Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The Transition Town (TT) movement is a network of loosely-affiliated grass-roots groups, dedicated to making their immediate environment sustainable and through this steeling society for the challenges presented by the twin threats of climate change and the end of the abundance of cheap oil.
Started in Totnes, Devon in 2005, the movement has blossomed into an international network with more than 170 officially recognised transition towns and, according to co-founder Rob Hopkins, over 2,000 ‘mullers’ – communities mulling over becoming official transition towns – including Ambridge of Radio 4’s The Archers.
The movement has spread internationally in the last year and national co-ordinating groups now exist in a number of countries including Canada, Italy, Japan and the USA. So what is it about transition towns that makes them thrive in such iniquitous financial circumstances? When most people are concentrating on their own immediate financial worries how are transition towns getting the message through?
Another economics is possible
One answer is that the transition movement is presenting the possibility of local sustainability that can mitigate the effects of the global financial crisis. This quality can be seen in key transition town initiatives such as grow-your-own food programmes and local currencies. Totnes and Lewis have successful local currencies, where customers exchange sterling for a local ‘pound’, which is accepted by participating shopkeepers, while Brixton are about to launch the Brixton pound.
Local programmes such as these present people with positive evidence of an alternative way of doing things, one that can make the community more self-reliant and sustainable. Duncan Law, a co-ordinator of ‘Transition Town Brixton’, has seen a significant rise in interest in grow-your-own food in the last year, sparked primarily by its comparative low-cost compared to shop-bought vegetables. But there is also an environmental quality to the popularity of such measures, the message is getting through to people that the way we eat is unsustainable and a lot of people are trying to make a change. Hopkins says people engage with it because, ‘it’s the lowest hanging fruit, it’s easiest to do first.’
Further down the line larger changes will have to be made but as Oliver Dudok van Heel, of ‘Transition Town Lewes’, says these transition town initiatives are ‘showing that there is another way of doing things that will not only limit communities’ exposure to unstable global financial markets, but offer a vision of a way forward that doesn’t destroy the planet and drive us towards a global climate crisis that will dwarf the financial crisis.’
This is the second reason that transition towns are thriving: they present a realistic alternative way of living that addresses environmental concerns as well as financial worries. Law believes that the credit crunch has been a boon for the transition town movement demonstrating how quickly things can change both in institutions and at local and community levels, providing evidence that rapid change is possible.
Plans for local energy generation, shared gardens and community-based agriculture all become suddenly more realistic prospects when you consider how much has changed financially in the last year. Ironically, it seems that the transition town movement is reacting well to the financial crisis because they don’t see it as too daunting – as Dudok van Heel says, ‘the climate crisis dwarfs it.’ Law calls it a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the problems we will face if and when peak oil becomes a reality. This ‘capacity crunch’ will, according to Law, ‘clobber over the head any [economic] revival.’ It is partly this awareness of the bigger picture and the relative calmness over the current economic crisis that enables the transition town movement to grow in such difficult times.
But as a grass-roots movement, transition towns can only do so much. They require institutional engagement and are attracting growing interest from local government. Somerset and Leicestershire county councils have recently designated themselves ‘Transition Councils’, while representatives from both Brixton and Lewes report greater involvement from their local authorities than this time last year. Hopkins also says that Local Development Agencies (LDAs) are beginning to engage with the transition town movement as a possible alternative model to constant growth. Yet central government needs to take more heed of the transition towns message if it is to react in time, and now is the perfect opportunity given, as Hopkins says, that ‘you can’t look at a way out of what’s happening economically without taking in issues of peak oil.’
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns