Image credit: Thierry Ehrmann, used under Creative Commons license.
"Climate change tells us we should change. Peak oil tells us we must change." This truism has become a common refrain in some environmental circles. And it provides some insight into the rapid global spread of the transition movement. But Rob Hopkins—the founder of the Transition movement who we interviewed here—has recently gotten to wondering whether there are limits to peak oil as a motivator too. Maybe we need to focus on economics, community and prosperity if we really want to win over hearts and minds.The trouble is, muses Rob, that focusing too exclusively on climate change or peak oil can risk alienating a broad section of the community. Could climate change and peak oil outlive their usefulness as a frame for transition? By now there is hardly anyone who has not heard of these issues, and most likely there are few people out there who have not made up their minds as to where they stand. As usual, Rob doesn't approach the question from a simple either/or standpoint. But rather he looks at how motivators can evolve and change for a community transition group as its role in the community evolves:
"At the moment, the outward focus of TTT's work is more explicitly about economic regeneration and social enterprise, rather than on promoting the issues of peak oil and climate change. We are promoting the concept of 'localisation as economic development' and about to start work on an 'Economic Blueprint' for the town, working with the Town Council, Chamber of Commerce and other local bodies. We are seeking to support emerging social enterprises and to create new mechanisms for inward investment. While all of this, clearly, is underpinned by an understanding of peak oil and climate change, we haven't actually held a talk about peak or climate change for a while."
Rob's argument—and I agree with him—is that peak oil and climate change have to be absolutely central in the initial motivator for a Transition group. Without that understanding, an explicit focus on economics and regeneration could lead to any number of ill conceived schemes—from support for fracking to a call for cutting gas taxes. But once a group is up and running, and beginning to engage the wider community, it may make sense to address different aspects of the work they do.
After all, a focus on local, sustainable economies is good for everyone, not just because of the planetary implications, but just because it makes sense too. Rob points to the phenomenon of community-supported beer as a prime example of a uniting economic and cultural force:
In Topsham in Devon, Transition Town Topsham began in the usual way, showing films, holding events, doing some practical projects. They found though that engagement was only going so far. "Is peak oil the thing that will unite and inspire this community?" they asked. Probably not. "Climate change?" Again, probably not. "Beer?" Ah now you're talking. Topsham Ales was funded by £35,000 raised in shares being sold to 56 members of the co-operative they created. It is rooted in the concept of localisation (uses local hops, spent hops go to local pigs, beers and labels celebrate local place and history) but not explicitly so.
Beer as a means to building community. Now you're talking...
More on Transition Initiatives and Peak Oil
Community Supported Beer: Cooperative Brewing, Baking and Farming in Local Economies
Transition Towns Reach Australia: Another Community Tackles Peak Oil
An Interview with Rob Hopkins of Transition Town Totnes and Transition Culture