Ideas from America on starting a Transition Town. Ruah Wennerfelt, Steve Chase & host Mark Helpsmeet in live stage conversation. Plus Greg Pahl, author of “Power from the People, How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects.” Max Keiser & Stacy Herbert on corporate corruption. Music: “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. Radio Ecoshock 120926 1 hour.

The climate has gone rogue, energy prices are threatening, and the economy sucks. You know the elections aren’t going to make it better. Why wait for government? You can protect your community and yourself by helping your town withstand the shocks.

Download/listen to Radio Ecoshock for September 26, 2012 in CD quality (56 MB) here.

Or use the faster downloading, lower quality 14 MB version here.

This program is about the Transition Town Movement and local power.

We begin with a half of an hour-long dialog with Ruah Swennerfelt and Steve Chase on the Transition Town movement in New England.

It’s a rebroadcast of “Sprouts”, radio production by independent community media. Last July, host Mark Helpsmeet of “Spirit in Action” hosted a live event Transition Town dialog in Rhode Island at the University of Kingston. It was originally broadcast on WHYS-LP in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, as part of Northern Spirit Radio. WHYS also broadcasts Radio Ecoshock.


The opening of the Sprouts segment contains part of the song “The Turning of the World” performed by Sara Thomsen (written by Ruth Pellam) & “I Have No Hands But Yours” by Carole Johnson.

The show closes with the Peter Gabriel classic “In Your Eyes” (this You tube from a live concert from the 2003 Growing Up Tour in Filaforum, Milan, Italy. Or try this live classic recording Papa Wemba & Peter Gabriel


Our discussion of Transition in New England and Europe was recorded in front of a live audience, in early July, in Rhode Island at the University of Kingston.

One guest speaker is Ruah Swennerfelt, former long-time General Secretary of Quaker Earthcare Witness. She is currently involved with the Transition Town implementation in Charlotte, Vermont. Find her Transition US blog here.

Both our guests are involved in Quakers in Transition.

Steve Chase is Director of Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability at Antioch University New England. Steve talks about the Transition Town in Keene, New Hampshire, where their slogan is: “for local people concerned about peak oil, climate change, and a dysfunctional and unjust global economy – who want to respond with vision, courage, and creativity.”

Helpsmeet asks how people who have very different political beliefs can work together in a Transition movement. One way is to stress “resilience” rather than the eco word “sustainability”.

For the Quakers, the prospect of “energy famine” (as fossil fuels decline, become too expensive, or are taken over by others) can easily lead to resource wars. In this way, Peak Oil can really be a “peace” issue.

In Europe, some Neo-Nazi’s took up the name “Transition” applied to their town. Partly in response to austerity in some European countries, this group agreed we have to learn to live on less, and so there is a need to keep immigrants out, using racist rhetoric.

In response, Transition US posted some core values, including posting local group constitutions on the Transition US web site.

It’s ironic, because unlike the Nazi leadership cult, Ruah says success comes because Transition is a leaderless movement. Leadership is shared as well.

Having fun together is “a really core principle” says Ruah. Have fun, not long dreary meetings.


Keene New Hampshire had a ground-breaking for a new food coop in mid-2012. It already has a thousand members in a town of 25,000.

They have around 20 community-supported agricultural projects in their area, which allows for more local food production. They now have a farmers’ market and a winter farmers’ market.


What’s the hurry? asks host Mark. Is it just concern with oil supplies?

There are many reasons, says Ruah, but she doesn’t think of it as all doom and gloom. In permaculture, she says, the solution is found in the problem itself.

Ruah still has a car, but is always aware of her pollution, that she is helping cause more global warming. She wants a group to help develop less harmful local transportation schemes. Like biking to a collector bus van, which leads to a larger bus to the city of Burlington, Vermont.

Central is the idea that we will have to learn to live well on less. Perhaps much less. Fossil fuels will be less available, cost more, and the damage they cause will become more and more apparent. But also, the idea of global equity, which is central to global peace, demands Western people use fewer resources, allowing the poorest people to get the basics.

In most cities, there is only 3 to 5 days’ worth of food. After that, if the trucks don’t roll in, people run out of food. Local food production increases the ability to absorb coming shocks in the food production and delivery system, for whatever reason.


Ruah describes how to start a Transition Town. There are three books now available to help: the first one was “Transition Handbook” by Rob Hopkins. You’ll have to get that one used from online services, as it is out of print. The Transition Culture blog now advocates buying “Transition Companion” also by Rob Hopkins.
There is a third: “Transition Timeline” by Shaun Chamberlin published in 2009.

Here is the description of “Transition Timeline” from

The Transition Timeline lightens the fear of our uncertain future, providing a map of what we are facing and the different pathways available to us. It describes four possible scenarios for the UK and world over the next twenty years, ranging from Denial, in which we reap the consequences of failing to acknowledge and respond to our environmental challenges, to the Transition Vision, in which we shift our cultural assumptions to fit our circumstances and move into a more fulfilling, lower-energy world. The practical, realistic details of this Transition Vision are examined in depth, covering key areas such as food, energy, demographics, transport and healthcare, and they provide a sense of context for communities working towards a thriving future.

The book also provides a detailed and accessible update on climate change and peak oil and the interactions between them, including their impacts in the UK, present and future. Use it. Choose your path, and then make that future real with your actions, individually and with your community. As Rob Hopkins outlines in his foreword, there is a rapidly- spreading movement addressing these challenges, and it needs you.

Also see Rob Hopkins in a 17 minute presentation “Transition to a World without Oil” at TED, on You tube in 2009.


In 2011, Ruah visited Transition communities in 10 different European countries, as well as a “Transition France” conference and a “Transition UK” conference. All the communities took different steps, or in different order, to adapt to where they lived.

There is even Transition Paris. They broke down into smaller transition communities within the larger city. They had a central hub to serve these smaller groups.

They do the same thing in Transition Los Angeles and Transition Barcelona.

Find Transition Barcelona in Spanish or in English.

One group in England had members map out where food trees, like peak and apple trees, were accessible and perhaps not harvested. They asked homeowners for permission to harvest the fruit, rather than let it be wasted.

In Charlotte, Vermont they have an “Asset Directory”. They took a survey of community skills, to allow skill-sharing. It also hooks up people who want to learn skills, whether it’s canning, small scale farming or whatever.

Steve Case points out that social movements are not like corporate franchises. You don’t buy a license to become a Transition Town. There are about 1,000 formal transition initiatives around the world.

They have workshops on how to deal with difficult people. We are a “cussed species” and sometimes the culture doesn’t help us.

We need an outer transition to reconfigure our communities with resilience, an energy descent plan, to live without damaging the climate, and live on less and less.


When Rob Hopkins wrote the Transition Handbook around 2008, he advanced “the theory of anyway”. Even if climate change isn’t as serious, or oil continues longer than thought, or the economy limps along – we’ll still be living and eating better with the transition town, with a more resilient economy. You’ll feel better with more local democracy, more skills, and more community involvement – no matter what happens.

The international site for Transition Towns is here.

The local producers and buyers try to reduce food miles, and the use of pesticides and fertilizers which are petroleum based.

Like Ruah, Steve Chase says the challenges of energy depletion and economic downsizing also contain the solutions. For example, one water treatment plant in New England was getting swamped by sudden inflows of water. This problem was solved by installing micro-generators on the intake pipes. Now that plant is self-sufficient, generating its own energy from the former “problem”.

They plan to have about 12 transition trainers in New England this year, to offer weekend workshops. Beyond this basic training there is a new training workshop called “Transition Thrive” (what to do next, after getting your group going).

Transition groups in Scotland are incorporated to do community business, like community bakeries. Ruah recommends the book “The Town That Food Saved“. It’s about Hardwick Vermont.

It’s important to partner with town or city government. Their local government had one immediate problem: too many parents drove kids to school even though school buses are provided. It caused dangerous congestion, and more climate change. How to make riding the bus cool for kids? Now that’s a challenge!

Transition may say “don’t wait for government” but groups still work with existing governments to get things done, says Steve Chase.

In Keene, they have awareness raising “Transition Tuesday”. One success was showing the film “A Convenient Truth” about Curitiba Brazil. That town transformed itself. See a short trailer for A Convenient Truth here.

People need to see examples of what is possible, Chase says, rather than only hearing the dire consequences if we don’t do something. Once you begin to think creatively, all the problems seem like opportunities.


In our second half hour, our guest is Greg Pahl, author of the new book “Power from the People, How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects.”

We all worry about future energy supplies – and the climate cost of what we’ve got now.

We have to choose between big utility mega-projects, or toss some solar panels on the roof, right? Wrong, according to Greg Pahl. He gives examples of community-based energy projects from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Greg tells us about two projects: a solar community installation in Ellensburg Washington State, formed in 2006; and the Fox Islands Wind Project in Vinalhaven Maine.

The Fox Islands project is three wind turbines funded and owned by the local community, instead of a distant big corporation. Pahl says local energy not only helps unite a community, it also helps the local economy in these hard times.

We even talk about what condo owners and apartment dwellers can do to make communities more energy self-reliant. For example, one condo association in Chicago voted to install solar on their roof-tops. Other people can support larger local energy projects.

Pahl also notes that sometime moving is the right thing to do. You could either move to a more energy efficient house, build one, or – as we talked about in last week’s Radio Ecoshock show “Heading to Air Conditioned Hell” – move to a part of the country or world which requires far less energy for heat or cooling.

Local energy initiatives do not have to be huge. For example, instead of building a dam which deforms river ecology, your town or group could use run-of-the-river power generation.

Greg Pahl isn’t a fan of hydrogen. That really isn’t an energy source, but a type of storage and transmission. It currently takes so much power to pry hydrogen out of water, that the hydrogen process is a net energy loser.

We talk about financing local energy projects. Don’t discount the possibility of funding from local banks or credit unions, Pahl says. “Crowd funding” will also be legal in the U.S. for energy projects in 2013, with new regulations coming from the SEC, as part of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act.

“Power from the People, How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects” is from Chelsea Green Publishing and part of the Post Carbon Institute’s Community Resilience Series. Find out more at

We started out this program with information on how to turn your community into a Transition Town, with examples from New England. Next week we’ll find out this transition movement transcends many different political views. The famous alternative thinker Albert Bates joins us from The Farm in Tennessee. Albert tells me Transition can succeed in a Red State, thick with Republican voters, even in very rural communities. We’ll find out how.

As you know, the Transtion Movement started out in the UK with Rob Hopkins and his community. If you have local experiences you would like to share, be sure and send me an email with a short description of what is going on. We can share that with listeners, or perhaps you can be a guest on Radio Ecoshock, sharing what works. Maybe you would like to suggest someone I should call as a guest. There are two ways to get in touch: email me – the address is Or go to our web site at and click on the “contact” button to send me your message.

When it comes to Transition, we all have a role to play, and a voice to speak. I appreciate hearing from you.


We have a little time left to pass on this gem from another in my list of must-listen radio. This is from the “Truth About Markets” radio program, broadcast from Resonance FM in London. Co-hosts Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert have been warning for years the banking and corporate system are corrupt. They pretty well coined the term “banksters” back in the day when people still trusted banks and the markets.

In this 5 minute clip, Max – who worked for years in the markets, and designed sophisticated trading software, and Tracy talk about new studies on one law for the rich, and another for you and I.

The research they discuss shows that corporations who pay big lobby bucks are far less likely to be investigated, and if they are caught, get much more lenient sentences. There is academic research to prove that. Listen and learn.

Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert from the August 11th “Truth About Markets” show (Episode 325) on Resonance FM, London . Resonance FM also broadcasts Radio Ecoshock every Tuesday at noon.

Their web site is Use the search box on the home page to searchg for “Truth About Markets” to listen or download.

By the way, Max Keiser and Stacy are one of the few finance experts who also warn us about climate change, rather than denying it. It’s refreshing.

You’ve been listening to Radio Ecoshock. I’m Alex Smith. Our web site is

We’ll finish this show with the classic by Peter Gabriel “In Your Eyes” (links above). Something in the words and melody stuck a chord in my heart this week.

Look after one another, and thanks for caring about your world.

Alex Smith