North First Avenue in Sandpoint, Idaho, a town of 8,100 surrounded by two mountain ranges. Sandpoint is the second official Transition initiative in the US.
By JON MOOALLEM
Published: New York Times
, April 16, 2009
The Transition movement was started four years ago by Rob Hopkins, a young British instructor of ecological design. Transition shares certain principles with environmentalism, but its vision is deeper — and more radical — than mere greenness or sustainability. “Sustainability,” Hopkins recently told me, “is about reducing the impacts of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” But that assumes our industrial society will keep running. By contrast, Hopkins said, Transition is about “building resiliency” — putting new systems in place to make a given community as self-sufficient as possible, bracing it to withstand the shocks that will come as oil grows astronomically expensive, climate change intensifies and, maybe sooner than we think, industrial society frays or collapses entirely. For a generation, the environmental movement has told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. Transition tells us those consequences are now irreversibly switching on; we need to revolutionize our lives if we want to survive.
Transition’s approach is adamantly different from that of the survivalists I heard about, scattered in the mountains around Sandpoint in bunkers stocked with gold and guns. The movement may begin from a similarly dystopian idea: that cheap oil has recklessly vaulted humanity to a peak of production and consumption, and no combination of alternative technologies can generate enough energy, or be installed fast enough, to keep us at that height before the oil is gone. (Transition dismisses Al Gore types as “techno-optimists.”) But Transition then takes an almost utopian turn. Hopkins insists that if an entire community faces this stark challenge together, it might be able to design an “elegant descent” from that peak. We can consciously plot a path into a lower-energy life — a life of walkable villages, local food and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world — which, on balance, could actually be richer and more enjoyable than what we have now. Transition, Hopkins has written, meets our era’s threats with a spirit of “elation, rather than the guilt, anger and horror” behind most environmental activism. “Change is inevitable,” he told me, “but this is a change that could be fantastic.”