Buy Local! Buy Fresh!
Pictorial: How the world eats
Groups with upcoming events or active projects are shown in bold
Urban Food Working Group
Fair Trade Town Initiative
Resilience Festival Planning
Healthcare Transition Group
Alternative Building and Retrofit Group
Community Engagement Group
Intentional Community Group
Heart and Soul Group
Urban Chicken Co-op
Skills Inventory Group
Local Economy Group
City as Ecosystem Group
U of G Students
Youth Transition Guelph
Neighbourhood Groups Group
Just What is a "Transition Town (or City)", Anyway?
Transition Initiatives are an emerging and evolving approach to community-level sustainability, which are starting to appear in several parts of the world. They are "scalable microcosms of hope."
Transition Initiatives are based on four key assumptions:
- That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it is better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise.
- That our towns and cities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany post-peak oil.
- That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now.
- That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and that recognize the biological limits of our planet.
The "Transition Towns" movement was founded in Kinsale, Ireland and Totnes, England by environmentalist and permaculture designer Rob Hopkins during 2005 and 2006. The aim of the project is to equip communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. The movement currently now has several hundred member communities in a dozen of countries worldwide, hundreds more are "thinking hard" about it, and these numbers are growing.
The Transition concept emerged from work Hopkins had done with the students of Kinsale Further Education College in writing an "Energy Descent Action Plan". This looked at across-the-board creative adaptations in the realms of energy production, health, education, economy and agriculture as a "road map" to a sustainable future for the town. One of his students, Louise Rooney, set about developing the Transition Towns concept and presented it to Kinsale Town Council, resulting in the historic decision by Councillors to adopt the plan and work towards energy independence.
The idea was adapted and expanded in September 2006 to Hopkins' hometown of Totnes where he is now based. The initiative spread quickly, and as of September 2008, there were one hundred communities recognised as official Transition Towns in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. While referred to as Towns, the communities involved range from villages (Kinsale), through council districts (Penwith) to cities and city boroughs (Brixton).
The main aim of the project generally, and echoed by the Towns locally, is to raise awareness of sustainable living and build local resilience in the near future. Communities are encouraged to seek out methods for reducing energy usage as well as increasing their own self reliance — a slogan of the movement is "Food feet, not food miles!". Initiatives so far have included creating community gardens to grow food; business waste exchange, which seeks to match the waste of one industry with another industry that uses this waste; and even simply repairing old items rather than throwing them away.
Six principles that underpin the Transition model
Visioning: The belief that we can only move towards something desired if we can imagine what it will be like when we get there. The vision we have when we set out on this work will go a long way towards determining where we will end up.
Inclusion: The scale of the challenges cannot be addressed if we stay within our comfort zones and the usual circles we talk and work with. Without dialogue and involving everyone we have no chance of success.
Awareness-raising: We are surrounded by confusion and mixed messages from media and advertising. We need to give people the key arguments for addressing the issues in order to let them formulate their own responses.
Resilience: The ability of ecosystems to withstand shocks and adapt to change in ways that preserve and even enhance their functioning.
Psychological insights: Among the key barriers to engagement is the sense of powerlessness, isolation and overwhelm that environmental issues often generate. Coming together with like-minded others enables people to find energy in a collective response.
Credible and appropriate solutions: Rather than "happy talk," we need opportunities to explore solutions on an achievable scale, including and beyond individual households but not waiting for national governments to act.
What is resilience?
The concept of resilience is central to transition communities.
Resilience refers to the ability of an ecosystem, from an individual person to a whole economy, to hold together and maintain its ability to function in the face of change and shocks from the outside. Resilient systems can roll with external shocks and adapt as needed. Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganise, so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks while undergoing change.
In the context of communities, the term refers to their ability to respond to disturbance with adaptability and not to collapse with oil or food shortages.
The concept of resilience goes far beyond the better-known concept of sustainability. For example, planting trees to create community woodlands may lock up carbon, increase biodiversity, and have other benefits, but it does little to build resilience in the food supply system; whereas the planting of well-designed food forest plantings does.
Benefits to a community with enhanced resilience:
- If one part is destroyed, the shock will not ripple through the whole system.
- There is wide diversity of character and solutions developed creatively in response to local circumstances.
- It can meet its needs despite the substantial absence of travel and transport.
- The other big infrastructures and bureaucracies of the oil-addicted economy are replaced by fit-for-purpose local alternatives at reduced cost.
Increasing resilience and a stronger local economy do not mean that we put a fence up around our towns and cities and refuse to allow anything in or out.
It is not a rejection of commerce or somehow a return to a rose-tinted version of some imagined past.
What it does mean is being more prepared for a leaner future, more self-reliant, and prioritising the local over the imported.
While the focus and aims remain the same, the methods used to achieve these vary. For example, Totnes has introduced its own local currency, the Totnes pound, which is redeemable in local shops and businesses helping to reduce food miles while also supporting local firms. This idea is also planned to be introduced in three Welsh Transition Towns.
Central to the Transition Town movement is the idea that a life without oil could in fact be far more enjoyable and fulfulling than the present. "By shifting our mind-set we can actually recognise the coming post-cheap oil era as an opportunity rather than a threat, and design the future low carbon age to be thriving, resilient and abundant – somewhere much better to live than our current alienated consumer culture based on greed, war and the absurd myth of perpetual growth." -- Rob Hopkins
Given that oil and gas are depleting resources, and that we urgently need extreme cuts in CO2 emissions, even to the extent that our daily lives sequester more carbon than they produce, Transition Initiatives ask, what would such a world actually look like? How would we live? Where would our food come from? What would we hear when we opened the window in the morning?
The transition process offers a positive, solutions-focused approach that draws together the various elements of a community to address this common challenge. It sees much of the solution as coming from within, through a process of unlocking what is already there, rather than from experts and consultants coming in from the outside.
Transition model creator Rob Hopkins defined the Transition movement as a "creative, engaging, playful process, wherein we support our communities through the loss of the familiar and inspire and create a new lower energy infrastructure which is ultimately an improvement on the present." Among the "resilience indicators" for communities that he proposed were the percentage of food produced locally, the ratio of car parking space to productive land use, and the number of 16-year-olds able to grow 10 different varieties of vegetables.
The "bottom-line" is this: Climate Change makes the carbon reduction transition essential. Peak oil makes it inevitable. Transition initiatives make it feasible and viable (as far we can tell so far...) If we wait for governments to act, it will be too little, too late; if we act as individuals, it'll be too little; but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.