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7 buts

The 7 barriers that stand in the way of a Transition Initiative

One of your first tasks, - individually and collectively - will be to navigate the initial barriers – real and imagined – that stand in the way of you starting off on the transition journey. We call these ‘The Seven Buts’.

1. But we’ve got no funding…

This really is not an issue. Funding is a very poor substitute for enthusiasm and community involvement, both of which will take you through the first phases of your transition. Funders can also demand a measure of control, and may steer the initiative in directions that run counter to your community's interests.

Transition Town Totnes began in September 2005 with no money at all, and has been self-funding ever since. The talks and film screenings that we run bring in money to subsidise free events such as Open Space Days. You will reach a point where you have specific projects that will require funding, but until that point you’ll manage. Retain the power over when this happens… don’t let lack of funding stop you.

2. But they won’t let us…

There is a fear among some green folks that somehow any initiative that actually succeeds in effecting any change will get shut down, suppressed, attacked by faceless bureaucrats or corporations. If that fear is strong enough to prevent you taking any action, if the only action you’re willing to take is to abdicate all your power to some notional “they”, then you’re probably at the wrong website. On the other hand, Transition Initiatives operate ‘below the radar’, neither seeking victims nor making enemies. As such, they don’t seem to be incurring the wrath of any existing institutions.

On the contrary, with corporate awareness of sustainability and climate change building daily, you will be surprised at how many people in positions of power will be enthused and inspired by what you are doing, and will support, rather than hinder, your efforts.

3. But there are already green groups in this town, I don’t want to step on their toes…

We’ll go into this in more detail in Step 3 of the 12 ingredients, but in essence, you’d be exceedingly unlucky to encounter any “turf wars”. What your Transition Town initiative will do is to form a common goal and sense of purpose for the existing groups, some of which you might find are a bit burnt out and will really appreciate the new vigour you will bring. Participating in a network of existing groups towards an Energy Descent Action Plan will enhance and focus their work, rather than replicate or supersede it. Expect them to become some of your strongest allies, crucial to the success of your Transition efforts.

4. But no one in this town cares about the environment anyway…

One could easily be forgiven for thinking this, given the existence of what we might perceive a s an apathetic consumer culture surrounding us. Scratch a bit deeper though, and you’ll find that the most surprising people are keen advocates of key elements of a Transition Initiative - local food, local crafts, local history and culture. The key is to go to them, rather than expecting them to come to you. Seek out common ground, and you’ll find your community to be a far more interesting place than you thought it was.

It's likely that you'll be attracting people who haven't been involved in environmental groups. The 2009 research by Gill Seyfang, Norwich - A Fine City in Transition gives a good picture of how Transition is reaching many people that environmental campaigns haven’t attracted (for example, 30% of people in Transition Norwich have never previously been involved in environmental groups).

5. But surely it’s too late to do anything…?

It may be too late, but the likelihood is that it isn’t. That means your (and others’) endeavours are absolutely crucial.

Don’t let hopelessness sabotage your efforts - as Vandana Shiva says, “the uncertainty of our times is no reason to be certain about hopelessness”.

6. But I don't have the right qualifications…

If you don't do it, who else will? It matters not that you don't have a PhD in sustainability, or years of experience in gardening or planning. What’s important is that you care about where you live, that you see the need to act, and that you are open to new ways of engaging people.

If there was to be a job description for someone to start this process rolling it might list the qualities of that person as being;

  • positive
  • emotionally mature
  • good with people
  • a basic knowledge of your locale
  • connected to others in your community
  • someone who gives a damn

That, in truth, is about it. And if you've only got, say, 2 out of the 6, start anyway and make sure you get the other 4 as you progress.

7. But I don't have the energy for doing that!

As the quote often ascribed to Goethe goes, "whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!" The experience of beginning a Transition Town certainly shows this to be the case. While the idea of preparing your town (or city, hamlet, valley or island) for life beyond oil may seem staggering in its implications, there is something about the energy unleashed by the Transition process that is unstoppable.

You may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of all the work and complexity, but people will come forward to help. Indeed, many have commented on the serendipity of the whole process, how the right people appear at the right time. There is something about seizing that boldness, about making the leap from 'why is no-one doing anything' to 'let's do something', that generates the energy to keep it moving.

Very often, developing environmental initiatives is like pushing a broken down car up a hill; hard, unrewarding slog. A Transition Initiative is like coming down the other side – the car starts moving faster than you can keep up with it, accelerating all the time. Once you give it the push from the top of the hill it will develop its own momentum. That's not to say it isn't hard work sometimes, but it is almost always a pleasure.