Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What is a Transition Town?

Good question. People ask me that all the time. But I must admit it is hard to define in a neat sentence or two. But here goes.

Transition Towns…

Support community-led responses to both climate change and peak oil. They do this by building community resilience through positive action.

They (a group of committed people who want to do something for a positive future), look at all the vulnerabilities and opportunities pertaining to their particular ‘transition area’ however that is defined.

They look at
how they can reduce their carbon emissions,
how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels,
how they can move away from dangerous climate change levels
how they can wean themselves of being so reliant on fossil fuels
and how they will cope after peak oil.

They look at food, water, energy, waste, transport, education, legislation… you get the picture. And then they find ways to build resilience into those production and supply systems.

Transition Towns also trust that a lot of these solutions lie in the community. They facilitate the unleashing of the creative genius in the community.

They understand that the type of thinking that got us into the vulnerable position is NOT the type of thinking that will get us out.

They also acknowledge that we are all in this together. No one gets away from the effects of climate change or peak oil.

So for example, they might decide self-reliance in water is a good starting point and organise a rain water tank bulk buy for their group. They might also arrange a guest speaker to come and talk about using grey water, or reed beds. Or perhaps someone who can talk about waterless toilets.

They might also be interested in local waste management and organise a composting workshop focussing on how householders can be manage putrescible waste (kitchen scraps and the like) on site in their own backyards, keeping it out of methane producing landfill site and instead turning it into useful fertiliser for their gardens.

They might then decide to start a local worm farm, or a compost group at their local school, or whatever best suits their community’s needs.

Looking at how to make their lives more resilient, most groups quickly come to the conclusion that diversity (different ways of getting the same thing – or ‘not putting all your eggs in one basket’) and localisation (having the majority of things that you use and need every day available from within your local area) are the best ways to go. Local goods have a lot less carbon emissions generally because they haven’t travelled so far. Local goods also keep your money in your local economy and support local jobs.

So, Transition Towns support these ideas by creating opportunities for increasing diversity and the localisation of systems.

Let’s take food as an example.

Most people rely on the duopoly of the two major supermarkets for their food supply. They assume that to some degree the shelves will also be full, the choices varied and the doors open.

But – what if a significant climate event shuts your local store. What if it cuts roads to your local store? You can’t get there and neither can the trucks. What if a fuel crisis cuts supplies to your local store? What if fossil fuel depletion dramatically affects the prices of the food at your local store?

What back up plan do you have to feed your family? Relying on the government to do something is out of the question – if these events are affecting your community, chances are they are affecting a lot of other communities and government just won’t have the resources to cope – that is fundamental to Transition Towns – it’s about taking responsibility for yourself and your family and becoming more self-reliant. (Not self-sufficient, this isn’t about creating isolation, its about creating communities).

A Transition Town might build resilience, diversity and localisation in their food systems by; holding organic gardening courses for residents, running working bees and permablitzes (where permaculture people come in and make over your ornamental garden and lawn with edible plants), they might start a community campaign for a farmers’ market, they might start a food bulk-buy, co-operative or food box system.

They might start a community garden, or approach the local school to start a garden the community can use on the weekend.

They might start a program to deliver fresh organic food to people who are struggling financially. They might run cooking classes showing new mums how to prepare healthy food for their families on a budget. They might bring in guest speakers to talk about genetically modified food, they might lobby for food miles taxes to be added to food… you can begin to see how far and wide Transition Towns can reach.

Now all of these ideas are already happening in Transition Towns around the world.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you just need to tap into what is already there and happening.

Visit for more information on Transition Towns.

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