LOCAL | Australian Transition Towns and Initiatives

Posted on 07/06/2009

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I first heard the name, Transition Town, when I attended the Lift Festival in the London in mid 2008 and it spiked my curiosity. I’ve been reading about and tracking this since and learned that there are Transition Initiatives around Australia including:

Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre – Australia’s first official Transition Town initiative
Sustainable Living Armidale (NSW)
Sustainable Neighbourhood Bell (Vic)
Eco Bello (Bellingen NSW)
Transition Newcastle (NSW)
Hervey Bay (QLD)
Eudlo (QLD)
Transition Katoomba (NSW)
Transition Shire Wingecarribbee (NSW)
Transition Kenmore (QLD)
Transition Town Cooran (QLD)
Towards Transition Barraba (NSW)

A transition initiative has also been established in Brisbane which has set up a Ning community. According to the Transition Towns Wiki, a Transition Initiative is a community working together “to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question: ‘for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?’”

Fundamentally, Transition Towns are about ‘energy descent’ and ‘relocalisation’ – that means promoting local consumption, local production and local distribution of goods and services. It means dynamic local communities engaged with their economies and environment. The Transition Initiatives Primer (downloadable from the Transition Towns Wiki) states that there political leadership in charting an agenda for adaption is wanting and expresses concern that “technology is often touted as the panacea for Peak Oil and Climate Change problems. However, a careful review of the reality of these technological solutions indicates their immaturity, their often disastrous environmental consequences and their lack of connection to the real world.” Cities are inherently technological and, while I agree technology itself is not the solution, I find this dismissal of technology slightly misdirected given the potential benefits of technological innovation despite past failures or mistakes.

This lack of faith in the political process is highlighted in a recently published book, Back to Basics: Breakthrough Proposals for the Australian Environment, by Dr Geoff Wescott. He proposes a new approach to environmental decision making. According to the book’s cover blurb, he suggests we move forward from relying solely on individual virtuous action to improve our environment. He argues that the time has come to get back to basics: for governments to be decisive and courageous and make positive environmental decisions in the interests of their current and future constituents rather than continue to be locked into short term decision making.

The transition model is a flexible and collaborative framework for adaption. It is a loose set of principles and practices that have been developed over time though experimentation and observation of communities as they work to build local resilience and reduce carbon emissions. There’s a continuing disjoint which which Dr Wescott’s book seems to have identified: Transition Initiatives are driven by ‘individual virtuous action’ involving self-organisation and collaboration. However, despite the shared objectives of sustainability, they continue to be at odds with the directions of government policy. However, the Brisbane Transition Hub is endeavouring to advocate to and partner with the local council for more effective address of climate change and peak oil stating that “the Brisbane City Council (and indeed all levels of government here and worldwide) are failing to plan for these issues adequately, and are therefore not sustainable. As such, we, as members of the Brisbane Community, aim to assist and work with Brisbane City Council to address these issues. It is early days yet, but we aim to work with the council, both at the officer and elected member levels. We are non party aligned. Councils can only push the sustainable agenda as much as the community will give them the mandate to do so.” The Brisbane Transition Hub plays a coordinating role across several more localised initiatives: Transition Town Kurilpa, Transition East, Transition Town Kenmore and Transition Village The Gap.

As a suburban initiative, the Kenmore group started in July 2008 as Small Steps for Sustainable Suburbs with a public meeting organised by a few Kenmore neighbours in response to concerns about the combined effects of Peak Oil and Climate Change. At this inaugural meeting the term ‘transition towns’ entered the discussion. In the process of evolving to Transition Towns: Kenmore District, three projects have already been initiated: a community garden; a collective buying group for Solar Hot water systems; and a farmers market.

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