This month sees publication of the first new book about Transition not written in English, a landmark moment worth celebrating. Guía del movimiento de transición (‘A Guide to the Transition movement’) is the work of Spanish Transition activist and trainer Juan del Rio. We will be speaking to him soon about the book, what it covers and what his hopes are for it, but for now I wanted to share the Foreword I wrote which looks at why Transition matters, and why this book matters. I’d like to congratulate Juan on producing this book, the first Transition book in Spanish, and hope that it goes far and wide and does much to inspire people to get involved (you can order the book here).
“It is a delight to be able to write an introduction for this book. This is the first new book on Transition not written in English and not originating from the UK or the US. That feels like something historic to celebrate in itself. That it emerges from Spain, a country that has been so profoundly affected by the fallout from the economic crisis, feels especially appropriate.
Transition is the quiet revolution going on around you. You may not have noticed it but it’s there. It is a movement that doesn’t wait for permission but which just gets on and starts building the healthy human culture that we all yearn for. When we started it, in my small Devon town of Totnes, we had no idea it would even have any kind of an impact there. It has therefore been a process of near-continuous wonder to see it rolling out in what is now 50 countries worldwide. To see this book manifesting as a result of the spread of Transition in Spain would have been unimaginable in those early days of Transition.
One of the great difficulties we have in designing a lower carbon, more resilient world is that we struggle to imagine it. As a species we are fantastic at designing our own demise. We make endless films in which humankind is wiped out by a virus, by mutant robots, by an alien invasion, by a zombie apocalypse, by huge intelligent apes. We love it. Yet where are the films about the culture that saw an avertable crisis coming and responded with imagination, creativity and collective thinking, and managed to alter the trajectory of history? They barely exist.
Yet around the world, it is a story that people are just getting on with telling themselves. I have the great privilege of seeing this happen in different places. Time and again I see the power of people coming together, inspired by a shared vision, rolling up their sleeves and supporting each other to make it a reality. And it’s not just the actual projects themselves, it’s what it does for the people who give their time and passion to making them happen that’s so thrilling.
There’s the guy in Liege in Belgium who decided to start a community supported vineyard project. They started a crowd-funding appeal which was very slow to start with, but by the end they had raised nearly €2 million. “Lack of money ought not be an obstacle”, he told me. “This is Belgium, one of the richest countries in the world. If the idea is good, the money will come. Don’t be afraid”. Time and again I see people keen to put their support, in all senses of the word, behind imaginative projects done with great imagination and good heart.
I travelled recently to Sussex in England to speak at the seventh birthday celebrations of Transition Town Lewes, one of the first Transition initiatives. One of the people I met there was Chris Rowland (see video below), who founded a community energy company. “Transition was something that saved me”, he told me. “It meant that I changed my career, got into local community renewable energy, met loads of fantastic people, and did things which I never thought I’d do, including winning a major national award for community energy and having to stand up in front of 500 people in London and make a speech. Seven years ago I just couldn’t have done that. Transition has given me confidence to do things I didn’t think I could do, and that I really wanted to do”.
In the north of England I spoke to one of a group of women who have started a successful local food distribution system. Running a business was not something any of them had planned on doing, but they found themselves inspired by Transition to make it happen. She told me “we all just really wanted to change the way we live, and change our own personal lives and to change things and live different lives ourselves as well as a different life for our community”. They now jointly run a thriving social enterprise.
A woman in Portugal with no experience of being involved in any kind of community activism or projects, and who was very shy and nervous, found that in her apartment block a project had begun to create a community garden in front of the block. Getting involved gave her, for the first time, confidence to find a place in her local Transition group and start initiating things herself. “It’s amazing”, she told me. “I’ve been living in Portalegre for ever, 37 years, and I have felt my community and my city crumble, people turning their backs to each other. This community garden we created tells me it is possible to do things with other people. It is possible, we just need to wake up to each other again”.
Everywhere I go I hear stories like this. Why? Because these are times that demand that ordinary people step up and make extraordinary things happen, and because Transition is designed to do a few key things that are all too rare these days:
- It gives people permission to just start doing things: not that people need anyone to give them permission, but it can help to feel motivated and inspired
- It gives their work a context: rather than just a series of one-off projects, Transition weaves things together, suggesting that a diversity of projects actually represent a historic wider moment of change at the local level
- It gives them support: any project is just the practical manifestation of the dedicated, and often unseen, group behind it. It matters that that group has a healthy group culture, clear ways of doing things, and strategies for support and reducing burnout
- It balances problem and solution: it’s not enough to show people depressing climate change DVDs and expect them to be shocked into action. It can distress and isolate people, and actually drive them away from the necessary changes. We need to present such stuff in the context of a wider programme of doing something about it.
- You become part of a ‘Learning Network’: no one place knows how to do this, but if we can network thousands of communities doing Transition together, sharing their successes and failures, then it is between us that the solutions lie.
- It’s positive: Transition doesn’t start by trying to blame people we don’t like or see as responsible, it’s about a positive vision of where we want to get, and mobilising everything we’ve got, including our sense of humour, to make that happen.
Transition is also very ambitious. It seeks to change the way our local economy works, to change the food system to one with more local seasonal produce and a clearer link with local, peri-urban farmland. It seeks to change the energy system to one that is 100% renewable, with huge advances is energy conservation, and with as much infrastructure as possible in local community ownership. It seeks to re-imagine local economies as being far more circular, far more resilient and diverse. Ultimately it seeks to change the culture of a place, so as to be more open to new ideas, new thinking, while constantly building practical examples that it can work in practice.
Yet all too often we imagine that we can achieve these very ambitious aims on our Wednesday evenings as volunteers. That way burnout lies. It’s what I call the ‘tyranny of volunteerism’, meaning that we end up with people doing Transition who have skills, time and confidence, not something everyone in our communities has. In the last couple of years we have seen a very welcome upsurge of the idea that if we are to really make Transition happen on the scale we need, then we need to be creating new livelihoods, new enterprises. No-one else is going to do it.
So we see Transition initiatives starting new food markets, new food distribution businesses, new community farms, new community energy companies, new enterprises to give people an experiential immersion in Transition, new local currency systems. We also see the growing realisation that if we are serious about affecting the level of change we need to see, communities need to be able to take control of and own assets in their community, be it buildings, land or energy generation infrastructure. How would an entrepreneur think about generating the scale of change we need to see in the tiny window of opportunity that we have?
In my community of Totnes, after a seven year campaign, we are close to signing a historic agreement whereby the community takes control over the development of an 8 acre site and become, in effect, our own developer. This represents a real step up, and it can happen everywhere. It’s one of the things I love about Transition, the breadth of what people are doing, how distinct it is to each community, to each place, and how both smaller projects and larger ones help to tell a new story about the future we want to create.
That in itself is profoundly political. Yet it is not party political, nor is it explicitly political. And that really matters. This is a movement that seeks what we have in common, what brings us closer together, rather than what distinguishes and separates us. This is a young movement still, and if this book inspires you to get involved in Transition then you will be part of shaping what it becomes. As will this book.
My gratitude to Juan del Rio for writing this book is immense. People might ask me or others at Transition Network what Transition would look like in Spain, but I have no idea. It’s not for me to say. To see it emerging across Spain, and in other Spanish-speaking nations, rooted in the experience of the people and place is thrilling. Take the insight and inspiration you find in these pages and use it to reimagine the place you live. Use it as the foundation for new conversations with your neighbours. Use it as a pair of glasses through which you see your neighbourhood in a different way, as a collection of possibilities, as a vibrant, thriving, resilient community. By deciding to get involved you join a quiet, yet enormously powerful revolution taking place around the world. Welcome on board. Let’s do wonderful things.