By Patrick Wilson
It’s 2020 and society is facing the reality of climate change. The effects can be felt daily around the world, including on Vancouver Island. Rising sea levels, heat waves, and other abnormal weather patterns are predicted by the B.C. government to continue. The outcomes feel closer than the 2050 date given.
In coastal communities, rising sea levels will impact building locations, infrastructure, and water management. Rising temperatures are predicted to extend the growing season by two months, but with more frequent and severe droughts. Island residents have already experienced the effects on water supply before the summer months come to an end. As reported by the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, three of the eight most water-stressed areas in B.C. are on Vancouver Island — the Cowichan River watershed (8th), Parksville (6th), and Victoria (1st). And an increase in average annual rainfalls is unlikely to fix the water shortage problem. Instead, it is predicted to overwhelm water treatment plants and sewage systems, and lead to possible reservoir contamination.
The list of projected impacts goes on. The news is not all bad, however. The Transition Town movement (TTM) has emerged to address these challenges at a local level.
A transition town is a community that asks what it can do to live in harmony with the planet and keep things regionally-based and sustainable. The TTM is not a global solution to climate change and the elimination of carbon emissions, but an opportunity for smaller populations to make a difference. “There’s no great central organization that pushes this,” said co-founder and conceptual mind Rob Hopkins in a 2009 TED Talk. “People just pick up an idea and they run with it and they implement it where they are . . . . It’s very much looking at what people can do where they are to respond to this.”
Hopkins started the movement with a small group of people in Totnes, England (pop. 8500) in 2005, as an outgrowth of his work as a permaculture teacher. Since then it has blossomed in over 1400 communities around the world, with participants creating community gardens, planting fruit and nut trees, launching local currencies, building solar power stations, promoting cycling, and generally pursuing greater self-sustainability and community resilience.
On Vancouver Island, Transition Town initiatives are underway in the Alberni and Cowichan Valleys, Salt Spring Island, Sooke, and Nanaimo. Port Alberni became the first Transition Town in Canada in 2008. “Climate change issues were really starting to gain traction in the community,” remembers the co-founder and current president of the Alberni Valley Transition Town Society, Chris Alemany. “The City of Port Alberni made a committee to look into the issue. There was also a lot of concern about high oil prices and the financial crisis and ‘peak oil’ in general. Those are the two issues that spurred Rob Hopkins to action.”
Alemany became involved because of his concern with climate change and the need to transition away from fossil fuels. But he also enjoys the social aspect of the Transition Town movement — “trying to bring people together, do more things locally, fix things rather than buy things, grow more food locally, build things locally,” he says.
“What I really like about our AVTT group is that we have become an umbrella for lots of different groups. The TT model of’ working groups on different projects works really well for us.”
Nanaimo is the newest Vancouver Island member of what has come to be known more broadly as the Transition movement. Founded in 2019, Transition Nanaimo (TN) is using the same grassroots model as other communities. Says founder and board president Don Giberson, “What typically happens is there will be little groups that will set up and start working on the areas that are of most concern to them. So there’ll be a food group, and an energy group, and maybe a transportation group and a housing group. And they initiate the projects that speak to them.”
The group uses its website to offer a vision of what the city might be 20 years from now. “We grow most of our own food; most of our electricity is locally generated from wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources; most of our vehicles run on electricity or locally-produced biofuels; we have a thriving economy driven by ecologically-conscious, sustainable, locally-based businesses that provide good-paying jobs with low unemployment.”
Giberson thinks there is still time to curb climate change, but it has to be done from the ground up, and as a community effort. He paraphrases Hopkins when he says, “If we wait for government, it’ll be too late. If we try to do it alone, it’ll be too little. If we come together and operate at the level of community, it might just be enough, just in time. If you get enough communities doing what each can do, the impact becomes huge.”
Chris Alemany suggests anyone looking to join the Transition movement should read The Essential Guide to Doing Transition, available for free on TransitionNetwork.org. “It is actually a great little book. Take what it says about building an open and inclusive group to heart. But also, don’t get too worried about following exactly what it says. Every TT group and community is different. What you and your community might feel is important to do first to try to transition might be different from another. If you have an idea, bring it forward gather people around you to make it happen and make it happen.”
Time to get started.
If you are interested in becoming a part of the Transition movement, or finding out more information, visit https://transitionnetwork.org/get-involved.
Rob Hopkins and other activists of the Transition Network explain the Transition idea.
Photo top: Transition Town Totnes