Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book Review: The Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins founded the Transition Movement whose aim is to build resilience to the twin threats of peak oil and climate change in communities through a return to localisation of services. The model has been applied most prominently in Kinsale in Ireland, Totnes in Devon and Lewes in Sussex and is now springing up all over the UK and indeed the world. This book is essentially both a manifesto for the concept and a 'how to guide' for its implementation.

He starts by making a persuasive argument that peak oil and climate change cannot be addressed in isolation - otherwise a solution to one could worsen the other. The second section of the book is about presenting a positive vision of a resilient future and the third is on how to get there. Hopkins' background is in permaculture and it is no surprise that many of the examples in the book are of the local food, 'rustic' skills and vernacular building. The transition movement has also experimented with using local currencies to strengthen local economies.

The first thing to say is that, as a book, The Transition Handbook is superb. Hopkins practises everything he preaches - a positive vision and a no blame culture - and his prose is clear, personal and anecdotal without ever being cheesy. The participation techniques he outlines are clear and effective - I pinched one (storytelling the positive vision) for a corporate workshop I was running last month and it worked a treat. The only things I felt were a bit underdeveloped were some more examples outside permaculture and local currencies - for example, I'm sure the Transition Movement could help persuade people to walk and cycle rather than driving, or roll out an extra layer of insulation in their loft. While teaching self-build skills is admirable, it will have little effect on carbon emissions in the short-medium term where action is required. This is a minor niggle - as I said the book is superb and I will be using it and its engagement and practical techniques more and more as time goes on.

On the Transition Movement itself, the argument for moving in this direction is compelling. The big challenge is whether they can extend their appeal beyond the people (including me!) who naturally flock to this kind of thing. It is no surprise that the Transition concept started in the UK in Totnes and Lewes - places with a long history of alternative living and thinking. Transition Brixton will be a key test of whether the man in the Pringle sweater, the woman in the M&S dress and the teenagers in the Kappa tracksuit will join the people in 'ethnic trousers' who have flocked to the movement. Again this is no criticism of the Transition Movement itself, more a reflection on the challenges ahead.

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