Lewes, where I live, is a Transition Town. The Transition movement led by Rob Hopkins and Ben Brangwyn and based in Totnes in the UK is a very interesting movement.
It’s different from some environmentally focussed groups in that it’s not a protest group – it’s not against anything. Rather it’s focussed on creating positive solutions in response to climate change and “peak oil“.
It’s different because it’s local too, and is really more about community, and community resilience, rather than looking at the world top-down or from a global perspective. Instead, it’s a truly bottom-up way of looking at the world.
In fact, I’d argue it operates from the real bottom – me. My perspective and my behaviours as a member are the first and most important place where things can change.
I also like the way the Transition network is structured. It is a network not a hierarchical organisation. Each Transition Town, Village or City can choose how it operates locally, as long as it at least considers following the network’s broad principles.
Being involved leads to some interesting local debates, which I believe have resonance with the broader world too.
Firstly, we have debated whether it’s better to take a positive or negative view of global trends, particularly climate change and peak oil. Is changing our lives as a result of these things bad or good? I, for one, think a world with less oil where we care for the planet more could be a lot better, and in lots of ways.
Secondly, there’s an argument about resilience in the face of change. Who is more resilient, us in wealthy surburban Britain? Or people in developing countries who haven’t forgotten how to live simply. I realise there are shades of grey in this debate, but still can’t help wondering what all the real fuss is about for us more wealthy folk.
Thirdly, there is an argument about hysteria, about getting people into a state of panic. Plenty of the rich world’s population appear the opposite – almost frozen and immobile – in the face of the things that are happening to us. Ecosystems in collapse, species (including our own) under threat, and we continue to shop, drive and so on. As if there was no tomorrow.
I am sure there is a place for hysteria in getting people to sit up and take notice. For jogging people out of their comfort zones. But ultimately I think, as the story of the boy who cried wolf suggests, it’s really not constructive.
The world is simply too unpredictable. Anyone who uses hysteria to garner action risks becoming simply unbelievable.
So, what other strategies might there be to shake people from their immobility? A psychologist, and friend of mine, Ben Fletcher, has a suggestion: Do Something Different.
Ben’s suggestion is that people stay the same largely because of habits. Because of habits people behave incongruently with what they believe. For example, we know we should recycle more but we don’t because it’s not our habit.
So randomly and consistently breaking habits should allow us to behave more congruently.
Then all the publicity and knowledge and “facts” which fly around about the environment should properly drive us to take corrective action.
Does it work? Yes, I think so, from having tried one of the DSD programmes. It seems to have the same kind of results as behavioural disputing – where our actions can prove that thoughts we hold to very dearly aren’t actually correct.
Changing our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes allows us to move on – to change our behaviour and create the world anew. That’s a bottom-up change. Something transition is all about.