Martyn Goss talk on the Transition Towns Movement
Martyn Goss, Director of the Council for Church & Society of the Diocese of Exeter talked on BBC Radio Devon , July 2010
A: What is the Transition Towns Movement?
How do you see – or want to see – your community in about 30 years’ time? Do you even think it will change at all, and will it be better or worse than it is today?
This is the challenging question being addressed by those involved in the Transition Towns Movement in local communities across Devon . In particular they are attempting to think through two large issues facing us as our population continues to grow.
The first is the reality that oil production will at some point decline rapidly, while demand continues to increase across the world. The second is that as the effects of climate change begin to bite deeper, like those of the global recession, our temperatures and weather systems will become more unpredictable. Uncertainties about energy, food and money and other supplies, indicate that our community in future will not be like it is today; in fact it will almost certainly be radically different.
Just as we experience economic impacts now, there will be more blows to come, perhaps even more severe. So those people engaged in a Transition Town or Village are attempting to buildresilience . Resilience is the ability to withstand such shocks, and it means planning now for a different kind of world, which is surely a spiritual task.
This week we shall be looking at the importance of Transition thinking for Devon, because it is suggesting that while we are currently in an age when energy has been cheap and easy and has permitted us to bring the world close to hand, the future will not be like this. Rather than competing, we shall need to be co-operating more with one another, and this means ‘a different world is possible.’
B: Community or consumerism?
We live in a grossly consumerist world in which we tend to value ourselves and others by the number of new things we own. The latest fashions, the newest technology, the most recent gimmicks, most modern cars, and so on. Most of us are excessively influenced by such short-term aspirations and unconsciously participate in a society which values instant rewards.
However, many of those in the Transition Towns Movement, and many of those in our faith communities, point out that often such excessive materialism does not bring the happiness, satisfaction and fulfilment it seems to promise. We are excited by the thought of the next novelty purchase, but once it is acquired we become disillusioned. That last good buy fades into insignificance as it becomes replaced by looking forward to the next one. We are on a roll to never-ending disappointment, because we do not ask deeper questions of what we really want from life.
But once we do step back and off the consumerism conveyor belt we might see things differently. For what usually brings us greater fulfilment is good relations with the people and the place that surrounds us. In other words, we need to feel accepted, in control, and to sense affection.
In the Transition Movement, the emphasis is not so much on what we have but on who we are – and who we are is people living in community. If we are to live in a world with fewer resources, we shall effectively need to share with others what we might have. And sharing and co-operating with others locally will strengthen our communities for the future. As the writer of the first chapter of the book of Genesis said, ‘It is not good for a person to be alone.’ What we really need is ‘togetherness’.
C: Thinking globally, acting locally
We may not always be aware of where our resources come from, so it is important to ask ourselves questions. Where do our supplies of food, water, energy, building materials, and money come from? Are they secure and sustainable?
In the modern world we import timber, fruit, oil, gas and so on from across the globe. But these come at a price. Often the people who produce or provide these goods do not get treated fairly or justly. And often the environmental costs are not taken into account, for example polluted or depleted water resources.
One of the aspirations of those engaging in Transition Towns is to encourage more of our resources to come from close to home. We could and should grow much more of our own food. The trend to use allotments, city gardens, farmers’ markets, and community food projects all demonstrate this. And they are becoming more common in Devon .
The same can be said of our energy. Why do we not produce more renewable energy within our own communities, and from our own buildings or land? And at the same time can we reduce wasteful usage of electricity, oil or gas, and support people who experience fuel poverty?
There is a saying in some churches that our organisations should be ‘no larger than necessary’, and our decision-making no more distant than required. This means getting involved in our local communities and government. It means seeking more from our neighbourhoods – both in the cities and the countryside – in order to help us all to develop a sustainable future together.
Transition is about thinking globally, acting locally and engaging personally to help create a better tomorrow.
D: Devon ‘s Got Talent
One of the consequences of living in a society that has become very professional is that we are in danger of losing the skills we need in our communities. There are benefits of course in specialised health care or information technology. We need paid teachers and law enforcers, full-time farmers and building contractors. But the down-side of the ‘professional society’ is that sometimes we cannot do things for ourselves.
There is a Scottish saying that when TV came in the front door, story-telling went out the back, which perhaps illustrates how dependent we have become on high energy consumptive entertainment through electronic communications. But what about entertaining ourselves more? Recognising not that ‘ Britain ‘s Got Talent’, but that we’ve all got different abilities to make one another laugh, sing, dance, think or cry.
Moving towards communities that live on less energy, due to climate considerations and an end to cheap oil supplies, will involve re-skilling ourselves – to build, to heal, to teach, to grow and to celebrate. In our congregations, for example, we still share common stories.
Apathy, depression and despair are all too often the negative attitudes which dominate our lives. They are easily fed by dramatic or sensationalist images and messages which make us feel powerless. Yet life doesn’t have to be like this. In moments of crisis we know we can pull together, overcome fear and injustice, and live radically in hope.
The Transition Towns Movement is encouraging us all to see our current economic, social and environmental crises, not as threats, but as opportunities. Let’s get together with others and work out ways of re-learning and re-sharing skills for the benefit of all and for the good of the planet.
E: Transitioning together
It is sometimes said that if we stopped buying products from the developing world it would badly affect their emerging economies. That is true, but only partly so. The emphasis over the past few generations has been to encourage poorer countries to grow cash crops which they can then sell and use the profits for better investment.
The consequences of this thinking, however, have been to push people away from growing food for themselves and to develop lifestyles totally dependent on money from the wealthy world, whether in the form of trade or aid. There has been a massive movement away from the land to the large mega-cities, where millions of people end up living in abject conditions of poverty. Cash crops in some places have prompted the end of traditional land use and damage to habitats and land, especially in times of extreme weather or conflict.
So if we become more local in Devon , it would be better if communities elsewhere also become locally focused. In making a transition to a different way of living in the longer term we may also be freeing up others too. Some Devon schools have already been involved in a‘Food For Thought’ project with partner schools in Uganda . In the two countries, there is a parallel development of growing food more locally, improving the communities’ skills and making a world of difference.
The carbon dioxide emissions from our energy-intensive lifestyles have caused climate change and impacts across the developing world. If we transition to low-energy lifestyles, and reduce our carbon emissions from 10 tonnes each year to only 1 tonne, we will help give our neighbours a better chance too. Let justice flow across the world like a river.
F: Visionary and practical
We all have different windows we look through when we think about the future. Some see nothing but doom and gloom through theirs. Disaster is around every corner. Others find Utopia – their windows offer an outlook to a rosy world to come. Yet others see the future as just an extension of the present – business as usual with no change. You might like to ask yourself, what do you see through your window?
In Devon there are more than thirty Transition Towns and Villages, and in these communities there is an emphasis on a low-energy future. This is a massive challenge and a huge change. So however we might provide for our towns, cities and villages in future generations, there will be less energy and less imported food and other materials.
Totnes has an Energy Descent Plan. Bovey Tracey is looking at community energy. Exeter is developing a seasonal local food store. Chagford has expanded its recycling schemes. Ottery St Mary seeks to maintain and strengthen small businesses. Elsewhere we find community farms and shared transport projects, local currencies and greener buildings. Some of our churches are going green and becoming ‘Eco-congregations’.
At the centre of all these and others is a desire to promote ‘localisation’ – serious attempts to plan for greater community self-sufficiency – all shifting the focus of production closer to home. Loving our neighbours as ourselves in this context will mean sharing resources and caring for one another in practical yet visionary ways.
John F kennedy suggested: “You see things as they are and you say, Why? Transition Groups see things as they could be and say, Why not?!
G Lifestyles of hope
For those of us who come from, or belong to, a faith tradition, there is always an important imperative to promote in the journey of life – and that is hope.
In spite of seeming conditions of good or ill, there is always the possibility of improving the present situation and growing something better for future generations. In other words, we may face opportunities of giving up what we do or who we are now, in order to become the people we could be…
This too is the message of the embryonic Transition Movement in Devon and other places. Once we become shaken out of our complacency by the shocks our society faces, we have the potential to develop new, more vibrant and sustainable communities.
However, this may well mean letting go of old patterns and previous senses of certainty and security. Those aspects of life today which make us dependent and hope-less – our addiction to our cars, our cheap goods, our acquisitiveness and our greed, might well be replaced by deeper and more engaging ways of living together.
Some say the search for individual contentment is not real because there is no such thing as an ‘individual’. We are people in relationship. We are all genetically, biologically and environmentally influenced by the world around us. Instead we should focus on the quality of our relations – with one another, with the Earth, and for some of us, with our God.
The author of the Book of Deuteronomy, writing on another occasion when people faced huge changes before them, put it this way: “I set before you today life and death, blessings or curses.” But if you get your priorities right and think not about yourselves but your descendants too, your whole community will thrive justly. Therefore, choose life!
Printed with kind permission of:-
Martyn Goss (Director)
Council for Church & Society
Diocese of Exeter
The Old Deanery
Exeter EX1 1HS