The Transition Town Movement

Throughout most of this semester I have written about the bad news – ranging from mass species extinction to climate change to elephant poaching. We all know there are many persistent, systemic, and overwhelming environmental problems. That’s a given. However, during the last few weeks of this course (but don’t worry – I hope to continue this blog after the course is over!) I would like to turn our attention to the courageous people finding solutions. And the Transition Movement is just the place to start.

The Transition Town Movement consists of local grassroots projects that aim to increase community self-sufficiency and resiliency. These projects also educate people about climate change and peak oil, and work towards decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels. The first Transition Town was created in Totnes, England, in 2006.

Common topics for discussion within these communities include peak oil and local energy resilience, transportation, food production, waste and recycling, environmental psychology, and economics (including alternatives to the current capitalist system). If you would like to know more about how Transition Towns are structured and some of the underlying theory, check out the Seven Guiding Principles and Twelve Ingredients of the Transition Model from the Transition United States website.

Transition Towns aim to foster community, educate residents about a wide range of topics, from local food to species extinction, and offer a concrete localized solution to the overwhelming climate crisis. Individual families and towns will face the brunt of climate change, which is why the Transition Movement aims to localize and democratize energy and promote climate solutions.

Transition Towns exist across the world, including right here in Massachusetts in Amherst and Hadley. As of September 2013, there were 1,130 Transition Towns officially registered with the Transition Network Directory, which is a UK-based organization that supports the international Transition Movement. There is also a specific website for the Transition Movement in the United States.

The Transition Movement acknowledges that it does not have all the answers, and that this effort alone will not solve all the world’s current problems. However, they firmly believe that:

  • If we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
  • If we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
  • But if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.

Book Review: The Green Boat

The Green Boat, by environmentalist and psychologist Mary Pipher, is a meditation on activism and political engagement, climate change, trauma, burnout, and hope and healing. In my opinion, environmental activists do not acknowledge the very real possibility of burnout and the emotional consequences of our work often enough. As Barbara Kingsolver, the novelist and poet, said“Do you think we can keep doing this without paying a price?”

In Pipher’s words: “The Green Boat posits a trauma to transcendence cycle that begins with awareness and leads first to resilient coping and then in many people to what I call a transcendent response.” She details her personal journey through this cycle, finally finding healing and community in a local Nebraskan group that is fighting the Keystone XL pipeline.

Pipher ultimately posits that to heal the planet we must heal ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our emotions. The inner and outer worlds are interwoven, and without sanity within, we cannot hope for the sanity to deal with climate chaos, species extinction, environmental degradation, systemic injustice, economic inequality, corporate control, immigrants’ rights, endless war and propaganda…

Environmental and climate psychology are important emerging fields. If you’re feeling out of control and overloaded with terrible news, I’d recommend picking up The Green Boat. At the very least, you will know you are not alone in your worries about the fate of the world.

Climate Depression

A new report published by the National Wildlife Federation, The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States, challenges conceptions of the extent of climate change. Climate change will not only wreak havoc on our coasts, forests, and ice, it will wreak havoc on our psyches. This report argues that activists, climate scientists, and concerned citizens are already experiencing “pre-traumatic stress disorder,” a term coined by Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist and co-author of the National Wildlife Federation report.

Climate depression is very real. I have witnessed it in myself, in my activist friends, in family members, and in people I do not even know. As urgent as the physical, scientific reality of climate change is, and as urgent as it is to transition to a zero-carbon economy, it is also imperative to acknowledge and honestly address the reality of climate depression. Without an honest conversation about the serious mental consequences of knowledge about climate science and engagement in climate activism, these scientists, activists, and citizens will never be able to practically work to address the challenges we face in a warming world.