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3 Jul 2009

Responding to Sharon Astyk on Permaculture and Transition

eden-salad-2Sharon Astyk is one of the bloggers I most admire, one of the most insightful and incredibly prolific writers out there.  It was fascinating therefore to read the two articles she recently posted, Permaculture Future Part One and Part Two.  Her basic argument is that permaculture and Transition are, as we head into the Long Emergency, the only two shows in town in terms of positive solutions-focused responses, but are they up to it?  Fair question.  I hope in this post to try and address some of Sharon’s points, which as usual, are very well argued, and deserve a lengthy muse…

Firstly, permaculture.  I love permaculture dearly.  I did my Design Course in 1992, and have been a teacher of it since 1997.  I live, breathe and dream permaculture.  It is family.  It is in my DNA.  What initially blew me away about permaculture, when my friend David gave me a copy of the Designers Manual in 1991, was the idea of it being a toolkit for Earth repair, a distillation of good practice, design insights and applied common sense that offered a way forward for a global ecology and human society in crisis.  It put humanity, long at the centre of destroying the biota, firmly in the driving seat of sorting it out.  It was about solutions.  I loved it.

Becoming a permaculture teacher was a hugely informative process, I learnt so quickly.  It is often said the best way to learn something is to tell yourself you will be teaching it in 3 weeks time, and thus it was for me.  I have seen, as a teacher, how teaching people the principles of permaculture, giving them those design insights, are like giving them a pair of glasses through which they become able to see possibilities rather than what is currently there.  It is a very powerful tool.  However, as I wrote in the Transition Handbook, I have come to have my concerns about it too, and this takes us back to Sharon’s article.

Permaculture has, for a long time, been good at making big claims.  I’m sure, at various times, I have been as guilty of this as anyone.  “Permaculture can feed the world”, “permaculture is more productive than intensive farming”,”we definitely know that permaculture works”.  I wrote a piece here a while ago called ‘In Search of the Fabled Chicken Greenhouse’.  This was based on my having for years taught the chicken greenhouse as a classic of permaculture design principles in action, and having decided to actually make one, finding that even my fellow teachers had actually never seen one (I have yet to finish mine, although I did find out that one chicken puts out around 15w of heat, so 4 chickens equate to a 60w light bulb).  Yet there it is as a design classic that we tell people definitely works.  There are others; is mulching the best technique in temperate zones, is forest gardening really as low maintenance as it is often presented, are permaculture gardens based on a preponderance of perennial plants anywhere near as productive as traditional market gardening?

What has long concerned me is that there are lots of people out there in permaculture, all with great motivation and intention, diseminating things which may or may not work, and not enough people actually rigorously testing it, revisiting projects, documenting successes and failures, and being honest about them.  Misperceptions and half-truths become enshrined as fact.  There is very little first hand, testable research taking place, although Permaculture Activist magazine has historically done a great job of drawing together what research there is.  This is, I think, at least partly because permaculture tends not to attract people who do active, detailed, scientific research. My reading of Bill Mollison’s message when I first came into permaculture was that he was saying that academia was largely unneccessary and irrelevant, we just needed to DO stuff.

He famously said “if lose the universities we lose nothing, if we lose the forests, we lose everything”.  Yes, fair point, but to me it implied a rejection of the idea of research and measurement, and as a result, we have a movement of doers, and very little measurement, and not enough self criticism and self reflection.  For a while, the term a ‘Mollisonianism’ was coined, to describe a statistic, a quoted fact, seemingly plucked from the air with little tangible relation to reality.  It made for very powerful and life-changing talks and trainings, but left a lot of academics and those in search of evidence scratching their heads.  There is an old joke that runs thus; how many permaculturists does it take to change a light bulb? 14. One to change the bulb and 13 to run lightbulb changing workshops.  Although a joke, there is an element of truth to it.

For me, the second in-built flaw in permaculture is, as Sharon observes, its inability to present itself acceptably to the mainstream (again, I speak solely from my experience in the UK and Ireland).  There are some wonderful and notable exceptions, but in the main, permaculture seems to be quite happy to accept a place apart from the mainstream, rooted in alternative culture, waiting for the world to ‘wake up’ and to realise that permaculture holds the answers it is looking for.  I think it is extraordinary that, to the best of my knowledge, there is still no landscape design consultancy out there (in the UK at least) tendering for public parks, new developments and other spaces, producing really high quality permaculture designs for edible landscapes, agroforestry plantings and skilful and productive water management in those places.  Where are the trainers taking permaculture principles into organisations?  By now there ought to be loads.

There are many fantastic designers, growers and activists out there doing great work, but it rarely touches the mainstream, perhaps due, in part, to its being perceived as something so determinedly alternative.  I have taught hundreds of people all I know about permaculture, especially through the course in Kinsale.  How many of them now work as permaculture design professionals?  How many of them then augmented what I had taught them with written presentation skills, graphic design skills, the skills required to run their own business?  To the best of my knowledge, none, although many of them integrated various aspects of permaculture into their lives.

This is why, for me, David Holmgren’s book ‘Permaculture: principles and pathways’ was so key.  What he says in there is that actually what permaculture is, more than a movement, is a set of principles, and those principles are the principles for a post-oil society.  Whether you call it permaculture or not matters little.  What is key is that these principles, a deeply insightful reworking of previous definitions, are embedded wherever possible.  To me, Transition is an approach which tries to draw from what I have perceived as both the strengths and the weaknesses of permaculture, and the inbuilt flaws that make it highly unlikely that it could ever become a mainstream phenomenon, but designed so as to accelerate the wider takeup of those principles.

Permaculture is notoriously difficult to explain in 2 minutes in the pub.  Transition is much easier, yet it is designed, if you like, like a Trojan horse.  It can be taken up by all kinds of people, who can ‘get it’ quickly, yet those permaculture principles are implicit, not explicit.  One of Sharon’s concerns about Transition is that, like permaculture, it is designing itself into a ghetto of its own making, through its approach, its presentation and so on.  While that is always a concern, and I will come on to that in a moment, I think that in its 3 years of life thus far, it is my sense that Transition has already embedded itself into mainstream culture far deeper than permaculture managed in 30, at least so far as my experience in the UK can tell.  Let me give you some examples just from the last couple of weeks;

  • Transition Town Tooting have become one of 4 out of 178 projects to be funded to do a big project about Transition, the Arts and climate change, presented by Ed Milliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who now seems to be waxing lyrical about Transition wherever he goes, having been invited to our conference as a ‘keynote listener’
  • Yesterday I was in North Devon giving a presentation to trustees of the National Trust, the UK’s largest landowner, who are very seriously looking at engaging Transition into their work.  ”Resilience’ and ‘local’ are becoming their buzz words, and after my presentation, on a bus with them going to a site visit, all the conversations between the trustees were about resilience, transition and energy descent.  If anyone is interested, you can download the presentation I gave them here.
  • I met with the CEO of a large estate on the edge of Totnes, very keen to embed Transition ideas into their work, they are looking seriously at creating an off grid combined heat and power system, new buildings using local materials, and a potential complete rethink of how their 1000 acres of land, on the edge of Totnes, is to be used, inspired, in part, by the buzz of Transition locally and nationally
  • The big article in the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago, the bastion of Conservative England, putting Transition forward as one of the potential responses to the recession, a great one in the Guardian suggesting that Transition might hold the seeds for the future of politics in the UK, not places, this kind of thing usually appears, but both seeing Transition not as something ‘alternative’ or ‘hippy’, but as deeply relevant for wider society and debates

Sharon writes;

I believe that at this moment, permaculture groups and the Transition movement represent quite honestly the only game in town for an ‘organized’ set of strategies for dealing with our present crisis  – that is, ultimately, Transition and permaculture are the public face of our adaptive strategies…

Her point that at this stage, permaculture and Transition are the only shows in town (no pressure then!), although perhaps a slight exaggeration (organics? agroforestry? biointensive?) is a fascinating one.  Transition never set out to be that.  We are as flummoxed as anyone by the rate of growth in interest and the rate of the deepening of that engagement. Is Transition ready for scaling up big time?  Is permaculture?  How might it function in a ‘shit-hitting-the-fan’ context?  Hard to say at this stage.  My sense is that what Transition is doing is patiently but skillfully building a lot of the networks that will be needed, drawing together the organisations on whom responses will depend, and offering and revaluing skills, as well as getting Councils and other organisations to think about these issues.  It is reducing the fear around inevitable change, and getting more organisations and individuals seeing it as an opportunity.  The debate about Transition and emergency preparedness is one that has begun here, and will no doubt continue, but I want to move on to other issues raised by Sharon’s post.

One of her points is her aversion to sitting in circles of people, and anything that has a ‘touchy-feely’ element to it.  Fair enough.  I did my permaculture design course with a teacher who was an avowed circle dancer.  Every morning at 9 we were all to circle dance for 10 minutes.  I arrived at 10 past 9 every morning.  There is a balance here though which we need to explore.

If we think that we are going to weather the Long Emergency without any form of supporting each other emotionally, without any kind of ability to share the distress it is causing, if we think that the work of the next 10-20 years will be purely external, we are deluding ourselves.  The work of Joanna Macy and others offers a great deal in terms of equipping us for the profund transitions, inner and outer, that are, after all, inevitable.  I have seen many people come here to Totnes to do Transition Training, nervous about the possibility of there being some kind of inner work, blown away by it.  It has a powerful place, an essential place.  Yet I didn’t discuss it with Ed Milliband, nor did I ask the Trustees of the National Trust to sit in a circle and vision the future.  When I give public talks, I might ask the audience to talk to the person next to them, but not to hug them or share their innermost grief with them.  It is a matter of what is appropriate where and when.

If people want to go deeper into Transition, having some of those reflective skills is going to be vital.  Being out there advocating Transition in your community is work which is exhilating and life affirming, but it can also be lonely, frightening, stressful and can leave one feeling as though they are shouldering the hope of an entire community.  That requires inner skills, as much as outer ones, much as in the same way that in permaculture, the Earth Care is the easy part, the People Care far trickier.  It is intense work, and people need to be properly equipped for it.  Sometimes this leads to the accusation that Transition is a ‘cult’, a patently absurd suggestion, and one that is really a very lazy label to put onto anything that contains any element of inner work.  Yet there are hundreds of ways into Transition.  Here in Totnes, for example, there are 11 working groups.  They focus on different aspects of this.  The Heart and Soul group might meditate together and explore tools for strengthening the inner aspects of Transition.  The Building group discuss U-values and planning codes and the Energy group discusses potential energy demand for the area.  To the best of my knowledge, they do sit in a circle, but only out of it being the most practical way of all being able to see each other (what’s the alternative, sitting in rows?)

For me, the approach the Transition is sometimes criticised for, of not being more explicit about what it is against, is increasingly clearly one of its great strengths.  To make an explicit connection would be to lose much of the respect it is generating in the wider world.  Other people do that very well, and many people in Transition step between one and the other.  There are, of course, issues of diversity, and the old accusation of Transition being largely white and middle class is still relevant, but then it is to the wider environmental movement as a whole, and to permaculture).  Sharon seems to be concerned that it is mostly white, middle class hippies, but that seems to be less my experience here (whatever hippy means nowadays: as an Irish woman friend of mine once said “a hippy is the thing that your leggies are connected to”..).  My experience is that many of the people engaging in Transition are not, mostly, the same people that engaged with permaculture, they tend to be a more mainstream crowd, many of whom do not have a background in environmentalism, although of course this differs from place to place.

However, moving forward, deepening that diversity is vital, and is a key aspect of the work of Transition, we are very aware of that.  Also, drawing from the lessons learnt from permaculture, so is measurement and research.  The work I am doing in Totnes, looking in depth at the extent to which Transition thinking has embedded itself in the area and how one might measure resilience, are one part of this.  So is the series of books being produced, ‘The Transition Guides to…’, the first one on food being published in September.  Rather than just being books of ideas, they are rooted in the experience, the successes and the failures, of Transition food projects around the world.  The new website (coming soon) will enable a great exchange of successes and failures, ideas and tips, between Transition groups, and the exchange of data and outputs.

In terms of deepening engagement, we are already engaging with faith groups, and starting to do work around the language with which Transition is communicated.  We are deepening the engagement of Transition with businesses and other organisations.  But Transition Network itself is still just 4 people.  There are many thousands of people all over the world doing Transition in their communities, the challenge, as I see it, is to enshrine through all our work, those principles,  of;

  • documenting what we do
  • sharing the successes and failures
  • measuring outputs where possible
  • continually deepening diversity of engagement
  • being mindful of presentation and language  (since I started wearing a shirt and had my hair cut I am still amazed at how much more seriously people take me)
  • adapting the message and how it is communicated depending on the audience.

As Ken Jones, quoted in the Transition Handbook, put it, this is about “changing the climate, rather than winning the argument”.

Whether we manage to sufficiently change the climate (in all meanings of the term) before it is too late, remains to be seen.  I think our best hope lies in being able to argue our case in many ways; in the fact that people enjoy it and seem to be having a fun, in that it offers a coherent overview of the wider challenges affecting society, a practical model for catalysing responses, that we have an approach which is accessible and understandable, that it offers a route for organisations to positive, vital and engaged community groups, that it results in people modelling change not just calling for it.

Sometimes I am asked, and some of the comments on Sharon’s first piece also ask this, is permaculture part of Transition, or Transition part of permaculture?  Many of things (but not all)  I just mentioned could also be said about permaculture.  However, for me, I see it that permaculture is a set of principles and insights which hold a vital role in the future of a post-peak society, and Transition is a vehicle designed for deepening their embedding and take up at the scale needed for their to influence the direction of humanity at this point.  It is not a case, for me, of which is a part of which.  Transition has grown out of permaculture as a way of enshrining those principles in a vehicle that can hopefully avoid some of the failings observed in permaculture over time, and thereby hopefully increasing our chances of success.  Sharon concludes her second piece;

All that matters is that the work gets done, as well as possible, that the floods are as small as we can make them, and that the suffering is as little as possible.  That’s honestly all I care about.

Indeed.  That is the task to which we all dedicate ourselves, whatever we choose to call this work.  Transition has not arrived as a fully formed, completely developed model that you just plug in and everything magically transforms.  It is created by the many thousands of people doing it, wherever they are.  We all try to do it as skilfully as possible, and discussions like these are a powerful part of refining these ideas.  For me, all the signs are that that deepening and broadening of Transition is happening, whether it happens fast enough, only time will tell.

I do appear to have written rather a lot here, and congratulations if you have made it to the end.  I hope it was worthwhile.  Sharon’s piece was an invitation to write about my 2 favourite things, so inevitably I had a lot to say.  Bit like being asked to write about the influence of the Velvet Underground and Can on modern music.  Maybe another time….

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Joanne Poyourow
3 Jul 3:07pm

An excellent piece, and great to hear you say the bit about how many permaculturists to do the lightbulb. Here in California we have been noticing how the principal occupation of those who have taken the permaculture design course seems to be “permaculture teacher,” in other words PC teaches plenty of teachers, but there aren’t oodles of PC-designed gardens around — certainly not nearly enough of them for 30 years of history of the movement.

The other great flaw in permaculture (the Mollisonians) is that they have a lot of answers for moving soil around but not much to say when it comes to redesigning cities. A classic response, in August 2005, when a well-known permaculture teacher was asked in what was termed an “urban permaculture” breakout session, “What can you do about Los Angeles?” He shrugged. His every body language said Los Angeles was hopeless. Ouch. Some “solution.”

What I tell people who ask about the permaculture/transition connection is that you in Totnes have taken permaculture to the next step. You’ve figured out ways to permaculture the human dynamic. Transition is indeed the best solution out there as far as the cities. There aren’t other workable “solutions” on the table — the other ideas are deeply tied to the old ways, the industrial growth paradigm, and the top-down way we’ve “always done it” (for the past 150 years), such that the “solutions” themselves are predicated upon the problem. Transition is willing to take an entirely new route.

The other powerful thing you’ve done in creating Transition ideas and methodology is to continuously (here on this blog, in your book, in the trainings) remind us to have fun with it. To get silly, to engage people’s sense of humor, to enjoy life. This is incredibly attractive, and balances the dread seriousness of the overall mission. The humor makes it bearable – more than bearable, the humor makes it doable, and therefore makes that glimmer of hope that this thing stands a chance of maybe possibly actually working.

(I’ve read Astyk – she’s very sobering – maybe she simply doesn’t understand British humor!)

I agree that Transition is engaging the mainstream, and, I’ll add, at a mind-boggling rate. I had thought that once “the usual suspects” had learned the Transition ideas we’d see a plateau in people’s involvement, but we certainly aren’t seeing that. And the people coming to the events, getting involved, are from so many strata of the community, including people who would have nothing to do with hippies (nor leggies).

Your post earlier this week about your statistical survey was so very encouraging — what a great percentage of your townspeople had name recognition on Transition and how many people had attended a Transition-sponsored event! The initial steps are working, you’ve crossed critical mass on awareness-raising, which is a phenomenal success marker for peak oil that it took decades and a celebrity promoting An Inconvenient Truth to get across about climate change. You have statistics now (university studies!) to prove that Transition methods are quite effective in the awareness-raising arena.

Yes, it remains to be seen whether the “truism” we Transitioners are telling ourselves is accurate: that once made aware, people will find a way to get involved and act. I think that’s where it’s so powerful to have people like Sophy be part of the design team, her psychology background to understand where the human emotions might cause a stop between awareness-raising and physical action. You’re already working on the potential problems.

The last great beauty about Transition that I’ll mention before I quit this long comment is that Transition is only a rough-cut pattern. Your loose guidelines demand that we develop it further in each of our individual localles. We’re forced to create, to form and shape the tool into something that is customized for our town/city/island. And in that way (1) we’re all involved with the creative process which is an incredibly engaging way to assure that it “sticks” in each location, and (2) the individuality that unfolds in each location stands a very great chance of settling out into exactly what that particular location needs to Transition it. We know already from the corporate models that one size doesn’t fit all, and Transition by its very design is the anti-one-size.

3 Jul 6:14pm


Well I shall be sitting back watching this discussion with great interest – having flagged up that Transition “is the only game in town” here and then that Sharon wants to engage us in a debate.

I think this could be very constructive – from both points of view – for us to engage in this. There are “many facets to a diamond” and all have value for shining light on the way forward. Between our “bust the barriers/somewhat quirky” (in the best sense of the word!) approach on the one hand – and, on the other hand, the American “can do”/lets get stuck in approach (which I rather admire)….I think we could turn out a “beautiful baby” between us.

Sharon Astyk
3 Jul 6:54pm

Hi Rob – I’m delighted to see your response, and I thought it was wonderful – one of the things I like best about you is how gracefully you explore things, and how wisely. A long time I ago I emailed you to say how grateful I was to you for the work you do, but I should also articulate that here publically – I really am.

Two comments – I agree that it is a bit unfair to say that Transition is the only game in town. Actually, it is completely unfair ;-).

That said, however, with the absorption of Transition into the Post-Carbon Institutes, and the sliding of “post-carbon cities” I’m not sure that there are any coherent, organized strategies to cover this at the municipal or really any level. Sure, organics are great – but they don’t have much to do, say, with currency issues or job development, other than in agriculture, same with biodynamics, etc…. I take it as a basic principle that even if we need a whole lot more farmers, which I think I’ve been known to claim, we’re going to need a few people who make, say, hammers and hoes and beer ;-).

You folks have that covered – so yes, I think you are the only game in town. Which leads us to two choices – support the game, which is my preference, since a. you’ve already got Vanity Fair writing nice things about you 😉 and b. you already exist; or start something up, which frankly, seems like a manure-load of work ;-). If I didn’t like Transition for any other reason, I’d like it because I’m lazy.

I think some of my observations may apply more to the US than Britain, and I realize that transition is a new game here, in ways it isn’t for you. But I would say that the people doing permaculture are pretty much precisely the same people doing Transition here – very, very minor variations if at all, from what I can see from several cities I know well.

I think where we may actually disagree is on the merits of the circle – I agree with you entirely that we can’t do this without enabling people to process their experience and their emotions, or without having people address their assumptions. I also agree that the circle and the visioning and webs of resilience is very, very powerful for some people, and I don’t at all think it is bad for them to be offered that.

But the very fact that you see this as an either/or thing (ie, Sharon doesn’t like the circle, so that must mean she means that we shouldn’t have emotional support or inner work as part of the agenda) seems to be revealing. I think it is fair to say that the circle and even the idea of “inner work” represent one way of dealing with the people care issues – perhaps unfairly, I would call it the new age-theraputic way.

But the opposite of that is not “no people care, no inner work” it is “other methods of people care and inner work.” (Ok, I really loathe the term “inner work” but for the sake of the discussion). One example of these possibilities would be for me – when people talk about the spiritual dimensions of this, I often joke “I’m not spiritual, I’m religious.” By this I mean that spiritual experience, and the people-care elements of that work for me mostly come through my faith. I’m not suggesting that this is true for everyone, and would never assume that Transition should take on the principles of Gemilut Chesed, say, as an integral point. But the very fact that Transition is usually so good about grasping that there are multiple ways of coming at the same problem but not here seems strange to me. Inner work is not one thing, or done one way – it can be done in the cirle, in the new age theraputic model, or in worship communities through a number of traditional religious models, it could be done abstractly and distantly as some of my guy friends tend to do their support work “Oh, yeah, Steve’s going through a rough time now, so I lent him my router and talked about breasts.” I have no idea why that last one works 😉 – it would seem singluarly unhelpful to me, or for that matter, why the circle works, or the Catholic prayer service – but I know they do, and that there are models that work for me.

And I think the problem of a single model here is acute. About a year ago I was teaching at a program with several other people who I will not name (on the grounds of incrimination), but I’d bet a few hundred bucks that you know them. These are not people unfamiliar with Transition and they are really, really serious about the work – and they do a lot of it, very publically. We sat through part of the presentation, and as the exercises proceeded, it became obvious that all of the teachers were actually really uncomfortable and not too happy. When the group broke up for a five minute break, every single one of us except the person who couldn’t leave because she was supervising us, well, ran for it. We went out and drank beer ;-). And yeah, it wasn’t great role modelling, or my proudest moment, but as one person noted “we’re not being paid enough to sit through that.”

Since I wrote my piece, I’ve got an inbox full of emails, and comments on the blog pieces with people who had similar experiences. I’ve seen it happen too, at a Transition Training in a large city – watched people come out with the “Oh, that was great” and “Oh, that was awful” arguing in parallel. All I can say is this – if this is the only way to do the inner work, you will miss a lot of people whose contributions would be useful. And I don’t want that to happen.

Much of this for me is very simple – I’m trying to figure out whether I have to put something together to do what Transition maybe, but I’m worried won’t, or whether I’m better off putting my energies into Transition itself. I’m still not sure, although I’m hopeful about Transition (and lazy, as mentioned – very lazy). I’d really rather not spend time reinventing the wheel.


3 Jul 10:28pm

There can be a conflict between people’s choice of religion/spirituality (including ‘none’) and the Macy-style ‘spirituality’ of Transition.

I’m not a fan of Macy myself at all. And it’s not because I’m not ‘a spiritual person’ — I meditate two hours a day. I’ve studied spirituality for years, and like Sharon I’m simply not looking for anything new. (And I can’t see John Michael Greer loving the circle either.)

What does this have to do with my interest in TT? Nothing. I don’t need spiritual tools from TT.

Perhaps this ‘spiritual’ side of TT works for people who haven’t got anything else of their own. It shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for those who have. Emotionally and spiritually speaking, I work on myself hard, every day, this is the side of things I already have covered.

You are looking at two important tasks fulfilled by work like this — community bonding, and spiritual sustenance for each member of the community. (Both of those tasks used to be fulfilled by religion.)

For the latter task, realize that some people don’t want TT to do it for them because they already know how they are going to keep themselves together.

For the former, there has to be some way of bonding a community that is appropriate for that particular group of people in that location. And there doesn’t necessarily need to be any ‘spiritual’ element at all. In lots of communities I really don’t think you want to go there.

Who says this Macy/circle/visioning thing is the way to accomplish either one of these important tasks? — community bonding or spiritual sustenance?

I love the visibility TT is gaining, but now is the time to really think, how can inclusiveness be maximized?

(I also think there is a separate issue about emergency preparedness, and the extent to which worst-case scenarios are being considered, which dropped away in Sharon’s reply. I know everyone’s thinking about that already.)

Rob, I appreciated your response as much as I appreciated your original posts Sharon. Just two quick points:

1. I lived for a couple of years with forest peoples in Central Africa and my favourite fellow anthropologists work alongside other indigenous people the world over. To me, when I first met permaculture I met people who were showing that we here can live in a fundamentally healthy way. We don’t need the structures of fear and greed we are persuaded to live by. In that sense, Transition is nothing new, and that is what is so refreshing about it.

2. Sharon, here and in your original posts you keep describing yourself as lazy. Judging by the thought that goes into your posts and by their frequency, that is clearly not true. I think you mean you are following the Transition (or, for that matter, Mbuti) principle of only throwing yourself into doing what you are passionate about. Keep it up! My only question about your analysis is that you articulate the socio-ecological crisis, and how we might respond, but are you at home with the depth of pain this situation is causing in (in my experience) all of us? That CAN mistakenly (I’d suggest) be called inner work, but is actually just the work of making the connections (my professional wage, his sweat shop labour, that poisonous land fill) which hurt because we care, and care is what fundamentally is all we all care about.

3 Jul 10:52pm

Wow, that is great Rob and thanks to Sharyn for sparking this great conversation.

I’m very much involved in both worlds – permaculture and TTs.

I totally agree that TTs have been a mechanism for these ‘sustainable design principles’ to be quickly taken up by people who would not normally consider ‘permaculture’.

I’ve had people come up to me after doing TT presentations suggesting I do a permaculture course as they are very aligned – most people in the audience don’t see that though – they just see a great idea worth trying.

TTs has allowed me to meet with and talk to State Ministers, Mayors and Federal Senators.

I’m also opening my home to students who are studying TTs – from France, the US, New Zealand and Australia. Having the research is very important.

Regarding that joke about how many permaculturists does it take to change a lightbulb (very funny by the way) – I’m seeing people (often people who are working as consultants) reading the TT Handbook and then talking to clients about transitioning, without that very important step of actually DOING it, testing it, seeing what works and what doesn’t

Every TT will be different, we all have different communities, different vulnerabilities and opportunities.

Being relevant to and listening to the community – then manifesting projects – making them happen so people see action happening around them – is the key.

Transition Sunshine Coast

Loved Rob’s full response and Sharon’s original posta. I just wrote a full response but lost it!!?? So very briefly:

1. Transition and permaculture are present day expressions of the fundamentally relational egalitarian we can do it (there is no one else [who can]) attitude and approach of the indigenous people I work with. They are so refreshing because they are not new, they are responsive and renewing.

2. Sharon you are not lazy, you just follow the Transition (and Mbuti) principle of doing what you care passionately about, and letting others do their thing too. What is happening in the world and our neighbourhoods, families and selves hurts (my professional wage, his sweat shop wage, that poisonous land fill), it hurts because we care. Being able to relate our pain and care is as crucial as mulch.

4 Jul 1:31am

Thanks for a wonderful reply, Rob. Looking forward to your pieces on VU and Can (although anyone who’s read Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler knows that it really all started with The Monks 😉 ).

It certainly means something that the real concerns people are expressing about Transition centres on the spiritual side of things. It’s my personal feeling that there is often a focus on circles and ‘inner work’ as a way of patching over the fact that we are not yet DOING enough, or doing it as part of the society around us (quite the opposite: much of this work is in opposition to the mainstream, at least for now). To the extent that people have the opportunity to heal their wounded spirits through meaningful work with others, explicit ‘inner work’ is not needed to integrate the individual’s self or the collective spirit of a community. We can hope that organic rituals and observances will slowly rise up to take the place of the facilitator and the exercises which often come at us from a place we have no connection to.

But this is all far off…

Brad K.
4 Jul 2:10am

I also read Casaubon’s Book ( regularly.

One phrase you used stuck with me through your whole piece. “not enough people actually rigorously testing it”.

If transition and permaculture are so necessary to stabilize and recondition the earth – why is research needed, and not the doing? If you believe the Transition form, how could you put off saving the environment?

In the US, in the early 20th Century or late 19th Century, the US Department of Agriculture devised a system to get farmers to produce more. They called the events “county fairs”. By holding competitions, the hope was that the best and most successful methods, tools, and crop selections would be evident, and the local and state best would be published for all to share.

Mostly, this worked well. A single decree – as the current USDA relies on – would be irrelevant in many locales, and bad choices in some others.

I suppose research could have come up with some of the same answers – but often research is funded by grants, and the writing of the grant pitches the grant to appeal to a beneficiary’s interest.

I propose that you want to rely more on comparing actually Transition and permaculture community results to evaluate what works in each locale, using something like the old county fairs to publicize what works locally. This would also be an opportunity to open your doors, to let the surrounding communities and districts see and evaluate what you are doing.

The advantages to fairs over research, is the broader scope (no grant writing or funding) you can achieve quickly, the lower cost since you utilize what people are doing anyway to provide inputs, you get results useful to individual locales. As a PR tool you have the opportunity to promote your ideas and products, and educate those interested in various topics. County fairs have always had a bit of the symposium nature, of providing presentations and displays promoting concepts and products.

And I think waiting on research might delay, further, any benefits from proceeding in a Transition direction.

One topic of adapting Transition and permaculture that came out of Sharon’s pieces, was about adapting in the presence of civil unrest and violence. And, you point out that you have found some few community leaders and councils interested and eager for Transition – but what about those that are oppositional by nature, or skeptical of the whole concept of the Long Emergency?

4 Jul 3:23am

For examples of permaculture successes over the past 30 years I’d recommend a look at the international work of Geoff Lawton and also people like Bob Cameron of Rockcote here in Queensland Australia. Bob applied permaculture principles to his paint and render business, and created Australia’s first fully sustainable (in that it harvests all its own water and energy and nothing leaves the property) factory.


Nick Towle
4 Jul 4:41am

In such a long piece there are so many valuable discussion points. I’d like to pick up on just a couple. Rob, you ask the question, “Where are the trainers taking permaculture principles into organisations?”. In Australia, Rick & Naomi Coleman have taken Permaculture design to Jim’s Mowing, a commercial franchise that offers backyard maintenance, among other things. This has been criticised by many for the potential to devalue Permaculture, moving it from an encompassing set of overarching ethics and principles to being merely a trendy backyard makeover for well-to-do individuals who have little care for ethics or the impact of their oil dependent lifestyles.

Several of the founding members of the Melbourne based Permablitz movement are now striving to develop a commercial Permaculture design consultancy. They have an incredibly challenging task ahead of them as the commercial ‘rules’ are very much centred on maintaining the status quo.

What I see in Permaculture Design and Transition Initiatives is a call to principled action, defining the ethics by which we wish to live and aligned our daily endeavours to these. I do agree with the urgency of creating tangible examples and an open exploration of successes and failures. There is certainly much work to be done in determining how we actually measure our progress and it was great to read of your research work in Totnes.

Yours for the future,
Nick T

Transition Tasmania (Australia)

4 Jul 4:54am

Great discussion Rob.

I wonder at the quote you cited from Transitions Handbook by Ken Jones that transition is about “changing the climate, rather than winning the argument”. While I agree with the “argument” comment I wonder whether we are setting the bar too high by wanting to “change the climate”. The climate has changed and will continue to do so. I see Transition as being about how we live with the changed climate and lessing our impact on the rate of future changes as well as dealing with the impacts of PO. Hope I am not being pendatic but feel that if we want it to become mainstream then we need to be clear about the message.

One other “criticism” I would make of the Transition movement is that I am yet to see how we “relocalise” health care. As one of the aging baby boomers who lives in a community full of aging baby boomers I worry that while we are busy planting gardens and riding bikes that the practicalities of how health care will be provided seem to have been forgotten.

Great discussion and look forward to reading more.
Wayne – Hobart Tasmania the land of Oz

[…] lengthy but well worth reading piece, Rob Hopkins considers her points and presents his response.Read Rob’s piece Posted by Editor | Comments (0) Trackbacks Trackback specific URI for this entry No […]

[…] Part one of a nice piece by Sharon Astyk. There is a response to this at Transition Culture. […]

4 Jul 6:36pm

I did a permaculture design course fourteen years ago and luckily I had a great teacher who didn’t teach too many “Molllisonisms”. I felt that the best thing about the course though was the inspiration to find out more. Looking over at my book shelf there are copies of the earth care manual, the humanmanure handbook, food for free, several books on ecology etc, etc. Its easy though for people to assume that on completion of a pc design course one knows all there is to know when really you’ve only had time to learn how much more there is to learn. Permaculture is about using natural systems as a model but far too few of us know how these natural systems work, let alone know how ti adapt the underlying principles to work for us.
I think Transition has been far more “web savvy” than permaculture and its a shame that theres not a busy permaculture forum to discuss some of the sacred cows of permaculture. It would be great for permaculture to adopt open space at gatherings too.
There have been a lot of ideas that I learnt about as part of my design course that are now acceptable ideas, eg straw bale houses, reedbeds for sewage, fruit trees in cities, but there have been less large scale integrated designs. Permaculture is ideally something that will fill the gaps in sustainble planning. A good example is a new university building near me that is highly insulated with a turf roof and a large glass atrium between the buildings. If they’d integrated the planting in the atrium by putting in citrus etc it would have been brilliant and permaculture, as such its just “a green building”. What excites me about transition is that an energy descent plan will use permaculture principles and hopefully create something truly exciting. BUT permaculture and transition will only work if we continue to criticise and question and not take everything as gospel.
Can and the Velvet Underground understood how to use loops of feedback, permaculture and transition need to use feedback loops too!!

Terry Halwes
4 Jul 7:22pm

Brad K. wrote: “One phrase you used stuck with me through your whole piece. ‘not enough people actually rigorously testing it.’ If transition and permaculture are so necessary to stabilize and recondition the earth – why is research needed, and not the doing? If you believe the Transition form, how could you put off saving the environment?”

He goes on to recommend the county fair competitions in the USA as a better way of testing various farming methods
(and tools and crops). It was a good idea when the USDA implemented it, and it was good of Brad to remind us that

whatever we may think “rigorous testing” means, we’ve probably missed some very powerful forms of research.

However, research doesn’t have to be done before we start the doing. Some of the most valuable types of studies are designed to be useful to the people who are carrying out a project, and can begin by taking steps as simple as measuring or counting something that reflects the resources that went into the work, and your progress or lack of it, along with noting when the measurements or counts were made. Simple bar charts or graphs can be quite informative, as we see every time we give a Peak Oil presentation.

Also, having a preponderance of people with advanced degrees on our various teams can have a few advantages, one of which is that some of these people actually enjoy playing around with statistics, and given a supply of relevant data, we may not need grants to entice them to help out.

In response to Sharon’s original point about the lack of diversity in our groups, I do agree that we need to be reaching out to people we don’t often talk to; but I don’t think we should be surprised that what are, after all, intellectual discussions couched in somewhat technical language don’t attract many people who haven’t had a lot of formal academic training. However, when we get beyond studying and planning, and begin seriously working to implement our Community Resilience Plans or whatever we wind up calling them, we can expect lots of able-bodied and able-minded folks who care about those aspects of our mutual survival to jump right on in to the work. Even now, if you walk through the community gardens in our town, you will find the people much more diverse in various ways than the groups at our Transition study groups and planning meetings.


Thomas Allen
4 Jul 7:24pm

When columnist Molly Ivans spoke in Seattle a couple of years before she died, she pointed out that we leftist types were excessively dour. The solution, she said was to drink more beer. She then regaled us with hilarious antics and tricks pulled on Texas conservatives; such as lining up on the curb and “mooning” the KKK (a racist, conservative group) when they came to Austin for a rally. The audience was in stitches.

But Seriously folks………..

Sharon has mentioned Post Carbon Institute. PCI’s beginnings are pretty close to home. To some extent their arrival on the local scene has parallels to Transition Town’s arrival. And there is the same risk of missed opportunity to integrate with existing groups.

The Pacific Northwest of the North America (Washington, Oregon and British Columbia) is apparently unusual but I doubt we are unique. We have a history of social and environmental activism going back to the Populist days of 1900. Much of the hippie diaspora that had decamped San Francisco’s Haight Asbury by the late sixties ended up here. The result was the spawning co-ops, seed companies, an organic gardening and farming group called Tilth and innumerable informal groups and networks supporting common goals not unlike those of TT and Permaculture. In fact, many of those old hippies have become PC instructors. If one pokes around a bit there is a tremendous amount of “doing” but not so much talk anymore — Until the past year, that is.

Last fall and winter, there was a heated debate over whether activist groups should put their energies behind Transition Towns or a regional group focused on the Puget Sound area. The resolution, tentatively, has been to embrace both. One of the criticisms leveled at TT was that they are not getting their boots muddy and simply building organizations that build organizations. That’s a criticism I would level at the TT critics as well, by the way.

Meanwhile, the PC and existing sustainable ag and energy community goes on its way largely ignoring or oblivious to the whole debate. Neither TT nor Post Carbon’s Outposts apparently have had much impact on the existing legacy of hippie diaspora.
This is a disappointment and we are looking for ways to integrate them into the new organizations. What TT is impacting is a younger, more mainstream, educated middle-class that has discovered Peak Oil and is scared witless.

These folks, by and large have little or no knowledge of the existing movement and don’t understand that there are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced folks who have dealt with the three elements of our present perfect storm since the early seventies and maybe before. Many solutions have been worked out and put into practice. Once I explain that I can see them visibly relax.

The challenge then, as I see it, is to integrate the younger crowd with the old guard. Despite the best efforts of mine (on radio) and film makers like Dworken & Young who’s new release “Good Food” made the Seattle Film Festival, this effort isn’t moving nearly as fast as needed. Post Carbon Institute missed a good opportunity to promote that integration. They didn’t do their due diligence. They tried, not very successfully, to duplicate the work of existing groups without even knowing they existed. I don’t mean to single out PCI. They aren’t alone. Other groups have gone down the same path with similar results but PCI is a pretty good and quite visible example. Much to their credit they have sponsored an hour-long radio show, “Deconstructing Dinner,” hosted by Nelson B.C. community radio station, CJLY. The program is available on the Web at

PCI, in my observation, moved into Vancouver, into the midst of a well established milieu that includes the likes of David Suzuki, that coined the hundred-mile-diet, that has well-established experimental organic farming as well as commercial, has a vibrant farmers market scene, independent, organic seed producers, broad and deep permaculture and organic gardening.

That, of course, raises the question of how, being new to the area, could they have known? Another group moved into Astoria, Oregon about the same time from California. They set out to start a food-buying club hoping to one day work into being a co-op. The local co-op manager told me that they were entirely unaware of the existing co-op. “All they’d have to have done was look in the phone book,” she said. There were other ruffled feathers in the local sustainability community but after a while things died down and the new group got a slot on the local community radio station. But I’m told there are yet some lingering resentments. And much time was wasted.

Tom Allen
Seattle, Washington, USA

5 Jul 12:43am


You mention that only four people are involved in Transition Network – is that by choice, or is that four main drivers keeping it going?


risa b
5 Jul 2:56am

I keep waiting for Permaculture to be as applicable to my life as, say, Carla Emery or John Seymour. Meanwhile, when anybody young asks me where they should put their oomph, I tell them about TT, because it’s about all there is to point them to that can be a coherent local, ultimately local-politics, response beyond just having lots of farmer’s markets and CSAs.

It’s that can be that gives me pause. And I don’t think I’ll have time to go sit in circles, I’m already sixty, hon. And 3/4 deaf, too; can’t follow the lecture.

There is a lot of research and reporting going on, if we Google for it. Locally we have the Bean and Grain Project getting underway, for example, on the theory that staples don’t come from around here and we might ought to consider seeing that they do. Elsewhere there are good studies underway as well:

The people doing this kind of grunt work speak some of the same language as the local Post Carbon Institute people; but — let me know if I’m wrong — I’m seeing a divide. The goat farmers and the solar installers smell like sweat. I could be wrong, and I sincerely hope I am, but the postings I have seen on PCI sites so far smell to me more like the fabric on folding chairs.

Brad K.
5 Jul 4:27am

Risa B,

When looking into grain and bean projects, remember the major seed corps. that are requiring farmers to sign patent protection pledges/contracts as a prerequisite to getting seed next spring. Grain elevators that buy harvested grain are already forbidden, by federal law, from selling grain for seed, since some patented seed *might* have gotten intermingled. This really gripes me, since it limits the amount of seed available each season, and drastically reduces the ability to respond to rapidly changing planting season weather. That, and the prices go up. You would think seed was covered by Medicare, Part D, the way they jack up the seed prices. I expect that the protectionism and idiocy of seed patents will only get more restrictive and more expensive, rapidly.


[…] on Casaubon’s Book about Permaculture and Transition (Part 1 and Part 2). And followed to Rob’s response at Transition […]

[…] Souce: Share this: […]

Stanley Ravi
5 Jul 6:16am

Hi Rob,

I’m a Sharon fan and glued to
“The Powerdown Show”

I tried to download your presentation.
I got a zipped file with many many xml files in them, no ppts in there. Is this a possible Linux system? Can I see it in some native WinXP format?


Stanley Ravi

5 Jul 6:26am


…and your comment re beans and grains is something that I have noticed that seems to be a little “gap in the market” (well…in the thinking anyways). From what I can see – there is a lot of emphasis (and rightly so) on growing fruit and vegetables – but its grains and beans basically that literally fill our stomachs up – I, for one, want to feel convinced that my bread/pasta/porridge/rice are still going to be “on the table”…

5 Jul 6:33am


PS: Thats a nice blog you have there Risa – and I see you were “ahead of the game” there…you have gotta be the “first past the post” on seeing the potential of blogs – judging by when you made your first post on it – a farsighted person methinks.

5 Jul 10:36am

I was wondering if anyone had thoughts about the objections to TT ‘inner work’ that Sharon’s comment raised. That was what she spent the most time on.

Rob said this ‘inner work’ was crucial; Sharon replied that she gets it from her religion and doesn’t want it from TT.

I thought that was quite an important point of disagreement, and I was hoping others would chime in on it…

5 Jul 2:13pm


A couple of observations on the ‘inner’ dimension of transition. I’m involved in a Heart & Soul group as part of Transition Edinburgh. At the moment it’s one of the strongest city-wide strands of our activities. Its certainly not for everyone but for those interested few it’s become an essential part of their transitioning.
I feel very strongly that you can’t force this stuff down peoples necks, but nor can you ignore the essential inner dimension – it is absolutely a part of Transition. As you say ‘It is a matter of what is appropriate where and when’. The trick is knowing how and at what level to include it.
Transition Edinburgh are running an event in October which will attempt to draw together lots of people involved in environmental work in the city but who are not necessarily involved in Transition. The Heart & Soul group are very active in the planning for this. Our hope is that we can set the ‘tone’ for this gathering – by preparing the venue, offering quiet spaces, and by punctuating the activities with more ‘reflective’ moments. I think Heart & Soul groups can be about more than sitting in circles – they have a strong contribution to make to the unfolding ‘creative culture’ of Transition. It may not work for us at this event, but like Transition as a whole it’s a case of ‘suck it and see’!


Brad K.
5 Jul 4:51pm

Stanley Ravi, which presentation caused trouble?

I downloaded the presentation. My PowerPoint 2002 would not open it, but Imress read it readily. The only issue was with one font that I evidently don’t have, that over-ran the layout a bit. The graphs and information are all there.

Brad K.

Robin P Clarke
5 Jul 6:18pm

Some most interesting thoughts from Rob here, much wisdom, but also some not-so-wisdom.
I come from a position of finding some fundamental flaws in the TT concept, which aren’t addressed above. My article at makes a start at presenting some of them. To that I’ll add the following extra thoughts evoked by the above.

Firstly, I’m inclined to invent a new phrase parallel to “Political Correctness”. Perhaps this phrase should be “Transitional Correctness”, though I should make clear there’s no insult or fascistic imputation intended against Rob who certainly isn’t of an intolerant or domineering mindset.

I should make clear that this transitional correctness is not confined to TTers, and not necessarily all TTers will endorse it, as TT is not some exclusive centrally-enforced dogma anyway.

The key taboo of Transitional Correctness is the ruling out of the idea that the transition is going to be so difficult that many, or indeed, most people are not going to survive to see it through. Also the idea that “the community” is not going to pull together but instead is going to tear apart. It’s difficult to take seriously an Energy Descent Action Plan if like myself one has negligible confidence in those implied articles of faith.

So reading Rob’s latest from my “transitionally-INcorrect” perspective, here goes.

Good to see Rob’s very wise points about needing for testing/validation in permaculture with which I fully agree (with relief that I won’t need to work at persuading him myself anymore).

As for getting accepted into the mainstream, that’s seriously unhinged I’m afraid. Does anyone remember when the mainstream was called Naziism, with the collective genius of the community concurring in a project of showing their superiority over the ‘subhuman’ Slavs to the east? It is seriously doubtful whether the mainstream is that vastly more sensible nowadays. The mainstream suffers not merely from Transitional Correctness, but for the most part a more serious ailment we could call Transitional Denial. They’re still trying to build larger airports and cities, for hell’s sake. Getting accepted into the company of doomed dinosaurs is not my idea of worthwhile progress. They only accept you as much as they do because you tell the transitionally-correct nice story of how it can be fantasised to work out without saying anything politically-unacceptable (i.e. in violation of TC).

Only show in town. Not true. There are others who are pursuing the relocation strategy which I myself endorse at my just starting up. Not T-C of course, but that’s life.

“If we think that we are going to weather the Long Emergency without any form of supporting each other emotionally, without any kind of ability to share the distress it is causing, if we think that the work of the next 10-20 years will be purely external, we are deluding ourselves.”
But many people aren’t going to weather it, full stop. They are going to be rushed off their feet with far too much physical work, far too much learning and re-skilling, too many practical problems to be solved all at once, too little preparation. They aren’t going to have time or mental space for the luxury of inner work. Only the “hard” people are going to pull through, sadly.

Huge horrible things do happen in history. Stalingrad is just one example. Preparing for the reality is the best we can do. We can’t help everyone so there’s little point in trying.

5 Jul 9:37pm

Lots of great comments here, thanks all. Just a couple of quick responses to a couple of them….

Sharon, great response, thanks. I am particularly taken with the idea, which has got me thinking feverishly over the weekend, about what Transition trainings might look like if the inner aspects were developed with people from different faith groups, and if those elements of the trainings were based in that culture and language. Doesn’t feel like we disagreed on the need for some element of an inner aspect to the Transition training, rather on where it is coming from, how accessible it is and how comfortable it feels… thanks for that gem….

Wayne… I think you misunderstood, I use that quote from Ken Jones to refer to climate not in the atmospheric sense, that is certaintly not how Jones implied it. I added that aspect to his quote in a moment of poetic licence….

Sonya… yes, at the moment, Transition Network as an organisation that employs 4 people in our wee lofty garret in our rickety rooms in Totnes. Of course there are many many people doing work across the Network, but in terms of those of us doing that work, there are 4, although soon to grow to 7…

Robin (P.Clark)… I think we have a number of fundamental disagreements here, I really don’t see how this will unfold in the same way that you do… boils down I think to the question, is Transition about mitigation or adaptation? Can we still mitigate the kind of scenarios you are discussing, or can we only adapt to a rapid lurch into breakdown and chaos. I think we can still mitigate the kinds of scenarios you are describing, and that is, in part, what Transition seeks to do… although you clearly don’t think that is possible…

Thanks folks… great conversation.

blue overture
5 Jul 11:20pm

Dear Rob,

Your link to the power-point:


…seems to be for Mac only. Can you also provide a PC version?


Jennifer Lauruol
5 Jul 11:31pm

I would like to contribute to this interesting debate: I am one of those designers, working in the mainstream, creating the edible landscapes in housing and public spaces. Running a company on my own, with the attendant difficulties of self-finance, and getting ‘into the market’ is not easy. I have lost count of the number of unanswered letters I have sent to architects, developers and similar professionals, seeking to work together. I would welcome working with others from the design professions in Britain; I have a fair bit of experience and vision, certain skills, and would like to work as a team with those who have complementary skills and training. I am passionate about the need to be presentable to the ‘mainstream’–as my friends and colleagues know. All serious ideas and offers will be appreciated.

5 Jul 11:41pm

Just wanted to report that there is a group here in St.Paul, Minnesota – Ecological Gardens – that uses permaculture principles for landscaping and edible gardens. My daughter had them help her rip out her front lawn to plant edibles and native plants and to create a rain garden. It’s lovely.

Robin P Clarke
5 Jul 11:52pm

Rob, thanks for reply. I think you’ve identified the key issue between us:
“Can we still mitigate [to avoid] the kind of scenarios you are discussing, or can we only adapt to a rapid lurch into breakdown and chaos.”
I’ve presented some theories of why there could be an abrupt collapse, in a post at , to which I invite any suggestions of why those theories could be wrong. Of course I can appreciate that something can sometimes be wrong even though there can’t be articulated an explanation the form “This is wrong because…..”. However, I beg to suggest it’s worth a try. Beyond that there’s a second issue of my notion that contraction is unlikely to be able to happen cooperatively but would almost inevitably generate significant hostilities.
My views are not quite as black-white decisive as sometimes I clumsily present them, but my imho reckoning is still that the avoidance of such problems is unlikely, bordering on very much so.

5 Jul 11:55pm

Ok, I see we’ll have to add Rob to our lock-in debate. :-)

For about a year now, I’ve been telling Sharon (and Deanna) that one of these days, we’re going to have to lock her, Deanna Duke, and me – in a small white room; and not unlock the door until everything is settled.


I think it would really help to be able to read the other persons’ physical language. Most of the time, we abandon these discussions (which can get VERY long, and exceedingly polite, except for Deanna) at the point where everybody is thinking “I think we pretty much agree, really, sort of, except for a few things…”

I’d really like to thrash out the total details. I’m convinced it would be quite valuable. But I think that little room would be necessary.

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 12:07am

Re “Testing” of permaculture. Learning to grow food can’t be learnt from books, and not easily from doing it either, as every year and so on is different, so many variables. But you can at least make a start via your own doing operations. For instance I planted some peas on day one, then some more on day 2, at different depth and different compost. The first lot all came up, the second lot not a wisp. The simple rule is (1) do side-by-side varying comparisons like this (preferably varying only one thing unlike idiot me); and (2) make a note of what you did and what the results were (bad or good; pounds of peas per penny planted). The resulting info is valuable because it takes years to build up. No need for research grants, just basic a/b/c comparisons of one variable at a time.

6 Jul 12:24am

Robin, if I may- I agree with YOU on future probabilities; and with ROB on what to say.

One of the biggest disasters facing us as a species is – despair. It paralyzes. One of the reasons Transition succeeds so well is that it does give folks just a little hope. Here is something I can do; which just might make a difference.

TT doesn’t say catastrophic rapid collapse cannot happen- they just kind of avoid the subject. Which may be the most effective way to deal with it.

If you’re going to have a successful movement- “pure truth” of any kind, will kill it, guaranteed- you’ll just end up with a small closed group of pure fanatics. Humans don’t cope well with ugly truths; we need to hold on to an illusion or two. That’s really not cynical- it’s just plain…. truth. :-)

6 Jul 12:34am

Robin – and you’re absolutely right on testing. The problem is, it’s astoundingly hard to get neophyte growers to actually DO it.

Hard experience speaking there. I breed and sell food trees for a living- and over and over, I’ll explain to a grower that I CAN’T tell them “exactly the right way” to grow them on their land. And I’ll tell them, in detail, to “start with this; and try this2, and this3″, on small groups of the trees.

99 times out of a hundred; this is the outcome: they heard me say “I don’t know” – so they went to a neighbor who “has planted thousands of trees” (but none like mine) got his opinion; and did 100% of the planting his way. Because- they want to do the BEST they can. (and, of course, his way works very badly for my trees…)

Last year at a planting in NY I tried out a new tactic. This is what I said; “I’m serious about this. You HAVE to grow some of these trees in different ways; it’s the only way to find out. If I come back here next year— and find you’ve planted and treated all of them in the same way——— I WILL KILL YOU!!!” Shouted.

Got a good- nervous- laugh, which was the intended response. Not sure it penetrated yet, though.

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 1:42am

Greenpa–Your point about people insisting on growing their whatsits all exactly the same is a remarkably well-founded one. Even my idiotic self, after yrs of gardening, only did those peas two different ways by fluke of not getting finished the first day. Some strange maladaptive instinct may be at work. Like betting on the winner-takes-all jackpot.
As for your previous thing about “pure truth” leading to despair, I’m not so sure. Thing is that my reckoning is that very likely such despair people are going to not make it anyway. Many people do despair etc. The idea is that we have to begin by getting together those who are able to accept a grim prospect and take it from there. The alternative is planning on falsehoods which I don’t have much faith in either. Horses for courses perhaps.

6 Jul 5:40am

Oh these conversations are really interesting to read, how I wish you all lived next door to me.

I almost hope you all never agree because having the opportunity to read all your different opinions and thoughts really makes me think hard about my own situation (and have nightmares but thats another story).

Those of you/us who believe in peak everything etc, are obviously, even now, living in a parallel universe. Most of my friends and family think that this is just another odd hobby. This doesn’t fill me with glee just a realisation that “oh no, here comes yet more hard work.” And what’s worse, unlike marching for equal opportunity etc, I really understand that it might not make any blooming difference to anything in the end. From one blog to the next I don’t know whether to plan for disaster by hiding away the hari kari pills or by making friends with farming types and attending alternate currency workshops or even falling off the wagon, giving up my 30 year clean streak and taking up with the church again. Does doing one preclude me from doing the others? Does it matter?

Perhaps planning for falsehoods isn’t quite what we are doing when we use the TT prescription – We all live in completely different situations with different abilities to cope with hardship and despair and the TT model or permaculture or biodynamics or whatever we fall into, perhaps just gets us moving. I don’t know that anyone of them can get me home safe – that bit is anyones guess, but left to myself, I just don’t know where I would start……

6 Jul 7:22am

A few people have said the powerpoint didn’t work for them.. I think it might be because I inadvertantly saved it in pptx. format… sorry.. I have now redone it in the more widely readable version of Powerpoint.. check it out, I hope it works this time…

6 Jul 9:37am

Greenpa, a question about this:

TT doesn’t say catastrophic rapid collapse cannot happen- they just kind of avoid the subject. Which may be the most effective way to deal with it. If you’re going to have a successful movement- “pure truth” of any kind, will kill it, guaranteed.

I have to say I don’t feel that way. Anything other than facing as much of the real truth as I can makes me uncomfortable. Ignoring reality is what got us into this mess, culturally speaking.

Consider: what you are really saying is, let’s do this because it makes us feel good, and try not to look at the facts too closely.

But how different is that from saying, let’s pour in a huge ‘economic stimulus package’ because the idea of growth makes us feel good, and try not to look at the facts too closely (our economy is bankrupt and growth is based on oil)? How helpful are the measures being taken by governments in preparing for peak oil? Not very. And why? Because they can’t look the facts in the face.

TT is built on being able to face a future that others find it impossible to confront. The moment people in TT themselves start refusing to face the truth about the future, the movement starts to be emptied of its value. No-one appreciates the value of hope more than I do, but I think that false hope is far, far crueller in the end than none at all.

I’m not saying I agree entirely with Robin concerning the ‘collapse’, although I’ll be reading his site with interest, but as far as looking the future straight in the eye, I certainly agree. (I wonder if Robin reads people like Orlov or Greer?)

And this does relate to ‘inner work’. People think that’s this little dainty cute idea! I can’t speak about TT’s version of it (nor about Sharon’s judaism for that matter) but I know that for me ‘inner work’ is about preparing oneself so that nothing can blunt one’s spirit. It’s to be remembered, perhaps, that in the dark ages much of our culture was preserved by people in monasteries who saw the coming storm and prepared for it. To me that’s what ‘inner work’ is for — bringing out resources that will enable you to be a rock in the face of a hurricane.

Is TT prepared to be that? Or is it a excellent publicity, combined with a smiling way to take a few first steps?

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 10:12am

toni–“I just don’t know where I would start” is arguably actually a remarkably good starting point–providing you do set about moving on from there (see below). Before expanding on that I’d return to the theme of despair at a harsh message. As an atheist I think the substantially-true story (miracles excluded!) documented in the Acts of the Apostles (with the Gospels as necessary background intro) is essential reading of triumph over adversity.

The early Christians were persecuted and killed for trying to spread their pacifist ideology. We transitioners at least aren’t being threatened by anyone. In the unreassuring words of Christ: “I come not to bring peace but a “sword”: mother will be set against daughter and father against son.”….just as with your experience in your family (and me with mine). “It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle”; “Many are called but few are chosen”; “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”, and so on. Ananias and his wife collapsing dead because they had sneakily handed over somewhat less than their whole wealth to the communality of Christians (Acts 5).

My point here is that a negative message, including the understanding that one was risking one’s life (let alone career) to embrace it, did not prevent Christianity from becoming the most influential ideology in the whole of history. I think one important factor is the power of example. A person who confronts adversity with pessimism of the intellect but optimism of the emotions may inspire others to truthful progress in a way that shrinking from the grim bits may not. I think one of the most key things about Christianity was/is the extreme importance put on doggedly telling the unvarnished truth (as imagined), even at risk of one’s life (that being the only offence the Christians were martyred for).

It’s safe bet that there were a great many “other shows in town” in the decaying days of the Graeco-Roman civilisation, of which only this one that doggedly embraced grimness and perilous honesty came to be the one that made the future.

6 Jul 10:14am

As an example, there is a new comment on Sharon’s blog from someone called Clay who is certainly a TTer and I think he’s in the states. He says:

There is not going to be a gentle shift. Anyone who thinks that needs to get their head out of the clouds and their eyes back on the ball. The shift will be rocky. There will be a sudden economic collapse and a lot of chaos afterward. Preparedness for this is the MOST important thing for us to be doing…

I do agree that we will succeed much better if we understand that systemic economic collapse is approaching, and we design our efforts accordingly.

Not much sign of despair in this case; it makes me breathe a sigh of relief that someone is looking at reality. I would be much happier if this attitude were more generally evident within TT. Clay also mentions that far more outreach needs to be done, agreeing with Sharon.

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 10:50am

toni–“I just don’t know where I would start”. Best to start by evaluating evidence and options? My own case may be useful. I first learnt of “peak oil” in 2005 (mentioned at pub by J Hemming MP, of APPGOPO) but just at that moment I was engulfed in the horrendous harassment crisis documented at, and thereafter suddenly corruptly evicted from my home/garden, and eventually ended up at the top of a 20 storey council block near the city centre.

It was thus only 18 mths ago that I was able to turn my still seriously mercury-poisoned brain towards the peak oil question. It was clear that I needed to prioritise the answer to the question of whether I might need to flee from this precarious location anytime soonish. My dilemma is that in the longer term this block is going to become uninhabitable (as without leccy there is no lifts, water, ventilation or security let alone lighting); and no food growing around here. But it is meanwhile an excellent location for walking everywhere to, meeting zillions of people along the road, plus quick emergency escape to the uk’s central train station. And if I moved to rural it could be oppressively difficult without a car and driving license or much cash. And I would have lost the opportunity for easy contact with lots of people in this city.

So I applied my mind to the “will there be a collapse?” question (and have just now finished that essay thereon). Now I myself don’t have many options due to having no health/energy, no money or property to pay for my health restoration, no car, little by way of connections. Just my wits plus this opportunity location. Someone else could have many options, living in a more promising location to begin with, selling out and moving to one, etc. So they perhaps should sit down for some weeks and analyse/research/discuss the various options and the conceivable futures they may produce, and in some respects they can hedge their bets (like I’d buy a second home in the country if I had any money). Or in some cases, such as where my tenancy is located, I have to put all my committed eggs in one basket at any one time (though I can still keep an eye on rural housing options).

6 Jul 12:07pm

Essential reading on transition vs collapse is Orlov:
check out slide No. 19 of his presentation!

Rob- I think it is lazy of you to respond to the “cultish” critique of transition as being “lazy”- the cultish aspects of transition I would identify- and which are clearly an issue to many of the commentators here- are phrases that come up like “the only show in town”; an unwillingness to accept that time is too short for the kind of transition hoped for; and the inner work stuff which is clearly influenced by New Age Religion.
At its core, New Ageism believes that belief itself creates reality- just believe strongly enough and we will be ok.
I think this is a big reason why transition is so reluctant to address the Collapse scenarios, and this is at the core of many people’s discomfort with the way “inner work” is dealt with.
Obviously Transition is many-voiced, so it is really about the quality of the internal debates, but as others have pointed out, surely the one thing we must do is look the evidence squarely in the face and develop the fortitude to do this- if inner work means anything to me, this is it.

I’m afraid all this pious stuff about working more with the “faith-based community” gives me the heebee-jeebees” and sounds more and more like Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation:
Faith is the one thing that will not help us deal with what is coming down the line!

6 Jul 1:31pm

Jason; and Robin: “Consider: what you are really saying is, let’s do this because it makes us feel good, and try not to look at the facts too closely.”

No, not at all. Or at least that’s not what I was trying to say. :-)

Let me ask you this: when was the last time an entire culture changed direction; due to being logically convinced they should?

I have to say never.

My own aphorism here: “Logic is the opiate of the educated.”

Even among university faculties, trying to rule their own lives- logic takes a distant back seat to pre-existing prejudices, cultural tendencies, and plain pure animal emotions.

This is a very difficult thing for well educated and mostly rational people to fully admit and realize. But logic; powerful as it is; is a very limited tool in regard to managing people.

The basic illusion, and failure, of academics is; their core belief is that all they need to do is illuminate a problem; and show it to the world logically explained- and the problem is then solved. This is simply not so. Not ever.

Yes, this opens me to charges of pretending to an “elite” understanding of it all. So – does anyone believe that all the people in your city, or university have an equal understanding of the situation? Any situation?

Leaders need to know as much as they can; and use as much logic as they can (and every one of us is susceptible being just stupid wrong)- but you cannot use education as a tool to move the populace. It has never worked.

This is in fact a key part of the failure of permaculture; and why TT has far outpaced it in such a short time. Permaculture requires not only that you learn new stuff; but that you abandon old education and beliefs- and they’re adamant and scornful about it. TT allows folks to retain some of their cherished illusions- but still move in a coordinated direction. Permaculture wants everyone in the movement to be a “chief”; TT allows people to pick their place- you can choose to lead; or choose to follow, or anything in between.

Which is brilliant, in terms of moving people.

It’s the movement that is critical. Not the understanding.

6 Jul 2:01pm

I can’t speak for Robin, Greenpa, but I don’t think you’re answering the question I’m asking.

I’m not suggesting that the can-do-ness of TT be removed and cold logic replace it. I am suggesting (just as many have) that this can-do-ness be directed more specifically at what could possibly be the real future, which requires that one think about that future. That’s exactly what Heinberg was discussing not long ago with Rob. Nothing to do with privileging logic; everything to do with being sensible — which is something TT has always been about.

Your comments imply that, the moment people consider a scenario that is less than rosy, they lose their ability to act. But consider the comments I quoted by Clay (himself a TTer remember). No lack of ability to act there. If people were so jittery as all that, why would Rob make public his ruminations on disaster preparedness? Many of the people who read that would hardly have been “chiefs”.

I agree that moving people is what matters, but to move them in a direction which won’t eventually meet the case is hardly to accomplish anything.

There are ways to move people towards meeting a difficult future en masse that go beyond logical demonstration of the problem. This is what Sharon is trying to do by referencing war footing and using posters about victory gardens. She is recalling a time when people went through real hardship with fortitude. Human beings are very capable of gritting their teeth and getting on with it; what I’m saying is, they might have to be.

“We’ll all pull through this if we pull together,” is the message — I am only asking for a sober and realistic assessment (no more radical than Orlov‘s or Astyk‘s, and they’re not mere simplistic ‘doomers’) of what the ‘this’ in that sentence should be.

6 Jul 2:31pm

“Permaculture requires not only that you learn new stuff; but that you abandon old education and beliefs- and they’re adamant and scornful about it.”
As I understand PC from Holmgren, PC is about combining the best of the new and the traditional, but rooted in an understanding of energy flows.
Surely we have a right and necessity to reject at least one of the “old” ways- the modern faith in unending growth.
The debate between Jason and Greenpa touches on a big issue explored in Spiral Dynamics- different value groups in society need to be addressed in different ways; the failings of transition are that, in SD terminology, it is completely “Green Meme” ie only appeals to the values of the post-modern rather retro-romantic/hippyish/greeny/new age- this is a sizeable proportion of the population mind you, and quite influential, hence the rapid spread of TT, but it will have difficulty appealing to “modernist” (keep the show going/technology will save us) and “traditionalist” (family and religion are what’s important, not energy) value memes. But clearly TT is trying to reach everyone- however, I tend to agree with Robin, it is a hopeless project in todays’ fractured society in those terms. (Im not saying TT is a hopeless project per se, just that once it has reached all the Green meme, few other groups will be interested.)
I dont really buy the Spiral Dynamics theory that much any more but it does provide a useful framework for thinking about these issues of “inclusivity”.
The problem with the post-modern meme is, it views itself as the bees knees while insisting we are all equal and we must be “inclusive”- other powerful groups will certainly not agree!
That is why I think we should always stick to the evidence and only promote that- not everyone will accept that either, but any other approach just invites people to believe whatever they want.

“This is what Sharon is trying to do by referencing war footing and using posters about victory gardens. She is recalling a time when people went through real hardship with fortitude. Human beings are very capable of gritting their teeth and getting on with it; what I’m saying is, they might have to be.”
These Dig for Victory posters have long been used in Peak Oil presentations, including mine and Rob’s. But there are significant differences between peak oil now and war time 50 years ago- peak oil and climate change are much harder to perceive as threats than Hitler was; and society is far more fractured than it was then.

6 Jul 2:36pm

Graham, a couple of thoughts. Firstly, “faith is the one thing that will not help us deal with what is coming down the line”. As fascinating observation, but, to my thinking, complete nonsense, and a somewhat dangerous perspective. I understand where you are coming from, that religion is not based on science, that it is irrational, ‘The God Delusion’ etc. etc. That is as maybe.

However,there are many many people around the world in crisis right now, whether it be through illness, war or whatever, for whom their faith is one of the key things that gets them through, logical or not. Of course one can construct an intellectual argument that says that we should be aiming to move people away from that, but there is, I would suggest, a deep arrogance to that.

It is like the people who say Transition cannot do anything meaningful until it has first got rid of capitalism, or debt-based growth, or globalisation. I would argue we have to work with who we have around us, wherever we are. In my community are people of a range of faiths, including some of a range of perspectives you somewhat clumsily lump together as “New Age Religion” (given that there is not actually anything that calls itself that, it is always going to be a false construct into which the person using it will lob anything they personally feel to be irrational, daft or threatening). Is it a tenable perspective to suggest that we only work with and engage those that have renounced any world view based on anything other than rational science? Of course not.

If we manage to catalyse a community response to peak oil and climate change it will be just that, a community response, with input and ownership from people of every perspective, faith or religion. I will have to be just as willing to work with and engage with people who hold your worldview as with people who believe in God, Buddha or earth devas. It may give you the ‘heebee-jeebies’, but the alternative is, I presume, shunning the involvement of anyone who doesn’t agree with you, or some kind of mass ‘God Delusion’ public re-education programme.

Also, with regards to your ‘cult’ thoughts, I have not met anyone in Transition who refers to it as ‘the only show in town’, that phrase came from Sharon’s piece, not mine. In terms of Transition being ‘reluctant to address collapse scenarios’, I think you will find that in the Transition Training, and in the workshops we did recently with local authorities, we used Holmgren’s 4 scenarios and really went into each of them. However, I do feel that by definition, Transition focuses more on a successful energy descent pathway, and how to bring that about, rather than assuming that collapse is inevitable, as Robin Clark argues above.

Sharon Astyk
6 Jul 2:37pm

Rob, thanks for the great reply (and everyone, thanks for the great replies). And yes, that’s just one of the reasons I think talking to the religious communities is so important on their terms – and also because I honestly think that a lot of the nuts and bolts work is being done there, at least in the US – the food pantries, the recognizing of basic lifecycle events, the burying, the helping people through end of life and grief issues.

On the subject of testing, I really like Brad’s idea of the county fair model for some purposes – actually, Transition fairs isn’t a bad thought at all, particularly here in the US where many ag fairs have turned into mostly carnivals – there is an existing infrastructure that might be utilized. What a terrific idea.

Also re:testing, one concern I have in regards to the data that comes out of Totnes is (and I hope you will take this as I intend it, not as a criticism but praise of you) that I wonder if they have adequately compensate for the “Rob factor” (a term I’ve just now made up, but am going to have to popularize ;-)). That is, it is absolutely obvious that where you live – Kinsale or Totnes or wherever, you are going to transform that place. It is also obvious that you can extend that power out a good bit – but the question of how much of what gets accomplished in Totnes or its immediate area, where people can hear you speak, meet you, and see the influence you have is applicable to places without (forgive the term) a charismatic leader.

I personally think that the right leader can say just about anything – bad stuff, good stuff, hard stuff – and make change. I’m not implying a cult of personality here, merely that leadership alone explains a lot. I actually think this is enormously important – that is, I think literal revolutions could happen with the right front people, and it is obvious, Rob that (and plenty of respect to everyone else doing the work) that you are able to do that. But it also has another side – one finds out how much the direct leadership is necessary when things are translated far away.

Me, I’m on a hunt for our Nyerere, King, Sam Adams, Jean D’Arc… some of the analogies are better than others, of course. Personally, I think that’s going to be necessary if many of the rather difficult things are actually dealt with. Rob, I hate to tell you, but you are on my short list ;-).


6 Jul 2:48pm


These Dig for Victory posters have long been used in Peak Oil presentations, including mine and Rob’s.


I brought this in to answer Greenpa who believes that anyone trying to tell the truth won’t move people to act.

The fact that Sharon uses that same material, but still asks so many hard questions of TT gives the lie to that idea. One can understand the need to move people without giving up on telling them some difficult truths. Personally I think they appreciate being looked in the eye sometimes.

peak oil and climate change are much harder to perceive as threats than Hitler was.

Absolutely; I don’t pretend the task is easy.

As far as the demographic ideas you bring up, I of course know what you are saying. I’m not sure I agree completely with pre-judging who will listen and who won’t though. I’d like to hear other views on that.

I’m not saying you’re outright wrong, but let’s not forget just how deeply the Peak Oil story has gone inside the BNP, for example. Stereotypical Green meme? Hardly! So perhaps it’s a question of how you speak to whom. I thought Sharon‘s point was really all about that.

I’ll shut up now!

Brad K.
6 Jul 2:49pm

Reading Sharon and Rob’s articles, and especially the comments here, it seems that Permaculture and Transition have grown and even flourished in some locales and in some communities – because they are non-threatening. The richness of available cheap energy resources, the limited scope of current and past efforts don’t challenge the wide world to accomodate, or to think, or to plan about what followers of Permaculture and Tradition do or say.

Tolerance is accorded because few resources have been diverted or requested. Tolerance exists because the relatively quiet claims of impending shortage and collapse sound almost like other “end of the world” proclamations, so they don’t jar communities. Tolerance because the shortages predicted seem far-fetched in the midst of apparent sufficiency.

This tolerance, this almost-indifference, could end, though. Transition, localizing food supplies and local manufactures and production currently divert miniscule amounts of resources of growing ground, of talents and skills, of community attention.

When the Long Emergency comes home to roost, and resources start getting scarce, I expect that the responses will start with one or more of several reactions. 1) Communities will see that traditional production and growing techniques aren’t meeting expectations – and anyone diverting energy and attention from commercial ag and production resources will be confiscated by those with the most to lose. 2) Communities will notice that Permaculture and Transition resources are providing needed resources – and will begin confiscating the fruits of preparation, while hindering or destroying the ability to continue developing an alternate economy. 3) Preparedness will be seen as offering a proven, reasonable approach to adapt and weather the storm, and communities will adapt to the permaculture and Transition principles and practices. 4) Charismatic leaders, looking to make use of any crisis, will identify permaculture and Transition as a new source of leadership – and charge them with subversion, witchcraft/devil worship, and attempt to build personal power by attacking any vulnerable figurehead.

I am thinking of the Amish communities in America. Starting as the European Anabaptist movement, they followed a philosophy of caring for the Earth and staking their beliefs on caring for the soil. The improved farming methods they followed led to today’s world agriculture movement. Today we consider crop rotation and fertilizing simple and basic growing and animal husbandry. But the Anabaptists farms showed such marked improvements in production that local leaders branded them witches and warlocks and persecuted the ones they didn’t kill outright until the remainder fled Europe.

Without the Anabaptists and their innovations in farming, much more of the world would have starved and be starving today. Yet the descendants, the Amish and Mennonite communities, no longer exist on their home continent, and they survive mostly because of self-imposed isolation.

From what I have seen, permaculture and Transition projects and leaders have been free and open, publishing results, plans, and rationales for surviving and thriving in a changed world and changed economy. But it seems that the organizations and communities putting their efforts forward now must choose.

Will the work be seen as the publications and information that is shared with the world, or as the resources developed and husbanded for themselves and their families? Because if history is the guide, it looks like having conspicuous resources makes one a target more often than a leader and provider.

I see references to placing land for food production in national trusts, and wonder. When the nation starts scrounging for resources, why do you trust them to honor pledges on how that land is to be used? When it comes to “hard choices” that usually means that someone’s trust is to be broken. When thousands or millions see productive gardens and fields, will the government protect the grower and the field, or just be slow in keeping marauders from plundering in the name of feeding their families?

I may be chasing phantom worries, I know. Do I think that every locale will react the same violent way? Nope. But I sure think that some communities and scalawags and corrupt officials and latent barbarians will. And I think that community outreach and Transition security issue planning should be a bit more prominent in preparation for the Long Emergency.

6 Jul 2:54pm

Jason- “I agree that moving people is what matters, but to move them in a direction which won’t eventually meet the case is hardly to accomplish anything.”

I think if you and I were put into that locked white room, we would find we are in substantial agreement.

My own prejudice is: getting a mass of people to MOVE, is the overwhelming first need. More important; VASTLY more important, than having a correct destination.

A group not moving; is a guaranteed failure. A group that is moving- can be redirected; slowly.

Over on The Automatic Earth, Stoneleigh and I talk about “herd dynamics” from a biological perspective. That metaphor, though rude and abrasive, is probably the quickest way to understand human mass behavior. And it is NOT easy to comprehend.

My opinion; get the herd moving, first. And gathering. Then you can turn it. A herd not moving … is going nowhere.

Once the herd is moving, I’ll be right there working to turn it in the best directions we can. But. Move, and gather, first.

Sharon; yeah, he’s on my short list too. :-)

6 Jul 2:57pm

And; re the value of war for uniting people to struggle to the maximum: yes. And- exactly how many people involved in actually fighting- knew the real truth about why the war was being fought?

If you think the American Civil War was fought to abolish slavery- wow. Not hardly. But- the belief that it was- was critical.

It’s not pretty; but it’s reality.

6 Jul 2:58pm

Oh and one other thing, just saw your statement Graham that Transition, in Spiral Dynamics terms, JUST appeals to green meme people. I disagree. In fact in Totnes, many of the most extreme ‘green meme’ people actually don’t engage with TTT because we are seen as too straight, too structured, too organised, and because we don’t take a strong stand on a range of more left-field issues. My experience is that we have some green meme folks, sure, but also some from quite a few of the other groups too. For someone so dedicated to only making statements based on researched reality, that feels rather like a statement plucked from the sky in order to prove your point, rather than something that is in any sense a statement of fact! It is certainly not my experience.

6 Jul 3:00pm

Incidentally, Sharon and Rob; you are two of the few people who know who I am IRL. If that’s useful. :-)

6 Jul 3:06pm

Rob: “JUST appeals to green meme people. I disagree.”

Me too. It’s your ability to engage plain folks that has most deeply impressed me. And get folks from different backgrounds to ignore their differences.

Incidentally, I’m not just talking theory; 25 years ago I founded a non-profit conservation organization which is now still on track, and one of the top 10% of such organizations in the US, in terms of budget and membership. I quit running it 15 years ago.

And NOBODY would ever think of mentioning politics or religion in one of it’s meetings or activities. I set that up. Consequently, we have people from the entire human spectrum working hard together; and delighted with it. It’s a relief to have one place where you know none of the nonsense will arise; and you can just work together.

That’s what TT is trying to do, too.

[…] over Sharon Astyk’s posts (I & II) on Permaculture and Transition, Rob Hopkins’s response, and a wild flurry of e-mails, I was out planting and harvesting. So were Sharon and Rob, I expect. […]

Sharon Astyk
6 Jul 4:25pm

One more observation, and then I’ll stop. When I said I was lazy, I was not exaggerating, or begging people to contradict me, I was quite serious. I like the work I do on this – I like writing books in my pajamas and arguing on the internet, I like farming and playing with my kids. I like teaching, I like giving talks, and meeting people.

But what I dislike is the travel and the time away from my children. I dislike anything that makes it hard for me to run my farm – and the speaking engagements I do, even if valuable, are tough to mix in with the agricultural work and the reality of young kids and daily milking and weeds that grow up overnight. I dislike being away from home at meetings at night, rather than knitting on the couch with my husband. I dislike being politic ;-), I dislike the bread and butter work of organization and soothing egos. And yet, at this stage, that is probably the single most important work that can be done. Writing is easy – it is quiet in my room and in my head.

But we need meetings, and people to sit on the municipal water board, and show up for the neighborhood meetings, and organize them even when almost no one shows up, and do the work of telling people who don’t do things well independently how to put together a community. And, frankly, I hate doing that stuff – it is incompatible with the daily life I want to live. That said, I’m not clear that some sacrifice is not called for on my part.

My fear about transition is that the municipal level may be too large, particularly if the structure isn’t as inclusive as possible. In the US during WWII, this was proved to be the case for things like implementing rationing – inititally municipal structures were used, but they weren’t getting to everyone, so they started making more use of existing infrastructure – ie, women’s groups, churches, ptas, etc… but also the idea of block captains was needed – people already living in their neighborhood who could go door to door, and engage the neighbors.

For some time, I’ve been wondering if it was necessary to create a complementary or supplementary organizational structure that worked at the neighborhood level, where I’ve done a lot of my organizing work. It is possible such a thing could be incorporated into Transition, or could be independent of it, without doing any real harm – obviously, I have no wish to undermine municipal level actions. And the more I think about it, the more I suspect it is truly necessary – what balks me is this. I don’t want to go to meetings. I don’t want to have to travel all the time to train others. I don’t want to do the work. I know I can – and I suspect I can make it work. But I’m afraid of the personal cost – and what I do is already tougher on my husband than I want, and takes me away from my family more than I like, and makes it harder to turn the farm into what I want. But then, I wonder how much of what I want I’m entitled to, and how much I’m obligated to others. Not something with a simple answer.

All of which is just a long way of saying that I hold Rob and his organization in the highest esteem – and my esteem is not something I give out casually. My criticisms are serious, but I also know that I am criticizing people who have already done things I have balked at, and who are acting with great honor and commitment in a time of great need. So I do mean it when I say, I’m lazy, and there is nothing perfunctory about my praise of Rob or Transition. If I have not made that clear, I hope it is now.


6 Jul 5:25pm


“For someone so dedicated to only making statements based on researched reality, that feels rather like a statement plucked from the sky in order to prove your point, rather than something that is in any sense a statement of fact!”

Well it certainly wasnt based on empirical evidence!- but would be very interesting to actually have some of the same (perhaps that is part of your research in Totnes…)
I was really speculating as to why there is such apparent discomfort amongst several of the commentators here and on Sharon’s blog re the touchy-feely stuff- and why this might be alienating and therefore working against the “bring everyone on board” aims.
Of course I accept that TT has wide appeal- but that is only part of its success; I still think it is mainly “Green” in its underlying ideology, and there is an important critique here (not coming only from me ) of the “lets make it positive” stance of TT.
Re Faith- “there are many many people around the world in crisis right now, whether it be through illness, war or whatever, for whom their faith is one of the key things that gets them through, logical or not.”
OK my turn to ask for evidence and definitions: What does “get them through” mean? There are also lots of people for whom faith does not help a jot, and leads them astray, precisely because it is not based on anything real.
As a rationalist, I often wonder how many of them have tried the alternative,-critical inquiry and evidence based approaches. I feel these are often culturally marginalized – your comments regarding the “arrogance” to question faith I feel in turn is deeply troubling- it then becomes almost a freedom of expression issue, we are told “we must respect all beliefs” etc which is impossible- so how do we know which ones to respect and which not?
Within the secular community this is of course a massive issue which has been extensively debated-
there are many very good arguments against the idea that faith is better than the informed ability to think critically about life.
Faith tends to suggest that morality is a given in some mysterious way and holds us back from becoming our own moral philosophers; but the upshot is, I feel on balance faith -and especially what you are purporting, a sort of “belief in belief” or “faith in faith” that by its nature should not be questioned- is far more damaging than simply looking once again at the evidence. (Yes, the way this is done is important, but not the main issue).
The difficulty I have with your stance is that it is not as inclusive as it claims- my position for example is clearly not respected in the way a “person of faith’s” would be! An irreconcilable dilemma.
I’d be afraid it would lead to something like this:
“Let’s widen the net and try to appeal to more Muslims… Jews… the Buddhists.. the Fundamentalist Christians… the Climate Change Deniers… the Endless Growth crowd… the secular humanists…oh no we dont want them. They challenge people’s faith, and we wont tolerate THAT.”
You see, you have to draw the line somewhere, there is just no way out!

6 Jul 5:28pm

Great discussion.

I wholeheartedly agree with Sharon that whilst circles work wonders from some they are not the only path.

I have also met lots of people who do not like them (was just talking about it this morning actually – am currently at Sieben Linden Ecovillage in Germany where we’re having circles in the morning, before every meal and in the evening).

Personally I don’t mind circles, but they don’t do much for me either and sometimes I do mildly resent the implicit peer pressure to participate when I’m not in the mood.


Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 5:45pm

Graham wrote: but it will have difficulty appealing to “modernist” (keep the show going/technology will save us) and “traditionalist” (family and religion are what’s important, not energy) value memes.
Not just difficulty but daunting difficulty supplanting existing paradigms such as this. I think Greenpa et al, like so many, vastly underestimate the difficulty of making more than a small dent in public awareness via campaigning. John Tyme’s “Motorways versus Democracy” was published in 1974 after two decades of motorway building. Great books such as the Limits to Growth came out about that same time. In 1978 I turned down an invite to join the Ecology, now Green Party because I didn’t think it could succeed. 31 years later (for sod’s sake!) there has never been a green govt anywhere in the world and the uk govt is still obsessed with more growth, airports, motorways. The green mission is coming to an end not because it has succeeded but because it has now failed and growthism has finally crashed into those long-forseen Limits to Growth. And the greens were preaching a more saleable future than one of enforced contraction evermore.

For these reasons the idea of mobilising sufficient masses to sufficiently transition any localities looks unlikely. Rob has inspired thousands, perhaps millions of people with his project; the problem is that he will have needed to inspire nearer billions within a few years. I don’t want to insist that some adaptive process could not possibly unfold in the way Rob et al envisage. I just don’t have enough confidence of it at the moment so am thinking towards less ideal but potentially more achievable goals, in terms of getting at least those prepared to believe and act in time on board a survival vessel. [and by the way Rob, my name has an e after the k!–Robin P Clarke]
PS–Rob rightly rejects the “cult” label “lazily”; there is no harsh pressure, or imposed rigid dogma, or leader-infallibility as befits a genuine cult.

6 Jul 6:46pm

Robin: read this, and tell me if you still think I underestimate the difficulties. There are several other posts on my blog on this subject; just search on “pushing on icebergs”.

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 6:57pm

Greenpa–I agree with the point that pushing an iceberg makes it move. But that page makes no impression against the points I’ve put above. Remember more than 30 years of that vast green party and FoE campaigning ends in the govts still trying to build roads into the twilight of the oil-gods, just like the easter island logger loonies. And we have a lot less than 30 years, be lucky to have 3 months what with California right now defaulting on its debts.

6 Jul 7:09pm

Ok, Robin; into the white room with you! :-)

I’m quite certain we’re actually on the same side here- our goals are very similar; what we’re disagreeing about is how to get there- and there we’d need some long talks to sort out the tangles.

The examples you give do not persuade me; the Green parties have always been highly divisive and confrontational; TT is not. Likewise FoE- even their acronym translates as “up yours!”

TT is possibly at the inflection point of asymptotic growth- the signs are there. It takes time- whether you have time, or not. Makes no difference what the deadlines are; some things cannot be speeded up.

Likewise the gov’t sticking in it’s long established tracks- that is business as usual for humanity. As Max Planck put it long ago “Science moves forward one funeral at a time.” Or words to that effect. Society changes in much the same way.

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 7:18pm

Greenpa–I agree we’re on the same side disagreeing about the routemap. But if we enter that white room we’ll be there till we die. I can’t see how anything more I say will make any difference, and I can’t believe you are going to change my mind either. So best option seems to be if we allow this issue a few days brain-tweaking time, or perhaps a few decades….. (..)

6 Jul 7:47pm

WHEW!!!!!! Wow – one heck of a debate going on here…and my personal feeling is that its one VERY constructive one.

Greenpa – I tend to agree with your comment about getting people into a room together literally and then see what happens……so – for what its worth – Sharon and Rob you are both invited, should you decide to, to spend a week here chez ceridwen in England – because you have probably both realized by now that there are a few very fundamental points on which I disagree very strongly with you both personally and I’m not the “intellectual” you both are….BUT….if you both want a mattress at the same time in “the real world” in my teensy home to meet up physically…I’m up to facilitate that…you could both be guests here chez ceridwen for a week and well – see what happens…but I think you both have a very useful “strand of thought” to put into this…

..oh boy…what might I have let myself in for….3 strong characters in one little home…but…its an offer for you both…

Yep…I mean it…I’m serious…..

Robin P Clarke
6 Jul 7:48pm

Greenpa–It takes time- whether you have time, or not. Makes no difference what the deadlines are; some things cannot be speeded up.
So let’s supposed we’re on the Titanic just as the iceberg hits and we apply this principle. We set up a Titanic damage crisis group, and arrange monthly meetings like Transition City Birmingham are doing. I jumped off their ship a year ago, frustrated that my attempts to set up a steering group and establish things like a constitution and the basic point that there should be less than two treasurers, were being sent round in circles by wanton disregard of my efforts, being undermined by insistent needless re-inventing of square wheels such as “joint treasurers” instead. A year later they are still trying to decide whether to set up a steering group.
I think we’re on the same side, but probably on different planets.

6 Jul 8:11pm

Graham — concerning, rationality vs. faith, I wondered if you had made the acquaintance of the good Archdruid, John Michael Greer? You never met a more rationally inclined man, yet he is… well… an Archdruid. I think he’d tell you that the rationality/faith dichotomy is a little false, or anyway, not necessary.

I agree with Josef when he says simply:

whilst circles work wonders from some they are not the only path. I have also met lots of people who do not like them… personally I don’t mind circles, but they don’t do much for me either.

Like I say, I speak as a man who ‘meditates’ alot and who might well be considered ‘New Age’ (assuming the phrase means anything) by some. My reaction to the spiritual side of TT is, blah. I’m like Sharon in that I already know what works for me.

Personally, I would also have a think about whether you want to be associated with ‘New Age’ stuff (or even Buddhism which Joanna Macy strongly is BTW) before you start reaching out to faith groups…

Sharon Astyk
6 Jul 8:54pm

Graham, I have no problem with the idea that athiests, agnostics and religious rationalists (not all religious people are theists, nor do all religious people have “faiths” that include a meaningful component of faith, actually) ought also be taken into account in our adaptive strategies.

As for trying it – I know few really religious people who haven’t experience with athiesm. I’m sure there are some who don’t, but I don’t think it is a majority experience – how could it be, if you are a reasonably thoughtful person who has reasonably thoughtful considerations of the qusetion of G-d? The reality is that more people go through atheism and come out at faith than vice versa – and far more in times of difficulty. To some, I’m sure this looks like an irrational strategy, or an inability to tolerate the truth. To others it will look different.


6 Jul 9:59pm

Nice piece, Rob.

I can highly recommend this inspiring TED talk on replanting a destroyed rainforest in Indonesia.

It’s very meticulously carried out with great scientific rigour of measurement, transparency, and experimentation.

TTN seem to have realised that it’s time for the next phase in the growth of transition. This is no longer a child where a few people are able to look after it, encourage it, and help it walk. It’s now nearing its teens and needs space, increasing autonomy, and to be treated more maturely. In another 10-20 years it will probably become a quite mundane adult which isn’t very excited at all, and just the way we do things because it’s the smart thing to do.

Hopefully the doubling in staff will help with the plan to document more, share more knowledge, measure and learn more, and grow more broadly and more deeply.

Exciting times!

Brad K.
6 Jul 10:47pm

I like Sharon’s neighbor level approach. Some suburbs now include a whole development for seniors. No one changed national priorities, no one made cities set aside resources for senior living and recreation. Yet Sun City and others have been helpful for their residents.

The Salvation Army makes a difference in lots of people’s lives. Yet their community interactions are often fluff stuff – United Way campaigns, some parades and fund raisers, the thrift stores and kettle and bell ringers at Christmas. The Amish are quite active in avoiding encroachment of the “English”.

Sharon’s approach has always intimated an interlocked and neighborly community or neighborhood, in her writings on Casaubon’s Book. It seems this type of approach has the best likelihood of prepared and preparing groups able to support each other. As each member prepares, the group has more resilient resources. Any time before the Long Emergency collapses merely improves the resources of the group, and improves the likelihood of spawning new groups and neighborhoods through example and through personal contact.

I would be leery, frankly, of community level localized food and other production, unless the entire community and surrounding communities are all deeply invested in preparedness – otherwise the food and other assets become targets for the unscrupulous and politicians. (Oops, I repeated myself. Sorry.)

Neighborhoods actively preparing, and disbursing and storing produce from community and personal gardens present much less risk from outside raiders, depending on circumstances.

Neighborhoods will be much more able to stay below the radar than self-promoting communities and towns. You might consider rating neighborhoods by growth, membership, and preparation levels, and facilitate communication between groups. Then check to see what direction of interest and adapting best serves those involved.

[…] to connect with the mainstream population (part one here; part two here). Hopkins replied with a very civil post, and as of this writing there have been 72 comments to Hopkins’ reply. My guess is this […]

[…] From author Sharon Astyk, we have Permaculture Future?: Part I and Permaculture Future? Part II. And then from Rob Hopkins from Transition Culture, we have Responding to Sharon Astyk on Permaculture and Transition. […]

Sarah Edwards
7 Jul 7:51pm

Has anyone been able to access the speech Rob linked to in this excellent exegesis? He referenced it as a speech he gave for a large developer there in UK. I’m a US Transition Trainer and throught a referral from the US Transitions office I had the opportunity to do a presentation for developers and planners who are part of a large national think tank for US developers. I would very much like to view and hoepfully refer them to Rob’s speech and continue our dialog with them. If you have been able to access this presentation please let me know at All I get are files of html code.
Thank you.

7 Jul 7:58pm


“Graham, I have no problem with the idea that athiests, agnostics and religious rationalists (not all religious people are theists, nor do all religious people have “faiths” that include a meaningful component of faith, actually) ought also be taken into account in our adaptive strategies.”

That’s an interesting observation! Does it mean that not everyone who is part of a church or religious organization actually has faith or belief in what that church professes to believe?
I think this is very likely- that many “religious” groups are in fact secular traditions, who happen to share group practices in order to be part of a community. I think this may be true of lots of “religious” people who do actually profess a faith as well, even though they are primarily motivated by the benefits of belonging to a community.
I should also stress here, that I have no problem working with faith groups or anyone else either for that matter; and Im certainly not trying to stop anyone from doing so.
Nevertheless, it is still worth making the point that faith -the belief in something despite the (absence of) evidence- is one of the great evils of humanity. The metaphysical claims of all religions are false. How can I be so sure? Because I don’t know, and neither you (nor anyone else) has privileged access to supernatural information that I dont have. (Also of course, there are many different faiths, and it is absolutely not true to claim they are all compatible and can get along as happy families- but they cant all be true so how do we choose?)
A good example of the evils of faith I think is Tony Blair, who insists that it was his faith that lead him to pursue the invasion of Iraq- despite what everyone else was telling him, ie he preferre3d to listen to his imaginary friend in the sky (or wherever).
The problem with post-modern political correctness and “inclusiveness” is that what I’ve just said is considered unacceptable- you can’t say that! Arrogance! Which is why it is very hard to have a decent conversation about this very important issue.
Rob provides a very good example of this- but what does he mean when he says it is “dangerous”- it sounds vaguely menacing.
Obviously it can be very dangerous to have deluded beliefs- they might make you do things that really are not good, and prevent you from thinking for yourself.
Thus in response to Rob’s defense of “faith” as something that helps people “get through” I would say this also:
many, many people- perhaps the majority- have “faith” that growth will return; that climate change might not be so bad, or may be a hoax; that renewables will fill the gap;that new sources of oil will be found; that aliens will come and save us; that we live in an intelligent and caring universe that has human’s best interests at heart.
All of these “faiths” may lead people to avoid making the adaptations that we are all talking about; but the point I want to make is, it is these beliefs that help people cope, even though they are false! Transition is all about challenging those beliefs (apart from the last two); why does Rob not consider this “dangerous”- Rob you are taking away from people their faith, the one thing that keeps them going through the day, with all your talk about peak oil and climate change!

Sharon: “The reality is that more people go through atheism and come out at faith than vice versa – and far more in times of difficulty.”

Have you any data on this? Im not saying you are wrong, but it may not be quite as straightforward as you suggest. What faiths? Under what kind of circumstances? Doesnt it depend on what else may be available? Haven’ t we already agreed that it is not faith vs. atheism, but the benefits of a strong community?
However, there are good and bad things about being part of a community, especially a faith-based one (even if many practitioners are really closet atheists)- it may be difficult to challenge the status quo, there can be a suppression of debate and openness about what people really believe, or what they are permitted to believe to remain a valid member of the community.
But I think you are implying something else: that because more people move from atheism to faith than the reverse, that in some way this is evidence of the validity of faith- (it isnt);
or that this is a good thing- thank goodness for faith! Of course, you havent forgotten that in times of crisis, there can also be a substantial movement towards far right groups, who can also be very good at providing that sense of belonging and community. Aren’t they voting with their feet?
And this is the great weakness of secular culture- it has been very bad at providing a decent alternative to the community that a church can provide, but I dont think this need always be the case, in fact Transition could be very well placed to provide such a secular alternative, but not if it is unfriendly to honest discussion about the problems with “faith”.

Jason- no I havn’t met John Michael Greer but I enjoy reading him, and have reviewed his book here:
Like Rob, Mr. Greer seems to be arbitrarily selective about what he chooses to apply the rational approach to- and I certainly take issue with that.

7 Jul 10:07pm

Graham, when Sharon said: ‘not all religious people are theists, nor do all religious people have “faiths” that include a meaningful component of faith, actually’ — I suspect she didn’t what you thought she meant.

I recently met a logic professor who ‘believes in God’ simply because of what is called the ‘cosmological argument’, for example. In other words he believes in God because logic, to his mind, compels him to do so. Or, some Buddhist sects require a belief in the possibility of enlightenment but not in any form of deity.

There are many other examples; the subject is far from being a simple one! But surely you realize it’s too big to fit into the current conversation? The philosophical literature is full to bursting on such points, and they are argued in many places online right now too for that matter.

If you don’t know the arguments, perhaps you would enjoy discovering them. I don’t think you’ll find it at all hard to have a ‘decent conversation’ on this most-discussed of questions, if you are prepared to think carefully. On the other hand, if you have already investigated — you know there is more to the topic than this page will hold.

I suggest you could raise the question on your own blog. The answers you get might be interesting. And if you want to take issue personally with Greer about whether his faiths (he has a few different ones) are compatible with rationality, I can assure you he will provide you with some interesting arguments too.

Anyway, what strong feelings can be aroused, even in very ‘rational’ people, by these topics! That’s why I believe Sharon is correct that leaving the ‘inner work’ of TT more open is a good idea. Prescribing it is limiting and someone will always be put off.

Robin P Clarke
7 Jul 10:44pm

Graham: A good example of the evils of faith I think is Tony Blair, who insists that it was his faith that lead him to pursue the invasion of Iraq- despite what everyone else was telling him, ie he preferred to listen to his imaginary friend in the sky
And you believed what the liar said about himself?! Blair peculiarly waited till his “retirement” before “~becoming a Catholic~”…. because he knew that if he’d “~become a Catholic~” before the Iraq invasion he’d have had the Pope condemning him in a seriously politically “embarrassing” scene. Evil men have never needed gods to justify their crimes, Stalin and Mao for a start. Christianity has been abused by rationalising crooks since at least the time of Constantine.
Like Rob, Mr. Greer seems to be arbitrarily selective
We have to work with the flawed people we have, including the flawed leaders we have.
Sharon: “The reality is that more people go through atheism and come out at faith than vice versa – and far more in times of difficulty.”
Both my parents converted to theism in the 1940, and their 5 children all converted back to the atheism of their grandparents. In my view traumatic contexts such as wars strain people’s capacities for hope and vision and overwhelm their ability to plan rationally, hence resorting to rationalising reassurances instead. We’ll see a lot of that. I believe in One Rob, the etc.

Nick Vowles
8 Jul 7:50am

I have never experienced or preached the chicken greenhouse idea prefering to teach about what I have experienced and has worked.I feel a bit of a fraud trying to teach things I have not seen working myself.
I see this as the point of the LAND project being set up by the permaculture association. A network of locations practicing permacuture which can actively show it’s ethics and principles in action, all recording and sharing results of research they are undertaking.

8 Jul 9:41am


“I recently met a logic professor who ‘believes in God’ simply because of what is called the ‘cosmological argument’, for example. In other words he believes in God because logic, to his mind, compels him to do so. Or, some Buddhist sects require a belief in the possibility of enlightenment but not in any form of deity.”

People believe all sorts of things, but I feel we should encourage critical approach to all these beliefs- if there is no evidence for them, why believe them? What do you think?

“I suggest you could raise the question on your own blog. The answers you get might be interesting. And if you want to take issue personally with Greer about whether his faiths (he has a few different ones) are compatible with rationality, I can assure you he will provide you with some interesting arguments too.”

Thanks for the suggestion, yes I have investigated this topic lots, and cover it loads on zone5. I am always interested to hear new perspectives, but as I say I have read Greer and I doubt he has anything radically different to add to the epistemology: he makes the same basic mistake of many of the faithful in naming Dawkin’s atheism “anthropolatry” when in fact the reverse is true: most (all?) positions of faith come from a desire to feel there is a conscious caring universe that is here primarily for us hairless apes. Unfortunately there is no evidence for this, but there is a growing body of evidence and theory that explains why we are predisposed to believe these things. This may be of interest:,3779,Why-We-Believe-in-Gods—Dr-Andy-Thomson—American-Atheists-09,Andy-Thomson

“Anyway, what strong feelings can be aroused, even in very ‘rational’ people, by these topics!”

Don’t you think rational people can be passionate?!
But while you say this topic is “too big” for this forum you havnt addressed my main point to Sharon and Rob, which is that “faith” takes many forms, including “climate change denial” “peak oil denial” faith in technology, the march of progress etc- and challenging those faiths is surely a fundamental part of what transition is all about.


“And you believed what the liar said about himself?! ”

Well, I don’t know- that is one of the points I was making- that just because someone professes a belief does not mean they actually believe it.
The point about Blair is that “faith” has always been used as a way of manipulation by the powerful; rulers may not wish to have a population of critical thinkers, but might find it easier to control those who see irrational belief as a virtue. That is why i take such strong issue with Rob’s “defender of the faithful” position- I hope we won’t be seeing a “Rob Hopkins Faith Foundation” !!
Re Stalin etc- though an atheist he was quite willing to use the population’s unquestioning faith and the power of the church for reasons of control.

Robin P Clarke
8 Jul 10:10am

Graham, My own reckoning is that the only reason why Rob is keen to be “defender of the faithful” is that he comes from a background of leftish cultural relativity (and the associated false concept of “inclusiveness”) and has merely not got round to questioning those orthodoxies. And I’d further reckon that a “Rob Hopkins Faith Foundation” is unlikely to get established while Rob is still around to oppose it. (Was only joking about the “One Rob”.) Though one should always be on the lookout for suchlike.

8 Jul 10:57am

If TT people are into bashing people of faith then you are going to lose a lot of potential allies. There is a creation spirituality building up in many faith communities and we need their input as much as anyone elses. Please regard everyone’s contribution as valuable and let us be ready to learn from each other.

8 Jul 11:18am


People believe all sorts of things, but I feel we should encourage critical approach to all these beliefs- if there is no evidence for them, why believe them? What do you think?

In order to be able to encourage that approach, you must be in a position to have a conversation. And personally, I approach these conversations from the position that a person of intelligence will have thought-through reasons for believing what they believe.

For example, my point in bringing up my professor friend was that he considers logical argument to be, precisely, ‘evidence’. But if you want to debate him, I’ll give you his name and email! As I say I don’t think it’s relevant to this page and I’ve argued that below.

What I’m delighted to read is this part:

I am always interested to hear new perspectives

… because there has been a slight contradiction for me, in what you’re saying. On the one hand you want a ‘decent conversation’ — but on the other, you clearly believe not only that your view is the only possible correct one, but that those who hold another one deserve (either potentially or actually) to be called stupid, untrustworthy, flawed, and evil.

I understand your frustration that (as it appears to you) people continue to hold irrelevant, untrue, possibly dangerous beliefs in spite of all the evidence, but that point of view is just one amongst many. As long as you believe that your own point of view is so obviously correct that you can afford to insult those with whom you’re exchanging your views, I could see it being quite hard to get a ‘decent conversation’.

Don’t you think rational people can be passionate?!

Of course I do, and it’s for that precise reason that I encourage more moderation — on these subjects we all can be passionate. Therefore care to remain respectful, even when someone appears ‘obviously wrong’, is advisable IMO.

As for the question you are raising:


… the first reason I didn’t speak of it is because, not having a ‘faith’ myself, I’m not necessarily qualified.

But if you want my answer to that, it’s simple: the other ‘faiths’ you raise are ones that TT must challenge in order to succeed. What you’re suggesting is that dropping the religious beliefs ought to be at the top of the TT agenda also.

But the evidence doesn’t bear this out. If people like Sharon, Greer, (or Joanna Macy lol) can work so strongly for ‘transition’ that they are considered to be leaders and still hold their other beliefs, those beliefs are a posteriori not any hindrance to transition even if they look to you a priori as thought ought to be.

The statements you are making tend almost towards the view that only rational materialists who believe in scientism ought to survive Transition! Certainly, if you plan to engage with any sector of the public that believes differently, I suspect you will need to be more diplomatic.

And like I say, if you want more detailed replies on the ‘spiritual’ topics of substance, I’ll email you mine or even do it on your blog, but not here.

The only thing I want to get across on this page is that no-one ought to be forced to change their views, either to New Age Therapeutic ones, or to Rational Scientistic ones, in order to be involved in Transition.

8 Jul 11:20am

… Sorry, I meant to quote you:

challenging those faiths is surely a fundamental part of what transition is all about.

near the end there, ‘the question you are raising’.

8 Jul 11:43am

Beautifully put Jason, thanks.

Robin P Clarke
8 Jul 1:09pm

challenging those faiths is surely a fundamental part of what transition is all about.
Challenging beliefs in merely praying harder or that “they” will do something about the energy crisis would indeed be a fundamental part of transitioning. Challenging less relevant notions such as that God has a very high IQ or a benevolent disposition combined with extraordinary perceptual powers may not be.

8 Jul 2:51pm


“And personally, I approach these conversations from the position that a person of intelligence will have thought-through reasons for believing what they believe.”

This presupposes an awful lot- and in fact I think the world would be a very different place if it were true.
Why is it then that (generally intelligent) people will have radically beliefs or faiths?
Surely what you are saying is tautological- “Most people are intelligent. Therefore, there must be good reasons for what people believe. Therefore, we should not challenge what they say or even open beliefs to discussion- we should just assume they have good reasons and leave it at that.”
Sorry Jason, that is not going to work for me- and I question whether it would really work for anyone.
vz: many intelligent people believe growth will pick up again/climate change is not man-made/new sources of energy will be found to replace oil.
Are you saying we should not challenge these views?

“you want a ‘decent conversation’ — but on the other, you clearly believe not only that your view is the only possible correct one, but that those who hold another one deserve (either potentially or actually) to be called stupid, untrustworthy, flawed, and evil.”

Actually, for the most part this has been a decent conversation. However, that comment was in response to Rob’s:

“Graham, a couple of thoughts. Firstly, “faith is the one thing that will not help us deal with what is coming down the line”. As fascinating observation, but, to my thinking, complete nonsense, and a somewhat dangerous perspective. I understand where you are coming from, that religion is not based on science, that it is irrational, ‘The God Delusion’ etc. etc. That is as maybe.

However,there are many many people around the world in crisis right now, whether it be through illness, war or whatever, for whom their faith is one of the key things that gets them through, logical or not. Of course one can construct an intellectual argument that says that we should be aiming to move people away from that, but there is, I would suggest, a deep arrogance to that. ”

Now, I find this kind of response disrespectful and insulting; however, Im not making a big deal about that- the point is, Rob’s point that many people are faithful and that seems to do them good is essentially the same point you are making; it is not nonsense, but is easily refuted;
most of what you are saying is about trying to suppress the debate it seems to me.
But the real point is this: neither you nor Rob are ascribing me the respect you feel i should hold for faith-based beliefs: I am intelligent, obviously I feel i have reason to hold my views; I respectfully explain those views and why I think they are important for transition; but the response is just: “You are arrogant, those views are not acceptable here, please take them somewhere else.”
Personally, I dont find that very acceptable on a forum that started off discussing things like inclusiveness.
You are quite free to disagree, but may I ask that you give reasoned arguments rather than just ask me to shut up.
I am quite prepared to listen to other arguments, but you cant just knock me for arguing for what i believe in- that’s what you are doing as well. Its called “having a debate”; there is nothing insulting in what i am saying, and I have a right to say it. I give reasons for every point I make- take issue with the reasons if you wish, dont tell me I have no right to make them.
“Obviously” my point of view is not “obviously” correct- otherwise everyone would agree with it.
The extreme post-modern view you hold- that every view “is just one point of view amongst many” is spurious and not worth discussing, here or anywhere.
If you don’t think that views backed by evidence are better than views that have no supporting evidence, why engage in any debate about anything?

“the other ‘faiths’ you raise are ones that TT must challenge in order to succeed. What you’re suggesting is that dropping the religious beliefs ought to be at the top of the TT agenda also.”

I dont necessarily think they should be top of the list; I am merely trying to have a discussion about the connection between different irrational kinds of beliefs. I am giving lengthy explanations as to why I think we have good reason to believe they are connected; the basic point I am making is, if we support one kind of irrational belief, we in effect support others- we cant complain at people not believing in climate change when we use faulty reasoning ourselves in other areas. This is a wide general topic, but i believe fundamental. Otherwise if PO and climate change are the only things that count for transition, why not team up with the BNP?

Jason, to repeat, you are free to disagree but you are not entitled to tell me there is no room for this debate here.

“no-one ought to be forced to change their views, either to New Age Therapeutic ones, or to Rational Scientistic ones, in order to be involved in Transition.”

Where is this coming from? Noone, certainly not me, has suggested forcing anyone to believe anything. This is a debate Jason on an open forum! All Im calling for is to question beliefs and ask for evidence!! Seems to me, if you have a problem with that, you have a problem.

8 Jul 7:02pm

Graham — I am not stifling debate, far from it. I’ve debated with Dawkins-style atheists before, and it hasn’t been a bad experience for either party. However it is a loooooong process, and one I am not prepared to enter into in the middle of this thread. That’s all. This post is already way too long to be interesting!

I am perfectly well prepared (like I said) to enter into it with you via email, if you want, and if you wish to publish the results at the end or something, fine. Maybe it would even be useful — but my views don’t represent anyone save myself, and I hold no trad-style ‘faith’ of my own.

Just say the word, but it would be a long process I think, that’s all. Too long for here. Anyone who thinks they can make it shorter, I’m not going to stop them from having the debate here!

I’ll clarify what I meant elsewhere quickly…

Surely what you are saying is tautological- “Most people are intelligent. Therefore, there must be good reasons for what people believe. Therefore, we should not challenge what they say or even open beliefs to discussion- we should just assume they have good reasons and leave it at that.”

I certainly didn’t mean, or say, this.

What I meant was what I said — that I always approach such conversations assuming that the person has thought through their ideas. I certainly didn’t mean that they always have — if they haven’t, then it soon becomes apparent. But I never assume they hold their views only for bad or foolish reasons, or for reasons I could quickly argue away — least of all on ‘spiritual’ questions. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but I don’t prejudge before speaking to them.

In saying, ‘all faith is bad,’ which is what you are saying, you are assuming that Sharon, for example, could have no reasons for her faith that could stand up, even in her own mind. I’m surprised you don’t see that someone might find that attitude in itself rather stifling of debate, and this is all I was trying to say.

(Even less did I mean that discussion shouldn’t take place! As I say, I’m fine with it taking place — I just don’t think it’s an easy or quick discussion.)

Rob’s point that many people are faithful and that seems to do them good is essentially the same point you are making; it is not nonsense, but is easily refuted;

… no, not quite the same. I said that it is possible to be religious or hold a faith and still be at the forefront of the attempt to deal with peak oil realities — this is self-evidently true, so it seems to me. Therefore to my mind it can’t be the case that religious belief is the lynchpin problem you are saying. I understand what you believe, I simply believe otherwise, and not without reason.

(What was your refutation of this idea? Did I miss it? Robin‘s reply was in substantial agreement with it I thought.)

Of course I do get that, to you, people of faith are making a ‘category mistake’, thinking they can hold views for no good reason one moment and then insisting on rationality the next — but that is only how it looks to you. They might have reasons which to them appear good; to them their categories might appear to be in order after all. (Mine certainly do to me.) They might have examined many arguments already. Many things might have gone into their belief.

But the real point is this: neither you nor Rob are ascribing me the respect you feel i should hold for faith-based beliefs: I am intelligent, obviously I feel i have reason to hold my views; I respectfully explain those views and why I think they are important for transition; but the response is just: “You are arrogant

I’m aware you were attempting to explain your views respectfully; I just was trying to explain how some might not have taken them that way and why.

I certainly have accorded you precisely the same right on this question that I would accord anyone: the right to hold and express a view, arrived at by the means you consider appropriate. I never said you shouldn’t say what you said, but that it assumed things of the people you were saying it which might not be true, and that they might find offensive — and that in any case (for me) to do justice to the subject matter required more space than there is here.

julian duggan
8 Jul 9:01pm

As I can’t type very fast,speak latin, or have much time for big words some brief points;
1. It is because faith appeals to our human need for community that organised religions have done so well(purely in terms of numbers)
2. Transition speaks of community which is why it is appealing(at least to me)
3.In my life experience the resilience of striking mining communities during ’84/5 strike was most inspiring esp. soup/free food kitchens.
4.The majority of this community would have run a mile(as would I)from touchy feely circles(at least to start with.
5.My belief is that a ‘positive’ transition that strengthens community and affirms value in Self would of itself see a gradual end to imposed,organized belief so let’s not waste too much energy!
6.Chicken-egg, Transition-Community????
7.It would make sense to appeal to as wide a community as possible as soon as possible
8.I detect lots of intellectual/class snobbery in comments posted here when in my view surely transition is naturally more appealing to the current systems losers(in all senses)and disenfranchised amongst us than the cosy classes who(at least in some senses)the system serves.
9.An obvious vehicle for making the transition agenda more widely available to a wider audience could be via a none of the above,no seat taken,Transition Party at impending general election.
10.This would have the added benefit of revealing just how receptive the State-Us quo really is if it feels its community is being challenged(I have in mind Peace Convoy/”Enemy With-in,Battle of Beanfield[85]…)Not at all cuddly for all the circles!
See, that’s taken over an hour to type!…back to the garden

julian duggan
8 Jul 9:18pm

11.My deepest worry re.transition. Is it a transition at all or just a new set of clothes for the State-Us Quo.Wealth,Class,A new way of creating a new kind of stuff…winners and losers etc…etc

8 Jul 11:05pm

Howdy Rob & All –

Thanks for the great article – many beautiful points & questions.

I’d like to let you know that the realm of professional permaculture design is thriving in the Northeastern USA — many full-featured firms are collaborating with architects, engineers, and planners on a daily basis to create permaculture projects of large scale & impact. Check out:

Elsewhere in the US we see the same…

So, the courses we teach here are in fact producing qualified & active permaculture professionals. And we’re pumped to collaborate and move forward with all the Transitions folks springing up! Onward!

Ethan Roland
Regenerative Design Group

Sarah Edwards
8 Jul 11:42pm

Good grief! I just had a post come in mentioning something to the effect that TI folks are bashing people of faith. I am a Transition Trainer and have never heard of anything like that. Here in our local Transition Initiative we have people of all faiths and beliefs. We all share a desire to live in a sustainable, resilient community and are working together to achieve that.

9 Jul 2:14pm

Bit of misreporting there. Even those whose comments might have been construed as anti-faith weren’t intending to ‘bash’ I don’t think. But in any case, they did not represent the Transition movement.

Still it just shows how useful it is to be diplomatic on these subjects.

9 Jul 6:20pm

Sarah – This is where I wish there was a “thanks” button one could click by posts one agrees with – ie yours. There were latterly a few “posts” whereby it felt like they had “wandered in by mistake” onto a Transition website – but I guess there will always be a few posts like that (unfortunately) wandering onto even the best of websites. There is a time and a place – but T.T. websites are NOT either and I was wincing visibly reading them….hopefully everyone will now take a “deep breath” and GET BACK ONTO THE SUBJECT IN HAND.

julian duggan
9 Jul 10:29pm

CERIDWEN-Sorry and all that but you’ve kind of made the point perfectly.Maybe you could provide a profile of the type of chaps/chapesses that you would like to “wander” in and join the circle and be made to feel welcome in to the light of the infinite sun.I have already witnessed inquisitive folk “wander”off from transition meetings for the foreseeable even before the enlightened ones hands have clasped one another.Perhaps the speed at which this debate has moved from circles to religion to exclusion should tell us something!

julian duggan
9 Jul 10:31pm

I think that was “THE SUBJECT IN HAND”

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 12:00am

Sarah: Here in our local Transition Initiative we have people of all faiths and beliefs.
Would this include a welcoming of NeoNazis (as long as they shut up perhaps)? Or of those who believe the following to be the flawless last testament of an Allah who is all-powerful and so presumably quite capable of making a message clear:
Qur’an 59:2-7 is a commentary on the start of Mohammed’s ethnic cleansing of Arabia, with his military attack against the Jews of Bani-Nadir. (As with much of the Qur’an its context is only made fully clear by the related sacred Hadiths which are detailed accounts of Mohammed’s sayings.)
These Qur’an verses below make clear that the Jews were acting defensively, that Allah approved of their being forced into exile and the unexpected innovation of cutting down their desert food trees to terrorise them, and Allah granted Mohammed and his followers the ownership of the property of the now homeless Jewish citizens.
[Qur’an 59:2-7:]
“He it is who hath caused the Jews who disbelieved to go forth from their homes unto the first exile. Ye deemed not that they would go forth, while they deemed that their strongholds would protect them from Allah. But Allah reached them from a place whereof they reckoned not, and cast terror in their hearts so that they ruined their houses with their own hands…“[59:2]
“This is because they were opposed to Allah and his messenger ….” [59:4]
[or more precisely because their poet criticised Mohammed; c.f. famous cartoons incident]
“Whatsoever palm trees ye cut down or left standing on their roots, it was by Allah’s leave, in order that he might confound the evil-livers.”[59:5]
“And that which Allah gives as spoil unto His messenger from them, ye urged not any horse or riding-camel for the sake thereof, but Allah giveth His messenger lordship over whom he will. Allah is able to do all things.”[59:6]
“The spoils of war taken from the town-dwellers and assigned by Allah to His apostle shall belong to Allah, to the Apostle and his kinsfolk, to orphans, …..” [59:7]

As I’ve said above or elsewhere, the concept of requiring inclusiveness logically contradicts itself unless every other human on the planet shares it with you, which they most certainly don’t.

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 12:13am

“Every being that is in the heavens and on earth: all are devoutly obedient to Him” [Qur’an 30:26].
Including me? Flawless words of God? Or the only book written by an ?all-powerful god? who has such vast communication handicap that only qualified experts are entitled to tell you what he is trying to say? (And 14 centuries of ongoing wars have resulted from the communication error.)

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 12:26am

(Battle of Tours 732, followed by 900 further years of trying to destroy the rest of Christendom, till turned finally back at Battle of Vienna 1683…) Meanwhile whole cities and universities and thousands of temples destroyed once the jihad reached civilised India. See no evil…

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 12:32am

The Roma people are over here now with Indic skin and language, because they were marched out of India over the Hindu Kush (translation: “Hindu Slaughter”) into enslavement by the religion of peace. Saint Mohammed died from the poisoning by one of his own Jewish slaves. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the greatest filth in history here, but must leave off now. Some things are not worthy of respect.

Sarah Edwards
10 Jul 12:39am

Robin asked if our local initiative includes Neo-Nazis and those with other types of beliefs mentioned. I don’t believe so, but we don’t know actually what religious and politcal backgrounds our participants have because our discussions are focused on the projects and work tasks we share commitments to accomplishing.

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 12:47am

because our discussions are focused on the projects and work tasks we share commitments to accomplishing.
And that’s the point that so many seem to be missing. Do for instance car-salesmen or supermarket advertisers or cat-food manufacturers “engage with all faiths”?

10 Jul 6:18am


I guess we’d better just leave this now for the couple of people with particular “bones to pick” and they’re just using a T.T. website to do so to continue with their personal “(off) topics”. This discussion is clearly over now as far as most of us are concerned.

We can only apologise to others who read this that some people have strayed off onto their “personal things” and well away from talking about Transition topics. So – apologies that that has happened. (Where’s an embarrassed smilie when one needs one? – which I’m sure is how most of us feel about some recent posts..).

Robin P Clarke
10 Jul 11:00am

ceridwen–“an embarrassed smile”…. perhaps because the conception of “engaging with all faiths” has to be one that is embarassed about engaging one’s moral and intellectual critical functions in the process?
“This discussion is clearly over now as far as most of us are concerned.”… (because there are no valid answers to defend their presumptions?)

Funny how so many tons of words are written about the supposed religion of peace but as soon as someone starts quoting the actual key facts of Islam, the documented words of Allah, people always want to hide away and censor and so on. Honesty anyone?

How about this formula?:- “We require members to endorse inclusivity of at least all those others who themselves are perceived to endorse inclusivity”. But still the movement would leave significant numbers excluded, depending on the defining criteria of “inclusivity”.

[…] paid a visit to a forum on Transition and permaculture over at Transition Culture recently- wow, I only just got out in time before they lynched me! Apparently, post-modern lunacy […]

Kevin Carson
23 Jul 7:51am

I agree that saying permaculture and transition are the only games in town is rhetorical overkill.

What about, for example, Open Source Ecology’s demo project at Factor E Farm? One of the most important aspects of the Peak Oil transition is radically shortening industrial logistical chains and relocalizing manufacturing.

23 Jul 10:36pm

John Gibbons has a great piece in the Irish Times today, “When Science is reduced to a game, anyone can play”, basically making the same points that I have been making, linking quackery with climate change denial:

[…] We also recommend you read the following companion debate here. […]