Category Archives: Sustainability Transitions

Practices of sustainbility transitions – presentations

Capacities for transition Pete North 1 Sustainability transitions capacities

Economics in transition Molly Scott Cato CAT_Sustainability_Transitions

Activism in transition Kelvin Mason Activism in sustainability transitions and transitions in environmental

Values in transition Tom Crompton CAT – Tom Crompton September 2012

Paul Chatterton on urban living in transition (LILAC, low impact development)

Adrian Smith Lessons from 1970s

Summary of practices seminar Practices of sustainbility transitions seminar summary

Post Carbon Worlds and Transitions

Physics versus politics: Can we close the gap?

On 19th -20th July, in conjuction with the Open University and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, CAT held a conference on the above topic. The conference centred on the report ’Post Carbon Pathways’ (Wiseman & Edwards, 2012) and highlighted the gap between pragmatic political targets for reducing carbon emissions and the physical target that mitigating climate change demands. We will try to feature feedback from the confrence at the Practices of sustainbility transtions’ seminar at CAT in September (6th – 7th)

Overview and resources from Seminar 4: The everyday politics of sustainability transitions

The everyday politics of sustainability transitions

held on June 22nd 2012 (9.30am-5.30pm) at Nottingham Conference Centre (NTU), NG1 4BU.

Aim of seminar– to explore the ways in which various forms of politics, power and resistance inspire, shape and constrain everyday sustainability transitions.

The workshop posed questions about:

  • the role of different political actors in creating new spaces for discourse on social
  • the role of difference, diversity and social justice in transitions, and how this creates different contexts and possibilities for social change across different
    locations; and;
  • the role of scale and the goal of localization in social movements and how this relates to the sustainability transitions framework

preparation – participants bought along a photo of
an object that represents the everyday politics of transition

10.00  Introduction (Amanda Smith, Nottingham Trent University)

A summary of the key themes emerging from the photos bought along by participants of the everyday politics of transition can be seen in these images:

Themes from Photos bought along by participants 3

10.30  Speakers on Everyday Transitions chaired by Jenny Pickerill (Leicester)

13.30  Panel Discussion chaired by Gavin Brown (Leicester) (opening to discussion)

Panelists: Alan Simpson (former MP for Nottingham South), Kelvin Mason (Climate Camp), Brian Davey (Feasta) Brian Davey Panel ContribDanGlass (Plane Stupid)

Audienceparticipation in the panel discussion

15.30  Open Space Event facilitated by Amanda Smith- those at the seminar suggested questions to be explored in more depth .

A range of questions were suggested- see: Open Space- suggested questions 1

Questions explored included:

a)     Why do community groups fail/succeed, what forms of activism excite us?  Open Space- Theme of Activism

b)     What are the commons and do they matter to the issues of sustainability? Open Space- Theme of Commons 2

c)      How do we address privilege within environmental groups?


Slides from Transitions Seminar: Lesson from 1970s

We had a successful and stimulating event in Manchester on Low Carbon Transitions: Relevant Lessons from the 1970s Crisis? 25 April 2012, CUBE, Portland Street, Manchester.

We have attached the slides for some of the speakers from the day around the four themes which we explored.


Introduction, Mike Hodson, SURF, University of Salford

Remembering the Seventies:  Andy Beckett, author When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies

1. Economic Development in the 1970s and now          

Fred Steward, Policy Studies Institute

Tim Jenkins, New Economics Foundation

2. Planning and Urbanism                                 

Patsy Healey, University of Newcastle

Aidan While, University of Sheffield

3. Architecture and Housing                                         

Pat Borer, Centre for Alternative Technology

Jenny Pickerill, University of Leicester

4. Technologies and Infrastructure                              

Dave Elliott, Open University

Joanne Wade, Independent

Rob Hopkins TED Talk: ‘My town in Transition’

Rob Hopkins recently reflected on Totnes Transition progress in his TED Talk.

Review of Transitions Seminar on Lessons from the 1970s

Manchester Climate Monthly is an independent newsletter/magazine published on the first Monday of every month.  They have included a review of the recent transitions seminar. We have aslso posted this below and would like to thank Manchester Climate Monthly for such a constructive review – including useful pointers for how we could improve future events.

Event Report: “Low Carbon Transitions; Relevant Lessons from the 1970s crisis?”Posted on May 1, 2012 by

Attention Conservation Notice: MCFly got invited to an academic seminar entitled “Low Carbon Transitions: Relevant Lessons from the 1970s crisis?” at the CUBE gallery on Portland St, hosted by Salford University’s SURF. The format (more on that) was of short-ish presentations from – mostly – academics, with discussions at each table about those presentations that led to questions back to the presenters. This account is mostly a sentence or two (or four) about each of the presentations,and then some thoughts on missing concepts and possible format innovations. As such, it’s of interest mostly to those who were there, and/or insomniacs.

It started well. A chap from the Grauniad gave an entertaining account from his book “When the Lights Went Out”. He said he was skeptical of the idea that people in the 70s felt – as is now depicted in popular history books – that they were living through endless crisis. He gently derided the game that authors play of pinpointing “the date is all started to go wrong” (Altamont, the IMF in 1976 etc). He made the point that even in the worst years of the 1970s unemployment was lower than during the best years under Blair (and that the Tory PM Edward Heath had reversed economic policy when it looked like unemployment would rise above… 1 million). As he pointed out, the UK’s problems of the 70s – around the nation state, productivity, sluggish management and poverty – have not been solved by neoliberalism.

On the environmental crisis, he mentioned the best-selling and apocalyptic Blueprint for Survival, the BBC TV show Doomwatch. (the makers of which were invited to speak to the Tory cabinet!). He gave an entertaining and informative account of a state-sanctioned festival (Watchfield 1975). A report by civil servants afterwards said that it was a positive thing because it had “broadened personal experience through minor law-breaking.” He then spoke of the 1976-8 Grunwick Strike and how it was broken by right-wing non-violent direct action (Operation Pony Express) [see John Gouriet obit here], and how these tactics were used in the 80s (Wapping,the Miners’ Strike). He pointed out that Thatcher’s plans to privatise council housing came from earlier work that the Callaghan government had started making.  This was followed by a q and a. Sadly, MCFly’s reporter was wearing the invisibility cloak that Frodo Baggins left behind on his last visit, so didn’t get to ask a question.  Some stuff on Adam Curtis and also on the birth of think tanks got mentioned.

Fred Steward, who was at Manchester University as the 70s started, and is now Professor of Innovation and Sustainability at the Policy Studies Institute (University of Westminster) was up next, posing the question “Does the alternative economic strategy of the 1970s have any relevance fo trhe 2010s transition to a low carbon society?”outlined some history. He said that there were three things that he wanted to highlight
a) there had been a sixties rebellion against technocratic modernism (He mentioned Illich and Schumacher. Marcuse and the Frankfurt School crowd fit too)
b) In the 70s and 80s there was the emergence of a new ecological paradigm [Stockholm '72, Lovelock, the Brundtland Commission, etc]
c) 70s labour movement response to capitalist crisis and exhaustion of Statist economic policy.

Prof Steward lamented that there had not been significant engagement between industrial (e.g. trades union) actors and those concerned with global environmental issues.

Tim Jenkins of “new economics foundation” then tried to cram an hour’s worth of slides (from what looked like his ‘basic overview for complete newbies’ presentation) into ten minutes. Blivit. Basic take home point – we’ve been telling ourselves that “efficiency” is the same thing as “resilience” and it isn’t. He also significantly over-ran his time, cutting into the limited time for discussion.

Patsy Healey, (professor emeritus at Global Urban Research Unit in the School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Newcastle University) was particularly interested in how cities and the urban are imagined and contested. Her final slides, on how a consultation process around regeneration influenced all the organisations that took part, deserves further unpicking (watch this space).

Aidan While of Sheffield (him of “Sustainability Fixes”)made the point that the term “crisis” (he prefers ‘shock to the system’) allows states to respond in certain ways, foreclosing some options because of the “urgency” of action. He also made the point that if you don’t say what policy-makers are hoping to hear, you tend not to get invited to their meetings. Who knew

Pat Borer of the Centre for Alternative Technology gave a useful comparison of “then” and “now”. He is of the opinion (which MCFly shares) that the green movement has failed and that the species is headed for disaster whether we like it or not.

Jenny Pickerill made the point that progress is always slower than we hope, that we continue to fail to learn from our experience or mistakes, but that a lack of visibility does not necessary mean a lack of progress in ideas and [among other points] that good ideas always get co-opted

Dave Elliott of the Open University looked at the “Alternative Technology” movement of the 1970s and today, pointing out that there was always a divergence within the movement between the diy and the social change views. In his opinion, Alternative Technology was destroyed alongside the Trades Union Movement.

Joanne Wade looked at the different local energy experiments then and now, with a sprinkling of central government cash going out via things like the Low Carbon Communities Challenge. She pointed out distrust of institutions has been building for a very long time. She is of the opinion that “intermediaries” (people tinkering between the household scale and the national) don’t get enough support or funding, and that local authorities need both more capacity and more obligation to get involved in energy production.

This seminar is one of a series, and the next one is in Nottingham in late June.

Shaking up the format

  • Could have pushed the tables aside and had spectrums (alright “spectra”) at the outset to find out how old people were, what their experience was with these issues, what they were currently working on
  • Could have used a smidgen of time to find out what books, films, slogans, songs etc that people know from the 70s, especially ones they think are useful tools for thought/have resonance with our current shituaton. This could have been an icebreaker on the tables, before they went into their appointed role of responding to each speaker (a format that, frankly, began to pall after a while).
  •  Could have done an “activation” phenomenon at each table – pairwise introductions (I.e. talk with the person next to you for a couple of minutes. You are then going to introduce that person to the rest of the group).
  • Could have mixed up the tables after the lunch break so people got to mingle more, instead of sticking to the same 6 or so people.
  • Could possibly have collected more information from each table, instead of just one or two questions directed at the speakers (though then how to collate and process the info – a problem given zero staffing)
  • Could have feedback forms. (MCFly has some. They’re creative commons, so just lift ‘em with a credit.)

What was missing?
There was a focus on theory and “hard” infrastructure. Only in the margins was there any discussion about the way that civil society has been hollowed out, and now exists – at best – as a rubber stamp for technocratic managerialism. From an activist’s perspective, that would have been the most useful discussion to have.

Lectures on eco-housing and transitions

I have recently been teaching the environmental geography of eco-housing to final year undergraduate geography students here at the University of Leicester (Britain). It has been a fun process of trying to organise my thoughts and recent research into a coherent story around sustainable transitions. I am not sure if they are of interest or use to anyone beyond the classroom, but in case they are I have attached them here. They are designed as two-hour long lectures and there are no additional notes – I tend to talk around each slide. So they are quite long.


The topics are:

1. Ecohousing and architectural geographies

2. Politics of building

3. Low Impact Development

4. Transition, scale and replication

Please note: I do not have copyright permission for some of the images included in these slides. The majority of them are mine, but some have been borrowed from online so please do not use them without returning to the original source.

I am publishing the slides online under creative commons, so please feel free to use and evolve the ideas and material included here.

As always any feedback and comments would be most welcome.

[Jenny Pickerill, 15th March, Leicester]

The future geography of the Anthropocene

Some thought-provoking research speculations from New Scientist (3 March 2012, No2854):

‘between 15 and 37% of species will be’committed to extinction’ by 2050′ (Nature, vol 427, p.145)

‘The idea that things (resources) will run out is to think about the future using today’s concepts’ (Richard Webb, fururologist)

‘Some island nations will simply cease to exist and many of the world’s greatest cities, including London, New York and Tokyo, will be partly or entirely lost beneath the waves’ (p. 42, assuming a 4 degree Celciuss global temp rise above pre-industrial levels)

‘New lands will rise from the sa. It’s time to start composing their national anthems’ (p.41)


Transition Research Network Meeting

New Knowledge for Resilient Futures. Wednesday 29th February 2012, 10am – 4.00pm. Plymouth Transition Hub, 171 Armada Way, PL1 1HZ. To book:

The Transition Research Network is a self-organising group of academics & community activists who aim to:

  • help advance understanding and practice in Transition
  • support Transition groups to address their research needs
  • help transform the crisis in our universities into an opportunity for positive change in research culture, making research relevant, fulfilling, and fun.

Following on from our first meeting in Manchester (28th November 2011), our second meeting, will develop the network further through:

  • World Café discussion on key research needs of the Transition movement and how to support them
  • envisioning a distinctively Transition research strategy though the world’s first research ‘permablitz’
  • Open Space discussion about whatever you choose to bring
  • finding research partners to identify and undertake vital transdisciplinary research and access appropriate funding calls to do so

Contacts: Tom Henfrey & Michelle Bastian

Low Carbon Transitions: Relevant Lessons from the 1970s Crisis?

Details for our third seminar, including this discussion paper (DISCUSSIONPaper_1970s and Transition) have now been added to this site.  Why not share your thoughts here ahead of the seminar?  We look forward to seeing you in Manchester on 25th April.