Transition: people finding harmony in local action

“Transition Towns” offers a practical pathway for ordinary people wanting action on climate change. [14 April 2009 | Peter Boyer]

If noise is all the unwanted stuff intruding into our lives, we live in noisy times. Real noise from machines and hoons and party-goers competes with the clamour of politics and promotion and the hard-sell. It’s enough to send you into a spin.

There’s a lot of noise flying around the big issues of climate and the environment and sustainability, and that can turn many people away from acting to improve the situation. In all the hubbub, action can appear a difficult prospect.

<em>The Transition Handbook</em>, by Rob Hopkins, founder of the global Transition movement, is a guide to communities wanting to make the shift to sustainability.

The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins, founder of the global Transition movement, is a guide to communities wanting to make the shift to sustainability.

But there’s a groundswell of people and communities around the world who are finding ways through the noise. In doing so, they’re discovering some unexpected rewards and pleasures – some real harmony – that modern life had blocked out.

Every day, on every continent, new “transition communities” are springing up. Groups ranging in size from whole towns down to small neighbourhoods are swelling the numbers of people involved to tens of millions.

Like other Australian states, Tasmania is part of the transition movement. In towns and suburbs, villages and neighbourhoods all over the state, people are seeking out what information they can, finding out what others are doing, and rolling up their sleeves to transform lives and communities.

Take three inner suburban neighbourhoods in Hobart. People of Waterworks Valley (, West Hobart ( and South Hobart ( have formed community groups to pursue local mitigation actions.

Starting in 2007 with bulk purchases of solar hot water systems by the Waterworks group, the community actions have extended to bulk purchase of other green energy components such as solar electricity panels, support for home insulation, home and community vegetable gardening, produce exchange, walking school buses, and lobbying for better transport and energy options.

Now they’re finding they belong to a world-wide movement. “Transition” (, arose from a 2003 initiative in the UK town of Totnes, in Devon, to deal with the threat of peak oil.

The Transition network provides a philosophy and framework for action based on real, successful initiatives around the world, within which local groups and communities can work through their own preferred actions and, if it makes sense, come together with others to make a bigger impact.

My good friend Chris Harries, one of the pioneers of local action in Hobart, pointed out that the Waterworks group wasn’t driven by any single person. As has been experienced elsewhere, there was a groundswell of feeling for action: it just took a few to seed the idea, and the rest followed.

The thing most appreciated by participants in these groups is not any of the various practical outcomes – satisfying though they are – but the strengthened sense of community and belonging arising from working together in a common cause against the backdrop of difficult times ahead.

In Australia, we’ve been brought up with the notion that a person’s home is their castle. The downside of this is that castles tend to be fortified, to discourage contact with the neighbours and sharing of space and other things.

But in learning to share, transition communities are finding ways around this obstacle, discovering that living sustainably can enrich lives and give real pleasure – a sharp contrast from the drab, bleak, end-of-the-world scenarios sometimes painted in mass media.

Another stereotype being challenged is that the transition process is really just for wealthier, professional neighbourhoods. On the contrary, many people in poorer neighbourhoods have more of the skills needed to live sustainable lives than people who’ve had the money to hand the chores over to others.

The changes being sought by transitional communities aren’t going to happen overnight. We’ve been culturally conditioned over millennia to live the way we do, and it will take time as well as physical and mental effort to shift this conditioning. To make transition work, we have to be determined to get to the future we envisage, to set the pointers and start re-skilling.

Climate change makes it essential for us to shift to a lower-carbon economy, and future shortage of oil makes such a shift inevitable. Pulling together as a community can make this transition process both viable and attractive, bringing comfort, security and real pleasure.

• For information about how your local community might begin the process of transition, or about the Transition movement, contact Sustainable Living Tasmania (email or telephone (Tasmania) 62345566).

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