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29 Sep 2009

Further Musings from Ted Trainer

trainerAs a response to the recent discussions about Ted Trainer’s critique of Transition, Ted recently sent me the following.

“Unfortunately Rob’s reply to my article A Friendly Criticism of the Transition Towns Movement, didn’t reach me. Here is a response to his comments of 8th Sept.  My discussion began by stressing the enormous importance of the Transition Towns Movement, and how inspiring it is. I’m among those who have been arguing for decades that the salvation of the planet can only come via the development of local economies. But for a long time nothing like this emerged, apart from the heroic pioneering of the eco-villagers. But suddenly the Transition Towns Movement has exploded onto the scene, obviously tapping into a widespread recognition that mainstream society is unsustainable.

However, the core of my friendly critique is a serious worry that the movement could end up having not contributed to the solution of urgent global problems. Everything depends on the vision and goals the movement comes to be about, and my concern is to argue strongly for a particular position on this issue.

This is why Rob (rightly) sees a problem with the “language” I used. It is assertive and might appear to be unduely confident/dogmatic/doctrinaire. But what I was doing in the paper was stating a view of the global situation (below) which I have formed over many years, which I now hold very strongly because I think the supporting case is overwhelming, which many others hold, and which I believe it is very important to persuade transition people to hold. So yes I am pretty convinced I am right about the core elements (and uncertain and confused about many others), but of course I could be wrong and l am always eager to hear and think about contrary views.

There are two basic positions one can take on the global situation. The first, which most people hold, is that some version of consumer-capitalist society can be made viable, i.e., that this society can be reformed so that it does not cause problems like greenhouse and poverty but it still provides affluence and runs on market forces, competition, production for profit, and economic growth, etc. etc. The second position is that consumer-capitalist society cannot be fixed; that you cannot have a sustainable and just world unless you scrap many of the fundamental structures of this society and build radically different systems. In my very firm view the second position is right, and I make no apology for asserting this strongly, but that doesn’t mean I go around telling people they are stupid if they don’t agree.

It follows that I am very keen to see the Transition Towns movement not be merely for reforming, taming, humanizing consumer-capitalist society. I worry that there is a high probability the movement will only be about reforms within the system. Thus I wrote the critique in the hope that it would influence people in the movement to think carefully about their goals and vision, and in the hope that they would be persuaded to agree with me about what the goals should be. My concern derives from the fact that almost all initiatives for “environmentally sustainable development” have not challenged the fundamental premises of growth and affluence society. (For instance Australia’s peak environmental agency doesn’t see any sustainability problem with economic growth; its CEO has scolded me for thinking it does.)

Rob, please remember that my paper was addressed to people centrally involved in the movement with the intention of stimulating discussion of goals and visions. It was not addressed to townspeople, with whom one would obviously avoid the use of words like “anarchism” and “capitalism”, and one would try to introduce these themes in mild and inoffensive ways as perspectives to be considered. Let me restate some elements from the paper indicating the reasons for my “extreme” view of the situation. (For more detail on the case for this perspective see here.

The way of life we have in rich countries is grossly unsustainable and unjust. There is no possibility of the “living standards” of all people on earth ever rising to rich world per capita levels of consumption of energy, minerals, timber, water, food, phosphorous etc. These rates of consumption are generating the numerous alarming global problems now threatening our survival. Yet most people have no idea of the magnitude of the overshoot. We in rich countries are probably ten times over sustainable per capita levels of resource use and environmental impact. The rates are far too high for technical advance to make anything like this society sustainable. And yet the supreme goal in this society is economic growth; i.e., to keep the rates of production and consumption increasing all the time, without limit!

ln addition our way of life would not be possible if rich countries were not taking far more than their fair share of world resources, via an extremely unjust global economy, and thereby condemning most of the world’s people to deprivation. These are among the reasons for concluding that the many alarming global problems now crowding in and threatening to destroy us are so big and serious that they cannot be solved within or by consumer-capitalist society.

Given this understanding of our situation, the solution must be transition to a very different kind of society, which I refer to as The Simpler Way. Its core principles must be far simpler material living standards, high levels of self-sufficiency at household, national and especially neighbourhood and town levels, mostly small, local economies, basically cooperative and participatory systems, a quite different economic system, one not driven by market forces and profit or growth, mostly collective and participatory systems, and a radically different culture, in which competitive and acquisitive individualism is replaced by frugal, self-sufficient collectivism. Above all it cannot be an affluent society.

However almost everyone in the mainstream, from politicians, economists and bureaucrats down to ordinary people, totally fails to recognise any of this and proceeds on the comforting delusion that with more effort and technical advance we can solve problems like greenhouse without jeopardising our high “living standards” or the market economy or the obsession with growth.

Now if this is how you see the situation you are very keen to try to influence the Transition Towns movement to be for the vast and radical transformation which I believe has to be achieved if we are to avoid catastrophic global ecological and social breakdown. The importance of the issue could not be exaggerated. We cannot get to a sustainable and just world except via local communities taking control of their local affairs, and the Transition Towns initiative is the kind of development needed. So to me it is of the utmost importance to try to get it to be about achieving fundamental system change…and it is by no means inevitable that it will automatically do that.

Rob’s comments indicate that he and his colleagues don’t share my perspective. That’s OK. Of course there are many different views on the global situation, and most people certainly don’t agree with me. But my whole purpose is to prod people to consider the analysis I put forward in the hope that I will persuade them to it.

Some will be saying that it’s no one’s business to try to influence the movement and we should just help it flourish. Obviously I disagree, because I think it is likely to turn out to have been a merely reformist phenomenon that has not helped solve global problems, unless we work hard to get it to be much more than that. It’s a matter of whether or not you think we should try to ensure that the movement becomes the means to global system change.

So I hope this clarifies my claim that the movement might come to nothing of fundamental significance. Rob says it can do important things without making explicit that it is about transcending consumer/capitalist culture. Of course it can. But my point is that good works, reforms, charity, inspiration, bandaids, philanthropy, re-skilling, and planting nut trees etc. etc., will not necessarily and will probably not lead to the transcendence of consumer/capitalist society. Bandaids, charity work and nut trees are valuable. Most doctors do nothing but bandaid, and that’s crucial…but such actions typically fit comfortably within consumer/capitalist society and make no contribution to replacing it. My worry is that in a decade’s time we will look back and see that the Transition Towns Movement thrived, brought great satisfaction to many, made many towns more resilient…but made no contribution to replacing consumer/capitalist society. This society has immense capacity to accommodate fringe or deviant initiatives, such as the Hippies, and the Amish. Indeed the system benefits from the creation of safety valves which enable discontented minorities to do their alternative thing.

“Havens”

I hope this makes clearer why I worry that the outcome might essentially only be the creation of safe havens, towns more insulated against the effects of the coming scarcity, but still very much part of and dependent on the same old wider society. Rob says people involved don’t think that this is what they are doing…but that doesn’t settle the issue. In my view most people in peace, development and environmental movements think they are helping to solve these problems but they are not, because these movements are not focused on moving us out of consumer societies which inevitably create these problems. Most people believe consumer-capitalist society can be reformed so it is very likely that as they come into the Transition Towns movement they will not be focused on building an alternative to such a society.

It is quite possible for instance to develop a highly localized food supply without making much if any difference to an overall economy that allows market forces and profit to determine what is done, ignores the most urgent needs, has unemployment and homelessness, imports hardware and clothes from the Third World, requires support of dictatorships in poor countries, and grows all the time.

There is in other words a big difference between just making your town more resilient and doing that as a step in a process which you can show is designed to eventually fix the world.

Re Anarchism.

Rob thinks there’s room for debate about whether Anarchism is the form of government we have to endorse. I have argued in some detail that the situation we are heading into, essentially involving intense global resource scarcity, will determine that viable communities will have to be small, self governing and highly participatory. Big centralized states cannot run a satisfactory society that must be localized and must have very low resource use. Such communities will not work well, or at all, unless they are driven by aware, conscientious, responsible, skilled, empowered and happy citizens. So this is not a matter of preference; whether we like it or not the form of “government” will have to be Anarchist. I think this is delightful, but that’s not important. What Rob has to work out is whether I’m right in thinking that there will be no choice about this.

Of course as Rob says one has to be careful in using terms like “Anarchist” because that would put most people off, but technically it is the right one for the form of government I am referring to here. It’s important to keep goals distinct from processes. My concern is to get people who are central in the movement to think about questions like goals, anarchism and reformism, but that does not mean I am saying we have to go around town shouting that we are for Anarchism.

And of course one does not go around telling the town business community that we are about getting rid of capitalism. But Rob, you have a huge underlying problem here because do you realize that in a sustainable world there cannot be anything like the amount of business turnover there is now? The core sustainability problem is that there is far too much producing and consuming going on. I believe that in this society about three times too much work is done and that in a sustainable society the GDP would (have to) be maybe one-tenth of what it is now. Sorry, but at some stage we will have to phase out most of the firms, capital investment, trade, sales etc. we have now. In your town there are many businesses selling things that are wasteful, unnecessary, luxurious, too elaborate, not made to last. Many will have to change from importing goods to selling locally produced necessities. Do you think your town can be made genuinely sustainable without facing up to the problem of phasing out and/or radically transforming most of its businesses…not necessarily now but at some stage?

Your comments indicate that you have taken me to be saying that I am expecting too much to be attempted by the town. Please see the functions I suggested for the Community Development Cooperative as ultimate goals to be gradually taken on, certainly not a set that has to be tackled from the start. To me the Transition process is best thought of as slowly moving towards the situation we want to have eventually established. Again the core issue is to do with goals; I am arguing for the establishment of some kind of Community Development Co-op which integrates, oversees, guides, advises and facilitates, and I suggested the kinds of functions it might perform some day. Eventually I think we should be trying to develop the CDC into the system of assemblies, committees and working bees through which we run the town to meet town needs, via intensely participatory decision making. (In my view most of the town’s activities would not need to be controlled by the CDC, and should take the form of small private enterprises.)

A very important element which I think is seriously lacking in the Transition Towns literature is any notion of the people of the town increasingly taking control of its economy, community, geography, quality of life and fate. For instance, towns should determine to get rid of unemployment. It is not something that is tolerated in civilized societies, so get rid of it. This can be done to a significant degree just by us setting up co-ops for dumped people to work together in, producing things they need. You won’t get rid of it unless you do this. The state and the normal economy will never get rid of it. Similarly the town should think out what it needs (a beekeeper, shoe repairer?), whether its young and old people are OK, what kinds of commons it wants, what committees, what facilities and institutions…and how to organise the working bees to build them. Again this is a goal and vision statement, not necessarily a list of things towns could do immediately.

I think it is admirable the way the Transition Towns literature tries to avoid prescribing. Rob’s politeness is a great asset for the movement. But that does not mean there is no place for “leadership”, in the sense of putting forward and arguing for ideas about what to do. The main problem I have with the Transition Town literature is that it gives almost no guidance as to what to do to make the town “resilient”. It gives a great deal of advice about how to proceed, how to organise a local movement, but people inspired to join the movement will find almost no information or suggestions as to what to try to build or set up, what to do first, what to avoid…and why these steps will have what effects on town self-sufficiency or resilience. The strategy just seems to be to encourage anyone to do anything they like and we’ll see where that takes us. What I am pleading for here is planning, for the formation of priorities, and monitoring so we can get clearer about what works, what is more difficult than we thought, and what not to do. People from new towns eager to get into the movement need to be given as much guidance as much as possible about goals and sub-goals, what to start trying to do.

It could be that none of us knows the right answers to these questions at this stage, but we should be thinking hard about what are probably the best initial goals and priorities, and forming and making available more confident experience-based strategies as soon as experience accumulates. For instance, my guess is that trying to produce local energy should not be a top priority in the early stages (it’s too difficult to make a significant difference), but that forming co-operative gardens and workshops and little firms (bakeries, fish tanks, poultry…) enabling unemployed people to immediately become productive, is a very desirable early step, especially as it gets us started on building a new economy under our control…but let’s debate this, and grope towards a (loose, indicative, non-prescriptive) plan of action that will help the many towns now flocking to the Transition idea to get off to an effective start.

At present it is disturbing that the many towns racing to join the movement will find little or no information on what to actually develop or build in the town to make it more resilient. Unless we can give this guidance I think it is likely that there will be a lot of confused thrashing around that does not achieve much, followed by disenchantment the waste of an extremely important opportunity.

The currency issue.

Finally, it is very important that careful critical thought be given to the role of local currencies. (My attempt to nut this out is here) Unfortunately most of the schemes I know about are in my view next to worthless, because there is no rationale showing how they are supposed to have desirable social effects. It is extremely important to introduce a money system that will give the town the power to build or organise desirable effects.

It is easy to see how LETS or Time Dollars results in good effects. Both enable people with no jobs or money to engage in work, trade, meeting needs and mutually beneficial economic activity. But in systems where for instance the new notes are bought using old notes, as seems to be the case with Berkshares, that’s just substituting one kind of money for another with no apparent significant benefits in terms of better community economic structures.

So, ask those proposing a new currency how will using it increase the production of needed things aground here, how will it get dumped people into jobs and livelihoods, how will it make this town more self-sufficient, how will it give us more power to determine the development of this town? If clear and convincing answers can’t be given to questions like this then what’s the point? Yes printing and selling a novel note might be an effective publicity device, and might raise money from tourists, but those are not important outcomes compared with for instance eliminating unemployment in the town, which is what the scheme I outline at the above site is centrally aimed at doing. Its core is as follows.

We set up cooperative productive ventures such as gardens and bakeries and record “work” time contributions. These entitle people to a proportion of the produce corresponding to their input. Whether the payments are in the form of a note or just a record they are a new form of money. If I earn this money in the garden I can spend it on bread from that co-op. Thus we have created a new economy. The money has been a device helping to connect idle people (and others) to available but unused productive capacity. You can see how the system has very desirable social effects, but the creation of the money is not the important part – setting up the cooperative firms is. It is then important to develop economic interactions between our new economy and the old one, e.g., by using the new money to pay for meals from its restaurants, which can spend the money paying for vegetables and labour from us in the new cooperative economic sector. (Again for the detail see the Money etc article above.)

Conclusions.

My main point is that it is important for us to discuss desirable goals. I don’t think our attitude should be to just facilitate the Transition Towns phenomenon. I am arguing that we should try to move it in directions that will maximize the chance of transition from consumer-capitalist society. It will not inevitably do that. In fact I think it is more likely to become an alternative path enabling some to live somewhat more sustainably within consumer-capitalist society. I am not assuming I or we can influence it, maybe we can’t have any effect at all, but I am arguing that it is important to try.

Whether or not you agree will depend on your view of the global situation, and you might not share mine. But I believe we are very likely to see catastrophic global breakdown before long so it is of the utmost importance to try to push/lead/persuade the Transition movement in the direction one believes has to be taken if disaster is to be avoided. If we ever make it to a sustainable and just world it will have been via a Transition Towns process of some kind. It is extremely encouraging that a potentially miraculous movement has emerged and therefore it is very important to try to ensure that it is a means to achieving the big global structural changes required.

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

20 Comments

Andrew MacDonald
29 Sep 7:15pm

Wonderful picture of the choice before us. I value Ted’s clarity and out-thereness, and first read him after a googlesearch that led me to transitionculture.org, the feed to which is now on my homepage and I was pleased to see Ted show up today. Many thanks.

Part of Ted’s strength is in putting forth a well-formed and practical vision of what can happen. It’s valuable and useful and I’d add that people really buy into grounded heart-felt action when it becomes a possibility for them when they’re in a group of peers. A small group in other words is the crucial unit of transformation (Peter Block expresses this brilliantly at http://alturl.com/p5fk). A vision on paper or screen isn’t sufficient imo, except as it leads to the face-to-face meeting and the small group of peers who really will change things if they’ve a mind to.

I think that small group clarity will be an important part of transition town’s success.

The vision may be a part, but people change and are compelled to act more when they

pete
29 Sep 8:18pm

Thank you Ted
I thought that was what the Transition movement was meant to be about. Unless we are doing or planning to localise our life styles we will never become resilient.
Pete

DaveDann
29 Sep 9:03pm

“Above all it cannot be an affluent society.”
I’m afraid that this makes the author a ‘doomer/doomster’ (or is that a female ‘doomer’?)
in the eyes of the majority of the population. I don’t believe that the idea can be ‘sold’ to many people and I believe that even many Transition supporters would drop out if confronted with that idea, particularly in affluent communities like Totnes, Lewes, Stroud …

Rhizowen
29 Sep 10:50pm

The Transition Movement is a source of huge inspiration – certainly the most promising grassroots movement to emerge in recent years. My heart tells me that with a positive outlook, creative envisioning and the cheerful application of our shoulders to the wheel, a pleasant future of community celebration and planetary restoration might be possible.

My head tells me that the forces arrayed against those who wish to return to localised economies and move to a post-consumer society are massive, awesome and have a momentum of their own.

My own transition experience in a small, not-so-affluent town, is that the majority of the populace have more pressing concerns than mapping fruit trees, or discussing peak oil or organic agriculture. They are, understandably, concerned about unemployment and crime. Our transition group is, I would say, small, dedicated and struggling to make much progress.

Ted is right – we will not be able to have an affluent society as is commonly understood. But surely we’re talking about massive reductions in material affluence, not social or spiritual wealth, or meaningful livelihoods.

He is also right in that we need to focus on those activities that make the best use of our often limited time and resources; that requires sober analysis, soul searching and the exercise of critical and analytical faculties (groan). It may mean the abandonment of pet projects, no matter how appealing they appear.

When the first person in our town gains a meaningful livelihood as a result of our efforts as a Transition Town group , I will feel that we have succeeded. May that day come soon.

Brad K.
30 Sep 12:51am

Ted announces that the only form of sustainable government is anarchist. I have trouble even writing something quite that absurd.

Because Ted goes on to explain that the community is organized, and well led, if it is to be sustainable. That form might well be democratic, or representative, and look much like today. The organization of communities doesn’t necessarily have to be that of isolated, uncommunicative entities – reminiscent of the eternally warring city-states of ancient Greece or the American Plains Indians.

I cannot envision human beings, with the history of our species before me, living in peace and harmony without joining in a unifying, national structure of some kind. Disputes between communities and regions, just as between neighbors, must have a venue for resolution or we succumb to villainy and ravishment.

Some science fiction writers have grappled with our gluttonous governments, and addressed alternative communities. I believe it was The General’s President (Dalmas) that predicates paired Constitutional amendments in America – the first repudiates the national debt, the second forever bans the US government from assessing or collecting taxes or duties of any form, or from overspending current income. Leo Frankowski uses a feudal model based on 13th century Poland to invent a growing and benevolent society.

Perhaps more on-target is the cultural history of David Weber’s planet Grayson in his Honor Harrington universe – a brutal feudalism required to survive a toxic environment.

When Ted mentions communities ending unemployment, meeting needs, he posits a benevolent authority – which doesn’t fit any classical description of anarchy I have read. That authority might be tribal, including hereditary or elected leaders, elders, and knowledge keepers such as shamans and librarians. That authority might be a hereditary feudal leader, where the people owe duty and fealty to the leader, and the leader answers for the community and the region, answering both the community and authorities and forces outside the community.

Frankly, I consider feudalism, even informally, an excellent way to extract a population from the grips of consumer-capitalist economics. Let an individual hold oath from the community, directly purchase anything obtained from outside the community, and sell anything sold outside the community. Let that individual claim each oath-holder as a dependent for tax purposes, providing shelter, food, and other needs. Let all work be done for local currency or barter or for social cache or local records. In this way, small and large groups could withdraw from contributing to the consumerism and fiscal control of today’s states.

Anarchy implies that individuals would select their own way, based on what they determine to be their best interest. And that conflicts with acting in concert as a community. Yes, there can be communities without a formally defined authority – but leadership and security needs will be met, by community resources and not by individuals acting in their own self interest.

I contend, Ted, that you yourself argue not for Anarchy, but for an awakened, deliberate community. And I am concerned that focus on community loses sight of the security needs of groups of communities.

Andrew MacDonald
30 Sep 1:23pm

It was searching for Ted on google that led me to transitionculture and I was delighted to see this latest show up.

I appreciate Ted’s spelling out what needs to happen, the vision. A step he doesn’t mention much is who will do it. Having the vision disembodied on the page makes it an abstraction; the concern with nomenclature reflects this abstraction.

A vision has power by being embodied in a small group whose members are willing to be accountable to each other for it. On the page it’s a step removed and slightly unreal.

For me, the small group is primary and the vision takes root there or doesn’t really happen.

Albert Bates
30 Sep 1:45pm

While I agree on some points and disagree on others I think the central point that sticks out from the above is the ‘learning from experience’ piece.
How does one learn from a collapse while it is in progress? At the free-fall phase it is nearly impossible to refect, but in a stair-step collapse there are treads to pause upon.
Ted mentions ecovillages and hippy communes and I think both offer valuable experience to guide transition towns. Both have examples of over-reach, failure and success. In my own community, The Farm’s, case, we had both the hippies and the ecovillage. What we found valuable were skills at making compost and soil, flour milling, training and driving horses, harness repair, welding, carpentry, canning, and plumbing. Thoroughly educated in the Liberal Arts, we had none of these skills. We did know how to have meetings and make them fun, and that was the secret to our success, and why we are still here, 40 years later. It wasn’t local currency. As proto-ecovillagers we now have a whole toolbox to use, and as a well-organized ecovillage network, we have the means to train others in the use of those tools. As I sit here, Gaia University is matriculating in a new class of M.Sc. candidates in the building next to me.
My sense is that meeting skills, a tool kit, and the ability to train in the use of tools are three important features of transition. By adding the pause for reflection and adjustment, TTN has made all things possible.
The challenge for Transition, which was not undertaken by either ecovillages or the hippies, is to bridge the divide between the awakened and the unawakened. Many of the methodologies complained of are part of this bridging process. Is there a danger that the bridge will too much resemble the edifices we are escaping? I doubt it. What matters more are the edifices we are building on the other side, and Ted’s caution is well taken.

Marina
30 Sep 2:45pm

The main problem I have with the Transition Town literature is that it gives almost no guidance as to what to do to make the town “resilient”. It gives a great deal of advice about how to proceed, how to organise a local movement, but people inspired to join the movement will find almost no information or suggestions as to what to try to build or set up, what to do first, what to avoid…and why these steps will have what effects on town self-sufficiency or resilience. The strategy just seems to be to encourage anyone to do anything they like and we’ll see where that takes us.

At present it is disturbing that the many towns racing to join the movement will find little or no information on what to actually develop or build in the town to make it more resilient.

I have to agree with Ted here. I just came back from first Transition Training in Canada (Clinton, Ontario). It left me with sinking feeling that nobody knows what to do, the training failed to provide any guidance on strategic development and planning, useful and productive conversation about what worked and what didn’t in other communities, developing common (regional) transition tools. We just had a good get-together time, bonding socially with like-minded people, half of which were not even involved in Transition movement, holding hands, envisioning bright green future for every living thing on earth, etc. Now don’t get me wrong. I believe this is all great and needed if it wasn’t a training course but some kind of Transition barbeque party where we get boosted with enthusiasm, energy, get to know each other better and make useful connections. However, the training didn’t provide us with clear directions, short term and long term strategies, workable regional solutions, etc. I wonder if there is any guidance on facilitating transition trainings.

Greenpa
30 Sep 5:32pm

Kind of nattering nabobs time, if you ask me. :-)

It’s actually a great compliment to be nattered at, Rob, as I suspect you know.

“yeah!? but you’re not PERFECT!!”

lol !

Angela
30 Sep 6:00pm

After peak oil collapse sets in everything and I mean everything will be about food, and guns. You are all so naive.

Shane Hughes
30 Sep 8:14pm

Marina and Ted, i find it odd that i and others in our TI get so much guidance from the Transition Handbook, the Conference and neighboring TT’s etc and you find it lacking guidance.
I mean not in the sense that we get all the answers, just that the information we glean is a year a two ahead of us and so we get a kind of short cut.

Of course, what we have to do, is not spelt out by TT central. That would be counter productive in several ways;

1. Many, me included, would reject it, perhaps not reject it out right, but i/we wouldn’t “own” it. The 12 steps have been very useful in developing solutions that are ours.
2. Each area will have varying considerations and so varying solutions.
3. The core of resilience is fundamentally a web of strong local relationships within your community. You may think relationships won’t help when there’s no water, food or oil but in another post on this blog about Emergency Planning for real disaster, the idea of relationships being core to resilience was repeated
http://transitionculture.org/2009/05/27/to-plan-for-emergency-or-not-heinberg-and-hopkins-debate/

Marina
1 Oct 4:33am

Hi Shane. I was inspired by Transition Handbook too. Its 12 steps helped us a lot at setting up basic Transition structure in our community. I also don’t expect TT central to spell out solutions to us, although I disagree with you about “owning” part. I personally wouldn’t mind trying out ideas and solutions that worked in other communities, in my own community, or letting others to borrow mine. They don’t have to have my signature and property rights.

I am glad that you and (hopefully many-many others) figured it all out and need little or no help (guidance) in moving forward. Some of us may not be as smart and bright, but we too just like you have passion for what we set ourselves to accomplish. We all have our families, kids, day jobs, and myriads other responsibilities. Yet we volunteer our time, energy and even money to this greater cause. And I believe it’s not fair to shush us from expressing our concerns.

My particular concern was about the regional training I have attended, not about Transition’s 12 steps. Obviously, there is a recognized need for additional training. Otherwise why would it be offered at a first place? I just didn’t feel that it provided us with any practical tools and guidance.
Perhaps, some people just take on a task (ie, set up community garden, food preservation workshop, etc), nail it down, and build up from there. However, others need more systemic approach.

There was a great post few days ago about Transition Cambridge. Kudos to them for their honesty and courage for bringing up and sharing with us their failed experiment (I hope it’s a temporary situation). So obviously not everything is understood in our enormous and great Transition project. It’s too early to stop all conversations about our concerns and shame those who still have questions.

P.S. And yes, I understand the importance of local relationships in our communities. It would be odd not to, considering our involvement in the largest local movement.

Shane Hughes
1 Oct 7:55am

Hi Marina, i don’t think we’re are million miles away from each other in our perspectives here.

Andrew MacDonald
1 Oct 1:18pm

Appreciate your concerns Marina. I almost went to the Ontario training and didn’t.

My sense is we have to change our social relations as much as we change our economy. I’m enamoured with Peter Block’s idea that the small group is the unit of transformation. It’s what we’re inspired to do and become accountable for, to our peers where we live that makes the crucial difference. Books and internet are interesting but not powerful because they don’t engage us. The practical steps won’t be embodied until they take root between us and our peers where we live; they’ll remain disembodied abstractions.

Transition, like all of us, hasn’t yet come to terms with the personal nature of the shift in our social relations. It takes as default, as we all do naturally enough, relatively isolated individuals with separate economies who will do some limited set of things together, hoping that will be enough. IMHO it won’t. The alternative is to build a future of possibility together that inspires and moves us and that we’re accountable to much as we’re accountable to our family. And I do think this is a possible future.

Pierre-Louis
2 Oct 9:42am

“I am arguing that we should try to move it in directions that will maximize the chance of transition from consumer-capitalist society. It will not inevitably do that.” Ted

“The core sustainability problem is that there is far too much producing and consuming going on.”

“In your town there are many businesses selling things that are wasteful, unnecessary, luxurious, too elaborate, not made to last. Many will have to change from importing goods to selling locally produced necessities.”

This very important debate remind me the resent split of the “Climate Action Network” (CAN). As the former wanted to go along the business as usual, agreeing on cape and trade, carbon capture and storage (CCS), CDM principle… other felt that it was supporting an economic system, which is basically killing the planet and which was also completely unjust.

The latter decided then to create the “Climate Justice now” for promoting a real conversion towards a low carbon society. They highlight the false solutions such as carbon trade and CCS, which they state (rightly I believe) are made by businesses lobbies which pretend to reduce CO2 emission but just plan business as usual and this keeps the capitalistic system going. This debate will intensify until the CC Copenhagen conference in December.

“My concern is to get people who are central in the movement to think about questions like goals, anarchism and reformism”

It is believed that our goal should be a “low carbon society” instead of anarchism, reformism or the end of capitalism as the latter are divisive and can be interpreted differently, hence not a scientific clear cut objective. Moreover, a real low carbon would, besides resolving peak oil and climate changes issue, slowly dilute the power of capitalism as the latter is mainly based on oil. What would then be important is to help recognize the false solution for CO2 decrease, such as the ones described above. They do give the wrong message and good conscience to the CO2 producers hence delaying the real move towards low carbon development. It is a bit like making prosthesis to a fatally ill person.

“The challenge for Transition, which was not undertaken by either eco villages or the hippies, is to bridge the divide between the awakened and the un awakened” (Albert)

It is hope that the necessity of low carbon (hopefully more on our own desire than forcefully) will gradually awaken everybody in the same way, hence “bridge the divide between the awakened and un – awakened (like the wars have done in the past).

“The main problem I have with the Transition Town literature is that it gives almost no guidance as to what to do to make the town “resilient”.

The TT cannot prescribes too much as the way is still un chartered, Besides (as already mentioned ) we would phase the threats of another top down, unfair, non participative and imagination restrictive process.

It is therefore believed that “low carbon development” (if explained thoroughly) could become a broad enough and clear goal as well as an adequate framework for allowing adequate implementation at community level.

It may be that we feel un secure without clearer guidance because we lost confidence in our own abilities to resolve problems by ourselves as well as in the power of communities. It may also be that, due to the fact that we have been intellectually spoon fed for so long, many lost his ability to think out of the box, which is presently critical for succeeding the required changes.

“A very important element which I think is seriously lacking in the Transition Towns literature is any notion of the people of the town increasingly taking control of its economy, community, geography, quality of life and fate. For instance, towns should determine to get rid of unemployment. It is not something that is tolerated in civilized societies, so get rid of it”

As Mr. Colin Campbel mentioned, when oil will be over or left in the ground, the millions of “slaves”, which will disappear, will have to be replaced by real human workforces. Cuba is a good example of this phenomenon.

Regards PL

Pierre-Louis
2 Oct 9:46am

“I am arguing that we should try to move it in directions that will maximize the chance of transition from consumer-capitalist society. It will not inevitably do that.” Ted

“The core sustainability problem is that there is far too much producing and consuming going on.”

“In your town there are many businesses selling things that are wasteful, unnecessary, luxurious, too elaborate, not made to last. Many will have to change from importing goods to selling locally produced necessities.”

This very important debate reminds me the resent split of the “Climate Action Network” (CAN). As the former wanted to go along the business as usual, agreeing on cape and trade, carbon capture and storage (CCS), CDM principle… other felt that it was supporting an economic system, which is basically killing the planet and which was also completely unjust.

The latter decided then to create the “Climate Justice now” for promoting a real conversion towards a low carbon society. They highlight the false solutions such as carbon trade and CCS, which they state (rightly I believe) are made by businesses lobbies which pretend to reduce CO2 emission but just plan business as usual and this keeps the capitalistic system going. This debate will intensify until the CC Copenhagen conference in December.

“My concern is to get people who are central in the movement to think about questions like goals, anarchism and reformism”

It is believed that our goal should be a “low carbon society” instead of anarchism, reformism or the end of capitalism as the latter are divisive and can be interpreted differently, hence not a scientific clear cut objective. Moreover, a real low carbon would, besides resolving peak oil and climate changes issue, slowly dilute the power of capitalism as the latter is mainly based on oil. What would then be important is to help recognize the false solution for CO2 decrease, such as the ones described above. They do give the wrong message and good conscience to the CO2 producers hence delaying the real move towards low carbon development. It is a bit like making prosthesis to a fatally ill person.

“The challenge for Transition, which was not undertaken by either eco villages or the hippies, is to bridge the divide between the awakened and the un awakened” (Albert)

It is hope that the necessity of low carbon (hopefully more on our own desire than forcefully) will gradually awaken everybody in the same way, hence “bridge the divide between the awakened and un – awakened (like the wars have done in the past).

“The main problem I have with the Transition Town literature is that it gives almost no guidance as to what to do to make the town “resilient”.

The TT cannot prescribes too much as the way is still un chartered, Besides (as already mentioned ) we would phase the threats of another top down, unfair, non participative and imagination restrictive process.

It is therefore believed that “low carbon development” (if explained thoroughly) could become a broad enough and clear goal as well as an adequate framework for allowing adequate implementation at community level.

It may be that we feel un secure without clearer guidance because we lost confidence in our own abilities to resolve problems by ourselves as well as in the power of communities. It may also be that, due to the fact that we have been intellectually spoon fed for so long, many lost his ability to think out of the box, which is presently critical for succeeding the required changes.

“A very important element which I think is seriously lacking in the Transition Towns literature is any notion of the people of the town increasingly taking control of its economy, community, geography, quality of life and fate. For instance, towns should determine to get rid of unemployment. It is not something that is tolerated in civilized societies, so get rid of it”

As Mr. Colin Campbel mentioned, when oil will be over or left in the ground, the millions of “slaves”, which will disappear, will have to be replaced by real human workforces. Cuba is a good example of this phenomenon.

Regards PL

Shane Hughes
5 Oct 4:06pm

i liked this quote from one of the following posts on this blog “The First Review of ‘Local Food’”, i thought it fitting to this thread too;

James Howard said about the book local food;

It doesn’t tell you precisely what to do, but it tells you what you can do and gives you the metaphorical seed and (organic) fertiliser to find out for yourself how to do it.

i think this works for TT as whole

Robert Spies
8 Oct 2:55am

Doesn’t `Affluent Society’
have meaning only if you are `money-centric’? There’s a hell of a lot more to life than what can be bought with money. It is these `other parts’ of life that civilization does a very poor job of providing, or even acknowledging the need to provide.

Is not the `Transition Towns Movement’
a return to `Diversity of cultures’? If so, this is diametrically opposed to the holy grail of civilization, the `Global Society’. Diversity seems to be the key to the long-term survival of life on our planet. Diversity, and the evolutionary process that is its basis results in `speciation’, causing the fantastic variety of life on our planet — from plants to animals, single-celled to trillions of cells, etc., and also the Diversity of societies of creatures.

The real key, it seems to me, is `learning’. We humans need to `learn’ how to live on our planet. Not-civilized societies have ancient `traditions’ that work well for them, in the environment they find themselves in. The best way to learn how to live in the numerous environments of our planet, is to grow up in a society that works well for the people living in it. This is how all people lived before civilization started. The few remaining not-civilized people of today live in this way today.

We civilized need to learn all we can about how to live in the environments of our planet from those who are, and have been, doing so successfully for periods of time far longer than civilization has existed.

Young people need to participate fully in the society they are part of so they can learn what they want, when they want, and at the rate they want. Simply providing that opportunity is all that is needed. Young people’s innate curiosity will do the rest. Humans are endowed with Intelligence, but not knowledge. Instead, humans are endowed with overwhelming curiosity that makes them the most prodigious `learning machines’ known. It is useful to remember that not every young person needs to learn every aspect of life in their community. It is sufficient that the knowledge of `how to live’ is distributed among those who are interested in participating, in each generation.

`Learning’ is not achieved in institutions cut-off from the community. Little more than `conditioning’ occurs in such places.

Many long-term successful not-civilized societies have no full-time leader. Instead, most people in the society have learned `how to live’, and why things are done the way they are. This alone is a huge `reducer of problems’. When problems do arise (as they always do), an `elder’ will usually volunteer to handle the situation. Sometimes a group of elders is needed to reach a concensus in difficult situations. Rarely, the whole group will be invited to participate.

There is no need for a `code of law’ (written or otherwise) when all the people in the society realize they have to live together if they are to survive. These people already know what a `code of law’ is intended to achieve.

The life styles (traditions) of not-civilized societies do a far better job of instilling Wisdom in the minds of their people than does civilization. This is important, as the gift of Intelligence does not `come with’ a `moderator’. The only way to successfully `match’ human Intelligence to the environment of our planet is through `moderation’ — Wisdom — gained through learning.

The first civilized discarded their ancient tradition when they convinced themselves they could `invent’ something better. Thus the early civilized abandoned their ancient Wisdom, and also the way to achieve it. What we civilized have today is the result of their failed invention and lack of Wisdom.

Jim Newcomer
8 Oct 7:03pm

Two elements need to be added to this conversation, which I have read over only once and so have much yet to understand. But I did notice these two:
1. Collapse. The national and multinational institutions, nation states and corporations, are not likely to survive the shocks created by a reduction in available energy. The scale of effective energy sourcing will probably diminish leaving us in local economies whether we like it or not. The change will not be voluntary, and our best strategy now is to prepare for the time when everyone will want to join us simply because the oppressive capitalist system can’t provide livelihoods, food, etc. for them. We have the opportunity in Transition Towns to design for that change in advance of the collapse, to do what the Frankish people and the Ostrogoths and others could not do as the Roman Empire was collapsing and make the transition our own. In doing that we need also to be aware of the distinction Paul Hawken makes between Corporations, which were designed to help kings conquer new empires, and Commerce or Trade, which is as old and healthy as mankind. Support small, local business? You bet. Let the Multinationals die? Can’t wait.
2. Every society must be organized in accordance with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics; that is, its use of energy determines the broad outlines of the civilization. The present pattern of large cities, overconsumption in them based on exploiting oppressed 3rd world populations, and globalization of trade and finance, for example, is based on fossil fuels as certainly as earlier feudal societies were based on animal power, water, and wood fires. They were scattered, local communities; ours are centralized, interconnected mega-cities in which citizens tend to be isolated and anonymous, linked by electronic communications devices, and seldom touching one another. If that is an accurate analysis, the decline of fossil fuel resources will inevitably lead to profound shifts in the patterns of human life – settlements, communities, production of food and things, and welfare. Probably the trend will be back toward the local. Decentralization.
Given that, it seems to me that Transition Initiatives (and I am a part of the one in Portland, Oregon, USA) are better off to concentrate on organizing along the lines of the Handbook than in trying to prejudge the demands and opportunities that will arise when there is no corporate or state power either to oppress us or to import cheap commodities for us. Stick to what we know, I say, and who we can organize, and the future will lead us into the right actions. Can we anticipate conditions and organize in critical areas? Yes. For example, we are starting a Finance and Business Group here, and the CDC idea meshes with our interest in coop business. We have invited a representative of the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation from the Basque country in Spain to introduce their experience here this fall.
But to follow this road blindly and ignore the power of neighbors getting together for potluck dinners or cooperative child care or tool libraries would be to blow off the foundation this has to have in friendship and proven cooperation. Albert wrote, “We did know how to have meetings and make them fun, and that was the secret to our success, and why we are still here, 40 years later.” I’m with you, Albert. Make the meetings fun and learn new skills. At the same time we do need to keep in mind that the Anarchists and the Socialist revolutionaries have much to teach us in the way of setting goals and building a movement. It’s just that we can do it without creating opposition, an option that was not available to them. Catherine Fitts is clear about this: we don’t have to destroy anything; instead we can build up what’s good locally. To me that is the strength of Transition.

Brad K.
9 Oct 5:04am

@ Jim Newcomer,

I wonder. I can see several nations subsiding into dust and debris – but there will be some that see the disintegration about them – and go a conquering. I think some corporations that are also quite capable of financial, trade, or military actions to “take advantage” of “opportunities”.

I can also see states and nations going a warring – and drafting will-he, nil-he, which could damage and deplete communities.

I can see where most would anticipate an increasing isolation during systemic collapse. But I think some few will be importuned rather badly. With that in mind, I suspect the best strategy is to proceed as if isolation will be one’s lot – and be wary of falling under some predator or aggressor’s shadow.