The Transition movement: Planning for an “Elegant Descent”

The Transition movement: Planning for an “Elegant Descent”

Sometimes it’s good to look at what’s happening on the periphery – those ideas that are just starting to come into focus and get talked about – to see what might move into sharper definition and become part of a larger conversation.

Allow me to introduce you to a potential such idea – the Transition Movement.

Started in 2005 by a young British professor of ecological design, the movement is beginning to gain some traction in this country, with 74 registered local initiatives from Boulder to Richmond, Idaho to Kentucky. The movement is based on the idea that three critical issues are coming to a head in our lifetime – peak oil (the end of cheap oil, with barrel prices hitting $300), climate change and the collapse of the global economy. To mitigate these dangers, the movement advocates “building resiliency” into local economies and putting in place new systems that will create increased self-sufficiency. Systems like food and energy production, education, local currencies, transportation and artisans.

As one New York Times writer said, “It’s been an American impulse since the Puritans: feeling the world racing in the wrong direction and withdrawing to a small, insular place to start over…One of Transition’s more oblique arguments may be that we can’t escape anymore. We have to work together to remake the places where we already live.”

Unlike doomsday minded survivalists, the Transition Movement isn’t about guns and ammo, remote rural compounds and militia training. Instead it takes a positive approach, working closely with local governments to create a plan for what the movement calls “an elegant descent” from our current, unsustainable lifestyle of over-consumption and inexpensive oil.

The movement originally took hold in the small English town of Totnes, where volunteers have been planting trees, creating a local currency and offering classes on things like sock darning to facilitate the “Great Reskilling.”

Let’s face it, most of us have no idea how to live without many of the conveniences our grandparents never had – what could we really do with only our ingenuity and our hands? When’s the last time you repaired something instead of replacing it? When’s the last time you picked most of your food from your garden instead of driving your SUV to the grocery store?

The ultimate vision of the Transition movement is “a lower-energy life with walk- able villages, local food and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world.” So what are the chances that this vision catches on with mainstream America? It’s not very likely. Fewer than half of Americans now believe in climate change, according to our Green Living Pulse study. Many Americans believe that we have plentiful domestic energy sources that will continue to fuel the coming decades, as we heard in recent focus groups. And although almost everyone’s worried about the economy, few probably foresee a global economic meltdown.

However, the Transition movement offers a positive plan that will likely appeal to some Actives – whose personalities are attracted to progressive ideas, possibilities, collaboration, idealism and systemic/holistic thinking. These folks are also influencers and early adopters, so if they adopt Transition thinking as their own, the movement may start to crystallize and move into the greater field of vision.

For more information on the Transition movement in the US, visit

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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