As a dual national of an American father and British mother, I’ve spent my life going back and forth between the UK and USA. It’s given me a good understanding of both cultures, and the social and psychological differences that exist between them, and how these have impacted the Transition Movement as it unfolds in both countries.
First of all, let me say that although Transition Towns were born in the UK, their roots are deeply embedded in the international permaculture movement, the field of ecological design, and the wisdom of indigenous cultures from around the world. Transition has also been influenced by the Powerdown work of Richard Heinberg, and films such as the End of Suburbia and the Power of Community.
Even though Rob Hopkins may not know much about America, his work has been influenced by American thinking. One of the Transition Towns co-founders, Naresh Giangrande (who is also the developer of Transition Training) is an American. I am also an American. Our Transition Trainings integrate the work of many notable Americans, such as Joanna Macy (The Work that Reconnects), Owen Harrison (Open Space) and others.
What I’m saying here is that America has been a powerful influence on the Transition model, from the very beginning.
That being said, the Transition model was developed first and foremost in Ireland and the UK, and the material on the Transition Towns website (including the primer, Rob’s handbook, the criteria etc) are all very UK-centric. We in the Transition US team (www.transitionus.org) are working hard to Americanize these materials, in the recognition that we need to re-write them for US culture.
I initially thought that Transition might not take as well here (as in the UK) because the US tends to be more focused on the individual, on what you can achieve by yourself. In the UK, the focus tends to be more on the community, on what we can achieve together. It’s a sweeping generalization, but it still has truth to it. The British are an island people, used to withstanding hardships together (like WWI and WWII) that can draw people closer together. The British are more used to pulling rank against the enemy, whether that be a foreign country, or climate change, or peak oil.
But while the US might be more of a “me” culture, it also embodies more of an entrepreneurial spirit. The uptake of new ideas, along with taking risks, and making mistakes is much higher here. In the UK, if you stick your head above the parapet you’re likely to get shot down (“you can’t do that”), and then when you do fall down everyone points and laughs, and treads you down further, saying “see, I knew you couldn’t do it”.
In the US, you are encouraged to go out on a limb, and everyone applauds your efforts. When you fall down and fail, everyone rallies around and encourages you to get back up and go for it again.
For this reason alone, the Transition Movement is likely to be more successful here in the States.
We are going to make mistakes. We don’t have any answers. We need to take big risks. Transition is a huge social experiment, and the States embraces new ways of thinking much more so than the UK.
On a related note, the pioneer spirit is very much alive in the States and embodied by many survivalists. We don’t really have survivalists in the UK. Not in the same sense. Transition US hopes to be able to engage the survivalist community. We recognize that they have many of the skills that will be needed in a post peak world, and we honor that wisdom.
We could easily write another Step into the Transition model: Honor the Survivalists. I think that it would be very valid here in the States, along with Honoring the First Peoples (Native Americans) who are another very important marginalized and misunderstood community that do not exist in the UK.
Inclusivity is inherent in Transition. We need to work with everyone, great and small, rich and poor, skilled and unskilled, white and black, men and women and children. Everyone has something to bring to the Transition table, and we need to find ways to get everyone involved and valued. That’s the bottom line. It’s an ambitious and overwhelming call to action, but the way I see it we have to at least try to make it happen. That’s what the rebuilding of resilience into our communities is all about. Getting everyone motivated and involved, to a greater or lesser degree. Honoring everyone.
Here in America, we basically have a nation of 50 countries. That’s a BIG challenge. The sheer size of the country; it’s range of extreme rural and urban environments; it’s diverse climate; and the fact that most of it has been designed around the car, whereas in the UK the infrastructure has mostly been built around people. These are all huge obstacles for Transition to address.
Television and media is fragmented and generally of poor quality, as compared to the well-respected and well-watched media in the UK. When Transition Towns are featured on BBC television or radio in the UK you can more or less guarantee that half the country or more will be watching and listening.
So in some sense, it is a much greater challenge for the Transition model to take root in the States. However, despite the challenges, the Transition Movement is growing very fast here in the US. Although it’s early days, people are taking it and interpreting it within their communities with great enthusiasm and success.
It remains to be seen what aspects of Transition will be uniquely American, but since Transition Initiatives emerge from place these cultural differences will become more apparent as time goes on. My own feeling at this point is that the Transition Movement will grow to immense proportions here in the States, and become an exemplary model for the rest of the world. Transition US aims to catalze this process this by showcasing stories from Transition Communities across the States on our website and through our monthly newsletter.
As a final note, I think it is important to recognize that the Transition model is only a loose set of guidelines, assumptions and criteria. It is not set in stone. Because it’s based on universal ecological design principles, and draws from the timeless wisdom of our elders (and indigenous / traditional nature based cultures) it really cuts across boundaries of place and culture. So the cultural differences are there, but the model still applies because of the flexibility built into it.
The Transition Movement has only just landed on American shores, and indeed only emerged in the UK a couple of years ago, which means we are at the very beginning of something unknown. It will be fascinating to see how it unfolds here, as compared to the UK and other countries, and I am looking forward to being part of this process.