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6 Dec 2010

A Critical Response to Michael Brownlee’s call for ‘Deep Transition’

I read Michael Brownlee’s recent piece ‘The Evolution of Transition in the US‘, with a mixture of fascination and a sense of disquiet that increased the deeper I got into the piece.  The concept of Transition has been regularly critiqued, a positive process which has helped to shape what it is today.  Most critiques run along the lines of “Transition, nice idea, but it isn’t [ … ] enough”.  So, for Alex Steffen, Transition isn’t technologically savvy or optimistic enough, for the Trapese Collective it isn’t politically savvy enough, for John Michael Greer it is guilty of ‘premature triumphalism’, for Ted Trainer it isn’t sufficiently rooted in alternative culture or focused enough, while for others it is too riven with New Age thinking and pseudoscience.  Now, according to Brownlee, it is fatally flawed by not having the ‘Sacred’ at the heart of what it does.

Michael’s work, and his proposal for a realignment of the Transition approach, clearly emerge out of a deep affection for the idea of Transition, and are based on much of his dedicated and committed work, doing Transition on the ground, as well as acting as a prolific Transition trainer.  What he is proposing is an evolution of Transition (a Transition 2.0. if you like) to what he calls ‘Deep Transition’, a version of Transition which is explicit about the central role of the ‘Sacred’ (although exactly what that actually means is never defined).  While there is much in his piece which is insightful and clearly builds on a rich understanding of Transition, it raises several points which concern me greatly and which, with the greatest respect, I would like to explore here.

Developing National Transition Identities

One of Michael’s key arguments is that Transition in the US needs to be different from Transition in the UK and to find its own identity and voice.  We agree entirely and Transition Network has taken this approach from the start, observing over these few short years in many countries around the world the self-organising emergence of Transition at the community level, and the emergence of national ‘hubs’ to support that effort (already in place in a number of countries).  In every place this looks different.  Every place develops its own distinctive ‘Transition culture’.  The role of Transition Network is to support that, not to control or dictate it, or, as Michael puts it, “bring Transition to the US” – or anywhere else for that matter.

In New Zealand for example, which is very grassroots driven, they decided not to sign the MoU we had suggested at all, and instead they developed their own model. And we wholeheartedly supported them in that.   In Brazil, Transition is emerging at the grassroots, translating both the model and the materials into the culture of the place – and we’re doing as much as we can to support that.  So, while we’re not trying to dictate the form or approach, we are absolutely  adamant that the emergence of Transition needs to be a collaborative process, built on the foundations of vibrant Transition initiatives at the local level, and that any new reframings of the Transition model emerge in the same way.

It is not, therefore, the case that being able to develop a “uniquely American approach to Transition” will “require that we once again declare our independence from England and establish our own independence”.  Every place where Transition emerges is encouraged to make it their own, but to do so collaboratively: we encourage that absolutely.  Talk of “declaring independence from England” runs directly counter to the spirit of collaboration that we have tried to foster from the beginning, and which most people involved in Transition seem to understand implicitly.

What we are up against – senses of urgency

Michael then goes on to set out what he sees as being the key challenges that should underpin the Transition approach.  These include, unsurprisingly, peak oil and climate change, as well as economics, which is, according to Michael:

“…precisely the area that the founders of the Transition movement in Totnes have been so skittish about taking on as a part of the context for Transition”.

I don’t see that Transition Network has, in any sense, been ‘skittish’ about economics as a possible third strand of Transition.  For example, we wrote a section on economics for the recent Dutch edition of the Transition Handbook. We gave Stoneleigh a prominent role at the last conference and have facilitated subsequent talks by her. We’ve collaborated with Chris Martenson to get his Crash Course material over here and facilitated meetings with government officials for him. We’ve blogged an “Economic crisis” event that involved Tim Jackson and Naresh Giangrande. None of us can think of any talk we’ve given in the last few years that didn’t include a reference to the economics of energy descent.   Rather, we have engaged with the issue in a variety of ways, and various events organised by the Network have explored the question of whether Transition should explicitly make economics a clear strand of its work.

For me personally, I have been reluctant to weave an explicit piece about economics into my own presentations, as I feel that with climate change there is a scientific consensus, peak oil is an issue I understand enough to be able to discuss and defend it, economics on the other hand is hugely complex with very contrasting takes on what is happening.  Is Stoneleigh right, that we are about to see the imminent collapse of the financial system? Is Herman Daly right, that a Steady State economy is possible?  Or is the Ellen McArthur Foundation right, that we could create a ‘cyclical economy’? Or perhaps Tim Jackson is right that we can create ‘prosperity without growth’?  I don’t know, and for me to put all my eggs into one of those baskets would be an act of faith, not one of a reasoned and informed evaluation of the information available.

I get a sense from how Michael builds his case in his article that he has drawn together all the very worst forecasts of everything and used that to underpin his case for ‘Deep Transition’.  I think all we can say for certain is that:

a) we are, at the least, very close to the peak in world oil production, that the impacts of this are uncertain

b) no-one has yet demonstrated that economic growth is possible without the availability of cheap energy to make it happen

c) the science on climate change is, frankly, terrifying.

However, to argue that within 2 years, peak oil will be an issue of “who lives” is a lazy way to describe it and an unhelpful sweeping generalisation. Some places won’t feel much of an impact at all for years. On the other hand, for people living where there’s very little energy and the hospitals can’t afford the diesel for the generators, it is, right now of course, a life or death issue.   In the US though, the subject of his piece, I would guess that within 2 years peak oil won’t be an issue of “who lives”.

Also, there are some elements of Michael’s analysis that don’t seem to stand up to historical analysis.  For example, he writes that “industrial civilisation destroys communities”.  While on the one level this could be argued to be the case from a Robert Puttnam/Happiness Index analysis, it is also important to note that at present, industrial civilisation is, for much of the world, the only thing that feeds, clothes, employs and heats and cools billions of people.  Yes it is deeply flawed, yes it is highly oil vulnerable, yes it is pushing the biosphere to the edge of collapse, yes it is grossly unequally distributed, but is Transition, at this point, in any position to take over and run an alternative infrastructure? To argue that ‘industrial civilisation destroys communities’ is hugely over-simplistic.

Then there is the question of urgency.  Michael writes:

“… there is a growing and indisputable recognition that our collective predicament is far more serious and more urgent than many of us had been willing to actively contemplate. This is being increasingly reflected in the larger Transition movement, sometimes to the apparent dismay of its founders”.

I have to say I have absolutely no idea what he means by this.  Does any of the above communicate a lack of a sense of urgency?  I sense in Transition initiatives, and in everyone I come across who is involved, a deep sense of urgency, of focused commitment.  I don’t think that one needs to exaggerate threats and try and terrify people into a sense of urgency.  The facts are motivating enough on their own. Indeed there is lots of research showing that bombarding people with terrifying information is far more likely to lead to a Flight/Fight/Freeze response than to constructive engagement.  It is rarely an effective approach to engaging people in my experience.

Pattern Language

Next Michael discusses the ‘Pattern Language’ approach I am using for in my next book as a tool for redefining the Transition approach and how it works.  I am not using the term ‘pattern language’ anymore, as it seemed to bewilder so many people, and therefore now refer to them as ‘ingredients’, which seem to resonate much better.  While Michael and I are both great admirers of Alexander’s work, I’m not sure I agree with Michael’s analysis of what Alexander is saying.  Michael argues that:

“… all this (the section Michael chose from Alexander’s writings) may seem rather mystical, even spiritual. Well, perhaps it is. We eventually discover that what Alexander is pointing to is that wholeness and connectedness and aliveness and sacredness and holiness are all one seamless unfolding evolutionary process”

I think this is a misreading of Alexander’s perspective.  I have never found anything in his writings that talks about “sacredness and holiness”.  Alexander talks about the ‘quality that has no name”, a quality of built environments that brings them to life, but it is not my understanding that he is referring to the ‘Sacred’ in the way that Michael is.  I will be meeting and interviewing Christopher in a couple of weeks for this website, so will explore this further with him.  Michael continues:

“In the UK, this bold re-conception is being delivered under the banner of “Assembling Transition” and Hopkins has taken to call the patterns he has identified as “Transition Ingredients”—as if Transition is some sort of recipe to follow, a kind of cake we can just cook up! Unwittingly, Hopkins may be condemning Transition to the same kind of fate that has befallen a mechanistic view of Nature and the Universe … as I delve deeper into all this, I find myself suspecting that Rob may be ignoring the deeper aspects of Christopher Alexander’s work”.

This is a matter of opinion on which we respectfully diverge.  What I am doing with this project is to reflect better the model of Transition that I see unfolding in countless Transition Initiatives.  It is not one necessarily underpinned by ‘the Sacred’, but then nor is Alexander’s.  It is not about teaching everyone to make the same cake, rather the observation that in doing Transition in a range of settings, there are certain stages or phases that most initiatives go through, and that there are certain ingredients people use, but everyone makes different cakes, cakes specific to culture and to place.  This approach doesn’t tell people how to do it, rather offers them useful pieces, ingredients they can use to create whatever they want to.

Further, criticism of the approach I’m taking, which mirrors Alexander’s pretty much to the letter is, by implication, a criticism of Alexander’s too. The only divergence between Transition’s use of “Pattern Language” and Alexander’s is that, based on feedback from transitioners, we’re choosing to call the discrete elements “ingredients” rather than “patterns”.

The Role of the ‘Sacred’

Now we get to the element that is the cause of the bulk of my disquiet (sorry to grumble so much folks, it’s not my usual style….).  Michael states unequivocally that:

“our preparation is likely to crumble unless we are able to connect with and cultivate the aliveness, the wholeness, the healing and the sacredness that underlies the Transition process”

… and later he states that, the way forward for the US is what he calls ‘Deep Transition’ – i.e.  a Transition that is “all about the sacred”.

His argument is that at the heart of the challenges facing us is a crisis of a culture that has become disconnected both from nature and also from a sense of connectedness to the rest of life. There’s some validity to this argument but the conclusion Michael reaches from it – i.e. you can’t successfully do Transition without engaging the ‘Sacred’ as a central part of the approach – seems to be the perfect recipe to alienate, bewilder and sideline Transition in the US or anywhere else, to condemn it to the back pages of Kindred Spirit magazine and restrict it to a very narrow slice of society.

For me, if Transition has done one thing well over the past 4 years, it has been the designing of an approach that comes uncluttered by much of the baggage that has encumbered environmental responses over the past 30 years. These responses have often been perceived as being smug, judgemental and against lots of stuff without a very clear idea of what it is for.  The Transition idea has spread into businesses, organisations, Councils, the media and so on, as an idea that is simple to understand and accessible to people from all manner of mindsets.  Making a central and explicit connection with the ‘Sacred’ would be a sure-fire way to consign Transition back to the left-field, far away from businesses and communities everywhere.

Michael writes that “when people hear the word ‘cosmology’ they sometimes automatically think it is somehow religious”.  I think he misses the point.  When people hear the word ‘Sacred’, they automatically think it is somehow religious.  To be talking about the ‘Sacred’ in Christian or Muslim communities which have their own very strong sense of what the sacred means, would be highly divisive. And we’d find a similar response if we used it to engage and work with agnostics, atheists and others who don’t share that world view.  The idea that such an approach would be a guaranteed way of deepening engagement in the US seems poorly judged to me.  In fact, I would argue that in the current economic climate, with unemployment running rife, a focus on, for example, social enterprise and economic localisation would be far more relevant and gain much deeper traction. We might also find that encouraging increasing levels of scientific literacy among Transition groups to better equip them in evaluating different options might also help gain more traction.

That is not to say that the ‘inner’ aspects of Transition have no place, they clearly have a vital role to play.  Offering tools to make people more personally resilient, better able to cope with rapid change, and better able to communicate with each other, are vital.  Much excellent work has been done by Transition trainers and others developing tools to strengthen the inner aspects of Transition, and it is one of the key things that distinguishes Transition from other approaches –  this is not purely an external process of creating CSAs and running Open Space events, it is also about supporting communities, and each other, through times of rapid and deeply challenging change.  Skilfully presented, this is an absolutely key aspect of Transition.

However, what Michael is writing about is something different.  Inner Transition is not necessarily about the ‘Sacred’, although for some people it might be.  It can be seriously misleading, in my opinion, to explicitly intertwine the two. There is a certainty to Michael’s writing that I am convinced others will find deeply alarming.  For example, his assertion that “it is our belief if you’re not spiritually connected to the Earth and understand the spiritual reality of how to live on Earth, it’s likely you will not make it” would permanently alienate a massive proportion of the people we’re trying to reach.

Closing Thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning, Transition is often subject to critiques of its approach and its underlying thinking, and it is in these discussions that the evolving edge of Transition can be found.  It is here that ideas and challenges to a comfortable consensus emerge and shift the thinking out of its comfort zones.  For me, this is one of the areas where Transition feels most alive.  Michael is to be thanked, like others before him, for pushing Transition out of its comfort zone and asking it some testing questions.  In Transition, we have tried to support an approach where these things are debated and discussed openly, and that any moves forward or evolutions to the approach are based on what emerges from that.  I hope that Michael’s piece, and this response, will lead to a debate on these issues.

However, it is my sense that any new evolutions of the Transition approach should emerge from Transition initiatives on the ground, from the people themselves, from a wide background of beliefs, convictions, political backgrounds and class/racial backgrounds, who are out there, trying things out, dedicating their time to the idea that a more localised, more resilient, less-oil dependent future is the one they want to grow old in and see their grandchildren thrive in, rather than being developed in isolation.

There is something about how Transition is currently communicated that fires people, which leads to their putting their shoulder to bringing Transition into being.  Insisting on the idea that ‘Deep Transition’ is the future for Transition in the US context implies that what everyone else is doing, and has been doing for the past four years is, by implication, ‘Shallow Transition’.  For me, the future of Transition, in the US, or anywhere for that matter, would stand the greatest chance of being successful if it is based on a blend of practical action, community engagement, ‘inner Transition’, social entrepreneurship, social justice, paying careful attention to deep engagement, basing its choices on the best evidence available, creating new economic models for inward investment, and finding skilful ways to engage local businesses and local government.  Clearly Michael is passionate about what he has set out here, and feels it to be a valuable approach and an enriching model.  I wish him all the best with his work, but for me what he has set out here isn’t Transition, or rather it is one take on a small aspect of Transition developed by a small group of people, and should be seen in that context.

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


Bryonny G-H
6 Dec 8:19am

Hi Rob,
I get your concerns about the ‘sacred’ but I wonder if in this case it is a UK/US divergence.
The ‘sacred’ strand in US environmentalist (but a bit broader than that) thought, with authors like Gary Snyder, has long seemed to me much more central and pronounced than in writing addressing similar issues from the UK. (I’ve not made a vast study of this so I’m willing to be corrected!)
It’s one of the reasons that, studying ‘revived traditions’ in Britain, I don’t tend to read similar stuff from the US, because it’s just not that comparable.

James Samuel
6 Dec 9:46am

What a wonderful opportunity for much fruitful dialogue, which I’m confident will ensue.

It’s understandably tempting to make assumptions about how things might unfold as we leave the world of cheap abundant oil behind, and I admit to being prone to making some. I have a strong sense (no science here) that the future we build, will be greatly enhanced if we develop our ability to engage in open dialogue – a conversation with a centre, not sides. Our willingness to suspend our personal views long enough to listen deeply, with an intent to understand, will help us to find the common ground – the place we can move forward from, with energy.

As an early adopter (1985) of email, and someone who recognises the inherent limitations of electronic written communication, I question whether blog posts across the Atlantic can ever replace voice or video, (in lieu of toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye). Rob, if you and Michael ever find yourselves thinking it might be useful to have a skype call on the issues raised here, I’m more than happy to offer my facilitation skills and experience, from down under – on the edge of Transition.

Big hugs to you and Michael, and respect for the work we have all done.

Nick Towle
6 Dec 11:31am

Thanks for the reflections Rob.

The tensions you express here appear to have some parallels to those working in the sphere of Education for Sustainability. There exists a perennial debate as to whether a transformation to a sustainable society requires a primary shift in our ways of thinking and feeling about the world or weather greater effort should be directed to changing ‘what we do’ in the hope that the value sets will then catch up. From my experience of Transition I have a sense there are individuals working simultaneously on many elements of this continuum. In some locations one end of the spectrum appears to have greater appeal.

Locally there are many drivers of the Transition movement who are exploring the potential for incorporating the Changing the Dream Symposium as a means to connect with members of their community. I sense this has particular appeal to those who don’t get a same level of fulfillment that you and I might get from the scientifically driven, tangible manifestations of change.

The reasoning for bringing in the Changing the Dream Symposium is that it provides another signpost pointing toward the need for Transition, one that connects with individuals at a different level than information giving.

I imagine that many in the US will have a moderating influence on the ideas of Michael Brownlee. I have a curiosity for how things evolve within his sphere of influence.

6 Dec 1:32pm

In hope it adds an additional and informative perspective, I’d like to point out another parallel: the recent ‘Common Cause’ document, about communicating Climate Change, emphasises a need to shift people’s values, rather than just behaviours. To the extent that it has riled some active CC communicators who say we don’t have time for that (and, heyho, talk of ‘values’ might lose us lots of the audience who would readily respond to selfish reasons to change behaviour, like ‘Feed-in-tariffs’.)
I say, ‘Horses for courses’, and there is room on the field for a lot of different horses (and will they all go in the same direction – will they heck!)

michael Dunwell
6 Dec 2:00pm

Rob, James and Nick, you do wonderfully well to engage with M.B’s passionate words without losing your balance. What is it that finally makes us commit ourselves to work for a healthier world? Is it because the land is “sacred” I feel such horror when the pictures of tar sands extraction are shown?
What I am grateful for is that after many years of anguishing about the environment Transition gave me the opening I needed to join with others who feel the same way. I was attracted to it because people with such different backgrounds and beliefs were involved and none of them cared about that as much as they did about the matter in hand, i.e. what is happening to the world. That’s more than enough for me.

David Eggleton
6 Dec 2:28pm

I expect to come back with more, but wanted to share this from the home page of Global Transition in Action: “The best measure of success is the number of people you take along with you. — Dan Bricklin, inventor of the spreadsheet, in a meeting of the Boston Computer Society at MIT, c.1983.”

6 Dec 3:35pm

Thank you, Rob, for your incredibly gracious and inclusive comments. Transition in the US will take many shapes and forms as it fits each individual community. I am sure we will join together in the ways that make the most sense from community to community.

What we are discovering in Dallas, TX is that we are in the very beginning developmental steps and that it will be necessary for us to discover our own way, based on the resources we discover both within ourselves and the resources we are able to develop in our many, many several communities.

The first resource I feel we are discovering is trust among ourselves. As we go through the Study Guide for The Transition Handbook, it is stimulating the kind of self-awareness that lays the foundation. We are just beginning to evolve into re-skilling among ourselves and beginning to support the outreach efforts of each other.

Step-by-tiny step we are beginning to take “field trips” to discover what other interested people have to offer and to share.

I, for one, am so excited about the possibilities for individuality and service and commitment and community that I can hardly contain myself. The existing terminology is very inclusive, I think. I would really hesitate to categorize the US in any other specific way.

Thank you, all who are contributing to this vibrant dialogue. What a celebration!

Lila Porterfield
6 Dec 3:45pm

Thank you, Rob, for your balanced response to Michael’s essay. You managed to write a response to all the items that bothered me in the essay in a manner much more articulate than I could have achieved. His approach bothered me at a training I attended this past June and also last night on the radio interview he and Carolyn Baker did on The Lifeboat Hour. I do think he is sincere and that his approach could be one offering through the Inner Transition/Heart and Soul Working Groups. However, speaking from the US, I do not think it at all helpful to promote this approach as the “US evolution” of Transition for all the reasons you stated. I do hope this will open a dialogue in which Michael, and those who agree with him, will actively participate.

Thank you, Rob, for all you’ve done and are doing!

Don Porterfield
6 Dec 5:07pm

Thank you Rob, for your thoughtful response.

Now….The Backstory:

I have attended a Training for Transition that Michael taught and was extremely dissatisfied with that teaching. We went to the training with the expectation that what would be taught was what was described in the Handbook (which was also the description of the training in the pre-training info) but were dismayed that for a day and a half we spoke mostly about the New Cosmology. Finally a general rebellion led Michael to get to some “nuts and bolts” of organizing an initiative. But our group who attended felt cheated at missing on some badly needed basic information, that WE thought we had paid for. We came back home and got in touch with TransitionUS and with Rob to inform them of our feelings. So, yes, I have an axe to grind.

Michael would like to create something “uniquely American” he says, but I’m not sure that cramming the Sacred down the throats of Transition Initiatives is all that unique. Nor does it reflect American values, unless it’s those of some of the Religious Right who insist that everyone who disagrees with their particular faith is doomed to Hell.

In Michael’s essay he declares that “language matters”. Yes it does Michael and your argument seems centered on the term “the Sacred”. Yet does one find that term in an English Language Dictionary? No, because in our language sacred is an adjective, and NOT a noun. The only place I’ve found the term “the Sacred” is in New Age vernacular. And even there it’s meaning is, again nebulous. But Michael would like us to chain our futures to something undefined.

I live in the Deep South of the USA. My county voted 79% Republican. Most of my neighbors would be completely turned off by Michael’s approach. That’s reason enough for me to reject this idea. But in addition, we have in our community many twenty to thirty year old folks who “get” the need to work on Transition, but who would run quickly away from anything that used the term “the Sacred”.

My point is that we have Transition happening in our rural area without the Sacred. And to introduce it would fragment our community.

jerry silberman
6 Dec 5:25pm

Thank you for your effective response to Mike Brownlee. His uniquely American contribution is to misunderstand transition entirely by assuming that there is one right way to do it, applicable to all times and places. This is exactly the imperialist monocultural mindset which has brought our species — or at least that culture which most of us consider the inevitable and highest expression of the accomplishment and destiny of man(sic)kind — to the edge of catastrophe.

Transition efforts are springing up all over my region, Phildelphia, PA and that is very exciting; however, I’ve always been put off by Brownlee’s presentation, since I first encountered him at a conference 4 years ago.

Thanks for recalling those essential elements of transition he has forgotten, its local context, and resilience.

Mel Riser
6 Dec 5:52pm

The issue of “sacred” is the fact of all peoples have a VERY different idea of what is “Sacred”

Look at all the religious wars we have/host/participate in today because of violations of “Sacred”

The issue I HAVE of connecting Transition Movements/Initiatives to a “sacred” mantra, is it starts to develop religous connotations and overtones.

Transition is NOT ABOUT a religion, but about very specific events that are NOT sacred. Like peak oil, climate change, and economic strife.

The Gaia worshipers want to bring their religion du jour into the mix and that will ONLY complicate, not help.

It will HINDER.

Sacred is a religious term, not something we want to encumber the Transition Movement with.

Permaculture YES!

Religion of a Gaia Worshiper?



6 Dec 6:38pm

Thanks Rob for another down-to-earth and articulate post, and for the reminder that:

“All we can say for certain is that:

a) we are, at the least, very close to the peak in world oil production, that the impacts of this are uncertain.

b) no-one has yet demonstrated that economic growth is possible without the availability of cheap energy to make it happen.

c) the science on climate change is, frankly, terrifying.”

Glenn Saunders
6 Dec 7:04pm

The whole premise of Transition rests upon the heresy (and I use that word very deliberately) of questioning the idea of infinite growth on a finite planet, and of the God-given right to “more”.

It also makes several assumptions, the biggies being that people a) believe in global warming, b) believe in peak oil and that technofix won’t work to address it.

I was shown the Holmgren Future Scenarios chart in my Transition Training which discounts technofix and implies a fast-crash in a BAU-only scenario, with earth-steward in the middle. This assessment of the future is central to the debate of whether we should change and if so, how much.

Even without inserting the new-agey animism, these concepts are inherently threatening to people. It will remain threatening until they see the benefits of Transition outweighing the benefits of BAU, at which point the frog will already be boiling in the pot.

The premise of Transition seems to be that this change is a carrot rather than a stick, but if you look at BAU as a form of addiction, people who are in the throes of addiction tend not to respond unless they finally concede that they have a problem.

Nobody likes being told they have a problem. That’s why interventions are traumatic events.

I guess what bothers me the most about this article is that it seems to ignore the greater cultural shift in the US away from anything remotely resembling “Transition”. Sure, people are having to be more frugal because they are out of work. They are also rejecting global warming more and more, and have elected people who have put the gutting of the EPA and general deregulation as a top agenda.

Can anyone reading this thread seriously think that you can gently invite people into Transition under this cultural backdrop, without breaking any eggs? And if you do, what exactly will you have accomplished if they will be unwilling to do the things that really need to be done? If we plant a few fruit and nut trees while at the same time electing Sarah Palin and calling for the drilling of ANWR, is it really a net gain?

I just don’t see how you can avoid a culture-clash.

David Eggleton
6 Dec 7:51pm

Transitioners must learn to rest on and work from a simplicity on the far side of complexity. Michael isn’t there, but is, with good/decent intentions, in the tangle of what’s hopeful and what’s not.

Bruce Rodgers
6 Dec 8:09pm

Hello Rob.

As you know I was one of the attendees at the T4T training here in the southern US where (according to Michael) he first presented to a group of novices Transition trainees his ideas put forth in his article. I, like several others at that training, openly and strongly objected to Michael personally about his presentation, using many of the same arguments you voiced in your response to him.

Our communication with you over the last several months about Michael’s position helped clarify why our objections mattered. Thank you for your considered and tempered response and open invitation to now carry this discussion out into the wider Transition US community. I am sure there will be many points of view on this and they all need to be heard and considered.

As we are all aware, Transition is emerging somewhat differently in each location in response to the make-up, perceptions and needs of those with in a given community. As you so clearly put it “…it is my sense that any new evolutions of the Transition approach should emerge from Transition initiatives on the ground, from the people themselves. . . .” I heartily agree.

What we do not need is any semblance of a “Transition dogma” seeking prominence with in Transition US that seeks to claim the right to know with certainty the direction that all transition initiatives must follow. To have that happen would be tantamount to declaring the launch of the First Transition Church of the ‘Sacred’. Not at all a happy thought.

Thanks. Bruce

Abram Karl-Gruswitz
6 Dec 10:33pm

Hi Rob,

Great article!! I absolutely have NO disagreement about ANY of it! I was very happy to read it. There is a lot of talk of the “sacred” with the local initiatives here. Genesis Farm, which Michael Brownlee speaks of, is twenty minutes away. If I would say I’m of any religion, it would be Quakerism. Spirituality is important in my life. I’m an ordained minister (though I think we are all ministers, and it only cost me $25 to be ordained :P). I do have a strong aversion to evangelicalism, and Michael Brownlee speaking of talking about “the sacred” being “the way” to do things, strikes me as such. I also think to myself, “who’s sacredness?”. I definitely don’t subscribe to his and The Creater Community’s belief that UFO’s will save us.

Thank you for this article, Rob!

Bart Anderson
6 Dec 11:07pm

Good essay, Rob.

I don’t necessarily disagree with Michael, but his approach is not everyone’s cup of tea. For me, a little goes a long way.

It’s rather like Christianity, Marxism, Buddhism, libertarianism … I want to be in communication with those traditions, and I’d like to be able to work with them. But I don’t want to be card-carrying members. And I would not like Transition to be taken over by any of them.

I much prefer the Network model, in which we come together for those projects where we can, but otherwise we keep a respectful distance.

“Good fences make good neighbors.” – Robert Frost

Shauna Struby
6 Dec 11:10pm

Thank you Rob for responding to Michael’s essay in such a gracious and articulate manner.

As others in the U.S. have mentioned, I too had deep concerns and discomfort reading Michael’s essay. It struck me as totally out of touch with the reality of Transition on the ground in many other parts of the U.S., and in fact antithetical and counter productive to the growth of Transition as a whole across the U.S.

We don’t need someone or a movement to tell us how to be spiritual or religious here in the U.S. Religion and spiritual movements abound at every turn in the U.S. — and creating some weird permutation of Transition to preach at people on how to transition spiritually would be like stepping on a bandwagon that’s already fully loaded and groaning and causing a great deal of division in this country.

We do so need a framework that can help us prepare — individually and collectively — for the many challenges — most notably peak oil, climate change and economic instability — and I believe the Transition ingredients and Permaculture are the best toolkits we have for that Transition U.S. and others in the U.S.– please hear let’s not codify Transition into some kind of sustainable, ecological or spiritual dogma because frankly that’s the last thing we need here in the U.S.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

Murray Lane
6 Dec 11:10pm

As an architect I have been a ‘devote’ of Christopher Alexander for some time. You are correct that in his earlier books there was little talk of the sacred. However, in 2003-4 he released his four-volume philosophical work, The Nature of Order, in which he does delve more into, well, the nature of order. As his advertising says, “The books offer a view of a human-centered universe, a view of order, in which the soul, or human feeling and the soul, play a central role.” (
I look forward to reading about your interview with him.

Steve Earnshaw
6 Dec 11:56pm

Thanks for a great and well reasoned critique Rob. I agree that whilst for some there is undoubtably a very spiritual aspect to transition and to environmental issues in general, for many others an approach that emphasises “the Sacred” is likely to be frightening and divisive.
The success of the Transition approach hinges on it’s open-source nature, and on its ability to engage accross, ideological, religious and political divides. We definitely need to avoid taking a quasi-religious stance, and we also need to avoid imposing national or regional structures from the top down.
Many thanks, Steve (Timaru, NZ)

Liz McLellan
7 Dec 12:17am

Bravo Rob!

One of the central attractions to the Transition Movement and the Handbook was the very obvious lack of “woo-woo”…I finally felt like I found a home.

Though I believe faith groups SHOULD and WILL take on the meaning of transition to their flocks and to their dogmas and stances…I have no need to listen to any of it. Feel free people…just do not ask me to sit in.

We have a town of less than three hundred people with EIGHT churches. (No synagogues, mosques or other places of worship) We have personal animosities and political factions that go back for GENERATIONS.

And yet… we are starting to be able to talk about one topic – together – rationally. Making our valley a place where we can continue to live, raise our families and pursue the good life.

If I wanted to immediately put a stop to the hard won good feelings about each other people are starting to develop I would start talking about the Gaia hypothesis…and the things I’ve seen in my most numinous moments. And then the conversation would end. Because perhaps I would need to insist that people who do not understand evolution should not be allowed to teach it…for instance.

I have no problem with separate groups forming to delve into the “spiritual” aspects of transition..but I will not participate in some drum circle with some guy who tells me I don’t understand what’s going on because I don’t buy into his personal spiritual frame.

That way lies madness.

Nell Whitehead
7 Dec 1:44am

I am greatly encouraged to have read your article. Recently, Michael Brownlee spoke to our Transition group and many of us were disturbed by the apocalyptic tone and religious direction he seemed to be taking. We all have the right to our religious beliefs but I feel that Michael’s focus on religion in the context of Transition is misplaced and ill-advised.

7 Dec 2:41am

Very good points, Rob. I pretty much agree. I would love to see a thoughtful piece on why transition initiatives have slowed down, and why is it that in many communities, they have not taken off. Dave Pollard recently spoke about his disappointment with TT, saying people are not ready. Rather than jumping to a supposed solution (the sacred, inner work) why not look at what is happening, and what is getting in the way?

7 Dec 4:01am

A thought in response to Vera’s comment above. Over the past year I was involved in a Transition group that has since stopped meeting. I would attribute this to a variety of reasons, some of which include a) a premature attempt to “go big,” thus overextending ourselves, b) personal conflicts, c) a lack of regular meetings, and d) concerns about legal liability (we never became an official non-profit or other such entity). I’m sure various groups have slowed or stopped meeting for different reasons, but I’m sure there are also some commonalities among those reasons. Perhaps “ingredients to watch out for” could be just as valuable as ingredients that work in a pattern language approach to Transition.

And to the main point of this post, our group’s stance on “spiritual” matters was a running question and point of tension throughout our short-lived Transition effort. I have no doubt that spiritual ideas (new age, religious, eco-spiritual or otherwise) can be part of a productive dialogue with Transition, but they are not intrinsic to Transition, and to conflate them is no help to the Transition movement. Thanks for your thoughts on this matter Rob. I think having your perspective on the topic will do a lot to maintain the legitimacy of the movement among those who wish to address the concrete issues we are facing.

7 Dec 8:59am

Interesting points Rob!

“to condemn it to the back pages of Kindred Spirit magazine…” LOL! Definitely wouldn’t want to see that happen!! 😉

You say:
“c) the science on climate change is, frankly, terrifying.”

but then go on to say:

“Indeed there is lots of research showing that bombarding people with terrifying information is far more likely to lead to a Flight/Fight/Freeze response than to constructive engagement. It is rarely an effective approach to engaging people in my experience.”

isnt that a bit contradictory? The science is just the science. Surely the fact that you personally find “the science” terrifying” is not something on a short list of “things we can say for certain”- it’s just your opinion. For many millions of people climate change is a non-event- they have much more pressing issues such as malaria, malnutrition, or losing their house in the financial collapse. (As you allude to in the next paragraph.)

“it is also important to note that at present, industrial civilisation is, for much of the world, the only thing that feeds, clothes, employs and heats and cools billions of people.”

Surely this is the main reason why “transition” might stall- it’s nothing to do with Brownlee’s views on disconnection from nature or loss of “the sacred”- the fact is, noone knows how we can live without “the system”- unsustainable or not- without returning to the poverty of subsistence agriculture, which noone is going to choose voluntarily. Essentially, all Transition can do is try to reform it and make it a little less polluting.

Personally, I think the whole issue about the Sacred or whatever is a red herring- what people are looking for is community in and of itself- not as part of some revolutionary way of sustaining ourselves. Neither community nor “the sacred” can substitute the advantages of industrial society, regardless of the latter’s downsides.

“Is Stoneleigh right, that we are about to see the imminent collapse of the financial system (she did say at the 2010 Transition Network conference that by now my house should by now be worth what it was in 1974, which is patently isn’t).”

That’s very interesting! What other “doomer” predictions are there that you think have not come true on time?

John Mason
7 Dec 2:12pm

‘”His argument is that at the heart of the challenges facing us is a crisis of a culture that has become disconnected both from nature and also from a sense of connectedness to the rest of life. There’s some validity to this argument but the conclusion Michael reaches from it – i.e. you can’t successfully do Transition without engaging the ‘Sacred’ as a central part of the approach – seems to be the perfect recipe to alienate, bewilder and sideline Transition in the US or anywhere else, to condemn it to the back pages of Kindred Spirit magazine and restrict it to a very narrow slice of society.”

I’d just like to comment on this very short section of an interesting post.

Disconnection from Nature is a key root of the situation we find ourselves in: primarily that the environment – yes, that thing that feeds, waters, clothes us and gives us nice views at times (plus the atmosphere that lets us breathe) has somehow been repositioned to the extent that it either appears to be regarded as somewhere you go on vacation or as a nuisance because it gets in the way of planning applications. We all have our different views of Transition and the one that floats about in my mind is one in which community and environment are one and the same and are again widely recognised as such. However, certain words can punch above their weight and yes I would agree that “sacred” is one of them. Likewise, putting my hard hat on quickly, I would say the same about “Permaculture”. My take is that Transition should endeavour to avoid the use of any potentially loaded or excessively novel terms that either are, or are even perceived to be, associated with anything even remotely regarded as cultish (including all religions). That’s a good way of getting out of the “narrow slice of society” trap.

Like Graham, I also get rather turned-off if anything vaguely new-agey is going on at Transition gatherings and I have in the past had feedback that it has put some off becoming involved, period. We have to remember that it’s not just about defining our own comfort-zones and inviting others to come into them: it needs to work on all sorts of levels and therein lies the challenge.

Talking of which, though, one of my own comfort-zones is my local, and after getting into Transition a whole new world opened up to me – chewing over the technicalities of vegetable-growing with elderly allotment-holders over several pints of Guinness. If you want to find out how to grow veg in an area, ask people who have been successfully doing so for 50+ years. Their advice was excellent – so the step of “honouring the elders” was spot-on in this case! A chemical-free productive veg-garden in which biodiversity absolutely thrives (e.g. the Comma butterflies have bred for a second year running – but for every one of those there are dozens of different spiders, bugs and beetles) was the result.

Reconnection to Nature (and it doesn’t need a label) is a powerful thing to behold – just last week we planted fruit trees in a part of Machynlleth – “we” being mostly local primary school children who learned how to handle garden tools, how to plant, what compost is/does and that mulching is not only fun but has a purpose. They seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves as they learned all about the job: I’d go so far as to say that there is a yearning for such things in the minds of many people.

Cheers – John

David MacLeod
7 Dec 3:13pm

The genius of Transition Initiatives is, for me, found in the somewhat bland word “balance.” Balancing head, heart, and hands. Balancing inner and outer work. Balancing the framework (steps/ingredients/principles) with the freedom of how an initiative develops and expresses itself in any given community. Finding the right balance is what will allow a greater inclusiveness and diversity.

I personally resonate with many of the concepts Michael puts forward – there’s much to be learned from Matthew Fox, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, etc, but I absolutely agree with Rob’s post here. The key phrase for me: “what he has set out here isn’t Transition, or rather it is one take on a small aspect of Transition developed by a small group of people…”

The Inner Work of Transition Initiatives is vitally important, but we must realize that there are many, many possible expressions of this. It’s understandable that people will think the path that they’ve found is “the” answer, but if Transition were to explicitly side with a particular religion or path, it would automatically cut out and alienate many people from participation.

There can be a place within Transition for the kind of approach Michael talks about, but for it to become the explicit path of Transition would be a huge mistake.

Shauna Struby
7 Dec 5:07pm

The discussion in the comments section of Rob’s blog post are an eye-opener, and I am greatly relieved to see other Transitioners in the U.S . affirming it would be a mistake to lead or infuse Transition with an emphasis on any one type of spirituality.

One’s spirituality is a highly personal matter, and while I may find things I agree with in many religious and spiritual movements, I find it highly off-putting and even arrogant to be “preached” at by anyone via Transition about New Cosmology or any other permutation of New Ageism, just as I find it off-putting to be beat over the head w/ the Bible by evangelicals when I’m walking through a store or when I open the door to my home and meet “missionaries” who can’t take no for an answer.

I didn’t come to Transition to be learn how to be spiritual. I have my own spirituality. I came to Transition to help myself and my friends and community prepare for the many challenges we face.

To skew Transition toward any one spiritual movement then or to lead with some sort of emphasis on spirituality, is practically ensuring the movement as a whole will be relegated to the fringe or worse. People will be turned off, they will laugh, they will leave or they will never give its ingredients a second thought.

Some leaders and trainers such as Brownlee have a pulpit and because of the nature of Transition, they have had free rein to infuse their own personal agendas into the trainings they conduct and hence the national conversation. But by doing so, in the reality of the sound-bite-of-the-moment world we live in, by inference Transition as a whole will likely be stereotyped or labeled as just one more liberal, New Age, woo-woo organization.

I have two questions then: Could it be that Transition in the U.S. is being (or has been) hijacked by those w/a spiritual agenda that is not reflective of the social climate or needs on the ground of Transition initiatives throughout the U.S.? Whether yes or no or something in between, how can we in the U.S. have a more balanced representation of Transition in the U.S. that reflects the diversity of social climates found here?

Mike (Stroud, UK)
7 Dec 5:44pm

I would suggest a focus on deep DIVERSITY rather than deep transition. From diversity and difference comes novelty and resilience. And so, I applaud someone expressing their own particular take on what’s needed, but would also feel more able to embrace their perspective if they were holding it lightly (rather than with certainty and as ‘the answer’).
I find there is a paradox; the seriousness of the challenges ahead, and the possibility that by remaining playful we will make the most progress. Can we embrace the future in a way which is fun, imaginative, creative, etc ??- I certainly hope so.

7 Dec 6:24pm

I too am relieved that people here are supportive of Rob’s take. The more I read of Michael’s article, the less it made sense, though I personally would be fairly comfortable with his take on the sacred.

My question is more in the direction: is TT too intellectualized, focused too much on planning and scenarios? Urban intellectuals love such exercises, but I wonder if they really accomplish much. Also the preoccupation with frightful predictions does not sit well with me… I don’t think it’s a good motivator. People are looking for a community, and want to do things that make their community better “at this time” (though informed by what may come). It would be good to see TT emphasize present and down to earth doings more, IMO. As John above confirms.

7 Dec 6:28pm

Thanks Rob,
– yet again I’m astounded by your gracious & inclusive response (It would be great to read how you do this if you ever feel like documenting how you approach these situations).
– “but the conclusion Michael reaches from it – i.e. you can’t successfully do Transition without engaging the ‘Sacred’ as a central part of the approach – seems to be the perfect recipe to alienate, bewilder and sideline Transition in the US or anywhere else, to condemn it to the back pages of Kindred Spirit magazine and restrict it to a very narrow slice of society.” has me screaming YES, but elicits as measured & reasonable discussion from you :)
– re. Pattern Language / Ingredients of Transition – as someone with a background in computer programming, I’ve been intrigued by seeing patterns being picked up by Transition. They’ve been used in program design for many years (e.g. Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software), and probably in many other subjects. Isn’t it interesting when ideas spread from their original context (like architecture) into other spheres? Looking forward to your interview with Christopher Alexander

7 Dec 9:57pm

John Mason:

“Disconnection from Nature is a key root of the situation we find ourselves in”

I dont agree:

Liana Forest
8 Dec 12:56am

As seems to be the accepted delivery model in most Internet articles and blogs, both Michael’s disposition on “The Evolution of Transition in the U.S.” and Rob’s response to it fall in the category of debate. A position is espoused, or defended, and evidence is marshaled to support it. Someone is supposed to “win” and someone is determined not to “lose,” and both “sides” envision dire consequences as the outcome of the other’s position.
More in tune with both the open atmosphere of the Transition movement and the movement toward a systems approach to community involvement would seem to be the dialogue model. Started by in the last century by J. Krishnamurti, adopted by physicist David Bohm and developed by many since then (E.g. William Isaacs in Peter Senge’s Center for Organizational Learning at MIT), this is a way of exploration and inquiry that, as James Samuel pointed out, directs ideas toward the center, rather than dividing us into sides.
I am cheered by Michael’s exploration of inner development that creates a new relationship with the cosmos, and especially our planet. Personally, I have found many of the approaches he mentions very helpful in expanding people’s view of their own identity, creating a sense of empowerment and belonging. I also agree that these perspectives are very akin to what permaculture is suggesting.
Still he comes across in this lecture, as do many new converts to a point of view, rather evangelically. The context in which these feelings are grown needs to be experiential, not through preaching to people and convincing them that otherwise they are bound to fail. As Joanna Macy knows so well, the experiences come first, the cognitive exploration of them second, the commitment only from the people themselves when they are ready.
With my colleagues in the Transition movement here in San Luis Obispo County, we are developing this side of change through the Heart & Soul group gatherings and workshops, and for those ready to explore these issues. I do note that Michael gave his talk at Xavier University, as part of a lecture series on Ethics, Religion, and Society, a context that may have been more aligned with his perspective.
The points Rob makes about the open nature of the Transition movement in various cultures and societies rings true for me. He does not need to debate it, although Michael’s declaration of independence does seem to call forth such a response. If we were all together in a big circle, the perspectives put forth in dialogue would evolve, as Edward de Bono put it, beyond “yes” and “no” to “po,” a new creative synthesis. That would be in tune with what we do when we use open space technology, or the community building questions posed by Peter Block.
At our local Transition Retreat, we explored the metaphor of a spider web, which gave us several new perspectives for how we continue our efforts. What we can try to remember is that we are all gaining a deeper sensitivity to the moment in this Transition process. That includes the context in which we are currently operating, the nature of the people we are currently engaging with, and the possible pressure points in the system where things are most likely to shift, even suddenly change entirely. Later I came across this quote from Joanna Macy that expanded that vision: “Within the context of a larger body…our own individual efforts can seem paltry. They are hard to measure as significant. Yet, because of the systemic, interactive nature of the web, each act reverberates in that web in ways we cannot possibly see. And each can be essential to the survival of the web.”

Liz McLellan
8 Dec 4:35am

I don’t disagree either – but the interpretation of what that “disconnection from nature” has myriad interpretations…The ones which are framed in “spiritual” rhetoric often reinforce a binary hetero-sexist normative frame. How’s that for intellectualizing?

I think it’s appropriate to have subgroups which focus on head and heart type discussions and emotional support – with the intention of freeing up people’s energy for engagement. They need to be non-denominational, neutral, open to secular or atheist views (atheists need to work through meaning with others too!) BUT – interpreting reality from the top down by assuming we agree or can agree on something like say “spirit” – as ill defined and disruptive a term as it is…is nuts.

It is a word that cannot be nailed down by language and lives in nearly billion representation in each of our minds.

Let’s stay grounded in the practical work and leave “spirit” for personal discussions between people who are looking each other in the eyes.

John Mason
8 Dec 10:55am


Thanks for the link. Indeed, Nature can be a savage beast and we have tamed aspects of it, although as the recently-stranded drivers in Scotland would point out, not all of them by a very long shot! However, where I tend to diverge from your piece is that we have gone too far on this course: we have attempted to throw out the baby with the bathwater if you like. Once a society starts to disregard the fact that the natural environment, when functioning at is best, feeds, waters and clothes it whilst permitting its members to continue breathing, it is destined for disaster.

Cheers – John

Jim Weber
8 Dec 6:11pm

Thanks Rob for a balanced response to Michael Brownlee’s call. I was present at his presentation at Xavier University upon which this paper is based. At that time, he spent quite a bit of time speaking about the new cosmology. It was somewhat well received but I believe that was because most in attendance were already aware of it and had to some extent already integrated into their lives. Personally I was surprised that he spent so much time with it; it seemed to me that this was new information for Michael.

At the XU presentation, Michael indicated that he felt it was an integral piece of Transition; he did not indicate that it should be the cornerstone of the US Transition Movement. This new twist of his is his and, as most commentators have indicated, is not what we In the US are looking for. To “declare our independence from England” is nonsense.

Keep up the great work, especially with regards to the Pattern language work. It is very useful.

Patricia Benson
8 Dec 8:47pm

As a board member of Transition US, I fully agree with Rob’s perspective on the relationship between the Transition Movement and the role of spirituality. The TUS Interfaith working group is focused on how Transition can be implemented within ‘communities’ of faith. I have offered Awakening the Dreamer as a story for providing context in addition to energy, climate, and economic uncertainties. There’s a difference between contextualizing an invitation to engage with a community’s narrative and changing the 2 day Training for Transition (T4T). TUS recently established a peer review process within the training community to maintain integrity and consistency of T4Ts, while also addressing the need for connecting with a variety of cultural and socioeconomic narratives.
I sense in some of these posts a concern that Transition US is “declaring independence” from the rest of the Transition family, or that the US organization and the movement it supports is ‘endorsing’ a particular world view. Let me assure you, it is simply not true! Michael was an early Transition adopter and is a popular speaker. While he can reflect his observations of the Transition Movement in the US, he cannot speak for the movement. Michael is not connected in any way to the official national hub. He is not an employee, a spokesperson, a board member, does not serve on any working group, and has recently withdrawn from being a trainer with Transition US. He is in an initiative in Colorado. He travels around a lot, and I’m sure he has made observations in various locations. I am in an initiative in Minnesota, and while I don’t travel like Michael, Minnesota is connected by phone and email to the rest of the world! My observations differ from Michael’s.
Michael has just as much (and as little) authority to speak for the Transition Movement in the US as anyone else in the movement, so the choice is ours. Do we want to believe our cup is half full or half empty? Do we need terror or inspiration as a motivator? Transition provides the opportunity to engage without a litmus test to determine if we possess the ‘right’ worldview, and allows us the freedom to craft responses based on what works within the capacity and resources of our communities.
Transition Northfield just held our Great Unleashing in November. At the World Café gathering the morning after Richard Heinberg delivered his keynote, several people commented how much they appreciated his calm and balanced presentation, the absence of fear tactics, and the menu he offered of possibilities we might want to consider. We have unleashed a community mapping project and directory, a Transition Youth group in local charter and public schools, the beginnings of a Transition Guild, and it looks like we may be teaming up with the local council on the Green Step Cities program. We’ve already got folks working on a reskilling fair for Earth Day – imagine planning for April in Central Park while sitting under a foot of snow!
Remember the blind men and the elephant? Michael might be describing what he’s observing, but what I and others are experiencing is quite different. (Check out Joanne Poyourow’s blog on Los Angeles). Tina Clark is a Transition trainer and consultant who is racing to keep up with the burgeoning movement in New England.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: It is the people involved who make up the Transition Movement in the US. If we don’t buy into a story, it isn’t our story. My community certainly isn’t slowing down, and neither are the dozen or so neighborhoods in Minneapolis/St. Paul who we affectionately recognize as mullers. I know those in New England and LA aren’t losing momentum, and the first major regional gathering in the US just took place in the Northwest so I think they are going fairly strong as well. While I think a sense of the sacred is important to some of the folks involved in Transition, it certainly isn’t a prerequisite to a successful Transition experience. It does require a group of people who are willing to work together to write and create the rest of the story. It might help if more of us become storytellers, to share our experiences so we don’t leave others thinking our Transition Movement looks thin and weak as an elephant’s tail!

8 Dec 11:39pm

I disagree with MB – and his perspective and approach – he is touching on an important issue but not addressing it properly.

I disagree that addressing the issue of “the scared” is not a hugely important subject that infiltrates every single aspect of our lives whether we are atheist, fundamentalist, capitalist, leftist, religious or “spiritual”. We all have something to say about “the sacred” and our feelings around the subject are strong and build the essence of who we associate with in community and why.

We cannot forget that Colonialism used “the sacred” as a weapon and therefore critically investigating the definition of “sacred” and how it has shaped our views, culture and society can give tremendous insight on why we are were we are today – including our move and transition towards a healthier life.

Taking into account the recent interests in “the sacred” from the scientific perspective – and I mean real science… from the Dalai Lama’s many visits to the lab and the advancements of neuroscience – and interest in what Prof. Karl Pribram terms the “implicate order” , we cannot ignore the importance of understanding what “the sacred” even means anymore, beyond religious structures, labels and language. What are we talking about?

Are we talking about a deep connection and sense of relationship that needs to be revitalize, used, accessed for health, knowledge, etc.? What are the investigations into the “unseen” and faculties such as “intuition” (or “thoughts altering brain matter”) bringing to rational thought – which I’m sorry to say is what all of our analysis depends on (the proof of climate change, and peak oil) – obviously we need rational thought to make decisions, but are we not seriously lacking in many other types of development and growth as a society? We don’t use a large portion of our brain, and do not understand the majority of the function of our DNA. Science has tremendously evolved in the last 100 years, and I can safely say, it will tremendously evolve to include things we could not perceive as possibly “scientific” today.

Nevermind the global political engagement with “spirituality” and “religion” — are we going to act like it’s not a huge issue of concern? a great mobilizing force (for better or worse) ?

It is no doubt that Nature, and the environment are central to today’s organizational work, and a move towards a healthier life. Our position within natural systems can be described politically, socially, economically etc. But there is a great aversion to it being described or discussed “spiritually”. Why? Because WE have a great aversion to “spirituality” given the way it has been used against us in the past. But science was also used against us in the past: it was once natural to be a slave, an inferior human being because of skin color – and scientific analysis completely supported the institution of racism.

IF we took a pole of the world today, we might notice that in fact, most of the world is concerned with some type of religious, or spiritual identity. Second, many movements have integrated concerns with “the sacred” as a part of the fabric of their transition movements and their politics. Let’s take a look at the politics of “the sacred” in Native American communities across the U.S – I would turn to the first pages of Winona LaDuke’s book Recovering the Sacred: “What qualifies something as sacred? That is a question asked in courtrooms and city council meetings across the country”. LaDuke brings up the politics of reparations – determining what “the sacred” is in the courtroom has direct political, economic and social ramifications on the lives of many indigenous people, it has the potential of returning land.

It is no doubt that there are different paradigms and understandings of “the sacred” but tossing the discussion around “the sacred” out of the conversation on transition will DEFINITELY alienate the majority of the people of the world. The majority of people of color in the U.S and Canada, the majority of the Arab world, the majority of Africa, Latin America, South-Asia, and the list goes on…

It is due time to have this hard, and painful conversation on the issue of “the sacred” and how it has influenced every part of who we are – whether we engage or react to it. It might have incredible insight to provide the very framework of Transition Culture.

Liz McLellan
9 Dec 5:25am

Rawi – There are so many things I object to on a factual and interpretational dimension in what you say here.

At base I find a great deal of it objectionable, incorrect, possibly insulting, presumptuous, and profoundly ignorant of the context I am working in out here in cowboy country. Just one example – the school is being turned into a charter school The town has a fair number of people that think evolution is the Devil’s work. I really need to find ways to work side by side with people I disagree with at a very deep level.

I am equally at a loss when I hear that many of the later arrivals subscribe to the views of a female guru from a village in India. When I hear people discussing this kind of thing my eyes glaze over. I do not relate. I have to politely not respond because what I think about this sort of thing is in no way tolerant. My views are as strong as anyone’s and too keep my mouth shut on certain topics – is kind of a prerequisite to do the work of bringing these folks together…Because of the transition POV I feel equipped to do so.

Adopting your views would be like throwing a bomb into the meeting room.

We have two (primary) and very distinct cultures here that are essentially pretty alienated and separate from each other.

It is entirely possible to bring them together around the practical projects outlined in the transition framework.

If I adopt your language and framing… people will not come together over what they already agree on…They will pull apart based on what they most assuredly disagree on.

I encourage people to consider those that do not live in liberal enclaves surrounded by people just like themselves to understand the value of what some grandmothers wisely passed down as a way to get past difference at dinner gathering and small community potlucks. It is actually impolite to discuss religion and politics… except perhaps in a one on one discussion where two people are REALLY listening to each other.

Much is lost in web debates and large hall interactions.

Please don’t tell me that because “99.99% of people are “spiritual” that trumps what I am saying. It does not.

Liz McLellan
9 Dec 5:46am

Rawi – Sorry – that certainly came across much more harshly than I intended. I also can find much that I profoundly agree with in what you say.

I should be really clear I’ve been active in very diverse communities for a long time. In this instance I am feeling protective of the space I seem to be able to create here where I can at times feel very isolated. It is a tiny town – I am used to places like Brooklyn. The context for doing any kind of organizing work is quite different than what I have grown up in or am used to. I do have a good sense of the fault lines though and areas where the bond can be strengthened. In a town of less than three hundred these questions become very very concrete. We are an hour away from a major town and three hours from any city.

Perhaps I am hyper-focused on our context.

On Colonialism.. I just watched a Nigerian congress person tell Rachel Maddow with a straight face that his “kill the gays” bill was an indigenous impulse from the cultural heart of Nigeria…when I know full well a Christian dominionist group has a hand up his back side and is making his mouth move. He claimed she must accept and respect his “cultural difference” and that human rights were defined differently by Nigerians. His group meets with Pastor Rick Warren regularly yet he had the nerve to put on the cloak of difference to mask an attempt at making murdering gay people acceptable to the international community under the guise of “respect for difference.” Colonialism comes in many guises…most often with a “holy text.” in hand.

So please forgive me – I am a little hot headed on the topic at the moment.

But I think it makes a little clearer some of why I get a bit hot on the topic under examination.

Ron Hornung
9 Dec 4:21pm

When I discovered A Pattern Language nearly 30 years ago I experienced a wonderful validation of my own instinctual/intuitive approach to design and construction. Chris and his colleagues were able to describe and explain “scientifically” what is essentially an artistic sensibility. Things that I was doing simply because they made sense to me it turns out were making sense in a way that could be described and explained. A vocabulary and of course a Language for a life-sustaining way to construct our environment had been developed.

It has been nearly 30 years also since I was introduced to a “new cosmology” as explained by Thomas Berry and taught by his associate Sr. Miriam McGilllis, founder and director of Genesis Farm. Again, I was provided context for my instinctiive search for understanding. This time it had to do with a much more difficult mysterious(sacred)Environment to seek sustaining suppport.

A third development in piecing together my personal puzzlle occurred about the same time through efforts to understand and embrace the Empowerment work of David Gershon and Gail Straub.
This piece was the one where one’s inner environment was challenged in the search for meaning and the development of personal responsibiliy.

Now, although I feel blessed to have these threads to braid into who I am, I find the jargon associated can make your hair hurt, and can impede communication. Ultimately It all comes down to relationships which is one of the best things about Transition Movement. II is about trusting yourself and others to do the best you can with what you have with where you’re at…That sounds pretty sacred to me.

Harry J Lerwill
10 Dec 1:46am

Transition as a meta-model rather than a specific model certainly appeals to me more than any specific implementation.

However for me, getting my own house in order (figuratively speaking), being prepared as a family to get through the coming uncertainty, is my primary goal.

Looking for the elements of a successful community response to the predicaments we face – by watching the successes and failures of various transition movements and similar endeavors – is certainly valuable.

I’ve been very impressed with the level of civility in these debates. A refreshing change to most on-line discourse. I think it reflects the seriousness of the situation when authors and readers alike rarely waste time on clashes of personality.

Michelle Moore
10 Dec 10:10pm

I have been on the initiating committee of a Transition Initiative in my town for a year and a half, and though I have been very active kickstarting this initiative, I have constantly questioned how meaningful this work really is to me. I envisioned the possibility of exploring my own sense of meaning in a Heart and Soul group, and so I began looking into what Heart and Soul means in the context of Transition; and much of what I found disappointed me.

In the Transition Handbook, an entire Part of the book is devoted to The Heart; and this is the part I gravitated towards. However, when I read the chapters in The Heart, I found that they mostly explored the psychological work of despair and addiction. While I value this psychological work, I did not see an understanding or engagement with deeper matters of the heart. And “soul” was not mentioned at all. Based on this chapter, I understood the so-called Heart and Soul groups to be psychological support groups.

That said, I found Heart and Soul represented very differently on the Transition Totnes website. Even though the group carefully avoided the word “soul”—other than in the title of the group itself—it did acknowledge the soul in subtle ways with inclusive language. I found this language very helpful and have already used it in our initial H&S gathering. But still, I feel strongly that using the word “soul” without taking matters of soul seriously depletes the word of its meaning, and you might as well remove it completely from the Transition terminology.

Regarding the article in question: I understand why many were turned off by Michael Brownlee’s assertions, and yet, I had to thank him for making a space for (what I am calling here) “the sacred” in the public discourse on Transition. In California where I live, the word “sacred” is an inclusive word used to refer to what many people of different beliefs understand as a power greater than ourselves, though we experience that power in diverse ways and have many names for it. (The word “sacred” is not loaded with Christian connotations, as it may be in England.) So I disagree with Mr. Hopkins’s assertion that to talk about the “sacred” would be “highly devisive.” The word is actually quite useful over here, because it is so broadly understood. It allows people of diverse beliefs to find common ground.

What I find really devastating is that our culture’s efforts to protect freedom of religion have led to silencing the soul in our institutions altogether. For those who don’t believe in having a soul, that may be just fine. But for me, it is frightening to realize how this censoring of soul has given us the freedom to indulge in everything and has led to a civilization of greed, hubris, and disregard for life.

“Soul,” in my experience, describes an essential dimension of the human being that bridges the knowable with the Unknowable, which is sacred. It is this relationship that keeps the human being within his true limits and brings meaning to his actions. If this bridge should be removed, how can the world sustain itself? Can we approach sustainability without acknowledging this relationship?

I’d like to leave you with an article by Wendell Berry that has recently inspired me. It’s called Two Economies and it’s a great example of how to include the dimension of soul in a discourse on such topics as economy and soil depletion. Berry refers several times to God in this article, and if he hadn’t, I don’t think he could have made his point. He begins the article:

Some time ago, in conversation with Wes Jackson in which we were laboring to define the causes of the modern ruination of farmland, we finally got around to the money economy. I said that an economy based on energy would be more benign because it would be more comprehensive.
Wes would not agree. “An energy economy still wouldn’t be comprehensive enough.”
“Well,” I said, “then what kind of economy would be comprehensive enough.”
He hesitated a moment, and then, grinning, said, “The Kingdom of God.”

(He goes on to say,)
The suitability of the Kingdom of God as, so to speak, a place name is partly owing to the fact that it still means pretty much what it has always meant. Because, I think, of the embarrassment that the phrase has increasingly caused among the educated, it has not been much tainted or tampered with by the disinterested processes of academic thought; it is a phrase that comes to us with its cultural strings still attached. To say that we live in the Kingdom of God is both to suggest the difficulty of our condition and to imply a fairly complete set of culture-borne instructions for living in it. These instructions are not always explicitly ecological, but it can be argued that they are always implicitly so, for all of them rest ultimately on the assumptions that I have given as the second and third principles of the Kingdom of God that we live within order and that this order is both greater and more intricate than we can know. The difficulty of our predicament, then, is made clear if we add a fourth principle: though we cannot produce a complete or even an adequate description of this order, severe penalties are in store for us if we presume upon it or violate it.
I am not dealing, of course, with perceptions that are only Biblical. The ancient Greeks, according to Aubrey de Sélincourt, saw “a continuing moral pattern in the vicissitudes of human fortune,” a pattern “formed from the belief that men, as men, are subject to certain limitations imposed by a Power—call it Fate or God—which they cannot fully comprehend, and that any attempt to transcend those limitations is met by inevitable punishment.”1 The Greek name for the pride that attempts to transcend human limitations was hubris, and hubris was the cause of what the Greeks understood as tragedy.
(Accessed online from

Craig Collins
11 Dec 3:18am

Rob, I had the same reaction to Michael’s critique. We have to stay grounded in the need to build practical, resilient community-based responses to life on the far side of peak oil, accelerating climate chaos, and the collapse of the industrial/corporate bubble. Putting spirituality center stage is a major diversion from this task.

11 Dec 9:46am

There isn’t going to be a “transition” anywhere any more than Haiti, Pakistan or Queensland are getting a transition now. There’s going to be damage, more damage, more damage and a scramble for survival as people realize that the relief forces are overtaxed, are coming with too little and too late.

At least half of the U.K. is sitting there with their proverbial thumbs up their backsides waiting for a bailout and writing e-mails to the Daily Mail denying climate change.

Forget Transition and go straight to Zombie Apocalypse survival tactics.

Shauna Struby
11 Dec 5:21pm

Oklahoma is smack dab in the middle of the U.S. Our state is one of the most conservative in the U.S., with many people equating being an American with being a Christian. For the vast majority here, the word “sacred” is loaded with all kinds of religious and spiritual implications and connotations.

Reality on the ground in Oklahoma — and I suspect in many other places in the U.S. — is exemplified in a recent article (link below) about a sustainability forum, hosted by the City of Edmond, Okla., this past Monday night. Edmond is a suburb of Oklahoma City.

The sustainability forum was abandoned midstream because it was hijacked by a group of protesters “concerned about U.N. Agenda 21/sustainable development.” The protestors equate sustainability with an attempt to impose a global centralized government via the U.N. Link to the article :::

Just a bit of googling research on opposition to U.N. Agenda 21 will take one to all kinds of info, which includes a great deal of discussion on how honoring “the sacred” is part of a plot to control the world, collective salvation depends on returning to Gaia, etc. These online sites twist, skew and pull out of context statements made by a number of renowned and well-intentioned leaders (including Prince Charles). While the protestors could be characterized as conspiracy theorists basing their beliefs in irrational fear, the movement opposed to U.N. Agenda 21 has been successful at influencing a number of Oklahoma politicians, every day Oklahomans.

Given our interconnectedness via the Web, the words and the concepts we lead with matter (wherever we are) — whether in Oklahoma, California, the U.K. or anywhere else, especially in challenging times when people so often default to fear as the lead emotion. Hence, I advocate for words and concepts that unite rather than divide.

There is that old axiom that the two topics to avoid at the supper table are politics and religion because those topics can create so much conflict and division.

With Transition as the supper table, it can be a place for connecting, for engaging with the widest audience possible.

Talking about and focusing on the practical work of designing and growing resilient, healthy people and communities can unite us. In the year and half I’ve been working with Transition OKC, speaking to the public in creating awareness about the challenges we face, I’ve yet to meet anyone that doesn’t want healthy, resilient people and communities. And if they are interested in such at all — they are at the very least willing to engage in dialogue. That’s when the real work can begin — when we transcend what divides us — and build Transition foundations on common ground.

sylvia rose
11 Dec 6:11pm

Reluctantly, I have to agree with Rob.
I loved what Michael Brownlee wrote, and personally I agree with him, in that I can’t see humankind getting ourselves out of the mess we are in without some return to a sense of the sacredness, and interconnectedness, of life. But, I can also see that not everyone is going to see it this way, and that our urgent task in transition is to make our work as accessible as possible to everyone. And that means keeping it secular.
So I hope that MB continues his teachings and writings, which to me bring valuable awareness to the debate, but preferably not under the banner of ‘Transition’.
I’m glad to hear that ‘sacred’ may not be as loaded a term in the US as it is in the UK.
I’m also interested in Michelle Moore’s comments about the name ‘Heart & Soul’. I agree that much of what currently comes under this is more eco-psychology and again this is, in part at least, due to not making any assumptions about what ‘soul’ means to diverse people. (Some of our Core Group have professed themselves not to have souls at all!)
I personally find H&S a clumsy and somewhat embarrassing name, and much prefer the name ‘Inner Transition’. As Michelle says, heart and soul are very different concepts and it might be more effective to deal with them separately, like having one group looking at psychological support, and one inter-faith one looking at common ground between all the faiths over ecological matters, and how we could use that to strengthen transition work.

Craig Collins
11 Dec 10:13pm

I respectfully disagree with Michelle when she says the word “sacred” is actually quite useful in California, because it it allows people of diverse beliefs to find common ground. I was born & raised in the “Golden State” and I know that the word sacred can be just as divisive & confusing here as anywhere else. Religious cults and sects abound in the cities and we have a central valley that is culturally and religiously more akin to Oaklahoma than San Francisco or Berkeley. Californians have no common agreed upon definition of the word sacred that allows them to find meaningful common ground.

What DO Californians have in common? Well we’re running out of fresh water and we import enormous amounts of energy because we’re addicted to cars, suburban sprawl and dead-end industrial agriculture. These problems will be seriously magnified by peak oil and climate chaos. But unfortunately our political and educational systems are so dysfunctional and out-of-touch that they aren’t preparing people to confront these looming crises.

So our budding transition movements have tons of practical awareness raising, community nurturing and coalition building to do to heal our damaged state and our planet. Finding solutions to our common problems seems like a far more unifying endeavor than playing with the potentially divisive dynamite of “spirituality.”

Tony Weddle
11 Dec 10:50pm


Could you point at a quote from Stoneleigh that predicts your house price falling to 1974 levels by now? I’m pretty sure that she has never given an exact timeline for the house price bubble burst to reach the bottom and my recollection is that it could take a couple of years yet. This is an important point because writers and speakers such as Stoneleigh can be ridiculed for absurd predictions.

Jay D
11 Dec 11:42pm

Below is an exchange from comments at Automatic Earth……

” sofistek said…

I was reading a piece by Rob Hopkins. It wasn’t about your views, per se, but included this:

“Is Stoneleigh right, that we are about to see the imminent collapse of the financial system (she did say at the 2010 Transition Network conference that by now my house should by now be worth what it was in 1974, which is patently isn’t).”

I’m pretty sure you’ve never uttered that view, in terms of timelines. All I recall your saying is that bubbles always collapse to levels that prevailed before the bubble started and that house prices could, therefore, be expected to fall to levels seen at the end of the 70s. If Hopkins is wrong, and I think he is, could you correct him and get him to publish that correction?


Stoneleigh never made that claim, and we told Rob Hopkins that in person in Bristol, what?, 10 days ago?!

It’s a really peculiar thing to repeat, in my view. Either Rob hasn’t listened while we were sitting at the same table, or he doesn’t want to listen, or he’s maybe simply not all that smart.

Where’s the link to that piece, please?

Liz McLellan
12 Dec 3:03am

I don’t believe in anything supernatural.
That does not mean that I and people like me are responsible for all that’s rotten in the world.

I find the suggestion – DEEPLY – offensive.

This is why it’s not a good idea to start down this path.

I do not mind if you think that or discuss it amongst people who think as you do – Michelle.

But people who talk like you make me want to pull my teeth out.

Do you understand why I might be insulted? I live what if I were religious – you would concede is a decent, kind, engaged, loving, caring and civic life.

I do not believe in souls and yet I manage to be just as concerned about all of these things and transition.

Polite people don’t make those sorts of generalizations about others based on prejudice – alone.

Dennis Bumstead
12 Dec 6:09am

What did the Zen guy say to the New York hot dog vendor?
” Make me one with everything, man”

Well, I am still more delighted about Transition on seeing these articles and comments.
For me spiritual, sacred, religious stuff is immensly important, but, haven’t we noticed that we have been killing each other over it – whatever you call it – for centuries, and still are (not to mention disrupting polite dinner parties)?
So this is rough stuff and it’s good to see most people in this discussion counsel caution. There’s place and encouragement for inner transition, but proclaiming ‘the Sacred’ is essential to Transition – let’s not do that.
Transition is going to face many challenges of this sort as it grows. Hopefully its hopeful, inclusive orientation, will be up to it.
Love to all who sail in her
Dennis Bumstead

Bud Smith
12 Dec 7:17am

Hi both (Rob and Michael),

As an American who spent the Bush years in the UK, and has recently been working with Transition people on both sides of “the pond”, Michael’s essay struck a positive chord in me, but saddened me a bit. Rob’s response saddened me more, as it seemed to only respond to the potentially inflammatory bits of Michael’s essay.

Having a foot in both camps, I’ll restrain myself to making two observations:

1. American exceptionalism. It’s common (yes, in both senses of the word) for Americans to proclaim our specialness, our need to revolt against the English again, and so on. It’s hard for we Yanks to understand how, well, revolting this is to everyone else. However, Brits usually handle it with good humor. I’m surprised Rob so energetically took the bait here, and the result is not constructive. There are so many other forces at work in the world more deserving of anger, if that’s where we in Transition are going to go.

2. Length. Luckily, both of you wrote at such length that I doubt very many people will read all of, and therefore notice, let alone be alarmed by, the (in my view) unnecessarily energetic back and forth here.

Please call each other or meet and work this out, to the benefit of the rest of us.

With love and respect for both of you,


Nicole Foss
12 Dec 9:39am


“Is Stoneleigh right, that we are about to see the imminent collapse of the financial system (she did say at the 2010 Transition Network conference that by now my house should by now be worth what it was in 1974, which is patently isn’t).”

That’s very interesting! What other “doomer” predictions are there that you think have not come true on time?

I have seen this quote pop up many times now in a variety of places, and it is being used to discredit my analysis. I never said this and do not like my position to be misrepresented.

As I explained recently in Bristol, that is simply not how real estate markets work.

A real estate collapse begins with illiquidity, where nothing much sells and inventory rises sharply. There is a persistent gap between what sellers will accept and what buyers are prepared to offer. Asking prices may even continue to rise during this time.

Eventually, some sellers will get desperate enough to drop their prices, trying to bridge the gap to the downside. This may work for some if they are prepared to be sufficiently realistic, but many sellers will cut too little and too late, following the market down. As sellers drop their prices, whole neighbourhoods are repriced at a lower level. What buyers are prepared to offer falls further once buyers become aware of the new trend to lower prices, because they simply wait, maintaining the gap between themselves and sellers. Thus the illiquidity persists.

It would be a buyers market IF cheap credit remained available, but it won’t. As credit dries up almost completely in a major deflation, the pool of buyers will contract sharply, until the only buyers left are those who can pay cash and who choose to use very scarce cash for that purpose at that time. At that point price support will have collapsed completely.

After an asset bubble, there is always an undershoot. I expect homes to be worth less than their constituent materials for a period of time. After all, much home construction recently has been a giant exercise in negative added value, as we have built mostly suburban sprawl with structural dependencies on cheap energy, cheap credit and many other centralized life-support systems.

Home prices can fall to virtually nothing, depending on the local circumstances (ie remaining economic opportunities in the area). During the Great Depression, some of the best farms in the country were repossessed and offered at auction, but received no bids. These should have been genuinely productive assets, but no one had the money to buy what they could have produced, and no one with the cash was prepared to buy the asset. When you take the money out of the system, perverse things happen.

I am not expecting a bottom in real estate for years to come. When we do hit a bottom, I would expect the asset prices of the 1970s to be the best case scenario, as I have said in my talks. The bottom could easily be lower than that, as I think we are correcting something larger than the expansion since the early 1980s.

12 Dec 12:10pm

Sylivia Rose:
“(Some of our Core Group have professed themselves not to have souls at all!)”

Can you beat that- some people dont believe in souls!! At least we all believe in Sante Claus, that’s one thing that can bring us together 😉

Anyone who thinks that “inclusiveness” is the way to deal with this issue should read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiographical “Infidel” and “Nomad”. This reinforces Liz McLellan’s comments re. Nigeria above.

Transition and other grass-roots groups will always be ripe targets for religions and cults of all kinds; that’s why it must be explicitly secular.

The idea that “loss of soul” or even “separation from nature” are the root of our dilemmas are religious beliefs, and as such inherently divisive. I would extend that to eco-psychology and the work of Joanna Macy as well: these are divisive ideologies and Transition should not be associated with them. (Too late!)

Julie H. (USA)
12 Dec 4:03pm


I won’t add my opinion to what has already been said about “the sacred” because this is thoroughly covered in the discussion.

However, I am uncomfortable with Michael Brownlee’s implication that there is somehow one identity to Transition US that is different from what other TTs are doing around the world. You are right to say each town is different. It saddens me that there is any sort of nationalism in the mix, let alone a call for separatism. So may I say that he does not speak for all of us in the US, but I think you and others already realize that.

I think it’s very unfortunate that Michael Brownlee is considered the leader of Transition US. I have heard him speak, and he completely depressed our group and left us feeling hopeless and unmotivated. He rambled on about his work with Y2K then left us with “I can’t tell you what steps to take, because none of us know what we’re doing.” It had the opposite effect of what we were hoping for. We were just getting started and needed to hear some inspiration, successful models, new ideas that we could potentially replicate, etc. I heard the same about his two-day-long training he conducted a couple months ago. My friend came back completely depressed for two weeks. This is unproductive, to say the least. And you’re right to say it puts people into fight/flight and denial. The US environmental movement learned this mistake, and they have changed their communication style over the past 30 years. Michael Brownlee needs to learn this too.

Luckily our group has recovered from his negative influences and we are making good progress!

I hope to see much more sharing of great ideas and less of this theoretical crap that only a small handful of people care about anyway. I think we all agree that we just don’t have time for it. But his article warranted a response, which many of us are grateful for. And I felt the need to put in my two cents in hopes that the revolt would not be against “England” but against Michael Brownleee.

Sorry to be less gracious than you have been Rob.

12 Dec 5:07pm

Dear Rob- just don’t let it all drive you crazy.

It’s always a bit painful to look back, and know that this, or that, would be years ahead of where they are- if they’d only actually listened entirely.

But- as you very clearly know- humans are just not as steerable as we all wish, hope, and pretend. The dang critters insist on going off in their own directions, no matter what; and so very often that direction is straight backwards. Or off the nearby cliff.

You just have to be content with “mostly”.

Mostly; Transition is just the best thing going these days.

Though of course, it’s just a damn shame you’re not smart enough to do it the way I want.


Liz McLellan
12 Dec 7:56pm

“The idea that “loss of soul” or even “separation from nature” are the root of our dilemmas are religious beliefs, and as such inherently divisive. I would extend that to eco-psychology and the work of Joanna Macy as well: these are divisive ideologies and Transition should not be associated with them. (Too late!)”

– Well – hmmm. I don’t know if those ideas are “inherently divisive.” I do think “separation from nature” is a very real problem brought to us through dualism a la Descarte. Philosopically I am capable and happy to engage in that discussion with all kinds of people from all kinds of faiths (and all forms of no faith.)

That said – if we are coming together and hoping to expand the reach of Transition thinking – that space needs to be kept open for everyone and not nailed down rhetorically from on high.

That is what I object to – anyone claiming special knowledge through personal revelation about what is real…and some sort of knowing superiority for having this relation with some supernatural entity. I really don’t mind what any one believes on this….It’s simply not appropriate to mandate that specific POV through the Transition movement…that would represent a sort of hijacking.

It’s a boundary issue. If you have healthy boundaries you do not need everyone to see everything as you do. Evangelicals are not only Christian (or any other established faith system).

Arriving at a worldview takes a lifetime if your brain is on. Accepting that others simply do not see the world the way you do is a very basic building block to a diverse group.

Let’s be sure to reinforce and emphasis those places where our bonds and agreements are strong and accept those places where we are totally different. That’s how you build a real movement.

Tony Weddle
12 Dec 9:53pm

Thanks for the correction, Stoneleigh. I hope Rob has read your comment and will publicly retract his misrepresentation. It’s sad when people who are on the same side of the fence denigrate each other to bolster their pet case. Your reading of the situation is well argued and well researched. For Rob Hopkins to almost sweep all that away with one careless incorrect remark is unconscionable.

Michelle Moore
13 Dec 12:41am

Dear Liz,

I feel you have misunderstood my comments. And now that I reread the paragraph I wrote about “censoring of soul,” I feel that I did not convey what I meant to say very clearly, and this forum does not seem the place to discuss it further. So I apologize for posting statements that weren’t carefully thought out.

I did not intend to make a judgment about anyone, regardless of their beliefs. I myself am not religious, though maybe I came across as such. I do not believe that one must believe in a soul or the supernatural to live lovingly and decently, nor that if you don’t believe in a soul you are responsible for the greed and hubris in this world. And I think it’s better not to try and explain what I believe here.

Let me just say, I am saddened because I had initially understood that the Transition Movement was inclusive of matters of the heart and soul; but after reading all of the comments on this blog, I now perceive the word “soul” to be quite problematic for Transition in its goals. I will continue to work with our local Heart and Soul group, making a space for those in my community who need to include a sense of soul in the Transition work as a whole.

Liz McLellan
13 Dec 2:59am

Hey Michelle – Thanks for the clarification – and you and I are fine.

I should be clear I don’t “represent” anyone myself. I hope I made it clear where I think those discussions fit – that is my voice and a strategically concerned one.

There is a difference I am trying to make clear between a top down overly specific declaration or position…..and the thoughts and feeling people bring with them into any larger group. I hope that was clear.

I heightened the intensity of the sense of offense so people would understand the feelings on the “other side” of the “spirituality” line feel just as strongly.

I just want people of faith and not to be able to bring their whole selves to the work at hand…which is very practical and down to earth. If you believe you have much inner transition work to do – I have nothing to say about that. If you hope to insist that I do too…then I am annoyed.

I am just trying to make concrete some of the problems that Rob may anticipate – but not want to be specific about.

I know on the ground where I am – what bring people together – and what pulls them apart. I speak from my perspective and position not for anyone else…least of all the Transition Movement in toto. Just my strategic perspective as an organizer for a long time…

Liz McLellan
13 Dec 3:04am

…. I should clarify a little – I think everyone on the planet – including me has psychological work to do. Should I insist on it?

That I think would be considered by most people very very presumptuous and rude.

That said – a space can be created for it, where people themselves are free to delve into those subjects – should they wish to.

Hope that makes sense…

john suter
13 Dec 6:17am

On the point that “no-one has yet demonstrated that economic growth is possible without the availability of cheap energy to make it happen”, I think we can increase people’s security without increasing traditional economic growth. After all, the reason that an individual wants a job is to get enough money to pay insurance and buy food.

But if we start to think of groups of people who support each other, it is probably likely that 8 people with jobs could support 2 without jobs who might do other kinds of jobs that are not counted in the economic statistics but nonetheless support the group. In this way people can increase their security (which is what we want) without an increase in economic growth.

The problem with this is that people don’t like to talk about their own money for fear that others might abuse that information. Yet there are many ways that we can support each other without turning the group into a touchy-feely commune. It can be done with lowering the resistance to flow of useful information and there are games that can do it. If anyone is interested, let me know (jsuter at sbcglobal dot net) and I’ll follow-up with you.

Nicole Foss
13 Dec 9:24am

For anyone who is interested in what I actually said at the transition conference this summer, it is publicly available at Sheffield Indymedia. The talk was about 90 minutes, and I believe a fair amount of the Q&A was posted too.

I am always happy to discuss the specifics. These issues are vitally important because the timeframe is short and it can take quite a while to extract oneself from a very vulnerable position. A sense of urgency is entirely appropriate.

John Mason
13 Dec 12:37pm


Certainly your first post above makes more sense – it’s all about systems constantly tending towards equilibrium – it happens in economics, weather, chemistry – the lot! For housing to drop in a matter of a couple of years to 1970s prices, expect civilisation to have fallen apart pretty badly too. This has not occurred so far, and hopefully will not!

An important additional point to make though is that it doesn’t take much of a fall in house-prices to drop people into negative equity, once interest rates resume more typical values. Not such a problem if one has done the perfectly natural thing of buying a home with the intent of living in it for years and years but for those playing speculation games on the housing market it can spell comeuppance!

Cheers – John

Charlotte Du Cann
13 Dec 1:28pm

It’s a tricky subject inside or outside Transition, but one that definitely needs to be out the open. My own response today on the Transition Norwich blog, This Low Carbon Life

looks at spirituality (and politics) as cultural frames, rather than a common ground for people on the path of energy descent.

Hope you don’t split from us (again) America!

Best wishes,

13 Dec 2:19pm

Thanks Charlotte, I read your piece, and very good it is too… I highly recommend it to anyone who has been following this discussion and the various other articles it has spawned…

Mel Riser
13 Dec 3:41pm

What I found MOST disturbing about all the “Trainers for Transition” in the USA, is they would all FLY to the town ( Austin, Tampa, etc. ) charge for the course, to tell us what is in the book, and then infuse it with their own personal spiritual beliefs as to why we got here and why their sacred means is the way to get us out of the pickle we are in.

The facts are this system, evolved out of cheap energy. It evolved to where it is, and will devolve somewhere down the energy input scale.

We can either plan for that devolution, or get caught as a deer in the headlights. WE GET TO CHOOSE…

and these same “sacred” infusing deep stuff they talk about, like driving to meetings to discuss less energy ( when a web meeting and cameras would be fine )

FLYING to cities all over the USA, to “teach us ” transition>?

talk about hypocrisy…

I can see where they want to add other “topics and special interests” in their Training for Transition.

The book and an EDAP is more than clear enough for me on a STARTING point to what needs to be done.

We’ve had this same issue in the Austin Transition movement, as some wanted to take the same tack as Brownlee and the Gaia hijackers…

We need education on how to live with less energy, fuel that is beyond our price ranges, jobs that are no more, and local situation that need fostering, education and input.

It’s not about some new age religion to lay blame at a system we ALL HELPED evolve, and some are still using for their own personal gain ( Transition Trainers, flying here and there and charging to tell us what is in the book )

Wake up people! Transition starts with YOU, your neighborhood and you own personal EDAP.

How many of you here have created a PERSONAL Energy Descent Action Plan?

13 Dec 4:48pm

Nicole (Stoneleigh)… thanks for picking me up on the ‘December 2010′ part of this piece. I must issue a full and complete apology here as I have indeed misrepresented what you said in your presentation at the conference. I just closely listened back to your talk and it appears I mentally merged two bits:

…”asset bubbles are always followed by an undershoot. So you need to think about what house prices might have been in the 1970s for instance … my estimate is that real estate is likely to fall by 90%…. ”


“we’re going to start to see effects building up, even within the next 6 months and 2 – 5 years is likely to be the period of the worst de-leveraging I would think going forward”….

I can also blame (to myself at least) the person who came up to me about an hour later to ask me what I thought, and who said that you had said that we were looking at a 90% fall in house prices within 6 months.

As for myself, I can only blame tiredness, and a very hot and stuff room with windows that refused to open, and the fact that you were speaking immediately after lunch. Rather like Alice in Wonderland who, in her post-lunch drowse, saw a white rabbit, I appear to have seen a somewhat more miserable Christmas than you, in fact, predicted.

I have changed that piece in the main article, and the recent interview we did with you and Illargi, where you give a more detailed response to the question, will be posted here once it has been transcribed. Once again, my apologies…

13 Dec 5:01pm

Tony Weddle said…This is an important point because writers and speakers such as Stoneleigh can be ridiculed for absurd predictions.

Speaking of absurd predictions from one Ms. Foss, here is one of my all time favorites:

“Stoneleigh: The rally could last several months and should be accompanied by considerable optimism by its end. I can imagine people patting Obama and his team on the back for saving the world, just before the next phase of the decline sets in. And that next phase should carry the market down much further than anything we’ve seen so far. By the end of 2010 I’d be surprised if the DJIA was still over 1000.
Stoneleigh on November 1, 2009 – 2:50pm

To be fair, it is only december 13 2010. I suppose the dow could lose about 1,000 points a day for the rest of the month and prove her right…

Dave Dann
13 Dec 7:17pm

Interesting discussion. Stepping back from the detail, this seems to be about high-profile dissensus with the Transition Movement or brand. Maybe there needs to be a Pattern or ‘ingredient’ for this?

Lila Porterfield
13 Dec 8:24pm

Good points, Mel. The flying issue is one that’s bothered me, too. I also think that we’re adults capable of reading a book and getting ideas from it to get our own local groups going. What was good about our T4T last June, once I got past being disgruntled with “the sacred” emphasis (we had to push Michael to get on to what we called the “nuts and bolts” of the training), was that we got to participate in an Open Space event. I found that practice to be helpful. And I liked meeting the other people, too. On another of your topics, here at Transition Sautee (Georgia), we’re talking about personal EDAPs, too.

Bart Anderson
13 Dec 9:24pm

Actually, I don’t think the question is about spirituality or the sacred.

It is a question of governance and group process.

How does a group handle multiple belief systems. Does it banish discussion of them? Does it allow conflict between them to destroy the workings of the group?

Rather than make Belief a central criterion for Transition, I think I would focus on Behavior.
– Respectful discussion
– Not forcing beliefs on others
– Listening to other points of view
– Being able to co-operate with people who have different worldviews
– If one cannot co-operate, being able to step aside

In the case of this discussion, spirituality has been the focus, but I have had similar discussions with climate activists, leftists and others with strong beliefs.

The question should not be, “Who is right and should therefore dominate the group” But rather, “How do people with different worldviews co-operate on matters of shared interest?”

Palo Alto, California

PS. I do have one strong disagreement with Michael. In my experience, it is not true that the United States is much more open to the sacred than the UK is. I live on the Left Coast, and while it is true that you can find all sorts of spiritual movements here, they are a minority. Within a few hundred yards of me, there are libertarians, humanists, fundamentalists, socialists and mainstream Christians. Like most places, the majority are without strong beliefs and are just trying to get by.

13 Dec 9:46pm

Bart: I mostly agree, but the issue here is also about what people think is the core problem or cause of the problem: if you are into Transition because you think oil may be peaking and the economy is going to pot, that’s one approach;
if however you see these issues as caused by something much more fundamental- some kind of spiritual error on the part of humanity, (eating the wrong kind of fruit in some garden long ago…) or some kind of “separation from nature” story then your approach and emphases, even specific “solutions” may be completely different.
And I am not at all sure these two approaches are in any way compatible, or should even want to be in the same room together.

13 Dec 9:55pm

“By the end of 2010 I’d be surprised if the DJIA was still over 1000.
Stoneleigh on November 1, 2009 – 2:50pm”

Dear God, did she really say that? A call for DJIA @ 1,000 when it is now at what, 11,000 and change? Thats off by ten orders of magnitude!

No wonder she is sometimes ridiculed and called into question here. Given her prior track record, looks like she deserves it!

John Mason
13 Dec 11:40pm


“if you are into Transition because you think oil may be peaking and the economy is going to pot, that’s one approach;
if however you see these issues as caused by something much more fundamental- some kind of spiritual error on the part of humanity, (eating the wrong kind of fruit in some garden long ago…) or some kind of “separation from nature” story then your approach and emphases, even specific “solutions” may be completely different.
And I am not at all sure these two approaches are in any way compatible, or should even want to be in the same room together.”

You do have a tendency to feature the end-members on the scale – at one end the Infinite Growth Paradigm, and at the other the Neolithic Period!

We really need to sit down over a few pints of Guinness (my personal poison) or whatever and chew this over. If you’re in Machynlleth…. or I’m over the West Coast… we should arrange to meet up.

I think it will tend to bump along between these opposite goalposts for now. Crises tend to evolve slowly, and building personal resilience (I don’t mean USA-style survivalism) is useful: at least I should like to be able to help those I love if things get really bad, and perhaps more, too. I see no shame in being ambitious! However, predicting how this may pan out is about as useful as telling somebody’s fortune via tea-leaves. The truth is that none of us know much more than times are hard and are likely to get harder, and that it depends on one’s expectations to determine how relatively hard things become on an individual basis.

That’s a bit of a rambling post – sorry – been cooking tea after fishing/gathering driftwood. Both were productive, which was useful!

Any objections I will attempt to address on the morrow!

Cheers – John

Tony Weddle
14 Dec 12:18am


Thanks for making that correction to the mistake I pointed out about Stoneleigh’s position on house prices. Such corrections are so rarely done, allowing a false idea to gain traction.


In terms of that so-called prediction, she also had this to say:

“Not two months, 14 months, and I am not specifically predicting that it will lose that much by then. I do think it will lose more than that by the time we reach a lasting bottom (ie one that lasts more than a few months), but I don’t expect that to happen before perhaps 2015″

And …

“That is not a specific prediction. I had said ages ago on TAE that I would be somewhat surprised if the DOW was over 1000 by the end of 2010, but I have been surprised before. What I am saying is that I definitely expect the Dow to be thousands of points lower by the end of 2010. The last phase of the decline (October 2007-March 2009) cost the Dow over 7000 points (of the order of 50%), and I think the phase that’s beginning now will be worse in percentage terms. Wherever the DOW and other indicies end up, I think we’re going to see a financial bloodbath between now and then.”

Personally, I think the share markets are so removed from reality that any prediction is bound to fail, until the state of the general economy becomes well known. But Stoneleighs comments about the Dow Jones did not amount to a prediction. I am also surprised by its current level – the economy could hardly be thought to be 70% better than it was at the latter half of 2008, but the DJIA investors certainly appear to believe that it is.

Liz McLellan
14 Dec 12:24am

“Wake up people! Transition starts with YOU, your neighborhood and you own personal EDAP.

How many of you here have created a PERSONAL Energy Descent Action Plan?”

Well said.

I have to say if there are self proclaimed representatives of Transition jetting around trying to promote the idea – I don’t care what they think about (anything) really. I’m just pissed. What sort of block do they have that makes this contradiction possible to brook?

They need to have it politely suggested to them that there are digital means to communicate across great distances and they would be wise to use them.

It appalls me to think I’ve given up seeing many family members very often because I won’t fly anymore save for very special occasions and someone holding forth on sustainability does! What stones?

Get your own houses in order indeed.

As for agreeing on “root causes” getting to that point is likely impossible. But there is NO NEED. I meet with some very right wing Christian folks who have some geopolitical views that I do not share… but we manage to talk about building vibrant localism just fine. Because they have become accustomed to food and shelter and know we for whatever reasons are in deep trouble.

I really encourage those of you who are stuck talking to people just like yourselves….to get out more and FIND ways to make common cause with people you otherwise disagree with. THAT is the first GREAT re-skilling. One liberals have a great deal of trouble with….

We share a fierce love of place. Start there.

Nicole Foss
14 Dec 12:49am

I did think the rally would top and the next phase of the decline would set in sooner than it has. As I said in the quote above, I have been surprised before. I make no pretense to being infallible, especially when it comes to timing. What I try to do is to lay out the logic of my case for a coming depression, and then offer my best guess as to the timing, based on whatever facts I can discover.

I would suggest that people look at the logic of the case and the facts I base it on. If they cannot find fault with that, then I suggest they prepare. If they want to take issue with it, then by all means do so at The Automatic Earth. I will do my best to answer any questions as soon as possible, although that won’t necessarily be immediately as I travel so much and don’t always have internet access.

Glenn Saunders
14 Dec 12:51am

“As for agreeing on “root causes” getting to that point is likely impossible. But there is NO NEED. I meet with some very right wing Christian folks who have some geopolitical views that I do not share… but we manage to talk about building vibrant localism just fine. Because they have become accustomed to food and shelter and know we for whatever reasons are in deep trouble.”

How many times do your right wing Christian folks fly around to see THEIR family members and why can’t you be as judgmental with them as you are with envirionmentalists?

Boys will be boys?

The planet doesn’t really have a sliding scale of guilt. If two people are living at 10 earths footpring, one a hypocritical environmentalist like Al Gore and another a Tea party conservative, the same amount of damage is being done, and the same need for both of them to get their act together. And certainly environmentalists are outnumbered by BAU-ists, therefore there is even more of a need to rock the boat.

If we decide not to bother people just because we’ve gently coaxed them into making a token effort here and there, we’re really not going to accomplish much in the end.

It’s like convincing people to bail out the titanic with one hand while they keep pouring water into the boat with their other hand.

You think I’m being extreme in saying this? Purely on the GW level alone, the scientists are in deep sh*t even if we cut CO2 to zero going forward. The amount that we’d have to cut back in order to ameliorate the situation almost requires a global religious epiphany.

As such, I’m glad that radicals like Brownlee are out there offending people. At least he’s not suggesting we blow up dams like Derrick Jensen. Whether he does this under the Transition tent or not is a separate matter.

Bart Anderson
14 Dec 1:32am

Thoughts about airplane travel:

In an era such as ours, there is a good argument for some people to travel by airplane to spread the word about climate change and peak oil. If they are effective, it is worth the fuel and CO2 emissions.

Most of the rest of us don’t need to do it, and probably shouldn’t. Those figures who make a point of not flying, such as Rob or (I think) Bill McKibben, are helping to change the assumption of our culture that flying is necessary.

In any case, it’s important to find effective ways to encourage others to re-think their attitudes about flying. People can be very defensive, and it’s easy to get caught up in self-righteousness.

14 Dec 1:45am

John- thanks for the offer of a meet-up… and a Guiness. I may well take you up on the offer!

I think you may have misinterpreted my previous comment; some different points might be getting conflated.

My point about “separate from nature” is that though an important issue, I do not see it as the primary CAUSE of our current circumstances: quite the reverse: humans have created civilisation as a means of protection FROM nature. Let’s save that one for the pub!

The point about people’s spiritual/religious beliefs and motivations is that many commentators here and elsewhere seem to come to Transition because they believe it is some part of, or pathway to, a spiritual salvation etc, and this is problematic because they tend to be rather evangelical and driven, viz Brownlee. They really believe that that is what it is about, so of course that aspect is what they put energy into. That is the direction they want to pull the group and the project- that is for them the overwhelmingly most important aspect. So I question whether it is possible for normal people, for whom such concepts have no meaning at all and are at best delusions and distractions, to happily work alongside them.

(Working alongside people who happen to have beliefs of one kind or another is a different thing altogether: Im talking here about people whos main motivation for transition is religious/spiritual, or who see the spiritual aspect as central and fundamental to it.)

Which brings me to the weasel word of “inclusiveness” which some transitioners pride themselves in: this is a real problem for the post-modern world, but if you read Ayaan Ali, maybe the issue becomes clearer. We simply cannot afford to be “inclusive” towards all different beliefs- its a complete contradiction. Who thinks we should be inclusive towards the BNP- even if they are addressing peak oil?

What is needed is discernment, not inclusivity. Otherwise there is no defense at all against being hijacked by cults and sects. (Too late!)

Cant resist pointing out the irony of the discussion about flying, interspersed with Stoneleigh’s “I will do my best to answer any questions as soon as possible, although that won’t necessarily be immediately as I travel so much…” (not picking on or criticizing Stoneleigh, just noting it…)
and we have just seen the end of the latest Climate junket in Cancun. Personally I think flying to see loved ones is a better reason than going to a climate change meeting, that’s just my opinion…

Liz McLellan
14 Dec 3:42am

Bart I agree – and it was unclear in what I wrote – certainly air travel can be justified in some instances – for Rob or Bill McKibben and a few others who really do obviously fantastic work. I was thinking about others who I am sure in the US have not got their own towns, cities etc “in transition” and instead are busy flying.

I just mean there are plenty of ways to organize across distance – but aren’t we localistas? I just don’t get it.

George S.
14 Dec 4:17am

“Nicole Foss said…What I try to do is to lay out the logic of my case for a coming depression, and then offer my best guess as to the timing, based on whatever facts I can discover.”

So what is yor current best guess (i.e. I would be surprised if DJIA was above _____ by ________, 20__)??? What is your current best guess as to when the SHTF???

Nicole Foss
14 Dec 8:59am

My current view is that the financial markets are putting the finishing touches on a top about now. They should then reverse, and the larger trend should be hard down for perhaps a couple of years. This should be a longer and stronger move than October 2007-March 2009. IMO this move could easily end several thousand points lower than the March 2009 low. Markets don’t crash right out of the gate after a trend reversal though. As market moves are swings of positive feedback, it takes time for momentum to build in the new direction.

Nicole Foss
14 Dec 9:22am

Thanks for setting the record straight Rob, much appreciated. I am always happy to work with the transition movement, as we are indeed on the same side and the work you are doing is so important.

14 Dec 5:29pm

Nicole (AKA Stoneleigh) – forgive me as this is a somewhat provacative question. I say this because while I was a fan of yours (and other deflationistas) for a while, I am beginning to think I am being sold a bill of goods.

You say, in part:

“My current view is that the financial markets are putting the finishing touches on a top about now. They should then reverse, and the larger trend should be hard down for perhaps a couple of years”

You have said similar things in May 2009, Aug 2009, Nov 2009, Jan 2010, Apr 2010, Jul 2010, and Oct 2010, and in each case you were wrong.

What, if anything has each of those missed calls done to make you modify your hypothesis – in essence, what makes you feel this call is “different this time”?

Nicole Foss
14 Dec 6:50pm

Calling the top of countertrend moves is notoriously difficult – much harder than identifying something as a countertrend move in the first place. It actually doesn’t matter a great deal when the top comes, but that it is coming and that people need to protect themselves in advance. The specific timing only matter for the relatively aggressive speculators. For others, the safest place to be is on the sidelines in cash, whether the top is tomorrow or 6 months from now. The upside is limited, while the risk is growing rapidly.

By the way, how I can be selling a bill of goods when I am not really selling anything? I, unlike most other financial writers, neither benefit nor suffer when people either do or do not do as I suggest. I am not trying to convince people to do anything for my benefit, but for their own, and that of their friends, families and communities. I have spent 5 years of my life doing this as a public service. I realize that the bearish case loses credibility during rallies, but unless one can dispute the underlying logic, then preparation would seem to be the safest course in terms of minimizing the consequences of being wrong.

14 Dec 7:30pm

“Nicole Foss said…It actually doesn’t matter a great deal when the top comes.”

Actually, it can. I recently found out prominent deflationists called top back in 1993 and his followers have been on the sidelines since. Being off by 18 months is one thing, being off by 18 years is quite another.

Fair enough, on you “not selling a bill of goods” – that was a poor choice of words on my part. I first started following this whole deflation thing about 3-4 years ago, and thought you guys were really on to something.

I recently saw an article from a deflationist I follow calling top back in 1993 – and using pretty much the same language they were using for calling a top today. It shook me to the core. I had no idea this fellow had basically been saying the same thing for 18 years, and been wrong ever since.

Thus, when I say “bill of goods”, I am thinking more of those who have been at this a long time, and are no more precise in their thinking than they were when they first made the deflation call.

I understand your logic of why it makes sense to be on the sidelines. I really do… and I want to believe you. Still, I dont want be in the same situation 18 years later thinking, “my god, what have I done”.

Tony Weddle
14 Dec 9:56pm

Bart, not only does our culture deem that air travel is necessary, it also deems that any long distance travel is necessary, and fairly rapid travel. Rob’s position seems principled, though I believe he does travel by other fossil fuel powered (directly or indirectly) means. I’m not sure if such principles are rational. Maybe one mode of travel will lead us to doom more quickly than another mode but if they both lead to doom, what is the principle behind eschewing one mode rather than another?

Tony Weddle
14 Dec 10:02pm


“My point about “separate from nature” is that though an important issue, I do not see it as the primary CAUSE of our current circumstances”

Oh, it most certainly IS the primary cause of our predicament. It is our attempt to dominate and use nature for whatever our heart desires that has led us to this moment. Peak oil is certainly a serious situation but it is just one symptom of our continuing attempts to divorce ourselves from nature and to ignore our impacts on nature.

If Transition doesn’t recognise that almost everything we do as a society needs to change, then it will fail to do anything other than delay collapse. An individual town being more efficient or having a walkable centre, but still completely dependent on an unsustainable society, is probably of little consequence in saving us from ourselves.

14 Dec 10:16pm

Sarah – regarding your “bill of goods” comment, I share your concern – that concern being this is just another permabear who has no real clue what she is talking about.

For starters, I say I have no idea who she is, but if she called for DJIA 1000 when its at 11,000 it gives me a good idea.

The problem with these permabear types is they all tell a good story, highly glossed with an air of authority to it. And thats the real key to it – the certainty with which they tell their tale.

Sure they may say things like “no one has a crystal ball”, but they then undercut it by saying this or that “WILL” happen, as if there is little to no dispute. Notice how many describe govt liquidity measures as “pushing on a string”? Its great symbolism, as it suggests, the govt is trying to do the “impossible”.

The fact of the matter is, she doesnt have a crystal ball, she doesnt KNOW whether the govt can kick the can another 5 years dow the road. The reality is, it very well COULD be another 5 years or more of this, and anyone who tells you with certainty it CANNOT happen is a liar.

As far as evaluating who you listen to, I suggest you go with someone who doesnt take these “the top is in” messages with such a cavalier attitude – especially when the messenger is projecting something as severe as a 10K drop in the DJIA.

With me, I have a “three strikes and you are out” rule. If a financial type calls “peak” or “bottom” on something and is proven wrong more than 3 times, its clear they have a blindspot with this issue, and thus dont listen to them.

Now if its true Stoneleigh isnt trying to sell you anything, I would give her a little more leeway than others. Still, if she has called countertrend top as many times as you said, I think its time to write her off as “just another permabear” and move on.

Good luck.

14 Dec 10:36pm

“Oh, it most certainly IS the primary cause of our predicament. It is our attempt to dominate and use nature for whatever our heart desires that has led us to this moment.”

Your certainty is problematic, as I disagree. Separation from nature is simply the definition of what it means to be human: as human beings, we have to a degree indeed found ways to transcend our natural origins- with technology, trade and innovation. Only in these ways has it been possible to overcome the “natural” state of very short lives, very high infant mortality and all the other realities one finds in nature.

So even if one agrees entirely with your subsequent points, about sustainability, they do not support the first point, that separation from nature is the fundamental cause of our predicaments, which, I maintain, are existential: humans have always had a footprint, sustainability is not some natural state we must strive to return to, it has never in fact existed- maybe it will exist in the future, maybe not, that is a different issue.
As humans, we will always value our well-being over abstracted concepts of nature, it simply cannot be otherwise. It really is just a question of degree- how much well-being for how much cost to the environment.
I have argued for a long time now, humans are no different in this respect: give bears opposable thumbs and a neo-cortex, they will behave the same way.

Liz McLellan
14 Dec 10:50pm

Every creature has a “footprint” – any species that over uses it’s necessary resources and does not have a boundary to cross – to exploit a new area has a die off.

We have the capacity to redraw those boundaries. You may consider it a flaw that we are researching and will eventually convert to renewable sources of energy…but that research will be the difference between massive population die off and a soft landing.

None of us key board commandos would survive in our “natural state” for very long. And those that think there was a natural stasis which was pleasant or left time for those aspects of human creativity we hold so dear (ie culture) need to reacquaint themselves with human life before technology – aptly described as nasty, brutal and short.

I know that most of you are not arguing for a return to that state but for some I hear a longing for a past that they have never experienced…and would hate if they did.

I like Bill McKibben’s formulation in “Enough- Staying Human in an Engineered Age” – we have the capacity for discernment and should use it. Though he too – suffers a great deal from religious suppositions about “what is good.” That said – he seems to over estimate the possibility of any sort of consensus on the questions he tries to tackle. There are no universally correct answers or assumptions in regard to “what is natural” “what is desirable” “what is preferred” “what is good”.

To say that there is no consensus is to state a fact….to say that there is no likelihood is simply an observation of probabilities. I would say there is a 99.98% chance that no consensus will ever be reached on the assessment of “man’s correct place in nature.”

Liz McLellan
14 Dec 10:53pm

Also – I don’t care what you say – we are never giving bears opposable thumbs….nor cats….that really would be the end of us!

Tony Weddle
14 Dec 11:05pm

Sarah and Carner,

Please show where Stoneleigh has erred in her analysis rather than saying she was wrong with her guess as to a top. Would you rather just listen to those who think economic growth can go on forever?

Personally, I think the share markets are disconnected from reality. Is it really reasonable to suggest that those markets reflect the real economy in any shape or form? I think Stoneleigh is wrong to try to put a timeline to the share market movements given that disconnection from reality. It is impossible to predict and I’m sure that all the bulls you’ve heard have also been wrong in their timing.

Nicole Foss
14 Dec 11:48pm


Contrarians have to have thick skins, because our positions always appear the least credible at the point when the message is of greatest importance. This is how human herding behaviour works.

May I suggest that you take the time to actually evaluate the analysis before writing it off unseen? Not that it matters to me personally of course, but it might matter a great deal in the future to those you care about most. Each of us is free to make our own choices, but we do ourselves and our communities a disservice if those choices are not well informed. Being casually dismissive is the easy choice – taking the path of least resistance. In this case IMO the path of least resistance is leading you off a cliff.

15 Dec 1:46am

Ms. Foss, respectfully, I shall decline.

While your points about herding behaviour and contrarian viewpoints are well taken, the problem is that the outlier viewpoints are so vast (and often so contradictory) that they cannot all be vetted, much less investigated.

If I were to look hard enough, I am confident, (and I am sure you would agree) that I could find a number of sites with articulate, charismatic hosts, each of which are CERTAIN that they are correct in their viewpoint that:

1. The DJIA is set to implode to under 1K
2. The DJIA is set to explode to over 40K
3. A massive earthquake is set to destroy CA.
4. North Korea will push Russia into starting WWIII
5. The oil spill will cause the gulf seafloor to collapse, causing a tsunami.
6. Jesus will reappear in the next 5 years.
7. Aliens will invade the earth in the next 15 years.
8. Etc. etc. etc…

Clearly, some of these are more credible than others, but still, as I noted, each person espousing thier particular viewpoint is unshakable in their view (in sum) “I am right about this”.

At the end of the day, some (especially given an unlimited timeline) will be proven correct. Others, will never come to pass. Still, you can be sure that their most fervent advocates will simply re-adjust their timelines (i.e. “ok, ok, Jesus did not appear in the last 5 years, but he WILL reappear in the upcoming 5 – of this I am CERTAIN”).

Moreover, you will note that those with more extreme views just happen to be largely of the doomsday variety than it is the pie in the sky types. This too likely has something to do with human’s need for certainty, and thus I view these a little more skeptically than the rest.

Finally, were I to “prepare” for all of these events, I would need to
(a) sell all my stocks now
(b) buy stocks like there is no tomorrow
(c) get my parents out of CA
(d) build a lead shelter
(e) move my sister out of Alabama
(f) get religion and
(g) learn Klingon.

In sum, life is short, and I cannot take the time and attention needed to view the credility of every group or site who KNOWS that such and such will happen. Thus, I am to a degree blissfully uninformed. My guess is you are too, as I suspect you have not done much to prepare for the great alien invasion of 2035.

Dont get me wrong. I do not dismiss all risks out of hand. Certain things rise to a level of enough concern so as to become educated, (such as peak oil and deflation). Even the more fantastical such as Y2K was worth a quick look back in 1999.

Still, at the end of the day, no one can possibly pick between all of the competing claims of what WILL be with any certainty. Thus, instead of devoting all or most of my eggs to any particular basket, I choose to remain hedged, thank you very much.

Also, if the advocate for a particular view is wrong, time and time again (i.e. market peaks now, I meant now, OK this time really now, OK this time I promise now), am I not foolish for listening to them? How long (days, months, years) must I listen to them being wrong before I am able to conclude they dont know what they are talking about.

Finally, you may be right that being “casually dismissive” is infact the easy choice and is leading me off a cliff. It could be however, that the messenger is not you, but the advocate for alien invasion. If, so, I plead guilty as charged. I will save a spot for you (since you too were “casually dismissive”) and neglected to learn Klingon in time.


Alice Quayle
15 Dec 2:25am

slight diversion –

re: ‘We might also find that encouraging increasing levels of scientific literacy among Transition groups to better equip them in evaluating different options might also help gain more traction.’

Just thought I’d say that I have found distance learning courses with the OU & CAT useful.

The Open University is good for picking up basic scientific literacy, eg. their environment courses
T206 (sustainable energy) 2nd level course gets rave reviews
(and their systems course is pretty good though hard).

I’ve also been doing a postgrad course with the Centre for Alternative Technology. Pushes your thinking. Esp if you do the week-long on-site modules. Lots of debate. pretty rigourous.

Nicole Foss
15 Dec 9:05am

For anyone with the requisite intellectual curiosity to invest 90 minutes exploring some rather pressing aspects of how the world works, this is the audio track from the conference:

For further information, this is our primer guide, where various aspects of our world view are developed in greater depth:

There is no need to understand Klingon.

Tony Weddle
15 Dec 11:11am


You’re right, I cannot be certain but, it seems to me that we have disregarded (the rest of) nature and the fact that we are part of, and reliant on, nature in our trashing of the planet and our consumption of limited resources. If we actually considered our actions, in relation to the rest of nature, I just can’t believe we would have made the same choices. I think hunter-gatherers had that knowledge of, and connection with, nature that we started to jetison with agriculture and civilisation.

Your notion that humans are separate from nature is really wide of the mark. There is no evidence whatsoever that humans are supernatural or of some different kind of substance than everything else. Hunter-gatherers didn’t have short lives – I think you might be confusing average lifespans with maximum age. Even if we’ve managed to increase average lifespans, I’m not sure those lives are healthier than they were or that those lives are happier than they were. But, even if all of these things were favourable, they don’t mean that humans are separate from nature or have lost their dependence on nature. Indeed, there was some research recently that indicates biodiversity loss is detrimental to human health:

I don’t know if sustainability is some natural state that we might return to, though hunter-gather societies existed for a very long time before someone invented civilisation (indeed, some exist today), but does that matter? Is sustainability a valid aim? If not, what is the point of Transition? Not that I’m convinced Transition is about sustainability but, if our societies are doomed to collapse, anyway (as all unsustainable societies must), what is the purpose of the movement?

Tony Weddle
15 Dec 11:18am


Can you read what you just wrote? I can’t believe anyone would seriously write that. By that yardstick, you simply continue with whatever the strongest message is that has been drummed into you over your lifetime. Or else you simply latch onto any message that seems to catch your interest, as it finds its way into your consciousness, and disregard anything else, because that would reduce your comfort level.

The notion of an alien invasion in 2035 is surely so far out of kilter with the notion that removal of credit (a decrease in the claims on underlying real wealth) amounts to deflation that I find it incredible that anyone here would place the two at the same level of credulity.

If you’re not prepared to even look at Stoneleigh’s arguments then your criticism has no weight whatsoever.

Glenn Saunders
15 Dec 2:58pm

“So I question whether it is possible for normal people, for whom such concepts have no meaning at all and are at best delusions and distractions, to happily work alongside them.”

The natural followup to that is what exactly “normal” people will be working on? If BAU ain’t broke (in their eyes) then why fix it? If they think global warming is a scam and they have no reservations about flying, eating beef every day, or shopping at Wal-Mart, and Transition doesn’t have the courage to challenge their short-sightedness in these areas, what exactly is going to be accomplished?

It seems like Transition attributes success merely with affiliation. In other words, if you can say that the F150-driving NASCAR-fan is a “part” of your group, then you’re successful. But affiliation without action isn’t that helpful. Something has to be accomplished.

Plant a few fruit and nut trees and more people grow some heirloom tomatoes? When does it get to the main act?

I’m reminded of the last scene in The Who’s Tommy where the people finally realize they are being sold asceticism and rebel with “We’re not Gonna Take It, Never Did and Never Will!”

To me there is a direct linkage between ideology and lifestyle and behavior (or motivations towards certain behavior. Not that you can’t find some common ground, but I’m not sure there is enough overlap there to actually make a difference.

Where most of that overlap occurs is that we’re all willing to engage in civilization triage, to coin a phrase from Future Scenarios. When the frog is actively boiling in the pot, the yuppies will finally buckle and start collecting acorns and wild blackberries.

But what we do between now and then is tantamount to making our bed and having to sleep in it. That’s why I made the analogy about bailing out the titanic with one hand and pouring water into it with the other.

As long as we only look at part of the problem, and nibble away at it under some false pretense (hey, heirloom tomatoes taste better! or let’s stick it to the ragheads by buying an EV!) then we’re not even treading water.

What I don’t like is the notion that it’s more important for Transition to throw its own deep ecology brethren under the bus or hide them away in a closet in order to pander to the other side who come to the table with very little they’re willing to give up for the sake of a livable planet.

If they are going to make a meaningful change, it will require more of a direct challenge or intervention, something Transition doesn’t think is necessary. But as time goes on it will become clearer whether Transition’s soft-sell is working. I would say things are not looking that great in the US. If pandering doesn’t even work, then why bother doing it anymore?

“I have argued for a long time now, humans are no different in this respect: give bears opposable thumbs and a neo-cortex, they will behave the same way.”

Why start that far up the food chain? Why not bring up yeast in the petri dish, which is what unrestrained growth really looks like?

15 Dec 3:44pm

I’d like to thank Transition for introducing me to the work of Chris Martenson last year, and Stoneleigh this year. After reviewing the evidence and analysis which they presented, my partner and I sat down and discussed our financial situation.

We decided to take steps that would protect us in the event of an economic meltdown, but at the same time would cost us very little in the event of the economy carrying on as normal.

We have sold our (few) shares, cashed in failing endowments, and worked hard to pay off our debt several years earlier than originally planned – in our case, a mortgage for home and farm – a fantastic feeling I can assure you!

The portion of my pension that I can control is now in cash (as I agree with Stoneleigh that the stock market is at, or very very close to, the ‘top’), since I’d rather sleep sound knowing I’m getting a good tax break plus equal company contributions than fret about the bottom dropping out of the stock market which already happened to me once in 2008).

For the longer term, we’re negotiating to buy a small forestry plantation as a SIPP – something we can see and touch, and which will provide wood for fuel and building materials for life, as well as a wind-break for the farm, a haven for wildlife, and is not subject to rising and falling in value based on the whims of speculators and governments.

We’re also investigating investing some pension funds in renewable energy technologies – again, to provide something tangible, to ensure our investment is doing something useful and doing it locally.

We’re also following up on many of Chris and Stoneleigh’s smaller but equally important financial and practical recommendations for ‘being prepared’ – which are coming in useful even just for the recent extreme snow event, which has been causing ‘peak oil’ equivalent effects over the period of the last three weeks in my neck of the woods!

So, I, for one, will carry on reading Chris and Stoneleigh’s words of wisdom (as well as many other opposing and conflicting words – it’s always good to keep an eye on the big picture). Unless our financial system is being run by a magician who can pull something remarkable out of the hat, the evidence suggests the economy in the short to medium term is heading downwards. I just hope it hangs on long enough to finish the financial preparations, and get a good community transition movement going locally!

Jonathan Maxson
15 Dec 3:51pm

Hi Rob,

I have great respect for Transition and for your fantastic leadership. Transition strikes me as a brilliant community organizing model for local, primarily non-governmental (at least at first) energy descent planning. I live in the northeastern US and I empathize with Brownlee, who I think is giving voice to some important developments in American culture that observers around the world should be favorably disposed to. Nevertheless, I found your critical response and the comments on this thread to be very helpful, and I can’t go so far as to say that I agree with Deep Transition as a construct.

I’ve written up my own response to Brownlee here. It’s written from my perspective as a U.S. Transition muller, a veganic permaculturist, and a social work systems thinker. I’d be very interested to hear your view on it.

Deep Transition fails in my mind for two main reasons. First, as a religious construct, it fails to articulate a vegan ethic, and I believe it is simply impossible to talk about authentic religiosity in an American context at this point in our history without taking the vegan ethic into account. But second, and even more importantly, I think Brownlee misunderstands the principles that constrain effective community organizing at the local level in a pluralist secular state. Transition works so well, it seems to me, because it is intelligently aligned with these community organizing principles. Even if Deep Transition included a vegan ethic as part of its conceptualization of a new and more enlightened era in the relationship between humans and the biosphere, for example, I don’t see how veganism could be integrated into Transition without, well, ruining the very open-endedness and respect for local autonomy upon which the model depends! And so I think the same constraint applies to any ethical or cosmological construct we try and angle into Transition in order to make it better reflect our particular spiritual and religious sensitivities.

Now that said, there is a critically important distinction between veganism as an ethical construct and plant-based nutrition as a scientific construct. And as I’ve suggested before, I think Transition Network leadership has yet to grasp the full implications of plant-based nutrition, and of livestock contributions to global warming, because of a misplaced bias toward the arguments of Fairlie and the permaculture wing of the livestock industry. If you track with everything I have outlined above, I hope you can see that articulating a favorable stance toward the consumption of animal products is itself the expression of a deeply ingrained religious bias (humans have a right to kill and eat animals even when this is nutritionally unnecessary) that is now very strongly countermanded by secular science and by the interests of secular society worldwide. I think this has been very well articulated by Lord Stern. In other words, as you continue to develop Transition as a secular community organizing platform for local response to peak oil and climate change, consistency would seem to require that you take as much care avoiding a pro-livestock bias as you do avoiding, say, an American call for Deep Transition.

At any rate, the more clear I get that Transition is essentially a tool for local energy descent planning, the less its pro-livestock bias concerns me. My mulling is no longer based on wishful thinking that Transition needs to be THE answer, the SINGLE process that will get us where we need to be. Rather, now that I have a better handle on Transition as one tool in a much larger toolkit, my mulling has more to do with how to promote Transition, BALLE, Slow Money, and PostCarbon Cities at the local planning level in Maine, without demonstrating preference for one “brand” over the other; without creating multiple, redundant planning groups; and without neglecting the equally critical need to promote consensus on the best available policies at the state and federal level.

Hope this all makes sense, and that you will shed light on anything that I have misunderstood. Thank you for this forum and for your always thoughtful responses.

15 Dec 3:55pm

“Tony Weddle said…The notion of an alien invasion in 2035 is surely so far out of kilter with the notion that removal of credit (a decrease in the claims on underlying real wealth) amounts to deflation that I find it incredible that anyone here would place the two at the same level of credulity.”

The “same level of credulity” huh? Is that what I said? Lets see, looking at my post, the only time that credibility came up was in this statement:

“Clearly, some of these are more credible than others…”

You may want to read a little more closely next time.

15 Dec 5:34pm

Tony, believe me, ive given up on the bulls a long time ago. And if I didnt make it clear before, Stoneleigh’s analysis looks fine to me – its just her results that are troubling.

Again, its just this whole “timing doesnt matter” thing that she espouses that I have a problem with. We humans have approximately 40 years of our useful investing life – 40 spins around the sun within which to build our nest egg to last us the remaining 20 in relative comfort.

Think then of those that heeded the deflationist message “the market is topping, get out now” 18 years ago. As its now 2010, and deflation has yet to appear, they spent 45% of their useful investing life on the sidelines. Furthermore, markets and prices have risen so much so far behind relative to others who simply stayed the course they are doomed to never catch up. They better pray that their health holds out since they likely will need to work til the day they die (and not by choice, but by necessity).

Im sorry but this “timing doesnt matter much” is an insult to everyones intelligence. Stoneleigh, as you are still here, answering questions, let me ask, if “timing doesnt matter much”, what is your response to those that have been sitting it out for the last 18 years?

The answer of course is that in a long enough timeline (i.e. 18 years), timing does matter. You know this, I know this, everyone knows this. Still, a simple acknowledgement that in the context I am describing “timing does matter” would do wonders for me in judging your capacity for honesty.

Bart Anderson
15 Dec 9:13pm

I feel as if I’m in the middle of 12 conversations at a party. Stimulating but rather disconcerting.

I wanted to comment on the problem that Sarah brings up, that of “timing.”

For me, the answer is that yes, timing DOES matter, whether it’s the stock market, bond prices or peak oil. Unfortunately, it is also impossible to predict.

The question is not how can we predict the future, since that is impoosible, but how can we make reasonable preparations for a situation characterized by uncertainty?

In fact, this is not so hard — we do it all the time.

One way to do this (and I think I saw it in Chris M’s course) is to list the various scenarios together with the probability you would assign to each for the next five years.

For example:
Revolution and civil war: 5%
Severe long-term depression and deflation: 10%
Severe inflation 10%
Moderate inflation 15%
Moderate depression 20%
Business as usual 30%
Boom 20%

The exact probabilities are probably not that important. The important thing is to get away from having one’s mind stuck on only ONE outcome.

One can then plan so that one will be able to cope with all of the possibilities. It won’t be an optimum solution for any one possibility — but in real life, that’s not necessary.

It helps to look for a “No regrets” strategy, something that Transition makes full use of. For example, by establishing a Transition Town, we will have a full social life, be in better physical condition, eat better food and be intellectually stimulated.

How can you lose? It doesn’t matter what the financial situation is, one comes out a winner.

Tony Weddle
15 Dec 9:29pm


Fair enough but you don’t exactly say which are more credible than others and you seem to be saying that you can’t go checking on any propositions that challenge your current view, no matter how credible.

However, since you can’t refute Stoneleigh’s arguments (because you refuse to consider them) then why did you bother to comment at all?

Tony Weddle
15 Dec 9:42pm


I take the timing doesn’t matter message to mean “exact timing doesn’t matter”. You’re right that you might take different actions if some event is 18 years away than if it is 6 months away. However, one could look at it another way and say that, at some point, it will be 6 months away. Since no-one (absolutely no-one) can predict the timing, what do you do? I’ve been surprised that things have held together this long though, as I look around me, it’s hard to dispel the notion that we are already in the first stages of collapse.

Someone once wrote on a forum that they live in 6 month slots (may have been 3 month slots) – assuming that the shit will hit the fan by the end of that period. I don’t do that but it’s a reasonable position because it can get you moving on the things you feel you need to do to prepare for that event. If, at the end of that period, the shit hasn’t hit the fan, then at least you’re further along and have another 6 months to prepare. At some point, you’re prepared as much as you can be and you’re set – you can even begin to improve on what you’ve done, if there is still time.

As for 20 years of comfortable retirement, I gave up on that idea a few years back. I’ll soon be 57 but I don’t expect to retire, in the normal sense, and don’t believe storing up funds to allow a “comfortable” retirement is at all a sensible thing to continue doing. I’m actually using my pension funds to help prepare to live a different style of life. I’m done with the “normal” economy – at least mentally.

Tony Weddle
15 Dec 9:52pm


Veganism is a moral position and everyone has different morals. To me, veganism would be the most efficient way of obtaining food and is desirable in that sense but I see it as no better a moral position than, say, eating animal derived food exclusively. Killing plants to eat them is no “better” than killing fungi, insects, fish or meat to eat, or in making use of products derived from those sources.

So, for me, the only basis for veganism being at the centre of Transition is for efficiency, provided that full nutrition is possible, without manufactured supplements, and, I suspect, that is not true for everyone.

Jim Belcher
15 Dec 10:47pm

Rob and all y’all,

I want to thank you for getting this Transition-model ball rolling and for providing your best insights as things evolve.

As we engage in building community resilience here in Orlando, it is heartening for me that we are taking our time to focus on inclusion, encouraging individual creative expression, listening carefully, and gratefully acknowledging and exploring each contribution. We are watching closely as relationships and patterns emerge and evolve.

We know we don’t have the answers. We are committed to considering all ideas and practices from all sources. We know that our transformation is ours to create. When we share what has worked for us so far, we are clear that what works for us may not work for you.

I for one am willing at all times to give up all I have become in this process for what could be. We live in a world of uncertainty. For this, I want to be as awake and as open as I can.


Jonathan Maxson
15 Dec 11:12pm


The discussion about finance on this thread illustrates why I think you have to be so careful about how Transition tackles the monetary problem. We need monetary reform at a national and international level, and public banking at a state level (in the US), combined with sensible slow money investment wisdom like Anne outlined at the local level. It will not be easy and we might not pull it off, but if we work across the board on this in the UK and in the US, we can maintain order, prevent panic, and stabilize the paper (social credit) part of the system, i.e., prevent a severe but unnecessary collapse in psychological and social capital when the REALLY hard energy and climate change issues are still 10-20 years away.

How do we protect the integrity of Transition as it is, but create a linkage, an alignment, to a policy framework that is science-based and nonpartisan? The financial reforms I am outlining are basic, science-based, nothing fancy, they will work. It’s just good financial permaculture. The process issue is that if we don’t tie larger social planning to local community development, neither gets where it needs to. We have to do this across all levels simultaneously. How do we connect the dots?


Since this is a party and I just happened to bump into you…I think we need to be talking as much about monetary reform, state banking, carbon tax and dividend, an oil depletion protocol (just between US states to start!), and contraction and convergence on Energy Bulletin as about relocalization. And please, recruit someone to write articles about plant-based nutrition and the livestock problem. We don’t need perennial polycultures right now, we’re not even close to that! We need to reduce our consumption of animal products in the US by about 80%. This will bring us down to the RDA for dietary protein, and we will have more than enough land, energy, fossil-fuel based fertilizers, and water to support us and the world through the severe crop failures that are now right on our doorstep. We’ll slow deforestation in South America and send a wake-up call to the world. All using conventional methods, while we transition gradually and with level heads – maybe even joy!! – to permaculture.

Or we can continue to send the completely disproportionate message that we are facing some kind of the end-of-the world food crisis, which is blatantly untrue. Right now we use 50% of the US 48-state land base to raise livestock and that is still not enough to supply our demand for animal products.

We can feed double today’s US population (say 310+ million climate refugees from around the world) on 10% of our landbase (less than our total EXISTING cropland, the harvest from most of which we now feed to animals), plant trees on another 25-30%, and still have some decent land for perennial biofuels production, without breaking a sweat, come drought or high water.

The proportionate message is that the U.S. can feed itself, help alleviate hunger and poverty (and thereby reduce overpopulation) worldwide, and provide assistance to climate refugees all throughout the long, hard transition to come. Or we can allocate billions of dollars and more than half our country – including a lot of great cropland and potential forest – to the production of a luxury commodity that destroys our economy and is about as healthy as tobacco.


Yes, veganism is a moral position. But I think if you consult with the world’s religious leaders, you will find that they have some basic moral instruction for you on the distinction between, say, the life of a human being, a polar bear, and a tomato. Or you can talk to a decent lawyer or judge. We have laws that regulate, at least to a degree, the relative humanity with which we treat people, pets, and other animals. Not so, not yet, with plants. If so we would have more laws against killing trees and forests, which would be yet another incentive to eat low on the food chain.

I don’t recommend veganism for Transition because for some reason the above arguments are morally ambiguous, but plant-based nutrition, yes, that’s just basic science. But I would not say that efficiency is sufficient as a criterion; you have to at least add to your definition of efficiency the benefits of a vastly more efficient health care system. Still, I would say improved health is first and foremost the justification. If we could save the planet by adopting a nutritionally crummy diet, I would point to population reduction instead. But it turns out we can save the planet on a more realistic rate of population peak/reduction with a diet that is actually better for us. So it’s a no-brainer.

Is Transition opposed to manufacturing? To manufacturing of health supplements? Or just manufacturing of health supplements that allow people to substantially reduce their ecological footprints? I don’t get it. Are TT’s Luddites?

Bart Anderson
16 Dec 6:59am

@Jonathan, who writes “… please, recruit someone to write articles … ”

At Energy Bulletin, we go by The Law of Two Hands. S/he who rolls up her/his shirtsleeves and writes something fresh and intelligent is the one who is published!

Nicole Foss
18 Dec 2:03pm


You’re planning to judge my capacity for honesty based my work not corresponding with what someone else said 18 years ago? That sounds like a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly. Don’t complain to me about someone else’s timing being off. My margin for error is much smaller than that, and within that margin for error, the exact timing (which no one can give you) really doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter whether the rally tops now or next week, in three months time or a year from now. Top it will, and when the next phase of the decline begins we will certainly notice. The problem is conveying a sense of urgency in terms of preparing for something that need not happen imminently. The reason that urgency is thoroughly warranted is that deflation can play out very quickly once it reaches a kind of critical mass, and extracting oneself from an over-stretched/indebted situation can take quite a long time. I want people to be able to prepare in time. The global banking system can seize up in a matter of hours in a banking panic, and if your funds are stuck there when it does then they will be gone for good.

By the way, retirement is not going to be a serious option for any of us, not matter what we do. The concept of retirement is relatively recent, and is really an artifact of our short golden age. It is going away now that that golden age is ending. Only the people at the top of the financial food-chain (globally speaking) ever had it anyway. Soon we will have to make do as most of the people in the rest of the world have always had to do, which is to say live in extended family situations where everyone has a role to play. This is normal for human beings.

Saying that you must stay in the market in order to wring every last ounce of profit out of it to fund retirement is to put yourself in harms way for a reward that won’t be there anyway. The risk of being in the market is rising inexorably, while the upside is very limited at this point.

The insiders are selling out to the public at a rapid rate – higher than before the 1987 crash. Sentiment indicators are at ridiculous extremes of optimism. This is simply the psychology of a top, whether people are prepared to admit it to themselves or not. Our herding impulses make that difficult by creating a cognitive and emotional dissonance we find very uncomfortable.

Dave Dann
19 Dec 11:18am

@Nicole Foss
I agree with your views on retirement but this idea hasn’t occurred to many people and would shock and threaten them.
Deflation: I graduated in economics in 77 (and then earned my living planting trees – ha ha) and I’m finding it a bit difficult to visualise deflation when central banks are pumping so much money into the system. Is it not possible to have nominal inflation but deflation in real terms at the same time?

Dave Dann
19 Dec 11:27am

“Sacred is a religious term, not something we want to encumber the Transition Movement with.

Permaculture YES!

Religion of a Gaia Worshiper?


Personally I can cope with the gentle wackiness of the New Agers but the strident “we know what’s best” of some Permaculturalists and Vegans makes me want to keep Transition very much at arm’s length.

Jonathan Maxson
19 Dec 8:53pm

@Dave Dann:

So you don’t have an argument with the distinguished American academics and theologians cited by Brownlee in his article, you just find it constructive, from a Transition standpoint, to lump them indisciminately into a New Age category, and then write the whole group off as wacky? What is the Transition value or principle being demonstrated in this instance?

It also appears you don’t have any argument with the substance of my own remarks (I assume you were condemning me specifically, as the only self-disclosed vegan permaculturist on this thread), you just think my style is so offensive it’s unworthy of Transition.

For the sake of clarification, I will assume this is a fair standard, and that your thinking is consistent, i.e., you object to any overly strident advocacy, whether it is for peak oil, climate change, or plant-based nutrition. At what point, specifically, did my comments secure rejection with respect to this standard? Clear insight on this point would be so helpful to the resolution of my mulling.

19 Dec 9:22pm

Aw, Jonathan, why take it personally? Many of us think that permies and vegans tend to be self-righteous. From experience. It has nothing to do with you, or any one particular person. And we don’t think it’s a good idea to marry those points of view to TT. And whether or not some spiritual points of view are wacky or not is not at issue here. The issue is, should TT marry a particular spiritual point of view? I agree with all those who say a loud and definite NO. That’s how movements are ruined, loading them up with “POV baggage” that sends everybody bickering. Let’s not.

Dave Dann
19 Dec 10:07pm

(Thanks Vera)
@Jonathan Maxson –
I never mentioned Mr Brownlee, nor did I use the word ‘condemn’. I would guess that I’m in the five per cent of the population that would most listen to the ideas of New Agers, permaculturalists and vegans. But I have to say that it is the self-righteous attitude that puts me right off. I have an opinion. You don’t like it but I feel I at least have the right to an opinion. You know it’s not me that you have to persuade – it’s the rest of the people and on the whole I think they will be a lot less tolerant than me.
(Actually the strangest thing about Mr Brownlee’s writing was that he says he visited Totnes in 2008 and found that “Transition had become a household word in the UK, and that the movement was indeed spreading virally”. I live about 40 miles from Totnes and find this all very difficult to believe.)

Mel Riser
19 Dec 10:19pm

@jonathan, it matters not what your personal eating habits are, or beliefs for that matter… and that is the crux of Rob’s rebuttal.

Transition is about changing your energy usage ( EDAP ) your source of food ( local ) and the way you manage the process.

it is not connected to a dogma, religion, feeling, witchdoctor, or priest, but on YOUR WILLINGNESS to tackle the changes are are coming NOW, instead of reacting when they appear.

You eating habits might play into it, but like a religion, they are irrelevant to the Transition Initiative and movement.

of course the “deeper” meaning folks will attach some sacred significance to lots of things ( religions tend to do that” and we get to choose to reject it based on that connection.

The Energy Descent and the action plan for the future is the basis, as everything revolves around that.

mel ( who is an omnivore, by choice, and will eat your portion of meat )


Glenn Saunders
20 Dec 1:37am

“Transition is about changing your energy usage ( EDAP ) your source of food ( local ) and the way you manage the process.”

Which people are not likely to do until price-pressures mandate it.

You know, Jevon’s paradox, and the frog in the pot.

Right now, if you aren’t already powering down due to the recession, which could merely take the form of buying bulk Monsanto grains, then there’s hardly an incentive to do.

What I’ve seen so far with the climate change movement is that the dispassionate data alone isn’t enough. If people are addicted to BAU, then they need some more emotional or philosophical appeal rather than just showing them charts and graphs. To do what’s right even if it’s less convenient or even more expensive (in the short-term).

That’s really what it’s all about. Will people “prep” when it doesn’t make sense from a short-term cost angle?

The vegan is illustrative of this. That person has used veganism as a justification for her flavor of powerdown. You may not agree with her choice, but it demonstrates that there is usually some ideological crutch that people emplore in order to get their ass in gear, since otherwise it’s too easy to coast and eat bon bons.

Again, I will repeat my opinion that bringing “normal” people into the tent of Transition is of no value unless they actually do something. You need both. To actually get them to do what needs to be done will invariably tread upon their sensibilities. This notion that they can be manipulated sort of like Tom Sawyer getting other people to whitewash the fence, well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Jonathan Maxson
20 Dec 1:57am

Dave, I know you didn’t use the words “Brownlee” or “condemn.”

Was your recommendation to exclude self-righteous vegans from Transition in response to my comment, or no?

And when did I ever imply that you weren’t entitled to voice your opinion? The irony here is getting pretty darn thick. You, Dave, made a move to exclude my opinion, on the grounds it was too strident, but you have yet to define what it is that makes my opinion any more self-righteous than yours, or anyone else’s on this thread, for that matter.

Vera, I’m not taking it personally, but thank’s for the concern all the same.

As I have already made clear twice on this thread, I understand full well the difficulties that arise if Transition adopts a particular spiritual or religious point of view, and I have consistently included veganism under the heading of a religious view.

One part of my argument is that if you want to pass Transition off as non-ideological, you need to respond to “wacky New Ager” the same way you would respond to “wacky Catholic,” “wacky Jew,” “wacky Buddhist,” or “wacky Protestant.” These are all forms of religious bigotry. If the tendency of the TT’s on this thread is not to recognize, let alone condemn, this kind of bigotry when it arises, than I have a concern that an unstated ideological bias is in fact at play.

I am particularly concerned that this bias is directed against distinguished American theologians and academics who have worked so tirelessly, for so many years, to raise the consciousness of my society about the dangers of fossil fuel dependency, global warming, and ecocide.

The second and more fundamental part of my argument is that livestock permaculture is no less ideological than vegan permaculture. My sense of Transition is that the pro-livestock, anti-vegan bias is surprisingly deep-rooted. I say this because Transition is ostensibly dedicated to empowering local communities to respond to energy descent and climate change. Adopting a plant-based diet is one of the easiest, most immediate, and most powerful things a community can do to achieve exactly these stated objectives.

The science on plant-based nutrition and livestock emissions is just as clear as it is on climate change and peak oil. This is such an important and exciting field of scientific study, with implications that are so profound for local resilience, it is almost beyond belief that it is not squarely on the radar screen of Transition Network leadership. When the drift of Transition culture is so consistently leaning against plant-based nutrition, yet so strongly in favor of dietary localism (as Mel’s comment only underscores) and livestock permaculture, it is very difficult not to call this a bias – and a rather significant bias, at that. Why not give as much attention to plant-based nutrition as to localism?

Rob, I just don’t understand. Why aren’t you stepping in here? Why don’t you just say that diets based on the science of plant-based nutrition are an empowering way for TT’s to address climate change and energy descent? Do you consider this to be a scientifically incorrect statement? Do you consider this to be some kind of religious position? Would such a statement be somehow inconsistent with local autonomy?

One could argue that plant-based nutrition is a political non-starter…but that would not indicate careful attention to American cultural trends. Here is just one notable example, and I could cite many, many more. Plant-based nutrition is on the rise in the U.S., particularly among the younger generation.

Dave, How many TT’s do you think we have in the U.S.? How many people in this country do you think are following a plant-based diet? Which group do you think is more in the minority? Why on earth does anyone think TT’s have the political high ground on this issue? At least in the U.S., exactly the reverse is the case! Just run a meet-up search for the vegan groups with the most members. I think this will pull it up for you.

The gist of opinion on this thread is that Brownlee’s Deep Transition is too ideological. I agree, but my counter is that Transition may be even more dangerous for Americans, insofar as it celebrates itself for being non-ideological, when it appears, at least on two major issues, to be anything but. Call me self-righteous, call me strident, tell me I’m taking this all too personally, tell me my moral compass is off, dump as much of your own junk on me as you want to. Or validate a good point when you hear it and meet me in the middle. Transition won’t end up any worse for the wear.

Nicole Foss
20 Dec 11:23am


Veganism won’t work everywhere or for everyone. Great if it does work for you where you are, but making it part of transition would be too limiting. The further north one is, and the shorter the growing season, the more one must rely on animal nutrition. Imagine trying to be a vegan Inuit for instance. Forms of food storage other than ‘on the hoof’ require energy, and growing enough in, say, two months to last for twelve, is probably impossible, especially in a low energy world.

The problem is current industrial animal husbandry, and it largely hinges on scale and on what animals are fed. On today’s vast scale, with all the habitat destruction involved, it is very wasteful. Grazing animals did not evolve to eat grains. Stuffing them full of that kind of diet upsets their stomachs to the point where they have to be given antibiotics to keep them from getting ill. This is a ghastly process, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

My sheep eat grass, and my chickens scratch around and turn the grubs from what my sheep leave behind into eggs. They were not competing with me, or anyone else, for a food source and they are perfectly healthy. Some land can produce food only as pasture.

Also, a vegan diet is far too high in carbohydrates for many people. People’s sensitivities vary. If you are not carb sensitive, fine, but others are, and a vegan diet would make them ill. In sensitive people, carbs cause huge insulin spikes (chronic hyperinsulinemia, or metabolic syndrome), with a lot of knock-on health consequences. Refined carbs are worst of course, but all carbs will provoke a reaction.

A vegan diet often contains a substantial amount of soy, which has its own significant issues (if it is unfermented). It contains digestive enzyme inhibitors, blood-clotting agents, phyto-estrogens, thyroid function depressants etc. IMO this is not a healthy food.

Transition needs to remain flexible. People need to be able to do what works for them, both locally and personally.

Nicole Foss
20 Dec 11:32am

Dave Dann,

“I’m finding it a bit difficult to visualise deflation when central banks are pumping so much money into the system. Is it not possible to have nominal inflation but deflation in real terms at the same time?”

Banks are not printing actual money, they are generating additional credit in a system that is already choking on it. Even during the favourable circumstances of a rally, they have not managed to out-pace credit destruction. IMO the rally is ending, and the rate of credit destruction will shoot up when that happens.

Credit is over 95% of the money supply. When that bubble collapses, the effective money supply will crash. With unemployment rising sharply and benefits being cut, people will see a drastic cut in purchasing power. Many will simply have no money. This will undercut price support for everything, although the essentials will receive relative price support as a larger percentage of a much smaller money supply chases them.

Deflation is not falling prices though. Falling prices are a consequence of deflation, which is a contraction of the money supply. A fall in the velocity of money will aggravate the impact of money supply collapse. In other words, people will be hanging on to cash because they won’t know when they’ll earn any more of it. The economy will have a seizure when there isn’t enough money circulating. This is exactly what happened in the depression.

Jonathan Maxson
20 Dec 5:02pm

My God, I think I’m talking to a frickin’ wall here!!! Can somebody please point to the place where I recommend that Transition start promoting veganism?

Nicole, plant-based nutrition CAN work for everyone, everywhere, but that is not what I have been pushing on this thread. I have been pushing for balance. I am trying to find out if Transition is capable of articulating a sensible position on nutrition and livestock or if it is fatally compromised by ideological bias in this domain.

You are a livestock producer, and you are repeating livestock industry disinformation that is wrong and frankly irresponsible on all counts.

You are completely wrong on protein. The overwhelming problem with the human diet right now is not too much plant protein, whether that plant protein comes from soy or from any of the numerous other reliable sources of this nutrient. The overwhelming problem is animal protein, which causes a cascade of negative health effects when it is consumed on a regular basis in even small amounts. Show me that you are at least passably familiar with the science of plant-based nutrition on this point, and then we can have a proportionate discussion about when to include or exclude soy from the diet of a particular individual or group, based on local factors.

Properly planned plant-based diets are not too high in carbohydrates for anyone. Of course refined carbohydrates are an insulin problem. They are also a fiber problem and they lack sufficient nutrient density, which is why whole carbohydrates and whole foods in general are a cornerstone of plant-based nutrition.

Some people have difficulties with gluten, or allergies to particular carbohydrate sources, but there are many wonderful sources of carbohydrate that can be selected to avoid these problems. The solution is NOT to exclude or minimize the importance of carbohydrates from the diet, and it is certainly NOT to emphasize animal products instead. This is really irresponsible advice. If someone is eating too much of good carbohydrates, the solution is to shift to plant-based foods that are lower in carbs and higher in vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, or other essential nutrients. Like greens, for example.

Every competent nutritionist in the world will tell you that whole, unrefined carbohydrates with ample vegetables and fruits are the base of a healthy human diet. There are certainly some nutritionist exceptions, just as there are some climate scientists and many meteorlogists who deny global warming. For Transition to get it right on energy and climate, and then hang its hat on junk nutrition, is such a terrible shame!

The idea that grass-fed or permacultural livestock production is the solution to the world’s industrial livestock problem also positions Transition well outside of the scientific mainstream. Grass-fed and permacultural livestock production is an extensive system of food production that makes better carbon sense than industrial farming, but it absolutely will not work at scale in 2010, 2020, 2030, 2040, or 2050 without a massive reduction in global population. We just don’t have enough land or forest to make such a system scalable.

Right now we are using the majority of the world’s arable land base and huge amounts of fossil fuels to raise livestock using intensive production methods. And still we are not producing enough animal products to supply global demand, which is rising. And you think the solution, the scalable Transition solution, is not to reduce demand, but to turn that industrial livestock system back around to a land-extensive preindustrial system that chows down even more forest in its relentless quest for biomass?

If we stopped all fossil fuel emissions today, we still don’t have a sufficient sink to bring atmospheric carbon levels back to equilibrium. Maybe we can do something with ocean biomass, but thus far our most reliable solution, by far, is tree planting. A whole lot of tree planting. And of course we are not on track to significantly reduce our fossil fuel emissions any time soon!

You speak of marginal land as though its only proper use is for the production of food. But we have all the fantastic cropland we need to feed the entire world a plant-based diet…if we stopped feeding so much of that cropland’s bounty to livestock! There is no need for us to look to marginal or even moderately arable land for anything but sensible forest management. Where is your understanding of the forest? It is just like your argument for soy. If you first addressed how important it is for us to undertake massive forestation, we could then have a proportionate dicussion about those marginal lands where trees really are difficult to grow, and where niche market production of livestock makes the most sense.

Your reference to the Inuit is the ultimate irony. Do you seriously think the solution to the plight of the Inuit is for the people of the northern hemisphere to adopt a grass-fed, livestock-intensive UK diet? Why don’t you recommend we all drive Hummers while you’re at it, so we can melt those ice caps even faster?

Nicole, I’m hitting back so hard on your comment not because I believe your intentions are in the wrong place, but because I trust that you and everyone else on this thread shares a sincere commitment to the overarching goals of Transition.

So why is it that not a single person is speaking up in support of plant-based nutrition and livestock reduction? Come on, just a peep. You can dislike or disagree with me for being an overly strident jerk – I obviously don’t care about that. But is there not a single one of you who thinks plant-based nutrition and significant livestock reduction are appropriate strategies for Transition initiatives, i.e., that these strategies are AT LEAST as appropriate as grass-fed cattle and livestock permaculture?

I’ve got no response from Rob, seven oppositions, not a single show of support, and frankly I think I’m winning on the arguments. Granted it’s not a statistically valid assessment, but this is starting to look an awful like lot an ideological bias. Is it possible that Brownlee’s call for Deep Transition was really a call to get the sacred as the holy – as wholeness, as a holistic scientific and spiritual perspective that correctly understands the contribution of the livestock industry to our planetary energy imbalance – into the Transition conversation in America?

(BTW, I am not opposed to hunting of forest ruminants like deer, which I think is an essential conservation strategy; and I also support niche market grass-fed livestock production, if it is properly priced to account for its total footprint. Nor do I oppose sustainable fisheries. I support a food pyramid for my own state of Maine in which the majority of people at the base of the pyramid follow plant-based nutrition; a smaller, middle tier consumes sustainable fish, poultry, and eggs; and the smallest group at the top of the pyramid eats wild game, dairy, and permaculture/grass-fed livestock. I support this framework even though I recommend plant-based nutrition from a medical perspective and veganism from a religious perspective. But from a political perspective I am a non-ideological pragmatist and I don’t believe in dietary fascism. I believe a pyramid of this type is therefore the most practical path of development for my region, and I also believe this pyramid is globally scalable.)

20 Dec 5:21pm

Meeting a self-righteous vegan in the middle? That’s a hoot. After all, they are not interested in meeting us omnivores in the middle.

There go the true believer trolls, infesting forums with their preachifying…

Nicole, they love nothing better than argue the points endlessly, “proving” they are right. Remember, don’t feed the trolls! :-)

Nicole Foss
20 Dec 6:10pm


FWIW I am a biologist by training, and I study nutrition all the time. I have also lived the carb problem first hand and I am telling you that I, and others like me, could not be healthily vegan. I eat an Atkins diet with additional vegetables, which is what I need to eat to keep my insulin levels stable. Hyperinsulinemia is a very common condition.

Here is my recent take on the diet debate: Our Daily Bread, Or Not, As the Case May Be (

I recommend Gary Taubes excellent book Good Calories, Bad Calories for anyone who is interested in a complete review of a hundred years of nutritional science, and why the conventional received wisdom on diet is unfounded and incorrect.

20 Dec 7:11pm

There is almost no feedback on Transition Colorado for Brownlee’s article. But now Carolyn Baker has weighed in with support.

Tony Weddle
20 Dec 10:29pm


Not only do you come across as strident, you come across as having complete faith in your own opinion, and a complete lack of faith in anyone else’s opinion, if it conflicts with yours. I must say that Nicole comes across that way too, though her case is always well argued. This is a recipe for disaster in any discussion. Neither side will give an inch and nothing is achieved.

Personally, I do think that a plant based diet is possible, though I’m not an expert. It would certainly be the most efficient diet and the one that most people could possibly aspire to, in terms of self-sufficiency. However, I’m quite willing to accept that (all species of) humans lived quite happily for almost all of their time on a mixture of plant based and animal based diets, and that, for some people animal based nutrition is important or essential.

I don’t know why you call your food pyramid a “pyramid”. It is simply different groups of people having different diets. In some areas, animal based foods can be had sustainably and make sense, in other areas, maybe it doesn’t make sense.

Bart Anderson
20 Dec 10:50pm

Vegetarianism, spirituality and financial predictions are all subjects about which people of good will may disagree.

In the long term, the question is NOT: “Who is right?”

Instead: “How do we deal with topics on which complete agreement will never be achieved?” On most topics, agreement is not necessary for the group/movement to move ahead.

The only groups in which everybody agrees on everything are cults.

In healthy groups/movements, there is discussion and disagreement. At best, there are productive ways to deal with disagrement – perhaps going away for a while, then coming back with a blockbuster demonstration or presentation – perhaps forming a sub-group within Transition.

But we also have to know when to be quiet and let go of a topic … at least for the time being. If one cannot tolerate disagreement, a place with multiple points of view will always be frustrating.

The beauty of Transition is that the possibilities are open for people to pursue their own interests and beliefs.

Jonathan Maxson
20 Dec 10:55pm

Vera, that really hurts.

Rob, put an end to this, please. If the reason you are not responding to me is because you view my activity on this thread as trolling, and you do not want to “feed the troll,” than just say that to me directly, and I assure you, I will never post on Transition Culture again. Otherwise, it would be helpful to get at least the barest nod of support for my commitment to this process.

Nicole, I am familiar with the arguments of Taubes, the Weston Price Foundation, Lierre Keith, the Eades, Atkins, et cetera, and in my opinion these individuals are not practicing responsible nutrition or medicine.

I am not a doctor, so my opinion is not medical advice. If you have hyperinsulinemia (pre-diabetes), and are following an Atkins diet as a treatment, I strongly encourage you to get a second opinion from a doctor who has certification in plant-based nutrition.

If you have hyperinsulinemia, chances are very good you are overweight or obese, or if you at healthy body weight you may have PCOS. You are also at higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Consuming the animal fats and proteins recommended by Atkins significantly increases your risk for all of these diseases, and for cancer and a number of other diseases as well.

If you have not already done so, I strongly recommend that you (and anyone with hyperinsulinemia, POCS, or diabetes type 1 or 2) read the China Study, and study Chapter 7 in particular. Immediately, anyone on this thread can look to the following resources. I believe the guidelines on diabetes, especially on diabetes 2, are appropriate for hyperinsulinemia:


I believe these guidelines are the best in the field – not because they fit with my ideology, but because I believe they are objectively the best in the field. Nicole, readers can compare your recommended article to these guidelines, as a step toward making their own informed healthcare decisions. But first I want to say that even if consumption of animal products proves medically appropriate in some instances – and I certainly don’t want to rule this possibility out – the overall framework I sketched in my prior comment more than adequately addresses this concern. What is it about the “big picture” of my comment that you disagree with – as a biologist?

Jonathan Maxson
21 Dec 12:26am

I’ve got a longer comment in response to Nicole awaiting moderation, so I’m not sure in what order this brief note will post, but it is meant to be my last on the thread, and my last on Transition culture, barring an indication from Rob that Transition gives at least as much encouragement to plant-based diets (whether such diets are motivated by health, environmental, or animal rights concerns) as it does to livestock-based diets.

Bart, you say “The only groups in which everybody agrees on everything are cults.”

And that’s exactly my point, my concern. Doesn’t it raise your eyebrows that there is NO disagreement on this thread, Bart? There is no voice, no movement, from anyone observing this conversation, to simply acknowledge that Transition encourages plant-based diets as ONE great way to reduce our ecological footprint and reduce global warming.

Now why is that?

Bart Anderson
21 Dec 1:50am

@Jonathan, speaking as someone who’s found myself as the minority voice many times …

It’s easy to work oneself into a corner, feeling that no one is listening and that the only way to be heard is to raise one’s voice, and to threaten to go away. In the case of Transition, this is unnecessary; there are many possibilities to develop one’s ideas.

As I understand it, Transition is a grassroots movement, and Rob is not the Pope. Whether he makes a pronouncement on vegetarianism is not a key issue.

If you look at the movements and people clustered around Transition-like ideas, you will find many who are sympathetic to eating lower on the food chain. We have published many articles on the subject at Energy Bulletin (BTW, we also posted a link to your article).

The reason that I and perhaps others are hesitant to jump into a discussion on vegetarianism is because of unpleasant experiences with moralistic advocates. I would LIKE to work with them, but I don’t want to be hit over the head.

There are many good arguments for eating less meat, and especially meat from factory-farmed animals. Beef in particular has huge environmental consequences, from water use to climate change.

Other arguments involve health, cost, and the conditions of factory farms.

I like to celebrate traditional diets (e.g., Mediterranean, Mexican, Chinese) as being tasty, healthy and interesting. People get enthusiastic about good food.

One of the best arguments for vegetarianism was the stupendous fare served at a Thich Nhat Hanh retreat that my wife and I attended.

I think the low-key, non-confrontational approach of Transition would be a good model for encouraging people to eat less meat.

Liz McLellan
21 Dec 2:02am

I think it would be wise for people in the thread to re-iterate why we were attracted to TT in the first place. We all were apparently.

I was for it’s practicality and lack of cant with regard to prepping for an less oil based economy and it’s emphasis on localism and DOING things (over endless discourse…) (Paralysis by analysis anyone?)

I am not interested in promoting veganism or spirituality or listening to arguments about it…none of that is new to me or useful or interesting.

Sorry. It’s just not. Been there done that, didn’t buy the Tshirt because I am anti-consumerism.

I understand the world is diverse and people come to their own conclusions through a lifetime of experiences in these realms.

Both dietary and spiritual or (non spiritual) issues – are core issues for most people. They are so very close to home. I have had literally thousands of discussions on both topics – and there are millions of venues to do so where everyone there WENT there FOR that discourse.
It is not TT’s place to try to corral people in those realms. Again that does not mean individuals can’t have those discussions – it just means that TT needs to focus on what we have in common – not what splits people into hard camps. That is what both of these discourses do – every. single. time.

I don’t get why that is insulting or why it is hard to understand.

It’s TTs job to be a strategy for organizing people for soft landing. That’s it’s value… it is not a venue for evangelizing.

21 Dec 2:03am

Bart, do you figure it is the business of TT to encourage certain diets (and presumably discourage others)? It seems to be as divisive as encouraging a certain take on spirituality.

Mel Riser
21 Dec 2:07am


You lose sight of the fact that Transition is up to you and YOUR neighborhood and town. IF YOU WANT to promote veganism, along with helping people transition, get moving…

but asking the whole movement to promote what you believe religiously is like the deep ecology gaia worship religion.

Transition is about what you want it to be, withing the context of Energy Descent, local food, and helping people prepare for the changes…

why turn it into something else? those three tenets are good enough…

Nicole Foss
21 Dec 2:53am


“Not only do you come across as strident, you come across as having complete faith in your own opinion, and a complete lack of faith in anyone else’s opinion, if it conflicts with yours. I must say that Nicole comes across that way too, though her case is always well argued.”

I don’t mean to come across that way, and I’m sorry if I do. I have learned an enormous amount from countless other people, and am happy to continue to do so. I become confident in my opinions when I have done a great deal of research, but the tag line of my emails says it all – ancora imparo (I am still learning).

Bart Anderson
21 Dec 3:16am

@vera “Bart, do you figure it is the business of TT to encourage certain diets (and presumably discourage others)?”

Yes, actually I do. If a diet is heavy in meat, then it is not resilient. There are many energy inputs to industrial meat production, and when the price of oil goes up, meat prices will skyrocket.

In addition, most of us eat meat that is raised far away (e.g. in Central America for us in the US).

If one is concerned about climate change, one of the biggest steps one can take is to cut down on the amount of meat one eats, especially beef.

In terms of personal health, most of us do not need the quantity of animal fat that we get in a typical diet. We aren’t doing heavy labor in the cold.

One of the things I learned as a starving student was that it’s much cheaper to live on a low-meat diet.

And if you study how our ancestors lived, most ate way less meat. It was traditionally used more as a flavoring than as the central part of the meal. (As someone pointed out above, some climates and cultures are exceptions – e.g. Inuit and pastoral cultures.)

So, from just about every standpoint I can think of, it’s a great idea to reduce the meat in one’s diet.

I guess I agree with Jonathan about this.

On the other hand, I think that all-or-nothing vegetarianism is counter-productive.

It is MUCH easier to talk about reducing the amount of meat in a diet.

And it is much more effective to demonstrate, give alternatives, get people excited, than it is to preach.

I dunno, Jonathan, maybe it would be worth writing an article pointing this all out?

21 Dec 4:36am

Bart, thank you for a detailed response. I tend to think that the resilience of one’s diet is much more about the “how” than the “what.” Eating meat grown nearby on land that is prone to erosion is far more sound than eating grains from far away grown on erosion-prone large fields and shipped long distances… etc etc.

In terms of relationships, people tend to bristle at being preached regarding their diet… especially by people far away who take no account of local circumstances.

‘Know your food’ is my motto… :-)

It’s a bit ironic… I recently peeked into some tea party blogs, and the folks seemed to have been busy batting away people who are similarly trying their darnedest to infuse “social issues” into the tea party agenda, with stalwarts arguing staunchly against it. They recognize that every time a partisan or PC issue gets stuck in, many people flee, and a disservice is done to the core reason for being of the group in question.

I am with Liz on this one. I mean, look at us. This is all a rehash of stuff we’ve all been through; and while hanging with the folks here is a pleasure in itself, the diet discussion is a waste of time, IMO. It simply opens up a huge can of worms, agreement is not possible, tempers flare when people insist, and so perhaps it makes far more sense to not try to solidify and incorporate something into TT that is neither solid nor incorporatable… (?)

On the other hand, though, it is instructive, because diets for some people are akin to religion, and so we are full circle to our original discussion. :-)

21 Dec 10:11am

Apologies all for not engaging in this discussion earlier… I was away all day Friday, don’t work on weekends if I can help it, and have been very busy, so I haven’t dipped into this thread much until now. Apologies to Jonathan if he feels he has been abandoned to the wolves here, but I don’t tend to moderate comments threads on this website in the same way, for example, John Michael Greer does, regularly feeding back my thoughts, firstly because I don’t have the time, and secondly because I feel strongly that, as Bart puts it above, “Rob is not the Pope”. It isn’t necessarily helpful to such discussions to have the moderator wading in to put everyone right on a regular occasion.

So, just a few thoughts. In relation to food, it is my sense that the overarching principle is that diets of the future need to be principally locally sourced, and based on farming systems that are designed to be as low carbon as possible, diverse and designed to contribute as much as possible to the local economy.

Jonathan asks “how can veganism be integrated into Transition”? My sense is that it is integrated in the sense that if you live in a community which is embracing Transition and you are vegan, then clearly you need to be fed, and to have some involvement in how that happens. Is it the role of Transition to advocate that everyone in the place needs to adopt veganism, or to even start from an explicit starting place that all the people in the community who eat meat are morally flawed or misguided? I would suggest not. For me it is not a case of ‘integrating veganism into Transition’, but rather that Transition and any process of community energy descent design is about the community designing, together with its existing farmers and food infrastructure, a system that will best meet its needs. If that community is vegan then it will design a vegan system, if it not, then it will design something that integrates meat.

However, my sense from Jonathan’s emails is that, as he says, he is “not recommending veganism for Transition”, but is rather arguing for an increased awareness of plant-based nutrition. I think there is a lot of mileage to this, I have long been fascinated by leaf curd, which can be made from green leafy plants and from nettles, but which is very high in protein. He speaks of Transition Network’s ‘misplaced bias towards Fairlie’, but I have to say that, like George Monbiot, Fairlie’s book shifted my thinking from assuming that vegan agriculture would be the best model. I don’t know if you have read it Jonathan, but it is an exceptional piece of research. The ‘Can Totnes Feed Itself?’ study took Fairlie’s ‘livestock permaculture’ model as its basis not from a “pro livestock bias”, or some ideological anti-vegan perspective, but because it is the closest to what the place already eats, and would therefore be the most likely to be accepted. No point suggesting a vegan farming system if it will only meet the needs of a small percentage of the population. I think Fairlie’s book is the best I have yet read on the subject. If it changes George Monbiot’s mind, that’s quite an achievement…

Jonathan writes that “my sense of Transition is that the pro-livestock, anti-vegan bias is surprisingly deep-rooted”. I really wouldn’t form such an opinion based only on this discussion thread. That is certainly not my experience at all. For me, it is like in any community. There are people who eat meat, and those who don’t. There are vegans in my community, and the food system of the place is designed to feed them as well as everyone else. The Town Council, for instance, hasn’t adopted a pro-vegan stance, and why would it? It would be unnecessary and divisive and rather pointless. I feel the same about Transition.

Personally I am vegetarian, and have been for 28 years, but I do not see that it is the most moral of positions, nor do I assume that everyone around me should do likewise. That is what I like about Fairlie’s book, he argues that we need to eat less, higher quality meat, and that it needs to be grass-fed, which is a vital ingredient of a farming system able to lock up carbon. Strikes me that such a system isn’t a business-as-usual approach to meat, and doesn’t exclude veganism, it offers a better chance of feeding everyone…

Anyway, that’s my tuppence-worth, but as I said, I’m not the Pope. I did also want to come back on Dave Dann’s comment about Brownlee’s excited statements about his visit to Totnes and how ‘Transition was a household word’. Absolutely. There was an amazing desire to discover Shangri-la in that part of his piece that verged on the ridiculous, like the early writings of English explorers visiting Lhasa for the first time. We certainly never gave the impression that Transition had been feverishly adopted by everyone in Totnes, never mind the rest of the UK. We have previously cautioned Michael against portraying Transition as a tried-and-tested model being imported from the UK, as it is clearly not the case…

Anyway thanks all for your contributions, may the Christmas spirit prevail over future comments on this thread, with goodwill to all men (and women)… vegan or otherwise…

Nicole Foss
21 Dec 11:53am


“If you have hyperinsulinemia, chances are very good you are overweight or obese, or if you at healthy body weight you may have PCOS. You are also at higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Consuming the animal fats and proteins recommended by Atkins significantly increases your risk for all of these diseases, and for cancer and a number of other diseases as well.”

No PCOS (tested) and no diabetes (tested, and I don’t seem to have the genetic predisposition for it). As for weight, that used to be a problem, until I started eating like I do now. I lost 100lbs when I stopped eating carbs, because it allowed me to keep my insulin levels low and stable. The weight fell off. I used to have high blood pressure and chronic inflammation, but not any more. Now I am fit, energetic and healthier than I’ve ever been in my life, with the blood pressure of a teenager and a resting heart rate of 61 beats per minute. It has taken 3 years, and I am not finished yet, but I have lived this story and I know what the benefits are. Now I can run for miles and climb mountains.

My view, like others here, is that there is no one solution that fits all. Your metabolism is evidently not like mine. People have different needs. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of being vegan who is happy and healthy being so. I do, however, know vegans who are suffering as I used to, and I know they will not be able to break out of the vicious circle while they continue to eat a relatively high percentage of carbs. It’s a case of Know Thyself.

Fats are not the risk factor for heart disease, carbs are, through their creation of a state of chronic inflammation (test for C-reactive protein). Chronic inflammation promotes the production of cholesterol, which is part of the body’s healing response, and therefore a symptom, not the disease.

As others have said, it is not so much whether or not one eats meat or animal fats that is the issue, but moving towards a more sustainable, localized agriculture with minimal food processing. I am no fan of industrial farming. In fact I think it is a ghastly thing to do to both the animals involved and the people who eat the resulting animal products. The fats of industrially produced animals will be harmful, as these tissues will bioaccumulate fat-soluble poisons, and will also have the wrong ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids (which is another risk factor for chronic inflammation).

If we are going to consume animal products (which some of us must), we need to raise those animals in the healthiest possible way – free range, grass fed, locally produced etc. Animal fats produced this way are not unhealthy, and as I said before, the further north one lives, the greater the extent to which a dependence on animal fats is likely part of the local heritage diet. We need to work with the needs of our communities, and those needs will vary.

sylvia rose
21 Dec 5:08pm

To revert briefly back to the question of nature awareness and events designed to increase people’s sense of nature as ‘sacred’ (to use a clearly dodgy word), it has been the finding of many people including Joanna Macy that such work triggers or increases many people’s committment to living lightly on the earth. Some people ‘get’ climate change and peak oil with their heads, but others seem to need to encounter it in a less logical way. For some people no amount of hockey-stick graphs will speak to them, but the imminent prospect of losing our bluebell and beech wood might spur them to action.
So, working with nature awareness can be seen not as a religion but as a strategy, as one more tool in our toolbox, and one that has been proved useful and effective, not just in provoking people to action but in sustaining their work. It doesn’t need to come with the trappings of a religion.
Of course, working this is something that speaks more to some of us than to others, and so it is important for it to always be promoted as ‘an option’ not ‘the option’, something that I am aware not all Heart & Soulers fully appreciate.
Incidentally, when I wrote about not everyone in our Core Group seeing themselve sas possessing souls, that was meant to be a joke, though obviously it wasn’t a very successful one. But it was also meant to highlight that such Heart & Soul matters can sometimes be discussed in ways in which we cordially agree to differ. It doesn’t have to get so polarised.

Bart Anderson
21 Dec 6:30pm

@vera “It simply opens up a huge can of worms, agreement is not possible, tempers flare ”

I know that discussions can be that way, but what a loss! Discussing touchy subjects is a skill that can be learned.

Cecile Andrews (“simplicity circles”) has convinced me that having good conversations is vital to good community.

Some things I’ve had to learn:

– the ability to listen to others without being defensive
– seeing the truth in what others say
– knowing when to be assertive and when to back off
– avoiding lecturing
– being willing to expose one’s self when appropriate
– being responsive, especially to the emotion rather than the literal words

Good talk is a lot of fun, so I think it’s worth it to try.

Glenn Saunders
21 Dec 7:12pm

“It is not TT’s place to try to corral people in those realms. Again that does not mean individuals can’t have those discussions – it just means that TT needs to focus on what we have in common – not what splits people into hard camps. That is what both of these discourses do – every. single. time.”

But it IS TT’s place to address consumption of all kinds, otherwise it is not tackling resilience.

For instance, what about Rob’s study where he made the case that the UK could feed itself? Wouldn’t diet play into these estimates? What if the diet that allows the UK to feed itself is not one that the majority of UK residents are willing to adopt? They would rather force people into starvation in order to maintain their sense of freedom to eat what they want regardless of land/energy efficiency?

How can TT have a hands-off attitude about what people eat? TT has to look at things from a dispassionate ecological/thermodynamic perspective above all else, because that’s what will be imposed upon us by default. How can we take that brutal baseline and make the most of it?

Consumption of all kinds is intertwined with people’s identity. Tell someone they shouldn’t eat meat, should eat locally/seasonally, should not have any kids, and should ride a bike to work totally cuts to the bone of who they feel they are and what they construe as quality of life.

No need to bring in the Mayan calendar or earth-spirits. The above is touchy enough.

The problem with this thread is this UNWILLINGNESS to concede that consumption in general is an emotional topic that raises people’s hackles!

But clearly this thread illustrates that even within doomers there is no clear path for the dos and don’ts.

If TT looks at that “dissensus” and says “aha” so we don’t even HAVE to push an agenda. People will just do what they want! Then what exactly is TT accomplishing other than feeling good that they didn’t upset anybody??? That’s not resilience. It’s a shallow social club.

You see what I mean here? It’s a paradox. It’s mutually exclusive. The only way you can think it isn’t is if you haven’t really gotten a TT together and started having to wrestle with these issues first-hand–in which case you’re holding onto a fantasy version of what the movement can be that doesn’t exist.

After the “great unleashings” are over and people are done congratulating themselves, the hard part of actually doing stuff starts. An EDAP is an inherently political document. It’s like a bill. A manifesto. A declaration of independence. People will argue over the details.

I mean, can any of you really believe that wrestling with limits to growth isn’t going to pit ideological rivals against each other? It can’t be helped. All we can do is try to have an open dialogue–not to try to censor the tough issues that really need to be put out in the open for us to evaluate together.

21 Dec 8:43pm

“Discussing touchy subjects is a skill that can be learned.”

Bart, you are quite right. And the group here is doing alright, eh?

But if TT starts telling people what to eat, and taking ideological stands on something that is clearly a divisive issue *even* amongst people who have done a lot of their own research and soul searching, then I am pretty sure it will be digging its own grave. To use my previous analogy, just like if the tea partiers let those with anti-abortion stance make it part of the movement. A death knoll, if there ever was one.

I would add another skill to the list you make: recognizing that true believerism is a fundamentally disrespectful stance, and not allowing such folks take over the agenda.

Glenn said: “Then what exactly is TT accomplishing other than feeling good that they didn’t upset anybody???”

Isn’t there enough upsetting stuff in dealing with energy descent, the economic unraveling, and localizing food? Seems utopians never know when to stop tightening the screws of “shoulds.” I hope TT does not fall into this trap.

Glenn Saunders
21 Dec 10:13pm

“Isn’t there enough upsetting stuff in dealing with energy descent, the economic unraveling, and localizing food?”

That’s the thing. An EDAP is all about adapting to this unraveling BEFORE it unravels (ala the Hirsch report indicates). An EDAP is very much a “should” (if the goal is resilience). If we rely on the pressure of the situation on the ground to compel people to change, like a heroin addict hitting rock bottom, we’ve already run out the clock on doing much proactively.

Just because people are concerned about the economy doesn’t mean they are going to react in a way that is beneficial to the problems of global warming and peak oil. Sure, living frugally tends to lead you in that direction, but like I said, you can buy plenty of Monsanto GMO corn or wheat if you want to stock up on staple.

And at least in my neck of the woods, concern about the economy is not that prevalent. McMansions are still being built and SUVs still being driven around with abandon.

Frugality is not synonymous with the “earth steward” term that Transition has established for its participants.

If TT is only reactionary then why bother? Just let people individually feel the pressures as they come on their own? Isn’t that what Greer wants with Green Wizards? Leave people alone until they knock on your door to learn how to grow a victory garden?

Tony Weddle
21 Dec 10:19pm

Glenn, your comment raised a more general point in my mind.

I get the impression that TT is attempting to keep everyone happy, even to the point of not trying to change the mix of what a communities activities may be. It seems to be similar to (but I’m not trying to say it’s the same as) some eco-villages that are simply trying to be less resource intensive in their own area whilst living in, and taking advantage of, a wider society that is nowhere near as environmentally friendly.

Something that is unsustainable doesn’t become sustainable by being a bit more efficient or growing food more locally. Every aspect of our lives has to be examined, if we want to somehow reach a sustainable society or community. It seems as though TT is not attempting sustainable living, only reduced footprints.

Concerning diets and nutrition, some regimes will be unsustainable, for a given population size and others will be sustainable. A vegan diet has the best chance of being sustainable but I can’t see how eating high quality animal products, from time to time, can’t be made sustainable. At the extreme, hunter-gatherers ate such meat and had very sustainable lifestyles (they were sustained for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years).

Glenn Saunders
21 Dec 10:30pm

“At the extreme, hunter-gatherers ate such meat and had very sustainable lifestyles (they were sustained for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years).”

Because there were so few of them. How we can live is based on the underlying science, the math, ecology, and physics.

What I’ve learned about these issues is that the ECONOMY (i.e. the market) is a blunt instrument in getting people to change. TT is supposed to so better than that, but as long as we don’t emplore people to change before the market demands it, then the market will be the vehicle of change. Sure, they’ll have more “community” around when that comes, whatever that’s worth. You’ll have some poker buddies when the store shelves go empty I guess.

Sometimes I wonder how much TTers really get doom, to think that it can be addressed in such a milquetoast fashion that the ideas for change being floated around never steps on anybody’s toes.

So much energy is being wasted in this thread just with one activist group attacking another. It’s not like we’ve got years to sit around arguing over messaging.

22 Dec 1:19am

Glenn said: “If we rely on the pressure of the situation on the ground to compel people to change”

I am not interested in “getting people” to change. I am interested in changing myself, and working with others ready to do the same.

Tony said: “Something that is unsustainable doesn’t become sustainable by being a bit more efficient or growing food more locally. Every aspect of our lives has to be examined”

So what’s stopping you from doing that locally? Does everything have to be turned into a top-down goal for everyone to toe?

“A vegan diet has the best chance of being sustainable”

I disagree. And I am not going to be dictated by people with their own POV on this. What’s wrong with locals deciding what is best for their circumstance?

I am more interested in Glenn’s assertion that TT is too milquetoasty. There may be something to that, folks I know have claimed that TT is too… unradical or middle class or catering to green urban elites who want mild tinkering. Perhaps so? Seems to me that a lot of what TT is attempting is pretty hard, but do folks here think that the milquetoast criticism has merit?

Liz McLellan
22 Dec 1:48am

I’ve been trying to make the distinction between top down dictated POVs and bottom up discussions which result in changes that people themselves arrived at…one is organic the other is heirarchic in a way that I know will be detrimental.

A huge attraction for me of TT approach is that it builds and opens space for people in communities to guide *their own* discussions and the development of *their own* communities…to determine *their own* approach to resilience in ways that are deeply rooted in their own place. I am not sure people really understand “place” – or the solid aspects of communal identity rooted say for instance where I live.

I’ve lived all over the US and in each place the issues people felt strongly about were very strongly rooted in very local circumstances.

Have a wonderful season of lights ;D everyone – and thanks Rob for piping up with such sensible commentary.

Liz McLellan
22 Dec 1:52am

So Glenn what I hear you saying is

“Shut up and do it my way because WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!”

Good luck with that approach!

(Correct me please if that’s not what you mean.)

Perhaps – imagining we’re all ‘doomers’ is part of the problem.

Liz McLellan
22 Dec 1:58am

I meant to add – I see the TT approach as flat, nodal, emergent, diverse, flexible, resilient, responsive to local conditions and culture, we know best where we are…

All of that is a huge organizing advantage to top down, vertical, rigid, monoculture, mone-strategic, mono POV, unresponsive to local culture, politics, needs, concerns, I know best where I am.

The pace of change in the next 50 years will be tremendous. Adaptation – fitting to conditions – not “strength” but flexibility is how populations survive and thrive.

Liz McLellan
22 Dec 1:59am

sorry “huge advantage OVER” to be clear….

Glenn Saunders
22 Dec 1:59am

‘I am not interested in “getting people” to change.’

You should be. A token few people changing won’t alter the outcome of the whole. You’ll just get dragged down with everyone else–kind of like those who didn’t play real-estate-roulette getting burned now by the credit crisis.

‘I am interested in changing myself, and working with others ready to do the same.’

That would be great–if there weren’t so few others ready to do the same.

‘What’s wrong with locals deciding what is best for their circumstance?’

Here is ‘choice’ for you.

There’s nothing wrong with being a minority trying to maybe point things out to the majority that they don’t yet see. It’s hard to assume that people know best when collectively we’ve pushed ourselves to the brink with unintended consequences.

Rosa Parks never won a popularity contest on that bus. Conformity for the sake of “inclusion” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if you’re compromising your principles in the process.

Liz McLellan
22 Dec 2:07am


I don’t know – everyone carries guns where I live. I need to be able to talk to people that really deeply disagree with me and are armed Ha!

So I’m not about to Mau Mau the people where I live. I know I would be promptly ignored. And I need the people where I live and we need to build our lives here together. If I approach them with *the word* from on high – I will be laughed out of the Vets Hall faster than you can say “yummy yummy lambchops!”

That said a whole lot of folks came to my last potluck – where tons of vegetarian and vegan goodies were served.

Glenn Saunders
22 Dec 2:14am

[“So Glenn what I hear you saying is
“Shut up and do it my way because WE’RE ALL GONNA

I think you’re building a strawman in order to avoid dealing with tough issues. Grow up.

[Perhaps – imagining we’re all ‘doomers’ is part of the problem.]

What’s not to be doomey about? Even Rob qualifies Transition by saying he doesn’t know if it’s going to work. If it doesn’t work, what do you think happens next? Tea and crumpets?

Mel Riser
22 Dec 2:38am

I believe what the militant vegans lose sight of, is the community. form a community of vegans. Write an EDAP. Get prepared. Promote your brand of change.

Stop trying to make the rest of us follow your aceticism and personal viewpoints.

Transition is about each person, first, and the neighborhood next.

Just as we should not have it hebrew, or christian, or muslim or flying spaghetti monster religion based, veganism is a cult.

There really is no reason to talk doom, as we have time to create a better way.

WE HAVE TIME, but we need to start now.

Liz McLellan
22 Dec 9:46am

Glenn – You are so presumptive. Seriously.

I am not talking about conformity nor am I talking about not facing the world as it is.

Build a platform from some palettes, put it in the park in say a small town in Montana and start telling people exactly what’s wrong, how dumb and wrong they are, how very bad and deep the problems are and what the correct path is according to the Gospel of Glenn is to remedy the situation.

I will be very interested to hear of your progress.

Glenn Saunders
22 Dec 1:34pm

“I am not talking about conformity”

Sure you are. It’s do as the Romans. Listen, this thread is dead and if it’s just going to be you and me, you can have the last word. We’re just talking past each other anyway.

22 Dec 2:27pm

Folks, maybe we’ll wrap this thread up now, we do seem to be going somewhat off the original topic anyway, and maybe we’re best to honour the great conversation that has taken place here before any fur starts flying… season of goodwill and all that…

Thanks for your contributions everyone… this has turned out to be the post here at Transition Culture which generated the most comments, beating the previous champion (“Why Survivalists got it wrong” – 111 comments) by 49 comments! Impressive stuff… thanks all…

Tony Weddle
22 Dec 10:50pm


“So what’s stopping you from doing that locally? Does everything have to be turned into a top-down goal for everyone to toe?”

Nothing stops me behaving sustainably but if my community if unsustainable (no matter how efficient it might think it is) then I’m going to be impacted by the inevitable collapse. I didn’t say everything has to be turned into a top-down goal. John Michael Greer’s green wizard approach is just the opposite of a top down approach and is a good approach for individuals. I’m not convinced that the TT approach will achieve sustainability, though.

“I disagree. And I am not going to be dictated by people with their own POV on this. What’s wrong with locals deciding what is best for their circumstance?”

What!? All I said was that a vegan diet has the best chance of being sustainable. If you disagree, then please explain another diet that has a better chance of being sustainable. I’m not saying that other diets can’t be sustainable, and local circumstances might influence that, but, it seems to me that a diet that consists of plants, eaten directly, is most likely to be possible on a sustainable basis. Remember, if it’s not sustainable, then it must end.

Personally, I hope that at least some diets which have animal derived elements can be made sustainable.

23 Dec 6:45pm

I am not convinced of it either, Tony. But I am sure that trying to stuff TT full of “other” social issues will make it even less likely.

My comment on plant based diets was really meant to several people here, you said yourself you were entertaining the possibility of animal-included diets could too be sustainable.

I don’t think this is the place to argue about “the right diet.” All I wanted to convey was that informed people disagree, and it makes no sense to force consensus on this. Let locals choose.

Merry Christmas and health, kindness and beauty into the new year.

Jonathan Maxson
24 Dec 9:31pm

My response to Rob et al.

Happy Holidays.