A couple of the recent books I’ve read (Prosperity Without Growth & The Ecotechnic Future) have taken a relatively global approach to the crisis upon us; where they do touch the individual and community level, they, like many other books, are more descriptive than prescriptive – i.e. they fail to give much concrete, actionable advice. This is where The Transition Handbook – From oil dependency to local resiliency by Rob Hopkins comes in. The Transition Handbook focuses solely on the community: how individual communities (towns, suburbs, small cities etc) can take concrete action to make them more resilient and move from, as the title puts, from oil dependency to local resilience.
The Transition Handbook lays out in quite a bit of detail the suggested steps into making your community a “Transition Initiative” which as they define it is a community-led response to the pressures of climate change, fossil fuel depletion and increasingly, economic contraction, drawing many elements from permaculture. This book is essentially the “official” guidebook for the Transition Initiative and is divided into three parts; first, it outlines why peak oil and climate change mean that smaller, more resilient communities will be necessary in the future. The second part covers the importance of a positive vision; I wholeheartedly agree with this, as too much of the debate focuses on all the negative aspects of things to come – and I am also guilty of this. Finally, part three contains details on how to go about getting the transition started.
The book has plenty of practical advice and case studies from some of the hundreds of Transition Initiatives globally. The advice is, however, more focused on the process of getting the transition movement started and organizing it rather than advice on specific issues. This means that it does not tell you how exactly to introduce local money or grow more food locally – there are other resources that go into the details of specific actions. What it does give you is several tools to organizing successful community meetings, dealing with the PR side of the initiative, how to teach people about the Peak Oil concept etc. All very good tools, many of which can also be utilized in other settings.
The Transition Handbook, quite appropriately, ties together the challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change, but I think it misses one important, connected point. While the highlighted connection is that the actions described also help to limit climate change, it lacks the recognition that one of the greatest benefits in increased resiliency is the fact that a resilient community will also help it adapt to and survive the climate change that is already inevitable. That omission is not as much a fault than a missed positive point; yet another reason to start the transition, not an argument against it. Some other minor shortcomings included a huge amount of quotes in the sidebar, detracting from the main reading experience, as well as some pretty cheesy pictures, including “fake future” article clippings and some overly repetitive pictures & diagrams. The case studies, also, are very UK-focused but that’s simply because the movement started from there and the book is a couple of years old.
These shortcomings are very minor. The Transition Initiative is tremendously important and the Transition Handbook is a great book, and one that in its positive message is likely to be much more effective and better received than the doom-mongering books that do tend to leave a sense of helplessness in their trail. It’s a decidedly hopeful book, one that offers a compelling – and practical – vision of how communities could be put on the correct road to begin to shield them from the most disruptive of challenges.