Transition initiatives are spreading throughout our cities and regions.
IN Northcote, by the railway line, there’s a grand old apple tree. It had long since been neglected, until local artist Cat Wilson began photographing it through the seasons, and volunteers from Transition Darebin held working bees to clean up the site.
“Now we’ve put seats there and had lots of picnics,” says Sally MacAdams from Transition Darebin. “It’s become a lovely community area.”
It might not sound like much, but this small act of civic engagement is part of a big movement buzzing through the western world and beyond.
Transition Darebin is a member of the thriving international Transition Network. The first transition town – Totnes, in Devon, England – was launched in late 2006. Now there are over 600 active groups around the world, 60 of which are in Australia.
“We want to prepare our community for a turbulent time ahead,” Ms MacAdams says. “The government is talking about climate change, but not doing much, and it doesn’t seem like they’re considering it together with the prospect of rising oil prices.”
She says that as oil becomes more difficult to extract, the cost of food and transport could climb steeply. “We have to change the way we live. The approach transition towns takes is that we can change in a way that makes our lives better. We can improve the connectedness and resilience of our communities, mostly through doing and making things more locally,” she says.
The details change from place to place, but broadly, transition groups seek to remake their streets into food producing, low-energy, low-emission, tight-knit neighbourhoods.
In Darebin, which traverses suburbs from Alphington to Reservoir, the residents have turned their minds to their pantries. Among other things, they’ve formed a vegie and dry goods co-op, visited local growers and sellers, held a forum on food security in Preston and begun planning urban orchards with the council.
Australia’s first transition town was the Sunshine Coast. This year, residents there presented an Energy Descent Action Plan to their council. The plan sketches the region in an energy-constrained future, spanning issues from household efficiency through to transportation and the economy.
That kind of preparation is also being championed by the Municipal Association of Victoria. The association has created a program for local governments, called ‘Councils And Communities in Transition’, which includes energy descent planning. So far, 20 Victorian councils are taking part; the association is aiming for every council to be inducted by 2012.
Janet Millington, from Transition Sunshine Coast, says that while councils have a role to play in educating and supporting their residents, it’s important that local people fast track change themselves.
“We can’t wait for government – it’s going to be too slow,” she says. “We can’t do it individually – it’s not going to be enough. But if we work together in communities, it might be enough and it might be in time.”
Ms Millington says the scale of the challenge before us depends on the speed and severity of both climate change and the decline of non-renewable resources.
“Transition initiatives are about getting people to think, ‘Hey, what do we do when all these things hit?’” she says. “We’re all living on the same finite, self-regulating system. If we push it too far, it’s going to regulate us right out of the picture.”