"A Transition Initiative (which could be a town, village, university or island etc) is a community-led response to the pressures of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and increasingly, economic contraction. There are thousands of initiatives around the world starting their journey to answer this crucial question:
"how can we make our community stronger and happier as we deal with the impacts of peak oil and economic contraction while at the same time urgently reducing CO2 emissions?"

The origin of this movement was in Totnes, a small town of some 7,000 people on the River Dart in Devon. Thus do many people make a modern day pilgrimage (hopefully in a low carbon manner) to see it and, in the words of my host this week and old friend, Wendy, meet reality crunch against their high expectations.

The first shock is that the populace are not gliding about the place in electric cars (fuelled only by renewable sources) or healthily cycling or striding about. Totnes is narrow and hilly and suffers accordingly from traffic congestion and bad parking (and because the median income in Devon is lower than average in the UK even a hybrid car is a rarity)!  

Meanwhile, there on the edge of town is the 'big supermarket' - that happens to be a Morrisons (that from a sustainability point of view is about as bad as it gets) though there is a Co-op too!

Indeed, at first glance, it looks remarkably like any small market town in the UK and it certainly enjoys an attractive location and many delightful buildings.

You have to look hard for transitional signs and begin to bring expectation back to a proportionate perspective.

You could, for example, do all your shopping in the High Street without reference to a supermarket chain, and it was within walking or cycling distance of most of the town. You could do away with your car (as Wendy has) because public transport links are good and there is a functioning car share network (though it needs a boost). There is a plentiful supply of allotments, and no shortage of help and advice to the newly green fingered. Equally importantly there is an emergence of a community of the like-minded who support and sustain your values. For example, you can talk freely of the challenges of travelling without flight without being seen in anyway as eccentric!

This last point, I think, is critical. Wendy had referred to a talk that Jonathan Porritt had given at Dartington Hall lamenting the failure of environmentalists (including himself) to talk of spirit and values. Imagining that people were going to change utilizing the instrumental language of public policy and science had failed. What we needed was for people to talk with the intelligence of the heart and with real convicting passion.

To do that (with rare exception) needs a sustaining space with a critical mass of supportive (as well as challenged) listeners - and that, at the very least, is what Totnes has: networks of the sustaining like-minded that can prompt incremental change and find new ways of speaking, bearing witness to the wider community.

The problem with this, of course, is do we have the time for such slow rolling community inspiration to take sufficient form to meet impending disintegration? Jonathan's talk was at Dartington Hall's celebration of the life of Rabindranath Tagore who famously said we should always light a candle and not debate whether it alone will dispel the darkness.

You can only ever take the step you can at the time.


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