Thanks to Rob for his reply to my recent thoughts on the Transition Towns movement.  Here are some brief notes in response.

Rob says, “Ted asserts that “the global predicament cannot be solved other than through a Transition Towns movement”. This is a claim that I suspect few in the Transition movement would make.”  My central point was that the global situation cannot be fixed other than via the development of local economies that are highly self-sufficient and self-governing.  This is the only way that the rich world per capita resource consumption rates can be cut by the required huge amount, probably to 10% of present rates, while enabling a high quality of life for all. (I will soon be publishing a study of egg supply which finds that local co-ops can do it at around 1/200 the dollar and energy cost of the supermarket or industrial path.) The Transition Towns movement is extremely important because it could be the beginning of a localising process that eventually gets us to a sustainable and just world.

So I would be very sorry to find that few people in the movement today see themselves as being part of such a process.  If that is true then the main point I made in my critique is valid and important; obviously we urgently need more discussion of what the movement is about and should be about. If participants don’t see themselves as being part of a planet saving movement, then what on earth do they see the movement as being about… just doing nice green feel-good stuff…making their town more resilient while the global economy self-destructs??  Many in the movement think and say they are in fact about saving the planet, but then the question arises, are they? Are the things they are doing actually going to contribute to that goal? No need to discuss this evidently.

Rob questions,” …whether it is actually appropriate any more for Transition Network to be the one telling people what Transition is.”  That is emphatically not what I was recommending. My central concern was to prod people in the movement to think about what it is about and should be about, and I put forward my ideas for consideration.

Similarly he says later, “Ted’s critique seems to imagine that Transition is run like a Coca-Cola franchise, that Transition Network can co-ordinate an overarching strategy that all groups will follow.” Again it’s absurd to claim that’s what I was saying or imagining should or could be done.  I was simply asking for more attention to be given to how current activities are going to help save the planet.

And later the same mistaken interpretation … “… Transition Network does not seek to design and implement a strategy to govern the activity of … groups.”

Rob says I accuse ”… The Essential Guide of not giving people concrete ideas for projects they might undertake…, seemingly ignoring the fact that 21 Stories is packed with such ideas.”  That does not connect with the point I was making. Yes there are abundant reports on projects being undertaken, but I have not seen any guidance, for instance which ones seem to be best to start with, which one’s seem most effective in raising awareness of the movement, which involve hidden traps, which ones fail, etc.

In response to my main point that…“These movements are at present essentially mindless, theoryless, and deliberately so. They have nothing to say about how the things being done are going to lead to a world order that is sustainable and just” … Rob says,

“I disagree, and indeed I struggle to understand how Ted sees that. I would say the theory is pretty clear. Namely, that Transition is one part of the overall push for change that is needed, and its role is to support, connect and inspire communities to reimagine and rebuild the world, starting at a manageable and meaningful level of scale.

The aim is to plug as many leaks in the local economy as possible, enable resources to circulate locally as much as possible, reweave the social connections, reduce carbon emissions, put care back at the centre of how that place functions, revive local democracy, enable wealth to be invested back into the place, and to involve as many different organisations as possible in doing that. If he had actually read his copy of The Power of Just Doing Stuff he might have got that.”

What Rob doesn’t seem to get is that what he says in these paragraphs has nothing to do with my claim.  The issue my “theoryless” claim raises is not that there are no goals, no ideas about what to try to do (…such as “…plug as many leaks in the local economy as possible…”), it is that there is no theory of how or why these things are going to save the planet, no explanation of why we should believe that they will or can, no analysis that gives us reason to believe this or that activity or sub-goal is likely to contribute to saving the planet (or whatever else the goal is assumed to be.)

The closest he comes to a rationale that connects with global change is,

The Transition Network strongly believes that through people taking back control of their energy, food, transport and finance we open up a space for working out how to massively reduce our impact, we create political hunger and impetus which will manifest in a variety of ways around the world, probably including some form of rationing (such as TEQs, Cap and Share, or something similar).

To put it mildly, that falls some way short of a clear, thorough, detailed and plausible strategic plan capable of persuading intending planet savers to cancel their subscriptions to the eco-socialist party and come over.

Another major misinterpretation is,

“Ted’s piece, in essence, consists of him voicing his unhappiness that the Transition movement has failed to meet the entirely unachievable goals he seems to have set for it. … has failed to bring about “a basic social pattern involving mostly small, highly self sufficient and self governing and collectivist communities that maximise use of local resources to meet local needs … and which are content with very frugal material lifestyles” is something that disappoints Ted greatly. I think perhaps he needs to set more realistic expectations.”

This is ridiculous; I am not criticising the movement for failing to achieve these goals. I am criticising it for insufficient thinking and discussion about what its goals are and should be and why.

Rob’s final paragraph makes my point again.

“Ted entitled his piece ‘The Transition Towns Movement … going where?’ Where Ted and Transition Network differ is that he needs to know the answer to that question, whereas we have a lot of trust in the people in this movement that it will continue for a long time to delight, surprise and enchant, and so enable us to face up to the massive changes we need to make by inviting us into working with each other to reveal the enormous potential of our lives and the remarkable opportunities of our times.”

Again surely it is obvious that I am not asking for the answer to the question; I am asking people to think more about what it might be and what it ought to be. Rob’s answer seems to be that the movement is going on “…to delight, surprise and enchant…”, and he seems to think that’s a good enough achievement, because it will “…enable us to face up to the massive changes we need to make…”  Again this makes my main point; it is a vague if not meaningless wish-list statement lacking any notion of theory linking what is being done with the massive global structural changes required, lacking for instance any causal explanation of how “surprising” and “enchanting” initiatives are going to contribute to getting rid of the growth economy.

I should emphasise that there are initiatives within the movement broadly defined that I think are of a kind that is likely to move us towards radical global system change, including those in Ghent, Liege, Preston, and above all the (almost unbelievable) Catalan Integral Cooperative. Here I am making a claim about what are the most valuable strategies and I would be happy to discuss my reasons for the claim. But is my claim right?  No need to discuss this?

It is clear that the core element in Rob’s thinking about all this is that there is no need to think much if at all about the issues I am trying to get the movement to think about. Just help it to flourish and go where it will. Just do whatever stuff takes your fancy. He clearly does not want to see or to encourage discussion of long term strategic logic; his replies to me over the years express opposition my desire to see this become focal, but they provide no reasons as to why.

I commend Rob for his huge success in facilitating the movement.