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The Transition Town Debate

Transition Towns, if you haven't heard, are communities that are preparing themselves for peak oil and climate change by reducing their energy use and carbon emissions, eating locally, and sometimes even setting up their own currencies. There are 243 official Transition Towns at the moment (the list is here). Most of them are in the United Kingdom, where the movement started, but Transition Towns are springing up elsewhere in Europe, and in Oceania and the States. The criteria for inclusion are pretty lax.Until today, they sounded harmless, if not awesome, to me. But then I came across a Worldchanging piece by Alex Steffen that's pretty critical of the whole Transition Town approach:All over the world, groups of people with graduate degrees, affluence, decades of work experience, varieties of advanced training and technological capacities beyond the imagining of our great-grandparents are coming together, looking into the face of apocalypse... and deciding to start a seed exchange or a kids clothing swap. Transition thinking seems obsessively focused on coordinating individual actions (like helping people barter their free time or connecting people who want to garden); even at its most ambitious, it generally focuses on building alternative systems (say, starting a local currency scheme) rather than reforming the larger systems that shape life all around us (say, starting an actual credit union or rewriting banking regulations).Rob Hopkins, the voice of the Transition movement, issued a response, claiming that Steffen created a straw Transition Town to attack:For me, as I have articulated in the Transition Handbook and elsewhere, the motivation for Transition is that of responding to peak oil and climate change, and to the notion of energy descent. Energy descent ... is based on the observation that the world is passing the peak in fossil fuels, and that we need to be designing for the declining availability of both oil itself and of net energy. ...the clearly stated desire of Transition is to be able to create a safe, intentional way through energy descent, avoiding collapse, shifting the focus to local economies and increased resilience, what Odum called ‘A Prosperous Way Down'.I find it hard to believe that each new Transition Town does any harm, but read the two pieces and decide for yourself. At the end of the day their back-and-forth represents what might be a growing division in the sustainability movement between the high-tech, global approach and a more back-to-the-earth, local approach.Photo of Transition Town Kinsale, Ireland, from Flickr user meglet127 (cc).

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