Transition Towns: A Growing Number of Large and Small Communities Are Moving Ahead without Fossil Fuel

By Elton, Sarah | Alternatives Journal, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Transition Towns: A Growing Number of Large and Small Communities Are Moving Ahead without Fossil Fuel


Elton, Sarah, Alternatives Journal


WHEN JUSTIN TRUDEAU addressed the oil industry in Texas last March, he showed just how deeply Canada is invested in a future built on fossil fuel. "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there," he told the crowd. They cheered. Meanwhile, according to NASA, the Arctic sea ice is thinner than ever; scientists are saying the Great Barrier Reef is in a "terminal phase;" and the future of the Paris climate agreement is in question. It's these contradictions between government action and scientific fact that have motivated some Canadians to start preparing their communities for climate change. While government focuses on the carbon economy, across the country people are looking around their neighbourhoods to figure out what they can do--and they are reimagining the future in the process.

It's called "Transition," a global grassroots social movement that is working towards a future without fossil fuels. According to University of Toronto's Transition Emerging Study, there are more than 100 grassroots groups in communities across Canada calling themselves "Transition Towns." This means a focus on producing important things people need within their communities to strengthen the local economy, and generally building what they call "resilience." Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after adversity strikes, but also the ability to dream up new ways of approaching challenges, or as is said, "to bounce forward." And, one of the most important aspects of resilience is food.

A Transition approach to food could mean supporting local farmers who draw on sustainable growing methods like agroecology (an ecological approach to agriculture, viewing agricultural areas as ecosystems), or learning to grow your own food, or preserving seasonal produce or even building a community root cellar. The point, they say, is to invigorate a community and to connect people in a positive way in the face of the looming crises of climate change, resource scarcity, growing inequality and economic instability.

The U of T study looked at Transition as an example of how social movements respond to emerging challenges like these. That's because, according to lead investigator Blake Poland, social movements are hot spots for innovation. "Part of the work they do is to create spaces where people can reinvent the future," he says. "Transition is interesting because it is one of hundreds of movements in Canada and around the world, focusing on reimagining the future." The Transition movement hopes to figure out the solutions and skills the rest of us might come asking for when the systems societies depend on today start to crumble in the face of these emerging challenges.

An unassuming Brit named Rob Hopkins in Totnes started transition just over a decade ago. The Devon town was known for its alternative vibe. He tells the story in The Transition Handbook, a book Hopkins wrote to guide the thousands of people around the world who have been inspired by his ideas. Totnes launched its Transition Movement with what those in the movement call an "unleashing." It got people talking about topics such as renewable energy, natural building materials, and seed saving to keep the genetic material of food plants alive and in farmers' hands, as opposed to controlled by corporations. People in Hopkins' hometown even launched their own local currency, which they named the Totnes pound. Their example has motivated hundreds of other communities around the world to follow suit. For example, the Transition Town movement in the Philippines is supporting what they call sustainable development projects like building schools for orphans of natural disasters. A chapter in Brazil supports organic farming, and in Portugal, one Transition group is creating what they call a "dream village."

In Canada, according to the U of T study, the first Transition Towns started in Ontario, where half of the country's chapters still collaborate, with British Columbia as the next most involved. …

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