Making the transition from domination to stewardship

As we face the challenge from climate change and peak oil, the Transition movement is helping our communities re-shape and re-invigorate themselves in preparation for coming changes. [7 July 2009 | Peter Boyer]

On this cold, still Tasmanian winter’s day, I feel a warming, quickening sensation. On the airwaves, in the newspapers, in mail traditional and electronic, and on the internet, things are starting to buzz with anticipation.

Those of you less involved in climate matters than I am might not have felt it. Maybe my perception is affected by the people I’m dealing with and all the stuff I’m trying to cram into my poor brain, and maybe I’m seeing some things that aren’t there. But I know something’s happening.

It involves familiar things that we once saw as important, like family and community, which got lost in the march of progress and technology and the clamour of everyday life. But it’s also brand new. Our quest to work out how humans can live within a healthy natural environment, and continue to be nurtured by it, has brought forth the world’s first truly global mass movement.

A sense of unease about our consumer-driven economy is being expressed in words like transition and sustainability and resilience: a shift from a culture of domination to one of awareness and stewardship.

Now, for the first time in numbers, politicians and business people and economists and engineers are joining the usual suspects, scientists and tree-huggers and community activists, in this great global colloquy about our footprint on the planet.

The spread is vertical as well as lateral. While Barak Obama is telling his people about the reality of climate change, and the US Congress is wrestling with carbon emissions trading, and global corporations are meeting with scientists to work out what they can do, people like us are getting together to see what can be done locally, and to press our own politicians to act.

Around the world, people are gathering in living rooms and meeting rooms, streets and parks, boardrooms and government offices, municipal chambers, legislatures and convention halls to discuss carbon emissions, transition communities, urban and rural transformation, food production, water usage and any number of issues arising out of climate change and peak oil.

I joined one of these gatherings, organised by Sustainable Living Tasmania, at the Society of Friends Meeting House in Hobart in the last weekend of June. People came from all over the state to hear Janet Phillips and Jacinta Walsh pass on what they had learned from their local Victorian community’s process of transition to a different, more sustainable way of doing things.

We learned from our facilitators and from each other how we can cut our dependence on fossil-fuel energy by drawing on our own personal and collective resources, including experiences in times past, to change our patterns of living and join with others in re-shaping our neighbourhoods.

One of the strong lessons I took out of this memorable weekend was the crucial, often-neglected role of our communities in setting ourselves up for a sustainable future. These are the people next door and down the road, the local shop and pub, and those who put themselves out for their local community: of such are the kingdom of heaven.

The grassroots Transition movement, starting in the UK in 2003, is becoming a powerful force in Tasmania, gathering people from country and city, the doers and the chatterers (like me), pragmatists and dreamers, conservatives and activists in a mix that’s producing some inspiring results in the real world.

This isn’t going to be easy, but we will get great pleasure and deep satisfaction from taking the transition plunge. I know it will be a ride well worth taking.

• For more information about how your community can become part of the Transition initiative, visit or phone 6234 5566.

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