Transcript for Rob Hopkins: Making the Red Pill Taste Good
Below is the transcript for Rob Hopkins: Making the Red Pill Taste Good.
Chris Martenson: Hello, and welcome to another PeakProsperity.com podcast. Of course, I am your host, Chris Martenson. Today we are speaking with Rob Hopkins, somebody I have spoken with before on the other end of the interview/interviewee cycle, and Rob is a true pioneer of the movement and adaptation to a post-Peak world. Rob leads a vibrant new movement of towns and communities, cities that utilize local cooperation and interdependence to shrink their ecological footprints. He developed the concept of Transition initiatives with a couple of other gentlemen, communities that produce their own goods and services, curb the need for transportation, take other measures to prepare for a post-oil future.
Now, while Transition shares certain principles with greenness and sustainability, it is really a deeper vision concerned with re-imagining our future in a self sufficient way that is build upon resiliency, a concept that I am really familiar with and very much in support of. From his hometown in Totnes, UK, the original Transition town, it started there; he offers to help hundreds of similar communities that have sprung up around the world, in part through his blog transitionculture.org and through writings. So welcome, Rob; it is an honor to have you as our guest today and to speak to you again.
Rob Hopkins: Hi, Chris. Yeah, lovely to be talking to you again!
Chris Martenson: Great, so could you, for the people who may not have heard about Transition Towns, can you elaborate on the founding mission behind Transition Towns and what it is?
Rob Hopkins: Well, I guess it comes out of many of the same motivations that are of interest to those who would be listening to your podcast around economic contraction, around Peak Oil, and also around climate change. And sort of putting all of these issues together, our analysis was that actually what we lack enormously now is, as you say, resilience at the local level. You have got the ability to withstand shock, and Iain Dowie who used to manage the Crystal Palace football club in London here in the UK, he used to describe resilience as “bounce-back-ability.” And in Transition we take that idea of “bounce-back-ability,” but sort of add on to it and say actually the process of making the places that we live more bounce-back-able, if that is the word…
Chris Martenson: Uh huh.
Rob Hopkins: …could actually be the making of those places, and at the moment when the flight of global capital from communities such as this, means that we do not have very much to fall back on. Originally, it came out of an analysis around Peak Oil and the argument that when oil becomes very expensive, the price becomes very volatile, then the globalized way of doing everything becomes very, very fragile; very, very vulnerable. So to put back that kind of more localized economy, we argue, even something that you do just because it is just kind of a nice thing to do, it can actually within time inevitably become the economic mainstay of the places where we live.
We use this term of localization as economic development. But this is not about sort of localization as an idea that just hangs around on pin boards in whole food shops, this is around localization being the idea that underpins how we start as local economies to think about our future. So it meets more of our needs in terms of food, clothes, community-owned energy companies, setting up the infrastructure we are going to need but in such a way that it benefits our communities rather than all the money just pouring out through the holes. So it is very much about looking forward, it is very much about progress, very much about framing that in the context of the scenario that we are moving into and not sticking our heads in the sand. Not running around with a panicked look in our eyes, but looking at this as a one-off tremendous historical opportunity to rethink some basic assumptions.
Chris Martenson: And of the things that need rethinking, I guess something that was sort of an act of faith on a lot of communities’ part was that we all do whatever we do. We do our jobs and we spend our money and somehow it all balances out. But if you back up just a couple steps, if you are a family, you know that if you spend more than you earn, you are slowly getting poor. Similarly, I guess the analogy here is for a community — if you are importing more than you are exporting, whether that is liquid fuels or food or clothing or whatever those things happen to be, if that balance of trade is not in your favor, you are slowly eroding. And I guess as we look across this landscape where things have now, complexity has caught up with us.
It is a very complex environment to live in, and my view is that the communities that can grasp that, see the opportunity in that, can say how do we maintain control of the things we can? In some cases, that might be, if you do not have energy, if you can use less of it, that is the equivalent of importing less. So that starts to work in your favor. So this is really about knowing what our sources of wealth are, understanding them, understanding where we are hemorrhaging wealth, controlling that to the best we can. Then as we cast forward, I guess the idea would be some communities are going to fare better than others in large measure. How they approach this part of that story. Is that what you mean by economic development?
Rob Hopkins: Yeah. I mean, there is a tremendous opportunity for places to get ahead of the curve. You know, when you look at this through the eyes of Peak Oil as a challenge, and the contraction of the energy that underpins globalization is inevitably going to contract, and so the distances over which we are able to do things is going to get shorter. But actually to put in place infrastructure that you need in order to have a different approach, a more resilient approach, that does not happen overnight. I mean, we are talking a longer kind of process, so the sooner places get underway and get started with it, the better, I think.
I mean, in the UK every year, we export the same amount, about one and a half million kilos of potatoes, to Germany as we import from Germany, which really benefits nobody. I mean, if somebody gave me an English potato and a German potato, I think I would be pushed to tell the difference really, and who only really benefits is petrol companies and road-making companies and creating work for lorry drivers.
Actually, the process is closing the loop, consuming more of what is produced locally, and retaking those markets is not just good from the perspective of using less fossil fuel and creating less carbon emissions. It is also really good in terms of our being more connected to the place around us, to being part of an agricultural community, using fresher foods that are in season and all those kinds of things.
So sometimes things are presented, things that we need to do are presented as being some kind of a retreat, but I think that when we talk about resilience, we are not just talking about community resilience, we are talking about personal resilience, ecological resilience, all of those things go hand in hand if we get it right. I mean it is important, as well, if we say the concept of resilience does not necessarily, is not necessarily a good thing. You could imagine a resilient community that is not so good in terms of social justice and community ownership and that kind of thing. So it is really important from day one [that] we get those things right and models we put in place are based on good models that are going to be sustainable in the longer term.
Chris Martenson: And how would you define sustainable in the longer term?
Rob Hopkins: Well, in such a way that they are not going to be hemorrhaging money from the place and they are not going to be perpetuating and deepening social inequality. Rather, they are going to be about bringing that community together. So if, for example, you design a local food system, which is all based around some kind of futile approach where it is all owned by one family and everybody else kind of works for that family. We may be getting organic potatoes, but we are not necessarily building the kind of social cohesion and more equity than actually we are going to need for that to be sustainable.
Chris Martenson: Right, so if we default into letting circumstances prescribe that to us, we might be back to the future as it were, back to a feudal state last seen in the late 1800’s or something.
Rob Hopkins: Yeah, well, people write about the idea of localization, you know, they talk about what academics call reflexive and un-reflexive localization, which can just mean, you know, a really good healthy form and a really dreadful form. We can look back through history at some pretty dire versions of localization, which may have been more resilient then they were today, but they were repressively patriarchal, hieratical, and so on and so on. So I think at this stage now when we are starting the process of laying out what we want to be moving towards, it is really important that we do that and set those foundations in place properly at this stage, I think.
Chris Martenson: So your view is that if sufficient resources, willpower, and energy exist at this stage to make that transition smoothly or relatively smoothly… Where do you stand on that?
Rob Hopkins: I do not know for sure, I do not think anybody knows for sure. But my hope is, yes, that there would be the resources to do that, but we need to be skillful about it. You know, one of the things that some Transition groups do is what we call an “energy descent action plan,” because Transition usually has its roots in permaculture, which is a design system.
We argue there needs to be element of planning on what we are going to do as collectively coming together, thinking about what we want to do, and actually moving towards it. This is not something that will come around by accident, and I think that is one of the things that distinguishes Transition from previous kinds of environmental community processes, in that it is very ambitious and it starts out with the kind of smaller things that we are all familiar with local green groups doing, like growing vegetables and digging up lawns and swapping this that and the other, but it is very ambitious in terms of where it is going. And in the book that I have just finished which will be coming out in October, The Transition Companion, that is one of the things that really distinguishes it.
It starts out with the smaller projects, but it says this is a collective design process [and] that you need to be thinking about this process as intentional localization and then starting to move towards it. The aim is that you will start creating your own banks, your own energy companies, your own food systems that are based from the outset on those good principles.
Chris Martenson: So, then, this Transition Companion, I guess, improves the state of the arts and learnings that have been wrapped into what has happened since the original Transition book. What else can you tell us; what is new in this book and what can we look forward to there?
Rob Hopkins: Well, this is totally new, it is a totally new book, and basically the Transition Handbook, which came out in 2008, said what would it look like if there was something a bit like this, did something like this, and it was very early on in the whole process. There were maybe 20 or 30 Transition initiatives when it was written, and there were some projects along the way, but it was kind of a speculative vision of what the kind of movement that felt most appropriate for the time would look like. So over the time that has gone on since, we have gone from those 20 initiatives up to many hundreds of them in 35 countries now around the world. I often think of Transition as being like a huge social experiment in that we had a very simple model, a very simple set of tools and principles, that have gone out all around the world. People have tried them out, experimented with them in setting as diverse as favelas in Sao Paulo, cities in the US, villages in England, and all different parts of London, and so on and so on.
What I tried to do in this book is to pull back in what seemed to be the learnings from that. What has been people’s experience? What is working and what is not working? Where do we find ourselves; what are the stories people are telling about their successes and about their failures? It is a very honest book, a very straightforward book, and it pulls together Transitions of different models.
It is really about the idea of Transition not being something as a prescriptive model [where] you start with this and then you do this and then you must do this before you think about doing this. It is more thinking about it as like a series of ingredients, a collection of ingredients that people assemble in their own way. So it is like making a cake and everybody will make a cake in a different way. There are certain steps that you have to do; you cannot just chuck the butter in the flour in a bowl and put it straight in the oven and hope for a cake. You have to go through certain stages, but within that, you very much are free to arrange things how you like. So it draws together these ingredients, these tools, which are things that we have seen, where a Transition group has come up with a problem or a challenge and has come up with a solution that we have seen replicated enough times to have some kind of faith it is going to work.
I think it is a very, very rich in stories and photos from around the world. And their posters, their artwork, their stories, their experiences, and pulling all that together into something that is very, very flexible but very effective. So yeah, it has been a very deeply collaborative process, creating it, as well, you know, putting up drafts and getting people to comment on them, and I am really thrilled of it.
Chris Martenson: I think that is a fabulous approach, because you are in a very complex environment and it is going to shift in very complex ways. I am going to say unpredictable ways; local mileage will vary. There are local different sources of wealth and assets and liabilities, all of which need to be accounted for. So the idea is that there is a perfect recipe which everybody wants, but it really seems not to be something that we should really be seeking at this stage. Rather there is this idea that this is going to be an incredible period of discovery and creativity and inquiry into how things are shifting. So it is fabulous that you are collecting that. If we could go to both sides of that tale set, you know, what has been working and what has not been working so far?
Rob Hopkins: I think the things that have been working have been [that] there are some very exciting projects starting to emerge in terms of community energy companies. There is fantastic community engagement stuff that people have been doing. There are some really beautiful stories of projects of people identifying a problem and applying that sort of creative Transition thinking that is playful and fun and coming up with some really good solutions. So certainly that process of gathering stories has been really, really heartening, I think. I think the degree to which I started out the book, thinking okay, so where is Transition going now? Where does this feel appropriate to me that this book argues that it should move? And one of those things was around enterprise, was around not waiting for government or large corporations to start putting in place the business models that we need now.
It is really time for us to get on with it, make it viable, and stop moaning around that actually nobody is doing anything. When actually we could be doing stuff if we were able to step our game up and get the right people together and start putting these things in place. But what was really interesting then was going out and looking around at what Transition groups are doing and finding that there were actually loads of those things emerging already. You know, what they call social enterprise — businesses that are setup with a larger remit rather than just making profits for the owner, but actually having a wider social benefit devoted to the community around it.
I am finding all sorts of things, from vegetable-box distribution schemes, local food-growing schemes, very, very ambitious community energy organizations, community shops, community pubs, community breweries, these kinds of things. They were not my idea; they were already out there, so it was really exciting to see that. I think some of the things that really do not work very well, the thing that came through time and again was the importance of setting groups up properly from the beginning. But actually sometimes we all come together with this great enthusiasm, and inspired by works such as yours or the end scene of the End of Suburbia, or wherever that momentum comes from, I am thinking, my God, we need to do something here.
But then we are so driven and so compelled and so infused that actually we just, you know, think all that stuff about getting a group set up properly so that everybody knows what everyone is doing. You know, how you are going to communicate properly. All that stuff, you think, we are in too much of a rush for that, we will do that later; we are just going to do stuff.
And actually, the initiatives who we have seen that had difficulties have been the ones where they have not gotten those group processes in place. Then there are all disagreements, and then those groups fall apart. I mean a very, very small percentage, actually, but one of the key learnings really has been the importance of getting all that group stuff done from the beginning.
Chris Martenson: Right. So it is clear, some people, when they first look into this landscape, and this happened to me, it is easy to come away with a fair degree of urgency. So I imagine that somebody who is sitting in Europe today and is looking at the relative levels of paralysis and attempts to fix the economic system and things are not working, could look into that situation with some degree of alarm and conclude that perhaps change was coming quickly. How does one balance that tension between the desire to act and the desire to set things up properly? How does one navigate that space?
Rob Hopkins: Well, what we are argue in the Transition Companion is that there are very simple tools and approaches which can be woven into the first few meetings of a group like that. Which just means that from then, on everybody knows where they are at and everybody knows what is happening and the whole thing moves forward much, much more smoothly and with much less risk of difficulty. Designing in a commitment to good communication and that sort of stuff makes a big, big difference, and we have seen that time and again.
Those projects that are really, really thriving just gave that stuff a little bit of space at the beginning to allow it to really bed in, and now they are off doing quite extraordinary things. Because that sense of urgency that drives people to think about this, and you only — and this sounds very dramatic — so you only get one chance of doing this.
But actually, if a Transition group comes together and then you all fall out with each other, then it takes awhile, maybe, for other people to come in and say, well, let’s pick this up and keep it moving forward. So it is really good to just get it going from the start, because it is really extraordinary when you see what those groups can do when they have got the right foundations in place.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. So speaking on this a little bit, where do you see us on the Peak Oil timeline now versus when you first started?
Rob Hopkins: Well, when we first started, nobody knew at all what we were talking about. Peak Oil was something that rarely made it into the media. It was a fairly obscure sort of backwater, I guess, and it was only through meeting Colin Campbell and spending time with Colin Campbell that you actually were able to get some really rich kind of information about it at that stage, and somebody who was very compelling in terms of arguing that. Now four, five, six years later, it is pretty much in mainstream kind of recognition, I think; it has moved very, very quickly, and remarkable how that has happened, I think.
I think obviously the economic unleveling that has begun means we are in a very, very different kind of landscape. I mean, I think it is interesting, you know, because Transition is underpinned by those three things. Peak Oil and climate change and our economic issues. Actually, each of those issues kind of pulse at different times. I think in Peak Oil, from Colin when I first met him, he was talking about that idea of a bumpy platter, you know, if not, you just go up to a neat little peak and then you are going to start plummeting down the other side. You bump along the top for a while, but you are going up and down and up and down. But actually on the downward sides of those, which is what we are on now, people really stopped caring about environmental things, because the pressure on the money in their pocket becomes too intense.
Climate change, Peak Oil, these things are not such an issue, but as soon as you get back into anything resembling economic growth or any kind of an activity, these issues become very much more to the floor. So I think we are in a very interesting sort of… We are pulsing backwards and forwards between being interested in those issues and being absolutely in a blind panic about the financial things. We are very much, I find it at a local level, focused on where is the economic activity going to come from. And when I look around at the local council here, our local businesses and organizations, they are still focused on the idea that when we get back to growth in two or three years, we are going to do this, that, and the other. We are going to do all these buildings, we are going to do all this, that, and the other, and whenever I give talks, I always start out by saying okay, for the next hour we are not going to use the term when we get back to growth, okay, we are going to park it out the door and we are going to cut a space in this room where we can talk as though that is not the case. Because actually the people that work in local government, business, and so on, they do not really get to sit in that space very often, but that is really, really important.
So for me, I mean, I am not a Peak Oil expert, I am not an economic expert, [but] I am sufficiently convinced that those two things are enormously compelling pressing challenges that are not going anywhere, rather than becoming more pressing challenges. So my focus is really what do we do on the ground about it, but that is my observation. We tend to sort of waver between thinking maybe it will get all right again so we can worry about Peak Oil and climate change or be really despondent about the fact that it is all going down the tubes, in which case we forget those issues. But what is beautiful about the concept of resilience is that it draws in all those things, that it is about resilience to climate change, about being resilient to Peak Oil, it is about being resilient economically, and that is a kind of steady stream that you can ride through all of those things. It is a common language and a common focus that whether people are worrying about Peak Oil or whether they are worrying about the coins in their pocket, it is still something very steady and very constant.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, and those things probably to some degree will always be with us. Economic concerns have been in people’s minds since the dawn of time, practically. When we came under the current system we are on — and that is really the framework that I bring to this, is the idea that this system we have is just fundamentally changing — let me be more specific, it cannot continue in this way and in the manner it had been going. That is really hard to get to; it is a very emotional subject. It touches on beliefs for a lot of people, like faith and technology, or belief in human spirit, or your creativity, or you have to be optimist. Whatever the belief structures happen to be, and this is the interesting period of time I find us in, is that now there is more, and more, and more compelling evidence, whichever one of those spheres that you mentioned.
You want to look at whether it is in the environmental sphere, or whether it happens to be in the economic sphere, or you want to look in the energy sphere; it does not matter. Or all three. But you can peek in there and say, wow, there is enough evidence here to suggest that the prudent thing to do would be to prepare as if we are not going back to normal, we are not going back to growth. That the ways in which we have become accustomed to things working is now shifting right before our very eyes. Certainly anybody that is in economics, the debt markets do not work like they used to and we have got about three years of proof of that and we probably have a few more in front of us.
My theory is that we are never going to see those return to what people knew for the past 20, 30, 40 years. So here we are, and the question then becomes, what are the sorts of things we do and we can do. And your approach has been to take it at the community level, communities being as large as cities, I suppose. But at that level rather than the state level, as it were, or even the global level, why is it that you started there?
Rob Hopkins: Because, well, firstly to say that we do not for a moment say that the local and the community level is the only level where any meaningful change can be effective. Obviously, we need national government, we need local government, we need business, and all these things are pulling together. But I guess for me it feels like the local will be the scale that will be the most viable. And James Kessler says the future will be inherently, intensely and inherently local, or something like that.
David Fleming, who was a brilliant economist here, he died last year, he used to say that localization stands best at the limits of practical possibility but it has the decisive argument in its favor and there will be no alternative. So we very much took that as the focus, because it felt like it was the part that was being neglected. It is the part that people are passionate about, they care about, and what you were saying there about debt and everything. My sense is that people will get this at different points, and if we imagine that everybody needs to get this before we can actually do anything meaningful, we are not going to do anything meaningful in time.
The idea with Transition is really that if we can get things in place that just make sense, don’t ram Peak Oil and climate change and economic models down people’s throats, but which become the things that are creating work for people. They become the things that people are proudest of because they are celebratory of the place and of the culture and so on. I start to see that here in Totnes, here in Devon where I am speaking to you from today, this was the first Transition town in the UK, and what we have seen I think originally when we started, the Transition I imagined, it was an environmental process. But increasingly I think of it as a cultural process in that it starts to become this story that the town tells about itself.
Now when they start to talk about its future, they talk about Transition. People come to visit the place because of Transition, and it increasingly becomes the thing that people are proud about and the story that it starts to tell about itself. You know, there are now some businesses that are emerging here that are, it is in the early days, but there are businesses emerging here, which are very much rooted in that, and lots more in the pipeline. Models like the Totnes Renewable Energy Society, which allows local people to invest in what will be two large wind turbines on the edge of Totnes, which will be owned by the community and for the benefit of the community. These kinds of things do not say that you have to believe in Peak Oil or climate change or the end of growth in order to be a part of it. They bring people on board because they are a celebration of the place, they feel fantastic. You would rather have your money in a local energy company that you know the people who run it. You are excited about its progress. You know other people that are a part of it, rather than just having them off in some distant shares in something that you have no control over.
I think we have only just really started to scratch the surface in terms of the potential power of this, I think. The localization as economic development is a really powerful idea, and you know in climate change there is a very famous climate wedges model that says well at the moment we are rising like this. What we need to be doing is come down like this, and so that would be made up of a number of wedges, electric cars, and so on and so on. I think that actually one of the big, big wedges of those could be intentional localization if we can get it right, and I think once we have kind of proved that concept in a few places, it will really start to motor and really start to accelerate very sharply.
We have here in Lewis, in Sussex, Transition Town Lewis recently set up a local energy company, that energy company just launched the UK’s first community-owned solar power station. They raised three hundred thousand pounds from local people to put the panels in the roof of a local brewery, and that brewery brews a special beer called Sunshine Ale to celebrate the launch. These kinds of thing are not about taking people back to something worse than today; they are a step forward, they are about building resilience, bringing people together, giving them the sense that anything is possible in such a way that everybody benefits.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. The part about the narrative really caught me because stories shape our own lives. National or cultural stories shape destinies, and really, I think we have an old story running which may not be serving us any longer. A story of growth has been the one that I focus on, and because we have that story, we act in certain ways. You cannot possibly open the newspaper without hearing about a political or monetary leader talking about the necessity of returning to growth; it is just axiomatic. We do not even discuss why that is true; we just have to get back to growth, growth in jobs, growth in the economy, growth in something.
And obviously, if you just step back even one full step from that story, you understand that cannot be true forever. That there is, at some point, an end to that story, and I think we are there. And that is really the deep dis-ease that is being felt across the landscape by a lot of people, be they financially-, ecologically-, or energy-focused. They know that there is something shifting in the story, but it is, I find, almost impossible to shift away from a story without being able to shift towards a different story. So I am hearing in your description that Transition is offering a version, and people are seeing that and responding to it, and it really does not matter what lens they are peering through. In fact, they do not have to have any lens. You are saying that, if done correctly, people do not necessarily have to believe in it, look at, or understand anything about those three sorts of views or any other views that they can participate. Is that what you are finding?
Rob Hopkins: Yeah, I think it is like, I know Richard Heinberg once said about Transition that it feels more like a party than a protest march. And I think you know when you were saying about moving away from one story and towards another, there are two ways you can do that. You can either sort of try and belittle and shame and terrify everybody that they have to move away from this story; this story is finished; there is no future in this story; you are rubbish if you still believe in this story. Or you create the other story, things that we want people to move to, in such a way that it is just so enticing and it is such a more nourishing, more enriching, more celebratory place to be that you do not need to belittle the first one.
I was reminded of this the other day, actually, and the power of story, and that about three years ago here in Totnes, inspired by some examples of printed local currencies from mainland Europe and from the US, particularly the Berkshires currency in Massachusetts, I got together with a couple of people here in Totnes quietly on the life on TTT and said, what would it look like. Oh, yeah, that was it, I went into an office here and they had on the wall a framed bank note from 1810 that was issued by the Totnes Bank, a Totnes one-pound note, and I said well what would it be like if we reissued it, it we issued a Totnes pound now. How would that work, and we talked about it, someone said well, don’t you have to have permission from somewhere to do something like that, and we asked a few people and nobody seemed to know. So we thought, well, let’s just have a go and print them and see. So we printed just three hundred Totnes pounds and of 18 shops said they would take them and we just ran as a pilot for about three months just to see if people liked it and what happened and so on.
People did like it, the shops really liked it, so that scheme has then grown into, we have got two different issues of notes now. It inspired other places, Brixton and Lewis, Stroud, Howe in Scotland, and a few other places, to then do printed currencies, and that has now inspired the city of Bristol, which is a large city in the south west in England, to launch the Bristol pound, which will be a mixture of a printed currency and a really, really innovative electronic currency, which is based on people’s mobile phones. The local council are behind it, they are very, very supportive, they are putting money into it. They are going to save and people will be able to pay their taxes using Bristol pounds.
Chris Martenson: Nice.
Rob Hopkins: Actually, that all kind of grew just from that thing of saying, what would it be like, but doing it in such a way that it is a really interesting story. So that story of “Totnes Prints Its Own Money” had such a sort of a power to it and a resonance to so many people. But obviously when we started doing that, we did not think, oh yes, part of our cunning master plan for world domination and in four years time the city of Bristol will do one based on currencies. But these ideas created a push, and they draw people. And I think it is one of the things I have learned increasingly when you were asking what have been the learnings from four or five years of doing Transition. I think one of them is you have no idea where these things are going to go. Once you start these things off, once you kick these things off, if you do them with a good intention and get them out there, there is such a power to that, much, much more than we might actually be aware of at the time.
Chris Martenson: All right, and the, trust and follow, just trust that good intention and creativity, creativity spawns much, so many good things can come from it. Just to follow up on that story of the money, so you did not ask permission. Have you had to ask for forgiveness, or did nobody come knocking?
Rob Hopkins: Nobody came knocking, no.
Chris Martenson: Oh, well, that is nice.
Rob Hopkins: No, nobody came knocking, and in fact we formed an advisory panel and some of the sort of greats and good alternative economists, Richard Doweight and Bernard Lietaer people, and say to them, are we allowed to just print money and call them Totnes pounds? and they said, We have got no idea. Try it and see. And what kind of an advisory panel is that, you know. But actually I think the legal status is kind of a bit like book tokens or those kind of vouchers.
Chris Martenson: Sure, yeah.
Rob Hopkins: But that thing of, I saw a Woody Allen film, I cannot remember which one it is, where he sat him in the railway carriage and it was all black and white ,and he is surrounded by the most miserable, long-faced, depressed-looking people he could get together to make the film. Then he looked across into the carriage and next to him in the station, and everybody is having this fantastic party and all drinking champagne and everyone is gorgeous. And this woman blows him a kiss through the window, and he looks back at this carriage and starts the amusement, a brilliant kind of Woody Allen. But actually I think that we should be trying to make Transition feel like that, like the carriage on the other side of the platform that you just really, really want to be at, and that is where the party is happening.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic; I like that view a lot. So here we are, the world is in my view in that bumpy plateau of this Peak Oil era, and what is your view? So how does this all — so you should put your forecast hat on you — you look in and you see where we are on this bumpy plateau, best guess, and the question here is will we have that critical mass of transition towns or new narratives or whatever we need and really sort of have a relatively smooth transition? Are we going to find ourselves some well-prepared communities and some at varying levels of vulnerability? How do you see this playing out?
Rob Hopkins: It was really fascinating to see — we had the Transition network conference, which we do once a year, and one of the things I have always wondered about Transition — because, as I said in the beginning, it is an experiment — was when you get to a time when things get really difficult, you know, when the chips are down and things are clearly very, very tricky, how does Transition inform the response.
There is a very famous quote by Milton Freedman about in times of real change, it is the ideas that are on the table that are the ones that are picked up and examined. You know that might be the case for Transition, and so we had people there from various parts of the world, we had some people there from Brazil, where transition has just been on fire for the last 18 months, all across Brazil in the very poor areas, favelas of Sao Paulo and the more wealthy middle class parts of Brazil. They had terrible floods there about ten months ago, and there was one town that was largely just washed down the hill, there was Transition training going on nearby, and they said anybody who is from this community can come and do the training for free. Quite a few people came and did that, and now Transition is one of the key elements that is feeding how that community is redesigning itself.
In New Zealand, there were parts of New Zealand where there were earthquakes recently where they had Transition groups very active there for the last three years, putting in place time banks and this kind of thing. When things are really, really difficult, quite a lot of people got in touch and said you know, we are so grateful for having those initiatives in place and what they have done has been really, really, an integral part of that response.
In Japan as well, you know, where they had all kinds of dreadful difficulty there over the last year or so. Again, the Transition groups have been very much a part of that. So it is that question about does Transition get into the drinking water, does it get into the DNA? So that when things get difficult, that is one of the key tools that gets picked up.
As I said before with the pound, story you know, once you start things, you have no idea where they go, and so that was really fascinating insight for me. That actually in those three places where things are really tricky, that was what had been picked up. Also, you know, the idea of whether we will get enough people onboard and enthused. I think sometimes there is this obsession with you have to get the kind of unconverted on board, I think that is the case and it is a good thing to aspire to. But what is as important or more important is that the people who are on board, the people who are already willing to put their shoulders to this, have the right tools in order to be able to get moving.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he says somewhere between 15 and 17% of people in the community constitutes the tipping point, which is why I think we are seeing some places that have had Transition going on for a while really starting to get moving and get motoring. But those tipping points, you never know when those tipping points come, when all of a sudden the idea that actually you shift your focus to investing more locally and building these kinds of institutions just becomes completely accepted as mainstream where it is blindingly obvious, isn’t it?
Chris Martenson: So to paraphrase Churchill, I believe he was the one who said in a time of crisis, the solutions that get adopted are the ones that happen to be lying around. So if we get into this crisis period like you mentioned, with the floods in Brazil or other crises, however they happen to come about, the fact that there is a template nearby in another community or perhaps in that same community that can be then used, is just, well, that is a natural thing. That is how humans tend to operate anyway. So good for us for having some templates of how to organize, how to work, how to be effective, how to take matters into our own hands, with that being one of the surprising sort of determinants to success here.
Rob Hopkins: Yeah, because it is not about waiting for permission, you know; no one is going to kind of commission us to design what a more localized, more resilient economy is going to be like. It is really about just getting on with it and doing it with creativity and a good motivation in that way. Actually, I think it is fascinating observing in places a degree of pride there is about the Transition group that is underway and the projects they have got going on.
And here, we did a big project here called Transition Street, which was about working to try and support behavior change, but on a street-by-street level. So it was not about saying the council needs to come and give everybody grants or whatever. It was about getting out on the street, get a group of six to ten households together, here is a simple thing to do where you meet seven times one week and look at energy and then you look at water, so on and so on. Look at food, and you reduce your emissions, you reduce your consumption, and on average, each household cut its carbon emission by about one and a half tons. Saved itself nearly 700-800 pounds a year.
But actually when you meet people in the street, a lot of people here walking around just after having done it, they did not talk to me about how much carbon they had saved. They did not talk to me about how much less oil they used, or at all about the global economy. What they talked about was how they now knew Dave over the Rotary was teaching them such and such. How them and Saundra down at number seven were now working on the waste piece of ground at the end of the road and turning it into something else. It was that social cohesion that people were really, really craving. So if we can design this process in such a way that it brings people together in that kind of celebratory way, all the things that kind of spin off of it build people’s commitment to this kind of process. But that cannot be done from the top down; that is a process that has to happen from the ground up.
Chris Martenson: So I know, I know there is somebody listening to this right now who feels like they are sitting in a glum boxcar and they are looking through a window of this podcast and saying, wait a minute, there is a party happening over there. How do people find out about their local Transition initiatives if there happens to be one, or go about starting one? How does somebody become engaged with this who is listening right now?
Rob Hopkins: Well, there are some very good resources online if you are listening in the US, transitionus.org has very good ways of finding out where all the initiatives are, some very good tools for getting started. In a month or so, they will be able to get their hands on Transition Companion, it will be able to tell you that stuff, but if you are not in the US then transitionnetwork.org has a map of the world and all the initiatives and a Transition Near You button where you can find out what is happening, who are the people, what are the projects, what are the initiatives that are happening around where you live. If there is a group, then go along and get involved and bring what you are passionate about to it.
Transition is really a process, and if you are really passionate about food, then Transition will not require you to go and sit through lots of boring meetings about energy or whatever. It is about what you are passionate about, you bring that to this process, and you make that happen. So there are lots of resources out there, and you can go on YouTube and type in “Transition Towns” and there is a whole range of good things on there. There is this film we made called In Transition 1.0, and version 2.0 is coming out at the end of the year. There are all kinds of materials online which pull together those stories; there is Transition US to the newsletter, Transition Metwork does a monthly newsletter of what is going on. There is plenty out there — yeah, jump in, the water is lovely!
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. Well, I really want to thank you for your time today and for the enthusiasm, and most of all for bringing your creativity and vision to the world and then sitting back and watching it run and collecting the stories. I think that is just a fabulous model, and it has obviously been very successful. So all the best, and wonderful talking to you again.
Rob Hopkins: Thank you, thank you Chris, and yeah, thank you for your work also.
Chris Martenson: All right, you are welcome, and thanks for that. Bye.
He is the co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and of the Transition Network. This grew out of many years experience in education, teaching permaculture and natural building, and setting up the first 2-year full-time permaculture course in the world, at Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland, as well as coordinating the first eco-village development in Ireland to be granted planning permission.
He is author of ‘The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependence to Local Resilience’, which has been published in a number of other languages, and which was voted the 5th most popular book taken on holiday by MPs during the summer of 2008, and of ‘The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times’, published in October 2011. He publishes the blog www.transitionculture.org.
Our series of podcast interviews with notable minds includes:
- Rob Hopkins
- Joel Salatin
- Charles Hugh Smith
- Frank Barbera
- Nate Hagens
- David Morgan
- James Turk
- Eric Sprott
- John Rubino
- Addison Wiggin
- Simon Black
- Axel Merk
- Paul Tustain
- Francis Koster
- Bud Conrad
- John Williams
- Robert McFarlane
- David Collum
- Joe Saluzzi
- Jim Rogers
- Bill Fleckenstein
- Marc Faber
- Willet Kempton
- Dan Ariely
- Ted Butler