Transition in the Age of Denial

Richard Heinberg
It seems fairly clear that, whatever our stance regarding conflict, efforts spent now to learn practical skills, become more self-sufficient, and form bonds of trust with neighbors will pay off in the long run.
— Richard Heinberg
While there are many ‘wounds’ the Transition movement is working to heal, perhaps the deepest of these is disconnection — from our authentic selves, from the earth, and from each other.
— Don Hall

Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute Senior Fellow, will deliver a keynote address on “Transition in the Age of Denial” at the Transition US National Gathering this July 28th. Tickets are still available for Richard’s talk and for the Gathering, which will take place at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota from July 27th-30th.

Heinberg is a powerful supporter of the Transition Movement, a collaborative response to climate crisis that uses “local, grassroots action to build resilience at the community level.” Heinberg explains that Transition’s community-based initiatives are effective because they take action at the “level where those most affected by government policy have the greatest ability to shape it.” Because Transition initiatives put an emphasis on interpersonal relationships, they offer a refreshing alternative to political gridlock, enabling community members to “work around political stereotypes to identify common values and goals.”

Transition US Executive Director Carolyne Stayton explains that a core purpose of the Transition Movement is “to engage the expertise, passion and genius within a community in the building of its own local resilience.” Transition’s work to connect individuals through community initiatives results in what Stayton describes as “a multi-faceted interconnected social network.”

The Transition National Gathering, the first of its kind in the US, will further strengthen the Transition Movement’s network by providing a venue to introduce community allies to Transition approaches. The Gathering will also allow Transition initiatives and other community-building groups to share knowledge, models, and best practices with each other. Stayton describes the importance of the Gathering as a catalyst for inspiration: “I don’t think anything is as inspiring as ordinary people engaged in projects and passions focused on a larger cause or vision. And then when the light bulb goes off when others realize ‘I could do that too!’ That’s momentum. To be together over several days with these citizen stars and with those looking for answers can only build a depth of relationship and momentum that could not be accomplished any other way.”

Don Hall, founder of Transition Sarasota, explains that his biggest hope for the Gathering is “that we will begin to feel ourselves less as a collection of scattered initiatives and more as part of a powerful movement that is gradually turning the tide of history together.”

In his 2014 essay, “Want to change the world?” Richard Heinberg suggests that if you want to be a change-maker you should begin by “identifying your core values.” After this inner process, Heinberg advises that you “figure out what ideas, projects, proposals, or policies further those values” and how those practices can support community resilience and sustainability. Then, Heinberg says, “it’s time to get to work.”

The workshops at the Transition National Gathering resonate with Heinberg’s advice about change-making, beginning with a focus on inner process and expanding outwards towards a focus on movement-level action:

  • ZONE 0 - Growing Resilient People: The workshops in Zone 0 are primarily focused on Inner Transition, making a place for the emotional, spiritual, and psychological aspects of this moment in history. This is the zone of human needs, inner inspiration, and authentic self-expression.
  • ZONE 1 - Growing Resilient Households: The workshops in Zone 1 are focused on household and neighborhood-level actions. This zone is intensely place-based, emphasizing social inclusivity that reaches out beyond the individual to acknowledge the diverse strengths and needs of community members.
  • ZONE 2 - Growing Strong Groups: Strategies for healthy local groups are the focus of Zone 2. This zone provides techniques for group council, meeting facilitation, and conflict resolution. Workshops in this zone offer a group centered approach for mobilizing volunteers, partnerships, and resources.
  • ZONE 3 - Growing Effective Partnerships and Networks: This zone expands the lens further to look at city and statewide partnerships for community resilience. Focusing on sustainable community design, the workshops in this zone emphasize communication that is cross-cultural, bridging ideological divides through asset mapping and relationship building.
  • ZONE 4 - Growing Successful Projects and Campaigns: The workshops in Zone 4 offer practical models for moving communities towards renewable energy, local food security, and community resilience. This zone explores cooperative economies, slow money, and other forms of wealth such as urban commons, repair cafes, and free-stores.
  • ZONE 5 - Growing an Unstoppable Movement: The broadest viewpoint, Zone 5 explores the global impact of the Transition Movement and allied resilience-building efforts. This zone explores changing worldviews and visions for a post-growth society.

In addition to the variety of workshops offered during the weekend, the Gathering will be preceded with two days of pre-intensive workshops on Thursday the 27th and Friday the 28th. The pre-intensives will offer in depth opportunities for activists and allies to strengthen their skills in effective collaboration training, local economic enterprises, social permaculture, community rights advocacy, Inner Transition, and scaling up initiatives. After the Gathering, Transition Movement leaders will participate in a two day strategic retreat to work on scaling up the Movement.

Leslie MacKenzie, a community organizer for Transition Twin Cities, is excited by the learning possibilities that the Gathering will offer: “My hope, as an attendee at this Gathering, is that I will meet people like myself who are educating themselves about the issues and volunteering in their community to share knowledge, grow skills, and build more socially connected communities… I hope to learn how groups have expanded and reached out to people they didn’t know before – how they became more inclusive.”

On Saturday, the 29th, two speakers will offer important perspectives on inclusivity and movement-building at the Gathering. Rob Hopkins, the founder of the international Transition Movement, will deliver a keynote on Saturday morning describing what has been learned from the first 10 years of the Movement’s history. On Saturday evening, Phyllis Young, Standing Rock elder and water protector, will speak about “Standing Rock Today and Protecting Our Water.”

The organizers of the Transition National Gathering are excited to hold space for emergent collaboration. The goal of the Gathering is “to create nutrient-rich conditions comprised of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Carolyne Stayton says. “Inspiration and the knowledge that we are not alone in this Transition goes a long way to realizing new efforts and furthering existing ones.” Don Hall believes that the Gathering will act as a catalyst to ”accelerate the relocalization process in our local communities.” He explains that “by connecting with leaders of a movement that is now happening virtually everywhere, we can be lifted out of our isolation and greatly strengthened by their camaraderie.”

Richard Heinberg recently described localism as “a long, slow, patient path that requires trust, patience, and hard work.” But localism is the path that we must take in this “historic moment when the structure of society… [is] about to be challenged perhaps as never before.” For community organizer Leslie MacKenzie, participating in a local Transition initiative is a reminder that “we are all part of a giant movement toward a new way of living in an uncertain and challenging future.” As “what was seemingly was solid melts into air, paradigms fall, and institutions crumble,” people involved in the Transition Movement are walking the path towards community resilience, a path in which - as MacKenzie reminds us - “small acts, one upon another, add up to big things.”