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The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins reviewed by Graham Burnett

This review was written for ‘Growing Green’, the magazine of the Vegan Organic Network and has also appeared in Permaculture Activist

The Transition Handbook


  • Paperback: 224 pages

  • Publisher: Green Books; 1st edition (6 Mar 2008)

  • ISBN-10: 1900322188

  • ISBN-13: 978-1900322188

  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 22.6 x 2.2 cm

Concepts like ‘climate change’ and ‘peak oil’ can cause us to feel confronted by something overwhelmingly huge that we cannot do anything about. The central message of the this book is that “this state of mind is not the place to start from if we want to achieve something, do something or create something.” Indeed, by shifting our mind-set we can actually recognise the coming post-cheap oil era as an opportunity rather than a threat, and design our future low energy societies to be thriving, resilient and abundant – somewhere much better to live than our current alienated consumer culture based on greed, war and the myth of perpetual growth.

The Transition concept emerged from work permaculture designer Rob Hopkins had done with the students of Kinsale Further Education College in writing an ‘Energy Descent Action Plan’. This looked at across-the-board creative adaptations in the realms of energy production, health, education, economy and agriculture (plenty of scope for vegan organics when petro-chemical based farming and high consumption of animal products are things of the past!) as a ‘road map’ to a sustainable future for the town, and was unanimously adopted by Kinsale Council.

The idea of ‘Transition Towns’ was subsequently rolled out to Totness in Devon before becoming an almost viral movement across the country as communities from Lewes to Brixton began to consider how they might become more resilient by, for example, localising food production (food feet, not food miles!), developing renewable energy sources, building with sustainable natural materials, enhancing regional economies (LETS, local currencies, etc) and promoting distinctive ‘cultures of place’.

Emerging from this context, The Transition Handbook is pretty much a permaculture manual for redesigning human communities. The book is split into three highly readable sections; ‘The Head’ – why peak oil and climate change mean that small is inevitable; ‘The Heart’ – why having a positive vision is crucial and ‘The Hands’ – exploring the Transition Model and how to make it work. It’s not a one-size-fits-all prescriptive blueprint, rather it provides a range of tools, activities, case studies and techniques that can be adapted to all kinds of situations, including a suggested ’12 step program to Transition’, how to overcome the ‘Buts…’ that can stop us being proactive, and a very interesting section applying the psychology of addiction to our current oil-dependency. It’s not without a sense of humour either – cuttings from newspapers of the future inform us that the top TV shows of 2012 include ‘Celebrity Love Allotment’ and ‘Pimp My Patio’ and that Posh and Becks will one day enjoy nothing better than snuggling up on their cob bench after a hard days mulching!

The Transition Model isn’t about waiting for our ‘leaders’ to come up with the solutions that will save us, but instead encourages us to take responsibility and ‘get up and do it’ ourselves. Indeed, here in Westcliff on Sea our local transition initiative was born out of a pub chat and has been steadily growing ever since. We try not to stop and think too often about the enormity of what we might have taken on, but certainly this wonderful book will make our journey far, far easier. And lots of fun too.

Graham Burnett is the author of ‘Permaculture – a Beginners Guide’ and ‘Earth Writings’ (www.spiralseed.co.uk) and is currently involved in setting up Transition Town Westcliff (www.transitionwestcliff.org.uk)

You can obtain copies of the Transition Handbook here

2 Responses

  1. […] Hopkins’ ‘Transition Handbook’ was basically a design manual for applying permaculture on a social scale by exploring the ways in […]

  2. […] The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins reviewed by Graham Burnett […]

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