Transition Towns. It’s all in the name

Phil Wilcock
Mar 03, 2011

Couple of weeks back, I mentioned a Wikileaks item that was pretty much ignored by the mainstream media. The Peak Oil story, speculated that we may have already hit the top of the curve as far as oil production is concerned. In The Guardian’s John Vidal’s piece – Peak oil- We are asleep at the Wheel, he reignites that basic argument around when exactly oil demand will outstrip supply.

The main point that seems to be missed whenever peak oil comes up for discussion is this. It doesn’t really matter when you think it’s going to happen. Economists can argue the finer details all they like, Oil barons will claim to have discovered a huge new field every week, but the inescapable fact is that oil supply will start to fall off at some point. Agreed? Great, so we can move on!

I don’t think that anyone can deny just how much we love oil. Over the last 200 years or so, we have become so reliant on oil for our ever more cosseted lifestyles that it’s hardly surprising that we don’t want to admit that our romance is drawing to a close. So it’s time to move on, and start to think about life without her. If you sit down and think about it seriously, life without oil is going to be very different, and although it may not come about for another 100 years, it’s time to start planning. We really should use the oil we have to move on to the next generation of fuels.

Imagine all the things that are made from oil. Here are fifty things to get you started. Imagine also that huge trucks of food won’t be able to fill up your local supermarket every day. Agriculture, transport, energy, building, in fact just about everything that we rely on (in the developed world) could be affected. Of course this won’t happen all at once, but as soon as supplies start to fall behind demand, oil prices will soar and you can fill in the not-so-pretty blanks yourself. The fact is that no-one really understands what will happen because we don’t know just when or how rapidly peak oil will start to bite.

The Transition

My home town of Lancaster in the UK is, I am proud to say, a Transition Town. So what does that mean? It means that we are part of the international transition network which is a movement of local communities – towns, villages, cities creating positive, practical locally based responses to global challenges. See for info on the network. In real terms it means that we as a town are acting locally to try to mitigate the effect of Peak Oil, climate change and whatever else may come along. In Lancaster that means trying to improve local food resilience, making homes more energy efficient, investigating alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, and generally building more resilience into our community.

If this sounds a little like the 1980’s when so called ‘survivalists’ were heading to their nuclear fall-out bunker with lots of tinned food and weapons, think again! The Transition Towns initiative is a fun, productive and creative challenge which really brings people together. So far in Lancaster we have planted hundreds of fruit trees all over town, formed a car-share club, created many areas for growing food, but above all we have enjoyed doing it.


On a more serious note, one of the Transition Town objectives is for each location to develop an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP), which is fairly self-explanatory and attempts to plot a route to a less oil (and other fossil fuels) dependant future without having to panic along the way. A few Transition Towns here in the UK even have their own currency, the idea of which is to alleviate dependence on a fragile global economy, and to keep local wealth in the local economy. Other objectives vary depending on the location. That’s the beauty of the Transition initiative, you can tailor it to pretty much any location in the world.

Not Hippies

If all this sounds a bit twee and fanciful, think again. When I first went along to my local Transition network meeting, I half expected to see a few hippies sat cross legged and talking about new lentil stew recipes – how wrong could I have been. Our local network involves Town council officials, doctors, farmers and food producers, IT geeks and even the odd professor or two. We have groups that focus on Food, Energy, Community, Education, Arts and Transport to name but a few.

Why Not?

So the point here is that climate change and peak oil, in fact any challenge to our lives can be tackled at a local level. There are now Transition Towns and cities all over the world, and the network is growing every day. There’s a great Wiki page here, from where you can find links to many worldwide Transition networks. Why not take a look, and if your town or city isn’t a Transition Town, then why don’t you start one? Peak Oil will one day affect us all, and I’d really like us to at least try to get ready for it.

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