Information Overload, Transition Town Edition: Well-behaved activists seldom make history

When Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote her famous quote in 1976, she was referring to the massive, under appreciated good done by women who will never get the credit they deserve. Time has showed the truth of her words, and I think they can be applied to people working for systemic change as well.

In this time of near constant over-stimulation, it’s easy to miss a lot of what is going on in the world. This point has come up a lot when pointing to the many layers of conniving, corruption, and cruelty in the modern Republican Party, but it applies to good things as well. Case in point: the Transition Town movement.

This got a fair amount of attention a few years back, but because it wasn’t focused on keeping the attention of the media, most of the country barely did more than glance at it before moving on. The Transition Town movement is an international network of towns and villages that are working as communities on building a better form of society from within. Like the glorious parasitoid wasps, the eggs of the future are laid within the still-living body of our doomed society, using its resources to build something better before finally shedding the restraints of the past and flying off in search of new victims.

It’s… not a perfect metaphor.

The movement, in principle, takes a holistic approach to the problems we face. Global warming is a problem that was, in theory, avoidable. Some combination of human nature, power dynamics, fanatical ideologies, and socialization to view all of it as inevitable, led to most of the country ignoring or not even hearing the alarm bell that has been ringing for the last 60 years.

Getting off of fossil fuels is nice and all, but it won’t actually help anything if we can’t work to fix the problems that led to the current crisis.

I think there’s a real case to be made that by the official “founding” of the Transition Town movement in 2005, the idea of preventing further warming was already an unrealistic pipe dream. It’s a goal we’ve been afraid to let go of, as a society, because doing so means facing a far large and more terrifying problem than was presented by the simple “we’ll change because we have to” narrative.

We will change because we have to, but that never looks the way Free Market Fundies think it will.

We will change because fresh water is running out and we’ll have to find new ways to get it if we want to survive.

We will change because within our lifetimes people will start moving away from the coasts as the seas rise.

We will change because without doing so we will die as a species, and even in the process of changing for survival, billions of human lives will be extinguished.

And while this crime cries out for justice, we also have to change before we’ll have even a chance at seeing that justice done.

The Transition Town movement is designed to face those changes head-on, and to be deliberate, methodical, and informed about how to guide our communities through the coming storm. For over a decade now, people around the world have been working to change ahead of time. They work on developing local food sources, taking an active approach to water management, and communal disaster preparedness, but that’s not why they stand out to me.

What makes this a powerful tool for the future is the mental and social aspect. The goal is not to change our structures to allow for the “growth economy” to continue, but to use research and collaboration to create a society built around sustainability and stability. They also understand that in order to deal with large-scale and long-term problems, the more immediate necessities of human life must also be met.

Beyond the obvious like food, water, and medicine, that also means equity and social justice. There was a time in my life when I thought that issues like racism, gender equality, and so on were important, but should be set aside to work on this “bigger problem” that threatens the whole species. That’s not something I’m proud of. Looking at human history, it’s obvious that no matter what situation humans end up in, we resent what we see as injustice, and we will go to great lengths to attain peace, justice, and freedom for ourselves.

And the more we learn about the human mind, the clearer it becomes that we need those things to thrive. That means that if you want humanity to work together on a global problem, then step one must always be to take care of basic needs, including problems like gender or racial inequality and injustice.

Transition Towns represent a communal effort to figure out what we can do by playing to our strengths as a social species, and to use that same collective power to do what needs to be done. If you haven’t given thought to this recently, please take some time to do that. See if there’s already work being done near you and join it, or start that work if it’s not being done.

And most importantly, talk to people. Talk about climate change. Talk about climate science. Talk about policy. Talk about economics. Talk about assumptions and ideologies. At this point, I want it to be rude to NOT bring up climate change and social justice at the dinner table. We’ve had a bit too much polite silence.


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  1. says

    Thanks for this very thoughtful piece on the Transition Movement. Since learning about it, I’ve believed that working to build resilient communities contains such hope for a sane future! Another wonderful aspect that I’ve found in my Transition Initiative is that we have diversity of thought. I’ve made friends with neighbors who don’t vote the same way I do, or who have a different world view. But we can agree that we want a resilient community and can work side-by-side to achieve that.

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