One of the first localities to begin planning for its peak-oil survival was Willits, a town I’ve driven through many times on the northbound Redwood Highway, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco. Willits has a name for its post carbon frame of mind: Willits Economic LocaLization or “WELL” (which is about as big a stretch to fabricate the same acronym as we once used with Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link).

The WELL Vision An enduring local economy that provides health and security for our community.

The Mission of WELL To foster the creation of a local, sustainable economy in the Willits area by partnering with other organizations to watch for opportunities and vulnerabilities, incubate and coordinate projects and facilitate dialogue, action and education within our community.

Willits’ history began as a logging town, but it has transitioned into just as much a center of Mendocino County wine country over the past couple of decades. This weekend it’s hosting the third annual Regional Localization Networking Conference (RLNC).

The theme this year, “Reaching Across the Community” is about talking to those parts of the community that we may not be reaching. We have invited a panel of community leaders from a broad spectrum of our community to share their thoughts on 1) how their organization enhances Community Self Reliance; 2) how they mend fences and relationships within their organization, and 3) how they want outsiders to their organization to seek to influence them.

These folks do make sense. This is a closer look at the Transition Towns approach as reported in the Yorkshire Post.  There’s nothing so complex about the situation – as long as you’re not gullible to the obvious bullshit that is shovelled out to us by large corporations with a desperate interest in keeping us buying both their products and their PR BS. The towns that seriously adopt the Transition Town approach are likely to find themselves much better able to cope with the coming changes than the rest of us, living in places that continue to live our business-as-usual existence. This article is for the most part about Transition City Leeds. (Note the wiki platform of its Web site.)

A growing network of communities around the UK, Ireland and beyond are deciding to take the  future into their own hands, rather than waiting around for governments to come up with solutions.

They are becoming “transition” villages, towns or cities, which means they’re planning how they can move forward into an era when we can no longer depend on oil and must also find a sustainable way of living  which does not help to wreck the planet.

About 40 towns have adopted the idea, each of them charting their own paths, their own course through the transition to readiness. Can the small changes that individuals and shops make actually make an overall difference in a town’s ability to withstand the impacts of peak oil and climate change?

Well, for example, in Totnes some of the projects already on the go involve helping businesses to switch to renewable energy tariffs, the bulk purchase of solar thermal heating kits for residential hot water, matching unused garden space with gardenless growers, and educating children about the movement by encouraging them to make films about their vision for the future of the town.

Totnes also has its own currency, the Totnes Pound, which is used by 70 shops locally as part of the move to produce, distribute and consume as many goods as possible within the area.

If the alternative is waiting until the crises are upon us and then acting frantically to save ourselves at the most basic level, I think most people would agree that being prepared is the right way to go. Transition Town thought leaders have some balanced arguments.

The time after “Peak Oil” has been called the era of “energy descent”, when the oil we do use will be difficult to get hold of and very expensive. We can either wait until that time to react with a knee-jerk, or start planning now in a more rational way, says Paul Chatterton, senior lecturer in human geography at Leeds University. He’s one of a group spreading the word about the birth of Transition City Leeds.

“In Totnes, where there are lots of progressive types like greenies (including Green Party councillors) and Lefties, it was easy to get the idea off the ground,” says Dr Chatterton. “It took off like wildfire, and now involves thousands of people, working on areas from agriculture and distribution to local food directories, health and education, transport and energy.

“After years of declining interest in local elections, the Transition Totnes thing has involved loads of people in discussion of the future of their town. It’s a whole different approach to politics.

“It’s about saying, ‘Let’s not be doom-mongers, but let’s not be climate change deniers either, or pretend that oil isn’t getting  more expensive. Let’s plan, prepare and tackle the  problems together’.”

It’s clear to pResilience that the vast majority of local governments lack the capacity to lead us in a timely way in the right direction at the right pace in preparation for the changes to come. This is where the citizens need to be the first movers, inviting our governments to follow and catch up as soon as they’re aware enough to recognize the priorities and nimble enough to take action.

One of the chief aims of the transition network is to force the Government to follow where local communities lead, even though tension will always exist due to Whitehall’s inherent relationship with big business.

The idea is not to create some sort of one-size-fits-all Stalinist Utopia, says Dr Chatterton. “We all know where that led. No, this is about letting a thousand flowers bloom, saying ‘How can we unleash the creative genius in our community?’ Everyone’s an expert in their own life, and has ideas, and we want to bring everyone in on their own terms. There will be no central committee telling us how to do it.” He is aware of the need to convince the wider community that this is not just about a group of eco-enthusiasts and Left-leaning activists.

“It’s not like the future of our city is only of interest to one group. The future’s everyone’s problem, surely, so everyone’s got to get into a conversation about it and bring along their skills.”

It’s the combination of skills that will make transition towns work. There are no transition towns in the U.S. at this point, though Post Carbon Institute has fostered the formation of Post Carbon Cities and the Relocalization Network, all of which share much of the Transition Town perspective.

It’s not the most romantic of names, even for activist groups, but it definitely describes the views of their members, which center around the belief that the world will be different once we get beyond reliance on carbon-based economy. The Post Carbon Institute sponsors several programs including Global Public Media, Local Energy Farms, Oil Depletion Protocol, Post Carbon Cities and the Relocalization Network.

The Local Post Carbon Groups “work, within their communities and in cooperation with local government and other community-based organizations, to put the concept of Relocalization into practice.”

Local Post Carbon Groups are in fact experiments themselves; they can be an existing group that wants to take on peak energy response as a new program area or a completely new group. The key is action – we recommend that groups get started quickly with small projects, try things out and share what works. Local Post Carbon Groups develop knowledge, infrastructure, and working relationships that will be valuable in the post-carbon world. Projects focus on making immediate improvements to your community such as urban farming, car share, and local money.

The Relocalization Network supports local groups with resources and shared ideas drawn from the experiences of other groups. Its program brings together a range of skills, ideas and resources for:

  • Creating a sense of community and interconnectedness
  • Providing a focus for debate, research and organization
  • Developing self-help skills
  • Working to improve local quality of life, both socially and environmentally
  • Facilitating direct action
  • Providing opportunities for local government and organizations to engage in public discussion with community members.