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11 Dec 2009

Transition Reflections from Copenhagen: Naresh Giangrande blogs from COP15d

cop15The road from here. Copenhagen  10.12.09.  Naresh Giangrande

Klimaforum the people’s conference has started slowly. Maybe a 1000-2000 of us in many different locations feeling our way into perhaps the defining moment of our life and times which this conference represents and reflect the hopes an fears of our generation in a way that no other I have even been to does. There is a tension and an intensity that I have never felt before. Even though the first day felt a bit like a party conference, people wandering in and out of speeches that went on too long.

The mood is subdued and quiet, and focussed on the positive and the possibilities of going forward from here. I am sure many know this is the alternative conference. This conference  sits alongside the main COP15 conference at the Bella centre about 4 km away from where we the people are meeting. My impression so far is that not many here expect that the UN conference will bring about any treaty at all or one that will get anywhere near to making the world safe from climate change.

We had dinner with Miguel (I dare not give his full name as his speech was filled with story after story of environmental leaders disappearing or being tortured) from Mexico City who is an anti car and de-growth activist. He wondered if we should be relying on scientists at all to tell us that we have to change our way of life, why can we not rely on our common sense? Why can’t we rely on our own senses to see that the world has to change drastically?

I agree with his sentiment; however there are several problems with this. The overwhelming scientific view is that we have to change our way of life and fast. This lends weight to what many greens have been saying for years, and makes the case for change in our systems of life from desirable to imperative . This is what the science is saying. Without that science we would not be at the point where the sorts of changes to our way of living that the Transition Town movement is advocating would be being taken seriously. We know we are at the brink and one way or another this crisis will be resolved in the next decade or less.

Common sense, the sort of common sense that sees a global system that is creating greater and greater inequality, sees that this is unsustainable. The common sense that looks at a whole range of non renewable resources and does the maths to see that no amount of efficiency or substitutability will render the current system sustainable. The same goes for species and habitat loss. We know it can’t continue and each conundrum on its own is a common sense case for change. But without the scientific back up no change will be forthcoming, al least not in the direction we hope for or in the time scale that might make a sustainable world possible.

So we are dependent on the science to get the powerful in our world to create the changes necessary to ensure life on earth continues, otherwise they won’t be listening and will be carrying creating more and more growth and more and more destruction. That’s the argument for listening to the science and that is the position we find ourselves. Armed as George Monbiot says with peer reviewed science we fight for a sustainable world.

But the sense of this conference so far is that even with the science the rich and powerful are not listening. A good example was told to us by our hosts Jette and Bjarne . The Danes have had a neo liberal government for the last 6 years, and despite the appearance of a very environmentally aware people from the outside not a single wind turbine has been installed in the last 6 years. They have undermined the green agenda until in the last 2 years when the possibility of green jobs and export industries have got their attention and now they embrace the green agenda again (I suspect as a result of realising about peak oil but I can’t say for sure). In other words only the possibility of another form of business growth, made them engage with green technology. But they by having growth as an imperative, is cannot be sustainable.

This leads to an uncomfortable conclusion, and one which Bill McKibben of came to, that there will be no treaty to protect us against climate change. It is just too politically unrealistic. That means that if we are to create a resilient world it will be down to us, civil society to create it. It will be down to non governmental organisations, campaigners, and activists, permaculturalists and organic gardeners.

I have had the first day getting used to this idea and letting it settle. It is an uncomfortable place, full of despair and loss and hope and fear and anger and positive we can do it all bundled together.  I feel a bit like a child who’s parents won’t protect him; bewildered, lost and alone. And still there is hope in me and this conference that i may be wrong and the Cavalry will arrive at the last minute and a good agreement will be reached.

So where do we go from here? Even though I feel pained right now, I can’t give up hope on the larger political process, or in science. The Transition town movement feels an even more critical piece in the creation of a sustainable world. Another group in Sri Lanka is using a similar protocol to the Transition movement;  the Sarvodaya movement. They started in one village and have grown to over 15,000, yes thousand. One of the most interesting pieces that have emerged from their process is the new economic zone that has been created of all these villages trading with one another. It is something that I have been wondering about Transition, and it’s happening! At least we are not alone. I have seen very few other social change organisations able to articulate a positive way forward and then able to carry it out here at Klimaforum yet. The economists, who I have heard are starting to get a feel for what a post growth, resilient economy might be like; but not yet how we might get there. We had our first Transition workshop here at Klimaforum. Sophy Banks spoke to a packed audience of 450 and put the Transition model in front of them. She was on a platform with Tim Jackson who’s latest book ‘ Prosperity without growth’ has caused a stir.

Many people here have said to me, “Go on doing what you are doing. Keep doing Transition.” As difficult as it may seem if we are going to create a sustainable world we will have to do it garden by garden and solar panel by solar panel. In making a resilient world at each step we withdraw a little from the globalised industrial growth system. As we become more self reliant and resilient in our own lives and in our communities we become less dependent on the globalised system and our beliefs shift as well.  We realise that our globalised systems wants us to be dependent for everything that we depend on for life. Sophy and I often talk on our Training of two conveyor belts. The one is the belt we are all on the globalised system. And when you start Transition then you put your foot, maybe slowly at first on another conveyor belt going in the opposite direction. Or maybe you hop onto this Transition conveyor belt and then hop back onto the globalised one; you can’t stay too long with a foot on both! But gradually we spend more and more time on the Transition conveyor. As we decrease our dependency on the globalised system then life takes a new form, a flavour of peace.

Peace takes many forms but it is built with those actions that are in alignment with how the earth world works for all of life. These life principles that govern all the rest of life of earth are the closed loop systems that Permaculture makes clear and which our grandfathers and grandmothers knew and took for granted.

I wish I am able to paint a picture of hope and optimism in this first report from Copenhagen and that by coming here I would find hope and become more optimistic, but I have been disappointed so far. My hope, my optimism springs from my home, Totnes and all the other Transition initiatives. It springs from the desire and that is apparent here at the people’s conference to create a sustainable world. I feel no hope yet from COP 15.  The road from here takes me home.

Naresh Giangrande

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Mike Grenville
11 Dec 10:48am

did you mean …’and the Calvary will arrive at the last minute’ or ‘… and the cavalry will arrive at the last minute’?

Hopefully it will be the latter that will happen!

Ben Brangwyn
11 Dec 11:55am

Sharon Astyk in her most recent posting says, “Copenhagen is a trip to hell for those who truly and most sincerely grasp the scope of the problem.” (

Those who believe that the politicians hold all the power will probably agree with her.

Thankfully, Naresh and others engaging wholeheartedly in transition have a different view of where power lies, latent or otherwise. And COP15 highlights just how important this is.

I’m sure those of us heading over to COP15 will get glimpses of hell and glimpses of “heaven”. What’s most important is that we get neither totally depressed by the vision of hell, nor discouraged by how far we are from “heaven” we actually are.

What we really need is a sense of courage to start, as Naresh says, in our own backyards, on our own roofs and in the neglected spaces that are in every community and are crying out for a bit of love and cultivation.

And what better to inculcate that courage than the inspirational community responses we’re seeing in Transition Initiatives and other community responses around the world.

Finn Jackson
11 Dec 1:57pm

I think your most telling statements are “…there will be no treaty to protect us against climate change.”. And then: “I feel a bit like a child who’s parents won’t protect him; bewildered, lost and alone.”

I am an optimist. I hope there will be a treaty.
But the “pessimistic” (aka “realistic”) part of me agrees there won’t be one.

It is when our parents won’t protect us that we learn to grow up.

That is what will be needed for the Great Turning to happen.

Society will not change the way it runs itself unless and until the way it runs itself shows itself to be broken.


Finn Jackson
11 Dec 3:08pm

So either way I get to be optimistic: optimistic that the politicians will do the right thing. And optimistic that if they don’t, then that will be the spur that the great turning needs.

11 Dec 3:23pm

Hi – for info, here is the link to Tim Jackson’s book – Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, which you mention in your post: – Thanks, Gudrun

Sandy Barringer
11 Dec 5:22pm

Here’s the gist to it all: It’ll get done, not by politicians, but garden by garden, species by species, while the global system crashes because the politicians at Copenhagen simply don’t want another way. (They are the same crowd who got us into this mess to begin with. And, they’re going to fix it!)
And, the leaders also fully understand that, in order to fix the system, they will, sooner or later, have to let go of their massive control over people and the global system and let us get about the business–from the grassroots–of fixing their messes.
So, let the big guys have all the meetings they like, but let’s us just get busy doing that which we know will truly save life on this earth. JMHO.

[…] From NARESH GIANGRANGE Transition Culture […]

11 Dec 6:36pm

Naresh (we met at the Cambridge, MA T4T training) … at the training I remember asking you about what the world tour was doing with latin america and, well, the third world.

You quick reply was something like that they will do what they need to do and I got a sense that you were not thinking that Transition was going to be launched in much the same way as it was in the UK and US. I dont know if your thoughts changed as you went on with your world tour.

The reason I bring this memory up is that I am so very inspired and I derive my hope from the news you give regarding the Sarvodaya movement – 15,000! Just amazing! I am looking forward to learning from them.

The 5 stages of grieving for “modern” homo sapiens is never done. I am sure we all cycle through when special events like this happen (not all of us get to travel to Copenhagen).

I have been watching YouTube videos from the alt conference and am seeing so many young energized people who will BE transition. They are beautiful and they embody my hope.

It is indeed a watershed moment for Transition and the global collective reaction to the Great Turning.

Dave Dann
11 Dec 8:44pm

I freely admit that I don’t understand you Transitioners very much. Here’s Naresh at a fancy conference somewhere , coming to the conclusion that “It will be down to non governmental organisations, campaigners, and activists, permaculturalists and organic gardeners.” Well, pardon me but I thought that was THE WHOLE IDEA. But Transitioners seem to have a foot in both camps, nominally based at home tending their raised beds but actually fascinated by the limelights of the next conference, film launch or speech and can’t keep away. How many times do you have to go around the loop of being disappointed by the powerful? What sort of addictions are in play here? Do you not believe your own message? More importantly I could get on the train tomorrow morning and pop down to Totnes. Will Morrisons car park be empty because it is Transition capital of the world? Somehow I doubt it, and THAT is the very reason why your conference fails. It is because there is only limited support for Transition amongst the population as a whole. You need to stop mixing with other Greens if you want to find this out. People are very worried now about their jobs, and they have mortgages to pay and they have no perception of ‘going without’. So come home and work on that problem, because it’s a tough one. To paraphrase someone “It’s the community, stupid.”
PS Absolutely no personal or collective insult intended here – I wouldn’t waste my time on this website if I didn’t that there was something important happening here.

11 Dec 9:14pm

Given what we have at stake (our very existence as a species) it may be prudent to take a more cautionary approach… but that is not what we have selected our leaders to do. No, they are the successful risk takers…. and may be headed down that extravagent dead end… with all of us along for the ride!

It’s a pity that the decision makers in Copenhagen are made up of those risk takers, and that the environmental activists will be excluded, isolated and harassed by the police who are paid for by those same risk taking leaders.

Susan Butler
11 Dec 10:29pm

It is immensely ironic that the world leaders in Copenhagen, utterly dependent on the no-longer-possible growth paradigm, are forced (by both science and common sense) to talk about climate change, which requires reversing growth! Cognitive dissonance, beautifully exampled! This sort of mental chaos is a fertile ground for another sort of growth –might we call it spiritual evolution? There is no choice. Reality calls.

I’m encouraged by how far they’ve come in a few short years towards facing the problem. I’m also encouraged by how the world is now a unity, due to our technical interconnectivity, and is therefore able to reap huge synergistic effects. This advantage is just as unprecedented as the predicament itself.

13 Dec 11:08pm

Broadly echo D Dann and also to point out that the wait for the “Great Turning” will be that little bit longer just as long as it is called the Great Turning.(Why do people think Transition sounds a bit cultish!)

Ben Brangwyn
16 Dec 10:34pm

Naresh doesn’t use the term “The Great Turning”, but I see others do. My personal opinion is that “Great Turnings” and “paradigm shifts” are a little off-putting to most people, and don’t reflect accurately the little incremental steps that people usually take. It may, in the end looking back, represent a shift, but that’s probably not what it’ll look like while we’re in it.