The Transition Handbook - Rob Hoskins

BOOK: The Transition Handbook, Finch Publishing, Sydney, 2009

AUTHOR: Rob Hopkins – Is an Australian who co-founder of the Transition Networking. He has been a teacher of Permaculture and natural building solutions to environment problems.  He devised the energy descent plan for Kinsale in Ireland and is a publisher. He lives in the UK.

OVERVIEW OF BOOK: The author indicates that his book is an invitation to join hundreds of communities around the world who are taking the steps towards making a nourishing and abundant future reality. His ideas are developed in three parts.

In the first part the author outlines the challenges that the world will face. These arise from the dual affects of Peak oil and Climate change. The author argues that peak oil is real and uses a number of observations to support his case. These are that oil producing countries and firms are secretive about the remaining size of their oil reserves, the historical decline in the pattern of oil discoveries over time, the fact that annual oil consumption is now 7 times the amount of new oil discovered annually, and that oil production has been constant for some years notwithstanding increasing demand and rising oil prices. He also believes that the consideration being given to exploiting inefficient, costly and destructive oil sources such as the Alberta tar sands project and the fact that big discoveries are a thing of the past are further straws in the wind that support his case.

A failure of Governments to even talk about the issue and the behaviour of oil companies, which have used large amounts of the surplus cash they have, to buy back their own shares rather than investing in exploration, further supports his suspicions. As oil is fundamental to every aspect of our way of life the author predicts that our way of life will come under massive pressure in the not in the too distant future, in the absence of innovative solutions to the challenge. As if that were not enough he then argues that affects global warming which will be also massively destructive unless emissions of CO2 are controlled, is likely to develop concurrently with the passing of peak oil and indicates that unless both challenges are given equal weight, the recession caused by runaway oil prices will blow responses to climate change out of the water and guarantee catastrophic outcomes. The various renewable energy possibilities will help fill the oil gap but these are only a partial solution at best. The only long term viable solution to the impending oil crisis will be a reduction in energy use through policies of resilience.

The second part of the book describes what resilience is. It is a community based system of organizing human activity that tends towards self sufficiency. It has a local focus and has the qualities of diversity, modularity and tightness of feedbacks giving them the ability to deal with shocks, like an oil crisis, and is not dissimilar to the way many people lived life before the advent of oil. The author emphasizes the importance of acting well in advance of predicted catastrophic changes. This would involve developing plans and change strategies to mitigate the social impact of any change and minimize the inevitable psychological trauma by harnessing the power of a positive vision. The book gives the example of Kinsale, a community in Ireland that is the first known attempt at community visioning

The third part of the book uses practical examples to show how those ideas can be translated into practical community action. The book end with a chapter entitled Transition Australasia.

REVIEW COMMENTS: Even though the affects of peak oil on human activity are likely to be at least as damaging as the worst affects of climate change and are predicted to occur within a similar time frame, the coming oil crisis has received scant public attention. Indeed Peak oil as a public issue is crudely where climate change was fifty years ago.

This is at least partly explained by the secrecy of “owners” about the levels of their oil reserves and the difficulties this presents to more objective evaluations of the risks and time frames. It is also likely that the consequences of peak oil are simply too hard for Western Governments to address at least publicly, especially as there is presently no apparent solution to the threat. This reaction if true is in a similar psychological category to denial.

Even if peak oil is shown not to be with us now it will ultimately arrive and sooner rather than later so the author deserves credit for trying to raise the public awareness about this difficult issue. He also deserves credit for linking it to the other big elephant in the room, climate change. The potential problems that each would create on its own are causes for worry. The possibility that they may coincide is frightening.

As might be expected from an author who is a distinguished warrior for the environment, his strategy of Transition assumes benign local and international environments and international cooperation. He may well be right. On the other hand history is replete with examples of “mans inhumanity to man” both inside and outside national borders which have been driven by religion, ethnicity, nationalism, economics and raw power. There are therefore equally good arguments for assuming that an oil crisis environment will be less benign and altruistic than the author seems to assume. If the crisis coincides with significant adverse climate effects caused by global warming the international political outcomes are likely to be dangerous, damaging and destructive as governments compete for fuel, resources,  food and even territory.

Whatever assumptions apply in the future the author has proposed a well thought out and articulated strategy for surviving a combined peak oil/climate change onslaught on our way of living and has supported this with a practical explanation of how the survival of communities can be achieved. The book will be of value to those who want to know more about the likely affects of peak oil and climate change and what they and their community can do to increase their chances of surviving in it.

POINTS FOR NOTE: (For reviewer only)

  1. The concept of energy return on energy invested. EROEI P 46
  2. The concept of carbon energy per category of fuel P 47

REVIEWER: Brian Harrisson.

26th May, 2011