The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience

Article excerpt

The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins Green Books Ltd. 2008 240 pages ISBN: 978-1-099322-18-8

Permaculture is described by Graham Bell as the "design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems" (p. 137). Author Rob Hopkins teaches permaculture and natural building in the United Kingdom and uses that topic as the basis for this book. The Transition Handbook is a resource and practice manual for moving communities toward a "powered-down" or low-energy-use future. Hopkins uses his experience with the tenets of permaculture and the practice of active transition communities in the United Kingdom to chart a path to address the social, cultural, and economic challenges that are a result of the twin global realities of climate change and peak oil.

There are many recent books on sustainability and sustainable development in the United States (see Epstein 2008; Esty and Winston 2006; Laszlo 2003; and McDonough and Braungart 2002). These books often provide information on technological innovations, community development projects, or global industrial advances. The authors of these efforts reinforce a vision of the future with abundant and free energy from alternative or renewable sources, clean manufacturing and development, and a continuing global green consumer culture. Many predict and describe in some detail the types of technological, economic, or social changes that might lead us toward this preferred future and prevent the destruction of the planet.

Hopkins' book uniquely describes a labor-, collaboration-, and learningintensive process of transitioning communities to local and supportable agrarian production systems in order to increase their ability to persist through significant loss in the availability of energy, materials, and trade and to reduce the possibility of disruptive or violent social upheaval. The Transition Handbook describes alternatives, processes, tools, and methods that can be used by local citizen groups to expand their understanding and skills and to reinvent a positive approach to the preservation of the quality of hearth and home during what Hopkins sees as the inevitable energy descent that will occur as oil supplies dwindle and the climate changes.

Hopkins describes the twin crises of peak oil and global climate change as two great and inevitable aspects of the same problem. When considered together, he concludes that the possible scenarios for life beyond peak oil range from a stable or enlightened transition to complete societal collapse. The only optimistic possibilities he identifies are adaptation or evolution. Since adaptation depends on the discovery and deployment of new technologies and efficiencies, failure of the adaptation model could result in a need for military protection of access to oil supplies. This holds the possibility of the rapid collapse of civilization. The evolution scenarios require a great transition to a low-energy future in which sharing of resources and localization of economic activity lead to an orderly "powering down" of the economic system controlled at the local level. The failure of the evolution model would result in a return to a tribal culture of limited trade and transport but could preserve culture and result in a positive new beginning. In Hopkins' view, the adaptation, or technology, innovation scenario is too dependent on unknown and possibly unlikely discoveries and the risks of failure are unacceptable. He believes that the evolution of communities using permaculture practice has less risk and more potential for reward in terms of quality of life.

Hopkins identifies the pace of depletion and society's level of engagement as the factors that will determine the success or failure of the transition. In this way, Hopkins echoes authors such as Thomas Friedman (2008) in calling for significant, proactive grassroots support for action rather than depending on the more reactive forces of government or the free market to develop and deploy solutions. …