Thursday, 3 December 2009

Why Transition is about discovering what democracy really looks like

This is an article I wrote for the latest issue of Reforesting Scotland magazine, which focuses on communities in transition in Scotland.

Why Transition is about discovering what democracy really looks like

There’s no doubt this is an opportunity. We were all very comfortable before we faced up to what our fossil fuel consumption was doing to the planet. Yes, OK, changing every aspect of our excessively wasteful and energy-intensive society might be a rather daunting task. But it’s one which should be relished...

The biggest challenge facing the Transition movement isn’t about insulation or micro-renewables - it’s about how we create a new generation of feisty community activists, energetic participants in democracy who will change society from the bottom up.

You might say that our government has achieved quite a lot recently with the new Climate Change Act and the Climate Challenge Fund. But are they really putting our money where their mouth is? Emissions from their roadbuilding and airport expansion plans will dwarf many of the savings made elsewhere. How do we square that with our climate action ambitions?

The only way we can be sure that the government will deliver on its climate promises is if we as a society hold them to account when they go off track. The question isn’t whether the solutions should come from the top down, or the bottom up – we need both. But the bottom line is that dynamic grassroots engagement with climate change is a powerful force for change. Rather than being made to react to what is thrown at us, wouldn’t it be nice to create a society which can actively and positively choose the kind of Scotland we want?

Tackling the threat of climate change needs urgent short-term action, as well as long-term vision. Building a vibrant grassroots movement for positive change comes, at least partly, in the latter category. Some of the things we need to do to make this happen don’t even look like climate action – things like meeting people, talking, planning, being creative, even partying. But they are essential to the process of changing society.

Powerful community action also requires a perspective which connects local action to the national and international levels. We need to be able to identify with, learn from, and support communities taking action on the impacts and causes of climate change on the other side of the world.

There are already hundreds of locally-based groups in Scotland working to tackle climate change – from independent projects to the local groups of national campaigning organisations, as well as larger bodies and networks. Just imagine the influence this movement for climate action can have.

We’ve got an exciting opportunity here to see what a healthy democracy really looks like. If we can think big while taking pleasure in the small steps along the way, it will be amazing what we can achieve.