What is Transition?

This article was written by Lee Brain and was originally published in the Vancouver Observer entitled “A call to transition to a post-oil world” on March 12th, 2012.

It is clear in these times that we are on a slow, steady decline towards an inevitable path of resource depletion, climate change and rampant global economic instability. We are attempting to infinitely grow within a finite system of natural resources. With a population of seven billion predicted to rise to 9.5 billion by 2050, and global resource consumption doubling every two years, there is simply not one argument that can trump these facts anymore.

A call to transition to a post-oil world

And with nearly every aspect of our lives dependent on the global economic system, I could go on stating the ‘whys’ of it all – peak oil, petrochemical corporate greed, the military industrial complex, this fact, that fact – the real fact is, we are beyond the ‘why’, and don’t need any more information to know one simple truth: we must change our path while we still have the resources to do so.

It may be that we are doomed as a planet, and that we may not be able to stop this train that we are on. But I refuse to sit here and throw the towel in and allow bitterness to enter my veins and armchair criticisms to rule the day.

That’s why I got involved with the Transition Movement. The Transition Movement aims to create resilient communities that have the adaptive capacity to respond to the challenges of peak oil, climate change and global economic instability.

Simply put, it is about entering into a process of transitioning off the dependency of fossil fuels.

Through a series of phases that build upon each other, it is a procedural framework that invites communities to take a journey into the unknown future.

Grounded in permaculture design, proper community facilitation and effective group process – the intention is to “unlock the collective genius of a community” by creating spaces for conversations to occur around topics of sustainability and local resilience. Community members collectively design an “Energy Descent Action Plan” which seeks to create a timeline into the future people truly wish to live in.

It is about trusting that the whole community has the answers to co-create systems that will sustain them for many future generations.

The power of this movement comes from inclusion, diversity and community ownership over the process. The structure is flexible and intuitive enough to suit the unique needs of individual communities, and acts as a template for large scale community transformation.

In full fruition, communities create working groups (that they define) on topics such as local food, energy, waste, economics, health, education, heart and soul, transportation, arts, housing, local government liaison, etc – and representatives from these groups meet to coordinate their projects and initiatives towards a greater overall vision for the entire community.

Over a period of five to ten years the process can lead to community self-reliance in a way that meets the unique geographical terrain of the area and demographics of the population. Discovering the unfolding nature of the process, people may find a new sense of trust with their neighbours, see their communities develop a more robust and thriving flavour — and actually live more fulfilling, happy lives as a result.

In the later phases, some Transition Initiatives see the development of large scale local food production, community owned renewable energy companies, local complementary currencies and trading systems, time banks, social enterprises of all types, community gardens, community owned assets and infrastructure, tool sharing, neighbourhood councils, building material exchanges, reusable waste and zero waste strategies, skills training, local breweries and bakeries, among many other unique and powerful projects. One can see Transition as the ‘glue’ that coordinates all the systems together – and the main job of the movement is to facilitate people, ideas, projects, stakeholders and systems – rather than be the hierarchy that tells everyone what to do.

The point is to create a ‘resilient’ community, so that if there were to be any sort of global economic collapse or natural disruption – community residents will still be able to power and heat their homes, feed their families and also trade locally.

It is about getting prepared as an entire community, and letting go of any romanticised ‘survivalist’ mentalities.

The evolution of Transition

Fighting battles are what psychologist Joanna Macy would describe as ‘holding actions.’ They are about ‘stopping’ and resisting. Transition is about moving forward, co-creating, trusting the process and all together solving our own problems in the face of adversity. So this is a chance to channel any frustrations or anger into a constructive, positive arena.

The Transition movement began in England in 2005 by founder Rob Hopkins. It quickly went ‘viral’ and in 2008 Hopkins published the first procedural manual called “The Transition Handbook.” In that book, he laid out ‘12 steps’ for communities to reduce or end fossil fuel dependency. As time went on, and more communities came on board, the movement began to identify many similar patterns that were reflected in the process of other communities. Thus, the Transition movement itself went through its own process of discovery, learning and adaptation.

As a result, the movement evolved its approach and structure and just as recently as October of 2011, Hopkins published the second procedural manual called “The Transition Companion.” This manual re-focused the movement to reflect the scale and patterns that communities will encounter during the starting phase to later phases, among many new tools and principles to use.

There are two kinds of Transition Initiatives – ‘official’ and ‘mulling’. The official initiatives are ones that are registered on the global Transition Network, have received proper training, meet a certain criteria and are underway in phase 1. The mulling stage is when a community is ‘thinking’ about the initiative, perhaps learning more and just beginning to formalize a group. To date, between official and mulling status, there are roughly 1000 initiatives underway worldwide in 34 countries such as England, Brazil, USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Africa and more. Many countries choose to establish a National Hub, which coordinates with the Transition Network.

What is also unique about the process is that inner transition is also built into the framework. There is an acknowledgment of the fact that all people are at different stages of awareness, and that we all must meet people where they are. In the end, what is required for us is a psychological shift in understanding in order to embrace some of these new principles that may feel foreign to those who have their lives deeply ingrained into the current system.

The Transition Companion book asks: “What if the best responses to peak oil and climate change don’t come from government, but from you and me and the people around us?”

It’s all about trusting the process. No one person has the answer, but collectively, we do.

How does Transition work?

A closer look at the process, there are five main phases:

•Phase 1 – Starting Out

•Phase 2 – Deepening

•Phase 3 – Connecting

•Phase 4 – Building

•Phase 5 – Daring to dream


Phase 1 – Starting Out

In phase 1 an ‘initiator’ starts a temporary group called an ‘Initiating Group.’ The goal of the Initiating Group is to learn about the process, raise awareness in the community, provide training and education, model effective group process, learn about facilitation and tools for community engagement, build partnerships, and facilitate the creation of working groups. The point is to build enough critical mass until there are many more hands that wish to be involved. Once there are a minimum of four working groups in place, the initiating group disbands and a new structure emerges that encompasses community-wide ownership over the process. It takes roughly one year of awareness raising and education before approaching tasks in phase 2.

Phase 2 – Deepening

In phase 2, questions of setting up an office, hiring staff, financing the movement and local food initiatives come into play. This is the phase where practical projects begin to take fruition, demonstrating to the community that action is taking place. A noteworthy highlight of this phase is “re-skilling”: the process of educating the community to gain skills such as growing food, the conducting of repairs of all types, maintaining renewable energy systems, conflict resolution and effective communication, canning, jarring, etc. — skills for a post-oil world. There is also a large celebration called the ‘unleashing’, which is usually a weekend event to officially embrace the movement community-wide.

Phase 3 and 4 – Connecting and Building

Phase 3 and 4 move into a new level and caliber of the movement. In these phases, a community can see structural shifts in their operations, such as implementing a locally owned renewable energy company, large scale local food cooperatives or businesses beginning to test pilot a local ‘complimentary’ currency. In addition, part of the movement is to branch out to surrounding communities, and begin the process of establishing larger ‘regional’ transition frameworks.

The Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) is another defining aspect of Transition that occurs within these phases. There is other literature regarding the creation of the plan, but essentially through a series of facilitated community events, and over a period of 1-2 years, residents ‘dream up’ the sustainable and resilient community they wish to see in the future. Residents then ‘back cast’ the steps from the future to now to highlight the practical, tangible steps towards that vision. In order to ensure that everyone is on board, stakeholders sign agreements to meet benchmarks and to actively follow and promote the plan. Thus there is full ownership, inclusion and diversity over the process, where traditionally community plans are created by a handful of individuals – which usually translates into a comfortable resting spot on a bookshelf. Those pre-existing documents would not be abolished, but rather, integrated into the new plan. Many of the EDAPs are beautifully designed, with graphical timelines into the future and entice people to read them.

Phase 5 – Daring to dream

Phase 5 is ‘moving to new frontiers’ and setting up policies at higher levels to support Transition on a larger, global scale.

For example, one way to quickly accelerate a global Transition off the infinite growth system and fossil fuel economy is to abolish the GDP and replace it with a ‘Transitional’ economic indicator such as the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator). The GPI has 67 different measurements, as opposed to the GDP which has one measurement: the follow of money in the form of goods and services produced each year. It must grow 3.5 per cent each year, otherwise we are in ‘recession’ – and we simply cannot grow 3.5 per cent every year indefinitely in a finite system of resources.

To use a real world example, the clean-up for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 accounted for 1 per cent of the American GDP that year, simply because it created many jobs for clean-up. But did it really measure the true cost of that situation? Alternatively, if we had the GPI in place, which uses the same data as the GDP and can be plotted on the same graph, we would have measured that as a negative impact to our economy. So the function of the GPI is to plus and minus different aspects of development to reflect true human and planetary needs – and illustrate to us the true cost of economic growth. Implementing it would be the first step to re-defining what growth means to us.

This is one example of a larger ‘policy’ that could be implemented to help coordinate the psychology of global affairs.

So what are you waiting for? Anyone can start a Transition Initiative and become part of a global movement that is quickly on its way to defining the early Twenty-First Century.



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