Think global, act local, globally

(Originally posted on

Yes, professor, that’s definitely a cliff ahead, and that’s our foot on the accelerator, our hands on the steering wheel, and our eyes and anuses squeezed tight.

The atmosphere and oceans are warming, which is changing the climate and mostly not in a good way. In fact, the IPCC report released a couple weeks ago says it’s mostly in a bad way, and a little worse and happening faster than they thought before. And they’re also even more certain that humans are the cause through greenhouse gas emissions and biosphere destruction.

Map of Transition Initiatives.

For Transitioners who keep up with such news, as many of my friends in Totnes do, the news of this report was not news at all. In fact, the IPCC is inherently conservative, therefore to keep up with such news is to know already that the situation is probably much worse. Does this change the analysis? Or the prescription? For those I’ve spoken with here, the answer is no, not yet. Keep doing what we’re doing.

The Transition approach, and really the broader movement of folks practising ‘think global, act local’, focuses on local transformation of economy and society, as deeply as possible, with a view toward decoupling from globalised economic power structures, increasing self-reliance, reducing carbon-based energy use, raising resilience, and all in the context of pursuing social, environmental, and economic justice. It’s about creating the alternative, an attractive alternative, which, we think, is a necessary part of that deeper shift in planetary culture we all know must occur if we’re to avoid the worst scenarios.

But acting locally isn’t enough. Attaining fully transitioned status for Totnes, a shift that embodies the change we wish to see manifest in our little municipality, will mean nothing if Newton Abbot, Paignton, Torquay, Brixham, Dartmouth, Plymouth, etc., are left behind, not to mention our brothers and sisters around the world. Central government responsibility and action, international cooperation, corporate responsibility and action – that would be nice, yes, bring it on. In the meantime, we’ve got to keep acting locally, but we must all do it together.

Think global, act local, globally. That’s got to be the next step for this broader movement – accelerating the activation of communities all over to begin making change themselves. If there are 300 official and muller Transition initiatives in the UK, let there be 3,000. If there are 1,000 around the world, let there be 100,000. But how can this movement spread if we’re not actively making the connections with our neighbours, near and far, reaching beyond the usual suspects of our familiar shires? Clearly, we must. And maybe it’s beginning to happen.

Our friends in Portalegre.

The Ajudada convergence in Portalegre, Portugal this past summer may have sparked something that will become part of this new culture of social and economic change we’re working toward. The meaning of Ajudada is something like ‘barn raising’ and last June people from all over town, the region, Portugal and Europe converged to learn, connect and work together. This idea of converging to help help our neighbouring communities in the spirit of solidarity and mutual aid is powerful, replicable, and necessary. Where will the next Ajudada be?

The Transition Network recently convened a meeting of national hubs in Lyon, France, and those I’ve spoken with who were in attendance were filled with hope and inspiration. They also see the importance and potential for greater connectivity and support across a growing world-wide network of transitioning communities. With EU development funding priorities shifting next year to support sustainable communities, perhaps collaborations amongst and between the Transition Network, national hubs, and initiatives can secure funding for exchange, learning, mutual support, innovation and best practice diffusion, etc. Already SEACS funding is supporting the spread of Transition Streets to our neighbours across the channel in Brittany. And the Economic Blueprint Online Course pilot is poised to support a number of communities across Europe in the process of undertaking that project. How can we facilitate more such collaborations?

The trip to the US by Rob Hopkins and Pete Lipman is another interesting development. Forget about the carbon footprint, their trip is carbon well invested if it helps deepen and spread the movement there. They’re making lots of connection and building bonds that can only benefit the movement taking shape there. If so, more trips like this could do a world of good.

And there’s huge opportunity closer to home. How can we all pursue our own local projects and support the efforts of our neighbouring communities, too? Good question and not easily answered. We’re trying things here in Totnes, such as forging relationships with people involved in neighbouring Transition initiatives and working together in groups such as the South West Community Energy Partnership. Anyway, the work of mapping our food web, doing our own Local Economic Blueprint, and pursuing other REconomy related activity is making it clear that our resilience is closely linked with our relationships within the watershed, energy-shed, food-shed, and other ‘catchments’ of which we’re a part. Maybe soon, the focus of our efforts here will naturally begin to shift toward a more regional frame of reference.

Whether Transition and the wider movement spreads organically or intentionally, whether it happens fast enough to avert climate disaster or at least prepares us for what’s coming, is there a more effective and expedient alternative? For the moment, for me, this is it and I’ll keep doing it.

Images: map of Transition initiatives and mullers, Transition Network; our friends in Portalegre, Portugal


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