Transition Network encouraging communities to be eco-friendly

Growing citizen movement looks to reduce greenhouse footprint at the local level.

By Chris Yee
[contributor]

According to Turn Down The Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, a report prepared for the World Bank by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Climate Analytics, the world could be four degrees Celsius warmer by the 2060s. Even with current greenhouse emissions pledges like those set in the Copenhagen accords in 2009, there is still a 20 per cent chance of the world temperature rising by that amount by 2100. Among the consequences: now-extreme heat waves becoming the norm in many places and sea levels rising up to a metre, with numerous impacts on ecosystems and human populations.

Worse still, this is not a new warning by any means. Progress toward reducing greenhouse emissions remains sluggish. Canada expects to emit at least 720 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by the year 2020, according to the latest projections by
Environment Canada, some 15 per cent above the commitments Canada made in Copenhagen.

But there is a growing movement of citizens who will not wait for governments, corporations, or any large, established organization for that matter, to deal with the impacts of climate change in their communities, and more importantly, to shift away from a carbon-emitting, fossil fuel-dependent economy and way of life. A transition, if you will.

In 2005, Rob Hopkins, then a Permaculture instructor at Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland, created an “energy descent plan” for the town of Kinsale with his students. Starting from the assumption that the future would be marked by dwindling supplies of oil – “peak oil” – Hopkins and his team of students drafted a plan for weaning the town off of fossil fuels. The Transition movement was born.

They drew up a schedule, a year by year plan to build a sustainable, resilient community, one that could survive – and in its own way, thrive – independently from the larger world system. In it, they saw Kinsale diversifying its economy from its tourism-dependent state, developing local businesses and establishing a local currency insulated from the expected shocks to the global economy as energy became inexorably dear. They saw local food initiatives utilizing every open space, from town squares to parking lots, to grow food. Bike paths were to be built, neighbourhoods made more walkable, new homes made of locally sourced materials like clay bricks, energy sourced from wind, solar and waste. Most importantly, there would be efforts to create a shift away from disengagement and consumerism, and toward a community-minded populace. Community input was to be a cornerstone of this process.

By year’s end, the plan was unanimously adopted by Kinsale’s town council. Hopkins would organize a similar initiative in the British town of Totnes the following year – it would become a worldwide hub for the movement. A charity, the Transition Network, was formed in 2007 to support the growing number of Transition initiatives worldwide.

Later, Hopkins would distil these initiatives into the seminal Transition Handbook and its sequel, Transition Companion. Today, the Transition Network’s official website, TransitionNetwork.org, lists 1068 official Transition initiatives, in 34 countries – and there are countless unofficial ones in existence.

Silvia DiBlasio of Village Surrey, one of these unofficial Transition initiatives, says that Transition initiatives tend to be largely ad-hoc, leaderless affairs. “This is a grassroots movement… We’re just regular people, with different jobs, different status and levels that we are concerned about these things [peak oil and climate change.]”

As such, the work of building resilient, local economies able to weather climate change and the end of cheap oil demands much commitment from its participants. “It’s very democratic… everybody has to participate, everybody has to commit, or else it doesn’t work,” DiBlasio says.

But though the nearly-year old Village Surrey group is still a fledgling one, with only a handful of core organizers, it has launched a number of projects, which include emergency preparedness workshops and awareness-building film screenings (one of which, a screening of a documentary on the Transition movement, In Transition 2.0, took place early November at Kwantlen), as well as community events such as the bi-weekly Bridgeview Free Market swap meet at Bridgeview Park.

A big part of Transition groups like Village Surrey is involvement with existing community groups; DiBlasio says Transition is like a “glue” between them. Transition initiatives work together among themselves, too. Village Surrey itself is affiliated with the Village Vancouver Transition initiative, one of the first official Transition groups in the Lower Mainland, now its regional hub.

Ultimately, DiBlasio says, Transition works at an arm’s length from politics, on a non-ideological basis. “Let’s do something about our communities, because there is a mess, and if we don’t do anything that mess is going to be really bad,” she says.

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