ISBN 978 1 900322 65 2. “Communities, Councils & a Low-Carbon Future – What we can do if government won’t” by Alexis Rowell was published by Transition Books/ Green Books in 2010. The author is a former London Borough of Camden Councillor and works with Transition Belsize so he was well placed to write this work. In fact, apart from maybe the seminal work by Rob Hopkins, THIS book may well prove to be the most useful of all the Transition Books so far – and it has stiff competition. Anything following this up has a hard act to follow. Alexis had created a perfect, state-of-the-art, guide to engaging with Councils. Not only that but I believe this is THE book that EVERY Council’s Sustainability or Environment Officer should have on their book shelf. We have seen Transition Towns give away Transition Books to the local library before – but I think we should raise the money to buy a copy of this book and send it to every Council in the Country. It is a gold-mine. Where did the author find the time to find all of this stuff? I was amazed. I thought I pretty much new what-was-going-on-where when it came to Council best-practice around Britain. However I had hardly scratched the surface of the topic.
There are so many great case-studies in the book it is over-whelming. If you don’t have this book with you when you meet with your local Council then you are missing a trick. It is the bible for all future contacts…. Until, we assume, somebody updates it in a few years. It is a fast moving field and this work will date rapidly. Certainly I was impressed by just how much is going on out there. However, given the youth of the Transition Network you may not be surprised to learn that only so much of the material in this book actually deals with Transition Initiatives even though this has been written FOR Transitioners. This may give you the ideas and the blueprint but don’t be surprised if some non-Transition organisations are way ahead of you. Which is fine. Transitioners didn’t invent sustainability and have no monopoly over working with Councils. Hence those who work with local Friends of the Earth groups will also find this book valuable. The author himself is a bit of a renaissance man who has been both a BBC journalist, a businessman, part-time worker on the 10:10 Campaign, worker on the Camden Climate Action Network, is an active member of Friends of the Earth, a paid-up supporter of Greenpeace and the Soil Association whilst still finding time to go to Climate Camp every year. Then he got elected as a Councillor and won the Sustainability Councillor of the Year award in 2010. Does he sleep? He has done all of this ‘green stuff’ in just five years after (we assume) giving up the Businessman bit. This is on top of completely transforming his personal lifestyle to have as little impact upon the planet as possible.
The cover price of this book is £14.95 and for your money you get 240 pages including a Foreword by Rob Hopkins, an Introduction, fourteen chapters, an Appendix, References, Resources and an Index. Chapter two tells us how to find our way around local government and is almost worth the cover price alone. Certainly we learnt this stuff the hard way locally and often wondered if there wasn’t some kind of “Dummy’s Guide” to Councils. Now you have one. From this point you get to see how Councils operate from the point of view of various insiders before the author moves on to ten chapters covering: biodiversity, energy efficiency, energy generation, food, planning, procurement, recycling, transport, water and wellbeing. These were the interesting bits for us. If you had to skip a few chapters then you could omit the sections on water, wellbeing and biodiversity as they were a little weak. That isn’t to say they were not relevant but I would imagine most Transition Initiatives might struggle with these ones when working with the Council. However the rest of it is spot on even if I am guessing that “getting elected” is very few Transitioner’s cups-of-tea. Alexis admits this when he quotes a survey exposing the disinterest. Oh well, ten out of ten for trying!