Citizen Action Monitor

Rob Hopkins, man on a Transition mission

No 14 Posted by fw, May 23, 2010

“The Transition model may turn out to be the foundation for one of the most important social, political and cultural movements of the 21st century.” Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Network

Two “Aha!” Moments

Rob Hopkins

As Hopkins tells it, and as I see it, there were probably two epiphanic moments in his life that appeared to have propelled him towards his destiny as a man on a Transition mission. The first occurred in 1990 on a visit to the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan. At the time he was an artist enthralled with the sublime beauty of the Hunza landscape and equally captivated by the way of life in this communal “garden of bliss”:

“In this remote valley I felt a yearning for something I couldn’t quite put my finger on but which I now see as being resilience: a culture based on its ability to function indefinitely and to live within its limits, and able to thrive for having done so.” The Transition Handbook, p.13.

In contrast to the transcendent moments in the Hunza Valley, other moments — ones of terrifying revelation — occurred fourteen years later, in September 2004, in Kinsale, Ireland. On that day, the first day of term for the students in Hopkins’ two-year course in sustainable design, he showed a new film, The End of Suburbia, a premier viewing for all of them. Later that day, Dr Colin Campbell, a retired British petroleum geologist renowned for predicting that oil production would peak by 2007, gave a talk to the class. Hopkins recalls that day:

“The combined effect of this ‘double whammy’ was very powerful for the students. It greatly focused the mind, and came as quite a shock to everyone – myself included.” The Transition Handbook, p.123

Kinsale: The first Transition Initiative

From this eureka ‘double whammy’ experience, the concept of a student project emerged: How could Kinsale successfully make the transition to a lower-energy future? In early 2005, the concept was made real. The town of Kinsale became the earliest manifestation of a Transition Initiative. Unleashed at a public event in February, 2005, the student project culminated late that same year with the publication of the Kinsale Energy Descent Plan – Version 1, 2005 (KEDAP).

In retrospect, Hopkins says this about the Kinsale project:

“At the time I don’t think we had grasped the significance of what we had created. The KEDAP wasn’t even formally launched . . . . It has since been downloaded many thousands of times and has inspired many similar initiatives around the world.” The Transition Handbook, p.124

Upon grasping the significance of what had been accomplished, Hopkins and his colleagues embarked on a continuing research and self-education process.  In the process, he has evaluated the possible paths of descent from our precarious perch atop the bell-shaped curve of peak oil.

Hopkins foresees three emerging descent scenarios:  1) Adaptation, assumes that we can invent our way out trouble; 2) Cultural evolution, assumes a change of mindset resulting in the emergence of a low-energy, re-localized society; and 3) Collapse, assumes that the inevitable outcome of the triple threat of peak oil, climate change and global economic contraction will be “the sudden or gradual fracturing and disintegration of society as we know it.” The Transition Handbook, p. 45

Betting on a cultural evolution

Not surprisingly, Hopkins puts his money on evolutionary solutions and comes to these conclusions:

  • A future of less oil looks inevitable;
  • We need a strengthened, more localized infrastructure so human needs can be met locally;
  • Our chances of a positive outcome in the face of peak oil/climate change are enhanced if we strive for it. In words attributed to William James, the pioneering American psychologist and philosopher, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”;
  • Social interdependence is key to human survival;
  • Healthy functioning requires that we have faith that our needs will be met in the future; without this confidence our trust in the world is damaged;
  • Our best chance for survival is to engage people in seeing the transition to the inevitable decline in oil supplies and accompanying rise in prices as an opportunity, as something in which they can invest their hope and energy;
  • The only way through the monumental transition will be a rethinking of how we engage people in a transition of this scale;
  • We need a new toolkit and a new way of seeing our role; and
  • The way forward should be constantly reinventing itself without worrying about what we call the process: let it be “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.” The Transition Handbook, p. 50

Totnes: The fulfillment of a promise

I opened this post with Hopkins’ promising vision of the future of the Transition movement.  On May 7, 2010, at the launching of Transition Town Totnes’ Transition in Action: Totnes and District 2030, an Energy Descent Action Plan, a 300-page milestone in the short history of the Transition movement, Rob Hopkins related how Totnes had fulfilled its promise. It seems appropriate to close this post with his words:

“3 years, 8 months and a day ago, 400 of us gathered here in this hall to ‘Unleash’ what we had just decided to call ‘Transition Town Totnes’. It was an extraordinary evening which I am sure some of you will remember. Since then, TTT has grown to become a powerful force in this community. The survey done for this Plan found that 75% of households had heard of TTT, 61% felt that the work of TTT reflected their concerns, and over a third have had some degree of practical engagement with it. It has brought over £¾m into Totnes, most notably with its Transition Streets programme which is now underway across Totnes, which will, among other things, turn this very building into a solar power station. At the Unleashing, we committed to work towards the creation of an EDAP for Totnes and district, and today, here it is.”  Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan website launched today!!

Watch for future posts on the Transition movement.


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