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“The Rocky Road to a Real Transition”: A Review

Rob Hopkins
The Rocky Road to a Real Transition: the transition towns movement and what it means for social change. Paul Chatterton & Alice Cutler. The Trapese Collective. A free download available here (warning: it is a huge file): 2008. 41pp.

It is flattering that so early in a movement such as the Transition movement, people take the time to sit down and write such a detailed critique of it. Trapese Popular Education Collective were previously behind the excellent ‘Do It Yourself Manual’. As the first published external examination of the Transition model it is to be welcomed, and the authors raise a number of important questions. From my perspective, “The Rocky Road…” does a very good job of identifying many of the key areas where Transition is distinctly different from other approaches to social activism.

Two Distinct Yet Complementary Approaches

The authors write from a perspective strongly rooted in their work as left wing activists and educators, with a strong anti-corporate, anti-globalisation stance. One of the aspects of their critique of Transition is that it shies away from directly confronting what they see as being the enemy. Their starting point can be summed up in the sentence “it is fundamentally important to identify and name the enemies in the battle to make a real Transition”. From my perspective Transition is a fundamentally different approach, and in offering a review of this booklet, it feels important at the outset to address the distinctly different starting positions here.

I have always been inspired and motivated by Vandana Shiva’s assertion that “these systems function because we give them our support, but if we withdraw our support, these systems will not be able to run”. I argue in the Transition Handbook (which unfortunately the authors neglected to read before writing ‘The Rocky Road’, nor did they speak with or interview anyone directly involved) that we need to move beyond the approach of making our starting point trying to work out who is to blame for the predicament we are in.

Yes there are tremendously powerful global forces at work, doing appalling things with increasing boldness, but they function as such because, in many cases, we have given them, consciously or unconsciously, the power to do so. The individuals involved in those global forces are locked into them just like everyone else and there is nothing to be gained by demonising them. There is also always the danger that by adopting demonising, depersonalising approaches means that there is a risk that we do whatever it takes to bring about the change we want, rather than modelling, through our daily lives, the kind of change we want to see.
(15 May 2008)
Download the document

UPDATE (May 17) The document’s authors have created a smaller PDF (2.5 MB) which is now online here:

Malthus, the false prophet

The Economist
Once again the gloom is overdone. There may no longer be virgin lands to be settled and cultivated, as in the 19th century, but there is no reason to believe that agricultural productivity has hit a buffer. Indeed, one of the main barriers to another “green revolution” is unwarranted popular worries about genetically modified foods, which is holding back farm output not just in Europe, but in the developing countries that could use them to boost their exports.

…Although neo-Malthusianism naturally has much to say about food scarcity, the doctrine emerges more generally as the idea of absolute limits on resources and energy, such as the notion of “peak oil”. Following the earlier scares of the 1970s, oil companies defied the pessimists by finding extra fields, not least since higher prices had spurred new exploration. But even if oil wells were to run dry, economies can still adapt by finding and exploiting other energy sources.
(15 May 2008)

Are there just too many people in the world?

Johann Hari, The Independent
This is a column I don’t want to write. Its subject is ugly; it makes me instinctively recoil. I have chastised people who bring it up at environmentalist meetings. The people who talk about it obsessively have often been callous about human life, and consistently proved wrong throughout history. And yet… there is a grain of insight in what they say.

The subject is overpopulation. Is our planet over-stuffed with human beings? Are we breeding to excess? These questions are increasingly poking into public debate, and from odd directions.
(15 May 2008)
The overpopulation idea is making a comeback. Unfortunately, the discussion is still at a primitive level. Without some intellectual content, it’s easy to degenerate into demagoguery and “wars of religion.” Since the 70s, there has been work in the social sciences (e.g. demographics) that has yet to make its way into the popular press. -BA