What is a Transition Town? Although we have often blogged on this, there is unlikely to be a shared understanding with our fellow townsfolk in High Wycombe. Why should that be? I recall joining Transition Town Marlow on their 350 day bike ride last year. I saw lots of famlies with children and a mixed assortment of local people, both young and old, coming together to highlight climate change concerns. The next day’s media seemed to describe an event I wasn’t at. A family bike ride had become a Climate Protest by campaigners. I don’t recall the exact words used but they fell back upon a character of events – a stereotype that falls with acceptable norms of behaviour. This “norm” states that only angry protesters care about climate change and that (say) ‘nice people like us’ do not. There was no deviation from the familiar & well-worn script. (Anyone not in Higginson Park that day felt they were lucky to have missed the merry band of anarchists so determined to undermine our happy way of life!) These are not the actual words used of course! It was the IMPRESSION. The implications of using an external set of rules to re-interpret actual events are ground-shaking. (As a mental exercise, for example, note how Washington has an “administration” whilst Iran has a “regime”. What impression does this give us about these two Governments?) HOW we describe things are important. What might be neutral and accurate language to one man is a dagger to the heart of another.
So why is the myth so far more comfortable than the reality? It is always a useful exercise to study what has come out of work with focus groups. Once such work is “Words that Sell” by Futerra (downloadable in full from www.futerra.co.uk) where they actually state (from their work) that “nobody wants to be an environmentalist”. So when you label community groups as being ‘green’ or ‘environmentalist’ then these are loaded terms. Most people don’t identify with these types of people because of the associated baggage. Hence your choice of language can have a big impact upon their success or failure of local NGO’s (non-governmental organisations).
To me I reckon that we have three main NGO groupings that the public and media believe are all “green”. These are: – Environmental – Political – Socieconomic The “Environmental” one covers groups concerned with the preservation of green spaces, wildlife, biodiversity, eco-systems, bees, woodlands and watercourses. This is typified by, say, the Woodland Trust maybe? The Political one covers direct action, national or international policy, campaigning, lobbying and so on. Greenpeace probably sit in this sphere. Finally the Socioeconomic grouping covering communities, change enablement, resilience indicators, so-called’ breakthrough’ ideas, permaculture, local grass roots work, sustainability and so on. Transition Towns tend to fit roughly in the last grouping. Groups tend to often straddle one or more of these categories. The RSPB is definitely across the “environmental” and “political” groupings. Individual memebers may belong to NGO’s in all three areas and be concerned about all three aspects of work. There are grey areas in between.
If these distinctions were well understood by everyone then we probably could move forward into some brightly-lit upland of a shared understanding. Then we may all serve the community better.
What do you reckon?