Some Transition communities are big and some are small. Some are urban and some are rural. Some are motivated by fear and others by hope. But all work from the same basic premise: that party we've been having since the Industrial Revolution is very much over.

Radically local and forward-thinking, Transition is the green movement's answer to peak everything. It has inspired communities across Europe and North America to plan sustainable food, resource, educational and community systems to see them through the 21st century's resource constraints.

Jennifer Gray, co-founder and president of Transition USA has been instrumental in importing Transition to the U.S. from its roots in British permaculture. Big Think reached her by email for a few questions on what could be the first transnational movement to create a future without oil.

There have been various movements similar to Transition for decades--back-to-the-land, deep ecology, bioregionalism, etc. How is Transition different?


Yes, there have been many types of relocalization movements and trends. So in that way Transition is not new at all. It could be seen as a current iteration built upon volumes of work that has been done and is being done towards building community resiliency. What makes Transition different is that it takes into account the twin threats of peak oil and climate change, and has recently added the third challenge - the economy. To create resiliency, a community needs to be strong and flexible enough to withstand the shocks that come its way. How well are we doing in the face of our failing economy? What will happen when fuel costs rise as predicted with the end of cheap oil? Add to that the severe outcomes that global climate change could affect. If we really look squarely at these challenges wouldn’t we want to rework our communities so we could thrive? 

One way to do this is to envision what we really would like our communities to be like. If we really set our view at a future that has this great community in the center of it, we will energize ourselves toward realizing that goal. We will rethink transportation, business, food and everything else. We will make all of these vital, abundant, safe and…close. We will reign in our transportation miles and pick carrots from our back yards or our local plot we share with neighbors at the community garden. We will drastically reduce our energy consumption, build smaller more cozy homes that take advantage of passive solar siting. We will commute less (and maybe not at all) as we create more local businesses. You get my drift. 

It seems uncanny to me that the vision most people want of the future is exactly of those things that will solve the three big challenges of these times. Plus we have the added advantage of living a significantly better life than we currently do. That to me is Transition.

Transition groups function in a non-hierarchical, spontaneous structure. Are there any drawbacks to functioning this way?

Whether there are drawbacks or not, I think decentralized is the way of it. Looking at Transition communities as ecosystems may be apt. Ecosystems are made up of interdependent organisms sharing the same habitat. As residents of their habitat know it the best, Transition seeks to empower communities to come up with their own good ideas. Ask your friends and neighbors what dreams they may have of making a more resilient and vibrant neighborhood, city, bioregion. Nestled in there are some brilliant nuggets of ideas that could spawn an unprecedented renaissance. Let’s unleash that community genius. I don’t think we have anything to lose and a whole future to gain.

Are Transition groups politically engaged with environmental initiatives at the state and federal level?

To make the necessary Transition to a resilient and vibrant community, members of all of the various strata of society need to be engaged.    

Many environmental groups in the Global North face the pitfall of exclusivity. Is Transition present in underserved, non-white communities?

Transition is in its early days and is certainly not yet present in all communities. For it to really succeed, it needs to be.

Have we passed a tipping point with our resource systems? 

By most accounts, yes. The work is to tip it back. Use less, more wisely could do just that. We need to start now, pull our heads out of the sand and get to know each other. Draw out our community brilliance to solve these big challenges. What are we waiting for?

What scenario(s) you envision for the biosphere by 2050? 

That really depends on what we do today, tomorrow and the day after that….