is in my DNA.  What initially blew me away about permaculture, when my friend David gave me a copy of the Designers Manual in 1991, was the idea of it being a toolkit for Earth repair, a distillation of good practice, design insights and applied common sense that offered a way forward for a global ecology and human society in crisis.  It put humanity, long at the centre of destroying the biota, firmly in the driving seat of sorting it out.  It was about solutions.  I loved it.

Becoming a permaculture teacher was a hugely informative process, I learnt so quickly.  It is often said the best way to learn something is to tell yourself you will be teaching it in 3 weeks time, and thus it was for me.  I have seen, as a teacher, how teaching people the principles of permaculture, giving them those design insights, are like giving them a pair of glasses through which they become able to see possibilities rather than what is currently there.  It is a very powerful tool.  However, as I wrote in the Transition Handbook, I have come to have my concerns about it too, and this takes us back to Sharon’s article.

Permaculture has, for a long time, been good at making big claims.  I’m sure, at various times, I have been as guilty of this as anyone.  “Permaculture can feed the world”, “permaculture is more productive than intensive farming”,”we definitely know that permaculture works”.  I wrote a piece here a while ago called ‘In Search of the Fabled Chicken Greenhouse’.  This was based on my having for years taught the chicken greenhouse as a classic of permaculture design principles in action, and having decided to actually make one, finding that even my fellow teachers had actually never seen one (I have yet to finish mine, although I did find out that one chicken puts out around 15w of heat, so 4 chickens equate to a 60w light bulb).  Yet there it is as a design classic that we tell people definitely works.  There are others; is mulching the best technique in temperate zones, is forest gardening really as low maintenance as it is often presented, are permaculture gardens based on a preponderance of perennial plants anywhere near as productive as traditional market gardening?

What has long concerned me is that there are lots of people out there in permaculture, all with great motivation and intention, diseminating things which may or may not work, and not enough people actually rigorously testing it, revisiting projects, documenting successes and failures, and being honest about them.  Misperceptions and half-truths become enshrined as fact.  There is very little first hand, testable research taking place, although Permaculture Activist magazine has historically done a great job of drawing together what research there is.  This is, I think, at least partly because permaculture tends not to attract people who do active, detailed, scientific research. My reading of Bill Mollison’s message when I first came into permaculture was that he was saying that academia was largely unneccessary and irrelevant, we just needed to DO stuff.

He famously said “if lose the universities we lose nothing, if we lose the forests, we lose everything”.  Yes, fair point, but to me it implied a rejection of the idea of research and measurement, and as a result, we have a movement of doers, and very little measurement, and not enough self criticism and self reflection.  For a while, the term a ‘Mollisonianism’ was coined, to describe a statistic, a quoted fact, seemingly plucked from the air with little tangible relation to reality.  It made for very powerful and life-changing talks and trainings, but left a lot of academics and those in search of evidence scratching their heads.  There is an old joke that runs thus; how many permaculturists does it take to change a light bulb? 14. One to change the bulb and 13 to run lightbulb changing workshops.  Although a joke, there is an element of truth to it.

For me, the second in-built flaw in permaculture is, as Sharon observes, its inability to present itself acceptably to the mainstream (again, I speak solely from my experience in the UK and Ireland).  There are some wonderful and notable exceptions, but in the main, permaculture seems to be quite happy to accept a place apart from the mainstream, rooted in alternative culture, waiting for the world to ‘wake up’ and to realise that permaculture holds the answers it is looking for.  I think it is extraordinary that, to the best of my knowledge, there is still no landscape design consultancy out there (in the UK at least) tendering for public parks, new developments and other spaces, producing really high quality permaculture designs for edible landscapes, agroforestry plantings and skilful and productive water management in those places.  Where are the trainers taking permaculture principles into organisations?  By now there ought to be loads.

There are many fantastic designers, growers and activists out there doing great work, but it rarely touches the mainstream, perhaps due, in part, to its being perceived as something so determinedly alternative.  I have taught hundreds of people all I know about permaculture, especially through the course in Kinsale.  How many of them now work as permaculture design professionals?  How many of them then augmented what I had taught them with written presentation skills, graphic design skills, the skills required to run their own business?  To the best of my knowledge, none, although many of them integrated various aspects of permaculture into their lives.

This is why, for me, David Holmgren’s book ‘Permaculture: principles and pathways’ was so key.  What he says in there is that actually what permaculture is, more than a movement, is a set of principles, and those principles are the principles for a post-oil society.  Whether you call it permaculture or not matters little.  What is key is that these principles, a deeply insightful reworking of previous definitions, are embedded wherever possible.  To me, Transition is an approach which tries to draw from what I have perceived as both the strengths and the weaknesses of permaculture, and the inbuilt flaws that make it highly unlikely that it could ever become a mainstream phenomenon, but designed so as to accelerate the wider takeup of those principles.

Permaculture is notoriously difficult to explain in 2 minutes in the pub.  Transition is much easier, yet it is designed, if you like, like a Trojan horse.  It can be taken up by all kinds of people, who can ‘get it’ quickly, yet those permaculture principles are implicit, not explicit.  One of Sharon’s concerns about Transition is that, like permaculture, it is designing itself into a ghetto of its own making, through its approach, its presentation and so on.  While that is always a concern, and I will come on to that in a moment, I think that in its 3 years of life thus far, it is my sense that Transition has already embedded itself into mainstream culture far deeper than permaculture managed in 30, at least so far as my experience in the UK can tell.  Let me give you some examples just from the last couple of weeks;

  • Transition Town Tooting have become one of 4 out of 178 projects to be funded to do a big project about Transition, the Arts and climate change, presented by Ed Milliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who now seems to be waxing lyrical about Transition wherever he goes, having been invited to our conference as a ‘keynote listener’
  • Yesterday I was in North Devon giving a presentation to trustees of the National Trust, the UK’s largest landowner, who are very seriously looking at engaging Transition into their work.  ”Resilience’ and ‘local’ are becoming their buzz words, and after my presentation, on a bus with them going to a site visit, all the conversations between the trustees were about resilience, transition and energy descent.  If anyone is interested, you can download the presentation I gave them here.
  • I met with the CEO of a large estate on the edge of Totnes, very keen to embed Transition ideas into their work, they are looking seriously at creating an off grid combined heat and power system, new buildings using local materials, and a potential complete rethink of how their 1000 acres of land, on the edge of Totnes, is to be used, inspired, in part, by the buzz of Transition locally and nationally
  • The big article in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago, the bastion of Conservative England, putting Transition forward as one of the potential responses to the recession, a great one in the Guardian suggesting that Transition might hold the seeds for the future of politics in the UK, not places, this kind of thing usually appears, but both seeing Transition not as something ‘alternative’ or ‘hippy’, but as deeply relevant for wider society and debates

Sharon writes;

I believe that at this moment, permaculture groups and the Transition movement represent quite honestly the only game in town for an ‘organized’ set of strategies for dealing with our present crisis  – that is, ultimately, Transition and permaculture are the public face of our adaptive strategies…

Her point that at this stage, permaculture and Transition are the only shows in town (no pressure then!), although perhaps a slight exaggeration (organics? agroforestry? biointensive?) is a fascinating one.  Transition never set out to be that.  We are as flummoxed as anyone by the rate of growth in interest and the rate of the deepening of that engagement. Is Transition ready for scaling up big time?  Is permaculture?  How might it function in a ‘shit-hitting-the-fan’ context?  Hard to say at this stage.  My sense is that what Transition is doing is patiently but skillfully building a lot of the networks that will be needed, drawing together the organisations on whom responses will depend, and offering and revaluing skills, as well as getting Councils and other organisations to think about these issues.  It is reducing the fear around inevitable change, and getting more organisations and individuals seeing it as an opportunity.  The debate about Transition and emergency preparedness is one that has begun here, and will no doubt continue, but I want to move on to other issues raised by Sharon’s post.

One of her points is her aversion to sitting in circles of people, and anything that has a ‘touchy-feely’ element to it.  Fair enough.  I did my permaculture design course with a teacher who was an avowed circle dancer.  Every morning at 9 we were all to circle dance for 10 minutes.  I arrived at 10 past 9 every morning.  There is a balance here though which we need to explore.

If we think that we are going to weather the Long Emergency without any form of supporting each other emotionally, without any kind of ability to share the distress it is causing, if we think that the work of the next 10-20 years will be purely external, we are deluding ourselves.  The work of Joanna Macy and others offers a great deal in terms of equipping us for the profund transitions, inner and outer, that are, after all, inevitable.  I have seen many people come here to Totnes to do Transition Training, nervous about the possibility of there being some kind of inner work, blown away by it.  It has a powerful place, an essential place.  Yet I didn’t discuss it with Ed Milliband, nor did I ask the Trustees of the National Trust to sit in a circle and vision the future.  When I give public talks, I might ask the audience to talk to the person next to them, but not to hug them or share their innermost grief with them.  It is a matter of what is appropriate where and when.

If people want to go deeper into Transition, having some of those reflective skills is going to be vital.  Being out there advocating Transition in your community is work which is exhilating and life affirming, but it can also be lonely, frightening, stressful and can leave one feeling as though they are shouldering the hope of an entire community.  That requires inner skills, as much as outer ones, much as in the same way that in permaculture, the Earth Care is the easy part, the People Care far trickier.  It is intense work, and people need to be properly equipped for it.  Sometimes this leads to the accusation that Transition is a ‘cult’, a patently absurd suggestion, and one that is really a very lazy label to put onto anything that contains any element of inner work.  Yet there are hundreds of ways into Transition.  Here in Totnes, for example, there are 11 working groups.  They focus on different aspects of this.  The Heart and Soul group might meditate together and explore tools for strengthening the inner aspects of Transition.  The Building group discuss U-values and planning codes and the Energy group discusses potential energy demand for the area.  To the best of my knowledge, they do sit in a circle, but only out of it being the most practical way of all being able to see each other (what’s the alternative, sitting in rows?)

For me, the approach the Transition is sometimes criticised for, of not being more explicit about what it is against, is increasingly clearly one of its great strengths.  To make an explicit connection would be to lose much of the respect it is generating in the wider world.  Other people do that very well, and many people in Transition step between one and the other.  There are, of course, issues of diversity, and the old accusation of Transition being largely white and middle class is still relevant, but then it is to the wider environmental movement as a whole, and to permaculture).  Sharon seems to be concerned that it is mostly white, middle class hippies, but that seems to be less my experience here (whatever hippy means nowadays: as an Irish woman friend of mine once said “a hippy is the thing that your leggies are connected to”..).  My experience is that many of the people engaging in Transition are not, mostly, the same people that engaged with permaculture, they tend to be a more mainstream crowd, many of whom do not have a background in environmentalism, although of course this differs from place to place.

However, moving forward, deepening that diversity is vital, and is a key aspect of the work of Transition, we are very aware of that.  Also, drawing from the lessons learnt from permaculture, so is measurement and research.  The work I am doing in Totnes, looking in depth at the extent to which Transition thinking has embedded itself in the area and how one might measure resilience, are one part of this.  So is the series of books being produced, ‘The Transition Guides to…’, the first one on food being published in September.  Rather than just being books of ideas, they are rooted in the experience, the successes and the failures, of Transition food projects around the world.  The new website (coming soon) will enable a great exchange of successes and failures, ideas and tips, between Transition groups, and the exchange of data and outputs.

In terms of deepening engagement, we are already engaging with faith groups, and starting to do work around the language with which Transition is communicated.  We are deepening the engagement of Transition with businesses and other organisations.  But Transition Network itself is still just 4 people.  There are many thousands of people all over the world doing Transition in their communities, the challenge, as I see it, is to enshrine through all our work, those principles,  of;

  • documenting what we do
  • sharing the successes and failures
  • measuring outputs where possible
  • continually deepening diversity of engagement
  • being mindful of presentation and language  (since I started wearing a shirt and had my hair cut I am still amazed at how much more seriously people take me)
  • adapting the message and how it is communicated depending on the audience.

As Ken Jones, quoted in the Transition Handbook, put it, this is about “changing the climate, rather than winning the argument”.

Whether we manage to sufficiently change the climate (in all meanings of the term) before it is too late, remains to be seen.  I think our best hope lies in being able to argue our case in many ways; in the fact that people enjoy it and seem to be having a fun, in that it offers a coherent overview of the wider challenges affecting society, a practical model for catalysing responses, that we have an approach which is accessible and understandable, that it offers a route for organisations to positive, vital and engaged community groups, that it results in people modelling change not just calling for it.

Sometimes I am asked, and some of the comments on Sharon’s first piece also ask this, is permaculture part of Transition, or Transition part of permaculture?  Many of things (but not all)  I just mentioned could also be said about permaculture.  However, for me, I see it that permaculture is a set of principles and insights which hold a vital role in the future of a post-peak society, and Transition is a vehicle designed for deepening their embedding and take up at the scale needed for their to influence the direction of humanity at this point.  It is not a case, for me, of which is a part of which.  Transition has grown out of permaculture as a way of enshrining those principles in a vehicle that can hopefully avoid some of the failings observed in permaculture over time, and thereby hopefully increasing our chances of success.  Sharon concludes her second piece;

All that matters is that the work gets done, as well as possible, that the floods are as small as we can make them, and that the suffering is as little as possible.  That’s honestly all I care about.

Indeed.  That is the task to which we all dedicate ourselves, whatever we choose to call this work.  Transition has not arrived as a fully formed, completely developed model that you just plug in and everything magically transforms.  It is created by the many thousands of people doing it, wherever they are.  We all try to do it as skilfully as possible, and discussions like these are a powerful part of refining these ideas.  For me, all the signs are that that deepening and broadening of Transition is happening, whether it happens fast enough, only time will tell.

I do appear to have written rather a lot here, and congratulations if you have made it to the end.  I hope it was worthwhile.  Sharon’s piece was an invitation to write about my 2 favourite things, so inevitably I had a lot to say.  Bit like being asked to write about the influence of the Velvet Underground and Can on modern music.  Maybe another time….

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


Sharon Astyk
6 Jul 2:37pm

Rob, thanks for the great reply (and everyone, thanks for the great replies). And yes, that’s just one of the reasons I think talking to the religious communities is so important on their terms – and also because I honestly think that a lot of the nuts and bolts work is being done there, at least in the US – the food pantries, the recognizing of basic lifecycle events, the burying, the helping people through end of life and grief issues.

On the subject of testing, I really like Brad’s idea of the county fair model for some purposes – actually, Transition fairs isn’t a bad thought at all, particularly here in the US where many ag fairs have turned into mostly carnivals – there is an existing infrastructure that might be utilized. What a terrific idea.

Also re:testing, one concern I have in regards to the data that comes out of Totnes is (and I hope you will take this as I intend it, not as a criticism but praise of you) that I wonder if they have adequately compensate for the “Rob factor” (a term I’ve just now made up, but am going to have to popularize ;-)). That is, it is absolutely obvious that where you live – Kinsale or Totnes or wherever, you are going to transform that place. It is also obvious that you can extend that power out a good bit – but the question of how much of what gets accomplished in Totnes or its immediate area, where people can hear you speak, meet you, and see the influence you have is applicable to places without (forgive the term) a charismatic leader.

I personally think that the right leader can say just about anything – bad stuff, good stuff, hard stuff – and make change. I’m not implying a cult of personality here, merely that leadership alone explains a lot. I actually think this is enormously important – that is, I think literal revolutions could happen with the right front people, and it is obvious, Rob that (and plenty of respect to everyone else doing the work) that you are able to do that. But it also has another side – one finds out how much the direct leadership is necessary when things are translated far away.

Me, I’m on a hunt for our Nyerere, King, Sam Adams, Jean D’Arc… some of the analogies are better than others, of course. Personally, I think that’s going to be necessary if many of the rather difficult things are actually dealt with. Rob, I hate to tell you, but you are on my short list ;-).


6 Jul 2:48pm


These Dig for Victory posters have long been used in Peak Oil presentations, including mine and Rob’s.


I brought this in to answer Greenpa who believes that anyone trying to tell the truth won’t move people to act.

The fact that Sharon uses that same material, but still asks so many hard questions of TT gives the lie to that idea. One can understand the need to move people without giving up on telling them some difficult truths. Personally I think they appreciate being looked in the eye sometimes.

peak oil and climate change are much harder to perceive as threats than Hitler was.

Absolutely; I don’t pretend the task is easy.

As far as the demographic ideas you bring up, I of course know what you are saying. I’m not sure I agree completely with pre-judging who will listen and who won’t though. I’d like to hear other views on that.

I’m not saying you’re outright wrong, but let’s not forget just how deeply the Peak Oil story has gone inside the BNP, for example. Stereotypical Green meme? Hardly! So perhaps it’s a question of how you speak to whom. I thought Sharon‘s point was really all about that.

I’ll shut up now!

Brad K.
6 Jul 2:49pm

Reading Sharon and Rob’s articles, and especially the comments here, it seems that Permaculture and Transition have grown and even flourished in some locales and in some communities – because they are non-threatening. The richness of available cheap energy resources, the limited scope of current and past efforts don’t challenge the wide world to accomodate, or to think, or to plan about what followers of Permaculture and Tradition do or say.

Tolerance is accorded because few resources have been diverted or requested. Tolerance exists because the relatively quiet claims of impending shortage and collapse sound almost like other “end of the world” proclamations, so they don’t jar communities. Tolerance because the shortages predicted seem far-fetched in the midst of apparent sufficiency.

This tolerance, this almost-indifference, could end, though. Transition, localizing food supplies and local manufactures and production currently divert miniscule amounts of resources of growing ground, of talents and skills, of community attention.

When the Long Emergency comes home to roost, and resources start getting scarce, I expect that the responses will start with one or more of several reactions. 1) Communities will see that traditional production and growing techniques aren’t meeting expectations – and anyone diverting energy and attention from commercial ag and production resources will be confiscated by those with the most to lose. 2) Communities will notice that Permaculture and Transition resources are providing needed resources – and will begin confiscating the fruits of preparation, while hindering or destroying the ability to continue developing an alternate economy. 3) Preparedness will be seen as offering a proven, reasonable approach to adapt and weather the storm, and communities will adapt to the permaculture and Transition principles and practices. 4) Charismatic leaders, looking to make use of any crisis, will identify permaculture and Transition as a new source of leadership – and charge them with subversion, witchcraft/devil worship, and attempt to build personal power by attacking any vulnerable figurehead.

I am thinking of the Amish communities in America. Starting as the European Anabaptist movement, they followed a philosophy of caring for the Earth and staking their beliefs on caring for the soil. The improved farming methods they followed led to today’s world agriculture movement. Today we consider crop rotation and fertilizing simple and basic growing and animal husbandry. But the Anabaptists farms showed such marked improvements in production that local leaders branded them witches and warlocks and persecuted the ones they didn’t kill outright until the remainder fled Europe.

Without the Anabaptists and their innovations in farming, much more of the world would have starved and be starving today. Yet the descendants, the Amish and Mennonite communities, no longer exist on their home continent, and they survive mostly because of self-imposed isolation.

From what I have seen, permaculture and Transition projects and leaders have been free and open, publishing results, plans, and rationales for surviving and thriving in a changed world and changed economy. But it seems that the organizations and communities putting their efforts forward now must choose.

Will the work be seen as the publications and information that is shared with the world, or as the resources developed and husbanded for themselves and their families? Because if history is the guide, it looks like having conspicuous resources makes one a target more often than a leader and provider.

I see references to placing land for food production in national trusts, and wonder. When the nation starts scrounging for resources, why do you trust them to honor pledges on how that land is to be used? When it comes to “hard choices” that usually means that someone’s trust is to be broken. When thousands or millions see productive gardens and fields, will the government protect the grower and the field, or just be slow in keeping marauders from plundering in the name of feeding their families?

I may be chasing phantom worries, I know. Do I think that every locale will react the same violent way? Nope. But I sure think that some communities and scalawags and corrupt officials and latent barbarians will. And I think that community outreach and Transition security issue planning should be a bit more prominent in preparation for the Long Emergency.

6 Jul 2:54pm

Jason- “I agree that moving people is what matters, but to move them in a direction which won’t eventually meet the case is hardly to accomplish anything.”

I think if you and I were put into that locked white room, we would find we are in substantial agreement.

My own prejudice is: getting a mass of people to MOVE, is the overwhelming first need. More important; VASTLY more important, than having a correct destination.

A group not moving; is a guaranteed failure. A group that is moving- can be redirected; slowly.

Over on The Automatic Earth, Stoneleigh and I talk about “herd dynamics” from a biological perspective. That metaphor, though rude and abrasive, is probably the quickest way to understand human mass behavior. And it is NOT easy to comprehend.

My opinion; get the herd moving, first. And gathering. Then you can turn it. A herd not moving … is going nowhere.

Once the herd is moving, I’ll be right there working to turn it in the best directions we can. But. Move, and gather, first.

Sharon; yeah, he’s on my short list too. 🙂

6 Jul 2:57pm

And; re the value of war for uniting people to struggle to the maximum: yes. And- exactly how many people involved in actually fighting- knew the real truth about why the war was being fought?

If you think the American Civil War was fought to abolish slavery- wow. Not hardly. But- the belief that it was- was critical.

It’s not pretty; but it’s reality.

6 Jul 2:58pm

Oh and one other thing, just saw your statement Graham that Transition, in Spiral Dynamics terms, JUST appeals to green meme people. I disagree. In fact in Totnes, many of the most extreme ‘green meme’ people actually don’t engage with TTT because we are seen as too straight, too structured, too organised, and because we don’t take a strong stand on a range of more left-field issues. My experience is that we have some green meme folks, sure, but also some from quite a few of the other groups too. For someone so dedicated to only making statements based on researched reality, that feels rather like a statement plucked from the sky in order to prove your point, rather than something that is in any sense a statement of fact! It is certainly not my experience.

6 Jul 3:00pm

Incidentally, Sharon and Rob; you are two of the few people who know who I am IRL. If that’s useful. 🙂

6 Jul 3:06pm

Rob: “JUST appeals to green meme people. I disagree.”

Me too. It’s your ability to engage plain folks that has most deeply impressed me. And get folks from different backgrounds to ignore their differences.

Incidentally, I’m not just talking theory; 25 years ago I founded a non-profit conservation organization which is now still on track, and one of the top 10% of such organizations in the US, in terms of budget and membership. I quit running it 15 years ago.

And NOBODY would ever think of mentioning politics or religion in one of it’s meetings or activities. I set that up. Consequently, we have people from the entire human spectrum working hard together; and delighted with it. It’s a relief to have one place where you know none of the nonsense will arise; and you can just work together.

That’s what TT is trying to do, too.

[…] over Sharon Astyk’s posts (I & II) on Permaculture and Transition, Rob Hopkins’s response, and a wild flurry of e-mails, I was out planting and harvesting. So were Sharon and Rob, I expect. […]

Sharon Astyk
6 Jul 4:25pm

One more observation, and then I’ll stop. When I said I was lazy, I was not exaggerating, or begging people to contradict me, I was quite serious. I like the work I do on this – I like writing books in my pajamas and arguing on the internet, I like farming and playing with my kids. I like teaching, I like giving talks, and meeting people.

But what I dislike is the travel and the time away from my children. I dislike anything that makes it hard for me to run my farm – and the speaking engagements I do, even if valuable, are tough to mix in with the agricultural work and the reality of young kids and daily milking and weeds that grow up overnight. I dislike being away from home at meetings at night, rather than knitting on the couch with my husband. I dislike being politic ;-), I dislike the bread and butter work of organization and soothing egos. And yet, at this stage, that is probably the single most important work that can be done. Writing is easy – it is quiet in my room and in my head.

But we need meetings, and people to sit on the municipal water board, and show up for the neighborhood meetings, and organize them even when almost no one shows up, and do the work of telling people who don’t do things well independently how to put together a community. And, frankly, I hate doing that stuff – it is incompatible with the daily life I want to live. That said, I’m not clear that some sacrifice is not called for on my part.

My fear about transition is that the municipal level may be too large, particularly if the structure isn’t as inclusive as possible. In the US during WWII, this was proved to be the case for things like implementing rationing – inititally municipal structures were used, but they weren’t getting to everyone, so they started making more use of existing infrastructure – ie, women’s groups, churches, ptas, etc… but also the idea of block captains was needed – people already living in their neighborhood who could go door to door, and engage the neighbors.

For some time, I’ve been wondering if it was necessary to create a complementary or supplementary organizational structure that worked at the neighborhood level, where I’ve done a lot of my organizing work. It is possible such a thing could be incorporated into Transition, or could be independent of it, without doing any real harm – obviously, I have no wish to undermine municipal level actions. And the more I think about it, the more I suspect it is truly necessary – what balks me is this. I don’t want to go to meetings. I don’t want to have to travel all the time to train others. I don’t want to do the work. I know I can – and I suspect I can make it work. But I’m afraid of the personal cost – and what I do is already tougher on my husband than I want, and takes me away from my family more than I like, and makes it harder to turn the farm into what I want. But then, I wonder how much of what I want I’m entitled to, and how much I’m obligated to others. Not something with a simple answer.

All of which is just a long way of saying that I hold Rob and his organization in the highest esteem – and my esteem is not something I give out casually. My criticisms are serious, but I also know that I am criticizing people who have already done things I have balked at, and who are acting with great honor and commitment in a time of great need. So I do mean it when I say, I’m lazy, and there is nothing perfunctory about my praise of Rob or Transition. If I have not made that clear, I hope it is now.


6 Jul 5:25pm


“For someone so dedicated to only making statements based on researched reality, that feels rather like a statement plucked from the sky in order to prove your point, rather than something that is in any sense a statement of fact!”

Well it certainly wasnt based on empirical evidence!- but would be very interesting to actually have some of the same (perhaps that is part of your research in Totnes…)
I was really speculating as to why there is such apparent discomfort amongst several of the commentators here and on Sharon’s blog re the touchy-feely stuff- and why this might be alienating and therefore working against the “bring everyone on board” aims.
Of course I accept that TT has wide appeal- but that is only part of its success; I still think it is mainly “Green” in its underlying ideology, and there is an important critique here (not coming only from me ) of the “lets make it positive” stance of TT.
Re Faith- “there are many many people around the world in crisis right now, whether it be through illness, war or whatever, for whom their faith is one of the key things that gets them through, logical or not.”
OK my turn to ask for evidence and definitions: What does “get them through” mean? There are also lots of people for whom faith does not help a jot, and leads them astray, precisely because it is not based on anything real.
As a rationalist, I often wonder how many of them have tried the alternative,-critical inquiry and evidence based approaches. I feel these are often culturally marginalized – your comments regarding the “arrogance” to question faith I feel in turn is deeply troubling- it then becomes almost a freedom of expression issue, we are told “we must respect all beliefs” etc which is impossible- so how do we know which ones to respect and which not?
Within the secular community this is of course a massive issue which has been extensively debated-
there are many very good arguments against the idea that faith is better than the informed ability to think critically about life.
Faith tends to suggest that morality is a given in some mysterious way and holds us back from becoming our own moral philosophers; but the upshot is, I feel on balance faith -and especially what you are purporting, a sort of “belief in belief” or “faith in faith” that by its nature should not be questioned- is far more damaging than simply looking once again at the evidence. (Yes, the way this is done is important, but not the main issue).
The difficulty I have with your stance is that it is not as inclusive as it claims- my position for example is clearly not respected in the way a “person of faith’s” would be! An irreconcilable dilemma.
I’d be afraid it would lead to something like this:
“Let’s widen the net and try to appeal to more Muslims… Jews… the Buddhists.. the Fundamentalist Christians… the Climate Change Deniers… the Endless Growth crowd… the secular humanists…oh no we dont want them. They challenge people’s faith, and we wont tolerate THAT.”
You see, you have to draw the line somewhere, there is just no way out!

6 Jul 5:28pm

Great discussion.

I wholeheartedly agree with Sharon that whilst circles work wonders from some they are not the only path.

I have also met lots of people who do not like them (was just talking about it this morning actually – am currently at Sieben Linden Ecovillage in Germany where we’re having circles in the morning, before every meal and in the evening).

Personally I don’t mind circles, but they don’t do much for me either and sometimes I do mildly resent the implicit peer pressure to participate when I’m not in the mood.


Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 5:45pm

Graham wrote: but it will have difficulty appealing to “modernist” (keep the show going/technology will save us) and “traditionalist” (family and religion are what’s important, not energy) value memes.
Not just difficulty but daunting difficulty supplanting existing paradigms such as this. I think Greenpa et al, like so many, vastly underestimate the difficulty of making more than a small dent in public awareness via campaigning. John Tyme’s “Motorways versus Democracy” was published in 1974 after two decades of motorway building. Great books such as the Limits to Growth came out about that same time. In 1978 I turned down an invite to join the Ecology, now Green Party because I didn’t think it could succeed. 31 years later (for sod’s sake!) there has never been a green govt anywhere in the world and the uk govt is still obsessed with more growth, airports, motorways. The green mission is coming to an end not because it has succeeded but because it has now failed and growthism has finally crashed into those long-forseen Limits to Growth. And the greens were preaching a more saleable future than one of enforced contraction evermore.

For these reasons the idea of mobilising sufficient masses to sufficiently transition any localities looks unlikely. Rob has inspired thousands, perhaps millions of people with his project; the problem is that he will have needed to inspire nearer billions within a few years. I don’t want to insist that some adaptive process could not possibly unfold in the way Rob et al envisage. I just don’t have enough confidence of it at the moment so am thinking towards less ideal but potentially more achievable goals, in terms of getting at least those prepared to believe and act in time on board a survival vessel. [and by the way Rob, my name has an e after the k!–Robin P Clarke]
PS–Rob rightly rejects the “cult” label “lazily”; there is no harsh pressure, or imposed rigid dogma, or leader-infallibility as befits a genuine cult.

6 Jul 6:46pm

Robin: read this, and tell me if you still think I underestimate the difficulties. There are several other posts on my blog on this subject; just search on “pushing on icebergs”.

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 6:57pm

Greenpa–I agree with the point that pushing an iceberg makes it move. But that page makes no impression against the points I’ve put above. Remember more than 30 years of that vast green party and FoE campaigning ends in the govts still trying to build roads into the twilight of the oil-gods, just like the easter island logger loonies. And we have a lot less than 30 years, be lucky to have 3 months what with California right now defaulting on its debts.

6 Jul 7:09pm

Ok, Robin; into the white room with you! 🙂

I’m quite certain we’re actually on the same side here- our goals are very similar; what we’re disagreeing about is how to get there- and there we’d need some long talks to sort out the tangles.

The examples you give do not persuade me; the Green parties have always been highly divisive and confrontational; TT is not. Likewise FoE- even their acronym translates as “up yours!”

TT is possibly at the inflection point of asymptotic growth- the signs are there. It takes time- whether you have time, or not. Makes no difference what the deadlines are; some things cannot be speeded up.

Likewise the gov’t sticking in it’s long established tracks- that is business as usual for humanity. As Max Planck put it long ago “Science moves forward one funeral at a time.” Or words to that effect. Society changes in much the same way.

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 7:18pm

Greenpa–I agree we’re on the same side disagreeing about the routemap. But if we enter that white room we’ll be there till we die. I can’t see how anything more I say will make any difference, and I can’t believe you are going to change my mind either. So best option seems to be if we allow this issue a few days brain-tweaking time, or perhaps a few decades….. (..)

6 Jul 7:47pm

WHEW!!!!!! Wow – one heck of a debate going on here…and my personal feeling is that its one VERY constructive one.

Greenpa – I tend to agree with your comment about getting people into a room together literally and then see what happens……so – for what its worth – Sharon and Rob you are both invited, should you decide to, to spend a week here chez ceridwen in England – because you have probably both realized by now that there are a few very fundamental points on which I disagree very strongly with you both personally and I’m not the “intellectual” you both are….BUT….if you both want a mattress at the same time in “the real world” in my teensy home to meet up physically…I’m up to facilitate that…you could both be guests here chez ceridwen for a week and well – see what happens…but I think you both have a very useful “strand of thought” to put into this…

..oh boy…what might I have let myself in for….3 strong characters in one little home…but…its an offer for you both…

Yep…I mean it…I’m serious…..

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 7:48pm

Greenpa–It takes time- whether you have time, or not. Makes no difference what the deadlines are; some things cannot be speeded up.
So let’s supposed we’re on the Titanic just as the iceberg hits and we apply this principle. We set up a Titanic damage crisis group, and arrange monthly meetings like Transition City Birmingham are doing. I jumped off their ship a year ago, frustrated that my attempts to set up a steering group and establish things like a constitution and the basic point that there should be less than two treasurers, were being sent round in circles by wanton disregard of my efforts, being undermined by insistent needless re-inventing of square wheels such as “joint treasurers” instead. A year later they are still trying to decide whether to set up a steering group.
I think we’re on the same side, but probably on different planets.

6 Jul 8:11pm

Graham — concerning, rationality vs. faith, I wondered if you had made the acquaintance of the good Archdruid, John Michael Greer? You never met a more rationally inclined man, yet he is… well… an Archdruid. I think he’d tell you that the rationality/faith dichotomy is a little false, or anyway, not necessary.

I agree with Josef when he says simply:

whilst circles work wonders from some they are not the only path. I have also met lots of people who do not like them… personally I don’t mind circles, but they don’t do much for me either.

Like I say, I speak as a man who ‘meditates’ alot and who might well be considered ‘New Age’ (assuming the phrase means anything) by some. My reaction to the spiritual side of TT is, blah. I’m like Sharon in that I already know what works for me.

Personally, I would also have a think about whether you want to be associated with ‘New Age’ stuff (or even Buddhism which Joanna Macy strongly is BTW) before you start reaching out to faith groups…

Sharon Astyk
6 Jul 8:54pm

Graham, I have no problem with the idea that athiests, agnostics and religious rationalists (not all religious people are theists, nor do all religious people have “faiths” that include a meaningful component of faith, actually) ought also be taken into account in our adaptive strategies.

As for trying it – I know few really religious people who haven’t experience with athiesm. I’m sure there are some who don’t, but I don’t think it is a majority experience – how could it be, if you are a reasonably thoughtful person who has reasonably thoughtful considerations of the qusetion of G-d? The reality is that more people go through atheism and come out at faith than vice versa – and far more in times of difficulty. To some, I’m sure this looks like an irrational strategy, or an inability to tolerate the truth. To others it will look different.


6 Jul 9:59pm

Nice piece, Rob.

I can highly recommend this inspiring TED talk on replanting a destroyed rainforest in Indonesia.

It’s very meticulously carried out with great scientific rigour of measurement, transparency, and experimentation.

TTN seem to have realised that it’s time for the next phase in the growth of transition. This is no longer a child where a few people are able to look after it, encourage it, and help it walk. It’s now nearing its teens and needs space, increasing autonomy, and to be treated more maturely. In another 10-20 years it will probably become a quite mundane adult which isn’t very excited at all, and just the way we do things because it’s the smart thing to do.

Hopefully the doubling in staff will help with the plan to document more, share more knowledge, measure and learn more, and grow more broadly and more deeply.

Exciting times!

Brad K.
6 Jul 10:47pm

I like Sharon’s neighbor level approach. Some suburbs now include a whole development for seniors. No one changed national priorities, no one made cities set aside resources for senior living and recreation. Yet Sun City and others have been helpful for their residents.

The Salvation Army makes a difference in lots of people’s lives. Yet their community interactions are often fluff stuff – United Way campaigns, some parades and fund raisers, the thrift stores and kettle and bell ringers at Christmas. The Amish are quite active in avoiding encroachment of the “English”.

Sharon’s approach has always intimated an interlocked and neighborly community or neighborhood, in her writings on Casaubon’s Book. It seems this type of approach has the best likelihood of prepared and preparing groups able to support each other. As each member prepares, the group has more resilient resources. Any time before the Long Emergency collapses merely improves the resources of the group, and improves the likelihood of spawning new groups and neighborhoods through example and through personal contact.

I would be leery, frankly, of community level localized food and other production, unless the entire community and surrounding communities are all deeply invested in preparedness – otherwise the food and other assets become targets for the unscrupulous and politicians. (Oops, I repeated myself. Sorry.)

Neighborhoods actively preparing, and disbursing and storing produce from community and personal gardens present much less risk from outside raiders, depending on circumstances.

Neighborhoods will be much more able to stay below the radar than self-promoting communities and towns. You might consider rating neighborhoods by growth, membership, and preparation levels, and facilitate communication between groups. Then check to see what direction of interest and adapting best serves those involved.

[…] to connect with the mainstream population (part one here; part two here). Hopkins replied with a very civil post, and as of this writing there have been 72 comments to Hopkins’ reply. My guess is this […]

[…] From author Sharon Astyk, we have Permaculture Future?: Part I and Permaculture Future? Part II. And then from Rob Hopkins from Transition Culture, we have Responding to Sharon Astyk on Permaculture and Transition. […]

Sarah Edwards
7 Jul 7:51pm

Has anyone been able to access the speech Rob linked to in this excellent exegesis? He referenced it as a speech he gave for a large developer there in UK. I’m a US Transition Trainer and throught a referral from the US Transitions office I had the opportunity to do a presentation for developers and planners who are part of a large national think tank for US developers. I would very much like to view and hoepfully refer them to Rob’s speech and continue our dialog with them. If you have been able to access this presentation please let me know at All I get are files of html code.
Thank you.

7 Jul 7:58pm


“Graham, I have no problem with the idea that athiests, agnostics and religious rationalists (not all religious people are theists, nor do all religious people have “faiths” that include a meaningful component of faith, actually) ought also be taken into account in our adaptive strategies.”

That’s an interesting observation! Does it mean that not everyone who is part of a church or religious organization actually has faith or belief in what that church professes to believe?
I think this is very likely- that many “religious” groups are in fact secular traditions, who happen to share group practices in order to be part of a community. I think this may be true of lots of “religious” people who do actually profess a faith as well, even though they are primarily motivated by the benefits of belonging to a community.
I should also stress here, that I have no problem working with faith groups or anyone else either for that matter; and Im certainly not trying to stop anyone from doing so.
Nevertheless, it is still worth making the point that faith -the belief in something despite the (absence of) evidence- is one of the great evils of humanity. The metaphysical claims of all religions are false. How can I be so sure? Because I don’t know, and neither you (nor anyone else) has privileged access to supernatural information that I dont have. (Also of course, there are many different faiths, and it is absolutely not true to claim they are all compatible and can get along as happy families- but they cant all be true so how do we choose?)
A good example of the evils of faith I think is Tony Blair, who insists that it was his faith that lead him to pursue the invasion of Iraq- despite what everyone else was telling him, ie he preferre3d to listen to his imaginary friend in the sky (or wherever).
The problem with post-modern political correctness and “inclusiveness” is that what I’ve just said is considered unacceptable- you can’t say that! Arrogance! Which is why it is very hard to have a decent conversation about this very important issue.
Rob provides a very good example of this- but what does he mean when he says it is “dangerous”- it sounds vaguely menacing.
Obviously it can be very dangerous to have deluded beliefs- they might make you do things that really are not good, and prevent you from thinking for yourself.
Thus in response to Rob’s defense of “faith” as something that helps people “get through” I would say this also:
many, many people- perhaps the majority- have “faith” that growth will return; that climate change might not be so bad, or may be a hoax; that renewables will fill the gap;that new sources of oil will be found; that aliens will come and save us; that we live in an intelligent and caring universe that has human’s best interests at heart.
All of these “faiths” may lead people to avoid making the adaptations that we are all talking about; but the point I want to make is, it is these beliefs that help people cope, even though they are false! Transition is all about challenging those beliefs (apart from the last two); why does Rob not consider this “dangerous”- Rob you are taking away from people their faith, the one thing that keeps them going through the day, with all your talk about peak oil and climate change!

Sharon: “The reality is that more people go through atheism and come out at faith than vice versa – and far more in times of difficulty.”

Have you any data on this? Im not saying you are wrong, but it may not be quite as straightforward as you suggest. What faiths? Under what kind of circumstances? Doesnt it depend on what else may be available? Haven’ t we already agreed that it is not faith vs. atheism, but the benefits of a strong community?
However, there are good and bad things about being part of a community, especially a faith-based one (even if many practitioners are really closet atheists)- it may be difficult to challenge the status quo, there can be a suppression of debate and openness about what people really believe, or what they are permitted to believe to remain a valid member of the community.
But I think you are implying something else: that because more people move from atheism to faith than the reverse, that in some way this is evidence of the validity of faith- (it isnt);
or that this is a good thing- thank goodness for faith! Of course, you havent forgotten that in times of crisis, there can also be a substantial movement towards far right groups, who can also be very good at providing that sense of belonging and community. Aren’t they voting with their feet?
And this is the great weakness of secular culture- it has been very bad at providing a decent alternative to the community that a church can provide, but I dont think this need always be the case, in fact Transition could be very well placed to provide such a secular alternative, but not if it is unfriendly to honest discussion about the problems with “faith”.

Jason- no I havn’t met John Michael Greer but I enjoy reading him, and have reviewed his book here:
Like Rob, Mr. Greer seems to be arbitrarily selective about what he chooses to apply the rational approach to- and I certainly take issue with that.

7 Jul 10:07pm

Graham, when Sharon said: ‘not all religious people are theists, nor do all religious people have “faiths” that include a meaningful component of faith, actually’ — I suspect she didn’t what you thought she meant.

I recently met a logic professor who ‘believes in God’ simply because of what is called the ‘cosmological argument’, for example. In other words he believes in God because logic, to his mind, compels him to do so. Or, some Buddhist sects require a belief in the possibility of enlightenment but not in any form of deity.

There are many other examples; the subject is far from being a simple one! But surely you realize it’s too big to fit into the current conversation? The philosophical literature is full to bursting on such points, and they are argued in many places online right now too for that matter.

If you don’t know the arguments, perhaps you would enjoy discovering them. I don’t think you’ll find it at all hard to have a ‘decent conversation’ on this most-discussed of questions, if you are prepared to think carefully. On the other hand, if you have already investigated — you know there is more to the topic than this page will hold.

I suggest you could raise the question on your own blog. The answers you get might be interesting. And if you want to take issue personally with Greer about whether his faiths (he has a few different ones) are compatible with rationality, I can assure you he will provide you with some interesting arguments too.

Anyway, what strong feelings can be aroused, even in very ‘rational’ people, by these topics! That’s why I believe Sharon is correct that leaving the ‘inner work’ of TT more open is a good idea. Prescribing it is limiting and someone will always be put off.

Robin P Clarke
7 Jul 10:44pm

Graham: A good example of the evils of faith I think is Tony Blair, who insists that it was his faith that lead him to pursue the invasion of Iraq- despite what everyone else was telling him, ie he preferred to listen to his imaginary friend in the sky
And you believed what the liar said about himself?! Blair peculiarly waited till his “retirement” before “~becoming a Catholic~”…. because he knew that if he’d “~become a Catholic~” before the Iraq invasion he’d have had the Pope condemning him in a seriously politically “embarrassing” scene. Evil men have never needed gods to justify their crimes, Stalin and Mao for a start. Christianity has been abused by rationalising crooks since at least the time of Constantine.
Like Rob, Mr. Greer seems to be arbitrarily selective
We have to work with the flawed people we have, including the flawed leaders we have.
Sharon: “The reality is that more people go through atheism and come out at faith than vice versa – and far more in times of difficulty.”
Both my parents converted to theism in the 1940, and their 5 children all converted back to the atheism of their grandparents. In my view traumatic contexts such as wars strain people’s capacities for hope and vision and overwhelm their ability to plan rationally, hence resorting to rationalising reassurances instead. We’ll see a lot of that. I believe in One Rob, the etc.

Nick Vowles
8 Jul 7:50am

I have never experienced or preached the chicken greenhouse idea prefering to teach about what I have experienced and has worked.I feel a bit of a fraud trying to teach things I have not seen working myself.
I see this as the point of the LAND project being set up by the permaculture association. A network of locations practicing permacuture which can actively show it’s ethics and principles in action, all recording and sharing results of research they are undertaking.

8 Jul 9:41am


“I recently met a logic professor who ‘believes in God’ simply because of what is called the ‘cosmological argument’, for example. In other words he believes in God because logic, to his mind, compels him to do so. Or, some Buddhist sects require a belief in the possibility of enlightenment but not in any form of deity.”

People believe all sorts of things, but I feel we should encourage critical approach to all these beliefs- if there is no evidence for them, why believe them? What do you think?

“I suggest you could raise the question on your own blog. The answers you get might be interesting. And if you want to take issue personally with Greer about whether his faiths (he has a few different ones) are compatible with rationality, I can assure you he will provide you with some interesting arguments too.”

Thanks for the suggestion, yes I have investigated this topic lots, and cover it loads on zone5. I am always interested to hear new perspectives, but as I say I have read Greer and I doubt he has anything radically different to add to the epistemology: he makes the same basic mistake of many of the faithful in naming Dawkin’s atheism “anthropolatry” when in fact the reverse is true: most (all?) positions of faith come from a desire to feel there is a conscious caring universe that is here primarily for us hairless apes. Unfortunately there is no evidence for this, but there is a growing body of evidence and theory that explains why we are predisposed to believe these things. This may be of interest:,3779,Why-We-Believe-in-Gods—Dr-Andy-Thomson—American-Atheists-09,Andy-Thomson

“Anyway, what strong feelings can be aroused, even in very ‘rational’ people, by these topics!”

Don’t you think rational people can be passionate?!
But while you say this topic is “too big” for this forum you havnt addressed my main point to Sharon and Rob, which is that “faith” takes many forms, including “climate change denial” “peak oil denial” faith in technology, the march of progress etc- and challenging those faiths is surely a fundamental part of what transition is all about.


“And you believed what the liar said about himself?! ”

Well, I don’t know- that is one of the points I was making- that just because someone professes a belief does not mean they actually believe it.
The point about Blair is that “faith” has always been used as a way of manipulation by the powerful; rulers may not wish to have a population of critical thinkers, but might find it easier to control those who see irrational belief as a virtue. That is why i take such strong issue with Rob’s “defender of the faithful” position- I hope we won’t be seeing a “Rob Hopkins Faith Foundation” !!
Re Stalin etc- though an atheist he was quite willing to use the population’s unquestioning faith and the power of the church for reasons of control.

Robin P Clarke
8 Jul 10:10am

Graham, My own reckoning is that the only reason why Rob is keen to be “defender of the faithful” is that he comes from a background of leftish cultural relativity (and the associated false concept of “inclusiveness”) and has merely not got round to questioning those orthodoxies. And I’d further reckon that a “Rob Hopkins Faith Foundation” is unlikely to get established while Rob is still around to oppose it. (Was only joking about the “One Rob”.) Though one should always be on the lookout for suchlike.

8 Jul 10:57am

If TT people are into bashing people of faith then you are going to lose a lot of potential allies. There is a creation spirituality building up in many faith communities and we need their input as much as anyone elses. Please regard everyone’s contribution as valuable and let us be ready to learn from each other.

8 Jul 11:18am


People believe all sorts of things, but I feel we should encourage critical approach to all these beliefs- if there is no evidence for them, why believe them? What do you think?

In order to be able to encourage that approach, you must be in a position to have a conversation. And personally, I approach these conversations from the position that a person of intelligence will have thought-through reasons for believing what they believe.

For example, my point in bringing up my professor friend was that he considers logical argument to be, precisely, ‘evidence’. But if you want to debate him, I’ll give you his name and email! As I say I don’t think it’s relevant to this page and I’ve argued that below.

What I’m delighted to read is this part:

I am always interested to hear new perspectives

… because there has been a slight contradiction for me, in what you’re saying. On the one hand you want a ‘decent conversation’ — but on the other, you clearly believe not only that your view is the only possible correct one, but that those who hold another one deserve (either potentially or actually) to be called stupid, untrustworthy, flawed, and evil.

I understand your frustration that (as it appears to you) people continue to hold irrelevant, untrue, possibly dangerous beliefs in spite of all the evidence, but that point of view is just one amongst many. As long as you believe that your own point of view is so obviously correct that you can afford to insult those with whom you’re exchanging your views, I could see it being quite hard to get a ‘decent conversation’.

Don’t you think rational people can be passionate?!

Of course I do, and it’s for that precise reason that I encourage more moderation — on these subjects we all can be passionate. Therefore care to remain respectful, even when someone appears ‘obviously wrong’, is advisable IMO.

As for the question you are raising:


… the first reason I didn’t speak of it is because, not having a ‘faith’ myself, I’m not necessarily qualified.

But if you want my answer to that, it’s simple: the other ‘faiths’ you raise are ones that TT must challenge in order to succeed. What you’re suggesting is that dropping the religious beliefs ought to be at the top of the TT agenda also.

But the evidence doesn’t bear this out. If people like Sharon, Greer, (or Joanna Macy lol) can work so strongly for ‘transition’ that they are considered to be leaders and still hold their other beliefs, those beliefs are a posteriori not any hindrance to transition even if they look to you a priori as thought ought to be.

The statements you are making tend almost towards the view that only rational materialists who believe in scientism ought to survive Transition! Certainly, if you plan to engage with any sector of the public that believes differently, I suspect you will need to be more diplomatic.

And like I say, if you want more detailed replies on the ‘spiritual’ topics of substance, I’ll email you mine or even do it on your blog, but not here.

The only thing I want to get across on this page is that no-one ought to be forced to change their views, either to New Age Therapeutic ones, or to Rational Scientistic ones, in order to be involved in Transition.

8 Jul 11:20am

… Sorry, I meant to quote you:

challenging those faiths is surely a fundamental part of what transition is all about.

near the end there, ‘the question you are raising’.

8 Jul 11:43am

Beautifully put Jason, thanks.

Robin P Clarke
8 Jul 1:09pm

challenging those faiths is surely a fundamental part of what transition is all about.
Challenging beliefs in merely praying harder or that “they” will do something about the energy crisis would indeed be a fundamental part of transitioning. Challenging less relevant notions such as that God has a very high IQ or a benevolent disposition combined with extraordinary perceptual powers may not be.

8 Jul 2:51pm


“And personally, I approach these conversations from the position that a person of intelligence will have thought-through reasons for believing what they believe.”

This presupposes an awful lot- and in fact I think the world would be a very different place if it were true.
Why is it then that (generally intelligent) people will have radically beliefs or faiths?
Surely what you are saying is tautological- “Most people are intelligent. Therefore, there must be good reasons for what people believe. Therefore, we should not challenge what they say or even open beliefs to discussion- we should just assume they have good reasons and leave it at that.”
Sorry Jason, that is not going to work for me- and I question whether it would really work for anyone.
vz: many intelligent people believe growth will pick up again/climate change is not man-made/new sources of energy will be found to replace oil.
Are you saying we should not challenge these views?

“you want a ‘decent conversation’ — but on the other, you clearly believe not only that your view is the only possible correct one, but that those who hold another one deserve (either potentially or actually) to be called stupid, untrustworthy, flawed, and evil.”

Actually, for the most part this has been a decent conversation. However, that comment was in response to Rob’s:

“Graham, a couple of thoughts. Firstly, “faith is the one thing that will not help us deal with what is coming down the line”. As fascinating observation, but, to my thinking, complete nonsense, and a somewhat dangerous perspective. I understand where you are coming from, that religion is not based on science, that it is irrational, ‘The God Delusion’ etc. etc. That is as maybe.

However,there are many many people around the world in crisis right now, whether it be through illness, war or whatever, for whom their faith is one of the key things that gets them through, logical or not. Of course one can construct an intellectual argument that says that we should be aiming to move people away from that, but there is, I would suggest, a deep arrogance to that. ”

Now, I find this kind of response disrespectful and insulting; however, Im not making a big deal about that- the point is, Rob’s point that many people are faithful and that seems to do them good is essentially the same point you are making; it is not nonsense, but is easily refuted;
most of what you are saying is about trying to suppress the debate it seems to me.
But the real point is this: neither you nor Rob are ascribing me the respect you feel i should hold for faith-based beliefs: I am intelligent, obviously I feel i have reason to hold my views; I respectfully explain those views and why I think they are important for transition; but the response is just: “You are arrogant, those views are not acceptable here, please take them somewhere else.”
Personally, I dont find that very acceptable on a forum that started off discussing things like inclusiveness.
You are quite free to disagree, but may I ask that you give reasoned arguments rather than just ask me to shut up.
I am quite prepared to listen to other arguments, but you cant just knock me for arguing for what i believe in- that’s what you are doing as well. Its called “having a debate”; there is nothing insulting in what i am saying, and I have a right to say it. I give reasons for every point I make- take issue with the reasons if you wish, dont tell me I have no right to make them.
“Obviously” my point of view is not “obviously” correct- otherwise everyone would agree with it.
The extreme post-modern view you hold- that every view “is just one point of view amongst many” is spurious and not worth discussing, here or anywhere.
If you don’t think that views backed by evidence are better than views that have no supporting evidence, why engage in any debate about anything?

“the other ‘faiths’ you raise are ones that TT must challenge in order to succeed. What you’re suggesting is that dropping the religious beliefs ought to be at the top of the TT agenda also.”

I dont necessarily think they should be top of the list; I am merely trying to have a discussion about the connection between different irrational kinds of beliefs. I am giving lengthy explanations as to why I think we have good reason to believe they are connected; the basic point I am making is, if we support one kind of irrational belief, we in effect support others- we cant complain at people not believing in climate change when we use faulty reasoning ourselves in other areas. This is a wide general topic, but i believe fundamental. Otherwise if PO and climate change are the only things that count for transition, why not team up with the BNP?

Jason, to repeat, you are free to disagree but you are not entitled to tell me there is no room for this debate here.

“no-one ought to be forced to change their views, either to New Age Therapeutic ones, or to Rational Scientistic ones, in order to be involved in Transition.”

Where is this coming from? Noone, certainly not me, has suggested forcing anyone to believe anything. This is a debate Jason on an open forum! All Im calling for is to question beliefs and ask for evidence!! Seems to me, if you have a problem with that, you have a problem.

8 Jul 7:02pm

Graham — I am not stifling debate, far from it. I’ve debated with Dawkins-style atheists before, and it hasn’t been a bad experience for either party. However it is a loooooong process, and one I am not prepared to enter into in the middle of this thread. That’s all. This post is already way too long to be interesting!

I am perfectly well prepared (like I said) to enter into it with you via email, if you want, and if you wish to publish the results at the end or something, fine. Maybe it would even be useful — but my views don’t represent anyone save myself, and I hold no trad-style ‘faith’ of my own.

Just say the word, but it would be a long process I think, that’s all. Too long for here. Anyone who thinks they can make it shorter, I’m not going to stop them from having the debate here!

I’ll clarify what I meant elsewhere quickly…

Surely what you are saying is tautological- “Most people are intelligent. Therefore, there must be good reasons for what people believe. Therefore, we should not challenge what they say or even open beliefs to discussion- we should just assume they have good reasons and leave it at that.”

I certainly didn’t mean, or say, this.

What I meant was what I said — that I always approach such conversations assuming that the person has thought through their ideas. I certainly didn’t mean that they always have — if they haven’t, then it soon becomes apparent. But I never assume they hold their views only for bad or foolish reasons, or for reasons I could quickly argue away — least of all on ‘spiritual’ questions. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but I don’t prejudge before speaking to them.

In saying, ‘all faith is bad,’ which is what you are saying, you are assuming that Sharon, for example, could have no reasons for her faith that could stand up, even in her own mind. I’m surprised you don’t see that someone might find that attitude in itself rather stifling of debate, and this is all I was trying to say.

(Even less did I mean that discussion shouldn’t take place! As I say, I’m fine with it taking place — I just don’t think it’s an easy or quick discussion.)

Rob’s point that many people are faithful and that seems to do them good is essentially the same point you are making; it is not nonsense, but is easily refuted;

… no, not quite the same. I said that it is possible to be religious or hold a faith and still be at the forefront of the attempt to deal with peak oil realities — this is self-evidently true, so it seems to me. Therefore to my mind it can’t be the case that religious belief is the lynchpin problem you are saying. I understand what you believe, I simply believe otherwise, and not without reason.

(What was your refutation of this idea? Did I miss it? Robin‘s reply was in substantial agreement with it I thought.)

Of course I do get that, to you, people of faith are making a ‘category mistake’, thinking they can hold views for no good reason one moment and then insisting on rationality the next — but that is only how it looks to you. They might have reasons which to them appear good; to them their categories might appear to be in order after all. (Mine certainly do to me.) They might have examined many arguments already. Many things might have gone into their belief.

But the real point is this: neither you nor Rob are ascribing me the respect you feel i should hold for faith-based beliefs: I am intelligent, obviously I feel i have reason to hold my views; I respectfully explain those views and why I think they are important for transition; but the response is just: “You are arrogant

I’m aware you were attempting to explain your views respectfully; I just was trying to explain how some might not have taken them that way and why.

I certainly have accorded you precisely the same right on this question that I would accord anyone: the right to hold and express a view, arrived at by the means you consider appropriate. I never said you shouldn’t say what you said, but that it assumed things of the people you were saying it which might not be true, and that they might find offensive — and that in any case (for me) to do justice to the subject matter required more space than there is here.

julian duggan
8 Jul 9:01pm

As I can’t type very fast,speak latin, or have much time for big words some brief points;
1. It is because faith appeals to our human need for community that organised religions have done so well(purely in terms of numbers)
2. Transition speaks of community which is why it is appealing(at least to me)
3.In my life experience the resilience of striking mining communities during ’84/5 strike was most inspiring esp. soup/free food kitchens.
4.The majority of this community would have run a mile(as would I)from touchy feely circles(at least to start with.
5.My belief is that a ‘positive’ transition that strengthens community and affirms value in Self would of itself see a gradual end to imposed,organized belief so let’s not waste too much energy!
6.Chicken-egg, Transition-Community????
7.It would make sense to appeal to as wide a community as possible as soon as possible
8.I detect lots of intellectual/class snobbery in comments posted here when in my view surely transition is naturally more appealing to the current systems losers(in all senses)and disenfranchised amongst us than the cosy classes who(at least in some senses)the system serves.
9.An obvious vehicle for making the transition agenda more widely available to a wider audience could be via a none of the above,no seat taken,Transition Party at impending general election.
10.This would have the added benefit of revealing just how receptive the State-Us quo really is if it feels its community is being challenged(I have in mind Peace Convoy/”Enemy With-in,Battle of Beanfield[85]…)Not at all cuddly for all the circles!
See, that’s taken over an hour to type!…back to the garden

julian duggan
8 Jul 9:18pm

11.My deepest worry re.transition. Is it a transition at all or just a new set of clothes for the State-Us Quo.Wealth,Class,A new way of creating a new kind of stuff…winners and losers etc…etc

8 Jul 11:05pm

Howdy Rob & All –

Thanks for the great article – many beautiful points & questions.

I’d like to let you know that the realm of professional permaculture design is thriving in the Northeastern USA — many full-featured firms are collaborating with architects, engineers, and planners on a daily basis to create permaculture projects of large scale & impact. Check out:

Elsewhere in the US we see the same…

So, the courses we teach here are in fact producing qualified & active permaculture professionals. And we’re pumped to collaborate and move forward with all the Transitions folks springing up! Onward!

Ethan Roland
Regenerative Design Group

Sarah Edwards
8 Jul 11:42pm

Good grief! I just had a post come in mentioning something to the effect that TI folks are bashing people of faith. I am a Transition Trainer and have never heard of anything like that. Here in our local Transition Initiative we have people of all faiths and beliefs. We all share a desire to live in a sustainable, resilient community and are working together to achieve that.

9 Jul 2:14pm

Bit of misreporting there. Even those whose comments might have been construed as anti-faith weren’t intending to ‘bash’ I don’t think. But in any case, they did not represent the Transition movement.

Still it just shows how useful it is to be diplomatic on these subjects.

9 Jul 6:20pm

Sarah – This is where I wish there was a “thanks” button one could click by posts one agrees with – ie yours. There were latterly a few “posts” whereby it felt like they had “wandered in by mistake” onto a Transition website – but I guess there will always be a few posts like that (unfortunately) wandering onto even the best of websites. There is a time and a place – but T.T. websites are NOT either and I was wincing visibly reading them….hopefully everyone will now take a “deep breath” and GET BACK ONTO THE SUBJECT IN HAND.

julian duggan
9 Jul 10:29pm

CERIDWEN-Sorry and all that but you’ve kind of made the point perfectly.Maybe you could provide a profile of the type of chaps/chapesses that you would like to “wander” in and join the circle and be made to feel welcome in to the light of the infinite sun.I have already witnessed inquisitive folk “wander”off from transition meetings for the foreseeable even before the enlightened ones hands have clasped one another.Perhaps the speed at which this debate has moved from circles to religion to exclusion should tell us something!

julian duggan
9 Jul 10:31pm

I think that was “THE SUBJECT IN HAND”

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 12:00am

Sarah: Here in our local Transition Initiative we have people of all faiths and beliefs.
Would this include a welcoming of NeoNazis (as long as they shut up perhaps)? Or of those who believe the following to be the flawless last testament of an Allah who is all-powerful and so presumably quite capable of making a message clear:
Qur’an 59:2-7 is a commentary on the start of Mohammed’s ethnic cleansing of Arabia, with his military attack against the Jews of Bani-Nadir. (As with much of the Qur’an its context is only made fully clear by the related sacred Hadiths which are detailed accounts of Mohammed’s sayings.)
These Qur’an verses below make clear that the Jews were acting defensively, that Allah approved of their being forced into exile and the unexpected innovation of cutting down their desert food trees to terrorise them, and Allah granted Mohammed and his followers the ownership of the property of the now homeless Jewish citizens.
[Qur’an 59:2-7:]
“He it is who hath caused the Jews who disbelieved to go forth from their homes unto the first exile. Ye deemed not that they would go forth, while they deemed that their strongholds would protect them from Allah. But Allah reached them from a place whereof they reckoned not, and cast terror in their hearts so that they ruined their houses with their own hands…“[59:2]
“This is because they were opposed to Allah and his messenger ….” [59:4]
[or more precisely because their poet criticised Mohammed; c.f. famous cartoons incident]
“Whatsoever palm trees ye cut down or left standing on their roots, it was by Allah’s leave, in order that he might confound the evil-livers.”[59:5]
“And that which Allah gives as spoil unto His messenger from them, ye urged not any horse or riding-camel for the sake thereof, but Allah giveth His messenger lordship over whom he will. Allah is able to do all things.”[59:6]
“The spoils of war taken from the town-dwellers and assigned by Allah to His apostle shall belong to Allah, to the Apostle and his kinsfolk, to orphans, …..” [59:7]

As I’ve said above or elsewhere, the concept of requiring inclusiveness logically contradicts itself unless every other human on the planet shares it with you, which they most certainly don’t.

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 12:13am

“Every being that is in the heavens and on earth: all are devoutly obedient to Him” [Qur’an 30:26].
Including me? Flawless words of God? Or the only book written by an ?all-powerful god? who has such vast communication handicap that only qualified experts are entitled to tell you what he is trying to say? (And 14 centuries of ongoing wars have resulted from the communication error.)

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 12:26am

(Battle of Tours 732, followed by 900 further years of trying to destroy the rest of Christendom, till turned finally back at Battle of Vienna 1683…) Meanwhile whole cities and universities and thousands of temples destroyed once the jihad reached civilised India. See no evil…