By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor, Sarah Beauchamp, Assistant Editor, Katie Kervin, Assistant Editor
sure that people have the ability and the resources to withstand crises created by the interruption of cheap and abundant energy sources such as oil. Brangwyn cites an example of a non-resilient food system — the U.K.'s supermarket system, which functions very much like that in the United States. When U.K. truck drivers, protesting a proposed tax increase on diesel fuel, blockaded oil refineries throughout the country in April 2012, supermarkets were found to have only four-and-a-half days’ worth of food in stock throughout the entire system, and only swift action by the government to withdraw the proposed tax increase prevented an imminent food crisis.
How can people be resilient to these types of crises? How will they fare if (or when) there are major events that threaten economic or food systems? Transition Network, made up of movements all over the globe, seeks to help people develop strategies to become more resilient — and to reduce their CO2 emissions in the process. Transition events and projects range from a group in Hainaut, Belgium, teaching people how to heat their homes in the case that the era of cheap oil ends, to a community wellness project in California that, according to Transition Network's website, combines “outreach/networking to local sustainable health-care practitioners with a forum to provide sustainable health practices to the local community.”
And while there are hundreds of meetings and events involving Transition Network-affiliated groups throughout the year, Transition headquarters also puts on an annual conference in the U.K. Last year's theme, “Building Resilience in Extraordinary Times,” stemmed from the movement's belief that there are “potential opportunities that large discontinuities in things like economics and politics can afford us, if we move quickly and adventurously enough together,” Brangwyn said. Held on Sept. 14-16 at the Battersea Arts Center (BAC) in London, the 2012 conference drew approximately 350 attendees, including a large international presence. In fact, 40 to 45 percent of attendees were from outside the U.K., which Brangwyn said was “way more than double” the breakdown in previous years.
The BAC, which typically is used for performance art and theater, offers four rooms for meetings and events — although much of the Transition Network UK Conference took place in the Grand Hall, an approximately 1,600-square-foot space with high arched ceilings, a large stage, and a glass-domed marble foyer. The conference was divided into five distinct events that could be attended either individually or as a series over the course of the weekend. Main conference workshops included presentations on topics such as “How to Make Happy Healthy Human Culture, and Why We Sometimes Don't” and “Good Lives Don't Have to Cost the Earth.” A youth symposium, organized around the theme “What Kind of Future Do We Want?,” was designed for high-school-and college-age attendees, and featured Open-Space educational sessions, mini workshops on Transition topics, and what Transition Network's website calls an “exploration of the whole economic spectrum.” And Transition Thrive workshops, which took place directly before the start of the main conference program, helped attendees learn how they could increase the success of their own transition initiatives — for example, by inspiring more people to get involved, effectively communicating about their initiatives, and learning about funding avenues available in many communities.
One of the most innovative portions of the conference was the REconomy Project Day, which consisted of a number of how-to workshops on topics such as setting up food and energy companies and developing local currencies. In the afternoon, the New Economics Foundation's Elizabeth Cox led attendees in creating “The High Street,” an imagined, self-sustaining community, where High Street represents the symbolic economic center. Participants gathered in the Grand Hall and set up a mock High Street, where some people developed the community bank, others set up the local bakery, and others created space for community members to swap gifts and skills. Everything on the “street” was actually created out of cardboard, with signs written in chalk, but the point was for attendees to come away with ideas by which they might create this type of alternative economy in their own communities.
Speaker selection was an important aspect of the planning process. Transition Network UK Conference organizers have always felt that it's important to get away from the traditional paradigm of assembling an audience to have wisdom delivered to them by an expert. Instead, they looked for “presenter/facilitators who were capable of talking about their area of expertise for about a third of the session and then facilitating a group discussion or process that would deepen people's understanding of that area and inform how they might use that knowledge in the future,” Brangwyn said. Because, the whole point of the conference, he said, was for attendees to “see new possibilities for their own local initiative, to make contact with other like-minded people, and to find renewed vigor for the whole Transition project.”