Photo: Patricia Phillips / Alamy Stock Photo
I've known Rob Hopkins since the day I was born. Like my parents, he was part of the wave of English families who migrated to rural Ireland in the 1990s, in search of a more self-sufficient life. While living in West Cork and teaching permaculture at the local college, Rob established what would become known as "Transition" – a "movement of communities who are reimagining and rebuilding the world".
In 2005, Rob's family moved to Totnes in Devon, where he founded the very first Transition town: "Transition Town Totnes", or TTT. With over 60 initiatives launched over the last 12 years – most notably the local currency, the Totnes pound; affordable community-built housing; renewable energy projects and craft brewing with local raw materials – TTT is pioneering model of sustainability, replicated in over 50 countries and thousands of communities across the globe.With the Earth's temperature rising at an alarming rate, Hopkins' work has never been more crucial – so I asked him for ten tips on how to make our towns more sustainable.
"There's a really good guide that we created called 'The Essential Guide to Doing Transition'. It's free and is a simple starter kit where we've tried to distill everything that we've learned from 12 years of this experiment. Just get a few people together, watch a couple of good films about Transition and say: 'Could we do that here?' And, if so, 'Where would we begin?' The guide offers a great starting point and way of doing that."
1: START A TRANSITION GROUP
"We are now in a climate and an extinction emergency. In the last 50 years we've lost nearly 70 percent of all the creatures we share this planet with – all exterminated. Scientists call it the sixth mass extinction, and this is the time that we're now living through. Manchester City Council and lots of others are now declaring a climate emergency, saying that this needs to be the lens in which we look at everything we do through."
2: ASK YOUR LOCAL MP TO DECLARE A CLIMATE EMERGENCY
3: PROMOTE OPEN SPACE TECHNOLOGY
"This is a very cool technique for enabling big community conversations. You invite everybody in a town together around a big question, like: 'How would we feed ourselves in a more resilient future?' Open space then allows the community to self organise and have a conversation around that, which then leads on to all kinds of other projects".
"This is an easy one, because everybody is interested in food. You can also start these projects very quickly because you don’t need planning permission or funding – you can just say: 'Let's meet next Saturday, I'll bring the spade, you bring some seeds,' and you're off. I would say particularly creating urban gardens in parks and schools, planting trees in places people don’t expect – like one of the Transition groups in London who made a food garden on the roof of Kilburn underground station."
4: START A LOCAL FOOD INITIATIVE
"Transition Brixton did a fantastic project called 'Draft Busters', where they trained people in how to properly insulate their homes. In London especially, so many people live in Victorian houses that have lots of wind coming in through the windows or doors, and actually it's quite simple to make these gaps more insulated. So you train people up in someone's house and give them all the stuff so they can go and do it in other people's houses, who then train those people how to do it…"
5: FIND CREATIVE WAYS TO HELP PEOPLE USE LESS ENERGY
"We've started this here in Totnes. The idea is to get people together on your street and look at ways you can collectively use less energy. In Totnes, about 550 households took part, and on average they cut their carbon footprint by 1.5 tons! Not only did it help save money, everybody said how much better they now know their neighbours, and felt they'd created valuable connections with the people around them."
6: START A SUSTAINABLE STREET
"Start thinking about your local economic blueprint. Look at the economy of the town and ask: 'Where does all the money go?' In Totnes, we spend £30 million on food each year, and £22 million of that is spent in just two supermarkets. So you start to get a sense of: well, if we could get a 10 percent shift so that people are spending 10 percent more on local food, that's £2 million going back into the local economy each year."
7: START THINKING BIG
"When trying to make change, it's important to pay attention to how communities work and look after each other. In Totnes, various therapists offer free support and mentoring to anybody working in the middle of Transition, whenever they need it. As a result, we've had a much lower instance of burnout, which you commonly get in a lot of comparable movements."
8: LOOK AFTER EACH OTHER
"The great thing about movements like Transition is that if you've got an hour a week, there are things you can do – and equally, if you have a whole day or week to give, there are things you can do. If you just want to come along and plant trees once a month, you can do that too. There are as many different ways in for people as possible, and that's how you get the diversity of a community coming together."
9: DON'T ASSUME YOU NEED LOTS OF TIME OR MONEY
"As an individual, the two most important changes you can make are to stop eating meat and to stop flying. In the UK, the average carbon footprint is approximately nine tons a year of CO2. About three of that you can knock off if you stop eating meat, and another three if you stop flying. It's one of the toughest conversations to have with people, because we think it's somehow our birthright to go wherever we want and eat whatever we want, but the impacts are appalling, and this is a change we could easily make tomorrow."Read more from our Save Yourselves series here.