Transition Initiatives: the Giving of Gifts

I discovered Rob Hopkins’ book, The Transition Handbook, about two years ago and it immediately struck me as the right approach to our problems – climate change, peak oil and economic crisis (all bound up together, of course) – and to our solutions (grassroots, positive, pro-active, hopeful, inclusive).

It still took me a long time to try to act upon my enthusiasm. I tried to set up a meeting in my town to see who would be interested (and no one showed up, which I ascribe entirely to my awful advertising skills). This debacle did result in making a friend in a nearby town, and he urged me to take the Transition Training. I signed up and attended a training in Boston, led by Tina Clarke, about three weeks ago.

That’s the background. Now where do I start?


I’ll start with a conversation I had today with a mom at Amie’s school. It was the first time we talked and we sparked. As the kids played we spoke very passionately and openly about what moves us. From issues at school and global social justice we bounced into… peak oil, climate change, the end of the world as we know it. Only, I didn’t phrase it like that. I called it “this terribly exhilarating and terribly frightful time when we must all be heroes and activists and rise to the occasion of saving the world. Just here, in X [name of our town].”

What was that all about? Where was my usual hopelessness, helplessness? It’s still there (ha, I should be so lucky), but I am rising above it by stepping outside myself into a local community. There I can make a difference: “think globally, act locally”. So I explained:

See, these are the facts, and I laid them all out (my attitude changed, not my brain): oil is in everything and it has peaked, but not in time to stop the burning of it from frying the planet, our health, our spirits, and this economy is just going to get worse. This part took about 1 minute. What took longer was the “this is what I am doing about it” part.

I started with myself: I am taking back my food and my health, by gardening, by buying local, by keeping chickens (soon), by beekeeping (soon), by Independence Days, and I am lowering my consumption, by Rioting for Austerity, by Freezing My Buns, etc.

But that’s not enough: now I want to re-localize my life to within my community, by promoting community gardening and orcharding, or by organizing workshops on how to build with local materials, or by relearning to have fun and make art together, or by helping to retrofit and weatherstrip houses, or by setting up emergency supplies, or by giving frugality and sewing workshops, or by starting a bulk food co-op, or a local currency, etc.

I put it so that, even if my friend didn’t “believe in” peak oil or climate change (terms I had mentioned just that once), she could still find one or two items on my list that would appeal to her (thus the “or”s). She could still see how our town, the place she invested in and where she is raising her kids, would be better for it.


That’s what finally dawned on me at the Training. That’s what I think Transition is really about:

  • all-inclusive: whoever shows up is the right person
  • non-prescriptive, non-directive: give people access to good information and trust them to make the right decisions
  • Let it go where it wants to go, which is where the community takes it

As our wonderful trainer said:

Transition happens when someone says: I have a gift (any gift) to give to the community. And the reply is: Be welcome! And thank you! And here is what I can give to you!

As such Transition is a “movement” only in the most basic sense of a change. It is not a “group” but, simply, community. Those who start it and guide it somewhat aren’t “leaders” but facilitators. It is not a “label” in the pejorative sense but only very basically a name, because it is facilitated by an organization that shares its experiences and its tools – free of charge,  run with ’em and let us know where they are taking you so we can learn from you.


This realization was important for me. I abhor conflict. I was scared to be a Transition initiator and facilitator in my town because I foresaw people confronting me on “Peak Oil” and “Climate Change”. “Prove it!” they’d say. How could I? [shudder]. But now I realize it’s not about peak oil or climate change, it’s about Community.

So, you deny climate change? That’s fine, but can you show me how to sew this quilt? Or what are your ideas on a local currency? Or do you know what’s wrong with my lettuce? Or… [trails off having too many things to do to stand around arguing, already!]

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  1. And how did the mom react to all this?

    An analogy I’d like to make is my daughter is taking flute lessons and she got very discouraged at first when she was having trouble just getting clear notes out, but as she kept practicing, she could start to measure her own progress. She could see the result of her efforts, and be motivated to continue.

    That’s what I feel is missing right now for my transition goals in my vicinity. I have no evidence that anyone else in the town is receptive enough to Transition to join me as an initiator. So I can be as supportive of Transition as I can, but at the end of the day, I am a lone voice in my town.

    I am sitting with a flute in my hands like the pied piper not able to blow a clear note.

  2. Hey Ed,

    The Mom was quite overwhelmed! :) But with a smile, and then the play date had to end, but we planned to get together again soon to talk about it.

    I love your analogy, and the last line, funny but sad, no? But keep practicing, and maybe as Transition takes off around your town, and (unfortunately) as things deteriorate further, your town too will be more receptive. Good luck!

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