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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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Still, interest is mounting. “The Tran­sition Movement is about to break on these shores,” Brownlee, the activist from Boulder County, Colo., predicts.

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As Portland Mayor Edward Suslovic observes, “financial pain is increasing [people’s] receptivity to sustainability practices in general.” Whether you believe in climate change or peak oil makes no difference, says Sandpoint Mayor Hellar. The sustainable principles embodied in Transition “are not only good for the pocketbook, but good for the community.”

12 key steps toward transition

This is An edited version of a list that appears on the Transition Network’s website (

1. Set up a steering group and design its demise. Once a minimum of four subgroups has formed (see Step 5, below), the steering group should disband and reform with a representative from each subgroup.

2. Raise awareness of the potential effects of peak oil and climate change by showing films, holding panel discussions, lectures, etc. Identify your key allies, build networks, “prepare the community ... for the launch of your Transition initiative.”

3. Lay the foundation. Network with existing groups and activists. Make it clear that a Transition initiative is designed to incorporate their efforts.

4. Organize a “great unleashing,” a memorable event to mark the project’s coming of age, probably 6 to 12 months after your first conscious-raising event. This builds momentum and “celebrates your community’s desire to take action.” The Unleashing should be “in a spirit of ‘we can do something about this’ rather than doom and gloom.”

5. Form subgroups. Smaller groups should focus on specific aspects, such as food, waste, energy, education, youth, economics, transportation, water, local government, and so on. The question for each: What’s the best way to make the community more resilient and reduce its carbon footprint?

6. Use open space technology for meetings. OST is an organizational strategy with “no agenda, no timetable, no obvious coordinator, and no minute-takers.” (See: “Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide,” by Harrison Owen. More information is available online.)

7. Do things. “Your project needs, from an early stage, to begin to create practical, high visibility manifestations in your community.”

8. Facilitate the “great reskilling.” For society to adjust to a lower-energy future, the thinking goes, people must relearn skills that sustained past generations: repairing, cooking, bicycle maintenance, gardening, etc. They are empowering as well as fun.

9. Build a bridge to local government. “You will not progress too far unless you have cultivated a positive and productive relationship with your local authority.”

10. Honor elders. “To rebuild that picture of a lower-energy society, we have to engage with those who directly remember the transition to the age of Cheap Oil, especially the period between 1930 and 1960.”

11. Let it go where it wants to go. “Your role is not to come up with all the answers, but to act as a catalyst for the community.”

12. Create an “energy descent” plan. “Each subgroup will have been focusing on practical actions to increase community resilience and reduce the carbon footprint.” Combined, these will help create an “energy descent” action plan in response to peak oil and climate change.