Transitionists find that suddenly, people are paying attention

A new breed of greenies called Transitionists are leading the fight to save our planet. KATIE MASTERS discovers what they re all about For years, environmentalists seemed fated to be modern-day Cassandras – as they watched carbon emissions increase and t

A new breed of greenies called Transitionists are leading the fight to save our planet. KATIE MASTERS discovers what they're all about

For years, environmentalists seemed fated to be modern-day Cassandras - as they watched carbon emissions increase and temperatures rise they prophesied melting ice caps and surging seas, only to be ignored or disbelieved.

Faced with that scepticism, their predictions grew ever more apocalyptic. Cataclysmic climate change. Hurricanes. Deluge. The end of civilised life as we know it.

And then, slowly, as the scientific evidence backing the environmentalists' views started to build, people began to pay attention.

But all those augurs of doom had the wrong effect. Instead of shocking people into changing their behaviour, they left many people feeling helpless in the face of a terrifying future.

Which is where the Transition Initiative comes in. Transitionists say, with planning and creativity, we can start to make the transition (hence the name) towards a future that's not only viable, but actually preferable to the present.

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Transitionists are as clear as the next greenie that the coming decades are going to bring major changes. If we don't want to see runaway climate change, we have to start bringing down our carbon emissions - fast,

They also point out that we're entering into a new age where oil is concerned.

Since 1859, when Edwin Drake drilled America's first oil well out in Pennsylvania, we've become accustomed to living in a world in which oil is king.

We use it to make everything from carpets to contact lenses (as well as to fuel our transport systems).

But oil is an increasingly finite resource. These days we consume four barrels of the black stuff for every one we discover.

As its availability reduces, so will our ability to move ourselves, our food and our material goods around the globe. Cheap imported goods may well become a thing of the past.

But the Transitionists say that inherent in is all these changes is an opportunity, not an unstoppable calamity.

The way they see it, dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable (both in order to avoid the worst excesses of climate change and because cheap oil is running out).

We need to acknowledge and plan for that - primarily by rebuilding our local communities so they are able to weather the shift.

The ways in which that can be done are many and varied.

Investing in local shops and locally produced food is one. Teaching one another useful skills - like darning or gardening - is another.

In Totnes, Devon, where the Transition Initiative started back in October 2005, they've done everything from planting dozens of nut trees (for communal consumption) to interviewing older people about how they coped in a world with far fewer disposable commodities.

They've done Business Swap Shops - getting groups of local businesses together to see if one company's waste equals another company's raw materials: an instant recycling opportunity - and Oil Vulnerability Auditing. That involves looking at which of a given business's processes require oil, and therefore where it might be vulnerable in the face of oil's declining availability.

But the movement isn't confined to the south-west. Transition Initiatives are springing up all over the UK, as well as in Australia, New Zealand and the US. And this year, they've come to north London.

Debbie Warrener, 34, is involved with Transition Town Crouch End, which has just started up.

"There's been a lot of doom and gloom about the future recently and that doesn't do much for me. It just makes me want to go back to bed and pull the duvet over my head.

"But the Transition concept is very positive. It's about rebuilding the community, rebuilding local links, rebuilding resilience. It says we can do something - all of us - and because it's such a broad movement people can engage on the bit that enthuses them."

In Highgate, the Highgate Climate Action Network (HiCAN) say they're borrowing many Transition ideas. Their group started in April with four members and has now grown to 36 - all energised about different aspects of building a better (greener) future.

"We have a sustainable food group and a group that's looking into peoples' energy needs," says one of HiCAN's co-founders, Catherine Budgett-Meakin.

"There's a recycling group that's getting going. We're looking into how the big blocks of flats in the area can get their vegetable waste recycled, rather than just chucked in the bin. And we have a lobbying group, so we can lobby politicians and policy-makers right across the spectrum on relevant issues."

It's early days, but there's a sense of "can do" about the Transition Initiative that's infectious.

As Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Initiative puts it in his book, The Transition Handbook (Green Books, £12.99): "The initiative is about enabling people to explore solutions of a credible scale. Often people are only able to conceive two scales of response: individuals doing things in their own homes or the government acting on a national scale. But this is the ground between those two - what can be achieved at a community level."

Working together to make a better future certainly sounds preferable to living in fear of a grim one.

If you're interested in finding out more about the Crouch End Transition Town group, go to Yahoo groups ( and look for Crouchendti. To find out more about HiCAN, email Catherine Budgett-Meakin on Catherine@