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Making the Transition

PUBLISHED: 12:39 09 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:26 20 February 2013

The Transition Town team from South Petherton at the South Somerset Green Fair in June this year

The Transition Town team from South Petherton at the South Somerset Green Fair in June this year

News that Somerset County Council is seeking to become the first Transition Authority in the UK has been welcomed by communities across the county. The council has voted to fully endorse the Transition Town Movement and commits to providing suppor...

So what is a Transition Town and do you live in one?

In cities, towns and villages across the UK, people are trying to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, aiming to create a more self-reliant local community that will be more able to face a future with dwindling supplies of easy-to-get oil.

Some experts believe we have already reached this point of 'Peak Oil', while others think we can expect to see a peak sometime before 2015, when remaining supplies will be difficult to harvest.

Richard Heinberg, one of the world's leading experts on oil reserves, warns that higher oil prices, the loss of farmland to biofuel crops, climate change and the loss of natural resources would combine with population growth to create an unprecedented food shortage.

Totnes in Devon was the UK's first town to address the twin challenges of diminishing oil supplies and climate change and, at the same time, create the kind of community everyone would want to be part of. Their projects range from building compost loos to drawing up 'Energy Descent Plans', from encouraging garden sharing and cycling to assisting businesses with their 'Oil Vulnerability Audits'.

The man who has been spearheading the Transition movement is Rob Hopkins, author of 'The Transition Handbook', and an inspiration to Glastonbury Town Councillor Linda Hull.

All over Somerset campaigners are planning strategies to reduce their energy consumption and meet the challenge of life after oil

"Hearing what Rob had to say at the Big Green Gathering in 2006 set me back on the path I'd started years ago during a year spent in the backwoods of America studying permaculture (creating sustainable human habitats by following nature's patterns), eco-village design and natural building - the search for a sane, collective, engaged, appropriate, connected way of life," says Linda. "So some friends and I set about discussing how to initiate a transition right here in Glastonbury.

"'The Transition Handbook' mentions that we'll need to create a 'Holiday Brochure to the Future': a place where people want to go to and are, therefore, motivated to help bring it about. We're right at the beginning of that process.

"In a place like Glastonbury where tourism is the most important industry, any slow-down in visitor numbers because of increased travel costs, less disposable income after paying more for food, domestic energy bills and other necessities could have quite an impact on our economy. So maybe it's just wise to have a plan B!

"While the majority of people in Glastonbury are yet to embrace Transition, many are delighted that the conversation is beginning about how we as a community can think and act positively. The main message of the Transition movement is that we'll need to re-localise in order to become more resilient."

Elsewhere in Somerset, like-minded campaigners are planning strategies to reduce their energy consumption and meet the challenge of life after oil.

Tim Rook is one of a core team of people in South Petherton with skills in horticulture, change management, renewable technology, building and conservation. They all have an interest and understanding of the natural environment and decided to take up the Transition Town initiative.

"Through discussion, lectures and reading, the full scale of the peak oil/climate crisis became clearer," says Tim. "As with many others, our initial reaction was one of shock and fear. However, once you know and understand the full impact that these problems could have on our way of life, to do nothing would be both negligent and wrong.

"To prepare for the future challenges, society needs leaders and motivators; we felt we could and should take action. The Transition initiative, whilst not perfect, is a structured, tested and recognised model, so we chose it as our way forward.

"Education and raising awareness is our first challenge at the moment, as people are simply not aware of the problems we face. Essentially, the future of South Petherton is dependent upon two factors: how the community tackles the challenges of the future and the rate at which the global problems of climate and peak oil impact on the community. We are doing our best to ensure the survival of our community through building in resilience and sustainability, but whether we'll achieve it in time, I don't know."

In Bath the Transition movement has attracted people from all backgrounds and age groups, including Peter Andrews who is a partner in Eco-logic Books. This small, ethically run company specialises in books that provide practical solutions to environmental problems, such as 'The Transition Handbook'.

"We had a big meeting in Bath and people here were very keen because they know that the reality will affect everybody. Those who do not join in are the ones who do not see a problem, a bit like an ostrich with its head in the sand," says Peter.

Special interest groups are forming all the time, and the focus is on re-skilling the population. "When it all goes pear-shaped we will need a whole lot of skills which we've forgotten about, like gardening, being able to darn socks, to major skills such as where we are going to get any power from," continues Peter. "We are talking about where our food is going to come from, how we are going to feed everyone in Bath, heat houses, where we are going to work and what money will look like. There are so many fascinating questions.

"I think Bath suits Transition because it has the potential with the hills around it, the hot water and a river running through it to be self-sufficient in energy."

Transition Frome member Alex Malcolm is pleased to see Somerset County Council's resolution to support the movement within Somerset.

Alex has lobbied local authority at all levels because he believes that funding must be made available for self-sustaining communities if social unrest is to be avoided as the effects of peak oil and climate change take hold.

In his reference document 'Strategies for Local Government and Sustainable Communities' he suggests that in time we could eventually return to the kinds of communities that existed up until the Industrial Revolution.

Somerset County Council is seeking to become the first Transition Authority in the UK

"We have to move away from a socio-economic model based on conspicuous or mindless consumption and consumerism towards a more socially and environmentally responsible one," he says. "There is no alternative for communities but to collaborate and prepare for a very different life after global oil production has peaked. There is no time to lose through procrastination or apathy."

There is a growing band of people taking action across the county. Groups committed to improving the way their community approaches its environmental responsibilities have been established in several villages, towns and cities such as Bristol, Langport, North Curry, Wrington and Wiveliscombe.

Taunton has recently gained Transition Town status and the group's forthcoming schedule includes awareness-raising films to inform and inspire the local people. BY SARAH FORD

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of peak oil and the potential solutions, you can book a place at forthcoming film nights at the Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton (14 October, 7 November) or Wiveliscombe Primary School (17 October). Call 07866 674205 or e-mail healthwaves@phonecoop.coop for further information. Transition Town Taunton is in the process of putting together an autumn programme. For more information e-mail vicwatson@tauntonbroadband.co.uk.

For further information about the Transition movement visit: www.transitiontowns.org; www.transitionculture.org; www.eco-logicbooks.com; www.risingtothechallenge.org.uk.

Do you think Transitions Towns are the solutions to the threat of climate change, or is it a matter of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? Have your say on the Forum.

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