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A personal transition

Ruth Valerio

Some years back I read these words of Aldo Leopold, the renowned scientist and father of wildlife ecology: 'One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one learns to live alone in a world of wounds'1. When I read those words, I cried. Leopold seemed to know exactly how I felt: I carried the burden of a wounded world on my shoulders and in my heart, and nobody I knew seemed to feel the same way as I did or be interested in the kind of lifestyle that I was thinking about so much. I felt utterly alone.


I'm pleased to say that that is no longer the case. One of the things that changed was hooking up with A Rocha, the Christian conservation charity, and working with them on their Living Lightly project. I realised I wasn't alone. But I still didn't really know anyone locally who felt the same way as I did. And then, in the summer of 2008, I was invited by someone to go to a meeting of a new group called Transition Chichester. I hadn't heard anything about Transition Towns at that point, but a quick look on the internet told me this was something I should get involved with.

Soon I was on the Steering Committee, meeting all sorts of people who had the same concerns as me and the same desires to try to do something about those concerns - and what's more, they lived near me too. I can remember one Hub meeting where I suddenly realised that, for the first time in a long while, I was with people who didn't think I was slightly weird and eccentric. It was a lovely feeling.

Transition Chichester is based on four assumptions: firstly, that life with less energy is inevitable and it is better to plan for it than be taken by surprise; secondly, that industrial society has lost the resilience to be able to cope with energy shocks; thirdly, that the sooner we act the more impact that action will have; and fourthly, that we have to act together and inspire others to follow: it is down to us.

What I love about the Transition concept is its strong emphasis on community. So it's not just a 'green group', obsessed with re-using carrier bags: it recognises that if we are to survive the problems that are coming our way, then we have to work against the individualism that is so endemic in our society and rebuild a network of relationships across the locality that will hold us together if other things break down.

So, there is a bread-making group that meets in a community centre to make bread together: to take a small step toward self-sufficiency, meet others and learn how to use local produce. There is a 'grow-your-own' group, which meets for a meal once a month in someone's house at which they talk about what they're growing and exchange tips (and the odd seed or two) and pass on knowledge to those who are novices in that whole area. Last weekend there was a swap-shop: a great incentive to me to do a sort out, and I even managed to take more there than I came away with.  The place was packed, with a wonderful atmosphere, and someone put together a little Transition Café with homemade tomato soup, bread and cakes. And I have recently started up the Chichester Garden Share scheme, which aims to match would-be growers with garden owners.

So it's been an eye-opener to see all manner of people coming out of the woodwork. I've made a lot of new friendships, a few of them close. We have already had our first Transition Chichester wedding, and other pairings have taken place. It's been interesting too to see how many people who are involved are Christians. In fact, one key person has even become a Christian through meeting others of us in TC. I don't think that is in the Transition Handbook…

None of this is to say that Transition will finally save the world. It won't. For one, it is run by people and so is far from perfect. It faces all the pitfalls that any other organisation faces, including apathy, frustration and disagreements. To me, though, it is a great example of what Duane Elgin calls, 'visible examples of alternative ways of living and working that creatively respond to the situation'2. My only question is, why did I not find this in the church?

Ruth Valerio


1  Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac (OUP USA, 1968) p197.
2  Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich (Harper: 2010).