Transition Town

By now, the concept of sustainability is one that most people are familiar with. Though there are many ways to define a sustainable society, there is really only one alternative to it. Basically, you’re either on or off the bus. By definition, being unsustainable only lasts for so long. It’s the ultimate dead end.

What does that mean in the current context of our lives, our homes and communities, and life as we know it? There are many examples of human and non-human populations that have lived in relative balance with the world for tens of thousands of years. However, they were not multiplying and consuming resources at the enormous rate we’ve become accustomed to. Can we envision what our community will look like in five thousand years? How about one hundred?

Many people use Las Vegas as a poster child for unsustainable communities. With our severely constrained water supply, lack of local food production, poorly diversified economic base and a history of explosive population growth, it’s not difficult to understand.

Strategies like green building, water and energy efficiency/conservation and renewable energy systems are all part of the solution, but they are only the beginning of a much more profound and necessary transition.

That’s the key word – transition. As noted educator, peak oil expert and author Richard Heinberg has stated, “Our central survival task for the decades ahead, as individuals and as a species, must be to make a transition away from the use of fossil fuels – and to do this as peacefully, equitably, and intelligently as possible.”

The time has come for Southern Nevadans to engage in the transition toward true sustainability while addressing some of the most important issues of our time: peak oil, climate change and economic crisis. The process will add independence, resilience and strength to our local community as we envision and create a post-carbon future that is far better than our current carbon-dependent society.

There’s already a good model for this process: the Transition Town movement. From its roots in England, the idea is spreading like a beneficial wildfire to communities across the globe. Transition US ( is a nonprofit organization that provides inspiration, support, training, and networking for transition initiatives across the United States. They explain that the transition concept is based on recognizing the following:

  • Peak Oil, Climate Change and the economic crisis require urgent action.
  • Adaptation to a world with less oil is inevitable.
  • It is better to plan and be prepared, than be taken by surprise.
  • Industrial society has lost the resilience to be able to cope with shocks to its systems.
  • We have to act together and we have to act now.
  • We must negotiate our way down from the “peak” using all our skill, ingenuity and intelligence.
  • Using our creativity and cooperation to unleash the collective genius within our local communities will lead to a more abundant, connected and healthier future for all.

I agree with these points and appreciate the balance between the frank acknowledgment of such serious issues, a sense of urgency and a positive vision for the future. Another appealing aspect of transition initiatives is that they are open and all-inclusive. Everyone has an opportunity to contribute in whatever way works best for them.

The Transition Town movement was sparked by needs based on the hard facts of our current situation, yet the concept of building healthy local communities through cooperation, creativity and collective genius are ongoing. The act of addressing our most pressing issues will also help create our most promising future.

Let’s jump on board the Sustainability Bus headed for Transition Town. It’s a journey that may never end, but that’s precisely the point.

Green Living column for Thursday, October 8, 2009, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Future to sustainability lies in peaceful transition”