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What is transition?
Transition is the label applied to groups that are getting together in communities such as villages or small towns for the purpose of taking action to make the community more resilient in the face of the threats posed by peak oil and climate change. Examples so far include Transition Totnes, Transition Truro and Transition Ladock/Grampound Road.
What is peak oil?
Oil is, for all practical purposes, a finite resource. It takes millions of years to form out of rotting vegetation etc. Oil was discovered in the late nineteenth century. Oil is an incredibly useful product; it contains a phenomenal amount of useable energy in a relatively small volume. The first oil found was the easy oil to produce – drill down a short distance on land (Texas, Saudi Arabia) and the oil came gushing out. Annual consumption of oil grew dramatically during the
twentieth century because it was so cheap to obtain and it was so useful. Twentieth century western civilisations flourished because of easy access to cheap oil. Production is now struggling to keep up with demand. Peak oil is the point at which production starts to decline. Once it starts to decline, the inherent demand will push the price of what is left sky high. Oil is not going to run out completely in the near future. But it is going to keep getting more and more expensive. Have we reached peak oil yet? There are different opinions on this, but the answer is probably yes. But even if peak oil does not occur for another 5-10 years, we are still in a very serious situation.
What are the consequences of peak oil?
The era of year-on-year economic growth, globalisation, flying cheaply around the world for individuals, relying on cheap labour on the other side of the world to produce all our manufactured goods will come to an end. We have never had it so good; and we are never going to have it so good again. Everything that involves the use of oil in any stage of its production or delivery will get much more expensive.
What about the alternatives to oil?
There are alternatives to oil, but they all cost much more in terms of price per unit of energy acquired. Tar sands would be incredibly expensive to turn into useable oil and will have catastrophic climate change consequences. The same is true of coal. There is no magic bullet that will solve the problem of providing a replacement energy source for oil.
What are transition towns/villages trying to do?
The solutions to the twin problems of peak oil and climate change must come from all levels in society: as individuals, as communities, and from government, both central and local. Transition towns and villages can provide a means of taking action at a community level. They can assist individuals to take their own action. They can also help to engender a climate in which local and central government will feel confident to take the actions that are necessary at their levels. An individual is more likely to take action to curb his/her CO2 emissions if he/she sees others around them doing the same. Politicians are more likely to propose actions that would reduce CO2 emissions nationally if they thought that it would win them votes rather than lose them votes.
What do we mean by resilience?
Resilience is the ability to withstand shocks from outside. The way that western economies have developed over the past 100 years, we have all become very dependent on outside forces. We can easily get knocked off track by small disruptions. For example, a power cut of a few hours shows how we have become dependent on dozens of electrically powered gadgets for our normal existence. If there is a threat of a petrol shortage, we are in a blind panic as to whether we can function without a car with petrol in its tank. If a supermarket runs out of a few items, we suddenly don’t know how we will manage. Transition towns aim to make themselves more self reliant so that a higher proportion of goods and services can be provided within the local community by the local community. It does not mean cutting themselves off from the outside world, but it does mean reducing the dependency on the outside world. Localisation will be an inevitable consequence of the reduction in availability of cheap oil. We have a choice as to whether we get to that point in a controlled, planned manner or leave it to be
forced upon us when we are not able to cope with it.
What practical steps can transition towns do?
There are dozens of ways in which small communities can improve their resilience. Each community will find its own mix of what works for them. In a particular community, the mix will depend on factors such as the skills of individuals within the community (e.g. an engineer who could design and build a water mill, builders who could insulate houses), the geography (e.g. a hilltop suitable for a wind turbine), local infrastructure (e.g. bus routes), agricultural potential etc.
How is a transition town/village organised?
Transition towns are community organisations dependent on volunteers. They should work in cooperation with other bodies such as local government and parish councils. They are not in competition with them. There is a transition network that has suggestions for formal structures, but generally transition towns operate a bit like a village hall committee or a carnival committee.
Transition Grampound held its inaugural meeting on 3 July 2008 in the Village Hall at which a film about Cuba was shown. The film shows how Cuba dealt with its own peak oil crisis in the 1990s.