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.

20 Dec 2010

Needing your thoughts for a ‘Transition Enabling Act’

Well now, here’s an idea.  At last week’s ‘Confronting Change’ event in London (see left), a question was asked about politics, and how Transition might be accelerated in terms of mainstream politics.  Polly Higgins, who is a barrister, and who is promoting the idea of international legislation to outlaw ‘ecocide’, suggested that, in the same way that certain key pieces of enabling legislation have led to great advances in the past, perhaps the time is right for a Transition Enabling Act, designed not to ban lots of things, but positive legislation that enables all that needs to happen in order for Transition to scale up rapidly over the next 5 years.  This was met with much excitement, with Michael Meacher MP saying that were such legislation to exist, he would be happy to help drive it through the House of Commons.  So, how about it?  What we need now is your input, debate and discussion…. (read on…)

Polly emailed me the next day saying “my head has been spinning all night on this! How an umbrella Transition Enabling Act could open the door to food/community land trusts, guerilla gardening/incredible edible, education/ transition universities, training, jobs – oh just oodles of things….”  The next step is that we really need to hear the thoughts from Transition initiatives on the following two questions:

1. What have you or your Transition initiative been unable/hindered in doing to create successful transitioning in your community?

2. If you are able to say, what would enable your proposal to happen?

Polly is going to assemble a team of lawyers to help draft this, it will hopefully be ready in time for the next Transition Network conference, and be able to be put before MPs by May/June.  Nearer the time we will be able to also get all Transition initiatives approaching their MPs for their support.  Anyway, for now, we need your thoughts on these two questions.  Let’s make history here …

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


Clinton Callahan
20 Dec 11:26am

The paradigm of capitalist patriarchal empire includes barriers against experimenting in other paradigms, particularly with regards to:
land ownership
legal structures and forms
Can the Transition Enabling Act permit the creation of “cultural evolution preserves”, research zones for responsible implementation of a diversity of sustainable paradigms that enhance the commons as well as whole human beings?

Chris Wells
20 Dec 12:40pm

This is an interesting and exciting idea Rob.

I’m not sure whether we’ve encountered too many legal challenges in my own initiative so far. So I can’t suggest too many ideas for what should be in the Act. But perhaps some sort of change in the law for people who want to install solar panels or other renewable energy equipment on houses in a conservation area might help?

I hear it can be quite tough to get planning permission.

20 Dec 1:06pm

– Smoothing the process of social enterprise start up e.g. legal, financial support
– Reducing tax burden for independent enterprises e.g. extending some rate relief beyond not for profits to social enterprises
– Facilitating the repurposing of unused publicly owned land / buildings / spaces (temporarily / permanently)
– Setting up a social enterprise investment bank
– Protection of communities from the effects of clone towning

Neil Chadborn
20 Dec 1:52pm

I think there’s a lot of overlap here with ‘modernising commissioning’ green paper:
Transition Network should have a strong response to this anyway, but to bring a separate ‘transition bill’ I would think it should be really distinct from this green paper (and BS!).

Edward Hill
20 Dec 2:44pm

I support Clinton’s proposal for small research zones, where communities can experiment with transition models. It is in my view essential that these zones should be organised through community assemblies of residents and small businesses. It would be pointless to set them up if they were in any way organised or controlled by politicians, corporate businesses, large landowners or government agencies. The community assemblies would need to have power to make planning policy decisions that encourage resilience and sustainability in energy, food, transport and biodiversity. The existing elected councils would still be needed to decide on how to apportion money between all the important tasks that they are legally required to do for their tenants and for groups with special requirements, as well as for some other roles such as deciding small planning applications.

Possible pilot zones:
1. Islands, which are easier to look at as separate economic, social & ecological systems – e.g. the Isle of Man, Scillies or Orkneys
2. World Heritage Sites, which could be managed according to UNESCO sustainability criteria if strong legal backing for local community assemblies took the place of the UK’s present weak planning system that is subject to political pressure.
3. Rural towns & villages that want to become zero carbon.

Beverly Milestone
20 Dec 2:44pm

Unfortunately, much about powering down goes against the grain of today’s political climate. Here in the us, just the mere hint of something politicians think will halt the progression of more businesses and larger tax bases will drive bi-partisanship as nothing else can. Here in Pennsylvania we have been attempting to have our voices heard. There has only been a smattering of success. One huge effort has been against the Marcellus Shale. It’s too early to tell if we are making any inroads, but the City of Pittsburgh has banned gas fracking. We are waiting to see if the state’s attorney general will sue. Here in our town, our efforts have been defeated twice at the ballot box. We are still working for a better, greener community, but it is a hard battle. I look forward to hearing about other community efforts.

Best of luck moving forward.

Erik Curren
20 Dec 3:24pm

This IS an an exciting idea. As someone who once ran for public office with a plan to create a Green Enterprise Zone in our local area, I would be eager to hear if an enabling act would give local communities more power to start Transition projects.

In the US, a particular problem is that 13 of our 50 states operate under “The Dillon Rule,” which means that any power not specifically given to local govt resides only with the state.

Because big corporations have more power at the state level than at the local level, this can tend to squelch good local sustainability efforts. I hope the enabling act could help free localities from this and other forms of corporate control from the center.

Rhodri Thomas
20 Dec 4:15pm

You need land. The big barrier in Wales (and it will be more so in England)is securing ownership of assets – buildings, sources of renewable energy and land on which to grow food and fuel. The use of Feed In Tarrifs to earn money for other communal development is being perfected by organisations like The Green Valleys in Powys.

So this legislation needs to remove barriers to the communal ownership of land and assets either outright or to be held in trust. It also needs to apply across all devolved administrations. You will find the current Welsh government supportive. Try Leanne Wood AM (Plaid Cymru) and Jane Davidson AM (Labour – current minister for sustainability.)

The other important issue besides ownership of the assets is State Aid. You can’t get a grant and Feed In Tarrifs for example because that counts as double state aid and Europe deems this as uncompetative.

Don’t just hare off and design this legislation in a rush – take as much time as it needs. You must consult with The Development Trusts Association, the people of Eig in Scotland, Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales, and the people behind LAMAS in Pembrokeshire – thats just a few suggestions. There is a wealth of experience out there beyond the Transition movement who need to be consulted if this legislation is going to be any use.

Tom A
20 Dec 4:23pm

Legalise all drugs. Tax their sale. Donate all tax proceeds to Transition initiatives to spend as they see fit 😉

20 Dec 8:13pm

Has there ever been legislation that has not had a raft of unintended consequences ? A transition enabling act potentially throws every existing paradigm into the air. Hooray ! Where might the bits fall back to earth ? Arrgh – we might not like some of them ! But hey, just as a means to raise transition thinking in existing political/economic structures it has possibilities… Let’s as ever though, maintain our independence from political parties. We need to be talking to all of them and not allow ourselves to be polarised, pigeon-holed or hijacked.

Jo Homan
20 Dec 8:40pm

I’d like money to send more people on transition training, publicise the group’s activities and pay for my time, as a transition organiser – I’m doing this full time now. I’m very aware that much can be done with volunteer time, but after two years I’m starting to feel that I’m over-dependent on the goodwill of my designer friends etc. Tom’s drug tax may be the perfect solution for raising this money – and I’m sure there are other ways. 2% of a local council’s budget being allocated to a local TI (as Michael suggested) would make a massive difference.

Jo Homan
20 Dec 8:47pm

Also, is there any overlap with the Sustainable Communities Act – or what it’s meant to be doing?

Alan Brown
20 Dec 11:45pm

Access to live energy consumption data. DECC MLSOA data is 2 years out of date, and some stupid rules mean that detailed regional data is available in england but not in scotland. How are we supposed to see cause and effect on energy if we have a 2 year delay on data and then when we do get it, it’s too vague.

Land access rights. People should be allowed to grow food locally. Councils or private owners should be tasked with de-contaminating land so that it can be used. Some sites are ideal but officials jump though hoops to prevent any positive action on local community food projects. Luckily we have a few good friends with fields !

Renewables on Historic Buildings and in conservation areas. Historic Scotland for example are too tight on their rules and wont permit solar thermal panels unless they are hidden in roof gullies where the sun dont shine !

Education curriculum – must include proper sustainability training closely linked to PO and Climate C.

Community rights to remove advertising signs, as recommended by WWF. We need to have the powers to remove excessive marketing and consumerism like supermarket dominance. In our town 5000 houses 3 supermarkets. A load of $%^$^, developers get more respect as they offer planning gains [bribes] to local authorities to get what they want.

Currency and Tax.
Local communities should not feel threatened by tax implications when setting up LETS schemes or local currencies, etc.

SCIO’s.. in scotland this has been debated for donkeys years. when can groups have simpler legal structures and support to allow them to get on with their work.

I’m not sure what a bit of legal paperwork would gain us, as it’ll sit on a dusty shelf, but I do encourage cleaning up existing laws across the UK to give more space for the likes of Transition thinking to expand.

Sandi Hughes
21 Dec 1:26am

I think the possibilities and benefits could be tremendous. If the UK leads the way, perhpas the USA and others will follow… Count me in!

Shaun Chamberlin
21 Dec 1:18pm

Agree with Jo that a conversation with Local Works (the coalition behind the Sustainable Communities Act) about this would be a v good idea:

Carin Schwartz
21 Dec 5:57pm

TTForres in Scotland have been working for more than two years to make an environmental education centre in a building we’re leasing from the local council at a substantial cost. We have as yet been unable to achieve this due to red tape. There certainly is very little evidence of cooperation and enabling support from officers in our local council and hence I would very much welcome a TEA.

21 Dec 6:28pm

Here are some cost-saving ideas the coalition might like that would support Transition:
1. Provide incentives for e-friendly local production and distribution through removal of subsidies for fossil-fuel-intensive energy, transport and agriculture.
2. Legislate anti-trust fees or fines to break-up big corporate business and encourage local competition among smaller businesses.
3. The Big Society Bank idea, initially funded quite locally by abandoned accounts, is a good start towards publicly-owned local financial institutions.

Kenrick Chin
22 Dec 3:04am

I see one of the strongest barriers to transition and energy descent action planning is the interest of land developers and corporations for profit with total disregard for the environment and sustainability. Ecocide sums it up in one word.

We witness the battle against mining in New Zealand. The struggle continues against shale gas extraction in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas. And of course the whole world sees the huge cancerous blight on our planet of the tar sands project in Alberta.

Here in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, the battle has been lost to city councilors and developers greed for the Red Hill Valley Parkway. The fight continues against conversion of 2500 acres of agricultural land into industrial warehouses for a proposed distribution hub, of course, relying on a transportation model based on continuing supply of cheap oil.

The sooner we leave the stuff in the ground alone the better off all life will be.

Jessica Currie
4 Jan 5:17pm

I think public ownership of land is a critical issue. I’m also concerned about the sale of the Forestry Commission owned land – if profit is to be made from forests it should be for the public purse and not for large businesses.

I think we need to look at funding as even small amounts of money make a huge difference to how effective Yransistion groups can be. I would suggest we ask the Government to fund a TEA grant with the ‘profits’ from the Carbon Reduction Commitment legislation. This legislation affects nearly every local authority and large business (banks, hotels, supermarkets, offices) who use over a certain amount of energy. Organisations have to buy ‘allowances’ for every tonne of CO2 they emit. Under the last goverment this was going to be ‘recycled’ back to participants in the form of bonuses or penalties. The new Government have announced that this money will now be kept by the Treasury. For London local authorities alone this will be about £12 million pounds. If local authorities were forced to put 50% of this money into a local TEA grant fund and 50% to the treasury this would be a good start.

6 Jan 11:50pm

Jo’s right to mention the sustainable communities act – there is certainly some overlap – but more importantly you should check out the provisions of the Localism Bill (currently going through parliament) which includes clauses on community right-to-buy etc. You’d also be more likely to get Government support for this (which would be very important to secure the parliamentary time)if it is couched in the language of localism and decentralisation. Also – more simply – if you are encountering specific barriers then a good place to start might be the Big Society barrier busting team ( (yes really). Often when investigated barriers to community-based activities tend to have more to do with over-cautious local authorities than the actual legal provisions: the Big Society team may be able to help identify areas where this in fact the case.

All of Jamie B’s ideas look sound to me. I’d be interested in exploring the idea of community referendums to block certain types of development (e.g. out-of-town supermarkets) but you’d need to be very careful it didn’t play into the hands of anti-windfarm NIMBY types. Maybe community referendums to block planning application on the basis of an adverse effect on the social and economic wellbeing of the community (a case you could make for supermarkets but not for renewable energy)?

I’d be interested in participating in more brainstorming around this idea.

Terry Hobday
8 Jan 12:34pm

The biggest issue for us here in rural Shropshire is access to and security of land on which to grow food, plant trees etc. We are surrounded by land but cannot use it because it does not belong to us. Any use of land in the towns and villages needs official sanction and that is very hard to come by. It is a real irony. An enabling act would need to include compulsory purchase as a component and that would be very popular in these parts – Not!

Felicity AI Newman
8 Jan 1:58pm

Interpretation of laws, policies and politeness seems to be the most obvious expression of the problem of conflicts of interest, and cultural preferences. If local government and their staff, landowners, land-based businesses, neighbours and transitioners were asked to define the concept of ‘transition’ and then comment on each others’ notions I think we would find that we are part of a ziggurat of Babel instead of a hierarchy of legal process. I think this is the case even within the Transition movement. Therefore, some kind of ‘mediation’ and ‘witness’ service which anyone can go to if they think or feel that their ability to be more sustainable is being obstructed. It would need to have investigative capabilities, and access to relevant information and experts (for example, in language and environmental sciences as well as Law). Its objective would be to ensure that a proper understanding of the situation is shared and upheld and authoritatively documented with due regard for all existing Laws. It would be important that those delivering the service make no attempt to make up their own words and meanings which contradict received understandings and reputable dictionary definitions with regard for cultural and geographic differences and fully functional, sober senses. Also, that a constructive balance be struck between inclusivity and not being part of an anarchic/revolutionary drive to overturn the given order and accepted standards of decency. Therefore, I’m not quite sure which existing mediation services it could be modelled upon but I have certainly found that injustice and obstruction of my ability to be sustainable is attended by lies, contradiction, and a refusal to accept a religious (conscientious – that is well wishing, interconnected and consistent, without being corrupt or superficial) understanding of the English language within laws, policy terms and civilized expectations of given situations. Please, and thank you!

Mark Brown
8 Jan 3:01pm

What we need is for Transition to become part of the National and Local Government paradigm. They need to engineer their information flows to facilitate our work. For example, providing useful summaries of Climate Change impact scenarios at regional level. More specifically the ideas that effect us here may not be too disimilar to ideas that may emerge from “Big Society”. I think the administration of funding via small grants needs over-hauling. We had a small Council grant to setup our Energy Saving Kits lending scheme but progress was hampered and delayed by officious Council interference with the spending process. They couldn’t just give us a £500 and say “off you go”. No, they had to raise the Purchase Orders themselves, wait a month for approvals, fax them, lose them, buy the wrong items and generally show low levels of competence. There should be a grant ceiling beyond which Councils should not be allowed to interfere with the purchasing process. On another matter: when infrasturcture projects such as Solar Panel clubs are set up the Council must facilitate this work by engaging the Planning, Building Control and Environmental Helath Officers. They need to be obliged to help rather that giving the “more than my jobs worth” excuse they gave us. It should be their job to help us and they should be compelled to do so and measured/rewarded as such.

8 Jan 6:11pm

Spot on Mark. Where I live, the council’s environmental and climate change team, and the planning department might as well be on different planets for the amount of attention the latter pays to the former. But how do we persuade/encourage/make council officials operate systemically ? And urgently ? Most councils are paralysed by job-cut fears at the moment – at all levels. Doesn’t stop us trying to educate and help them, but everyone I have met in three different councils in the past four months has given the same excuse for inaction.

James Thomson
9 Jan 5:19pm

Michael Meacher spoke briefly on it; the coalition needs to stand up to the energy industry’s completely unfair and corruptive influence on UK policy. Consider the money that oil and gas companies have ploughed into creating this mess we find ourselves in today. It feels obvious to state that these industries should be held financially accountable for enabling a Transition away from a state of disabling oil dependency.

What happens when Rangers face Celtic each year? You get trouble. As a government you can’t go and ban these fixtures because they’re dangerous, neither can you prohibit oil consumption. But, you can ask the question; should every British tax payer have to fork out for the massive policing effort required to enable such games to go ahead? In 2008 The House of Commons decided to grant the police force permission (see above link) to bill football clubs directly for the provision of all consequential match-day security.

Not everyones is in love with football – so its right that we dont all have to pay for it. Likewise, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the whole of Britain is not completely fixated on the needless consumption of oil and gas. In fact, these goods are rapidly turning into optional luxuries for most people at £1.28 a litre of petrol. Why then, should all British tax payers (ignorant of how much oil they consume), continue to fund the extravagant shipping security which the Royal Navy now provides for safe-passage of oil and gas imports through the Gulf of Aden into the UK?

As Somalian pirates roam the open waters with increasing efficiency and ‘Osama Bin Laden’s Navy’ build steam, oil and gas companies like Shell are becoming increasingly vocal towards the government about the possibility of their cargos getting hijacked:

Shell could claim to pay large amounts of taxes just like the big premiership football clubs do (£1bn a year), but for how long can this coalition protend that it is the British Navy’s job to fight these pirates off at no additional expense? To continue charging the general public for this personal escort service (described in the document below) not only feels like a con, but an unnecessary threat to naval seamen as well.

One part of the Enabling Act could address how the government got themselves into this mess in the first place. How is it that the Vice President of Shell, Jan Kopernicki, is also able to attain the position of Head of the UK Chamber of Shipping and be joint Chair of the UK Shipping Defence Advisory Committee?

Look at the transcripts from the meeting between Kopernicki and a group of parliamentary Lords in November 2010. To read the 1st page is starkly revealing, but more concerning is the way Kopernicki refers to the different Admirals, Commodores and Captains as if they were under his command (p 3, 15):

Perhaps we can write a clause in the Transition Enabling Act that instructs David Cameron and Nick Clegg to grow some balls, thus enabling them to tell Mr Kopernicki and his oil company straight that if you want protection – you’ll need to pay for it like everyone else.

Crucially though and as a gesture of honesty to the Big Society concept, will the coalition government have the common sense to channel this security-fee back into the selfless Transition Town initiatives which seek to turn the taps off at this end? Internalising police costs in 2008 almost put a number of football clubs out of business – that’s life. Oil companies which have just announced record profits in 2010 need to face up to some of these realities too.

9 Jan 5:28pm

When we submitted lots of proposals under the SCA, the borough council claimed lack of resources to respond so we had to submit just one. Also when we suggested that a local panel to consider SCA should include our TT group we were told that the council couldn’t justify that as we were the sponsor of the proposal. Also they wanted evidence that our group was representative.

Gan Bwyll a Daliwch Ati
10 Jan 5:53pm

A small suggestion for the grander scheme of things – how about looking at ways to legalise Seed Saving groups/events?

We all know they are going on and want to support them, but current Uk legislation to protect plant health with the National Lists means you can’t transfer ownership (even by donation/swapping) of seeds not on the lists (ie saved seeds) and its a grey area even for listed seeds if you aren’t licensed, which is protecting the interests of F1 hybrid seed merchants and acting against heritage varieties and bio-diveristy. It costs over £100pa per variety for a seed company to register and maintain a variety on the list, prohibitive for smaller operations and ‘unpopular’ or ‘forgotten’ varieties.

This legality issue is unknown or confusing for many volunteer groups – but means that their applications for any public funding for Seed Swaps should be turned down, as has happened in our area…

Neil Chadborn
10 Jan 6:16pm

Great point, Gan Bwyll a Daliwch Ati. A kind of pre-emptive way of protecting against the kind practice going on in USA where companies marketing genetically modified crops are suing non-GM farmers or farmers trying to seed-save.
Also could protect against some fears that Codex Alimentaris may constrain micronutrients and herbal remedies.

Rob Owen
12 Jan 10:43pm

We think children and education are key. If govt is serious about s.d. then it should seriously consider the following suggestion: ensure that every town with a secondary school has a full-time, paid Transition Organiser based in the school who would liase with feeder Primary Schools and with community groups also. Working with the staff and pupils (and relevant statutary bodies where needed) this person – preferably a permaculture expert – would initiate Transition projects of all kinds starting in and around the sec school itself – and causing a ripple effect via pupils and parents out to the community and surrounding villages. (See below for continuation of this. I’ve mixed it up somehow – useless with computers…)

Also agree that Transition HQ and those behind the Sustainable Communities Act should be of mutual support. (Though we aren’t covered by the Act in Wales)

Could Central Govt – and Welsh Assembly Govt etc
– be asked to “require” Community councils to watch eg “A Return to Community” DVD – which features Rob Hopkins – or “In Transition” – though that’s probably a bit long for them…..

(children and education – continued)
Sec school teachers (I was one) do not have the time or energy to successfully organise and maintain such projects themselves. Head Teachers are often simply not aware enough of the urgent need for change, so are lukewarm about approaches from the likes of us. This is certainly what we found with our local school where – even though we had some key staff on board and had access to a grant for the pupils to work with someone from the North Wales Wildlife Trust to plant a hedgerow along a new set of railings – the initiative came to nothing as the Head “did not see it as a priority” (and made clear he thought it an insult to his shiny new railings)!!!

Rob Owen
30 Jan 1:37am

Could a Transition Enabling Act enable all local govt across the UK to follow best practice examples: eg with energy – the example of Woking Borough Coumcil in Surrey which has cut CO2 emissions from its own buildings by an impressive 77% over a period of 15 years and dramatically reduced energy consumption. What they found was that when small-scale energy generation was introduced into people’s houses, they reponded by taking much more interest in energy use and used it far less wastefully.

Correction: In a previous comment I referred to a film “A Return to Community” – however the actual name of the film is “The Turning Point: a return to community” and it features (among others) Richard Heinberg and Rob Hopkins. Govt at all levels should be invited to see and repond to this inspiring film – and also the short Greenpeace film “Convenient Solutions.

Patricia Dodd Racher
4 Feb 5:03pm

The UK’s membership of the European Union has some definite disadvantages for any effort to move towards a sustainable future, I believe. This became clear on reading the government’s reasons for rejecting proposals from local authorities in England for green innovations under the 2007 Sustainable Communities Act. The proposals were published in December 2009 and the government’s response – after the change of administration from Labour to Coalition in May 2010 – appeared in December 2010. West Lancashire District Council had proposed that the government should lobby the European Union for changes to the Treaty of Rome, to allow councils to favour local suppliers and local workers when deciding on contracts. Government rejected this as contrary to the EU requirement for non-discrimination and commented specifically about local food that it would not be permissible to take account of food miles, or environmental impacts, when awarding contracts.

Most of the proposals that the UK government opted to support were technical tweaks with scant cost implications, such as allowing local authorities to sell electricity generated from renewable sources. The political structures in which we are enmeshed inhibit the possibility of any radical shift to prepare for a scarce-energy future, like a sailor prevented from leaping into a lifeboat because he/she is shackled to the deck of a sinking ship.

Lucy Neal
14 Mar 9:40am

Could it become law for a local authority to HAVE to provide a designated meeting space freely for community and volunteer groups? In South West London (Tooting) this would make a huge difference to our work it really really would. In more traditional communities these remain common place – covered meeting places where the community gets together to make important decisions. We seem to have lost them! They need re-instating as part of our ‘community enabling’.