books sustainability transition towns

The Transition Timeline, by Shaun Chamberlin

I read the Transition Handbook only a few weeks ago, so I was curious to see how this one differed. Apparently it was written with existing Transition initiatives in mind, particularly those working on ‘energy descent action plans’ (EDAP). The EDAP is the ultimate goal of any Transition project – to create a detailed and achievable plan for safely moving your entire community into the brighter worlds beyond peak energy. It takes years to write one, and the final document takes in energy, transport, food, medicine – pretty comprehensive for a volunteer movement.

There are a couple of hundred Transition initiatives on the go, and so far only two have got as far as the EDAP. Kinsale in Ireland, and the Sunshine Coast in Australia. The hardest part is knowing what to include, what sorts of steps need to be taken to make things sustainable. Where is it exactly that we want to go?

The Transition Timeline aims to answer some of these questions, and it does so from the perspective of 2027. There are chapters on transport, energy and so on, written from the future, showing how we got there. There are also a series of alternative non-transition scenarios, ie the ones the government are pursuing at the moment, also viewed from 2027. Those aren’t so pretty.

This is a slightly less focused book than the Handbook, as it seems to be answering a number of different questions. There are chapters at the end that bring climate change and peak oil right up to date to November 2008 or so, but these almost feel like a different book. There are more tools and group exercises, an introduction to systems thinking, and a section on climate change and peak oil in the UK context.

Most importantly though, this is part of the Transition movement’s use of ‘back-casting’ – deciding your destination, and then working backwards to see what you need to do to get there. The resulting timelines are very useful, drawing together international agreements, local projects, and social change to move towards sustainability. The case for a local, resilient future is presented simply, subtly, and the consequences of choosing otherwise are obvious and undesirable.

“Our choice is between the different 2027s we have just considered”, is Chamberlin’s challenge. “We do, collectively, get to chose which of them come to pass. To put it another way, we will get the future we deserve, and if we want to play an active role in that decision we must get involved, not just leave it to ‘the experts’, or to government.”

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