transition towns

A detox for the affluent west

I was listening to Rob Hopkins on BBC World Service yesterday, and this quote caught my attention. I think it sums up the basic premise of Make Wealth History rather well:

“In many ways Transition is designed as a detox for the affluent West. We talk about contraction and convergence, and we need to get the West down 80% so that the developing world can meet us at 20%… There is an equitable footprint that we can all live on. We need to come down to that point, and allow the developing world to come up to that point, so that we all reach a level.”

As the writer of this blog that made me want to cheer, but as a local activist it gives me pause for thought. Naturally that reads somewhat differently in Luton, a place that’s a little run down. Some people might be wary of anything that suggests we need less, when we’d actually like a little more affluence, thank you very much. I hope our actions are positive and empowering enough to prove those concerns to be unfounded. Besides, there’s a difference between a comfortable lifestyle of ‘enough’ and an unsustainable lifestyle of affluence.

In fact, I’d say Luton exemplifies why we need Transition Towns. One of the main reasons Luton is deprived is because it was an automotive boom-town. As globalization shifted that business elsewhere, thousands of jobs have been lost. Unfortunately, a large part of the answer has been to invest in aviation instead, and the biggest employer in the town is now the airport. Since airlines basically stop making profits when oil prices hit $80 a barrel, that’s a big vulnerability. The whole of the western lifestyle is unsustainable, but aviation is going to be one of the first casualties. It would be a tragedy to see history repeat itself in Luton.

I hope Transition Luton can ring a warning bell about that. More importantly, we want to get started in creating an alternative, building the local economy, encouraging small and resilient businesses with both feet in the local community. And we want to get people together, meet our needs closer to home, and make sure that we’re prepared for whatever the 21st century brings.

So far, it appears to be working. We’re still a small group, but we’re in all three local papers this week ahead of our Transition hustings on thursday night. If you’re in the area, it’s at St Mary’s Town Hall at 7:30. We’ve got all eight candidates and it should be a good evening. If we’re talking about a fresh start for Luton, we obviously want our MP to be part of it.


  1. Thanks for that little piece.
    I live in Thailand; a long way from Luton, and so in many ways I don’t care about Luton.

    But what you describe is exactly the same as each township or city or village should be doing.
    We all need to think about our local situation, with an understanding of global issues, and plan out a path that will lead to a happy and sustainable future.

    More and more I am quite sure that what the people of Luton (as an example), need for a good life has almost nothing to do with more money or more stuff.
    We, people, want more time with our family. We want a healthy natural environment. We want a friendly and cooperative community. Healthy food and clean water.
    In fact, it really seems the pursuing of more money and more stuff tends to destroy the things that would truly make us happy.

    So good luck in getting the people of Luton “down 80%” so as other people may rise to “20%”.
    I think this is truly the way to make all people happier in the longer term.

    And now, going off on a bit of a tangent: this piece has made me think:
    I am also quite convinced that national governments, whether they are democratic or otherwise, will not lead us to a sustainable happy life. They are too much a part of the grow, make more money, consume everything system. Their power seems to rely on that.
    So, I am thinking, we need to make this institutions redundant.
    What if Luton and other communities just did their own thing, produced their own goods and traded between each other, with little need for a national government? In fact I am starting to hope the era of nation states comes to an end. All the waste on national governments, armies, trade barriers,… Is it worth it?
    Could small communities around the world just have relationships with each other?

    Something to think about.

    Have a good day.

    1. Hi Paul, thanks for your detailed comments. I think globalization is under considerable threat at the moment as a philosophy, having brought us to the brink of financial ruin. Re-localization looks inevitable in a world of peak oil anyway, so we might as well get started.

      As for the end of institutional government, I think there are plenty of institutions that have more power than they do already, in the WTO and the IMF. And there are plenty of corporations that wield more global power than governments too, so in some ways that process has already begun. It’s hard to see them disappearing altogether, and we’ll need them for some functions, especially on global issues. Overall though, I think there’s plenty of room for more de-centralisation and regional autonomy, as long as we keep cooperating.

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