Elevator Talks

As we enter the season of Earth Day events, and Transition Los Angeles finds itself and its pods invited to or hosting (count them) SEVENTEEN events over the course of the next week-and-a-half, it might be handy to have some "elevator talks" handy. 

Elevator talks are the answer to how you would explain Transition in about 30 seconds, for instance explaining it to a fellow passenger in an elevator in the time between when he hops in at one floor and hops out at the next.  Advertisers are quite polished on the concept;  people's attention is fleeting, and you have only those few brief seconds to hook them in to your idea.


I finally got peak oil down to a one-sentence explanation:

Peak oil is the understanding that our planetary oil supply is finite, and we're currently burning through the second half of that finite supply.

Whew.  That pretty much says it.  If that gets them nodding in understanding -- and perhaps agreement -- then you have opening to go on to more.  Like: 

We've already used the easy-to-get-to stuff; what's left will be far more expensive. 

Price usually gets people's attention.  So does food.

Oil is part of everything we do.  For instance our food supply -- the petrochemicals used in conventional farming, the long-distance hauling -- peak oil means we must make dramatic changes in our habits, and fast, in order to continue to feed people.

Another thing that gets people's attention is gas prices.  When the gas prices were high I could simply refer to the prices at the pump.  When prices fell I would say

We all know the current low prices are only temporary.

Audience members would nod their heads in complete agreement.
This is where you have to tune into your local community.  What are their hot-buttons?  Use that in your follow-up explanations.

For peak oil deniers, I like to have on hand a set of quotes from big names:

  • "One thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over" -- David J. O'Reilly, Chairman & CEO, Chevron Oil, July 2005 (source, additional source)
  • "Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand." -- Jeroen van der Veer, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell (source)
  • “We may experience a decline of world liquid fuels production between 2011 and 2015.” -- Glen Sweetnam, International Energy Outlook, U.S. Department of Energy, March 2010 (source)
  • “Some of the nation's biggest oil companies are looking at permanently reducing how much gasoline and diesel fuel they make.  ... They are considering options that could include closing refineries, selling parts of their operations, laying off workers and slashing spending.”  -- Los Angeles Times, March 2010 (source)
  • “One day we will run out of oil. We have to leave oil before oil leaves us, we have to prepare ourselves for that day. The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money and we should take this issue very seriously.”  -- Dr Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the respected International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which is charged with the task of assessing future energy supplies by OECD countries. (source)

The peak oil poster I consider a must-have for nearly every Transition group.  I add a post-it "you are here" to the diagram, and quietly put it near the entrance to the room when we give presentations.  It definitely is a case of "a picture is worth more than a thousand words."


Around my area, global warming is a known enemy.  When Laurie David, producer of "An Inconvenient Truth" and local resident, has already had billboards up all over the area, I'm preaching to many of the already-converted.  But if I encounter the occasional global warming denier, I simply highlight the difference between "global warming" and "climate change":

Climate change is the inevitable repercussions of global warming, regardless of your opinion about who caused it. 

It gets you beyond the debate.  Your underlying vibe is:  no matter what, we've got to prepare.  If you've hooked them, you can continue with the things we need to prepare for.

In California, forecasts are for erratic weather patterns, severe water supply shifts, agricultural impacts ...

Highlight your local community's hot-buttons. (ugh, pardon the pun)


I'm working on one for the end of the industrial growth presumption.  I tend to use the term "economic contraction" because people can agree with that.  Many people in my neighborhood are firm believers that the recession is over.  I point out the oxymoron in phrases such as "jobless recovery" and point out that On a planet of finite resources, “sustainable growth” is a naive fiction.  I also use:

Since the early 1900s our economy has been built upon an expectation of ETERNAL GROWTH, all of that “growth” fueled by cheap, abundant, supposedly inexhaustible fossil fuels. 

You can also cover the "peak everything" concept:

Petroleum is not the only resource for which we are "at peak"; we are also up against limits on natural gas, fisheries, phosphorus, fresh water, arable land, and more. 

It is a mouthful -- as I said, I'm still working on that one.


But Transition itself ... that one too I'm still working on. 

Transition is preparing our local communities for a post-petroleum future.

I saw a phrase on a bus advertisement that I'm going to steal.  Instead of "cutting-edge" (the advertisement was for surgeons!), they used "forward-edge." 

Transition is forward-edge lifestyles, like vegetable gardening, rainwater harvesting, developing local economies, and connecting our neighborhoods into close-knit communities. 

(again, use your local neighborhood's favorite projects)
I like it a lot, because sometimes people think of  these things as fringe, funky, or wierd, but they need to make the shift to understanding that these are the future.  Even we, within the movement, need to see ourselves as being at the leading edge of developing future lifestyles.  "Forward-edge" kind of hits it, plus people always like to identify with the leaders.

I have used the idea of "preparing"

At Transition Los Angeles, we’re helping our local communities to get prepared for – and transition into --- a powerdown future. 

I used to use Transition is preparing our local communities for peak oil and climate change, combined.  But it is quite a downer.  I have also used the phrase "Life After Oil" but it is better used in written text than verbally at a fair.

The word "transition" itself implies movement.  From something to something else.  Sometimes people have asked me, "Transition to what?"

... the transition from our current high-consumption, energy-intense lifestyles to powerdown lifestyles.

Then you get to explain powerdown. 

But perhaps the best route to explaining Transition is to address it in the positive, and also to address the action impled in the name.

We're helping people transition into forward-edge lifestyles, and preparing our local communities for the future.

Addendum: after a weekend at street fairs, it became distilled down to

We're helping people/communities understand the changes ahead as we shift into Life After Oil / a post-petroleum lifestyle.

Good luck at your local earth day events.  Remember to send in reports to Transition US.

If you have great elevator talks, please add them to the comments below so that others may benefit.

  • What is Transition?
  • What is the Transition movement?


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