The Transition Town model comes closest to the culture of resistance component of a Deep Green Resistance movement. But there is a deep contradiction in the Transition Town movement: the program implicitly calls for institutional change, yet many of its writers insist on a personal “Lifeboat” concept. The Lifeboat model was originally proposed by Richard Heinberg in his book Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World. The idea is to accumulate skills and knowledge for small-scale community survival as well as “preserving the cultural achievements of the past few centuries.”50
The Transition Town concept was created by Robert Hopkins as a framework for organizing a community response to peak oil and global warming. It was one way to answer the question “What can I do?” with a concrete plan. The plan is an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP). There’s much to be said for the twelve steps that The Transition Town Handbook lays out as the process to create the EDAP. Local groups are directed to break down into working groups to address whatever they feel is relevant to the process of “building community resilience and reducing their carbon footprints.”51 Along the way they’re encouraged to network with other related groups in their area, work on projects that are visible and practical for the public (e.g., planting nut trees in the town center), offer “reskilling” of lost and soon-to-be-needed traditional subsistence skills, and build bridges to local governments. They also recommend that Transition Town groups include the UN Declaration of Human Rights in their statement of purpose.
The Transition Timeline by Shaun Chamberlin is the second generation Transition Town, laying out the possible futures we face. With no major derailment of the current course, environmental and economic collapse, with its attendant civic breakdown, is the default setting. The Timeline has the government directing investments in infrastructure like mass transit, outlawing factory farming, and decommissioning coal plants. Chamberlin further envisions “a binding and sufficient global agreement” that “atmospheric concentrations never break through 400 ppm CO2,” including rationing and various carrot-and-stick tax and market approaches.52 Thus the foundational documents of the Transition Town movement recognize that the population at large does not willingly give up fossil fuels and industrial levels of consumption. They are forced to, by the reality of depletion and by the government instituting rationing.
The Transition Timeline implicitly accepts that there will not be a voluntary transformation. Unfortunately, far too many of the Transitioners perseverate with the usual liberalisms: personal change is political change or personal change is the only change. The Transition Town movement is a decentralized, loosely organized network and the people involved hold a wide range of opinions. It may be that the people who insist on personal change only form a small but vocal minority, and that there is a broad consensus building about the necessity of deep, institutional change—and the activism that will require. But right now, the numbers are on the side of the antipolitical OIMBYs (Only In My Backyard) despite the fact that some of the foundational writings are clear about the necessity of institutional change. This is the deep contradiction in the Transition Town movement.
I would like this to read as more of an observation than a criticism, and, ultimately, an invitation. The Transitioners are trying to create at least some of the local infrastructure with which cultures of resistance are tasked: food, education, methods of economic exchange. What’s missing is the recognition that political resistance is necessary. Even if the Transitioners can’t see their way clear to militance, they should acknowledge the truth in their own timeline: institutional change, not personal change, is necessary to force this culture away from ecocide and its attendant horrors. No amount of “new stories” will apply the requisite pressure. To revisit Maud Gonne and the Irish struggle, she did not just tell new stories by acting in plays. She fought to win massive land reform, smuggled supplies into prison, nearly died on a hunger strike, served as a judge, forced the British government to feed Irish schoolchildren, and raised a son who won a Nobel Peace Prize. We need the permaculture wing to be Sinn Fein. We need an aboveground group that will vociferously defend direct action and militance, plan for it, support it, work beside it. We need massive pressure aboveground to dismantle corporate personhood, capitalism, civilization, and patriarchy. This includes building alternative institutions to take their place and to structure our cultures on justice and sustainability.
We also need to recognize that aboveground efforts may not be enough, that we’re running out of time, 200 species at a time, and a hundredth monkey will not be the answer. This means a realistic assessment, not cloying platitudes or the community confirmation bias of those who think seed swaps are the revolution. It means accepting that as of now we don’t have the numbers for a peaceful regime change. It means a stalwart solidarity with the few cadres and combatants who are willing to attempt direct attacks on the infrastructure that is killing our planet. When the governments fail to stop the transformation of carbon into heat and biomes into corporate wealth—and around the world they’re failing catastrophically—the OIMBYs will be faced with a choice, as their backyards are drained of amphibians and bled clean of trees that can no longer reach water, along with the rest of the planet. The choice is to fight or to stand with those who fight. Anything else means the world will be left to die.