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Rob Hopkins: Transition Towns is the only ethically defensible thing to do



American anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous quote about a “small group of thoughtful, committed people” being the only thing that has ever changed the world could have been said about the Transition Towns movement.

Launched in 2005 in Totnes, Devon, in response to environmental and economic pressures, offshoot initiatives initially spread elsewhere in the UK. Now, there are Transition Towns in communities across the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil and more.

The man behind it all is Rob Hopkins, and he spoke to Alex Blackburne about his project’s meteoric success.

What is the Transition Network?

It’s really an approach which is about what a community-led response to climate change, the end of the age of cheap energy and the economic crisis looks like. It’s founded on the idea of community resilience, making the places that we live in more resilient to shock and change, and seeing that as a historic opportunity for entrepreneurship, fresh-thinking and creativity.

Where did the idea come from?

It started in Totnes, and we started an exploration into what a community-led approach would look like, and then it just took off – much to our surprise. We started getting people around the UK picking it up, and then further afield, and there’s now not a week that goes by we don’t say, “Look what they’re doing in South Africa!” or wherever.

The world is on the verge of giving up the idea that we can actually do anything about climate change, and that’s what drives me

The original idea was to see how we could create some kind of self-organising approach. It wasn’t designed to be like a Coca-Cola franchise; it was designed to be something that people anywhere in the world would pick up. There was enough shape to it that it felt like it was a recognisable, distinct thing, but at the same time there was enough freedom and flexibility for them to make it their own.

For example, the Transition movement is just on fire in Brazil, and it doesn’t feel like a UK import; it feels like a Brazilian thing. They’ve developed their own way of teaching it, communicating it and presenting it, and that’s a testament of how we designed it at the beginning.

Do you have a clear idea of what a low-carbon economy looks like?

It’s becoming much clearer. When we started, we always framed Transition as being an experiment – and something that we’d only figure out if enough people in enough different places have a go at it, and we could pool that learning and that knowledge. But I think now, we have a sense that it’s in part about shifting the focus from inward investment to internal investment, and getting communities to invest in themselves.

That’s one of the things that comes through very strongly in the new book. We’re looking at a model that is going to be focused on localisation, and the things that make sense to do. It’s going to be based on resilience and looking at how the things that we do and the businesses that are put in place contribute to that.

They’re going to be low-carbon and they’re going to recognise that we live in a world of limits; not of infinite resource possibilities. They’re going to be about bringing resources to community ownership. And often, they’re going to be enterprises that serve a wider social purpose – rather than just for profit. Those models are really exciting.

What’s the reaction been like within communities that are now Transition Towns?

Even the most successful Transition projects wouldn’t claim every single person in that community thinks it’s fantastic and is on board, and I think sometimes feel that unless you get to that stage, you can’t really do much that is of any use. But actually, there’s a huge amount you can do.

Resilience is the vital missing part from discussions about sustainability

Often in the more overtly green world, people often don’t have such an awareness about how some things tend to exclude a lot of people. Something like Transition, which is very much about working at a local level to try and build a coalition of different organisations towards community resilience, can’t be seen as on the left or the right.

How does resilience relate to sustainability?

Resilience is the vital missing part from discussions about sustainability. Sustainability is generally always a good thing, whereas you can have a very resilient place that is not necessarily good in other ways. But what sustainability doesn’t design in is the ability to withstand and adapt to shock.

Sustainability tends to imply a kind of steady state; that you reach a place everything can kind of chug along on a sustainable level. Whether it’s because of climate change, our continued dependence on undependable energy sources or the financial crisis, we seem to be entering a time where the possibilities of shocks are increasing.

What are your personal motivations for doing what you do?

Because I can’t see any other ethically defensible thing to be doing at this moment in history. I have four sons, and I feel committed to being able to look them in the eyes in 20 years’ time and tell them that I did all I could during the time when there was still things that could be done.

I was talking recently to a colleague in the US who works for an organisation that funds a lot of climate work. She said that the people she meets at the UN and the US government are giving it 18 more months, and then all the funding that is currently going into mitigation will be moved into adaptation and defence. That’s the point that we’re at.

The world is on the verge of giving up the idea that we can actually do anything about climate change, and that’s what drives me. This little window of opportunity will never happen again, and we need to be doing whatever we can to be trying to do something about that.

Are you optimistic?

It looks pretty much certain now that we’re going to go past 2C of warming. I can’t see much of a way that that’s not going to happen because we’re so nearly there and emissions are increasing if anything. I suppose it’s really about whether we can avoid more warming in a very complex system where there are lots of uncertainties.

I always go back to what Paul Hawken said when he was asked whether he was an optimist or a pessimist. He said if you read the climate science and you’re not a pessimist, you haven’t read it properly, and if you’ve looked at what people around the world are doing in response to climate change and you’re not an optimist, you haven’t got a heart.

There are no guarantees with any of this. I don’t know whether we can make it or not. But it certainly feels like we have to do whatever we can.

Rob Hopkins is founder of the Transition Towns movement. His latest book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, is available to buy online now.

Further reading:

We salute capitalism’s disruptive insurgents

Harnessing the power of a community

Manifesto published to accelerate ‘community energy revolution’


7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption



Energy Consumption
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Syda Productions |

Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?

Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.

New Technologies to Watch

These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:

  1. Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
  2. Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
  3. New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
  4. Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
  5. Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
  6. The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
  7. Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.

Making the Investment

All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.

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Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis




Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens |

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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