Just what is a Transition Initiative, anyway?

A vision of transition

It’s a question that gets asked a lot. What is this Transition thing all about? What exactly is it that you guys do? Who’s in charge? Do you really expect to make a difference? And – most importantly – why should I care?

The one-line answer is that a Transition Initiative is “a place where there’s a community-led process that helps that town/village/city/neighbourhood become stronger and happier”.

The concept of a ‘Transition Town’ was first created by a guy called Rob Hopkins and some of his friends in the town of Totnes in Devon. Rob was a permaculture teacher, and had become fascinated with the response of communities facing a decline in the supply of energy, due to peak oil. Out of Totnes the Transition Network grew, and there are now Transition Initiatives in the shape of cities, villages, counties, islands, institutions, sports teams, and many more.

Here’s Rob Hopkins’ brief introduction to Transition:

Key to any Transition Initiative is the community that it is based in. By definition, Transition Initiatives work at a grass-roots level, and base their work on what is best suited to their area. Transition is about empowering people to take practical action in the face of issues that seem insurmountable. Instead of sitting in our armchairs complaining about what’s wrong, it’s about getting up and doing something constructive about it alongside our neighbours and fellow townsfolk.

So what are these insurmountable issues? The two topics that percolate up through everything Transition Initiatives do are climate change and peak oil. In essence, climate change tells us that we should reduce our use of fossil fuels, and peak oil tells us that reducing our use of fossil fuels is inevitable. Using that as a starting point, you can work out what the effect will be on food production, energy generation, transport, the economy, and so on – even relatively mundane things like going to the dentist will need to be re-thought.

Ultimately, there’s no getting away from the fact that we will need to reduce our overall energy usage. The main goal of a Transition Initiative is to prepare for this by creating a community-led plan for a transition to a low-energy future, sooner rather than later.

Where many see a problem, we see an opportunity. As a society, we’ve shown great ingenuity and intelligence in the way we’ve used our natural resources to get us where we are today; there’s no reason why we can’t continue to use those qualities in the future.

Unfortunately, the use of cheap energy has become so intrinsic to our modern way of life that any attempt to change things in any meaningful way is going to encounter resistance. We can’t rely on big companies or governments to do this for us, we have to do it ourselves. Which is why when explaining why we do the things we do, we like to stress that there is no ‘they’, only us.

In the Basingstoke Transition Network, we’re trying to recognise and promote the work that’s already being done in the community, raise awareness of the issues, get more people involved, and work on our own projects and plans for a brighter and better future. As a network, we’re building links and connecting like-minded people in Basingstoke. To see what we’re up to, come to one of our regular meet-ups, every second Tuesday of the month at 7pm in the Tea Bar.

If you’d like to read more, see the What is a Transition Initiative? page on the Transition Network website.