Scaling This Stuff Up: Resilience Reflections with Rob Hopkins

September 30, 2015

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.
In Resilience Reflections we ask some of our contributors what it is that inspires their work, and what keeps them going.
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Rob Hopkins photo by Jim Wileman

Rob Hopkins is the originator of the Transition Town concept, which promotes community-driven responses to peak oil that focus on cooperative effort to meet basic needs as sustainably and close to home as possible. In just a few years, his work inspired an international movement of hundreds of communities and thousands of people pursuing Transition initiatives. A teacher of permaculture and natural building techniques, Rob is co-founder of the Transition Network, and author of The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience (2008), and The Transition Companion (2011). He was the winner of the 2008 Schumacher Award, is an Ashoka Fellow, served 3 years as a Trustee of the Soil Association, and was named by the Independent as one of the UK’s top 100 environmentalists.

1. Who/what has been your greatest inspiration? And why?

I always wear my inspirations on my sleeve.  At the front of The Transition Handbook there was a big list of them, not just environmentalists but also painters, musicians, writers.  At the risk of sounding slightly corny, I would say my children.  When my first son was born, all of a sudden the rather notional and academic ‘next generation’ became real and tangible.  I could hold it, smell it, touch it.  It needed me to nurture it.  I loved it fully, unconditionally, I would die for it.  That was really the moment when my rather vague and floaty ideas of “making the world a better place really took a huge step forward.
2. Knowing what you know now about sustainability and resilience building, what piece of advice would you give your younger self if you were starting out?
That your fundamental hunch that people are basically good and want to do good things was the right call.  That learning how to make things financially sustainable, learning how to make a business a success, is vital, and isn’t the enemy.  To learn as much as you can. To speak your truth with a good heart.  That being humble and being kind is a good thing.  That just because the music you love is currently considered unlistenable rubbish by 98% of people doesn’t mean that in 20 years it won’t be considered “seminal” and people will make films about it.  And to look after your teeth.
3. What keeps you awake at night?
My teenage sons coming home too late.
4. What gets you up in the morning or keeps you going?
I get up early, and have my blogging time in the hour and a half before anyone else wakes up in my house.  In the sense in which your question is asked, what gets me up in the morning is the belief that we can win this.  I see so much remarkable stuff happening in so many places, and meet so many focused, committed people, that I really believe that a new economy, a new culture, is possible, indeed it is already here.  Supporting it, nurturing it, spending time with it, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.  And the noise my chickens make if I don’t feed them by what they consider to be a reasonable time. 
5. What has been your biggest setback and how did you recover?
In my life, it would be an arson attack that destroyed a cob house I had spent the previous two years building for my family, when I lived in Ireland.  It was a deeply traumatic occasion that threw everything up into the air for us all.  We recovered through the love and support of many hundreds of people who organised a huge fundraising campaign to support us and raised over €40,000 for us.  That stays with me far more than the fire.  Then we moved to Totnes, started Transition and it took off like wildfire (an unfortunate analogy perhaps).  As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. 
6. For you resilience is…?
It’s one of those things that you know it when you see it.  For me it’s a quality, a spring in the step, a glint in the eye, that I saw in the eyes of people in the Hunza Valley, in farmers I used to know in Tuscany, in people I know with lots of practical skills.  It’s a sense that we can turn our hands to anything, that we are adaptable, and that the problem is the solution.  For me it is something very real and tangible, rather than my spending the next half an hour for you trying to come up with the perfect academic definition. 
7. What one social/political/cultural/policy change would most assist your work/hopes/dreams?
David Fleming’s rather brilliant idea of Tradeable Energy Quotas.  I would unlock so much. 
8. What gives you hope?
I asked David Fleming (see 7 above) this question, and his answer was just “Bach”.  So here’s my pretty random list:  Atmos Totnes. The Bristol Pound.  The locksmiths of Pamplona.  The divestment movement.  Sufjan Stevens.  The speed of growth of the craft beer movement.  Dartmoor.  An ’80s fanzine called ‘Are You Scared To Get Happy’.  My bicycle.  Any time spent in Amsterdam.  Van Gogh’s pen and ink drawings.  Martin Crawford’s forest garden.  FC United. Growing Communities in Hackney.  Sunrise over mountains. Lazy weekends.  The early days of Occupy.  Erased Tapes Records.  The Great British Bakeoff.  The Keystone XL campaign.  Time spent with Tibetans.  Seeing people I knew as babies now as confident, dynamic, kind and delightful young adults.  The places where Transition pops up, and what people do with it.  The 21 Transition Stories we just gathered together for our new publication for COP21, coming soon.  Michael Shuman’s latest book.  Beetroot. Pandora Thomas.  Bologna.  The incredible upsurge of compassion in response to the refugee crisis.  Cob builders. 
9. What book/film/other resource has most supported your work?
I think that in 1992 when I did my Permaculture Design Course it rewired my brain, a reboot for which I will forever be deeply grateful.  12 years later, David Holmgren’s brilliant ‘Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability’ did it again.  This time it brought in a new urgency, it said “we so need to really really scale this stuff up”.  Much of my work ever since has been a response to that challenge, that’s really where the spark of Transition came from.


Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins is a cofounder of Transition Town Totnes and Transition Network, and the author of The Transition Handbook, The Transition Companion, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, 21 Stories of Transition and most recently, From What Is to What If: unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want. He presents the podcast series ‘From What If to What Next‘ which invites listeners to send in their “what if” questions and then explores how to make them a reality.  In 2012, he was voted one of the Independent’s top 100 environmentalists and was on Nesta and the Observer’s list of Britain’s 50 New Radicals. Hopkins has also appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought and A Good Read, in the French film phenomenon Demain and its sequel Apres Demain, and has spoken at TEDGlobal and three TEDx events. An Ashoka Fellow, Hopkins also holds a doctorate degree from the University of Plymouth and has received two honorary doctorates from the University of the West of England and the University of Namur. He is a keen gardener, a founder of New Lion Brewery in Totnes, and a director of Totnes Community Development Society, the group behind Atmos Totnes, an ambitious, community-led development project. He blogs at and and tweets at @robintransition.

Tags: building community resilience, permaculture, personal resilience, resilience reflections