The Transition Movement

Change requires agents of change. Passage from one form­, state, style, or place to another, requires a period of transformation. Discussing the need for a global paradigm shift in response to climate and associated consequence on land and sea requires an audience, a potential community for action, a social/political response to a challenge, a need, a transition movement.

Struggling to find a response to the question “What will it take?” to move community forward at scale in time is a quandary shared by me and many others who view our circumstance as critical and demanding of a massive collective response and expression of political will to declare the values, build the structures, and execute the actions required. How to begin? Where? With whom? What first steps to be taken?

Government is one level of such response: legislative and regulatory action to confront abuse and initiate counter behaviors. Such endeavor takes time, courage, and commitment in the form of political will and social engagement generated by citizens, in a democracy, an enlightened despot in an autocracy. Neither seems to have worked very well in the face of the accelerating consequence of climate, pollution, corruption, and vested interest determined to maintain the status quo. It is easy to be discouraged, to feel helpless and useless against such forces, but what choice, really, do we have other than to take up the challenge personally, locally, regionally, and relentlessly — to become ourselves agents of change?

There is, indeed, a transition movement — a quiet, proactive organization of projects and best intents that, since 2005, has organized a unified, global initiative that recognizes and connects some 1,150 projects in over 50 nations that reflect the principles of community, sustainability, resilience, and justice. is the website and communications instrument around which this movement is organized. Some defining characteristics are as follows:

  • To engage with the need for change — creating spaces for exploring and engaging with the complex interconnected challenges of our time;
  • To take practical actions…which reduce carbon emissions, address equitable climate change mitigation and adaptation, and increase local resilience in such areas as food, energy, waste, transport, shelter, habitat protection, healthy ecosystems, mutual aid, community building and disaster relief;
  • To contribute to a well-being economy — innovating and collaborating to create economic models and opportunities focused on inclusion, new social enterprise, currencies, and livelihoods;
  • To broaden and deepen participation — convening diverse engagement, deliberation, and decision-making processes — valuing and accommodating multiple and marginalized perspectives.

I spent some time looking at the registered projects, the remarkable geographical distribution, the urban and rural iterations, and the various local activities that illustrate the movement’s premises and principles from a small neighborhood initiative to a big city vision. In some cases, I saw nascent good intent; in others, I saw an encouraging level of scale, an assembly of local, regional, and wider private and public collaborations suggesting a larger system of change with common purpose.

Of course, I looked for ocean examples. There were some, some river and coastal towns, but what became most evident was that every project was in truth an “island,” literally, a small island community or a district or arrondissment in a big city sea — what the great educational innovator, Kurt Hahn, called “islands of healing,” places where challenge was welcomed, change was deliberately explored and nurtured, and healthy individuals and their community contributions were trained and launched as agents of change.

Look around you, listen for conversation about community solar, regional waste recycling, shared public educational facilities, municipal collaborations, combined social and health services, organic farm markets, fisheries cooperatives, shared financing of recreational and conservation spaces, regional implementation of broadband service — all changes counter to the tradition of Yankee individualism and independence that now make financial and community sense, reflect old values but in new behaviors. What you are seeing there is the first evidence of transition, and there must be more to come. Welcome it, join it, and make where you live, anywhere in our ocean world, a safe harbor for now and generations to come.

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean.



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