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.

21 Dec 2009

Editorial from Western Morning News: “Hippy Town Comes of Age”

wmnThe Western Morning News is a daily paper that covers the South West of England.  Often its editorials denounce the idea of windfarms, and its letter pages are often full of climate sceptics.  All the more heartening that the following editorial appeared in today’s paper, alongside a very good news piece about TTT’s DECC award.  An editorial like this would have been unimaginable a couple of years ago, it is fascinating how fast things are moving.  I must say though that I have lived in Totnes for nearly 5 years now, and have yet to see a carved bar of soap (see below)!

“The South Devon town of Totnes has come in for a fair bit of criticism over the years as the South West capital of the ‘alternative culture’.  Listen to the jeers of its critics and you would think the average resident of the TQ9 postcode was a sandal-wearing, crystal-gazing soap carver subsisting entirely on brown rice and organic parsnips.

But the people of Totnes will be enjoying the last laugh today at the news that the town is to receive £500,000 in grant aid to develop low-carbon technologies.  Transition Town Totnes, the group set up to pioneer green alternatives to modern life, will lead the project that could ultimately benefit 8,500 residents and offer global solutions to our changing climate.

In an interesting twist to the climate change debate, communities and individuals once seen as quaintly idiosyncratic for their way-out views have now become mainstream and may yet provide some of the answers to the biggest questions we all face.  Totnes, which has been drawing free-thinkers with serious concerns about the environment for decades, now appears to have a concentration of like-minded individuals in the right place at the right time.

Of course, there will be critics, some of them residents of Totnes, who could think of better uses for half a million pounds.  But the £10 million fund from which this grant will be drawn was specifically set up as part of what’s called the Low Carbon Communities Challenge.

If the money has been earmarked for projects designed to try to tackle global warming and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, then where better to spend part of it than Totnes?

Many people – even those still sceptical about man-made climate change – believe that human ingenuity offers the best hope of avoiding what may be catastrophic global warming over the next century.  There will be those in Totnes, as elsewhere, who think that only by abandoning our global, market-driven consumer economy and returning to an almost-medieval society can we ensure the long-term survival of the planet.

But that, thankfully, is not the view of the majority behind Transition Town Totnes.  As Rob Hopkins from the project made clear: “We want to model lasting behaviour change which sees low-carbon living not as a chore or as some hair-shirt austerity measure, but as offering potential for an economic and cultural renaissance for the community”.

It will be interesting to see how this project, now properly funded at last, develops ideas.  Interesting too, to see how those who once dismissed “wacky” Totnes as bit of a joke start to change their tune.

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


James R. Martin
21 Dec 6:06pm

Congratulations to all of you in Totnes! And thanks for getting the ball rolling there–, and for inspiring the rest of the world.

David Eggleton
23 Dec 4:55pm

It’s helpful to know some more about Totnes’ readiness (fertile soil) for what sprouted there. As Putney, VT (USA) presently demonstrates, Transition moves ahead more easily in such centers.

On another note, I’m disappointed in the inclusion of “green alternatives to modern life,” though I understand the casual repetition of it. Increasing resilience means adding differently founded and sourced dimensions to modern life, so that what’s unsustainable can fall off without taking everyone with it. Alternatives deemed green are not guaranteed to endure.

Keith Thomas
23 Dec 9:56pm

It’s easy to make up silliness about one’s opponents – it’s the straw man technique. Sure, soap carving is not a feature of TT. On the other hand, I don’t think many advocates of sustainability have proposed the wearing of hair shirts. I also agree with David Eagleton’s point: We have to be careful that “green alternatives” do not become alternative ways to continue practices that are unsustainable, by masking their damaging aspects from immediate view or conscience – often by exporting (usually to China) their polluting and exploitative costs.