Its official, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) loves Transition towns. What does that mean? We don’t know. Me and a group representing a variety of Transition Initiatives across the EU (Filipa Pimentel – Transition Portalegre Portugal; Josué Dusoulier – Transition Ath, Belgium; Pierre Bertrand – Transition Triéves; Arturs Polis – Ikskile Transition Initiative and Christiano Bottone – Transition Monteveglio, Italy) met with them recently in Brussels. This was the culmination of a collaboration between Filipa Pimentel and Richard Adams, a UK member of the EESC. Filipa is Transition Network’s un- lobbyist, who is re, un, or dis engaging with the various bodies of the European Union. The TEN section (Transport and Energy – I know, I know … confusing stuff) wanted to understand how to engage citizens in energy policy.
Richard Adams was planning a visit to the Finnish nuclear long term storage facility. This is designed to store nuclear waste, safely, for one hundred thousand years until it is no longer hazardous (sigh). The citizens of the place where they are storing the waste are apparently happy about hosting this storage because of the citizen engagement process. Richard thought there must be other examples of good citizen engagement around energy and that’s when he learned about Transition.
But how do you visit Transition? To cut a long story short, he and Filipa arranged something that has never been done before. Nineteen members of the committee each visited their local Transition Initiative (TIs) in 10 countries. Their reports are heart warming, touching, mostly very accurate and most of all inspiring. What is particularly inspiring is how the members were themselves touched and inspired, despite many of them starting from a position of scepticism.
We heard many stories corroborating this, and apparently you never hear stories in the EC. “I’m a convert.” declared Antonello Pezzini after his visit to Transition Monteveglio, Italy. Andaris Gobins visited Latvia’s, and the Baltic states, first TI, Ikskile Transition Initiative, and it “motivated him so much”. He saw a small group of people achieving extraordinary things by building community, conducting song festivals, mushroom schools, experimenting with hemp, creating a school of nature and making birch tree juice – an old Latvian recipe.
All of the reports were overwhelmingly positive and constructive. I heard reports that included; “We don’t know how to engage with civil society, they do … we have a lot to learn from them”, “Why did Transition work in Lewes and not in Brighton?”, “lots of lessons in how to conduct ourselves in meetings”, “felt like a family”, “building real community across social boundaries”, “creating local employment”, “I can now see how the crisis is leading to innovation”, “so hands on!”, “a few people can make a big difference”, “many obstacles, great potential”.
I could go on and on, but what is clear is that there is huge scope for further communication both officially and informally. As I left there was what we believe is the EU’s first Open Space meeting convening. There are already plans a foot to continue discussions and create the possibility for citizen engagement in shaping EU energy policy. It feels too early to draw any firm conclusions, but it’s clear that as a ‘boundary organisation’ Transition can help translate EU policy, via practical projects, into something ordinary citizens can understand.
As we continue to operate as a niche actor, outside the mainstream ‘going for economic growth’ narrative, we can continue to innovate and design and develop new ways of living and working; ways that will eventually become mainstream. In fact much of the language and concepts we originally used setting up Transition already have. (How many times have you heard the word resilience lately- think Barack Obama’s Inauguration speech.
As we develop and innovate questions that come up are, ‘How do we scale up the successful parts of what we do?’, and ‘How will we, ourselves who are doing Transition profit from this work? or will others?’. Engagement with mainstream bodies like the EESC might help to answer those questions. And finally thanks to all the Transition Initiatives who took part in this process.
Naresh Giangrande 23 January 2013
PS. Click here for a copy of the final report summary to this committee done by themselves. It asks many interesting questions, and although I don’t agree with everything the EESC says, they have a perspective of ownership of and responsibility to society of making the energy transition to a renewable energy and more energy efficient world a reality. So them looking at Transition and asking, ‘Is this going to solve the problem?’ or ‘How might this scale up into a solution?’ is informative and instructive.