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Transition Initiatives: Cultivating Local Resilience One Community At A Time

Blake Burrett

#3 from a series of TEND THE EARTH articles on permaculture

By: Marianna Burrett


The Transition Initiative movement (formerly Transition Towns) serves as a catalyst for engaging local communities to cultivate local resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and economic crisis. This coming together is designed to foster change within and an empowerment of the local community through creative collaboration in such areas as local food production, farming, local economy, energy, transportation, media, education, the arts, and healthcare, to name a few. The overarching mission is to raise awareness and provide an arena that allows for the emergence of relocalization efforts that restore community resilience and provide less dependence on nonlocal resources. When communities are better equipped with the means to live independently within their local limits, the potential for greater freedom arises, thus increasing quality of life, a sense of place and deeper connectedness.

The seeds of the Transition Town movement were sown in the fall of 2004 in Kinsale, Ireland where permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins and some of his students envisioned what a truly sustainable Kinsale might look like. They developed an historical document entitled the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) which was adopted by the local town council. Hopkins reasoned that the ethics and principles of permaculture might be applied to design plans for communities to wean themselves off fossil fuels, learn to enact local resilience and become more self-reliant as a community. He envisioned the possibility that the ethics and principles of permaculture could empower entire communities to design their own EDAPs and thereby take steps to become more resilient. He put forth the guiding question: “How can we design descent pathways which make people feel alive, positive and included in this process of societal transformation?” The seeds of the Transition Towns movement that Hopkins and his students planted have blossomed since its inception, as today the Transition Movement is being replicated in over 34 countries with more than 428 official initiatives established worldwide ( This does not include additional “mullers” who are experimenting with the process.

The Transition movement recognizes the following as a set of principles and practices as they strive to reduce carbon emissions and foster community resilience:

Peak Oil, Climate Change and the Economic Crisis require urgent action.

Adaptation to a world with less oil is inevitable.

It is better to plan and be prepared, than be taken by surprise.

Industrial society has lost the resilience to be able to cope with shocks to its systems.

We have to act together and we have to act now.

We must negotiate our way down from the “peak” using all our skill, ingenuity and intelligence.

Using our creativity and cooperation to unleash the collective genius within our local communities will lead to a more abundant, connected and healthier future for all.

The question emerges: How resilient is my local community? Measures of viability might include indicators such as the percentage of food consumed locally that was produced within a given radius, the number of businesses owned by local people, the proportion of the community that is employed locally, the percentage of essential goods manufactured within a given radius, the percentage of water consumed and energy produced within the town, the number of people able to grow 10 different varieties of fruits/vegetables with a given degree of competency, and so forth.

Historically, our elected leaders have been expected to source solutions to the problems we face. Now however, the issues we face have become so complex and interwoven (e.g., climate change, uncertainty regarding future oil supplies and economies) that new approaches are required as no one can legitimately claim expertise along these lines. It is up to us within our local communities to start working now to mitigate the complex effects of peak oil, climate change, and the economic crisis, before it is too late. The days of looking elsewhere or to someone else to “fix it” are quickly fading, because we can’t solve these issues inside the same box that helped to create them in the first place. We are the ones we have been waiting for. Together we are making a difference.

The Transition Initiative movement encourages all of us to explore the transition from an oil based economy to one of localized community systems that foster greater resiliency. This is done by creatively using our heads (facts), our hands (doing), and our hearts (feelings) as we proactively plan new options and responses to the complex and intertwined issues rather than respond with knee-jerk reactions as the systems continue to degrade. Transition Initiatives do not claim to have all the answers to the intricate problems of our times, but rely on unlocking the creative genius, skills and ingenuity within our communities, while building on the wisdom of the past. Profoundly practical and powerful, the Transition Initiative movements asks each of us to step-up and into our own power and take full responsibility for our piece of the puzzle in the mosaic called community. All of us matter and have a vital part to contribute to the circle. When this is blended with joyous exploration and an enlivened sense of community well-being, the benefits of the Transition Initiative Movements are unleashed!