‘The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience‘ is the guidebook to the Transition Towns movement. It explains the problems of peak oil and climate change, re-localization and resilience as responses that will transition us to a post-carbon future, and how you can set up your own transition initiative.
All of this is divided into three broad sections, ‘the head’, ‘the heart’, and ‘the hands’. First, the problem, and Hopkins explains peak oil and climate change in simple and straightforward terms. He avoids the controversies, and focuses on the local – these are things that will affect each of us, in our every day lives. The two must be addressed together, as there are many solutions that will tackle both, and other solutions to one that will make the other worse. The US government’s Hirsch report for example, recommends coal to liquids for keeping cars on the road – a neat solution to peak oil, but devastating to climate change. Instead, a focus on efficiency and public transport would deal with both.
Hopkins also suggests that peak oil “can do more to engage and involve people and communities than climate change.” Peak oil has an obvious logic to it, while climate change is a little abstract. Oil is something we see and use, while tonnes of carbon is hard to grasp. Climate change says you should give up driving because it’s bad, somewhere, probably. Peak oil says you won’t be able to drive, whether you like it or not. Since we hear about climate change all the time, but only rarely talk about peak oil, we don’t have the problem of climate fatigue. I hadn’t thought of peak oil this way, but it’s a good point.
‘The heart’ is the most interesting part of the book, in my opinion, because it addresses things I’ve never seen in an environmental context. Hopkins draws on addiction therapy and psychology to talk about how people perceive threats, and how they handle change. Then can be a real ‘moment’ when you first get the seriousness of our ecological crisis. For me it was on a weekend conference with the conservation group Arocha. I’ve seen the look on others’ faces as the credits roll on ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. When the penny drops, says Hopkins, all kinds of things can happen. People can be bewildered, grasp at irrational solutions to psychologically fend off the problem. Others will retreat to survivalism or denial. It’s at this point that a positive vision is most necessary.
Transition Towns is that vision, a “compelling and engaging vision of a post carbon world”. It presents the future as healthier, happier, where we live more satisfied, less stressed and time-pressured lives. It makes positive associations, and draws us towards something, rather than just campaigning against things all the time. It captures our imagination, empowers and energises.*
‘The Hands’ gets down to the practical details, from the principles of Permaculture, how to write a press release, working with a local council, films to show, the experiences of Totnes and Lewes, the first projects. There are sections on running productive meetings or discussions with large numbers of people. It’s practical and realistic, and really does feel like a handbook or a manual. I should also mention that from a design point of view, The Transition Handbook is a nice piece of work. It’s big and square and has wide margins that invite you to scribble notes. In its message and design, it’s a book that wants you to be involved, to add your story to the transition tales.
Transition Towns is the rarest of things, being a response to climate change and peak oil that is positive and proactive. “Too often environmentalists try to engage people in action by painting apocalyptic visions of the future as a way of scaring them into action” says Hopkins. “What would happen if we came at this the other way round, painting a picture of the future so enticing that people instinctively feel drawn towards it.”
- Rob Hobkins’ blog, Transition Culture, is here.
- Transition St Albans is my own part in the adventure and something you’ll be hearing more about on this blog as we pick up steam.
*As a Christian on the outside of the mainstream church, my feelings towards the church are similar – the Christian faith should be a positive vision of a life that is all about community, justice, and love for people and the earth. That made the Transition Handbook an interesting read, and I say ‘Amen, brother’ to Mr Hopkins.