Transition Whatcom

I am curious if anyone else was at Derrick Jensen's talk on May 15th and what you thought. I found myself agreeing strongly with a lot of what he was saying, that drastic action needs to happen NOW to save the Earth, etc. But I was also really put off, offended, and-- to be perfectly honest-- quite scared by his rhetoric. His "us" versus "them" mentality and list of "enemies" made me think of the paranoid Richard Nixon, or George Bush's "you're either with us or against us." I don't think further polarizing people is helpful; I think it would shoot the environmental movement in the foot yet again. What do others think? Do you support the positive, inclusive, community-oriented Transition model, or the "any means necessary" Derrick Jensen model, or both? Any why? Thank you for your insights.

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After "point in fact" there should have been a link to this video:

Hey Y'all, long time no type... hope you don't mind my jumping in. Chris, If you're not scared after hearing Derrick, you weren't paying attention. Perfectly normal reaction. It means you haven't assimilated yet.

I'm beginning to look at all this not so much as an us vs. them dichotomy as it is finding the courage to say NO to that which doesn't support life. It's not so much the person as it is the action. But when someone is causing harm, they must be stopped "by any means necessary." It doesn't always come through in Derrick's talks, but the means to stop harm runs the gamut from reasoning to physical restraint. I'd suggest reading Endgame, Vols 1 & 2 to really get the feel and some of the subtleties of what Derrick is saying, the full range of actions, and why it is necessary.

And none of this should be seen as "judgement." We're mature and intelligent enough to be able to determine when an action supports the web of life. Personal moral and ethical guidelines will determine what level of activity any one person will support and engage in.

A point that David M made "Corporations exist to make money for shareholders, and the way they do that is by supplying the demand of consumers," I think is only half correct, that being the first half of the statement. As John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out in 1958's "The Affluent Society" people don't actually demand anything once basic needs have been met. This has been well understood by the captains of industry and their propagandists since the 1920s (or earlier, but that's about when it became formalized). The innocent act that corporations try to pull off, "We're just doing what you want" is total bull. Don't be afraid to call it as such.

Personal actions should be consistent with supporting a living planet, but they are only a small subset of the total damage being done in the name of greed and ranking hierarchies of domination. While I disagree with Derrick that "civilization" needs to be taken down completely, the Industrial Growth Society definitely does. More importantly, though, the dominator paradigm it is based on must be banished from the face of the Earth. How it all shakes out in our community design after that is anyone's guess.

Many of the things that consumers buy today are purchased because they have no choice within a system that has been intentionally created to ensure that no options exist outside of the system. We cling to addictive substitutes for natural fulfillment as if our lives depended on them because, quite literally, they do.

To Dillon, I'd suggest that you are misunderstanding the imaginal cell analogy. It comes across to me as if you're looking at it completely backwards. The stance Sahtouris personally takes on industrial capitalism and growth doesn't invalidate the analogy, although my favorite explanation of the analogy comes from Barbara Marx Hubbard. I'd also suggest that you have a misunderstanding of basic ecology. Maturation--which can be seen as evolution at the personal level--leads to increasing levels of complexity and diversity. This is a basic principle of ecology, and it works at ecosystem levels as well as social. In the case of social systems, whether or not they're based on an exploitive paradigm has much to do with whether or not they are imperialist and/or racist.

Anyway, hello B'hamsters... which I was there.

Thanks for your post and the clarification of the 'us vs. them' dichotomy and having courage to say NO. That was really inspiring.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding the imaginal cell analogy, but it seems pretty straightforward to me. I'll explain it again in a simpler way. First, let me put Sahtouris' words here:

"If you see the old system as a caterpillar crunching its way through the eco-system, eating up to three hundred times its weight in a single day, bloating itself until it just can't function anymore, and then going to sleep with its skin hardening into a chrysalis. What happens in its body is that little imaginal disks (as they're called by biologists) begin to appear in the body of the caterpillar and its immune system attacks them. But they keep coming up stronger and they start to link with each other. As they connect, as they link with each other, they mature into fully-fledged cells and more and more of them aggregate until the immune system of the caterpillar just can't function any more. At that point the body of the caterpillar melts into a nutritive soup that can feed the butterfly. I love this metaphor because it shows us why, first of all, we who want to change the world [the word should be culture, but she clearly conflates this culture with the whole world. That's pretty narcissistic.] are co-existing with the old system for a while and why there's no point in attacking the old system because you know the caterpillar is unsustainable so it's going to die [and of course take most or all of the world with it, but why should we let life on the planet get in the way of a stirring though absurd metaphor?] What we have to focus on is 'can we build a viable butterfly?'"

So, as Sahtouris says, "there's no point in attacking the old system" which is the same goddamn point these people make every goddamn time. Anything, anything, to justify not stopping this system. Anything to keep people from actually fighting back to defend those they love.

As Derrick Jensen says in the chapter 'Magical Thinking' in his and Aric McBay's latest book 'What We Leave Behind,' "There's really nothing new here: it's nothing more than a New Age retelling of the same old Christian rapture story: things suck now, but if you remain meek enough, if you don't fight back, if you're Christian enough, if you accept what this culture does to you and the planet (which after all is natural since caterpillars are so voracious), then someday Jesus--or in this version the Great Butterfly--will magically appear and make things all better. Bullshit."

And here's why I think that this allegory is racist, put in a simpler way (I hope):

The allegory states that this culture's consumption of the planet is natural ("...crunching through the eco-system, eating up to three hundred times its weight in a single day...")
The allegory points to the notion that this culture's destructiveness (its "...crunching through the eco-system...") is the necessary prelude to a transformation to some seemingly better state (the butterfly).
According to standard cultural anthropology, the vast majority of indigenous cultures that have existed over spans of hundreds of thousands of years did not take the form of a voracious caterpillar "...crunching through the eco-system...." They did not transform into anything like a chrysalis. They did not transform into anything that was less destructive and more beautiful. This is because they did not need to. They were living in ways that worked. Again, this is standard anthropology.
What this allegory is implying is that traditional indigenous peoples are stuck in some primitive or immature caterpillar phase.
This is not to say that indigenous cultures are exempt from the natural process of maturation, as you say, Dave, but they haven't been changing (except in our case, starting with the agricultural revolution) into ways of living that destroy the way that industrial civilization does, and will continue to do unless it's stopped.

Traditional indigenous cultures have been and continue to be extinguished by this culture, by this voracious caterpillar that will supposedly one day transform into something better, like a Great Butterfly. This is absurd, and yet it's only reasonable that it would come from the privileged part of civilization, from people with warm homes, television, food at their fingertips, and hot showers available to them. We need to stop justifying the destruction of the only fucking home we have and kill the caterpillar. We really need to kill the caterpillar.

I'm not sure if I'm misunderstanding you, Dave, or if there's still something that Sahtouris recognizes that I can't in my naivete. Please let me know.
I think Derrick Jenson makes some excellent points, just as Rob Hopkins does, just as many many others do. I think there is room for both, and I don't believe they are mutually exclusive at all. There is a tendency to put the DJ folks into a certain "camp" of singular thought, which doesn't seem at all what came across to me- I heard him say very clearly that all kinds of actions are needed and that he supports everyone doing what they can, including Transition work.

What I REALLY REALLY like though, is that there is room for all kinds of folks in TW, and I'm happy to see these discussions take place. I hope both sides are open to learning from one another.
I suppose in large part it is where you place your focus. To me the imaginal cells represent the possibility to come together and create something totally new and beautiful. The power of transformation. I realize there are many ways to look at an issue and many paths to take. For me, Transition's focus is on creating positive, forward looking, ways to live in a more local, self-reliant, resilient community. That is where I feel most comfortable. I understand the complexities and choose to focus here, recognizing that others may choose to focus elsewhere. Diversity is natural and good.
Until recently, I had never heard of "imaginal cells." At first I assumed it was some new age mumbo-jumbo, but turns out that there really is a transformative structure that acts in a way similar to the metaphor - although the metaphor is quite a stretch. From what I've learned, the metaphor inaccurately refers to them as "cells" when they are actually structures of cells called imaginal discs (which I suppose could even add more layers to the metaphor if one wanted to wax poetic) and that they exist in many insect larva, not just those of caterpillars who become butterflies. The Wikipedia entry states:

"An imaginal disc is one of the parts of a holometabolous insect larva that will become a portion of the outside of the adult insect during the pupal transformation. Contained within the body of the larva, there are pairs of discs that will form, for instance, the wings or legs or antennae or other structures in the adult. During the pupal stage, many larval structures are broken down, and adult structures, including the discs, undergo rapid development. Each disc everts and elongates, with the central portion of the disc becoming the distal part of whichever appendage, wing, leg, antenna, etc., it is forming. During the larval stage, the cells in the growing disc appear undifferentiated, but their developmental fate in the adult is already determined.

"The experiment that demonstrates this developmental commitment is to take an imaginal disc from a third instar larva, about to undergo pupation, and subdivide it and culture it in the body of a younger larva. Discs can be continuously cultured this way for many larval generations. When such a cultured disc is eventually implanted in the body of a larva that is allowed to pupate, the disc will develop into the structure it was originally determined to become. That is, an antenna disc can be cultured this way and will, almost always, become an antenna (out of place, of course) when final development is triggered by pupation.

"The study of imaginal discs in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster led to the discovery of homeotic mutations such as antennapedia, where the developmental fate of a disc could sometimes change. It is of great interest that the kinds of developmental switches that occur are very specific, leg to antenna for instance. Study of this phenomenon led to the discovery of the homeobox genes, and started a revolution in the understanding of development in multi-celled animals that is still underway."

Pretty cool stuff.

As I said, I think that Elisabet Sahtouris was pretty selective in which parts she chose to include and exclude in the metaphor. In rereading the "imaginal cell" passage that Sandy linked to in a previous post after coming to an understanding of what we do know about imaginal discs, what I come away with is the danger of using spiritual language to describe a natural process. It seems to me that the natural process has plenty to teach us - for the same reason that spending time in nature can be transformative and (dare I say it) enlightening.

None of this is intended to criticize or argue with or even support the points that Dillon or Sandy make - I fully honor where both of you are coming from. I would, however, urge caution in trying to explain natural processes in terms of human experience and values. I think that there were very good reasons why our ancestors told stories full of allegory and metaphor but would rarely (if ever) try to explain what they were trying to say in the story through analysis. The answers are already there - we just need to learn how to listen. In fact, one of my favorite parts of Derrick Jensen's talk was when he said, “I’m not from Bellingham. Go to the Nooksack River and ask it what you should do, and it will tell you.” To which I would add, "Go ask the imaginal discs what you should do, and they will tell you."
Stephen Trinkaus said:
when I attended the Party Up for Power Down event I had a similar question - what is OK and what is not OK under the umbrella of Transition Whatcom? I really want to know if having people who are aligned with the resistance movement is going to help or hurt Transition Whatcom.

Sorry for the slow response - I've been busy with many other tasks and activities.

It should be noted that everything said so far in this forum are the personal opinions and expressions of individuals. To answer your question above will require a position statement from the Transition Whatcom Initiating Group as a whole. Hopefully that statement will be available in the very near future.

In the meantime, our current Vision and Mission statement is available here (we're still working on tweaking it), and the Who We Are and What We Do document from the Transition Network is available here, and the and the 7 Principles of Transition document (an excerpt from Who We Are and What We Do) is available here at the Transition United States website. The Transition Primer is here, and the 2nd edition of the Transition Handbook is available online here.
Hi All! I am Listening. Great discussion!
I attended Derricks talk also. Although I prefer 'listening' to him as an author, & I've been reading End Game Part II.
His premises at the beginning of the book are powerful. If I had a link I would share it.

As for me, I give thanks for the gifts of the earth,
and am blessed to be in awe of the beauty & wonder of creation.

I love the complex simplicity of:
Care for the Earth
Care for the People
Share the Surplus

I'm going back out to the garden.
Yours in the spirit of community, Heather K
This is my attempt to respond to all of the above posts, and I hope it is at least in some small way successful:

I am going to quote a statement that has become somewhat of a cliche, but still holds a lot of power, "Be the change you want to see in the world....." Ghandi. Simple and to the point. Now, I will go a bit further in response to what you first wrote, Chris, and also in response to others replies.

Of all the responses to Chris' questions, David I think yours are the closest to my own. Violence begets violence. Fear creates more, Chris your feelings of fear are very normal...and Jensen's us vs them approach is a very big issue, one that divides rather than conquers. I was at Jensen's talk....and one of the things he stated several times was related to WWI and WWII issues, Hitler, and the French resistance. I lived through the end of the last depression (and yes, I believe we are currently in a depression, one of great magnitude that is only just beginning to be felt deeply) WWII, the Korean "police action," and Viet Nam, to say nothing of all the other multitudnious wars that continuously go on in the world daily. WWII was supposed to be the war that ended wars....obviously it was far from successful....war never ends war. It just makes people bitter and angry, damaged in unseen ways, and eventually in some way revengeful....that seems to be the nature of the human beast. So, that said, I do not think violence will stop what is happening in our world today.

Now I am going to dip into a rather personal area. When I was a very niave young woman of about 24, and coming from the back woods, I met and was mentored by a very learned man who was in his late 60's. This was to be one of the most fortunate turn of events in my life, as he made me begin to understand and realize who I really was. One of the most profound things he ever said to me was that I was one of the only real anarchists he had ever encountered.....and, this man had been one of the founding fathers of the Wobblies and involved deeply in the ACLU from its infancy....he also started, single-handled, the first nudist camp in the state of, he knew what it meant to be an anarchist. I was so naive and uneducated at that time that I had to go home and look up what an anarchist was.......and realized that yes, that was me. And, I have quietly lived the life of an anarchist all my life - without being violent. What I also learned from my hippy days was that one can make changes in this world, by the way one lives, not by violence. And, that is not to say there was no violence in those days, of course there was, but not a lot of it was caused by the hippy individuals. I was involved in many peace marches and sit-ins, and even wound up in jail, and we were not the violent ones, and we did make a difference.

The best teacher is the one who teaches by example, not the one who pounds lessons into you through threats and coercion.......and yes, Cameron, we are out of time! And, I think our situation is far, far, far worse than most people are willing to admit. Life on this planet is highly threatened, all life. And, the reasons for that, I believe, are two-fold. There are too many people and those too many people have bought into a belief that they must have more and that the more will always be in supply - consumerism at its best!! And, it doesn't matter what the more could be more material goods, more entertainment, more people, more pets, more cars, more and bigger houses, more food, more of more. I believe this is called greed. We, as humans, are never ever satisfied with simplicity; simple living, living with the land and its many inhabitants is not how we are. We always want to have more, and to conquer, be it to conquer the wildness of the land, the weather, the nature of the world, or each other, we want to conquer....and now we are talking about wanting to conquer "them." Well, as David and Pogo said, we have met the enemy and "they are us." If each of us could/would take a good hard look at how we really live.....every minute thing we think and do, we would discover some pretty scary things.

And, now, back to anarchism.....if you want to be successful with it, you must be subtle and insidious with it. (and here I quote from the dictionary - insidious: operating in a slow or not easily aparent manner: more dangerous than seems evident; artful, sly, crafty, wily, foxy, designing, deceptive. And, yes, the dictionary also says treacherous, , lying in wait, an ambush, and plot. And, think about it - you can plot out your own life, you can be deceptive and live as you find right, with you and the land, you can be artful in how you design your life ,one that is in sync with nature, you can be wily, sly and foxy in how you deal with the status quo. One doesn't have to be a consumer, one chooses to be a consumr....and without consumers, this society/culture/economy would readily collapse.

As a life long anarchist I have sown many seeds, and many of those seeds have grown full-blown over the years. Is it too late to continue doing this? I don't think so. I think it is one of the few options we all have to do what is necessary to bring about true change(s). And, it must be done from the heart, mind, soul, and spirit in an intelligent and humane manner. Otherwise, we will just be doing the same thing we (humans) have always done, and obviously it hasn't yet worked, so why would we expect it to work now????

Chris, you stated you drive your car to work sometimes, that you compost and grow some of your food, and because Jensen disparaged such action in his talk you felt that you could end up on someone's hit list. I don't think so....I think what Jensen is promoting is going after far bigger fish than you. And, I think his ideas, such as blowing up dams, will only hurt the little won't stop the process of "civilization" that is, in its ideas of progress, destroying life. So, keep on doing what you are doing, question everything you don't understand, and find more ways that you personally can become a more balanced being.

I believe there are many many ways in which we can stop the direction of our current culture/civilization/economy. And, one of the main ones is that we, each and every one of us, must STOP living according to societies rules and regulations. Just imagine what would happen if everyone agreed to stop buying anything other than food, if everyone stopped buying into and participating in everything, except food. If everyone made do with just exactly what they need, which is food. I would wager that nearly everyone in Bellingham, and in much of this country, has in their possesion far, far, far more than they will ever be able to consume in more than a year, other than food (oh, and I would like to qualify what I mean by food - real food, nothing processed), and this includes many of the homeless, and the many people in third world countries who have TV's, and are starving at the same time. I believe that if we all joined forces and completely stopped being consumers of "stuff" that we could stop the machine of culture/government/economics, and it would be done without violence as its instigator - and it would turn this world upside down. And, I would challenge anyone to join me in this process. I will give you just one example. I use baggies, and I have a drawer full of them...all of them are used, washed, and reused, and I have not purchased any new ones in the past 8 -10 years. Where do they come from? they follow me home from friends giving me things, from purchases made at the coop, and from that place we all wonder used to be hangers, now it is baggies! (and if you get that joke, then you will understand what I am talking about.) If you don't think all of us humans doing this would make a difference, think on this - a couple of days ago I went on line to try to find a simple stainless steel cup for a friend of mine who has no computer. She did not want an insulated cup, just a plain cup. I found one...out of millions of insulated cups of all sorts, sizes, shapes, monogramed, with fancy designs, etc, etc ad nauseum. Herein lies much of the probelm, we have so many choices that true simplicity is hard to find, let alone live.

And, one last thing I want to address - what I have yet to hear in all of the Transition Whatcom or the Fertile Ground or Jensen meetings/discussions is how our behaviors are affecting spirit....and I am not talking about religion, nor am I talking about the bit David quoted from Ken Wilbur. I am talking about the spirit world, that level of "life" that we can't see....and I don't mean energy either....I am talking strictly about another plane of existance, that of spirit, which is also being deeply affected by our human behavior. Jensen talked a little about our Native relations and living as they did....and if he really had a strong and deep connection and conviction to that way of life, the really old way of the Native peoples of any country - long before the influence of the Western world invaded their lives, he would know what I am talking about......this is an inner and expansive thing, a seeing beyond the physical, and if we don't honor that part of life, we will never, ever suceed in the transition we seek, as spirit is an integral aspect of life and must also be included in our efforts.
I have pasted below a document that details the perspective of Fertile Ground on many of the issues presented here.

This document was written as a response to criticisms leveled against Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Aric McBay and Fertile Ground after Jensen’s, Keith’s and McBay’s visit to Bellingham on May 15-16, 2009. The collective “we” is used to denote that the Coordinating Council of Fertile Ground reached a consensus that this paper represented “our” perspective. We understand that not all in Fertile Ground will agree with everything here, but we felt it important to come up with some consistent way to rebut the criticisms and set the stage for us being able to frame the narrative rather than our detractors.

Addressing some Community Concerns about Fertile Ground

PART 1 – The Radical Critique of Civilization

One of the many inspirations for the creation of Fertile Ground has been the work of environmental author and activist Derrick Jensen. There are some aspects of Jensen’s work that are extremely controversial. Probably the most controversial is his call for a “resistance” with the goal of collapsing civilization in order to protect what is left of the natural world. (Jensen defines “civilization” as a culture . . . that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities . . . with cities being defined—so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on—as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.” (Endgame, Volume I: The Problem of Civilization, Seven Stories Press, 2006, p. 17)

His premise is that civilization itself is not sustainable; that the very nature of civilization is to dominate and thus destroy the natural world. Jensen presents both historical and scientific data to support his claim. He believes this is true of all civilizations, but that modern industrial civilization is exponentially more destructive than any other civilization in the history of the planet.

Jensen believes that civilization will inevitably collapse under its own weight due to resource depletion, overpopulation, toxins, and instruments of war. However, in the meantime these same aspects will also create a world that will be so toxic and so ecologically impoverished that it will no longer be able to support the human species and countless others. Thus, the sooner civilization is brought down the better the chance for survival.

To achieve the goal of ending civilization sooner rather than later he feels that destruction of critical infrastructure components is a rational and appropriate strategy. These include actions to disrupt or wipe out key economic, communication, and energy systems – in other words destroying the very pillars upon which industrial civilization is built. Jensen equally advocates for other less radical measures such as fighting timber sales in court and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. His basic point is that we are in dire straits; that each of us needs to figure out what our role is and then get to work because time is running out.

Jensen does not believe that civilization would be able to re-assert itself after a complete collapse because all of the easily available resources upon which it is built (oil, copper, platinum, silver, gold, zinc, etc) are already exhausted (or nearly so) and the natural capital upon which it depends (fertile soil, healthy functioning ecosystems, clean water) will take centuries to regenerate, not to mention how long it may take the climate to stabilize. He believes that what will inevitably replace civilization (if there are any humans left after the collapse) will be small populations in diverse locations, each adapted to their own environment and each with its own culture that reflects the land base on which it depends.

Jensen points to the “dominator” mentality as the root cause of the rise of civilization and its many ills. He believes that this mentality took hold when humans began to impose their will on natural systems in order to remain sedentary and develop agricultural practices. The dominator mentality is also responsible for the oppression of women, the genocide against native peoples, racism, and every other atrocity from factory farming to torture to cutting down forests for profit. The institutions and power structures that have resulted from this dominator mentality are, in Jensen’s view, the true enemy of the plants, animals, microbes, and fungi and indeed the entire web of life that inhabits the biosphere. Including us.

PART 2 - How does Fertile Ground fit in with this critique?

The above analysis of Jensen’s work is a little oversimplified - his books are very long and contain literally thousands upon thousands of pages of research, analysis, history, philosophy and stories. He also writes about a myriad of other topics that are not covered here. However, the explanation above should be adequate to address how Fertile Ground views his philosophy and perspective and how we address common concerns with his approach.

We need to point out here that Fertile Ground is made up of diverse individuals who may view Jensen’s work with very different eyes. There are some who reject a lot of it, some who accept part of it, some who accept most or all of it, and some who think Derrick doesn’t go far enough. However, there is a certain critical analysis that runs through all the work that Fertile Ground does (a common denominator, if you will) and which all members will need to more or less agree with in order to be integrally involved with the group’s goals and strategies.

Of the overview given here, probably the most important point to keep in mind is the final sentence in Part 1 above: “the institutions and power structures that have resulted from this dominator mentality are . . . the true enemy of . . . the entire web of life that inhabits the biosphere. Including us.”

This is one of the main premises upon which Fertile Ground is founded. One may disagree with the word “enemy” (maybe substitute “adversary” or “primarily responsible for the destruction of” or whatever), or one may disagree with how to address this threat – but this particular premise of Jensen’s work is vital to understand what Fertile Ground is, what its goals are, and how it strategizes to deal with the ecological crisis.

If one agrees with this premise (regardless of whether one finds these institutions and power structures to be the most important factor or not) then they have a place in the Fertile Ground Community. If one does not agree with this analysis, then Fertile Ground would probably be a waste of their time (and ours). That said, if one is open to the idea that this may be true, Fertile Ground may be a place where they can explore this idea and see if they do indeed find it to be valid.

There are a couple of other fundamental premises to identify here before continuing this discussion. These premises are also fundamental to Fertile Ground’s philosophy:

Premise: The institutions and power structures mentioned above, and society at large, show no signs of being able or willing to make a voluntary transition towards sustainability; the culture is way too addicted to its comforts, substances and ways of living to actually undermine those same comforts, substances and ways of living. This isn’t to say that many people won’t or that people are not willing to. But, even if we believed that it could, there is pretty much no chance it would happen in time. And, even if it could happen in time, the sooner the transition takes place the more ecosystems, species and other natural systems would be left intact.

Premise: Humans are animals and (assuming we live sustainably) our existence on the planet is no more or less important than the existence of any other species inhabiting any other ecosystem on the planet.

So, in a nutshell the premises of Fertile Ground can be summed up as follows:

Civilization has a dominator mentality. This mentality is destroying the earth. Civilization will not make a voluntary transition to give up this mentality and become sustainable. All species, including humans, share an equally important role in the health of the ecosystems upon which we depend.

PART 3 – How does Fertile Ground respond to community concerns about these radical ideas?

Listed below are the six most common concerns that we’ve heard about Jensen’s work:

1) The “us” versus “them” mentality is counter-productive

2) Derrick Jensen advocates violence which, especially when it escalates, only leads to more pain, suffering, misunderstanding and destruction. Violence must be avoided at all costs.

3) Derrick Jensen focuses on “them” rather than asking “us” to look inward where the real change must begin.

4) “Resistance” implies all of the above and Derrick Jensen advocates for not only a “resistance movement” but for a whole culture based on it (a “culture of resistance”).

5) Civilization does not need to be brought down; it just needs to be rehabilitated.

6) Destroying civilization means destroying the United States and thus a resistance movement would be viewed as a terrorist movement. Therefore, people who act on what Derrick calls for are eco-terrorists and being an eco-terrorist will likely get you put in jail or killed.

Let’s now address how (or if) these six concerns listed about Jensen’s work apply to Fertile Ground’s three goals: to restore Earth, resist domination, and rewild humans. We will address them one-by-one.

CONCERN #1: The “us” versus “them” mentality is counter-productive.

To a great extent, Fertile Ground’s work is based on the concept of defensive rights. What this concept implies is that, for example, a woman's right to not be raped trumps the perceived right of the rapist to violate her. Or, that the right to breathe clean air trumps the perceived rights of others to pollute our air. Or, that the right of a baby to drink unadulterated mother's milk trumps the perceived rights of others to dump dioxins, pesticides, fire retardants and other toxic chemicals into the environment that end up in the mother's milk. Those people and institutions that violate the defensive rights of others are expressing the dominator mentality. “Resisting domination” is really another way of saying, “protecting the defensive rights of those who cannot (or need help to) defend themselves.”

It follows that in order to resist domination, we need to know what institutions, power structures and individuals are responsible for the domination (and thus destruction) of the Earth and its many populations (plants, human, other animals, etc.). In other words, it seems reasonable to assume that if you are going to change a behavior, then you need to know who exhibits the behavior.

We also recognize that sometimes, as the comic strip character Pogo says, “We have met the enemy and he (sic) is us.”

Fertile Ground does not seek to exacerbate the divisions that already exist within society. At the same time, we recognize that there is a time and a place to say, “Hey – stop that! What you (or “they”) are doing is destroying the Earth!” And, if “they” are not willing to change the behavior, then “we” will express our defensive rights.

CONCERN #2: Derrick Jensen advocates violence which, especially when it escalates, only leads to more pain, suffering, misunderstanding and destruction. Violence must be avoided at all costs.

There are some people in Fertile Ground who, to say the least, are violence-averse and embody this concern. There are others who are OK with the destruction of property, and others who are ready to do whatever is necessary to protect the planet. One thing that sets Fertile Ground apart from other groups is that we believe that each person must find what is morally right for them in this struggle and that we will accept them even if we disagree with them. If you are a non-violent pacifist who cannot accept that others in your community may consider more violent actions under some circumstances, then Fertile Ground is not for you. Or, if you believe that violence is the only way and that pacifism has no place in the “resistance,” then Fertile Ground is not for you either. We are an “each person needs to find their own gifts, their own moral compass and get to work while there is still a biosphere to protect” kind of group. Besides which, we clearly see that the most horrific violence is being committed against the planet right now because so few people are willing to stand up to it in any meaningful way.

CONCERN #3: Derrick Jensen focuses on “them” rather than asking “us” to look inward where the real change must begin.

As stated above, we are an “each person needs to find their own gifts, their own moral compass and get to work while there is still a biosphere to protect” kind of group. If people think that change from within will on its own change the dynamic of civilization destroying the Earth, then we would recommend joining a different group with others who hold this belief. Of course, we recognize that changing one’s own thoughts and behaviors can be an important part of the overall equation, but we also believe that this will not be enough in and of itself.

CONCERN #4: “Resistance” implies all of the above (concerns) and Derrick Jensen advocates for not only a “resistance movement” but for a whole culture based on it - a “culture of resistance”.

So do we. We really don’t see another way to do it. (A later section of this paper will give more details on how we view a “culture of resistance.”)

CONCERN #5: Civilization does not need to be brought down; it just needs to be rehabilitated.

Many people in Fertile Ground think that civilization needs to be brought down, and others feel that it needs to be rehabilitated. Both viewpoints work for us as long as our common goal is stopping the destruction and oppression and living sustainably. We all have a role to play.

CONCERN #6: Destroying civilization means destroying the United States and thus a resistance movement would be viewed as a terrorist movement. Therefore, people who act on what Derrick calls for are eco-terrorists and being an eco-terrorist will likely get you put in jail or killed.

Fertile Ground has no tolerance for illegal or “below ground” activities. Period. We don’t want people to even talk about such scenarios in any context during any Fertile Ground activity. In fact, all Fertile Ground members must sign an agreement that states:

“I agree that I will not in any way support or participate in any illegal underground activities while part of the Fertile Ground Community. Should I ever commit any crime while part of the community, I understand that my membership may be immediately revoked, that I will not be welcome at any Fertile Ground Community event, and I will forfeit any dues paid.”

PART 4 - What is a Culture of Resistance?

In his seminal work, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall Rosenberg lays out a communication strategy that aims to see all of our actions as being based on human needs that we are trying to meet. In practicing nonviolent communication (or NVC), the strategy is to understand and acknowledge these needs with the goal of discovering “what is alive” within the other and to connect with that person on a deeper level. The tools Rosenberg offers are both effective and profoundly revolutionary. Indeed, it is the hope that those who participate in Fertile Ground will utilize these techniques in order to create more meaningful relationships between individuals and thus a stronger and more resilient community.

Fertile Ground expands on this philosophy and applies it to all aspects of the web of life. Our goal is to not only understand human needs, but also the needs of all living things (animals, plants, fungi etc.) as well as the systems that interconnect them – the very ecosystems upon which we all depend.

A “culture of resistance” has a parallel theory in NVC – it’s called “protective use of force.” To quote Rosenberg, “In some situations . . . the use of force may be necessary to protect life or individual rights. For instance, the other party may be unwilling to communicate, or imminent danger may not allow time for communication. In these situations, we may need to resort to force. If we do, NVC requires us to differentiate between the protective and punitive uses of force.” (Rosenberg, Marshall, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, 2nd Edition, PuddleDancer Press, 2003, p.161.)

In the culture of resistance that Fertile Ground supports, we believe that the first step in confronting the destruction of the natural world is indeed to connect with individuals who make decisions that negatively impact the web of life. This includes everyone from people on the street to those who sit in plush offices in skyscrapers. If people have a willingness to turn destructive actions into sustainable ones, that opportunity should not be squandered.

We do, however, distinguish between the people and the institutions. We do not in any way believe that any human institution has any rights that supersede those of the living world. For example, unlike the US Courts, we do not believe that corporations have “personhood.” In fact, we find this kind of thinking insulting, absurd, and insanely dangerous. Thus, we do not believe that we need to consider the “needs” of these institutions if they come into conflict with the real needs of people, other animals, and the entire natural world.

Ultimately, Fertile Ground seeks to be a voice and a force for those (both human and non-human) who are voiceless and/or powerless to stop the atrocities being committed against them.

The culture of resistance that we envision is one that identifies the people in power and the institutions of power that are unwilling to make meaningful, real changes to become sustainable. And by sustainable we don’t just mean less destructive; we mean that their net effect on the environment is, at best, neutral, and preferably, restorative. Once we have identified who these people and institutions are and what our strategic priorities are, members of a culture of resistance then counter them with tactical, oppositional actions with the goal of removing those people and institutions from places of power and influence.

Like NVC theory, we do not find punitive use of force to be productive. We do not in any way believe that punishment results in rehabilitation. In fact, we think that punishment is more likely to lead to even more destructive behavior. The only measure by which we judge our actions to be effective is to what extent the destruction and abuse have been stopped.

As we indicated earlier, the tactics we use are those that our community feels appropriate and moral to them. We do not promote or advocate violence, but we do feel that there are circumstances where it may be justified. However, if someone is not willing to take violent or destructive action as a protective use of force due to their own moral dilemma, it is fine with us.

Some may feel uncomfortable being in a group where there are people who advocate the use of violence. This is completely understandable. We hope that if this describes you that you will take “solace” in two facts:

1) You are already part of an extremely violent and destructive culture. In fact, you are part of the most violent and destructive culture in the history of the planet. And, the violence and destruction rarely even has the intention of creating a better world – it is almost always to expand power, make a profit, or repress others. By not acting against these atrocities, we become complicit and condone this behavior. By contrast, participation in a group like Fertile Ground is a very real way to participate in a movement that, even if violence was expressed, would at least be a protective use of force to help stop the atrocities.

2) Again, here’s the agreement that all Fertile Ground members must sign and that we do everything in our power to enforce:

“I agree that I will not in any way support or participate in any illegal underground activities while part of the Fertile Ground Community. Should I ever commit any crime while part of the community, I understand that my membership may be immediately revoked, that I will not be welcome at any Fertile Ground Community event, and I will forfeit any dues paid.”

So, at worst you would come in contact with people who advocate violence (and have the opportunity to have a dialogue with them). Regardless, you would be part of a community that takes protecting the Earth seriously enough to consider all available options.

Now that we’ve spoken to concerns of those who are “peaceful warriors,” we will now turn to the concerns of those who are advocating for violence. We really only have two things to say:

1) If you want to advocate for the defensive use of force, this will be a safe place to do so.

2) HOWEVER, if you have any intention to actually plan or commit a violent or illegal act, either quit Fertile Ground or don’t sign up in the first place. Go elsewhere – go underground, go home, go find another community, whatever. We will not allow you to threaten the security of the group.

PART 5 - What sets Fertile Ground apart from other environmental groups?

The tragedy of the modern environmental movement is that in spite of widespread support for ecological protection and restoration, the destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems has not only continued, but the rate of destruction has actually increased.

In light of this fact, some have postulated that the modern environmental movement has perhaps accelerated the destruction of the natural world because it has helped channel the untold energy of activists and supporters into actions that have been strategically flawed rather than into actions that could have made a meaningful difference. If this is indeed true, then it may be time to completely rethink the tactics. However, even if it is not true that the tactics have been counterproductive, it would be difficult to argue that they have been adequate to meet the challenge.

At the risk of oversimplification, one could divide the strategies available to environmentalists into one of two groups: “Bright Green” and “Deep Green.”

The Bright Greens have dominated the environmental movement for the past 40 years. Bright Green tactics tend to rely on government legislation, technological innovations, and gradual structural adjustments to the fabric of society and its institutions.

Deep Greens, on the other hand, believe that technological innovations, even when developed for environmental purposes, inevitably lead to accelerated resource depletion and more pollution. The Deep Green movement is more focused on replacing oppressive power structures with community-based ones that tap the wisdom of the original peoples. Deep Green strategies also tend to reflect an urgency that is much more pronounced than that of the Bright Greens.

Below is a comparison of the Deep Green and Bright Green perspectives that was written by a member of Fertile Ground:

“The Deep Greens want Monsanto shut down forever. The Bright Greens think Monsanto could become a responsible company (or at least that's what their tactics imply). Bright Greens think that if we just scream loud enough those in power will meaningfully address global warming. Deep Greens believe that we're going to have to stop the polluters ourselves. Bright Greens think that electing "good" government will lead to positive change. Deep Greens believe that it never has and it never will because it was never set up to be responsive to the real needs of people and the environment. Bright Greens think that with the right amount of education, people will voluntarily change. Deep Greens believe that the population displays highly addictive and destructive behaviors that can only be addressed through intervention. Bright Greens think that civilization is as real as nature. Deep Greens believe that civilization is a social formation and that nature is real. Bright Greens think that adopting a green lifestyle will make a real difference for the planet. Even though Deep Greens may agree that it is the right thing to do, they believe that as a tactic to change corporate behavior it is delusional, and can even backfire - making those in power even more powerful.”

Fertile Ground is part of the Deep Green movement. Even so, Fertile Ground honors and supports the efforts of the Bright Greens. Deep Green and Bright Green are compatible in numerous ways, and many people will find meaning in both camps. The role of Fertile Ground is to give a voice to Deep Green and, in doing so (to quote our Statement of Purpose and Intent), “to actively create a culture of resistance to those who rule by force and intimidation.”

PART 6 - So what exactly does a “Culture of Resistance” do?

We are creating new social norms. In the resistance paradigm, acts of resistance are normalized and celebrated and the culture sees the political landscape that needs changing in terms of oppressive power structures that need to be taken down in order to achieve a sustainable society. This is as opposed to traditional activist work (at least in the US) where victories are achieved incrementally through legislation and modifications to the corrupt power structures, and where individual thoughts and actions are often seen as being more important than changes that actually make a real difference in terms of restoration.

How does this look “on the ground?” Here’s a scenario written by one of the members of Fertile Ground that combines above ground legal resistance with non-compliance activities that were inspired by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., but put in the context of the struggle for environmental justice in the United States of today. (Note that Fertile Ground only supports the legal activities.)

“At first glance it appears to be business as usual. But peer a little deeper and you will see countless acts of defiance. People no longer talk only about how their actions impact the environment, but about what they can do to use protective force if others continue to do harm. People call in sick for work. Survey stakes disappear. People celebrate when the stock market falls. Important shipments end up at the wrong address. People pull all their money out of the banking system. Third party candidates get lots of votes. For some reason, the wireless internet doesn’t work at any Starbuck’s location. Thousands of people don’t pay their electric bill, and when their power is cut off they no longer need it to run their household. For some reason, the permit to build the new Wal-Mart store keeps getting lost. People’s courts get set up and CEO’s are publicly tried for environmental crimes and abusive behavior. Pirate radio stations pop up all over the dial. A boycott shuts down a specific corporately owned gas station in town and the employees are offered better paying jobs at local businesses. More and more people use local currencies. It becomes normal to not pay taxes and there is little that the IRS can do about it. The police don’t enforce certain laws. McDonald’s is shut down by the health department as a threat to public health. The County Sheriff keeps misplacing directives from Homeland Security. Communities are more and more self reliant. The system doesn’t seem to reward the same behaviors. The power structure begins to crumble, and people are there, ready to replace it with one that works for the people and the environment.”

This is only one individual’s vision of what a culture of resistance could look like. There are many visions and possibilities of how it could unfold or what it could look like. We encourage all Fertile Ground members to bring their own visions forward. Some may be far more tame, and others more extreme. We recognize that there is no “one way” to create a culture of resistance. We just know that it is a collaborative effort and that we need all the help we can get.

PART 7 - Conclusion

We hope this paper has been helpful in explaining what Fertile Ground is about, how it is different from other groups, and how we respond to the most common criticisms leveled against us. We also welcome your input, your criticisms and your praise. Deep Green, Fertile Ground and the resistance movement are works in progress. There is plenty of room for improvement and refinement.

Allow us to close by reiterating Fertile Ground’s Statement of Purpose and Intent:

We are people who share a commitment to restoring balance to the ecosystems in which we live and on which we depend for our survival. Although we recognize that human civilization has wreaked havoc upon the earth, we also believe that we have the ability, as our ancestors did, to live in ways where our lives enhance these natural systems.

We commit to creating a safe community – safe for women, safe for men, and safe for children. We understand that the current patterns of abuse and domination are destructive and need to be interrupted and transformed if we are to achieve our goals. Thus, we actively create a culture of resistance to those who rule by force and intimidation.

It is our intention to create an environment that supports living our lives to their fullest, and that doing so is a great gift to ourselves, to those yet born, and to the honor of those who have gone before us.

We live to deepen our relations with the natural world, with the mystery of life, and with this land we call home.

Fertile Ground; A Community of Whatcom.
I agree with David Marshak that there are “significant differences in the mission between Fertile Ground and the global Transition movement.” However, I think that there is quite a bit of overlap as well. Please keep in mind that the document I posted was a response to community concerns about Fertile Ground’s association with the Derrick Jensen event. There is much more to Fertile Ground than what is in my post.

The phrase "rebuilding community resilience and self-reliance...tackling climate change and peak oil, bringing the head, heart, and hands of communities together to make the transition to life beyond oil" could also describe part of Fertile Ground’s mission. There is not one word of that quote that seems at all different from, let alone at odds with, what Fertile Ground is doing.

Here are the similarities as I see them:

Transition Whatcom is part of the global Transition movement. Fertile Ground is part of the global Resistance movement.

Transition Whatcom is interested in “rebuilding community resilience and self-reliance.” Fertile Ground has the exact same goal.

Transition Whatcom wants to “tackle climate change and peak oil.” I’m not sure about the football metaphor, but Fertile Ground wants to do what is necessary to reduce this civilization’s activities that are leading to the buildup of greenhouse gasses and leading to climate change. So I think both groups are on the same page there as well.

Transition Whatcom wants to bring “the head, heart, and hands of communities together to make the transition to life beyond oil.” I would say that Fertile Ground would agree with this but would extend “life beyond oil” to “life beyond the many ecologically destructive practices of human civilization.” Given that so much of the ecologically destructive practices are currently driven by (and have been accelerated by) the availability of cheap oil, there seems to be agreement here as well.

I would say that the defining difference between the Transition movement and the Resistance movement is one of tactics. I find that the Transition movement is much more oriented towards the decisions and actions of individuals (you, me, our neighbors, etc.) to move away from the insanely unsustainable oil-driven practices of our current civilization. The Resistance movement, on the other hand, is more oriented towards directing actions at the institutions (the corporations, the governmental bureaucracies, the patriarchy, the brainwashing – ahem I mean “educational” institutions, and the cultural trance that keeps the population docile and accepting) and thus – hopefully – helping the collapse of the oil economy to happen sooner rather than later. (And the sooner the better before it wipes out the human species and so many others.)

Personally, I find meaning and validity in both approaches. I may be more involved in Fertile Ground, but I am equally committed to the ideas of Transition Whatcom.

I would suggest that the approaches of the Transition Movement and the Resistance Movement may at times be at odds, but in the grand scale of things are symbiotic and maybe even necessary. I think that more and more people are waking up from this crazy nightmare called (for lack of words), “take what we want, damn the consequences.”

As people realize what a mess we’re in, they will seek out what speaks to them in terms of what their own gifts and visions are. Transition Whatcom and Fertile Ground are two community projects for people to plug into. And there are many more out there, and hopefully many many more will sprout up. To pull ourselves out of this tailspin I think we will need all the help we can get. (Please insert a visualization of a hand reaching out with an olive branch here, doves flying free, and the music hitting a crescendo.) Together, somehow, we are going to pull this off. There is simply too much at stake. If you are reading this you are probably my neighbor, and maybe even my friend. Ultimately, those bonds are far more important that our allegiances to any organization. We are social animals. We need each other. I’m here for me, for you, for my beautiful six year old son, for the future generations of humans, the future generations of salmon, and the future generations of whatever we can save from the edge of this abyss. Can we do it? YES WE CAN! Will we do it? YOU BET YOUR BOOTY!
A while back the Transition model was criticized by an activist environmental organization known as the Trapese Collective. Rob Hopkins reviewed their critique on his blog, and I think some of you folks might find this article to be of interest, as I think Rob really gets at an important part of what distinguishes the Transition model from other approaches, and is relevant to this thread.

For the sake of ease and convenience, I'm just going to cut and paste the entire article. It's a little long, but long posts are not something new in this thread. :)

“The Rocky Road to a Real Transition”: A Review.
by Rob Hopkins

The Rocky Road to a Real Transition: the transition towns movement and what it means for social change. Paul Chatterton & Alice Cutler. The Trapese Collective.
It is flattering that so early in a movement such as the Transition movement, people take the time to sit down and write such a detailed critique of it. Trapese Popular Education Collective were previously behind the excellent ‘Do It Yourself Manual’. As the first published external examination of the Transition model it is to be welcomed, and the authors raise a number of important questions. From my perspective, “The Rocky Road…” does a very good job of identifying many of the key areas where Transition is distinctly different from other approaches to social activism.

Two Distinct Yet Complementary Approaches

The authors write from a perspective strongly rooted in their work as left wing activists and educators, with a strong anti-corporate, anti-globalisation stance. One of the aspects of their critique of Transition is that it shies away from directly confronting what they see as being the enemy. Their starting point can be summed up in the sentence “it is fundamentally important to identify and name the enemies in the battle to make a real Transition”. From my perspective Transition is a fundamentally different approach, and in offering a review of this booklet, it feels important at the outset to address the distinctly different starting positions here.

I have always been inspired and motivated by Vandana Shiva’s assertion that “these systems function because we give them our support, but if we withdraw our support, these systems will not be able to run”. I argue in the Transition Handbook (which unfortunately the authors neglected to read before writing ‘The Rocky Road’, nor did they speak with or interview anyone directly involved) that we need to move beyond the approach of making our starting point trying to work out who is to blame for the predicament we are in.

Yes there are tremendously powerful global forces at work, doing appalling things with increasing boldness, but they function as such because, in many cases, we have given them, consciously or unconsciously, the power to do so. The individuals involved in those global forces are locked into them just like everyone else and there is nothing to be gained by demonising them. There is also always the danger that by adopting demonising, depersonalising approaches means that there is a risk that we do whatever it takes to bring about the change we want, rather than modelling, through our daily lives, the kind of change we want to see.

There are precedents. The Zapatistas, mentioned in this document as being examples of good political action, are in many ways similar to Transition. They set off on a journey of change with no idea where it would lead, asking for nothing more than to be given the space to do what they want and to be left alone to live the way they want to. They argue that change starts with them, and what is important is to be the change, as Gandhi put it, that you want to see in the world.

Transition is determinedly inclusive and non-blaming, arguing that a successful transition through peak oil and climate change will by necessity be about a bringing together of individuals and organisations, rather than a continued fracturing and antagonising. It seeks common ground rather than difference and realises that people who run businesses and people who make decisions are all similarly bewildered and forced to rethink many basic assumptions by these new and challenging times we are beginning to enter. I make no apologies for the Transition approach being designed to appeal as much to the Rotary Club and the Women’s Institute as to the authors of this report.

Time and again the authors of this booklet re-state their belief in a them-and-us perspective. They talk of “taking on power and those who hold wealth and influence”, of there being “powerful forces to confront” and that Transition is “only realistic if people are also prepared to take on the vested interests in the media, government and business”. Yet these extraordinary times into which we are moving extraordinarily fast demand new tools, both practical and thinking tools. It has always struck me that as we stand on the verge of the monumental changes that peak oil and climate change will impose, to have confrontational activism as the principal tool in our toolbox is profoundly unskilful.

Diverging Opinions of How Change Happens

One of the reasons behind this is that little account is taken of the psychology underpinning how people change. The approach is usually one of information dumping, giving people a large amount of distressing information and expecting them to change. What we try and do in the Transition movement is to design in an acceptance of the fact that information about peak oil and climate change can be very distressing, and that it can lead to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. An approach based on information exchange, allowing people to discuss with others how peak oil and climate change ‘feel’, and to enable them to feel part of a wider community of people exploring this, is very empowering and much more healthy.

One fundamental misunderstanding in this document is the belief that change is something that we have to fight for, that those in positions of power will cling to business as usual for as long as possible, that globalisation will only wobble if we shake it hard enough. This is not my experience though, nor, from the anecdotal evidence I hear from Transition Initiatives on the ground, is it what is happening around the country. Here is a quote from the Guardian in an article announcing the arrival of $122 a barrel oil.

“The Ernst and Young Item Club said the modest upswing in economic growth it was predicting for 2009 and 2010 was predicated on the price of oil remaining below $100. But it warned that if the cost of oil increased to $120, or $150, in the long-term, it would have serious implications for the strength of the wider economy”.

The following day Goldman Sachs announced that its forecast was for $200 a barrel oil sooner rather than later. Yesterday’s London Evening Standard reported that the housing crash has now officially begun. The end of the Age of Cheap Oil is arriving very fast, regardless of whether we decide to campaign for it or not. It is my experience that most of the people I meet who are local politicians, business people, whoever, haven’t even started to think about this. I spoke last week at an event in Gloucestershire which ended with my sitting on a panel with a number of people working for the South West Regional Development Agency. A question came from the audience to the effect of “do SWRDA take peak oil into account in their regional development strategies?”. It was clear it was something they hadn’t even begun to think about.

By the end of the evening, the Area Head of SWRDA promised to the audience that he would get his economic team looking at this, analysing how their regional development strategy holds together (or doesn’t) in the light of various forecasts of future oil prices. I find the same in a series of other prominent organisations, they haven’t thought it through at all, and they have absolutely no idea what to do, yet become enthused to begin to explore it when approached in a constructive manner. These are, in the huge majority, not wicked people, rather they are as lost and emeshed in the way the world works at the moment as the rest of us are, they have families they return to at night. We are all in this together. W.H. Auden put it nicely;

“There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die”.*

In my opinion, the shift in focus from the global to the local will not be a choice, nor is it something we have to campaign and protest for, it is utterly inevitable. Without cheap oil it becomes unfeasible, and we are already starting to see this. What the Transition model attempts to do is to try and design a process for rebuilding resilience and cutting carbon which Richard Heinberg describes as being “more like a party than a protest march”, something which is inclusive and feels positive and historic.

Does Transition Shy Away from Confronting Politics?

Transition’s refusal to engage in confrontational approaches to change (a direct experience of which appears to have been the authors’ trigger for writing this critique) has been a conscious decision from the outset, although clearly not one that the authors support. For me, Transition is something that sits alongside and complements the more oppositional protest culture, but is distinctly different from it. It is a different tool. It is designed in such a way as to come in under the radar.

The authors are highly doubtful of the ability of politics to initiate the kind of change we need. They write “a politician cannot win an election by saying they will make the country poorer by reducing export earnings”. I think that they haven’t quite grasped the scale of the change that peak oil and climate change will initiate.

We will need politicians who are able to run on a platform of being honest about energy descent, of the need to move to other measures of economic success than growth in GDP, who drive for the rebuilding of local resilience. I think there are people who could do that, and in the changing world we are seeing the beginnings of, may well be successful. Indeed, it is hard to see how, in 10 years, people will be able to run on any other platform.

We surrender our power to governments at our peril. In her forthcoming book “Depletion and Abundance”, Sharon Astyk puts it thus;

“The sad truth is that governments mostly don’t lead – they follow. And who do they follow? One way or another, most governments follow the will and anger of their people. That is, they are waiting for us to lead them, to tell them what we really care about. It is time — and past time — that we do”.

I think that one of the reasons why Transition is growing so fast, and why it is attracting a lot of people who have not usually been involved in environmental campaigning, is precisely because it is addressing and responding to the very real concerns people feel about rising fuel costs and the changing climate without polarising people. It is positive and solutions focused, it is undogmatic, and it allows space for people to explore how change on this scale will affect them personally. The authors write;

“while local sustainability is important, so are high impact actions that shake people to question the habits of high consumer lifestyles, cheap flights and unnecessary car journeys and the political systems that facilitate them”.

I don’t think that assuming that we can “shake people to question” their lifestyles is ever going to affect more than a handful of people, and will in fact alienate and entrench a lot more. It is the underlying approach that environmentalists have taken for years and in the main it has failed. In Totnes recently, the local Transition group held an evening about flying, called “To Fly or Not to Fly”, but rather than it being a polarising polemic about why we ought not fly, trying to shake those their out of their flying apathy, we used the Fishbowl approach, and created a space in which people could hear each other respectfully discussing their relationships with flying, how giving up would affect them, what they would miss and so on. Hopefully at this point in this review you are starting to be able to identify the differences in these two approaches.

Asking Important Questions of Transition

‘The Rocky Road to Transition’ does, however, ask some important questions of the Transition Movement. “We need to question models that look to a few experts for the answers, especially when these people are mostly well-educated, white males”. Absolutely, and this is an active ongoing debate within Transition. The authors assume that Transition is a top-down model, although the principle has always been to devolve as much decision making as possible to as local a scale as possible.

Thus we are seeing national Transition hubs emerging in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and other places beyond, as well as regional hubs such as in Cornwall and the South East, and urban hubs such as in Bristol and Brighton. We are running ‘Training the Trainer’ sessions so that the delivery of Transition Training can be devolved to more local levels. We will be rolling out Transition Talk Training around the UK so that there is an army of people around the country who can give talks on the subject. Following the recent Transition Strategy Day in Bristol we are looking at a diversity of models that could be adopted for this, so that the Network itself becomes much more self-organising and owned and driven by the projects themselves. This process is underway and dynamic.

The recent Transition Strategy day was far from exclusive, indeed we invited over 1000 people from the Transition Network’s database from active projects around the UK, and in the event a couple of people turned up who were actually quite hostile towards Transition, and aren’t even active within a Transition group. Hardly the approach of an exclusive top-down organisation. Transition has grown so rapidly that it has been a huge challenge to design a suitable structure for it while retaining the integrity of what it actually means, and this is an evolving process, but it is driven by the principle of maximising devolution where possible.

The Dangers of Being Co-opted

The booklet questions the wisdom of having contacts with local government as the dangers of being co-opted and becoming greenwash are too high, as (the authors argue although some may disagree) was the fate suffered by previous initiatives such as Local Agenda 21. What I think the authors miss is the fact that we are living in very different times now. The experience of Transition Forest of Dean is fascinating here. Their Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) failed to take peak oil and climate change into account, and, they felt, hadn’t consulted the community sufficiently, so they put in a separate expression of interest. The South West Regional Development Agency came back and said they would only consider one application from the area, so the two groups would need to work together.

This is now happening, with the head of the Council stating recently that Transition needs to be better reflected in the LSP. The fact that the thinking and the solutions that Transition initiatives are coming up with to problems that local authorities are only just starting to become aware of means that there is the potential for far more dynamic and productive relationships than previously, a realisation of much more engaged democracy.

The authors’ assertion that “focusing on individual actions negates the importance of structural change and working on the way we do things collectively” isjust not borne out by the reality of Transition projects on the ground. Transition does not just focus on individual actions, rather it creates a new and vigorous dynamic through which people can re-engage meaningfully in politics.

The Totnes Pound for example, is based on a deep understanding of and critique of globalisation, growth-based economics, the debt-based money system, but rather than theorising and criticising, it is an initiative which is about starting to put in place community-scale initiatives and responses. We feel that at this moment, practical, tangible and replicable projects that put in place resilient, post-oil infrastructure, are more important. Just because one’s responses to global problems are focused on the local scale, doesn’t mean they are not based on an understanding of the need for global change, rather they are based on a belief that that is one of the levels that we need to be working at.

I see that the danger for Transition Network, rather than its being co-opted, is the danger of its failing to demonstrate meaningful change, meaningful in terms of its influence on the political system, reduced carbon and increased resillence. These are the criteria against which, in the longer term, Transition should be judged.

Missing the Point.

One of the things the Transition approach does is to catalyse people around the things that they are already passionate about. The authors fail to appreciate the power that this can have. I have seen time and time again in school halls and meeting rooms up and down the country the amazing dynamic that a positive vision of life after oil can unleash.

The degree to which the authors miss the point about what Transition actually is is summed up in their closing section;

“A sure fire way of creating a movement with little impact or potential to be co-opted is to ignore the bigger challenges, what we are trying to transition away from, and to think that it will all be easy and can be left to others to do it for us. This just gets people’s hopes up, and blinds us to the tasks at hand”.

I wonder if anyone reading this who is actively involved in a Transition initiative can identify with this? It certainly doesn’t resonate with me. Just because one isn’t directly confronting the forces of capitalism and corporate power doesn’t mean that one is ignoring the bigger challenges and debates or is being any less effective for it. I don’t know anyone in this movement who “think(s) that it will all be easy and can be left to others to do it for us”. To repeat, Transition is, in essence, a different approach, and may turn out to be the more effective one, only time will tell. It is complementary to more activist approaches, but its rapid spread and the viral nature of the growth in interest in it is due, in part, to its more accessible and engaging approach.


In conclusion, “Rocky Road” is to be welcomed as a coherent and well-meaning critique of the Transition movement. It offers a detailed insight to how the radical left view the movement. However, ultimately its main success is in helping to highlight how, in spite of being motivated by many of the same concerns, the Transition movement and the activist protest movement are, ultimately, distinctly different approaches. In essence the report is the radical activist Left criticising Transition for not being sufficiently like the radical activist Left. I would argue that as distinctly different approaches they are both far stronger for standing on their own ground and by each doing what it does best.

*With thanks to Sharon Astyk for this quote…

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