From left to right: Bill Sharp of State College, George Owen of Media, Pa., and Gay and Jim Dunne of Bellefonte. Photo by Jill Gomez
by Melady Kehm
Centre County may someday experience a “great unleashing,” but if previous unleashings are any indication, it won’t be painful.
“The Great Unleashing” is the somewhat whimsical name given to a formal but fun public unveiling of a local project designed to take a community into a “powered-down, post-petroleum” future. It is step four in a twelve-step path to becoming a “Transition Town” (also termed a “Transition Initiative”), a process laid out in The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins, published in 2008. The book was written following the early experiences of Totnes, England, the first-ever official Transition Town.
Rob Hopkins “has found a way for people worried about an environmental apocalypse to invest their efforts in ongoing collective action that ends up looking more like a party than a protest march,” writes the Post Carbon Institute’s Richard Heinberg in the foreword to the Transition Handbook.
Hopkins, father of the Transition Movement, says his book is underpinned by “one simple premise: that the end of what we might call The Age of Cheap Oil (which lasted from 1859 until the present) is near at hand, and that for a society utterly dependent on it, this means enormous change. But a future with less oil could be preferable to the present, if we plan sufficiently in advance with imagination and creativity.”
“This is not a book about how dreadful the future could be,” Hopkins writes in his introduction. “Rather it is an invitation to join the hundreds of communities around the world who are taking the steps toward making a nourishing and abundant future a reality.”
There are hundreds of communities—more than 275 in 16 countries, more than 60 in the United States at this writing—each charting its own way through the handbook’s path to that abundant future. Pennsylvania’s southeast borough of Media was the Commonwealth’s first Transition Town, the United States’ 35th and the world’s 195th.
State College resident Bill Sharp would like to see his own town pursue a Transition Initiative. He recently was joined at a Transition training session in Pittsburgh by Joshua Brock, new Centre County resident developing a community-supported-agriculture venture, and Kevin May, a Penn State student with an interest in environmental issues. They are members of a small group called Transition Centre, an independent affiliate of the Transition U.S. project. Citizens in Bald Eagle and Penns Valley are also interested in the endeavor.
Sharp, a retired community and economic-development planner who has lived in State College for six years, came to the Transition movement through an interest in the concept of “relocalization,” which he defines as a development strategy that “seeks to restore the capacity to produce food, energy and durable goods at a local level.” For several months, Sharp has given talks on Transition Initiatives to local groups, and he invites those interested to visit the Transition Centre website, www.transitioncentre.org.
He believes the course that Hopkins’ 240-page manual lays out is a “best-practice blueprint.”
“It’s an extremely flexible but well thought out plan that has been tested time and time again by all sorts of people,” said Sharp.
The Transition blueprint is intended to help citizens—working from the ground up—design a flexible Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) to enable their community to “hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shocks from the outside.” Hopkins calls that ability “resilience.”
He is convinced that communities all over the globe will need that resilience in the not-so-distant future because climate change and the dwindling, ever-more-expensive supplies of liquid fuels (“peak oil”) will combine to challenge a world economy addicted to growth.
In making his argument, Hopkins also cites what he sees as the disadvantages of other energy sources—coal, tar sands, biodiesel and nuclear power—and insists that any energy descent plan must address both peak oil and climate change because as the availability of liquid fuels declines “the danger is that the gap that emerges…will be filled with other fuels each far worse” than oil in terms of their impact on climate.
But Hopkins doesn’t dwell on the negative. He sees the movement as the opposite of the “survivalist response” that “assumes that one should prioritize self and loved ones above all else.” Instead, it asks, “What might environmental campaigning look like if it strove to generate this sense of elation, rather than guilt, anger and horror that most campaigning evokes? What might it look like if it strove to inspire, enthuse and focus on possibilities rather than probabilities?”
Throughout the book, citizens are reminded to create “a sense of anticipation, elation and a collective call to adventure on a wider scale,” and to develop “a picture of the future so enticing that people instinctively feel drawn to it.” In the book’s section on how to create an Energy Descent Plan, Hopkins encourages transitioners to “Celebrate! Always a good thing to do. In fact, you probably should have been doing this after every step above!”