During the month of October, Rob is over in the US, catalysing, rabble-rousing and inspiring change in the way only Rob can do. In the meantime, I’ve taken on the role of “Site Editor” for this month, and the theme is “International”. Rob’s a hard writing act to follow. To call him prolific would be like calling an arctic tern a “prolific flyer” or the earthworm a “prolific burrower” – they just wake up in the morning and start doing it. Still, follow I must…
I thought for my first post, people might be interested to hear the initial story of how Transition spread internationally, leaping from shore to shore and culture to culture in ways that never fail to surprise us.
Going “international” – and in the beginning…
… there was, of course, Kinsale in Ireland and the document that caused such a stir internationally. In 2005, Rob and his permaculture students wrote up the Energy Descent Action Plan for Kinsale. Their inspiration was Colin Campbell, “The End of Suburbia” movie and the strange absence of any documented bottom-up community-level “action manuals” to address fossil fuel addiction and climate change. The EDAP, that little document which heralded so much, was downloaded so many times it almost blew up the town’s internet connection. Not long after, the Transition concepts landed in Totnes, along with Rob, his family, his record collection and all their worldly goods.
Transition Town Totnes came out of the collaboration between Rob and Naresh Giangrande (co-founder of Transition Training and one of our core team) as they struggled with the task of motivating the town to get busy on redesigning itself for a lower carbon future. The Transition Culture blog charted this course and its posts started pinging around the globe.
Back in the UK, by the end of 2006, the first movers were Portabello in Edinburgh, Lewes, Stroud, Forest Row, Glastonbury, Bristol, Penwith and Brixton in London. Transition Network took form at that point, establishing itself to inspire, encourage, network, support and train transition initiatives. The first few nodes of what was to become an international network of transitioners began to connect.
In the spring of 2007, Rob’s blog, Transition Culture was getting a lot of international hits, and our first piece of community guidance – the Transition Primer – was getting downloaded from multiple countries. Our first big international hop was over the Atlantic to the US, where the Post Carbon Institute started systematically reposting our blogs and materials, including the Primer.
By May 2007, Transition Network was an officially UK charity, and we were getting emails from people with addresses that ended in “.nz”, “.fr” or states like “North Carolina”. The personal assistant to the Governor in Washington State requested the Primer. We’d hoped from the start that transition would be international in scope, but hadn’t expected it to happen quite so quickly.
In June 2007 the first of many Italians contacted us. Then the first of many from Spain.
By July 2007, we’d heard from Ashville, Point Reyes, Ashland, Putney, Washington (not the Whitehouse…) and Arlington in the US. Also making contact with us was Australia from places with exotic names like “Sunshine Coast” and “Surf Coast Shire”. Could the transition model work there too?
We even heard from someone in Paris!
Each one of these was a “holy cow, what’s happening!?” moment. We knew the ideas were spreading, and we constantly wondered what shape they might take as they made their journey across oceans and continents. Would these ideas and models be understood in the way we hoped?
Our first really convincing sign that the ideas travelled well happened that summer – it was a video of someone in New Zealand (James Samuel) giving a really solid set of Transition Talks. Seeing this evidence of just how robust the transition model was gave us a lot of confidence.
Over the rest of the summer, we saw increasing levels of interest from Australia, New Zealand, and then Canada, including Quebec. Helped by a couple of articles penned by trend spotting journalists in international publications, and we’d get emails like this:
“Having discovered the Transition Towns model only 24 hours ago through the New Internationalist article, I am very excited about it. The local City of Sydney Council recently invited citizens to a free screening of the film “Crude Awakening” about peak oil, and they certainly give the impression that they are aware and concerned with sustainability and climate change issues. I will see what I can stir up here in Sydney and rely heavily on your experience. Thanks again.
“Hi folks – I’m SO excited to find you. I’ve been reading about Peak Oil for two years now and felt I was all alone in this. Currently I live in St. Paul, MN but my husband and I are working on Canadian permanent residency and have a home on Vancouver Island”
By September 2007, early Spanish and Italian transitioners were starting to translate some of the materials. It was now that Germany first popped up on the radar thanks to the fact that Transition was getting mentioned by trainers in the world of ecology and social change and by influential bloggers in this domain, with titles like “Reality Sandwich”.
National Transition websites started popping up – Italy was the first.
By now, the incoming emails indicated that the most common introduction to transition was also the most powerful:
“I heard about transition from my friend Helen in our neighbouring town, Carterton”
People were drawn to transition for all sorts of reasons, and the international nature added to that diversity. Some of the reasons were a little extreme:
“I live in Florida and I see the imminent danger of being here when oil prices climb so much that we can’t afford to drive and the costs of food grows so much that we will starve to death. We should really have everyone growing gardens in their backyards but I don’t even know if that’s even possible in Florida as the top soil is contaminated by the builders.”
Others were a bit more positive:
“Learning about your effort at this time is quite serendipitous. I am gathering together a few close activists on Wednesday to discuss an initiative I am calling “Abundant Iowa City”.”
In the autumn and winter of 2007, the US was where the most interest was coming from, prompted by an International Forum on Globalisation event in Washington DC in which Transition featured and by Richard Heinberg’s prolific writings and talks. By now there were plenty of video and audio files about transition online, all of which helped the international expansion. Just googling a couple of these “climate change”, “peak oil”, “relocalisation”, “fossil fuel addiction” would bring up a website that mentioned transition.
Around that time, we also got wind of an Energy Descent Action Plan from Australia and Rob followed it up with a blog post archived here: www.transitionculture.org/2010/02/22/transition-sunshine-coast-delivers-edap/
Some other surprise contacts were from Mexico, Sweden and Argentina.
Usually, the people who contacted us were concerned townsfolk. However, we’d occasionally get someone from an official local government position, such as the Assistant Director of Development for the City of Boynton Beach, Florida, USA saying:
“The City is in the early stage of exploring the green building movement which has been very slow to catch on here in Florida. Your Transition Initiatives Primer would be an interesting item to add to our debate and discussion.”
We were never sure what the council officials did with the information we passed to them – we tended to focus on initiatives rather than the councils, so whether or not Boynton Beach ever got any greener, we’ll never know. We were aware, however, of a few places in the US passing “peak oil resolutions”, such as Portland, San Francisco and Bloomington, but that was the only country that seemed to be facing these challenges at that municipal level.
Late in 2007, Richard Heinberg’s visit to New Zealand kicked off a lot of interest too. By this time there are 35 initiatives in New Zealand and our perception of it as a bastion of resilience is strengthened. Soon a Transition New Zealand website appears, and appropriately in honour of the indigenous peoples, it included the word “Aotearoa” in its name.
By now, Transition Training was in motion, with one course in Totnes, one in Bristol and one in London before the year end. This served to activate a lot more interest in the UK, and also fired up the visitors from foreign lands who made the journey to do the training – including Japan and Sweden.
Just to give you an idea of the level of interest in transition at grass roots level at that time, my personal archive of enquiry emails in just a single week shows over 230 exchanges with communities, mainly from the UK but with plenty of other places represented. We’d been going less than a year and It all felt a little bit out of control. Well, a lot, actually.
We’d started Transition Network with the hope of inspiring, encouraging, connecting, supporting and training communities – this was tough enough in the UK where we were actually situated. How on earth would we put this aspiration into effect this beyond our shores?
Two solution to this conundrum would raise their welcomed heads early in 2008 – and that’ll be the subject of the next “Going International“ posting.
If you were there at the start and I’ve left you out – complain here! Or if you had an impression or experience from these early days, post it here – we’d love to have those crazy maelstrom days reflected back at us.