Transition Towns


There are now 382 official transition initiatives in 34 countries, with 458 more ‘mullers’. Yet defining a transition town is still a bit of a challenge. The following attempt comes with thanks/ apologies/ a nod in the direction of The Guardian’s Pass Notes…

So, what is this transition town thing, anyway – something between a town and a city? Not exactly…a transition town (or to be inclusive of villages, islands, universities etc, a transition initiative) is a community-led response to the pressures of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and, increasingly, economic contraction. It addresses the BIG QUESTION…

I thought I was supposed to ask the questions? Never mind – the BIG QUESTION “how can we make our community stronger and happier as we deal with the impacts of peak oil and economic contraction while at the same time urgently reducing CO2 emissions?”

Surely that’s a matter for government? Well of course, government has a huge role to play, but it’s far too slow and cumbersome to do the job as urgently as it’s needed.

Local authority, then?  Indeed, part of the transition model is to engage with other organisations, including local authorities. But local authorities are somewhat limited in their scope, don’t you think?

OK. So it’s down to all of us changing to low energy light bulbs? Ummm…partly – but even if we as individuals did far more than that (insulated our homes, installed solar panels, gave up our addiction to cars) it would still, unfortunately, be too little.

So – government, too slow; councils, too limited; individuals, too little: doesn’t seem there’s much hope, really?  Wrong! That’s where local communities come in. If we act together, maybe we can do enough, just about quickly enough. After all, we’re a very clever bunch.

 And what is it, exactly, that we’re supposed to do? Now we get to the nitty gritty. These problems can only be solved if we make the transition from the sort of society we live in now (high energy, high carbon) to one using very little (if any) oil and other fossil fuels.

Ah, hence the term ‘transition town’ (sorry, ‘initiative’)  Exactly.

So, a society not based on oil. Sounds like a hair shirt sort of thing – you know, back to the middle ages?  Wrong again! The basic premise of the transition movement is that the future with less oil can be preferable to the present if we can engage with enough creativity and adaptability in that process. Our lives can be more connected, more meaningful, more relaxed, and our societies much fairer, than they are now. Many of us say we’d look forward to that.

OK, agreed – but what would this carbon free future look like? It would look different in many ways…we need a transition to a much more local economy – locally produced food and renewable energy, local work, locally owned and run businesses. A transition to a community that’s resilient to the shocks that are likely to come as climate change and peak oil kick in, unlike our present society. And far better to make the changes now, while we still have some choices, than to wait till we’re forced.

You make it sound a doddle – but is it really possible? Why not? To quote Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins? Permaculture teacher…

Permaculture? I wish you’d stop interrupting me. Permaculture: ‘An innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living; a practical method for developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere.’ (Permaculture Magazine).

Pardon??  It’s about applying the principles we find in ecological systems to the design of other systems (eg growing food), making them more resilient and productive. So a permaculture garden would involve minimal input from outside, creating its own nourishment like a woodland does. Plants that ‘like’ each other would be grown together.  And so on. I mention it because the original idea of transition towns came from permaculture. So, back to Rob – permaculture teacher, founder of the transition movement and author of ‘The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience’…

Transition Handbook? Yes – an inspirational yet down to earth guide for transitioners everywhere (available, as it happens, from Transition Buxton, at a bargain price). Where was I?

Is it possible? Ah yes. To quote Rob Hopkins: “There’s no reason why the imagination and ingenuity that got us up to the peak in the first place is going to disappear when we have to start working out how we’re going to get down the other side.” In other words, we’re a very clever bunch (as I said before) – all we need to do is to unleash our collective genius to make it happen.

So Transition Buxton is not alone? Not at all. Around here there are transition initiatives in Macclesfield, Chesterfield, Leek, Congleton, Sheffield plus numerous other Sustainability and Low Carbon groups. And we’re part of the Transition Network, which supports hundreds of transition initiatives around the world with its very helpful and informative website.

Don’t say There’s nothing I can do to make a difference.

Do say We’re all in it together (because in this case, Mr Cameron, it’s absolutely true).