"The emergence of the Transition movement in the last four years or so is one of the most hopeful signs in the early 21st century, and Transition may yet turn out to be one of the fastest-growing, most inspiring, and most significant social change movements we have ever seen," says Michael Brownlee of Transition Colorado. Transition means transition to a lower carbon, more environmentally-sound lifestyle in a positive, imaginative way, rather than a backward step to a more primitive existence that some fear that a reduction in energy use might become.
Rob Hopkins, founder of the movement, explains, "In the face of the two issues - Peak Oil and Climate Change, transition is a positive, solutions-based, design-led response to dealing with these two challenges." Relocalisation is part of the three-fold reaction to these environmental issues.
Firstly, Planning as an intentionally creative, collective design process, to create a better people-centric neighbourhood. Secondly Powering-Down, reducing energy consumption and in particular moving towards food production, building materials and energy generation being as local as possible. Finally Powering-Up: putting in place a new, low-to-zero carbon renewable energy infrastructure.
Photo: Brixton's Great Unleashing party by Amelia Gregory
Relocalisation depends on where you are. The Transition Movement started - or was "unleashed" - to use transitioners' jargon, in Kinsale, Ireland, and then Totnes in the UK - both rural locations. How do transition initiatives fare in what Michael Brownlee would call "The Belly of the Beast" - crowded metropolitan communities like Los Angeles, or Brixton in London, both of which have transition initiatives existing in heavily urbanised spaces? As an increasing percentage of the world's population lives in cities this issue has to be faced by the movement. Penny Noy of Transition Town Brixton (TTB) extols the virtues of the diversity of the community there. They have around 180 different groups under their umbrella, which includes populations from all over the world whose native skills are valuable, for example the Polish community has retained food preserving and pickling skills which have faded away in Britain. There are also derelict city areas of land that can be reclaimed for food growing and vast quantities of discarded, often working items which can be reclaimed, reused, remade or recycled.
Michael Brownlee, a long-time eco-activist and trainer came to the UK to study Transition in 2008 and take his knowledge back to the USA to share with others all over the States. He feels the size and diversity of the USA makes it difficult to grow the transition movement there. One particular problem - not confined to America - is the lack of community: neighbours often do not know each other. He says, "The US is in deep denial about its fossil fuel use and degradation of the biosphere. We need to find the spirit of revolution. Light a fire and quickly adopt the transition process or model to enable a decent future here." He thinks the economic difficulties of the past three years may be the best way to reach people and build a growing awareness that there are better ways of living.
The state of the economy bothers Penny Noy in Brixton too. But in a typical positive transition- aware manner she says that, "Social movements come from fluidity and chaos. Social justice and equity is essential to transition to a better, more resilient world."
Transitioners see their initiative as empowering people's energy and creativity to forge a new way of living, not a period of grim austerity. The transition movement is very non-dogmatic and proud of its adaptability to different countries with very different cultures. Their philosophy encompasses the idea that it is best to bend intelligently with the forces of nature than battle against them. The Transition Initiative is a young one and will continue to grow in a dynamic, but probably unpredictably way as it matures.
In the words of the late, and much loved, ecology activist and mentor to the movement Dr David Fleming, who died suddenly a few days ago, "Localisation stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative."