In Transition 2.0

In_Transition_20“In Transition 2.0” is a film by Emma Goude released in 2012. It runs for about an hour and seven minutes and features 16 “inspiring” stories of Transition from 7 countries. When I watched this movie I felt it was telling me more about myself than the Transition Movement. That isn’t to say that it isn’t a good movie, it is. It is head and shoulders above “In Transition 1.0”. Gone is the awful soundtrack. Now we have some neat animations. So what if some of the bad camerawork is still there? It is all good… But did I REALLY feel inspired? Yes, I did, sometimes. But this is the wrong question. The right question is: who is this movie aimed at?

…or more accurately: are we recruiting or just celebrating? If this movie is a simple celebration then: hi-fives all round. If it is to promote Transition then some soul-searching might be required. I am afraid this film will lose most of the lay-audience in the first five minutes. People want to know what Transition is. So, what the heck is Transition? We get lots of points of view in the first few minutes but NONE came close to MY definition of Transition. This is worrying. As a social experiment Transition is great but this is arcane theology to the average Joe. All we have is confusion not clarity. This problem is inherent within the operating code of Transition. You either get it or you don’t: it is the Marmite Theology – you either love it or hate it.

So if the audience sticks it out beyond the confusing variety of explanations they then have to sit through the Peak Oil explanation. It was neatly done by a disarming child & some animation BUT it is sooooooo 2006. Move on people please! In High Wycombe we stopped talking about peal oil in about 2009. In our experiment it didn’t work. It didn’t engage people. Transition is what we want to be NOT what we are running away from. We come over as a bunch of Chicken Littles when we should be talking about the clean energy transformation and risk mitigation. Ok… Moving rapidly on. Next up we have the Jehovah’s Witness Double-Glazing Salesman knocking on doors in Salford. And today he was selling Transition.

Groan. This part was delivered completely straight with no sense of irony. Oh to see ourselves as others do. No wonder they had 300 people on their mailing list. Any darn fool can do that but aren’t we fooling ourselves? I personally would NEVER dream of cold-calling for the Transition. It would be like giving out leaflets for the Industrial Revolution 300 years ago. Oh yes: we recruit, but door-knocking was never something we wanted to do in High Wycombe – rightly or wrongly. We didn’t want to be seen as do-gooding idealists peddling our wares door-to-door like Evangelical Christians. (Don’t get me wrong, some of our best friends really are Jehovah’s Witnesses.) This has to be the wrong message, surely? But if it works for you: so be it. But this is not a movie about self-analysis. It is about the experiment and it looks like every experiment succeeds.

Or does it? There is the “failure” in Lancaster. The original steering group fell apart. But it came roaring back a year later and we closed off their story with video footage of their Unleashing. Great, but… Speaking again from personal experience this doesn’t reflect reality. The Lancaster City TT talking-head spoke of his personal anguish at the interpersonal animosity that arose amongst the original membership. We have never had these sort of problems in High Wycombe. Maybe our experience is more reflective of the general problem? Maybe there are no happy endings? Just a slow-burn by a few diligent individuals. Surely most of the problems with Transition is that it remains utterly obscure? If you see the entire world through the Vaseline-smeared lens of Transition Town Totnes you see a world where EVERYONE has heard of Transition. But that isn’t how it is. Out here in the real world we regularly meet people who have never heard of us and look at us completely baffled by our explanation as to what Transition is. This is soul destroying. This is why Transition fails. Lack of impact.

When I see Transition today I see an experimental re-localisation movement. It is made up of civic-society volunteers who give up their time to work on building community resilience through economic measures: local food, local energy and local money. It is incredibly diverse. Or it could be. The problem with Transition is actually not the concept; it is Transitioners. Most remain of a left-wing liberal bent and most are environmentalists. It is a hodge-podge mix of permaculturists, cycling nuts and climate change activists who think they are changing the world. That would be great if they were joined by a broader cross-section of the population. However, most Transition organisations will never grow beyond this tiny ghetto of individuals. It was natural for this minority to be drawn to Transition but if the experiment really is to work it is for EVERYONE to play a part. Currently it is the same suspects again and again. To many well-meaning ladies with really bad hair, floral dresses and dangley earrings. (Of the younger members most seem to have a preference for body-piercing!)

Don’t get me wrong, they all do good work, but are they effective? Will this experiment really touch everyone’s lives? If it does not then it is just a private clique of individuals who think THEY know better than everyone else. That is no way to proceed. But there is hope, always hope. In this movie I was inspired every time I saw a Bakery Co-operative starting out. Every time I saw some massive community-owned solar array being bolted together I knew that THIS is the Transition for ME. It is the practical manifestations within our existing cultural bounds that make all the difference. It is Business. It is about feeding people. And it is about money. The pay-by-text experiment in Brixton with their local currency was simply a stunning example.

Compare and contrast this to the urban farm in the USA with the young lad who, quite frankly admitted that urban farming wasn’t cool. Not cool at all. The young couple who ran the place checked over the abandoned buildings every morning checking for vagrants. Not to feed them of course. NO. The vagrants were not to be recruited or fed, they were to be expelled so that work could begin on the farm. It was a vision of a 1960s hippy commune. It may have been part of the Transition experiment but it comes over to the lay-man as something quite different. It comes over as a failed experiment. A Transitioner can see past that but most people cannot. That is why it fails. Transitioners are the last people to be judging the Transition. We are not subjective. We treat every failure as a success and we learn nothing.

To move on we need to see ourselves as other see us. If this is an experiment then experiments MUST have failures. Failures need not be repeated. Success needs to be repeated. If not then we become the definition of insanity. Are we learning or are we just repeating cultural patterns tried so many times before? Are we doing anything new?

If this film was to work (as the lay-man’s intro to Transition) then it needs to be made by outsiders. Hence it fails. As a celebration of everything “Transition” then it succeeds. However celebrating amongst our own tiny clique is very self-indulgent. We must not turn into a church. We are not going to fill rooms with people off the street who want to see this movie. We currently have nothing they want. We cannot call a Town a “Transition Town” just because 5 people want this in a town of 100,000 people who remain completely unaware that suddenly THEIR town is in something called “Transition”. We are living in a brave new world. It isn’t all going our way. We have to move on. In my blogs about the recent unpleasantness in Totnes (“Narnia Divided” and “They don’t grow Coffee in Devon“) we documented how the best Transitioners in the world can completely alienate their very own townsfolk. This may be a very local difficulty caused by a minority but it got out of hand. Even now the row over the Totnes wind farm planning application has become bitter and acrimonious. Sometimes experiments fail. Sometimes good people can do very good work yet be loathed for it by their community.

This is not a sprint. This is a gentle walk through the future of mankind. We should not be in such a hurry. Enjoy the scenery. I know I will. Join me.

So… We look forward to the new-found realism to come in “In Transition 3.0” but we won’t hold our breaths.

(Just as an aside I am actually in “In Transition 2.0”! Freeze frame your DVD at 11 minutes and 34 seconds and you will see myself, a local Councillor and a member of local Council staff holding aloft an Energy Saving Kit. The photo was taken by Bucks County Council to promote a new service that Transition Town High Wycombe had bought to the Wycombe Central Library in 2010. The work was done with kind funding from the Wycombe Partnership. The photo was supplied to Rob Hopkins for use as an illustration in his “Transition Companion” where it was correctly credited. However the end titles of “In Transition 2.0” only credit Transition Town High Wycombe rather than the Council who own the photo. Oh well. Thank god nobody noticed. What was curious though was that the still frame was used to illustrate the ‘stage one’ of Transition Initiatives: “Starting Out”. However, this had little to do with awareness raising, it was a physical manifestation of Transition at work. Hence its use in that part of the film seemed doubly inappropriate. Maybe the film editor just liked the look if me? Who knows? I am available for Weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. 😉 )

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About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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