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3 Nov 2009

Responding to Alex Steffen’s Critique of Transition at WorldChanging

worldchangingI have been following with interest the discussions surrounding Alex Steffen’s piece at WorldChanging in which he critiques Transition.  I am honoured that someone so widely respected as a writer on sustainability issues saw fit to engage in discussions around Transition , but, as a critique of Transition, it leaves a lot to be desired.  It is a confusing piece in which, in spite of Alex’s protestations in the comments thread to have read everything about Transition that is out there, seems to have somewhat missed the point. I’ll go through some of Alex’s main points, but an overall reflection is that it appears to me that what Alex does is to describe Transition as something it isn’t, criticise it for being that, and then propose something to replace Transition which is actually what Transition was all along.  An odd approach. Carolyn Baker has already posted an articulate response to Alex’s piece, but here’s mine.

What Transition is Not

It might be useful to start by clarifying a few beliefs and characteristics which Alex erroneously attributes to Transition.

  • Transition does not focus exclusively on towns and ignore cities.  Although the term ‘Transition Towns’ alliterates nicely, we now use the term Transition Initiatives (and have done so for at least 2 years), given that there are now Transition cities, islands, hamlets, streets, districts, Universities and more.  In fact, many of the most fascinating Transition projects are happening in cities, projects like the Brixton Pound are one such example
  • There are 239 ‘formal’ Transition initiatives… but thousands of ‘mullers’ or unofficial initiatives across the world
  • Transition does not suggest that people “just go ahead and do something, anything’.  It suggests a community-led design project, to consciously and creatively design for the transition away from oil dependency.  Although it encourages people to get started with taking action in whatever way they feel moved to and feel passionate about, it proposes that this take place within a wider framework of being strategic, hence the concept of Energy Descent Planning being Step 12 of the 12 Step approach
  • It does not suggest that “the only proper scale at which to prepare for a soft landing is at the local level”.  It is stated very clearly in the Transition Handbook that we need a hierarchy of responses; we need local and national government responses, we need international agreements such as that being discussed soon in Copenhagen, but without vibrant, creative, positive local level engagement, all of those will be less well informed, slower and less inclusive.  The drive can come from communities, but they can’t do it alone.  I often talk about Transition as having the potential to be the lubricant that re-oils the wheels of political engagement that have, for many, become rusted to the stage of inaction
  • Alex writes “all over the world, groups of people with graduate degrees, affluence, decades of work experience, varieties of advanced training and technological capacities beyond the imagining of our great-grandparents are coming together, looking into the face of apocalypse… and deciding to start a seed exchange or a kids clothing swap”.  This is enormously patronising as well as factually incorrect, and I will explore why in what follows.

Collapse or Descent?

Much of Alex’s piece revolves around his belief that Transition is obsessed with collapse and its inevitability.  Some of what Alex writes here goes beyond being factually incorrect and is actually quite deeply insulting.  I find it extremely suprising to be accused of having a “casual eagerness for the death of others”.  I have met no-one involved in Transition who would display such an eagerness, and I would be deeply shocked if I did.  At the heart of this is the difference between the concept of energy descent and of collapse.

For me, as I have articulated in the Transition Handbook and elsewhere, the motivation for Transition is that of responding to peak oil and climate change, and to the notion of energy descent.  Energy descent, as articulated originally by Howard Odum and later by David Holmgren, and given a rigorous energetic basis by Ted Trainer’s analysis in ‘Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society‘, is based on the observation that the world is passing the peak in fossil fuels, and that we need to be designing for the declining availability of both oil itself and of net energy.  As I also set out in the book, there are many scenarios that then emerge as to what happens now, of which collapse is one, but the clearly stated desire of Transition is to be able to create a safe, intentional way through energy descent, avoiding collapse, shifting the focus to local economies and increased resilience, what Odum called ‘A Prosperous Way Down’.

Alex writes that I talk “almost cheerfully about passing peak oil, widespread food shortages and the idea of globalization crashing suddenly”. What I actually do is to stress that the passing of peak oil, the entering of the age of energy descent, could be, given the successful mobilising of what we call ‘engaged optimism’ and of communities seeing the possibilities within this rather than just the challenges, need not be dreaded.  The reskilling that would accompany relocalisation, the move away from fossil fuel dependence, the rebuilding of local food networks, the rediscovery of local building materials, all have huge potential for a cultural renaissance and could, I argue, actually be the thing that revives local economies in the face of the world’s recent financial woes,and could lead to a way of life which is an improvement on the present.  It is this that I work for, and I think that it will only happen if people see it as a positive and desirable future, which is why I talk about it ‘cheerfully’.  I talk about it cheerfully because the potential it holds is genuinely thrilling, what we could become is exhilarating and because, it seems to me, there don’t seem to be a whole pile of more appealing options on the table.

Transition observes that most of the large-scale systems that we have, and on which we depend, are highly oil dependent and therefore vulnerable. It is therefore not a case of somehow longing for Helter Skelter, for the collapse of the evil behemoth of Western Capitalism, rather an observation that we had better get real and serious about designing something better and more appropriate to a world of energy descent. The extent to which Transition should also be preparing for impending collapse rather than a prolonged descent is one that Richard Heinberg and myself have debated and take different positions on.  If the ‘dark side’ Alex writes of exists, I have yet to come across it.

It is also interesting to note that alongside Alex’s cricisism of Transition for craving collapse, there are many other critiques out there that criticise it for the opposite, for not taking collapse seriously enough, and for being naive about humanity being able to design its way out of it.  Given that, as I have stated here, the intention of Transition is to design proactively for the safe and productive navigation of energy descent, I am puzzled by Alex accusing Transition of being “engineered to solve the wrong problem”.

What Transition is

As I mentioned in my opening, Alex creates what seems to me be to be a false explanation of what Transition is and then slates it, proposing instead something he sees as being more relevant and workable.  This is best seen in his sentence “indeed, if anything, places that are by global standards rich and well-educated need to be preparing to be bulwarks of stability in a chaotic world, to be more deeply invested in making things work for everyone”.  That is exactly what Transition initiatives are doing.  What they do though, is to assert that those ‘bulwarks of stability’ are based on realistic assumptions about the future.  The creation of such bulwarks based on the idea of perpetual economic growth, endless availability of cheap energy, and no need to respond to climate change will not be of much use to anyone.

The rebuilding of resilience, as discussed in my recent article in Resurgence, is the aim of Transition initiatives.  Within resilience is the idea of modularity, that rather than the highly networked systems of today, what is needed is for communities, settlements and nations to have more, in effect, surge breakers, in the form of local food systems, local energy generation and more robust local economies, to enable them to better withstand shocks.

Alex’s list of what should replace Transition is in fact, a list of what Transition initiatives are already doing, and of the thinking that underpins their work.  This is especially evident in his final suggestion;

Above all else, reimagining the future. Since we can’t build what we can’t imagine, and visions of the future dominate our ability to understand the present, how can we embrace future-making tools to redefine the possible in our communities? Because the powers that be have one gigantic weakness: they offer us no future, none at all, and every time we shift the debate to be about where we’re going, we win.

As numerous commenters below Alex’s list have pointed out, reimagining the future is one of the key elements of Transition, as set out in ‘Who We Are and What We Do’, as well as in pretty much every written piece on Transition ever produced.  Personally speaking, I think the work Transition initiatives do around this, and the tools they are developing are exceptional.  If Alex has any better ones, I’m sure they would be only too eager to get their hands on them to try them out as well.

Civic Engagement

Alex stresses that what distinguishes his ‘Bright Green’ approach from Transition is that Transition is somehow mired in inconsequential local noodlings and obsessing about collapse, and thereby neglects to seek engagement in the political process.  He argues that we need an ‘organised, educated, passionate democracy’ capable of overcoming the ‘pervasive cynicism’ which currently inhibits action.  Here again, there is a misunderstanding as to what Transition groups are actually doing out there.  Many are engaging with their local governments, some Transitioners even standing for election.  Transition Stroud has been very actively involved with their local Council, to the extent that the former deputy head of the Council said that “if Transition Stroud didn’t exist, we’d have had to make them up”, or words to that effect.

Across the UK, Councils are seeing local Transition initiatives as a key part of engaging communities in action around climate change, and the Scottish Government is funding Transition Scotland Support, seeing the value of their work. Alexis Rowell, a Councillor in Camden in London, is currently writing “Local Communities and Local Councils: working together to make things happen”, due out next March, which is explicitly about how people involved in Transition can better engage with the political process.  Working with institutions is also the work of Transition Training and Consulting, and also with the emerging Transition Universities work, seeking to draw the principles of resilience and carbon reduction into institutions.

Alex writes that “we need to see ourselves as the powers that will be”.  Of course.  I struggle to imagine that anyone involved in Transition would disagree.  Transition is not about rejecting political engagement, or blanking existing structures, of somehow longing for collapse in order to sweep away all that is unwholesome and corrupt.  We argue that we are all in the same boat, facing the same challenges, and that a large part of our work is to take engagement in the kind of community-wide planning process that we need to a far deeper level than the green movement has thus far managed.  This is exactly what Transition groups are currently doing.

Some Final Thoughts… ‘Bright Green’ or ‘Dark Green’?

The discussion thread that follows Alex’s piece is very interesting, with many people from Transition initiatives writing to state that Transition, as it is described in Alex’s piece, is not the Transition that they know and that they dedicate their time to. Some readers may be puzzled by the ‘bright green’ reference in the title.  Delving a bit deeper on his website, it seems that he has come to his analysis of Transition bearing his model for defining environmental initiatives as ‘bright green’, ‘deep green’, ‘light green’ and grey’, what he calls the ‘new environmental spectrum’ (for more detail as to what those mean, click here).  In brief, ‘bright green’ asserts that no-one will want to give up current luxuries, and that the only way to move to sustainability is to harness prosperity, wellbeing and entrepreneurial zeal, whereas dark green is mired in doomerism, localism, bioregionalism, and a rejection of consumerism.

I think this spectrum is unhelpful.  Of course there is always a range of views on green thinking, which is well documented in the sustainability literature.  However, my sense is that Transition does not fit neatly into the “mostly judgemental” Deep Green category in which Alex places it, indeed having as much in common with his ‘Bright Green’ approach.  Transition is about bringing insights and observations from the ‘deep green’ into the ‘bright green’ (although I think this classification is clumsy), arguing that the rebuilding of local economies is not about a retreat into survivalism (regular readers will know the regular kickings I get from survivalist commenters), but is actually the only practical (in the context of energy descent) way of realising the kind of entrepreneurial zeal he is so keen on. As I said in the TED talk I gave this year;

Then there is response that suggests that technology will come riding to our rescue, one, I would observe, is rather prevalent at these TED Talks.  The idea that we can invent our way out of a profound economic and energy crisis, that the move to a knowledge economy can allow us to neatly sidestep the very real energy constraints we are facing. The idea that we will discover some extraordinary new source of energy that will sweep aside any concerns about energy security. That we can make a seamless step across onto renewables. It is perhaps because we have shown such great creativity all the way up the mountain, that we assume we can do the same thing all the way down again.

However, the real world is not Second Life. We cannot create new land, new energy systems at the click of a mouse. We live in a world of very real constraints. As we sit on our laptops exchanging ‘free’ ideas with each other, collaboratively building new ideas and concepts, there are still people in China mining coal to power the servers our web access relies on, processing the materials for our new devices, and the breakfast we eat before we start work has been sourced from great distances, with a huge energy and carbon debt, and usually at the expense of the resilient local food systems we have so effectively devalued and discarded over the past 40 years. While we can be astonishingly inventive and brilliant about this, we also live in a very real world with very real demands and constraints.

Rather than toss Transition into a corner, Alex could do better to consider how the values of entrepreneurship, increased wellbeing and business acumen which he espouses (as does Transition) would best be harnessed in an energy descent context.  He might find, by so doing, that a great deal of creative thinking has already emerged from the Transition movement.  Alex writes that “what we need is a movement of local efforts aimed at changing things that matter at scales that matter, based on the politics of optimism”.  Absolutely.  I sat at the end of reading Alex’s piece feeling somewhat puzzled and bewildered.  Isn’t that exactly what we’ve been doing for the last 4 years?  Perhaps if he manages to miss what Transition is about in such a way, his piece bats the challenge back to Transition; how well are we communicating what we are doing?

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


I have to disagree with Andre – and object to both sides spending an awful lot of time playing Dr Freud to people who disagree with them. I did it to a certain degree…but only to say let’s not make cartoons of each other.

I understand Alex, and consider myself a bright green in many ways because I am familiar with the thinking in nanotech and biotech… There are game changing possibilities. Most people in TT stuff, really don’t have a grasp of the potentials in either field. I am dubious of the market bringing really transformative tech (too many embedded oppositional interests.) I think of the power of Microsoft andhow it was used to crush innovation in operating systems. We do not in the main use the best of the best operating systems, that’s capitalism.

But I do understand that there are two camps and the TT people do not in the main entertain advances or problem solving possibilities of either nano or biotech or simply redesign. I don’t think it’s ‘grasping at straws’ to do so.

Of course techies and scientists have a bias towards solving problems and defining problems in new ways. The do believe any problem is solvable. (Not commenting on whether this is rational.) People who are more grounded in the humanities have a much more bleak picture of humanity – because our focus has always been on human folly and frailty, through study of history,lit and psychology. Because I have a foot in both camps I honestly flip flop between bright and dark green…Which I have demonstated in this thread.

Am I wrong here?

[…] A Critique of Transition at WorldChanging that seems to have somewhat missed the point is provoking much debate and detailed response by Rob Hopkins… […]

André Angelantoni
5 Nov 11:14pm

Hi, Liz.

Dismiss or disagree with my comment re: the psychology behind how humans operate, not a problem to me. Naturally, I think it’s a valid point to consider and other people might find value out of it even if you don’t.

Regarding your other point, I think the technical advances you and others might be aware of just don’t matter as much as you think they do. I’m well aware of them, myself, as an avid reader of and a moderate gadget guy who also has a great deal of experience in high tech.

We are undergoing the largest credit contraction ever experienced by any civilization. During this period, many, many, technologies will never see the light of day and others currently being produced will stop being produced as the world trade system breaks down. I saw this in small form as the tech bubble burst. A lot of my friends had companies that died from starvation. Unless you have had conversation after conversation with colleagues in which they simply kept saying, “There’s no investment money and sales are terrible. We’re shutting down,” you may not understand how incredibly dependent on money bringing new technology to market is.

Products will either never make it into product form, which is already a big leap from the lab bench, or if they make it into product form the companies will be faced with a society that is rapidly becoming poorer and can’t afford their products. The economic balloon that created the largest number of middle class people ever was filled by a one-time endowment of fossil fuels. The balloon is now shrinking (popping?).

Right now it takes some imagination to look five years into the future and continue in one’s mind the trends that are making themselves visible now. But five years from now, as we are surrounded by a dramatically poorer society, the number of people who will will even entertain the notion that technology will somehow allow us to live the way we do now will be much smaller.

The cornucopians and ‘bright greens’ have, in my view, a very poor grasp of the following key macro trends — if they have even heard of them (not an unfair jibe; my colleagues in the climate change community have no idea what the first two items below are, and the third one they may say they understand but not really):
* the export land model (net oil imports decreasing faster even than top line production decreases)
* the decline of net energy
* the fundamental flaw in the fractional reserve banking system
* contracting credit and the debt overhang
* the increasing burden of supporting more and more unemployed people as time goes on, sapping the economy

But my underlying point is that the technologists make a fundamental mistake: they think technology is independent of energy and the economy and that somehow their whizbang inventions, because they are so good and so needed, will automatically get funded and move into the market at least at the rate needed to maintain this way of life.

The technologist who were also business people were disabused of this notion as the the tech bubble burst. The technologists who have never run a business, likely the ones who write breathlessly that we can extract as much uranium from seawater as we want (or other similar nonsense) often simply do not have the necessary *business* background to make informed projections. Sure, listen to them for what they say about technology, but when they start venturing into economics, ask them how they have modified their views based on the first three bullet points above. If they say, “huh?” politely smile and go talk to someone who has a full grasp of these key trends. The reality out there is that not many people know about these trends much less have incorporated them into their thinking.

I saw this first hand: no money, no new technologies. To me, it’s really that simple.


Thank you for the reality check! Like climate change and peak oil – accepting the full force of the downturn is subject to a denial process. You and I share the same POV on this – I personally have a disposition which habitually seeks the silver lining.

I grew up in a house raised by a well developed market apocalyptic. Dad was an institutional broker. He had been predicting this process for decades. In January, he tried to kill himself, because despite the fact that he saw it coming, it devastated him to be correct. He survived the attempt, only to die of pancreatic cancer a few months later, penniless.

It has always been a struggle for me to get out of bed because of this surrounding darkness, so on a personal level my bright outlook – is more of a personal survival strategy – to keep my own head so to speak.

But yes. I am right there with you.

I didn’t mean to dismiss you in particular with regard to looking into the minds of others… I just want to make people aware of the problems of using it as a strategy to convince another. More often then not it’s a way to raise a wall between you and the person you wish to convince – even if you are spot on!

Mike Grenville
5 Nov 11:53pm

Like André I have been there and got several ‘dot com’ T-shirts….

Anyone who has done the rounds of Venture Capitalists and listened to demands for short term ROI (return on investment) and the punitive terms offered will know the truth of your comments about the relationship between investment, markets and technology.

Hey Mike – Me too – grew up 10 miles north of Silicon Valley, had my first computer in 89, been on the web since before there were pictures…making a quilt from all the swag shirts :D.

And Andre – I did make the point about operating systems and Microsoft – to shorthand the argument you’ve made here… But shortened it far too much apparently!

Linda Buzzell
6 Nov 2:05am

If anyone is interested in the psychological stages people go through when they wake up to peak oil, economic instability and climate change, here’s a link to “The Waking Up Syndrome,”
an essay that appeared in Issue #66 January February 2008 of HopeDance magazine:

The essay is also part of Sierra Club Books new anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind which has essays by Joanna Macy and Richard Heinberg, among many others.

John Mason
6 Nov 6:01am

Quoting Shane:

“was it Martin Luther King who blew wide open the campaign for rights for black Americans, when he re-framed the approach as civil rights instead of black rights? i.e. all the American peoples rights where being infringed. I think we have a similar issue of having to re-frame the approach in a way that takes it out of the green ghetto. It’s up to us to re-present the problems and solutions so that people realise that we’re all on the same side.”

That’s very true indeed, and well put – now the tricky bit – how do we do it? How do we achieve what would, if successful, apparently be the greatest paradigm-shift of humanity in 150 years?

I’m up at half-past four in the morning again simply because I was fed up of lying in bed worrying about just that when I should have been fast asleep!

To dip into the Microsoft analogy-world again, it does sometimes seem as though we are computers running on a different operating-system whilst the majority are running and communicating on Windows, so that they cannot even recognise any datafiles we produce, let alone begin to read them!

Is not one of the key problems that we have in communicating these issues simply this: that corporate consumer-capitalism works so effectively (when unconstrained by irritations such as resource-depletion) because it involves a near-total decoupling of the individual’s lifestyle with the natural world and its inherent physical properties? Once that is achieved, you have a consuming unit that takes a lot for granted, and expects stuff to be available regardless of the consequences elsewhere on the planet. Any perceived threat to that is then reacted to as an attempt to erode that most precious thing of all, “freedom of choice”. Green activists in the UK are often portrayed as people attempting to do just that, hence the “they want us to wear hair-shirts and go back to living in caves” type accusations that they often face.

Having said which, the “roll up your sleeves and get on with it” approach is still something that most people can relate to, and it acts as a bridge between people of many different political persuasions/levels of environmental consciousness. Just as well really, since as pointed out above, a lot of the techo-fixes some people like to posit for oil depletion are almost without exception la-la-land!

Cheers – John

Re-framing the discussion is an interesting challenge. I find myself talking to people about the “Energy Crunch” rather than “Peak Oil” as everyone can relate to that, following last year’s petrol price peak. I don’t tend to find any resistance to that, and discussions can quite quickly, and easily, progress to “and it’s only going to get worse”.

I also find that in spreading the “eco” message here we focus much more on the personal $$$ savings that there are to be made, rather than getting into the debate on Climate Change.

Both of those seem to reach people no matter what side of the political spectrum they are on.

Shane Hughes
6 Nov 10:18am

I believe the re-framed argument is one of exchanging economic growth with the growth of quality of life (of all beings). On first view it’s exchanging one positive for another positive rather than the limits to growth or no growth/recession argument which is a very negative exchange in the mainstream view.

All of the rest of the arguments embed into this new frame. There’s a great deal of people that believe that money and materials equates to quality of life but that’s the cultural story that we need to break or snap out of. There’s enough evidence out there that money doesn’t equal happiness and this notion is supported across all demographics. Even my Daily Mail reading dad agrees with this argument i.e. this is not a green argument, it’s one that once the cultural story has shifted, we can all buy into and work towards the new story with a passion.

i know this means competing with the capitalist corporate machines but at the end of the day that’s run by humans and these ideas all ready have strong holds at all levels of the corporate world and are permeating deeper and being given urgency by the current PO CC imperative.

I have faith that this is an argument that could put the majority of society on the same side. I can’t imagine that everyone agreed with the civil rights movement but it’s just about getting the critical mass.

I also like that it’s simple. a quick and easy phase; “replacing economic growth with the growth of quality of life (of all beings)” sums up a potential global shift to a resilient and vibrant planet. the reality is far more complex but it’s kind of like the 10:10 campaign, it needs that simple hook to penetrate a new believe or idea into the masses.

Les O'Donnell
6 Nov 11:02am

Both sides of the debate are right – there is no ‘wrong’. Once convinced of the need for action, people at all levels of society can perform according to their individual skills & knowledge. I for one never saw the Transition movement as ‘knitting & cycling’. We are all well aware of the need to draw on support from politicians, scientists, engineers, gardeners, and farmers, etc. Good debate – but how much effort have we collectively spent in effectively agreeing with one another when we could be educating others?

6 Nov 2:06pm

@LizM “The people you are talking about are people you want as allies in the long run. Treat them as such.”

I am for one. To point out the truth is to help someone; if they don’t get it, they don’t get it. But often, if you keep doing it, they ‘see reason’ — then they say, “Thankyou for the reality check.”

To truly mourn makes us far stronger than to smile — and deny. What Steffen is saying is, “I will not allow you to recognize the truth, nor mourn, nor act according to the reality.”

There is no such thing as bright green and dark green. As Andre says, bright greens are cornucopians. Cornucopians are wrong. That’s the end of the story.

Reality is a good thing.

6 Nov 2:47pm

andre is wrong that bright greens are cornucopians. andre is a lot of different wrongs in one powerpoint apocalypse presentation with bullet points and everything.

bright greenish people aren’t planning on having this world on a diet of 5% — they are cutting back considerably — but not to the victorian era.

if you don’t think that’s possible but you do think you have a magic spell that protects you from horrors then we better go out and find SOMEONE rational because none of us is.

André Angelantoni
6 Nov 5:24pm

Before this error is repeated some more, allow me to correct it. I do not call the bright greens cornucopians. The actual line is:

“The cornucopians and ‘bright greens’ have, in my view, a very poor grasp of the following key macro trends…”

I haven’t studied the ‘bright green’ idea in depth but I suspect they are somewhere between the ‘mad max’ line and the cleantech stability line in the four scenarios graph (which is actually Holgrem’s graph, of course) — exactly where TT’s are.

The difference is that TT’s generally understand the bullet points I wrote about above (net energy decline, export land model, the fatal flaw in fractional banking, etc.) whereas the bright greens, it seems, either don’t know about those forces or ignore them. (Again, I haven’t studied bright greens in depth, so I’m open to being corrected here.)

The funny thing is It doesn’t seem to matter to many of my colleagues in the sustainability/cleantech/climate change fields that the first big warning of peak oil ($147 oil) has helped cause historically high unemployment and a credit crunch — precisely what peak oil educators have been saying would happen for years. They simply keep talking about their pet ideas and technologies assuming there will be a recovery and that they just need to bide their time.

John Mason
6 Nov 5:56pm

Indeed, Andre, there is a difference! You CAN have cornucopians and green-tech fans saying pretty much similar things at times, precisely because they tend to stay within their spheres of interest in research terms a lot too much.

However… having obviously looked into the other parameters you mention over the years (and I’m sure many of us have), I still think there is hope: the big thing to do is to get projects rolling out that BAU accolytes within our communities find as appealing as TT-types like us – Shane and Andrew made some valuable points regarding such things above. Find that comon ground and find it ASAP! The intimate relationship between economics and resources that creates processes like demand-destruction is something that will buy quite a bit of time IMO. We must try to use that time as sagely as possible!

Cheers – John

André Angelantoni
6 Nov 7:51pm

Hi, John.

Well, I agree with you if the projects are very local, very practical and don’t require a lot of capital because when this current market rally ends (any day now), we are going to see another pulse of people laid off and without resources. Here in the U.S. local governments are broke as are most state governments. Soon the tax hikes are going to start (might have already).

I’m of the view that most of the time for medium-term planning is now in the past. People need to get very serious about how they are going to keep a roof over their head and food coming in the door. A good thing to do now while one has money is stock the pantry as though one is living 200 years ago and a long winter is coming. A friend in Utah told me two weeks ago that the Mormons, who are famous for their “two years of food in the pantry” rule, are frantically stocking up. This is a very, very good plan. Having food in the house will give people some breathing room as they work on other items.

In fact, I think it’s a very good idea if TT were to issue a “Stock Up Sunday” event of some sort. Get every TT community to organize one before the end of the year. Send suggested items, plus instructions on how to store food well and safely for a long time.

At this point, that would be MUCH, MUCH more valuable than a meeting to discuss an energy descent plan (which will never be enacted because the money won’t be there) or to map community resources.

John I understand your commitment to collaboration but time is now very short. I think it’s madness considering the precipice we are on to continue talking with folks like Alex and trying to create something together. Here in the U.S. we are on the brink of 20% unemployment (officially — we’re already there according to, whose numbers I trust more). It’s probably the same in the U.K.

If everyone reading this doesn’t have a full pantry and plans in place to bring in other people to help pay the rent or mortgage, they are just a job-loss away from the abyss. At that point it won’t matter how many visioning meetings they’ve gone to — they will be too busy looking for housing.

There is, in my view, much less time than most TT’s think to become personally resilient. Make the next TT meeting about how to get one’s own house in order before the end of the year (food and finances).


Ruth Wallsgrove
7 Nov 1:35am

Alex Steffen probably believes it’s immoral to believe collapse is likely, because that seems to be giving into pessimism. My instant reaction to some posts here is also in the realm of morals – I would say many people outside the US (and of course inside as well) feel it’s immoral to focus on personal survival, and immoral to believe that technology will save us.

Of course I also think there is no evidence anyone can hole themselves up and survive, and plenty of evidence that blind faith in technology is partly the problem, not the solution. But this isn’t just about ‘facts’.

I keep a store of tins and fresh water for emergencies like bushfires or blackouts, and read the New Scientist technology section every week, but I believe the only moral thing for me to do is what I can to help build communities who can work together on how to survive and what technology they can sustain. I know I am unlikely to be persuaded otherwise by ‘evidence’.

It intrigues me to see certain value differences I’ve experienced before when studying and living in the US coming out pretty much the same in Transition discussion. (Of course there are some other interesting differences around values in Transition…)

PS I don’t believe I come from the ‘green community’ as it happens, but I have noticed the problem of being seen as just a greenie (hippie mark 2?) appears to bother some American Transitioners more than here in Australia, for example. I grew up believing it does matter how you present ideas – that things are readable, for example – but you do have to speak from your values if you want to communicate effectively.

Worrying obsessively about how to speak to someone who doesn’t agree with you can be quite crippling, and in previous activist life it seemed often to go with self-doubt. At least I always wonder what someone is really expressing when they suggest we shouldn’t look so (fill in the box) green/ left/ feminist/ queer….

To be a bit more constructive, those who don’t feel so green, etc, can do their part by spending time talking with people they feel won’t listen to radicals. It truly will take all sorts to transform the world. – warm wishes, Ruth

Dave Dann
7 Nov 11:59am

I must admit that I previously had no idea what ‘bright-greens’ and ‘dark-greens’ were – how ignorant am I! This discussion is all very interesting but my feeling at the moment is that we are geeting nowhere because there is little unity of purpose amongst people and little chance of establishing it. It seems to me that we should be on a sort ‘war footing’ to deal with our problems. The most useful role of central government would be to start a general debate about how we are going to live in the future, with the hope of trying to achieve as much consensus and common purpose as possible. Instead we have a totally head-in-the-sand, ‘business as usual’ approach with even (this is the UK) a continuing concern to finance people and projects can cannot pay their way.

John Mason
7 Nov 8:33pm

The heads are well-down, Dave!

But not every one!

Cheers – john

Jan Hendrik Rufer
9 Nov 3:25pm

Obviously there is not a shared vision.
So i am not surprised that there is de-vision.

Have a nice day!


David Eggleton
14 Nov 6:09am

Everyone is invited: I pledge to serve as a steadily strengthening force for whole places and whole people. I will learn what is known about them and I will share what I discover about them. I will again and again introduce myself and this service to people I don’t know. Thus, I will acquaint myself with my community and it with itself. I will witness and celebrate healing and I will know I am living.

[…] I was particularly pleased that The Transition Handbook (by Rob Hopkins) won the vote for the first round of the newly formed Hyperlocavore Book Club, because I was fascinated by the Bright Green vs. Transition Towns discussion that has been going on throughout the last month.  (The key posts are Transition Towns or Bright Green Cities? posted at Worldchanging, and the response written by Rob Hopkins himself: Responding to Alex Steffen’s Critique of Transition at Worldchanging.) […]