Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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31 Aug 2010

Why ‘Green Wizards’ Get Us Nowhere New…

Transition Culture is back!  After a month of Cornish beaches, hemp lime plastering, wood store-building, cinema visits, catching up with friends, storytelling festivals, campfires and wrestling with cabbage white caterpillars, normal service is resumed.  Nice to see you again, you’re looking well.  I’m kicking off again with some reflections on John Michael Greer’s ‘green wizardry’ concept, which he calls “the current Archdruid Report project”, which will no doubt generate some interesting debate.  Greer, for those who don’t know, is a blogger and author whose work I usually admire greatly, whose excellent blog can be found here

Green Wizards….

So, first question, what is a ‘green wizard’?  Greer defines green wizards thus, “individuals who are willing to take on the responsibility to learn, practice and thoroughly master a set of unpopular but valuable skills – the skills of the old appropriate technology movement – and share them with their neighbours when the day comes that neighbours are willing to learn”.  The idea, as I read it, is that any notion of a co-ordinated response,  a la Heinberg’s ‘Powerdown’, a scenario where communities self-organise and work with, or without, their local authorities, to start the rebuilding of that settlement’s resilience, reduce its oil dependency and carbon footprint, is now for the bin, condemned as impractical and unrealistic.  Greer appears to have given up any notion that such a thing might be possible, stating “a movement is a great thing if you want to hang out with congenial people and do interesting things together.  It’s just not usually a good way to make change happen”.

What Transition and Green Wizardry have in common….

Both Transition and green wizardry are based on the ideas that peak oil, and peak various other things too, will lead to a future of economic contraction and declining net energy availability, where the communities that are most successful are those that have most successfully strengthened and refocused their local economies in advance.  Both (as I understand it) believe in the need for stronger local food networks, more back garden production, more local ownership of key utilities such as energy generation, and for a rediscovery of local building materials, seasonal foods and so on.  Greer’s latest post, The Care and Feeding of Time Machines, is a fascinating distillation of useful tips and ideas around season extending, which will be of great interest and use to many involved in Transition.  Much of the information being unearthed and rediscovered by the green wizards will be very useful for those involved practically in building resilience at a local level, and it is a very valuable and fascinating project.  I do, however, have a few concerns about green wizardry, which I would like to reflect on in this post.  

The dangers of setting up a straw man

In recent weeks, Greer has been taking swipes at the Transition approach, both in his posts and also in the comments threads.  A while ago I responded to a piece Greer wrote which accused Transition of ‘premature triumphalism': I’m all for people picking at Transition, questioning, debating and challenging it, but it does get frustrating, as we saw recently with Alex Steffen, when Transition becomes a straw man, when it is presented as something it isn’t in order to enable to writer to prove his or her point, or, more commonly, to propose something else they see as being a superior and more appropriate idea.  The Transition I read about in Greer’s posts often isn’t the Transition I recognise from the work I do.  Some examples:

  • He has referred to a “number of Transition Town activists who have found their way onto municipal payrolls has excited grumbling from members of less successful pressure groups”… which when I objected on his comments thread saying I don’t know of any such person, said that he had got that from the ‘Rocky Road to Transition’, itself a very badly researched document…
  • He dismisses Transition by saying that “many people in the peak oil scene have chosen to downplay the difficulties and insist that we can have a bright, happy, abundant future if we just pursue whatever baby steps to sustainability we all find congenial” … does that ring bells for any Transitioners out there?  Thought not…
  • Transition’s “fixation on optimism makes it raise expectations it can’t possibly fulfil: the question that hasn’t been settled yet is what happens to it once it becomes obvious”, again rather missing the point…
  • Transition is often dismissed by Greer as being a ‘revitalisation movement’, which I interpret as meaning that it is content to tinker around inconsequentially at the edges without doing anything meaningful, revitalising the existing model rather than suggesting anything else meaningful. Again, not the Transition I recognise….

He takes particular exception to the notion of Energy Descent Planning, of the idea of intentional planning for energy descent, arguing:

….the core argument of last week’s post centered on the possibility of building a better future by deliberate planning, and many of the comments and critiques took issue with my suggestion that this is not only impossible but counterproductive. While most of these latter noted that they were participants in the Transition Town movement, the ideas they expressed in that context are anything but unique to that movement; rather, it expresses a consensus that extends through most of the peak oil scene, and indeed, most of contemporary society. Despite its popularity, though, this confidence in our ability to plan the future seems woefully misplaced to me, and the reasons that have forced me to dissent from the consensus may be worth discussing here.

Let’s return here to the Cheerful Disclaimer, not I, nor anyone else involved in Transition would argue that it is a strategy that will definitely work, that Energy Descent Plans, community visioning, or any other ‘deliberate planning’ approaches are guaranteed to work.   Transition is a collective experiment, an invitation to be part of a huge research project, learning through doing.  It is not so much the ‘mass movement’ that Greer rails against, rather it is people around the world working at a community level to see what works, and what is appropriate in a range of contexts (urban, rural, developing world etc).  My point is that it is easy to present a picture of what Transition is that suits the argument you want to make.  What feels unhelpful though is to use green wizardry as a way of dismissing or brushing aside Transition, when both do different things, appeal to different people, and are needed simultaneously.  So what could be the limitations of the green wizardry concept?

The Limits of Gathering an Appropriate Technology Library

Another of Greer’s recent posts, by way of an example of how green wizardry seems to be working in practice, discusses a key issue that a society engaged in adapting to energy descent will need to address, namely peak phosphorous, and then gives Greer’s reflections on the matter, followed by a list of suggested resources.  Greer is particularly keen on books from the ‘appropriate technology’ movement of the 1970s, suggesting that ‘how-to’ books have never been bettered since those times of counter culture, energy crises and xerox machines.

I have lots of books from that time on my shelves.  Indeed, in my early 20s I hoovered them up at car boot sales, second hand bookshops, wherever I could find them.  I still have most of them, John Seymour’s books, a great little book on urban gardening called “Your Home Grown Food”, gems such as “Common-sense Compost Making”, “The Self-Sufficient House”, and little booklets on making your own windmills and solar panels.  When I moved to Ireland I picked up many more at house sales when people who were the ‘back to the land’ generation of the 1970s had house clearances, and threw out loads of great little books on beekeeping, making your own yeasts and coracle building (in most cases I was pretty convinced they had done none of those things…).  I remain a kleptomaniac for such books, and covet my collection.

I also collect books, when I can find them, from the 1940s/1950s, Dig for Victory books and gardening books written by old fellas who grew up on allotments and grew leeks up to their waists.  There is much that can be learnt from those books, but also a great deal best left behind.  I have a lovely old book called ‘Fruit Culture for the Amateur’ by W.F. McKenzie, published in 1947, which recommends DDT as a new insecticide, offering the key piece of Health and Safety advice: “DDT is non-poisonous to human beings and animals”.  Whether from the 1940s, or the 1970s, thinking and solutions have evolved.  While still often insightful and valuable, much of the literature from the 1970s was based on the idea that you needed to drop out of society, get some land, buy a farm, become as near self-sufficient as possible.

Energy books assumed you wanted to be ‘off-grid’, rather than the perhaps less anti-social approach favoured today of generating energy to feed into the grid.  Food production books often assumed you had acres to play with, and books on energy in buildings assumed you were starting from scratch.  Greer may argue that there were also some excellent urban appropriate technology books, and groups such as the New York Energy Task Force who promoted urban wind power, but there is a danger, I think, in assuming that we can just go back to those books 40 years later and pick up from there.

Geodesic domes, for example, big in the 1970s, are largely accepted now as actually being quite rubbish.  Windmill designs from then have been hugely improved on since.  Our understanding of energy performance in buildings has come on hugely, the materials available are much better, our knowledge of how to use local and natural materials in buildings has evolved greatly, our understanding of soils, gardening systems and so on, have come on since then too (I would rather, for example, rely on Adam Weissman and Katy Bryce’s ‘Using Natural Finishes’ book (published 2 years ago) as a ‘how-to’ for making clay plasters than ‘Shelter’ or any of the other far more speculative books from the 70s).  I can’t help thinking that  the idea that we will see the rapid onset of peak oil and economic collapse, at which point society starts to unravel, and desperately and reverently turns to a few enlightened souls who are fortunately bravely clutching a load of tatty books from the 1970s, and who are then able, from those curled and well thumbed xeroxed pages, to rebuild the world anew, is somewhat naive.

Also, much of that literature is rich on ideas, but very short on measuring, on assessing whether they work or not.  Was Ruth Stout, referred to in Greer’s phosphorous post (I too have some of her books), a great visionary, whose straw-based mulch gardening system was a radical gardening breakthrough, or was she a fruitcake, the neighbour from hell, whose system gave initial promising results but which robbed soils of nitrogen and bred slug populations that pulsed across the garden in a frothing gelatinous tide?  Do we actually know?  Did anyone actually test, measure or evaluate what she did (I get the impression from her fascinating and highly entertaining books that she certainly wouldn’t have done so)?  Where are the companion volumes that went back and tested the results of the experiments of the 1970s?  How are the first Earthships bearing up?  The first underground houses?  I suspect that rather like permaculture’s fabled chicken greenhouses, basing our green wizardry on the literature of the 1970s could lead to much that we rely on turning out to be myth, unsubstantiated fables.

Some of the publishers who were producing books in the 1970s, some of the books that are on the wizards’ reading lists, are still publishing.  The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, for example, are still publishing ‘how to’ books, and very good ones too.  Books on how to clean dirty water, build your own solar systems, grow your own food.  But they are not still just publishing facsimiles of their 1970s output, their current books are much more up-to-date, much better publications.  Also, today’s challenges are different.  As previously mentioned, many of the books produced in the 1970s assumed the reader was building from scratch, had land, no debts and so on.  For most people today, the challenge is very different.  How to retrofit a poorly-built house?  How to reinhabit a house that is too big for your family?  How to get out of debt?  How to garden on concrete?  Can I make a garden that I can take with me when I move between rented accommodation?  I find little of use in addressing those challenges from my 1970s book collection.

Do ‘Green Wizards’ build community resilience?

This is the ultimate question for me.  Would having green wizards in my community make it more resilient?  I don’t think so. When talking about resilience, I mean the ability of my community to withstand shock from the outside, to not unravel at the first sign of difficulty, and to be able to reinvent itself, using the shock as an opportunity to reimagine and remake itself in a way more appropriate to a world of energy descent.  For me, resilience refers to more than the ability to not fall apart when catastrophe strikes, rather resilience is a desirable state in itself, something to strive for because, if done properly, it stands a higher chance of meeting our needs in uncertain times than business-as-usual does.

My first point here is that there are already plenty of green wizards in my community, people with a range of skills.  Transition’s working assumption has always been that we need a ‘Great Reskilling’, that we have become collectively vastly useless.  However, the research I just completed that looked at Totnes found that actually people are far more skilled than we might give them credit for.  The survey I conducted showed that 66% of people stated that they were ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ at food growing, and other methods such as focus groups confirmed this, that a lot more people are gardening than one might imagine.  They learn not from government programmes, but largely from friends and neighbours, from people, like green wizards, who are just living it and doing it.  The idea that we can build resilience by brushing up on canning techniques and swapping knitting techniques, while not wishing to dismiss the importance of those skills, is rather missing the point.

My initial thinking  (around the time I wrote The Transition Handbook) was that, as shown in the graph to the left, that levels of core resilience skills (growing food, basic house repairs etc) were high in the 1950s, and have fallen steadily ever since, as those skills have become less and less useful.  As one oral history interviewee who was a teenager in the early 1960s told me,  gardening was, by then, perceived by that generation as “something you did if your Dad caught you”.  It is easy to percieve that from that point forward, practical skills have fallen by the wayside, as we have moved from a producer society to a consumer society.

In reality, that wouldn’t appear to be the case.  Each decade brings a new ‘pulse’ of people learning these skills (see left) , in the 1970s inspired by the appropriate technologists, John Seymour and the whole ‘self sufficiency’ movement, in the 1980s the early permaculture movement, and so on, until today, where there is a huge interest in learning how to grow food, and indeed to relearn a wide range of practical skills.  I would increasingly argue that the challenge that we need to address in order to move forward in the best way to build resilience is not through ‘building community’ (a subject I have addressed previously), or through a crash course of community reskilling, but rather through issues of governance and social entrepreneurship, areas where the green movement has fallen short for many years, and which aren’t addressed in green wizardry at all.

Where ‘Green Wizards’ Fall short.

The ‘Green Wizard’ concept is principally, as I understand it, conceptualised as a response to peak oil.  It is based on the assumption that everything is going to unravel very fast and that this is the best way to respond.  Fair enough, there will be many different ways people will respond, there is no one-size-fits-all response that will grab everyone, and ‘Green Wizardry’ is, in that context, just as valid a response as Transition, as engaging in political campaigning, protest, standing for office, or whatever.

What green wizardry is definitely not, though, by any stretch of the imagination, is a response to climate change.  Becoming a walking appropriate technology library is not going to do anything to reduce your community’s carbon emissions.  Climate change doesn’t work like peak oil.  It isn’t something that builds to one moment of collapse, a point where circumstances determine that suddenly people see that you were right all along.  The need presented by climate change is to reduce emissions today, and to cut them as hard and as deep as possible.  Our 1970s ‘how-to’ library has nothing to say in terms of measuring carbon, nor how to most effectively reduce it, producing nothing like Chris Goodall’s ‘How to Live a Low Carbon Life’.

Green wizardry also falls short because it fails to acknowledge that a transition on the scale it is presumably designed as a reponse to will be anything more than purely a challenge of an absence of practical know-how.  Communities faced with the realities of energy descent, whether rapid onset, stepped descent or rapid unravelling will be faced with much more than simply a need for windmill designs and guides to making good compost.  It is not purely an outer process, indeed the practical solutions side of it is the easier side.  Ensuring clear communication, dealing with conflict, supporting people through the grief of the future not turning out in the way they had spent their lives so far imagining it would, is equally important.  Are the green wizards also dusting off 1970’s self help manuals?

I also can’t help thinking that there isn’t actually anything very new about the idea.  There are already lots of places where people are finding and exchanging this stuff.  A good permaculture design course is, in effect, an immersion in much of it, but with an angle of how to practically apply it all.  There are web fora where this stuff is discussed, such as the excellent, as well as organisations like Garden Organic and others, who facilitate the sharing of tips, ideas and insights.  In that sense, I see little new in the green wizard concept.

‘Told You So’

The part that grates most with me is the element of green wizardry that resonates with the things that always hacked me off most about certain elements of the green movement.  This is captured in Greer’s statement “… share them with their neighbours when the day comes that neighbours are willing to learn…”.  The Green Wizard, with his or her new and indispensible knowledge about appropriate technology, can now sit at the local bar, smug in the knowledge that when everyone else ‘gets it’, he/she will finally be valued, finally gain the appreciation they have for so long been denied.

Perhaps a less condascending position might be to assume that within the community a wide range of skills already exist, and we might bring people together physically, rather than virtually, such as at this event, coming soon, to share them.  A huge range of knowledge exists in any community, and often community organises in a wide range of ways, many of which we may not even be aware of.  Which would do more to make our communities more resilient, green wizardry, or volunteering for a local charity, helping out on the organising committee of a local carnival, volunteering for a local school?  It is a serious question.  One appears to take a somewhat aloof stance of knowing what a community needs, of knowing the skills people don’t have but need to acquire, the other a more open view which is there to support, observe, interact, learn and offer.  It is an important distinction.

Final Thoughts

Unlike green wizardry, the Transition approach requires that we move out of our comfort zones, that we engage with people we otherwise wouldn’t engage with, that yes, we learn skills we otherwise wouldn’t, but we also organise meetings, events, learn how to run businesses, start to take up the responsibility for creating the new low carbon economy, engage, on our own terms, creatively with local governance.  The idea that a sustainable, resilient future will emerge only when those around us ‘get it’ and seek us, and our knowledge, out, as argued by Greer, as and when things get dire enough, is a dangerous one, and one, I am concerned, that will get us nowhere.

Richard Heinberg, in the foreword to the paperback edition of ‘Peak Everything’, writes “the genius of the [Transition] movement lies in its engagement of the citizenry first”.  Nothing new there really, but for me, green wizardry falls down in that rather than engage the citizenry, it falls back on the aloof superiority of the environmental movement, stockpiling knowledge for “when the day comes that neighbours are willing to learn”. If we are to come anywhere near to doing what needs to happen in order to have settlements sufficiently resilient to weather the shocks of the next few years, whether they be related to climate change, resource depletion or economic shocks, we need to scale up our thinking, think bigger, reweave connections and relationships, and start building a new infrastructure where we can.

This will not be able to be brought into being purely by communities of course, it will also need local government, national government, and international action.  But a retreat to the belief that those of us who have stockpiled practical knowledge now comprise some kind of enlightened brotherhood (or sisterhood), whose role is to wait for the rest of the world to come to its senses and come seeking out our great wisdom, is somewhat dangerous.  Rather, I would argue, we need to step out of our comfort zones and think bigger, see that we have a huge amount to learn, not just from dusty appropriate technology books, but also from those around us.  I’ll close these reflections with a quote from David Orr’s book ‘Down to the Wire’, which captures the scale of what we need to be doing, whether we call it Transition, green wizardry, or whatever….

“Every increase in local capacity to grow food, generate energy, repair, build and finance will strengthen the capacity to withstand disturbances of all kinds.  Distributed energy in the form of widely disbursed solar and wind technology, for example, buffers communities from supply interruptions, failure of the electrical grid, and price shocks.  Similarly, a regionally based, solar-powered food system would restore small farms, preserve soil, create local employment, rebuilt stable economies, and provide better food while reducing carbon emissions and dependence on long-distance transport from distant suppliers.  The primary goal in rethinking development and economic growth is to create resilience – capacity to withstand the disturbances that will become more frequent and severe in the decades ahead”.

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


[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by lucasgonzalez, Rob Hopkins. Rob Hopkins said: Some reflections on John Michael Greer's 'green wizardry' concept: […]

31 Aug 9:56am

I had noticed the Green Wizard post sometime ago, and I was both stirred and stimulated by it. I think we are already in a difficult period, there is no need to wait, complacently or not, for “dark age ahead”.
It seems sensible to: (1) keep a full time job; (2) get out of debt; (3) reskill; (4) retrofit the house; (5) organise local meetings.
It requires at least short sleeping hours and huge stamina to do all these things simultaneously. But maybe there is no choice, so we have to try nonetheless.
About current food producing skills in Western Europe I have some reservations. I know several people, here in Italy, who produce some food, but invariably with external inputs: energy, fertilizers, seeds. In short, their skills do note seem resilient to ‘peak oil’.

Andrew Ramponi
31 Aug 10:50am

Hello Rob. Nice to read your thoughts again after the blog break. I hope it was regenerative.

It sounds however as though there might have been a proverbial bee buzzing around in there which has finally found it’s way out. Phew. Go bee, go!

To me, the main difference between the Green Wizard and Transition hives – enough of that now – is the emphasis each way gives to the individual v the collective. JMG looks ( see Peak Moment TV for an interview and sounds as one who prefers the individual. Transition would tend towards the social.

All for one and one for all, d’Artagnan!

31 Aug 11:16am

Hi Andrew… indeed, so much for ‘switching off’!

oil monkey
31 Aug 1:52pm

It is truly disheartening to observe public thinkers in the realm of energy descent/post-carbon future fall into the same old human patterns of bickering and competing for better position in a perceived hierarchy. I see almost nothing mutually exclusive about Transition and Greer’s Green Wizard program. Both of you (Hopkins & Greer) are far more compelling and effective without this periodic, and usually pointless, swiping at each other.

Cristine Robins
31 Aug 2:57pm


Thanks for a great response to Greer.

I’ve been reading him for years, and have been quite stimulated by his insightful analysis of history, culture, and long-term trends. However, I’ve been disappointed that he’s now narrowed his focus to “Basic Organic Gardening”, which so many people have done a lot better.

My own life these days is a constant balancing act among individual, social, and community efforts. Do I plant my kale today, talk to my neighbor about how her compost is doing, or put up posters promoting our town’s “Car-Free Day”? I try to cover all three areas, but need to focus my limited time carefully.

Most of the time, I’m quite happy to take a break in my own outdoor work to chat with a curious neighbor, give her a tour of the garden and orchard, and encourage her to join the others who have their own garden plots on my land.

I also heartily second your call for more follow-up and testing of gardening and green-living schemes. So many folks are more interested in promoting their particular designs and techniques than in demonstrating the results. I find this especially true among permaculture practitioners, who often seem focused on theoretical correctness, and neglect to actually measure the outcomes of their projects.

31 Aug 3:36pm

Thanks – you captured what was bugging me about the 70’s resurrection going on over at the archdruid site.

John Barnett
31 Aug 4:04pm

Rob. It seems to me that you and JMG have differences that are valued and should not be disputed. What JMG argues is that the skills he advocates learning as part of his green wizardry must first be preserved as we pass through the transition of limits to growth by those willing to learn them until a future time when they can be valued, learned, and applied by a larger society. In today’s society, most adults are too busy making a living and watching “America’s Got Talent” or NFL football to ever pay attention to transition or green wizardry—and most young people are too busy playing computer games and texting. JMG also argues that modern society is such a fragmented adhocracy that anything seen as centralized planning is likely to fail. Instead he advocates for many approaches some of which will succeed and some of which will fail. What you seem to be advocating is that people should organize grass roots efforts at a community level to pass on knowledge and create institutions that will effectively address the reality of limits to growth. As it occurs in many communities, there will inevitably be the differences in approach that JMG favors. There is a vital necessity that both the individual approaches that JMG advocates and the collective approaches that you advocate succeed together. Any energy devoted to arguing is wasted and has the danger of contributing to a deteriorating climate.

31 Aug 4:40pm

I respect you both enormously and its shame to see this “bickering”. However I did feel a little uncomfortable reading JMGs post when I realized he was attacking the Transition movement. Plus I was uncomfortable with idea of the Green Wizard lurking in the shadows only to leap out like a super hero when someone needs him/her. I say this even though I’ve felt that going on about Peak oil etc… to those who aren’t ready to listen often seems pointless and detrimental to my own relationships and sanity.

My reflection on this is that I need to keep calm, suppress my own emotions of rejection, etc… Because it may be the case that while greeted initially with outright rejection and disbelief the message will filter in slowly to that person. Peak oil and climate change is a lot to take on board.

JMG himself has said that many approaches are needed. While the Transition approach is probably not THE answer it definitely moves us in the right direction.

31 Aug 5:10pm

I’m glad to see that the descent movements are starting to develop enough weightiness to create the inevitable jockeying. As others have commented, there is the room and even the need for all types of diversity of thought, although I would like to hear more womens’ voices. There is room for all and there is the need for diversity of thought as we throw out mutations to BAU to see what floats in different places.

“When talking about resilience, I mean the ability of my community to withstand shock from the outside, to not unravel at the first sign of difficulty, and to be able to reinvent itself, using the shock as an opportunity to reimagine and remake itself in a way more appropriate to a world of energy descent. For me, resilience refers to more than the ability to not fall apart when catastrophe strikes, rather resilience is a desirable state in itself, something to strive for because, if done properly, it stands a higher chance of meeting our needs in uncertain times than business-as-usual does.”

The whole idea of resilience bugs me–it implies that we can stop massive change by shoring up the dams we’ve created in our communities. The reason I do not use the term is that we are going to have to become completely unraveled before we can erect something that is more resilient. Resilience implies some maintenance of BAU. We have to descend first, and then develop resilience.

Rhisiart Gwilym
31 Aug 6:40pm

In a previous post on TAR, John Michael offered a spell — with the essential caveat that you have to know a good deal about handling such things deftly — to keep always at the back of your mind, when estimating what’s the most savvy way to get ready for what’s happening and what’s coming. It was:

“There is NO better future ahead.”

With the critically-essential caveat in mind too, that strikes me as a profoundly right estimate of where we’re going. And with that in mind, JM’s Green Wizard initiative seems to me to be right on the bullseye.

Seekers after wisdom (practical, mucky-handed variety) could do worse than follow JM’s instalment novel ‘Star’s Reach’ too, to get the same insight as given in the spell above, but from a different angle, and with a lot of filling in of the blanks.

Good luck to all Transitioners, and thanks in advance for everything worthwhile that you achieve (and you will!). Without doubt we’ll all travel into the Interesting future together. But my hunch is with the Wizards.

31 Aug 7:30pm

You take issue with Greer’s quote; “when the day comes that neighbours are willing to learn” in several places, regarding it as aloof and condescending. Sadly, in my experience, it is quite accurate. Back in 1984 I built a passive solar superinsulated house. The comments I have received over the years run from “I could never have a wood stove – its too much work” to “It couldn’t possibly be very comfortable – it doesn’t have a thermostat.” I’ve even had offers from people to loan me money “so I could put in a real heating system.”

Such people are clearly of the belief that the world as it is will go on forever and that technology will find a solution to any problem we may face. They really are not ready to accept that we may have to find other, perhaps less convenient, ways of doing things. This will only change when they find they can no longer afford to heat the house, drive the car, etc.

I don’t regard myself as in any way ‘superior to these people, and I doubt Mr. Greer does either. We are simply working to cope with a problem that has not come fully into focus for the majority of the prople in our communities.

That said, let me close with the remark that you and Mr. Greer have more in common than in opposition. We need both approaches in the future. More power to both of you.

31 Aug 7:33pm

Hi guys.

I occasionally post comments over at JMG’s site, using this handle – so, here I am.

And I’m a TT member.

Both approaches increase my wa; I feel engaged and not special / gifted. I feel that, becoming engaged and interested in JMG’s contribution is re-skilling me in areas I, personally, have lost – well, never really had. I saw my father growing veggies, keeping chickens etc – those skills have gone from my generation. Lost in the tide of work, study and entertained idleness which makes up my life.

I don’t have the skills, tools, land, social connections, know-how or idea of where to begin. I gotta get myself involved and learning.

Plus…. TT is a mixed blessing. Here’s a thing. I joined TT, then was ill for 18 months. I dropped out then came back when fit. Guess what I observe? TT had shrunk; my groups hardly meet; the sense of can-do / want-to-do has faded. I’ve got some borrowed books, but the (core) group person who loaned them I have not seen to give them back.

RH, you are the centre of a small storm – and see the world through that whirlwind (here I say that things might not be as you think, all across the land).

Yes, it’s poor form to swipe at TT; JMG has no real need to. And, methinks, vica versa too.

// and still I will take what growth I may, from where I find it, giving back where and when I can. This is my way of contributing //

city dog
31 Aug 9:12pm

As a fan of both Rob Hopkins and JMG, I found the post interesting. We should never forget the cultural differences between “Americans” and folks in “old Europe,” among which is individualism versus collectivism. (There’s a meeting ground that works, too.) Until we acknowledge these different ways of looking at the world, each camp will be baffled by the other.

In JMG’s defense (assuming he needs or deserves one): The levels of corruption, not to mention stupidity, within government in the US are staggering, just breathtaking. Thus there is a tendency on the part of beaten-down activists like JMG to hunker down and pursue more individualistic strategies. And the idea that we could run for office and thus replace the fools and knaves doesn’t fly either, as elections are too often fixed. Sounds like a banana republic? You bet.

In spite of being a US person, my instincts are with Hopkins. Better to triumph or go down together. Anyway, I agree we need more than just re-skilling. As someone said: to change anything you have to change everything. That means we have to get busy doing all manner of things, not just the ten-campaigns-approved-by-the-environmental-superstars stuff.

Erik Curren
31 Aug 10:07pm

Great post. It really helps explain why we need to think about BOTH peak oil and climate change.

And to deal with both, we need more than home economics skills, as important as those could be.

Depending on what the future turns out to look like, it might be just as important to keep many of our industrial-era skills intact, from education and communications, to public policy advocacy, to research and planning.

Thanks, Rob!

Sara in Alabama
31 Aug 11:31pm

I am of the humble opinion that you two should publicly ignore each other, stop this bickering, and go to your rooms.
We have a lot of work to do and no room for this.

Mom Earth

Steve Morgan
1 Sep 12:11am

I’ve got to say that this is seems like a tempest in a black teapot, which then defensively calls the kettle black. With your own subheading warning about the dangers of the straw man, you then go on to characterize green wizardry as something that falls into the “doomer/survivalist” camp, complete with “I told you so” superiority, etc. It didn’t read that way to me at all.

What you’re basically saying is that JMG’s project doesn’t serve the goals of the TT movement, so TT is better. This is getting to be a bit of schoolyard drama – complete with the “he started it” refrain we’ve all heard enough. As the figurehead of the TT movement, it’d be great if you’d come back from your vacation on the high road, but tomorrow’s another day. Perhaps you’ll find it then.

In the meanwhile, the rest of us will stick to whatever strategies make sense to us, using whatever yardstick we choose to measure them. Personally, I think “resilience” has a pretty short shelf life before it follows “green” and “sustainable” down the road to meaninglessness thanks to the politicians and businesses you’re so eager to have everyone engage.

1 Sep 1:13am

While you made some valid points, I think the sometimes slightly snarky tone was too much. I’ve been closely following John Michael Greer’s blog for some time and have found him always gracious.

1 Sep 2:38am

Transition Towns are not for everyone, Green Wizardry is not for everyone, and one size fits all denunciations help no one. I have a small business, am politically active and have probably done more to strengthen my community than many around me. I would last ten minutes in a Transition Town meeting before heading out the door. Does that make me a bad, terrible person who is too afraid to step out of their comfort zones? Or should I keep volunteering at my school, growing vegetables, talking about climate change, etc. It sounds like you feel that if it’s not your path it’s just not good enough.

Abe Karl-Gruswitz
1 Sep 5:03am

Wow, don’t cross Rob Hopkins or he might build a straw man right back at ‘ya!

In my own personal taste, one thing that I specifically don’t very much like about the writing styles of both Rob Hopkins and John Michael Greer is that they both like to use big words. JMG likes to use vocabulary that you have to look up (which is an education), but what I’m really getting at is that I’d prefer less long metaphors and painting of pictures before he gets to the point. I’d rather he get right down to business.

Rob Hopkins likes to use big words in the sense that he likes to use big fonts and big pictures, to fill the page (though with little content). His style is a bit vague and lacking in details. Being vague can steer one into projecting generalities, and broad stroking. One example would be generalizing the whole 70’s decade. Another would be painting intentional communities as “lifeboat ecovillages”, giving the stereotyped picture of the hippie commune in the woods, away from civilization (which has very little to draw from in the real world). Rob Hopkins likes quotes, too, but unfortunately, as in some of this article, he falls short from the original meaning sometimes.

The Arch Druid Report is full of discussions on building and organizing community. It has less of the “free market”, business entrepreneur feel, but it’s just what each relates to. JMG relates to social community support organizations like the freemasons. It’s just how each relates to “community”

It’s easy to misrepresent what the Transition Movement is when the writing on what the Transition Movement is is so vague. The lack of structure (and structure can be cooperative and participatory) and organization leads to people wondering “what it’s all about” and go back to their leader for advice. So, Rob Hopkins’ vagueness is a bit self-serving. People have to go back to him for Transition 2.0, then 2.1, then 2.2 as he sees fit. It also leads to putting Rob Hopkins in the center of the storm as Disillusioned put it. The Transition Movement falls into the Tyranny of Structurelessness, that Jo Freeman warns about ( more than I’d like to see.

Here is a detail that I think RH gets wrong and one that I think JMG gets wrong. JMG had mentioned in a comment that he is starting to think that climate change may not be so man-made. It’s hard to state that when you look at the exponential growth of population, carbon emissions, and earth temperatures and how they chart out together over time. Rob Hopkins talks about being off-the-grid as being selfish. It may be self-preserving to get off failing and unsustainable power grids that can’t be sustained, but in the good way. If one can get his or her community (or nation) off the grid, even better! As with the cubic mile slides that are in many transition movement presentations, it’s impossible to replace the energy we put into the grids with alternative energy, from a standpoint of a lack of infrastructure, to a lack of natural resources to do so (like Lithium), to the money to finance such an endeavor.

Though sometimes snarky, that’s my critique of both, coming from my own personal tastes. Rob, I hope the feedback helps.

1 Sep 6:10am

I’m a big fan of Greer also, he seems to be a great teacher, but you hit the nail on the head with this one. I’ve always been a bit frustrated that he doesn’t at least try to embrace the amazing technologies emerging in the field of renewable energy. Having said all that, however, I see more similarities than differences.
By the way, if you happen to be in a town that has no clue about peak oil, conservation etc…is there an online way to look for people with a like mindset in your zip code?

1 Sep 7:36am

Dear All,
Just to make a point clear… I didn’t write the above post, as some have suggested, in order to get ‘snarky’ with JMG, or as some kind of bickering, or worse, as some sort of personal dig. It is surely by the creative critiquing of ideas that we move forward, that ideas are tested, that useful synthesising of ideas are achieved? As stated, there is much about green wizardry that I like, and I have the greatest of respect for JMG, but there is a huge difference between ‘snarky’ personal bickering, which I don’t see this post as having been even in the slightest, and debate and the friendly critiquing of ideas. Surely that is something we should welcome? Thanks for all the comments folks…

Terry Oliver
1 Sep 8:39am

When I wrote a comment on an earlier post asking for Rob’s comments on Greer’s change of direction, I didn’t expect such a measured response from him. He’s obviously been mulling it over a lot during the summer break.
And the comments to this post suggest lots of others have been troubled by the divergence of opinions between him and Greer.
Personally, as a TT member concerned about our inability to raise awareness of the twin perils of peak oil and climate change, I was shaken by Greer’s analysis suggesting the lifeboat approach and disappointed that his solution was just quietism and self-sufficiency.
But I have gone from being a huge fan of TT to an apostate because the grassroots movement seems to attract people but with little follow through – they drift away again and not much remains except the hardcore usual suspects that form the basis of most groups.
I guess I’m looking for Transition Movement Mark 2 – this version seems to have hit the buffers.
So I agree with Rob’s reply to all the comments – let’s keep the debate and the critique going.

Chris Watkins
1 Sep 9:52am

Thanks Rob. Debate and critique are healthy, and you acknowledged the many things you value in JMG’s writing, so thank you for a thought-provoking post.

One of the changes since the seventies is the growth of Open Source – grassroots collaboration in the hi-tech world. If we want to collaborate well, we need to take this on board.

Now we have open source knowledge as well as computer code – Wikipedia is the most famous example, and some of us are doing this in sustainability, renewable energy etc. Look up Appropriate Technology Wiki or Open Source Appropriate Technology if you’re interested (Rob already knows us).

Tom Street
1 Sep 2:37pm

TT suffers from the same phenomenon as almost all other movements. Someone forms a group. People get enthusiastic. They might even accomplish a little bit. Just a few people do almost all the work. People get disaffected and drift away. The leaders finally close shop.

I live near one of the supposedly “enlightened” places in the United States: Boulder, Colorado. But it is not. You might miss all the supposed bicycles because you are too busy watching the thousands of cars whiz by each day. You might get distracted in the parking lot of Whole Foods by all the SUVs parked there. It has a nice waling mall, but how many of the people walking there drove there so that they could walk there?

As Derrick Jensen says, we are a sociopathic species. And I don’t see anything on the horizon that will change that. We will eat our young, if necessary.

When we really start to run out of oil, air, and water, it will probably be too late except for those few who have figured out how to scrape out an existence from the ruins. Maybe it will be those who are borrowing technology from the Dune series, not from the 70s. Hopefully, there will be some spice around to keep us going.

I think TT is great, assuming there is anything left with which to make the transition. People will begin to respond in some way when there is pain. In the presence of cheap energy, they will continue business as usual.

Yes, we needs our wizards as well. And they are going to have to be some powerful wizards to get people through what is going to be “the great predicament”.

Hottest summer, ever, until next summer. Enjoy.

Ed Straker
1 Sep 3:01pm

“…if you happen to be in a town that has no clue about peak oil, conservation etc…is there an online way to look for people with a like mindset in your zip code?”

There was the original Transition mullers map, which never worked that well.

In the US there is the Transition US ning site and associated state sites (now starting to show up as groups under Transition US due to the pricing changes.)

But I agree that finding other initiators is the #1 bottleneck in propagating Transition.

1 Sep 3:05pm

Rob- I’m intrigued to hear you call for/endorse “international action”? Could you clarify what you mean by that?

1 Sep 4:31pm

It’s not THAT hard to find other transitioners. Start a simple blog setting out the issues, use it to ask who else is out there, call it the Transition XXX (your town name) blog. Publicise it with a letter to your local newspaper and appeal for like-minded people to get in touch. They are likely to bring like-minded friends, and many will havew been waiting for you or someone else to do just this. Good luck.

1 Sep 4:53pm

My understanding of JMG is that he is trying to build “dissensus” i.e. he doesn’t want everyone to be a Green Wizard or a Transitioner, but wants a range of antithetical approaches to be adopted to maximise the chances of one of them being successful (because we can’t possibly predict which one will).

As such, I don’t think he really wants to build bridges with the TT movement, and indeed I suspect he would find the response of Rob here very pleasing, in that the greater the difference of approach between the pair of them, the greater the possibility one or other approach succeeding.

To conclude, he’s not playing the game most people here think he’s playing.

Ed Straker
1 Sep 4:53pm

“It’s not THAT hard to find other transitioners.”

I would really resist the temptation to generalize. Too many people who are off to the races downplay the challenges that other people experience in their locale. Every town is different and has its own unique challenges.

Abe Karl-Gruswitz
1 Sep 5:03pm

Rob, I think a critique of each other would be very productive, if it weren’t for the “straw man” arguments from both of you. You are portraying JMG as someone who proposes going it alone, and that TT is about community. You both talk about community.

Criticizing JMG for talking about reskilling is hypocritical. There is a lot of great material in books from the 70’s. I just got a book called Pedal Power from ’77, and I’m about to build myself a pedal powered washing machine which will lower our energy costs by as much as a quarter of what it’s been. I’m looking at plans from Mother Earth News, and building myself a passive solar food dehydrator for food preservation. There are plans I found to build myself a wind turbine and one for a DIY micro hydro. Being able to build these things myself makes energy conservation much more economically accessible. Being economically accessible can bring a “movement” out of being just another white, middle-classed group. Being able to do it myself or to do it with a community of people also gives us the opportunity to recycle materials and waste less. I don’t see what the problem with these appropriate technology skills would be.

I think reskilling is important. Sometimes it is hard to get your local community to listen and join in. My wife and I have been at it for ten years. We have some community as a result, but despite the hundreds of people who have come for potlucks and meetings, we only have a handful of people engaged with us. To put it more dramatically than it really is, but to give my point, it would be very unfortunate if we all just spent our time trying to shout out to everyone what needs to be done and never get around to doing anything.

You say that your intention was not to be snarky. Do you really think that JMG’s message is of a “told you so” nature? To me, it sounds like he is advocating people be entrepreneurs in their own communities to help their communities out.

I’m not going to spend much time picking through all of this, but here is one example what looks like snarkiness to me, “Communities faced with the realities of energy descent, whether rapid onset, stepped descent or rapid unravelling will be faced with much more than simply a need for windmill designs and guides to making good compost. It is not purely an outer process, indeed the practical solutions side of it is the easier side. Ensuring clear communication, dealing with conflict, supporting people through the grief of the future not turning out in the way they had spent their lives so far imagining it would, is equally important. Are the green wizards also dusting off 1970’s self help manuals?”

You put down his proposals for reskilling by changing the topic completely to self-help, which really isn’t a criticism of self-help, but the tone is against the reskilling. You never brought up his message of community and his posts of supporting each other. So, you did a switcheroo. The question is “Are the green wizards also dusting off 1970’s self help manuals?” So, instead of implying the answer to that one, why don’t you answer it? Talk about what John Michael Greer says about community and community support and what you agree and disagree about.

I’d love to hear a productive discourse about what differs and what is the same between you two, but please stick to what he says and the facts of what he really says and what you think about it.

There is plenty of material. JMG states in one of his comments that he thinks that climate change might not be man-made. That would be an easy one to point a difference on. I think his post about planning for the future was a bit silly, and thought so when I read it on the Archdruid Report, but I’d also give him that he proposes planning for the future himself.

Just as a personal request, I’d love to hear you elaborate on your thoughts of off-grid living and “lifeboat ecovillages” as selfishness. What, to you, is the difference between an intentional community and a well organized community?

Can I ask. . . what are your political beliefs? That may seem off topic to some, but this is all absolutely about politics. It’s about how we all work together and the structures that connect us. Are you a libertarian free market person? Do you think that it is the market that binds us together? That makes a difference. If you were a libertarian socialist or anarchist, you may believe it’s the decision-making process that we use when we meet that binds us together. Do you believe that the local government is more a community than the decision-making body of an intentional community? Do you believe a group that gets together because of a common vision or belief, like a church, temple, or intentional community is not “the community”? Do you think that a church is isolating themselves from “the community” or are they forming community? I’d like to put a request out that you talk about these topics in specific detail. I know you like the broad strokes, but I’d love for you to give specific examples, like “what I don’t like about Earthaven Ecovillage is. . . ” or “what I don’t like about Findhorn is. . .” or “I didn’t with Albert Bates thoughts on appropriate technology when he said. . . “

Karim Jaufeerally
1 Sep 6:41pm

Greetings all from Mauritius…

I have been following JMG’s writings since 2006 and Rob Hopkins’ writings and activities since 2005 when I purchased the “Fuelling the Future” DVD set. In my small country, together with a number of like minded friends we have been trying to raise awareness of Peak Oil since 2002. With little success. We recognise that the barriers that prevent meaningful changes are formidable. This is why it is important for people to discuss many different approaches to tackle Peak Oil and other problematic dynamics coming our way like climate change and agricultural crisis for instance. TT or green wizardry (GW) must be seen as different but not dissimilar tools in our tool kit to craft sustainable communities and civilisations. Neither TT nor GW are the sole way of responding to change. Neither must we think that it is either one or the other. In our experience, limited to a small country, we tend to believe that only certain aspects of TT and that of GW will be useful. For instance instead of TT, it might be better to talk about Transition Mauritius or the need for Mauritius to make the transition away from fossil fuels. Similarly it would do no good for me to portrait myself as a green wizard, for wizard in french and creole (the vernacular language here) would be translated as “sorcier or magicien”: a sorcerer or magician! Not conducive for what we want to do. Nevertheless, we believe that a careful reading of both JMG’s and T/T writings are extremely valuable because both offer new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things in response to what is coming.
Both JMG and Rob must be congratulated for their persistent and intelligent efforts in their own respective ways. Criticisms of each others’ philosophy is fruitful as long as it does not become acrimonious. We would all lose out.
Perhaps, in a not too distant future we might see Green Wizards hard at work setting up transition towns all over the place! Why not!

As salaam Aleikum (May God’s Peace be upon you all)

Alan Wartes
1 Sep 8:52pm

I found Greer’s “green wizard” concept to be one of the most insightful in a lot of years of studying these issues. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to solve a host of practical problems associated with actually living the ideal of power down and transition, not just talking about it. (I’ve begun to document some of my experience with urban farming and homesteading at The Story of Here, a blog about hyper-local living.)

Here’s one thing I’ve learned: Sooner or later, the debate over “solutions” to our problematic future will always boil down to this: Does it work for real people, living in real neighborhoods, making do on real income levels? If not, then get back to the drawing board. But how will you know if there are no green wizards in the trenches of experimentation and innovation?

On the other hand, once those solutions are perfected in the trenches, how will they ever become useful in the mainstream without people willing to attend planning commission meetings, organize working groups, even run for office themselves?

The bottom line: we need both. We can’t all be all things. That’s the essence of community awareness. We need each other, need all the gifts on offer. If we begin requiring homogeneous thought and effort, we’re done for.

My two cents worth.

1 Sep 8:58pm

Just a few thoughts on some of the many comments this post has generated. Firstly, as I said above, I really don’t see that it was in any way “pointless swiping”… what I was aiming for was a respectful, measured critique of the green wizard idea, as some commenters have noted. I agree entirely with Adrian that many different approaches are needed, and also with those who note cultural differences between the UK and the US, something that has been touched on previously in discussions here at Transition Culture, most notably in the dialogue with Richard Heinberg.

I am puzzled by Abe’s comment that Transition suffers from a challenge of structurelessness, and that “the writing is so vague”. Many people remark that they find the way Transition is set out as an idea to be very accessible, yet with plenty of space for innovation and adaptation. I guess it is a balance that it is very hard to get right for everyone.

I agree with Rojelio when he says that he observes that there are more similarities than differences between JMG and myself, and that is almost certainly so. As I noted in the opening paragraph, I have long been a great admirer of his work. The suggestion he, and Ed raise, that a problem with Transition is finding people to connect with is an interesting one. Made we wonder if we need an adaptation of the highly successful iPhone app. Grinder, which allows gay men to use GPS to find each other. Perhaps we need a similar app. called ‘Greendr’, which does the same for green minded people? If you develop it, and make a million, remember me won’t you?

Jim: by ‘international actions’ I mean an internationally binding agreement to fairly reduce global carbon emissions, something based on Contraction and Convergence, signed up to by all governments, the kind of thing that should have come out of Copenhagen but didn’t.

Abe: you ask what I think is the difference between an intentional community and a well-organised community. Perhaps the question wasn’t put right, an intentional community can be well-organised or it can be chaos: I have observed both! I imagine you meant to ask the difference between an intentional community and a community in more mainstream society. Well one difference there is that the people in the intentional community have chosen to be there, a process that often leads to a degree of self-selection not possible elsewhere. In more mainstream society the challenges are very different.

Thanks all…

1 Sep 9:42pm

Always good sport to watch people who have 95% of their positions in common knifing each other over the other 5%.

“Why ‘Green Wizards’ Get Us _Nowhere_ New…” (my emphasis).


C’mon, you’re (both) better than this.


Abe Karl-Gruswitz
1 Sep 10:10pm

I wouldn’t mind further clarification. Yes, I could have put that more clearly myself. What I was trying to ask was what would the difference be between an intentional community which had it’s own structure for doing things and, let’s say, a transition initiative that had it’s own decision-making process and organizational structure? An obvious difference would be if people were living next door to each other or not. Other than that, do you think there is a self-selection to who has chosen to be part of the transition initiative? Is the objection to the idea of closing off to the local community around the IC? Would communities like Alpha Farm, where members are EMT’s and postal workers in the local community be an exception?

Here’s an example of something I find vague. The terms “emergent” and “self-organizing”. They are like the term “holistic” in that they don’t have any meaning unless you add a context to them. Everything emerges from something. What does “self-organizing” mean? Is it an objection to community organizing, with a group decision-making process? Does it just mean that each individual has to be pro-active and drive themselves?

Helen Loughrey
1 Sep 11:04pm

I just announced at a Training 4 Transition event that our MeetUp group, [a working group formed after TAE’s Stoneleigh spoke here], is seeking collaboration in arranging a local speaking engagement for John Michael Greer. We got an enthusiastic response: So it’s all good!

Abe Karl-Gruswitz
1 Sep 11:29pm

Helen, where is that?

Helen Loughrey
1 Sep 11:36pm

I might add that when I asked fellow training participants how TT could be more politically inclusive in the US one response I got was ” when the right wing sees how bad they need us then they’ll join us, no need to invite them til then.” The very isolationist attitude Rob Hopkins warns against above!
Trouble is when the time comes you won’t get to choose your community members. You’ll have to work with the neighbors you have next door not the neighbors you wish you had across town. Better get cracking on welcoming those nonliberals to your skilling up working groups!

Helen Loughrey
1 Sep 11:38pm

Click on my name for the skilling up working group website.

Abe Karl-Gruswitz
2 Sep 4:22am

Albert Bates of the Ecovillage Training Center, the Institute for Appropriate Technology, and a local Transition initiative in TN once wrote to me:

“I met Rob at the first international conference of Ecovillages and Sustainable Communites in 1995. He is a supporter but it is not his mission in life. He treds the more difficult road of intentionalizing the unintentional. We provide him a light at the end of the road, something to guide by.

Another thought is that ecovillages are not lifeboats. You can’t grow your own food in a lifeboat. It gets you off the ship and safely ashore. Ashore you will find both transition towns and ecovillages. I continue to be active with both.

I tend to think the TT analogy better fits lifeboats.”

Rob, would you say that your work is to intentionalize the unintentional? Do you think that is an accurate way of putting it?

Rufus Opus
2 Sep 4:57am

Dude, he’s an Archdruid! In. Real. Life. I don’t think he’s going to give a shit what you think once he gets over the surprise and moves along.

Anyone who can tell the whole world he’s not only a druid, but the Archdruid is immune to criticism.

2 Sep 6:41am

Greer left mulch gardening at the edges of the discussion, and simply stated that there has been heated debate pro and con.

From what I’ve read, it worked for her because a hard freeze knocked back the slug population each year, and she wasn’t too concerned about yield. The nitrogen comment may have been a little unfair, since she favored hay over straw, but I could imagine bad effects from quirks of micronutrient levels in the hayfields growing the mulch.

He even made an effort to stay out of the debate between the John Jeavons camp and the Steve Solomon camp, and had a whole post explaining that different methods become appropriate when growing on different amounts of land.

2 Sep 7:22am

2 Sep 7:53am

Ok, do you guys have any presence in Missoula, MT?

The green wizardry sounds kind of silly from a marketing standpoint. He’d probably say I’m missing the point, but still….how many thousands of potential members would passingly brush this off as some fringe group of geeks wearing goofy wizard hats and pointed Spock ears.

Robin Datta
2 Sep 8:23am

The essence of the matter is expressed: “This will not be able to be brought into being purely by communities of course, it will also need local government, national government, and international action.”

Wthi the coming of the paradigm shift, this will retain the coterie that claims a right and retains the power to initiate the use of force against the non-compliant. At best it will only shift that claim and power to another group.

The logical outcome of the principle of the non-initiation of force, the non-aggression principle, is anarchy.

Everyday Anarchy

Practical Anarchy

No other system eliminates a group that claims a right and retains the power to initiate the use of force.

2 Sep 8:57am

I read JMG’s blog. I had never heard of “Transitional Towns” until I read about the movement in his blog. I do not live a sheltered, anti-social, culturally bereft life. I was involved in Earth Day activities in high school (1970s!) and have been avidly advocating and practicing organic gardening and livestock raising my entire adult life.
There is room for both Green Wizards AND Transitional Towns, I think both are needed.
Sniping at one another is not conducive to cooperation.
As for finding other like minded folks (regardless of which philosophy you follow), you might try and see what is going on in your area.

SHTF blog
2 Sep 12:10pm

It’s not bickering, folks. Okay, maybe it is a little, but it’s not a big deal. These debates need to happen and in the end, debates benefit both sides.

I think the images included on this post are a little over-the-top, but … lol – they made me laugh.

[…] this wasn’t his response troubles me. That’s not because I think Hopkins ought to accept all the presuppositions behind […]

James Samuel
2 Sep 12:36pm

I first read your post then popped over to read John’s response today.

I couldn’t help but feel a desire to see the two of you in the same room, clarifying your respective points, and coming to a mutual respect for the valuable work each is doing.

Dialogue is something I have long felt has such an important part to play in creating a different sort of future than the conflict-ridden recent history we have witnessed.

Let’s talk

Shauna Struby
2 Sep 2:47pm

I’ve read both posts and have such great respect for both Rob and John Michael Greer. There’s much overlap and synchronicity between the two concepts. For instance, as a member of Transition OKC in Oklahoma, a U.S. state whose economy is historically and currently deeply rooted in the oil and gas industry — although more natural gas at present — I definitely understand where Greer is coming from in theorizing perhaps it makes more sense to take care of one’s self and individual planning, share with neighbors and be ready to help the community when they are ready. However, this principle is also deeply embedded and embodied in the Transition model in several ways. For instance in developing visible practical manifestations (one of the 12 ingredients); or in facilitating the reskilling. It’s virtually the same thing, stated differently. We are implementing these two ingredients in Oklahoma City, a deeply conservative, fossil-fuel dependent place on a small-scale at the time, virtually one small group at a time, one neighbor at a time. But the recognition of what Transition OKC is doing and our mission — to serve as a catalyst for OKC’s transition to more resilient communities — is seen in the growing number of requests from area universities, civic and government organizations — to speak to their groups about the intertwining challenges of climate change, peak oil and a volatile economy, and to encourage each group to prepare their own plans — individually and collectively. One of the things that attracted me to Transition was the lack of dogma — that and its adaptability, the improvisational nature if you will, of the model, the ability to customize depending on locale and to a great extent on the individuals involved. I see nothing in this model that is at odds with Greer’s Green Wizards or vice versa — in fact there’s a great deal of symmetry. I have a dear, long-time friend here in Oklahoma who attended our Transition training and decided that formally being a part of the Transition coordinating team was not for him, but not because he didn’t value the work or ideas — he’s just not a fan of meetings and readily admits he doesn’t have the patience for community organizing. But as he’s a wonderful model for resilience and sustainability in his own personal projects (built his own virtually off the grid eco-hut, gardens, harvests rainwater, etc.), and is more than willing to share his wisdom with our various Transition projects, conduct workshops, etc. In effect, he’s a “Green Wizard” without affiliating himself as such, who shares his wisdom with Transition OKC as needed. But back to Hopkins and Greer, it is as though these two highly intelligent men are looking at the challenges we face through a large window with two different panes and an adjoining frame. The window is all one piece and the view it offers would not be complete without the two panes — hence — perhaps this discussion and Green Wizards is just Transition expanding, morphing, sending out shoots, as it was meant to. “Letting it go where it wants to go” is after all, one of the Transition ingredients, and, I suspect in the end humanity’s Transition will coalesce not only from the meaningful concepts of these two inspiring men — but from the ideas and practical manifestations yet to come from many women, men and communities around the world.

Ed Straker
2 Sep 3:36pm

“I couldn’t help but feel a desire to see the two of you in the same room…”

I’ve felt for a long time that the original dueling blogs between Rob, Astyk, Greer, Heinberg, etc… over the nature of Community called out for a face-to-face roundtable debate. A “Council of Elrond” on “What to Do” if you will. I’d really like to see this rather than dueling blogs.

2 Sep 8:41pm

Rob’s figure of 66% of people in Totnes being good at growing food is probably very much above the average for a small town in the UK. For those who are unaware, Totnes is a smallish town well known as the hippy-dippy alternative-lifestyle capital of the UK. They are a self-selecing group – people who are looking for alternatives move there to find them.

For the average town or village, it might be nearer 16% or 6% who have ever grown a lettuce or potato.

[…] Michael Greer responds to a critique of his new appropriate technology movement, by Rob Hopkins of the Transition Town movement (see […]

3 Sep 10:20am

(Here is a short response to JMG’s piece

Dear JMG,

Many thanks for a very well-argued and clear response. I find myself in agreement with virtually everything you have written. Clearly Transition, Green Wizardry, Low Carbon Communities, engagement in local politics, green social enterprises, etc. etc, are all approaches that might, hopefully, combine into a viable response. I agree entirely that putting “all our eggs in one basket” would be fatal, and have always argued for Transition as one response, not THE response, not ‘the only show in town’. Heaven forbid. My sense is that this exchange has highlighted the areas where Transition and green wizardry overlap, which has been very useful.

Just two things I wanted to pick up on. Firstly, your concern that Transition perhaps perceives any critique as “an assault to be repelled, and any alternative project as a potential rival to be quashed”, citing my response to Alex Steffen which you saw as ‘dismissive’. I do try to respond to most reasoned and reasonable critiques of Transition, as I think that it is through such conversations that ideas become more robust. When doing so I am very mindful to not be ‘dismissive’. In practice, Transition groups work with a wide range of other groups, other organisations, and other projects, leading to some fascinating partnerships and cross-pollenation of ideas.

The other thing was your statement that “the main impacts of climate change are further down the line” than those of peak oil. That may be the case where you and I live, but of course there are parts of the world where desertification, disappearance of rivers, the melting of permafrost and so on are already having far worse effects on communities than peak oil is having on ours at present. Putting the impacts of climate change into the future can mean that we also assume that we will be able to respond to it in the future too… when the reality is, of course, that it is now that we need to be cutting emissions and cutting them hard.

Anyway, that said, it is clear from this exchange, and from the comments it has generated, that there is a huge amount of common ground between the two projects, with many people engaged in both, and I very much look forward to seeing how this symbiosis will develop over the coming months and years.

With very best wishes
Rob Hopkins

3 Sep 8:51pm

“Now both go to your rooms” tee hee, Sara. I’d never have thought I might agree with such a comment addressed to two such esteemed teachers. I feel like a naughty schoolboy (again!)

Green Wizards in Transition, preparing for their whole community to lean over the fence and ask “what’ya doing?” – why not?

3 Sep 11:51pm

You can find comments on this debate (exchange? volley? piffle-whiffle?)

by Sharon Astyk

by Erik Lindberg

(And I’d like to thank Bart Anderson, assisted by
Kristin Sponsler) for running a website
that’s introduced me & so many other folks to Greer & Hopkins, these two articles, and so many other ones over the years).

And regardless of whether you’d like to do Transition or Wizard practical outreach, the Oct. 10th global day of workparties is not that far away:
1600 workparties in 135

John Michael Greer
4 Sep 1:46am

Dear Rob,

Thanks for a measured and thoughtful response. I’m sorry to say, though, that Blogger — which is having problems again — seems to have eaten the copy you posted to The Archdruid Report. If you’d be willing to repost it there, I’ll put it through again!


David Rapson
4 Sep 4:46pm

I am active in Transition Carrboro – Chapel Hill in the USA. Indeed, Greer’s Green Wizard work does not do much to address issues of resilience and community building. But it doesn’t try to or pretend to. In other words, he is not trying to do what the Transition Movement is trying to do.

His concept is based on different strategy, not different values. I think his approach should be appreciated. We are seriously going to need some experts on lost arts. Anyone reading this know a good blacksmith?

5 Sep 8:36pm

down at the bottom, where nothing effects future outcomes, where nothing counts basically, millions of small people debate the best way to live happily in the world.

Up at the top, where every pen stroke drastically effects the future. Where every meeting between two men counts A select group of a few hundred take positive action to ensure their wealth and happiness at the expense of the little people.

They impose taxes on rainwater, they loot the banks where the little people have their savings, they enslave future generations with huge debt burdens.

So what is the best way for powerless little people to ensure their future happiness in the face of all this? The answer is simple, copy the elites’ Become a little version, with your own central bank full of gold and cash, with no debt. And hide in the shadows of society like they do.

Some of the richest men on earth live humbly on vinyard estates, hog farms and small islands. They don’t flaunt their wealth and they will never suffer of any need because their needs are met by a fraction of their wealth.

[…] of the Green Wizard project nor the TT initiatives nor the various relocalization efforts seem to see the larger picture. They are focused on easing […]

6 Sep 8:19pm

Please talk about something useful and not waste electricity on “debates” between you and someone with a somewhat similar perspective to yourself.

7 Sep 5:14am

Highly educational and provocative. Bravo to inter-generational dialogue and all that can be learned from it!

In Sustainable Solidarity

Aubrey Meyer
7 Sep 3:11pm

In response to: – “by ‘international actions’ I mean an internationally binding agreement to fairly reduce global carbon emissions, something based on Contraction and Convergence, signed up to by all governments, the kind of thing that should have come out of Copenhagen but didn’t” . . . here’s an animation around preceisely that point [that HMG tried a very prescriptive C&C at COP-15 and why this failed]: –

Morning Dove
9 Sep 2:49am

Hey Rob, I’m also a fan of both this blog and The Archduid Report. Next time you criticise, leave out the goofy pictures, they took the criticism to the level of snark.

The one downside to Transitional Communities, is that you have to have a community. At best I belong to a “sub-culture” one made up of Unitarian Univeralists, biodynamic farmers, Pagans (some interested in sustainable living and many could care less), and people who listen to NPR, spread out over two states. I’m also in a very “head in the sand” area reguarding “Peak Everything”, and I have no stomach for politics. I’m happy to teach anyone anything from canning to butchering chickens to crocheting, but few are asking, and prosteltizing isn’t my thing. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I’ve got lots of work to do educating myself…when the community gets thirsty, they can knock on my door. My Transitional Community is a spread out “sub-culture” but it’s all I got.

And yes, I will be smug.

(BTW, if you want to meet other people interested in Transitional Communities/Greek Wizzards/Sustainable Living try Unitarian Universalists and Pagan communities, or your local CSA.)

Talula McPeach
26 Sep 4:29pm

I was really excited about the Transition movement until I actually tried to join it. I don’t know if it’s particular to where I live (Northampton, MA) or if it’s common to Transition Towns or Initiatives everywhere, but the best word I can think of to describe the local Transition group is NON-inclusive. I attended maybe five meetings before giving up completely in exhasperation. At each meeting I tried to offer up my own ideas for “awareness-rasing” and “community-building” but they were all rejected in favor of enforced “fun” and some kind of unspoken, unwritten law created by a secret committee, which made it clear that only some people would be included in this “movement”. The insane self-proclaimed “guru” of the group, Tina Clarke, insists that the number one priority must be “diversity” of skin color and that nothing should be begun, in terms of actually doing anything, until a full rainbow is represented in the circle of extremely uncomfortable folding chairs in the borrowed space in which the group meets whenever it can get it together enough to borrow a space and then remember to announce the meeting. I’d be all for a nice, happy rainbow, if it weren’t for the fact that Northampton is diverse in all sorts of ways but not in terms of skin color. And diversity of opinion is NOT WELCOME HERE.

I am not a person who can cope with “fun” games at meetings, and I came to the movement already well aware of many things including how bio-diversity (and other diversity) leads to resilience. I spent years educating myself before stumbling across this movement, so it was really deflating to realize that if I joined I would be expected, nay, FORCED to do horrible things like play “games” or “partner up” to share “my impression of what sustainability is” or whatnot. Apparently some people were doing something, but what it was was kept secret and only the secret members of the secret Initiating Committee were allowed to know.

Although I was not privileged to enjoy (joke!) a personal introduction to Transition when I joined (nor did I want one, as I read the Handbook and that seemed like more than most in the group had done) I did notice that one person was taking new people into another room and “introducing” them before letting them join the meeting. I asked what it was she told them, and also what she told all the people in town to whom she passed out flyers, but I was refused an answer.

It wasn’t too long before I was so disgusted with Transition (or its local incarnation, anyway) that I called my friends (including a Geologist and other useful sorts) and let them know that they joined at their own risk and I was to be in no way associated in their minds with Transition.

So my big question is this: if the point is to build community resiliency, what happens to the people who just can’t stand Tina Clarke? Or those who, like myself, vomit at the idea of enforced “fun” (I will walk out of ANY meeting or presentation where the main selling point is that joining an effort is going to be FUN!”) I have never in my life enjoyed “fun” at gunpoint. I want to be left alone to brood or make snarky comments, if that’s what I feel like doing. I am not looking for a new social club or a bunch of insipid “positive” types with whom to waste my precious free time. What happens to all the other people like me who vomit at the idea of joining something claiming to be so “positive”? I get that no black people or other “people of color” can be excluded from Transition, but what about the rest of us?

The cheerfulness and “optimism” of (Northampton) Transition leaves me cold and grumpy. If I want optimism I can just walk down the street and bump into random smiley-people. What I need is a place to be myself. And I’m not the only one. So do we have to build our own, separate, parallel resilient communities? That’s what I’m thinking I’ll have to do. In fact I am starting a group called “Collapse Northampton” dedicated to community survival. Yes, that’s right, I want to survive too. And I would like to do it as part of my own community. I would like my community to survive. But the cheery thing is just – YUCK. I make my own fun. Please don’t force it down my throat.

James Samuel
26 Sep 8:46pm

Talula, maybe you need to slip some of this into the drinking water… :-)

Talula McPeach
1 Oct 3:08pm

Haha! Great idea! I bet they’re not guarding the water supply at all…

Richard MacIntyre
7 Oct 2:10am

Hey John and Rob: Don’t forget the Yes Men, either.