“There is no cavalry coming to the rescue,” he says. “But what happens when ordinary people decide that they are the cavalry? Between the things we can do as individuals, and the things government and business can do to respond to the challenges of our times, lies a great untapped potential. It’s about what you can create with the help of the people who live in your street, your neighbourhood, your town. If enough people do it, it can lead to real impact, to real jobs and real transformation of the places we live, and beyond.”
Locally grown food, community-owned power stations, local currencies … can small-scale actions make a difference? Yes, according to the Transition network.
Late last year, Rob Hopkins went to a conference. Most of the delegates were chief executive officers at local authorities, but it was not a public event.
One said: ‘If we ever get out of this recession, nothing will be as it was in the past,'” Hopkins recalls. “Another said: ‘Every generation has had things better than its parents. Not anymore. ‘ But the one that stunned me said: ‘No civilisation has lasted forever. There is a very real chance of collapse.'”
Shocking stuff – shocking enough to leave many people feeling hopeless. And Hopkins has heard MPs and others in positions of power confess to similar fears in private. But the co-founder of the Transition Town movement is determined to offer courage and inspiration, and to do that he has published a short book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, showing what people are already doing to develop a more resilient economy.
For instance, a Transition group in Brixton raised £130,000 to install the UK’s first inner-city, community-owned power station, consisting of 82kW of solar panels on top of a council estate. A group in Derbyshire created a food hub that makes it economically viable to grow food in back gardens for sale, as an affordable alternative to supermarkets. And groups in Totnes, Stroud, Lewes, Brixton and Bristol launched their own local currencies. Taken on their own, these initiatives may not make a vast difference. “But when there are thousands of communities worldwide all weaving their bit in a larger tapestry,” Hopkins says, “it adds up to something awe-inspiring and strong.”
What he is arguing is that sweeping changes in history are made not only by “big” people doing big things but by groups of “ordinary” people doing smaller things together. And that it’s a mistake to overlook those small steps.
And Transition is not just a British phenomenon. There are more than 1,000 Transition initiatives in more than 40 countries.