The Transition Companion

This month's book is The Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times by Rob Hopkins.  The Transition Companion (published in 2011), is the follow up to The Transition Handbook (2008) and it also documents the successes, the failures, tools, advice and future dreams of this worldwide movement five years after it started in 2006.

I have blogged about Rob Hopkins' previous book, The Transition Handbook,  in three separate blogs : The Transition Handbook, The Transition Handbook: The Heart, and The Transition Handbook: The Hands.

Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata) grazing in an alpine meadow,  Banff National Park, AB

Hopkins says The Transition Companion seeks to answer the question:

""What would it look like if the best responses to peak oil and climate change came not from committees and Acts of Parliament, but from you and me and the people around us?"" - pg13, The Transition Companion

This book not only gives a history of the Transition Movement, it give principles, ingredients and tools, as well as many examples from Transition Initiatives worldwide.  It hopes to encourage people to join the movement, and to inspire, affirm and deepen the work that is already happening.

For me, The Transition Companion is incredibly inspiring and motivating, like the Transition Handbook, and also offered lots of well grounded advice that could be used in Transition work or in other contexts.  I find the Transition movement is strong on the 'people' aspect: how to organize yourselves, conflict resolution, how to be inclusive, how to facilitate experiences for the wider community, how to be personally resilient.  I also find that how Transition Iniatives organize themselves, events, and plan for economic resilience is really exciting and novel.  The examples from Transition Initiatives were fantastic and inspiring to see what is possible.  The way that Hopkins frames the problems, solutions and questions are as always, enlightening and perspective expanding.

A few valleys N of Haystack Mtn, BC

The Transition Companion is kind of like a 'choose your own adventure book' with lots of 'ingredients' to make up your journey into creating more resilient communities.  With the theme of story telling and visioning, Hopkins uses the analogy of a hero, such as Frodo or Harry Potter starting out on their incredible journey that is daunting and challenging where they need to solve a problem in order to save the day. He says: 'To do this they have to go on a journey that transforms them, and on which they are required to take on challenges they feel unprepared for and find new strengths and inner resources.  The process of shifting our society on the scale it needs to shift, in the time that we have available, requires a story of such magnitude.  At the moment it looks impossible, yet the situation demands courage, commitment and intention from us." (pg14)  The Companion Handbook  can be thought of a type of companion on our journey... just like the 'heroes' of stories always companions to help them along the way.

Looking SW towards Mt Goodwin, BC

The Transition Companion is broken up into three parts, with the majority of the content held in Part Three: How the Transition movement does what it does- ingredients for success. In Part One: Why the Transition movement does what it does, Hopkins goes over the history of Transition, why Transition does what it does, and what the future might look like. In Part Two: What the Transition response looks like in practice, Hopkins looks at case studies, philosophical underpinnings, and what Transition looks like.

I'll go over some of the points in each part of the book that I found interesting (although it was all interesting, and because of it's 'choose your own adventure' feel, I think that my favourite parts will change over time depending on what stage of the Transition Process are most relevant at that moment).

The journey may be long... looking E towards the ridgeline below Mt Bourgeau
 from Bourgeau Lake, AB

""For all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly rebuild resilience (to mitigate the effects of peak oil and economic contraction) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of climate change)?"" pg13, The Transition Companion

Part One: Why the Transition movement does what it does

In this section I highlighted the reasons  why people become involved in the Transition movement. Motivation is always an interesting subject, and is helpful in building Transition initiatives. Here are some of the reasons why people have joined:

  • Because it feels way more fun than not doing it
  • Because of wanting a fairer world
  • Because of peak oil
  • Because it means they can do that project they have always dreamed of
  • Because of climate change
  • Because of fear
  • Because of the economic crisis
  • Because it feels like the most appropriate thing to be doing
  • Because it gives me hope...

"In our view, things have to get better before they can get better.  Immiseration theory - the view that increasing suffering leads to progressive social change - has been repeatedly discredited by history."  Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger

Looking W, Kootenay lake is behind all those mountains

I also found Hopkins' writing on resilience and localisation, two main features of the Transition movement, to be well developed and thought-provoking.


Resilience is the ability to bounce back after some kind of change/crisis.  We use this term in personal situations, in ecology, for societies, after natural disasters and we can apply it to our communities. Hopkins says that in a community situation, there are three factors that determine the degree of community resilience:

  • The extent to which communities can direct and shape decisions that affect them (self-organization, control of resources, engagement, local democracy)
  • Ability for communities to learn and adapt (new skills, flexibility)
  • Planning (designing in resiliency collectively as a community)

"Making a community more resilient, if viewed as the opportunity for an economic and social renaissance, for a new culture of enterprise and reskilling, should lead to a healthier and happier community while reducing its vulnerability to risk and uncertainty.  In practice, a more adaptable community trains its young people in a wide range of skills, more decisions are taken at the local level, the community owns and manages more of its own assets and has access to some of the land adjoining it...." pg. 45,  The Transition Companion

Living on the edge


Movements like the 100 mile diet, local artisans and local co-ops are all part of the localisation movement. Buying and producing locally can re-invent, and kick start depressed rural economies, as well as create more community linkages, better health and less pollution within a community.

Localisation has been criticized on several fronts for being self-indulgent, socially regressive, romanticizing the past, returning to subsistence and poverty etc....  All the criticisms can be refuted in some way or another, but at the base of the issue, rising energy costs are going to catalyse the world towards local production and local economies.  We don't really have a choice but to localise our communities and economies, although we can choose how we do this. We have enjoyed and also suffered the consequences of a world of global products and trade, and some of that trade will continue, but not to the same extent it has, in the 'age of cheap oil'.  For example, "During 2008, when the oil price hit a record of $148 a barrel, it became cheaper, for the first time for many years, for the US to manufacture its own steel rather than import it from China."( pg 47, The Transition Companion).   While it is not reasonable that every town produces it's own steel, or computers, there will definitely be some reshuffling of local production to the local, regional, national, continental and global scale as energy prices fluctuate.

I think my favourite criticism of localization mentioned in The Transition Companion is that 'everybody will be hand-weaving their own underpants'.  I love this criticism because it makes you really think about where your clothes come from.  I am so used to thinking about local food but I had not really thought much about how clothing is grown (or extracted), dyed and created before.  Rebecca Burgess help start the fibershed project, which runs on some of the same principles of the 100 mile diet, but with fiber.  I learned about it by listening to Jill Cloutier's permaculture podcasts where she interview Rebecca about the fibershed project (and yes they talk about weaving their own underwear), as well as natural dyes.

"A local economy can be more robust, diverse and equitably owned than most of those in Western countries today, and that a far wider range of livelihoods and businesses is possible.  When people criticise such a perspective as being about 'going back', they assume that such a thing would even be possible.  What we are really looking at here is designing the best way forward, based on asking the right questions and keeping the best of what we already have, while also learning lessons from the past." pg 53, The Transition Companion

Nettles (Urtica dioca)- a local fibre source in the food forest, Creston, BC

Part Two: What the Transition response looks like in practice

In this part, Hopkins looks as what Transition is in practice.  He says: "The starting point for Transition is that the future with less oil, and producing less carbon emissions, could be preferable to today.  Its aim is to act as a catalyst, a pulse, an invitation; to galvanise the shift towards a more localised and resilient community." pg. 72 The Transition Companion

He gives examples of what Transition is in practice that may include all of the following themes:

Transition as....

  • an inner process
  • leading by practical example
  • an approach rooted in place and circumstance
  • a tool for turning problems into solutions
  • a cultural shift
  • an economic process
  • a storyteller

Hopkins then goes over the philosophical underpinnings, the principles of Transition and the 12 step of Transition (see my previous blogs for more info).  He also introduces four different and inspiring Transition Initiatives, outlining the various ingredients and tools (Part Three) that they used in growing their Initiative.

Food forest play area designed by kids, for kids, Creston, BC

Part Three:  How the Transition movement does what it does - Ingredients for success

This is the 'meat' of the Transition Companion, the ingredients and tools of the Transition movement.  Like cooking, Hopkins says that many of these ingredients and tools can be combined and used to create a Transition movement.  There is no right or wrong way.  However, he does divide these ingredients into five parts: Starting out, Deepening, Connecting, Building and Daring to dream. He groups the ingredients and tools because the ingredients and tools that are relevant to a group starting out may be different from a group that has already been doing the work for three years.  All the ingredients are linked to other ingredients or tools and usually have a box saying 'You might also enjoy....'  I love this feature because it's a kind of recommendation systems, as well as linking elements in the 'design process' of your local Transition movement, if we put it in permaculture parlance.

Ingredients can include things like:  Coming together as groups, Inclusion and diversity, Forming an initiating group, Understanding scale, 'Transition Towers'-having an office, or not?, Ensuring land access, Momentum, Working with local business, Engaging young people, Pausing for reflection, Appropriate technologies, Energy Descent Action Plans, Social enterprise and entrepreneurship, etc.

Tools of Transition include: Financing your Transition initiative, Healthy conflict, Permaculture Design, Standing up to speak, Forming a legal entity, Communicating with the media, Meaningful maps, Energy Resilience Assessment, Street-by-street behaviour change, Community renewable energy companies, Tools for plugging the leaks, etc.

Ingredients for a local community seniors' lunch program, Creston, BC

I hope to expand on some of these ingredients and tools in a future blog.  I wanted to give you a taste of the Transition Companion- a definite worthwhile read and I can see this being a really helpful resource and companion to any kind of community building work you do!

For more inspiration, and concrete examples of Transition Initiatives,  watch Transition 2.0. a beautiful web documentary about the Transition movement.

Bourgeau Lake, Banff National Park, AB

"We may feel like Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs, unequipped to even start on this journey, but hopefully this companion will inspire a sense of heroism and an opportunity.  We can do this.  As my friend Chris Johnstone says, "life is a series of things we are not quite ready for"." pg 16   The Transition Companion


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