(This is a cross-post from my personal blog, and I’d love to see others’ thoughts on the same question of why they are part of the Transition movement.)
There are a lot of frameworks for improving things out there – organizations, frameworks, networks. I’ve looked at a lot of them over the years (many are mentioned in this post), but I am increasingly convinced that the one I stand behind the most is this one - Transition. TransitionPGH is nominally a hub to help initiate, nurture, and connect more neighborhood-scale instances of Transition. Though started about two years ago (the first major movie night was March 9, 2010), and has drifted in and out, growing very slowly and collecting people rather than building its own community (IMHO). With the plethora of other environmental groups both on Pitt’s campus and in the city, several folks have asked my why I’m still dedicated to T.PGH (and I am) when it seems so weak. This is why:
Transition is based on concrete, real issues and finding concrete, real solutions at an applicable scale
I will be the first to admit that I am not much motivated by spiritual concerns. I’ve got nothing against them (so long as they don’t reject science), but I like the Derrick Jensen quote (Premise 16 from Endgame) that
The material world is primary. This does not mean that the spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother, or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is a mess, and not just the movement of God’s eyebrows. It means we have to face this mess ourselves.
Transition is based on a simple motivating factors: local resilience in the face of climate change and peak oil. Both problems have a bundle of science behind them, both are large, serious, complex, and physical problems whose solutions will need to be systemic, complex, and physical as well. And though these problems are global, what a post-peak oil or low-carbon world looks like is much more place-dependent than what we have now. Combined with the fact that change happens in communities and not because of national regulation (as if we could get that passed), and if we’re going to have an approach to dealing with climate change and peak oil – and we should – it needs to be at the community or urban level. Transition does that. A few others encourage study and education around the issues - ASPO, NCSE - and others encourage a general transition to a sustainable world – including the Natural Step, whose definition of sustainability I like best. And there are organizations looking at mitigating climate change, such as 350.org, but most of the ones I’ve seen have global issues as their motivation. Transition has ‘local’ at its heart, even with these global issues, and it believes in concrete approaches to concrete problems within the larger scope of sustainability.
Transition believes in planning as a core piece of moving forward
I like planning. I generally feel like the world is going too fast, and that we could all benefit from taking a week off to talk and think and plan out where we want to go as people, communities, and even larger. I also often feel like many sustainability efforts get started based on the phrase ‘this action will move us towards a greener world,’ without really knowing what the goal or vision is for that world. While Transition is certainly happy to have people doing things (and believes in celebrating them), at its core is the idea of looking at where we are, what’s around us, and where we want to go in the face of declining resources and energy – and then figuring out how to get there, in a physical and local manner (I’ll stop with the repeated adjectives for a bit). I think that those methods/frameworks/organizations that are based around planning sustainable visions – and the Natural Step qualifies here again – have much better capacity for leadership, even if they are currently latent.
Transition is all encompassing
Transition is one of two organizations that I know of that wants everyone involved in making a better place, regardless of primary interest. Want to do urban gardens? Great. Want to look at transportation systems? Awesome. Available housing? Monetary systems? Energy production? Spiritual satisfaction? Come on in. Most organizations have focused on single areas – whether that’s one leg of the sustainability stool - Main Street is economics, PennFuture is environmental, community centers are social – or single issues - Allegheny CleanWays, Grow PGH, and Nine Mile Run all spring to mind. Those organizations are great, but a successful approach to CC and PO will be far more likely (again, IMHO, but see the Cheerful Disclaimer), if there is some connecting and unifying force, since all these individual issues are connected. I find that other candidates for community leader, including Three Rivers Bioneers and one or two others, don’t have that combination of real, physical solutions with serious planning at their core. The city might, but it has, for the moment, some other limitations – and other things to worry about. In addition, Transition talks to neighborhoods and organizations, but also talks to local government – someone that needs to be involved in long-term policy. I don’t see others doing that as much - GLUE does, but it’s weaker than Transition, and again has less concrete goals. Transition is the only thing I’ve seen that is able, at its replicating base rather than through any local additions, to reach out to all the actors, interested in bringing all types of people (heart, hands, and heads, to use some undefined terminology), and focus on concrete local solutions to complex global problems. Without actively focusing on it, it encompasses all three pieces of sustainability through local resilience as a goal – that’s an impressive feat which also makes me think it’s built properly. Sustainability is the result rather than the goal.
Transition believes in humor
The concepts above are excellent, but I can’t stomach a movement that can’t joke. In the face of giant problems, the only feasible two options that I (and others, I think) have found is to become very depressed, all the time, or to laugh a lot as you make the best of it. I’ll be frank – it bothers me when people get so caught up in how important these problems are, or how flawed modern society is, that they can’t joke about it. It shows a loss of perspective which I think is vital to success in solving connected problems. And hey, the world can be a terribly depressing place, but it can also be really amusing.
So, if I’m looking for an organization/framework to back that is founded on concrete motivations and local, solid approaches, believes in planning, has a broad enough approach and mission to act as a community leader, and can take a joke (and I really don’t think that’s an unreasonable set of parameters), what I end up with, time and time again, is Transition. And I know that if I went somewhere else, how the Transition process would work out would be different – that’s ok. I believe in the method, not the specific instance. I believe in the method enough that I think it’s what should win, and I’m willing to put a lot of time in (when I get back from Brazil) to help make that happen. Because these problems, as I’ve stated over and over, are real, and fiendishly complex and systemic. Dealing with them will not be easy – but we do not get a choice. We need an approach – and Transition is the best I’ve found. Thoughts?