Notes from "New Thinking in the Transition Movement" with Rob Hopkins

Rob in TotnesOn Monday, July 18, Transition US hosted a Maestro Conference call featuring a fascinating conversation between Transition Movement founder Rob Hopkins and the author of the recently published book, The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality, Richard Heinberg.

The title of this event was “New Thinking in the Transition Movement” and primarily consisted of Rob answering questions asked by Richard that those who were on the call had submitted upon registration. Well over 300 people attended. 

Rob started off the call by joking that this will probably be the closest thing he will ever do to giving a talk in person in the U.S. as he gave up flying for environmental reasons five years ago. 

The Transition Companion

Transition Companion bookThe call was arranged partly in connection with Rob's forthcoming sequel to The Transition Handbook, The Transition Companion, which he wrote in collaboration with thousands of people around the world via his blog, transitionculture.org, over the past 18 months. Rob decided to write a sequel both because he had become “aware of the limitations of the [original] 12 steps” of Transition and because the earliest Transition Initiatives have now finished step 12: “Create an Energy Descent Action Plan.” 

Rob believes that this new take on the Transition process will be both “more reflective of what people are actually doing” out in the world and a less of a strict recipe than “a collection of ingredients and tools” from which local Transition Initiatives are encouraged to bake their own unique cake. However, there are still, Rob believes, general stages through which most initiatives pass. These stages form the structure of the bulk of The Transition Companion:

  • Starting Out: coming together as a group;
  • Deepening: becoming a more formal organization;
  • Connecting: building broader engagement throughout the community;
  • Building: implementing Transition ideas at scale; and
  • Daring to Dream: what would the world look like if Transition happened everywhere?

The Transition Companion is available for advance purchase from Chelsea Green Publishing and will be released August 22 in the U.S. Click here to read excerpts from the book.

The Future Is Here

At the recent Transition Network Conference at Hope University in Liverpool, England, there were people who attended who had suffered from earthquakes in New Zealand, the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, and floods in Brazil. Rob noticed that “Transition tools and thinking are underpinning the reconstruction of these places.”

Rob also mentioned the Global Risks 2011 report of the World Economic Forum, which identified that three of the biggest threats to our world today are: 

  • Climate change;
  • Economic price volatility around energy; and
  • Financial crisis.

Looking on the bright side, Rob commented: “we [in the Transition Movement] have a 5-year head start” in developing practical responses to these issues. 

This all led Rob to quote from an unexpected source, laissez-faire economist Milton Friedman: 

“Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

In response to a question from Joanne Poyourow of Transition Los Angeles about how fast global crisis is unfolding, Rob replied that some things (including the current scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch and News Corp International) are collapsing faster than expected and that Transition isn't happening fast enough. However, Rob remains suspect of a “fast collapse” scenario and says that gradual economic contraction is more consistent with what we are actually seeing unfolding before our eyes. Richard added that it's best to be prepared for both scenarios and Rob unhesitatingly agreed. 

Advice for Transition Initiatives

On increasing community engagement: Transition is not just about getting more people in the room. We shouldn't forget that it's also about giving those who are already showing up the tools they need to make change. Author Malcolm Gladwell believes the “tipping point” is only about 17-18% of the population. “In 10-15 years, we hope that it's not even called Transition anymore. It's just the way the local economy works.” 

On partnerships: Partnerships are great, but they should be clear at the outset so those involved don't end up disappointed. Be careful of what your partnerships say about your initiative. They can end up marginalizing Transition Initiatives, so work at creating unexpected partnerships with groups like your local Chamber of Commerce, for example. 

On “Inner Transition”: “When I started Transition, I thought it was a bottom-up environmental response. Now I think it's a cultural process.” Inner Transition can be an answer to the question “What does pre-Transition [rather than post-trauma] counseling look like?” “Transition is something that should be nourishing on a number of levels.” Rob's suggestion is to maintain a balance between the “head, heart, and hands” of Transition. Maybe we shouldn't lead with “Inner Transition,” as it may alienate many people. Lead instead with the hands. Then the head. Then the heart. 

On politics: Transition is political with a small p. Of course, everything we do is political if we choose to see it that way, but Rob believes that “Transition is much more powerful for not being explicitly political.” Transition Town Totnes has been embraced by the establishment in their community using this approach. 

On framing Transition: Rob published a provocative blog post back in May called “Might peak oil and climate change outlive their usefulness as fram... He explained that his musings on this question were somewhat specific to Totnes, England, where their local Transition Initiative has been going now for over 5 years. He observed that “most people have made their minds up, one way or another” about peak oil and climate change and suggested shifting the focus to building economic resilience.

On localization as economic development: “Localization as economic development is a really big idea for our times.” The Transition Network is working on quantifying the economic benefits of relocalization, using a tool called “The Economic Blueprint,” which will be included in The Transition Companion. Rob observed that economic localization typically has a “greater historical resonance” with conservatives, and so could serve to rally people together across party lines. 

Hear it for yourself

Of course, these brief notes are unable to capture everything important that was said. To listen to a full recording of this interview, please click here.

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Guest blog post by Don Hall of Transition Sarasota (FL) - originally posted here.

Don Hall has had the good fortune to participate in the Transition Movement in several different capacities. For two years, he was the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Transition Colorado, the first official Transition Initiative in North America and a statewide hub. There he observed nearly a dozen Transition Initiatives as they moved through the early stages. He also designed and co-taught a 16-week course for Transition Colorado, called Deepening Community Leadership. While he was finishing up a Master's in Environmental Leadership at Naropa University, he co-founded Transition Naropa, one of the first Transition University Initiatives in the world. Now, Don heads up Transition Sarasota (FL), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to rebuilding local community resilience and self-reliance in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic crisis. Don has delivered presentations about the Transition Movement at conferences and to university classes, political organizations, and community groups. He is also a certified Permaculture Designer and Consultant and works at an organic farm in his spare time. (more)

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