Communities plan for a low-energy future
‘Transition initiatives,’ begun in Britain, aim to empower people to tackle effects of climate change and decline of oil.
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The movement began, improbably, three years ago with a student project. Mr. Hopkins, a teacher of permaculture – a holistic, ecologically based approach to agriculture, energy usage, and building design – was working with students at the Kinsale (Ireland) Further Education College. They were trying to devise a plan to wean the town off fossil fuels by applying ecological principles on a large scale.
Hopkins brought the model to his home town of Totnes, in southwest England, in 2006, and the idea quickly caught on and spread. Ben Brangwyn was inspired by “Transition Totnes” to leave his job in information technology and devote himself to organizing Transition’s online communication and resources. His hope, he says, is “to encourage every community to proactively prepare for reducing carbon [output] and increasing resilience.”
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Rooted in England, sprouting in US
The Transition model still hovers below the radar in the United States. In late July, Ketchum, Idaho, became the third US Transition Town, joining Boulder County, Colo., and Sandpoint, Idaho. (Boulder is holding the first-ever Transition training in the US on Sept. 13 and 14, in fact.) In the UK, where it began, the Transition movement is a cultural phenomenon, with more than 70 Transition Towns in place and many more mulling it over. There’s even a Transition story line on “The Archers,” Britain’s long-running radio soap opera. In all, worldwide, some 100 communities from Fujino, Japan, to Waiheke Island in New Zealand have met the criteria to claim the Transition mantle.
To Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club’s national Cool Cities campaign, which promotes clean energy solutions, the Transition movement “provides a fresh perspective for educating the public on local sustainability in an era of looming climate change and depletion of fossil fuels.” The key, he says, is to “make sure that ‘Transition’ means meaningful action with local clean energy and other sustainable solutions.” Aaron Heurtas, spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says such local efforts “help to drive all levels of government to take the actions which will be needed to address these issues.”
The goal is not to replace ongoing environmental and economic projects. Sandpoint Mayor Gretchen Hellar says the movement serves to “bring together all groups” working on sustainability, organizing community efforts while not duplicating effort.
A tool kit for responding to warming
Since its founding three years ago, the movement has made “raising awareness” the first step. But, says Jennifer Gray, who spearheaded the effort to launch the second Transition Initiative in Penwith, Cornwall, “We’ve got raised awareness. The climate is changing. Prices are rising.... Transition initiatives are about more than awareness. It’s a tool kit, a template for how to respond, practical projects people can get their teeth into.”