In order to understand the concept of transition, one first needs to understand that the transition movement is a response to a certain set of social, ecological, and economic problems. Over the last two centuries, industrial societies have experienced unprecedented economic growth, fuelled by a cheap and abundant supply of coal, gas, and most importantly, oil. While this brought with it many benefits, industrialisation also has an ominous dark side that today threatens to overwhelm those benefits.
Most obviously, our planet’s ecosystems are being fatally degraded in the name of limitless growth, with the careless overconsumption of fossil fuels contributing to climate change with potentially dire consequences. Furthermore, the flow of crude oil – the world’s most important source of non-renewable energy – is going to stagnate and eventually decline in the foreseeable future, making oil much more expensive. This means that oil-intensive industrial societies in particular need to begin preparing for this energy descent, high cost future, without delay. What is most troubling of all, however, is that the high consumption lifestyles causing these problems often fail to fulfil their promise of a fulfilling and meaningful life. In other words, many have worked hard to acquire the ‘nice stuff,’ only to find themselves dissatisfied with a consumer-orientated existence. It seems that somewhere along the path of human development we took a disastrously wrong turn, and yet consumer capitalism marches steadfastly on.”
One of the defining aims of a typical Transition Town (or Transition Initiative, as they are also known) is to relocalise and decarbonise the economy, in order to become less dependent on the globalised, oil-dependent economy. This involves coming together as a community with the ambitious, long-term goal of using mostly local resources to meet local needs. For example, rather than relying on industrially produced food that is imported from all around the world, Transition Towns try to maximise local, organic food production and exchange. Rather than relying on fossil fuel energy, Transition Towns take steps to radically reduce energy consumption while moving to renewable sources. Rather than mindlessly embracing consumerism, participants in Transition Towns are stepping out of the rat race, reimagining ‘the good life,’ and discovering that community engagement provides great wealth to those brave enough to get involved.
As well as relocalisation, another key concept in the Transition movement is ‘resilience.’ This refers to the ability of an individual or community to withstand societal or ecological shocks – shocks that can be expected in the future, sooner rather than later, if we continue down the path of growth without limits. In order to become more resilient, communities need to relearn how to provide for themselves in ways that were commonplace not so long ago. This might involve sharing more of our assets with neighbours, rather than each individual having their own. Or it might involve ‘re-skilling’ ourselves to acquire the lost arts of mending clothes, preserving food, or entertaining ourselves for free. Fortunately, this path to sustainability and resilience is filled with hidden joys and unexpected delights, in ways that perhaps need to be experienced to be fully understood.
In Totness they spend £30m on food every year, of which £22m goes through two supermarkets. It’s like water running through our fingers, going to banks and offshore investors. But it could be staying local. If they spent just 10% of that locally, they’d have £2.2m staying in the local economy to be spent again.
One powerful way to prevent money leaking from a community’s economy is by using local currencies. Businesses in Bristol can pay their rates in “Bristol pounds”, and the city council gives staff the option to take part of their salary in B£s. The new mayor, George Ferguson, announced at his inauguration last November that he would take his entire salary in B£s, which can only be spent in Bristol. More than £180,000 has been turned into B£s, estimated to be worth £1.8m in local economic activity.