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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 37 September 9, 2023

Book Excerpt: Transition Town Movement by T. Vijayendra, Usha Rao and Shreekumar

Saturday 9 September 2023, by T. Vijayendra


Local Action in the Wake of Global Emergency and Collapse
by T. Vijayendra, Usha Rao and Shreekumar

2023, Sangatya, Pp 80, Rs. 50/-

Manchi Pustakam
Email: sureshkosaraju[at]
Mobile: +91 73822 97430


We are caught in a Global Emergency. This has several aspects to it - Resource Depletion, Global Warming, Ecological Degradation, Growing Inequality and Social Unrest. The primary cause of this emergency is the current crisis of capitalism which began with the 2008 financial meltdown. The response of capitalism to this Global Emergency is the project of ‘global capital’, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution which is doomed to fail. A totally different non capitalistic response is Transition Town Movement. It is an initiative or model that refers to grassroots community projects. The aim is to create the means for sustainable self-sufficiency at the local level to reduce the potential effects of peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability. This is done through re-localization strategies, especially around food production and energy usage, taking us from the present capitalist/industrial stage of society to an alternative stage. (Pp. 3 & 4).

Resource Depletion

Human society uses natural resources for its survival and reproduction. Other living beings depend directly or indirectly on plant resources which are renewable. In addition to these, human beings also use non-renewable resources including minerals such as coal and petroleum and metals such as gold, silver, copper and iron, coal. They are considered non-renewable because their quantity is fixed and the more we use them the less is left of them, to use. For industrial societies, petroleum and coal are the basic sources of energy and their depletion can spell the end.

 Now, there is a law of extraction of these non-renewable resources. It was first discovered in the case of oil by M. King Hubbert and is called, ’Peak Oil’. It says that when half the resources are extracted (taken out), then the production will start falling. That is, the peak of production occurs when half the oil is taken out. It applies to a particular well, to a region, to a country, and to the whole world. Today, we know that it applies not just to oil but to all mineral resources. Scientists have calculated the peak year for almost all the important minerals. And, hold your breath; the overwhelming majority of them will peak before 2030, starting with oil! The data is almost accurate and might differ only by a few percentage points, but the fact remains that the years of industrial society as it exists are numbered and the end will come in a decade or so. The collapse of industrial society will be a ’never before’ event because that will be the end of the historical process of ever-increasing wealth that human society has seen in the last few thousand years.

 In the short term, even renewable resources cannot help us because human society has used them at a rate higher than the rate of their natural reproduction. That is, we have cut more trees than the number of new ones that are growing; we have used more water than is being replenished naturally, and so on. Water tables all over the world are falling. It will take decades to get back the status of ’renewable’ for these resources. In fact, we have been mining them in the same way that we have mined the non-renewable resources.

 While there is a window of a few years before resource depletion triggers a collapse, global warming, ... does not give us any window!
(Pp. 7, 8 & 9)

History of Transition Town: From Kinsale to Totnes

Kinsale is a small town on the South East Coast of Ireland. In 2004, Rob Hopkins taught permaculture design at the Kinsale Further Education College. Two young women, Louise Rooney and Catherine Dunne were his students. He set them the task of applying permaculture principles to ‘Peak Oil.’ They produced the now famous Kinsale Energy Descent Plan. They applied the principle in the realm of energy production, health, education, economy and food production. The plan was presented to Kinsale Town council. To their surprise, the councilors decided to adopt the plan and work towards energy independence. The first transition Town was born! Hopkins moved to his home town Totnes in England where he and Naresh Giangrande developed these concepts into the Transition Model. In early 2006, Transition Town Totnes was founded and became the inspiration for founding of other Transition initiatives. By September 2013, there were 1130 initiatives registered in 43 countries.

 Although there is a Transition Town Handbook and a Transition Network, the movement has no centralized structure and each group is free to evolve its own plans of action, adhere to the core values of Transition. Other movements like Transition have emerged in different parts of the world. Prominent among these are ‘The Simpler Way’, in Australia which is the home of Permaculture, in the U. S. it is and CASSE — Centre for Advancement of Steady State Economy and so on. More recently, 15-minute Cities Movement is making headlines in England and Europe. It was first proposed by Carlos Moreno, a professor at Sorbonne University, in 2016. According to Moreno, the large distances of modern cities take too much of people’s time. So, it would be very useful if everyone could obtain all their needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. (Pp. 13 & 14).

Transition India

As of now, there are no Transition Town models in India. There are no groups or organisations which call themselves as working for Transition Town model. Yes, there are several individuals and small groups who are aware of the concept and are implementing it in their own way in the specific activities and enterprises that they are involved in. Kerala seems to have a larger number of such people. I have heard of the term ‘Transition Kerala’ and even a group called ‘Transition Studies’ in Thrissur headed by Comrade K. Sahadevan. My own booklet (Kabira...) on it is translated into Kannada, Marathi and Bengali. That is to say, that a few individuals and groups working in these states, are also working on ‘transition models.’ (Pp. 15)

The Role of People’s Movement and Pandemic

Recognition of the negative fallouts of the evils of “development” began in the early seventies, in the wake of revolutionary movements that started in India in the late 60s. One of the earliest was the Silent Valley Movement in the Palakkad district of Kerala. It began in 1973 to save the Silent Valley Reserve Forest from being flooded by a hydroelectric project. Since then there have been movements in practically every state in India. For example, Koel Karo movements in Jharkhand, Narmada Bachao Andolan spread over three states, Niamgiri movement in Odisha, and Save Western Ghats which also was spread over several states, to name a few. While in most cases the movements ‘failed’ to achieve their goals, they transformed millions of people in ways that drastically altered their attitude towards ‘development’. It is this groundswell that helped NGOs, the organic farming movement and even the government to start the above-mentioned activities. Another small but significant movement is the community-based conservation of endangered animals. Saving Pelicans, Vultures, Storks and Cranes have seen remarkable involvement.

 During the three months of the first official lockdown during the pandemic, all of us learned an important lesson. In a real crisis, when the government just gives up, it is ordinary people who join hands to take care of themselves and even strangers. While there was indeed a lot of suffering, the people from all walks of life showed tremendous resilience. And Nature recovered at a speed that surprised even the experts. So if and when capitalism collapses, and it seems that we are in the middle of it, there are actually a lot of positive things to look forward to! (Pp. 23 & 24)

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