The Transition Town movement starts from the realization that modern consumer culture is not sustainable.
We currently use too much oil and other fossil fuels, resources that won’t last forever and are being used up fast. Fossil fuels permeate modern life. At home, work, play, or moving in between, we’re almost always burning fossil fuels. Or we’re using petroleum-based plastic stuff from around the world, wrought from fossil-fueled networks of production, distribution and transportation.
Contemporary life is tied to fossil fuels the way bodies rely on blood.
At the same time, the intensive mining and burning of fossil fuels actively damages world ecosystems, provoking devastating climate chaos.
In the medium-term, we’re running out of cheap, easily-accessible oil. We’ve already used up more than half of it. Inevitably, the supply of cheap oil will dwindle and the socioeconomic system that relies on cheap oil as lifeblood will expire. So our way of life is damaging the earth, and can’t go on much longer anyway.
Yet elected leaders almost uniformly approach these crises full speed ahead, heads in the sand. We no longer have the luxury of waiting to be led by them; we have to act now. This is where the idea of Transition comes in.
Taking the long view
The Transition movement looks to be a few steps ahead on the collapse of oil-dependent societies. Rather than waiting for the crash and hoping for the best, Transition Towns are leading controlled descents by creating ways of living that are less dependent on non-renewable energy.
The key goals of Transition are:
- Powering down from fossil fuel dependence.
- Relocalizing our economies.
- Creating lives and livelihoods rooted in communities.
These are more favorable than an unsustainable global system managed by and for corporate profiteers and a plutocratic ruling class.
How we get there
Such a transition involves the creation of new forms of society, of organizing ourselves, that help achieve the best lives we can using freedom and responsibility. Transition in this sense entails a psychosocial migration, a trek off the grid of modern capitalist consumer culture and into a new frontier of human scale living.
As with any long-term endeavor, things surely won’t end up as we imagine it from here – things will go the way people take it, which is how democracy works. But the important point here is: we can start now. We can start making Transition happen.
It helps to think of Transition as a medium- to long-term process, albeit an urgent one requiring diligent effort. We don’t have to do it all at once, we just have to get going and keep making progress. It may be baby steps or long strides, but the point is to start down the path. There are three levels at which we can all start doing things right away:
- The household.
- Groupings of locally-related households, from Resilience Circles to Transition Towns.
- A broad global community of interest, developing and sharing wisdom and experience.
The individual household level is where we have the most control.
Ideally, we’d all live on urban, suburban, or rural homesteads where we produce food for ourselves and friends while living in efficient homes using clean, renewable energy. There are people doing this, and we should celebrate and learn from them.
But even if that possibility seems a long way off for many of us, we can move, bit by bit, off the grid of corporate-orchestrated consumer culture. We can:
- Use less electricity; examine your bill and determine to use fewer kilowatt hours every month.
- Reduce gasoline use by driving less and walking, biking, and using public transit more.
- Buy from or trade with local food producers.
- Help foster local economy by making, selling and buying goods locally.
- Avoid corporate chain stores.
- Live by the principle “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle – In That Order” as a way to rein in consumerist tendencies.
The individual path to Transition may include “inconveniences.” That inconvenience is our karmic wage, the withdrawal pain required to kick the consumerist habit. Ultimately, powering down households and relocalizing are not only smart and forward-thinking, but also the right thing to do.
Re-programming our households is necessary, but not sufficient – we can’t be powered-down hermits. We need to act with others. This means finding people on the same path and forming a community around Transition practices.
Some of us live where enough people understand the issues and are willing to develop a Transition Town initiative. But many don’t live where a large-scale Transition initiative is viable. We can’t wait for our neighborhoods, cities and regions to wake up and take responsibility for working our way out of our predicament. We have to start now to build life-raft communities in which to stay afloat.
Even without a town-wide initiative, we can make things happen. Members of interested households can find two to four other households doing the same thing and do it together – make a more informal Transition neighborhood or community
Organizers based at the Institute for Policy Studies in Boston are trying to help people form micro-communities aimed at sustainable, resilient living, which they call common security clubs or resilience circles. They’ve created a seven-session curriculum to help circle members develop a group understanding and find a path forward to a better, more democratic way of living.
Some people may prefer less structure. A more casual approach might be to have regular group dinners to talk about what’s going on, share ideas, and to discuss progress and setbacks in the quest to power down and localize. Participants could look for ways to share and work together to get things done and make things happen, creating better, freer lives in the process. This alone will help build a community of people taking responsibility for their lives, a community in Transition.
Resilience circles could even work with other circles in the area to make things happen on a larger scale — maybe group currencies and barter fairs, cooperative enterprises or community defense militias.
In some cases, linked resilience circles might be a firmer foundation than a full-scale Transition Town initiative. Since the resilience circle idea starts with finding and recruiting three or four households of like-minded people, rather than creating a full scale organization, they may prove more doable in the near term. (I haven’t been part of a circle yet, but have talked to a couple of people about it and hope to help make it happen sooner than later. It seems like a good option for my conservative, rural city.)
Keeping the best in globalization — our linked communication
Finally, it’s crucial as a worldwide community of households, connected through the Internet, to share certain basic values and work together to advance the ideas and practices of post growth, post peak oil living.
Examples at Transition Network, Transition US, and Transition In Action Social Network, along with many other websites, help develop and share experience and wisdom, a register of trials and errors, that enable individuals and groups to make faster progress than if they had to run every trial themselves.
This third level of Transition can also help groups make connections for trade and cooperation, and encourage and facilitate the maintenance of certain kinds of “translocal” expertise among individuals in far-flung groups (expertise in computers and communications come to mind). As with any democratized community, our internet community will become whatever we make of it. It will never stop becoming what we make of it because democracy is not an ideal state to be achieved, but a never-ending process; democracy is the freedom and responsibility to continuously create community and society.
Transition is a path. We can’t get there all at once. But we can get on the path and keep going. That is what we can do to make things happen.
Crises beyond our control may affect the pace of Transition. For all we know humanity may already be doomed to extinction. But if our concern is to do what we can, and to keep moving forward, then we’re making Transition happen, making progress away from the dying modern capitalist Western society and into a wide-open democratic frontier of freedom and responsibility.
And you can be a part of it.
– Art Martin, Transition Voice