Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins

Meet Rob Hopkins. In 1990, Rob was an artist, traveling in the Hunza Valley of Northern Pakistan. Now he’s an educator, a permaculture designer, a natural builder, and cofounder of the transition town movement. So what happened in that valley to turn a young artist into an internationally known educator and author? Well, Rob caught a glimpse of “resiliency,” a concept rather foreign to us here in the US.  Resilience, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “an ability to recover or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” As a society, we are not very resilient. Almost everything we do on a day-to-day basis is dependent on cheap energy (fossil fuels). There are two problems with this addiction: Climate Change and Peak Oil.

If you’re reading this article, you probably know about climate change. But just to recap: the Earth is warming and human green house gas emissions are the driving force. Greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ext) released largely from the burning of fossil fuels has upset Earth’s climate stability. The Union of Concerned Scientists asserts that we must stabilize the global concentration of atmospheric green house gasses at 450 parts per million (ppm) in order to ensure a 50% or “medium chance,” of avoiding “dangerous climate change” – a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius. To reach stability at 450 ppm, society must reduce green house gas emissions by 80% by 2050.  This means, industrialized nations must reach their peak emissions rate by 2010 and developing nations must peak emissions between 2020 and 2025. Pretty serious stuff.

Chart Depicting Green House Gas Emissions

Chart Depicting Green House Gas Emissions

Without cheap fossil fuels, our society wouldn’t function. We rely on fossil fuel energy, especially oil, for everything. Take a moment to look around. Pick an object that catches your eye and think about it’s life cycle. Where did it come from, who made it, what materials comprise it, how did it get to you? Chances are, oil is a key ingredient of each of these steps. We’ve lived this way since most of us can remember. Oil is a magical substance; it has allowed us to advance our society exponentially. But oil is a finite resource, and we’ve become so addicted to it, we literally depend on its availability. Peak oil is therefore the other side of the Transition story. It is a concept rarely discussed, but of monumental importance. We are not going to run out of oil. What really matters is the peak, the point at which availability and access to oil starts to decline. From this peak point onward, oil becomes more difficult to find and extract and more expensive to use. Scientists from many disciplines are postulating that world oil production has already peaked. I won’t get into the science, but do some research and come to your own conclusions. The point is our society relies on oil for every aspect of our lives, and  this cheap source of energy is becoming increasingly scarce and therefore increasingly expensive, in every way. This is frightening.

When Rob Hopkins returned from Pakistan, he discovered the “hydrocarbon twins,” peak oil and climate change. Instead of shaking his head and saying, “Geez, this is terrible,” and waiting for something to happen, he asked, “What can I do…what can we do?” And the transition initiative was born.

Transition Initiatives are based on four key assumptions:

  1. Life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and it’s better to plan for it now, and make changes while oil is still relatively cheap and available, than to be taken by surprise.
  2. Our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany peak oil and climate change.
  3. We have to act collectively and we have to act now.
  4. By unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy decent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and that recognize the biological limits of our planet.
Transition USA Logo

Transition USA Logo

All around the world, communities ranging from small villages in Devon to cities in the US are asking the question:

“For all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how are we going to:

  1. Significantly rebuild resilience (in response to peak oils)
  2. Drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change)”

Nearly 250 communities in 11 countries are currently registered as official initiatives, and many more are forming, even as you read this. Transition initiatives empower individuals to take responsibility for their lives and their connection with the planet. But more importantly transition movements raise awareness about climate change and peak oil in a solution oriented way. Peak oil and climate change can be debilitating and frightening- what we’re talking about is the end life as we know it and many people find this notion horrifyingly hopeless. But others see this as an exciting opportunity to redesign the way we inhabit this earth with intention, inspiration and ingenuity. A response is necessary now, and as Hopkins says in The Transition Handbook, “unless we can create this sense of anticipation, elation and a collective call to adventure on a wider scale, any government responses will be doomed to failure, or will need to battle protractedly against the will of the people.”

Engage in conversation with your friends and neighbors about peak oil and climate change, and instead of lamenting on their doomsday implications, talk about what we’re going to do to address them. Then pull some more friends into the discussion and start your own Transition Initiative. The future is in our hands, so we might as well start now!

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This article will be published in the Fall 2009 addition of LEAVES, the Dickinson College Center for Sustainable Living , a.k.a TreeHouse semesterly publication.

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