It is always a fun and useful exercise for us to imagine how the Transition Movement might look like to outsiders. It is a topic we often return to. Indeed it was the topic of a keynote speech I gave to an AGM at the old Wycombe Environment Centre in 2008. At that time I had an audience of environmentalists and used a set of comparisons inside Rob Hopkins' own Transition Handbook as a tool to describe the differences between perceived "environmentalism" and "Transition".

Last month Rob released the follow-up to the Transition Handbook. It was called the Transition Companion (ISBN 978 1 900322 97 3) and you can find my ugly mug on page 204! It is only the most recent of a long line of Transition books some of which can be found in the Wycombe Library to borrow. Alongside an enormous online database these written works do provide a quite overwhelming toolset for anyone interested in learning about Transition and trying to make a difference in their community. This is not a prescriptive movement - we don't have the answers - but we do have lots of people trying lots of different ways of muddling through to a whole set of answers. These may be different depending upon who you are and where you are. Join in and enjoy.

Despite all of this I can't help but wonder how this wealth of knowledge may look to anyone who doesn't understand Transition. Then an image popped into my head of a scene from a movie about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It had lots of enthusiastic college kids abandoning their education, embracing Mao's Little Red Book and rushing out to the countryside to take up farming. This movement really existed. It isn't fiction and it certainly wasn't Transition! It was actually called the "Down to the Countryside" movement and was originally voluntary. The memory I have is of the camera pulling back from the film's central character in a corn field. He is attempting to harvest corn with a hand-scythe but he isn't very good at it. He hasn't spent his life on a farm, his hands are those of an academic, they are sore and bleeding from the hard work. He is exhausted and wondering why he volunteered for this.

Given the bloody history of the Cultural Revolution the fate of this young man was actually quite trivial. The estimated death toll was half a million people. The "Down to the Countryside" movement started as voluntary. However, soon a lack of volunteers turn the movement into one of compulsion. Students were soon marched out of universities at gunpoint to work in the country. It was considered good for them. They were a real lost generation on a scale unimaginable to the austerity-laden British students of today.

The modern UK Transition movement could be described as a 'cultural revolution' but there is no comparison to China's "Cultural Revolution". I wonder if anyone knows the difference. Although some Transitioners my romanticise country-life and keeping chickens the real Transition happens WHERE YOU ARE. Your Town. Your City. Your community. With the resources you already have. There is no point imagining that we will all move somewhere and the grass will be greener. The UK is TOO small. There is nowhere to run. We make our stand HERE in High Wycombe. Or we fall here.

I was horrified to read Mark Lynas's "The God Species" where he condemned "communitarian" organisations. He went on to write in outrageous terms about how environmentalists dream a fantasy of some bucolic life where everyone lives on idyllic farms. What's more he compared these ideas to those of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge emptying Cambodia's cities at gunpoint to enforce the Year Zero policy. Oh what horrors. If you really wish to condemn the dream of a life in the country then here is a rich and bloody history to draw upon to ridicule the ideal. (It is not an idea worthy of Lynas's intelligence. Equally so is his ludicrous claim that environmentalism is only the concern of wealthy white people in western countries. The facts say otherwise. But I digress...) There are no environmentalists dreaming of forcing everyone out into the country to work on collective farms. Certainly no Transitioners either! The truth is the opposite. We FEAR an evacuation of the cities & towns happening because life there has become unlivable. Unlivable unless we voluntarily adopt a sustainable economy. In the case of Transition we believe in resilient communities. These are necessary so that we avoid a hellish life in the country scratching a living amongst the turnips. If you want to avoid a long line of refugees heading out of High Wycombe to despoil the Chilterns then High Wycombe residents will need to learn how to grow some food and make some energy. Of course if you wish to work on a farm at the weekend then you can team up with a local farmer to create a Community Supported Agricultural scheme.

None of this latter stuff have anything to do with contents of Mao's Little Red Book. Transition is a whole lot of practical ideas in great big colourful books. These are positive ideas to create a better life for everyone. Ideas that mean we can keep living in high Wycombe for years to come. Not through ideology or coercion but through agreement, consensus and wisdom. As pointed out earlier, if you wish to learn more then you can pop down to the library and pick up a book about Transition or Local Food. These are not the Little Red Books of our era. They are not gospels passed down from leaders of some wacky cult no more than the contents of a Haynes Manual need you to worship a Ford Cortina.

So just how does a layman view the Transition books of today? Common sense or demented ideology? Good advice on solar panels and carrots, or just the ramblings of fantasists?

We will NOT have Mao's "Cultural Revolution" but we may well find that, after a few years, a revolution has happened within our consumer culture. If it has not then hell hath no fury like life after oil - if we are not ready.

There really is a better way. We'd love to know what you think.

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