Transition: a personal account

This latest post originally appeared in the Ragged University blog.  The Ragged Project is a place to share and learn for free. Usually, they put on a night a month with two talks on wildly different topics.  This November 29th, I'm going to hear Kelly Gilliam talk about guerilla gardening (fresh from clashing with the council over some greening along the Union Canal) and learn about the mysterious lives of humpback whales from Dr. Alison Craig.  

Transition is a global/local environmental movement: work in your community, but benefit from a global network of people working out of a similar model. The following is a brief outline of what Transition is, lessons I’ve learned and plans for the future. This is a movement as diverse as its network and framework for setting up groups are handy, so I must stress that my experiences are just that: my own. 

So hi, I’m Sarah and I began to Transition with a capital T after answering an ad two years ago for a volunteer copywriter with a local Transition group. Currently, I’m the lead editor of the monthly Transition Edinburgh Newsletter (Plug: do subscribe if you’re interested in community/eco events in Edinburgh) and in the process of starting up a community group in Meadowbank with friends and neighbours.

On the Transition Vision

Realising that our earthly resources are now under unprecedented, alarming and mega amounts of stress is not difficult to understand. Our numbers coupled with a huge dependence on finite and polluting resources are simply unsustainable. This is a mammoth problem, but Transition advocates localised solutions for viable change. 

Specifically, Transition groups are a response to

  • Climate Change: we need to substantially lower our CO2 emissions to curb climate catastrophes and also build resilience in our communities to cope with them. With this aim in mind, one of the programmes Transition has embraced is Carbon Conversations - regular, local meetings with games and a workbook to give people the facts about climate change, and provide a safe space to discuss fears and issues, as well as the practicalities of cutting carbon day to day.

and

  • Peak Oil:  In a nutshell, we have built a society dependent on oil and one day, that oil supply is going to peak (arguably, it already has) and decline. For a better idea of how this works, have a look at this video from the post carbon institute and this more wide-ranging one from the friendly Aussies at doingitourselves.org. To mitigate the effects of peak oil, Transition focuses on localising resources (community gardens and orchards, for example) and pooling the abilities, knowledge and solidarity of local people to help each other get through and build a better way of life.

Here is a link to the official Transition spiel, but I think you get the picture.

Lessons I’ve learned

In the interests of time and space, I’ll give you three important ones.

1. Local means local: like, ward-local, bump-into-fellow-Transitioners-at-your-local local. I have been a part of larger groups spanning numerous neighbourhoods and they have not been nearly as successful as the ones that keep their distances walk-able. Less is more.

2.  Try to do without funding: at least for the core group that keeps things running. So many initiatives have ground to a halt once their funding is cut.  Certain projects are going to need equipment and that’s fine, but look to the resources of your membership first. Then, if you need to ask for money, make it for something specific (a hoe, a till, table and chairs). Meeting the demands of funders can be very counter-productive.    

3. Put as many tasks as you can on a rota:  even if you have someone who is really, really good at writing press releases or facilitating or going to boring council meetings, rotate these tasks.  The idea is to build resilience by sharing skills and knowledge; rotas keep people from getting stuck doing the same old stuff and ensure that you’re covered when your star minute-taker gets hit by a bus.

The Future

A few friends and I are starting a community group for Meadowbank residents.  We don’t know if we’ll call it a Transition initiative, but we have all definitely been inspired by Transition projects that we’ve been a part of elsewhere. 

We’re gonna start small with regular get-togethers to build connections, hash out formalities (name, aims, constitution, conflict resolution policy, etc) and discuss things we would like to change where we live.  Perhaps a neighbourhood launch party in the new year and some quick, simple projects to start us off.  We’re all busy people, but, the change we need can’t happen overnight anyway.  When it comes to greening our lifestyles, slow and steady wins the race.