Previous Transition books, of which there are several, have so far been handbooks and how-tos for those within the movement or at least fairly seriously interested. Rob Hopkins‘ new book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, reads more like an outreach piece for those who have a vague awareness of Transition but aren’t entirely sold on it just yet. It’s short, easy to read, full of practical examples and it’s buoyantly hopeful.
There are a few big ideas here. The first is that we’re in a ‘new normal’ of an unpredictable climate, rising energy prices and a staggering economy. Secondly, there’s no knight in shining armour ready to ride to the rescue of ailing communities. The government is cutting services, business is only going to go where the money is. And that takes us to point three – it’s up to us to get on with creating the alternatives right where we are, re-opening those shuttered shops, growing our own food and sourcing our own renewable energy.
In different hands, The Power of Just Doing Stuff could sound like a somewhat facile title, but Hopkins has his finger on the pulse of the growing and maturing Transition movement, and he has no problem backing it up. The strength of the book’s argument lies the vast haul of projects going on all around the world that demonstrate the principle. Community supported agriculture, pop-up shops, local currencies, community energy projects, just ordinary people getting on with it.
When you start doing something, you create visible change. A tangible social project, however small, speaks louder than any amount of promises and plans. Just start, and you’re likely to find that the community had the resources it needed to flourish all along. To pick just one example from the book, Brixton Energy is a solar co-op based on urban estates, creating cheaper energy and micro-investments for residents. It’s the kind of thing that would never have happened if residents had petitioned the council for it, and would have sounded impossible until someone proved it could be done. Sourcing the funds among themselves made the project a reality, and allows them to keep control of it and get the benefits. The not-for-profit energy co-op is now on its third share offer, with a dozen other residential blocks hoping to participate in future.
It’s been interesting to see the Transition philosophy deepening over the years. It began primarily as a response to peak oil, with climate change following swiftly on. There’s always been an economic element too, but the financial crisis has brought it to the fore. This book is more explicit than ever in seeing “local resilience as economic development”, and it talks more about job creation and ‘internal investment’, a concept I’ll come back to another time. In short, “our task is to build another economy, alongside the current energy intensive, debt generating, high carbon economy – one that is more appropriate to our times.”
It’s also more explicitly postgrowth, which I’m all in favour of. “Relentless growth in GDP is no longer an appropriate or desirable idea,” Hopkins suggests, not if the pursuit of growth undermines community resilience and the climate. And as usual, he puts a positive spin on it. A post growth world isn’t a narrative of decline. “It is in figuring out what this post growth economy will look like that the real energy, creativity and dynamism lies.”
As usual, I found myself enthused and inspired by the possibilities that Transition opens up. And as usual, there are niggling doubts. Local solutions certainly improve the resilience and wellbeing of individual places, but does it scale up? Does it create the cultural shift that we need to see change at the national level, or will it only ever be tinkering around the edges?
The truth is that we can’t know, something Hopkins acknowledges: “I can’t guarantee that this will be enough” he writes. But we’re in unexplored territory now, and the current political and economic system certainly doesn’t look up to the task. As far as I’m concerned, getting on with building the alternatives ourselves looks eminently sensible, and the Transition movement is the most compelling vision of how we do that together.
If you’re one of those increasingly rare people who’s still convinced that the current economy is working, then this isn’t for you. If you recognise the need for change but aren’t sure what you can do, then pick up a copy of The Power of Just Doing Stuff . You can read it in an afternoon.