The Transition Handbook- The Heart

This month I have been reading from 'The Transition Handbook- From oil dependency to local resilience' by Rob Hopkins. The Transition movement is a way to rethink our present trajectory and to provide tangible solutions to build community resilience and empowerment in the face of Climate Change and Peak Oil.

I have already blogged about the first third of the book called 'the Head', which is introduction to the idea of peak oil, climate change, energy descent and the future.  Now I will explore 'the Heart' of the Transition Handbook.

In 'the Heart', Rob Hopkins explains why having a positive vision is crucial to the Transition Movement.  When we are exposed to shocking information like Peak Oil and Climate Change, it is not only our heads that we need to address, but also our hearts.  We have all felt the despair, the sickness that comes after watching, for example, an oil slicked bird suffering in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  This reaction needs to be acknowledged for how it affects us, and how we do or do not respond to the situation.

Top of a sand dune in Wadi Rum, Jordan.  We had a blast jumping/skiing/sliding down the other side of the dune...
maybe we will leap willingly to a saner future?

"The uncertainty of our times is no reason to be certain about hopelessness."- Vanadana Shiva

Hopkins also says that it is equally important to engage people in visioning a future that we want to be part of.  We are really good and making movies and art and depressing ourselves about the apocalyptic future, but what if we could imagine a better future, a future we could work towards?

Rob Hopkins says: "Ultimately, at the heart of this section is the understanding that the scale of this transition requires particular inner resources, not just an abstract intellectual understanding.  This is relatively new ground for the environmental movement, but it is crucial to our success and to engage enough people on the scale required." (pg. 79)

The Post-petroleum stress disorder

When people usually hear of some disturbing news such as Peak Oil, they may have several reactions to it.  Can you recognize any of them in you?

  • Clammy palms or nausea and mild palpitations
  • A sense of bewilderment and unreality
  • An irrational grasping at unfeasible solutions
  • Fear
  • Outbreaks of nihilism and/or survivalism
  • Denial
  • Exuberant optimism
  • The 'I always told you so' syndrome

Desert flower, Wadi Rum, Jordan

So how do we cope with these feelings?  First of all, they are normal reactions. When scary experiences occur, it is natural to feel fear! Think of these feelings as 'Inspirational Dissatisfaction', a way to rethink the situation or generate change.  Which leads us to the next topic.... how do we generate change?

Understanding the Psychology of Change

"Creating the world we want is a much more subtle but more powerful mode of operation than destroying the one we don't want" - Marianne Williamson

How do things change in the world?  Obviously change happens around us everyday, some in ways we would like, some in the ways we don't like.  Hopkins argues that environmentalists need to understand the psychology of change to be effective in the world.

Hopkins takes inspiration from the field of psychology, and particularly from researchers that work with addictions to understand the psychology of change.  He interviews Dr Chris Johnstone, an addictions specialist, who has some advice about how addictions research can be helpful when talking about Peak Oil.

Change happens... earthquakes, and sea-based trade caused the decline of Petra

What we can learn from addictions research

If we say that we are addicted to oil, then we can understand why it is so scary and difficult to contemplate.
    • "Addictions refer to stuck patterns of behaviour that can be difficult to change even when we know they're causing harm"- Dr. Johnston (pg 86)
    • Addiction is a useful term for our relationship to oil because it acknowledges a dependency that is not a simple question of rationality to stop.  Just because someone knows they are ruining their lungs by smoking, doesn't mean they will, or can stop
    • Habitual behaviours may be difficult to kick, and relapses can occur. Sometimes we gain ground, only to lose it again.  That's not to say that an addiction cannot be terminated in the end, it's just we must keep going. 
    • In the addictions field, there are usually three types of problems with 'problematic substance use'.  All three problems can be applied to oil.
      • hazardous use- when the consumption of the substance risks their future
      • harmful use- the consumption of the substance causes problems to others
      • dependent use- the idea of stopping consumption is threatening

Addicted to Jordinian sweets! sooo delicious

What we can do about it!

"Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societies have come about not from the dictates of governments and the results of battles, but through vast numbers of people changing their minds, sometimes only a little bit."- Willis Harman

The FRAMES model was developed by Miller and Sanchez for addictions intervention.  This is the model that the Transition Movement has adopted to help deal with our addiction to oil. The acronym stands for:

  • Feedback
    • honest assessment of the addiction
  • Responsibility
    • taking personal responsibility to change
  • Advice
    • recommendations to how to alter our lifestyles, as well as community level advice
  • Menu of options
    • explore different alternatives to how to arrive at an Energy Descent Action Plan
  • Empathy
    • see the advice from Chris Johnstone below
  • Self-efficacy
    • can-do attitude, and ability to achieve goals

A water passage in Petra, Jordan

The first step to changing is to become aware of the problem.  Then to contemplate, or talk about the problem so we can voice our concerns, in order to be able to move to action.  Change doesn't usually happen all in one step.  It is usually broken down into several stages, which are modelled below by the Stages of Change, from DiClemente and Prochaska.

Stages of Change, DiClemente and Prochaska

This is what Dr. Chris Johnstone suggests to help with our inner transition:
  1. Pay attention to the steps of change that happen inside people
    • It's easy to get stuck just thinking about things- have a  a group to talk things over to talk over motivation, resistance, and ambivalence
  2. Create spaces for people to feel heard in making their own arguments for change
    •  Hopkins gives the example of Transition Initiatives in Totnes, Lewes and Bristol where people spoke in pairs about these three questions:
      • "When I think about Peak Oil and Climate Change, concerns I have include..."
      • "My positive vision for what I'd like to see happen in this town/city is...."
      • " Steps I can take to help make this happen include...."
  3. If a change seems too difficult, have preparation stage for training ourselves
    • Transition movements should have trainings in skills needed for a post-oil society as well as psychological support.  
For more information on the Inner Transition support and ideas, go here.

Harnessing the Power of Positive Vision

"And so I've come to concluded that all the predictions - both good and bad -- tell us absolutely nothing about what is possible.  Trends and events only relate to what is probable.  Probabilities are abstractions.  Possibilities are the stuff of life, visions to act upon, doors to walk through. "  -Tom Atlee 'Crisis Fatigue and the Co-creation of Positive Possibilities'

Flowers can flourish in the most amazing environments, Wadi Rum, Jordan

A key part of change is having a clear vision of the future.  Telling us stories of a future 'hell on earth' is not going to get us to change.  The Transition Movement involves creating stories, myths, dreams and ideas of what a powered-down future will look like.  In Totnes, they have the Transition Tales Initiative that gets people to write newspaper articles and stories of how the future will be.  This aims to bring people to the movement by interesting them in this alternative future, preparing people for a different lifestyle, as well as counteracting the despondency that comes from hearing stories about Peak Oil and Climate Change.

Rob Hopkins says: "It is worth remembering that it takes a lot of cheap energy to maintain the levels of social inequality we see today, the levels of obesity, the record levels of indebtedness, the high levels of car use and alienating urban landscapes.  Only a culture awash with cheap oil could become de-skilled on the monumental scale that we have, to the extent that some young people I have met are lucky to emerge from cutting a slice of bread with all their fingers intact. It is no exaggeration to say that we in the  West are the single most useless generation ( in term of practical skills) to which this planet has ever played host.  However, the first step to the creation of localised, low-energy-abundant future is actually visioning its possibility." (pg 98)

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan- Somebody had a big vision to create this tomb!

My favourite Transition Tale from the book is a made up newspaper article about a company that collects urine from pubs and used as agricultural fertilizers.  The thing is, that this isn't very far fetched.  In fact, many skills and initiatives that would be part of a more resilient future have been done before, and are within our grasp.  There used to be people in England in the Tudor period in that would collect urine from pubs to make ammonia as well as gunpowder (Check out Tales from the Green Valley, episode 6 for more info). Today, our 'liquid gold' is once again becoming valuable.  Just recently, Amsterdam announced it would be collecting urine to use as fertilizer.  One of my friends, Elizabeth Tilley is working on a project in Durban, South Africa, to use dry toilets that separate urine from the solid waste.  The nutrients in the urine can then be recovered used for fertilizer or other products.  Amazing!  Instead of using two useful resources- urine and clean water, and turning them into something we have to use energy to clean, we are reducing our impact on our clean water and getting useful products out of our urine!

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost, that is where they should be.  Now put foundations under them."- Henry David Thoreau

What is your vision for 2030?  What kind of future do you want?


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