Tree 131 :: Rob Hopkins & the Transition Network ::

24th September 2010
Totnes, UK.
Type: we couldn’t decide.

HENRIK: OK, we’re on. Um, so yeah, here we are in a.

ROB: Do you know, I think this is a plane tree myself.

HENRIK: Really?

ROB: It’s not a maple, is it?

HENRIK: It’s not. I don’t think it’s a, I’m sure plane trees are those ones that have the um,

ROB: Hornbeam?

HENRIK: That bark, you know, the flaky bark, aren’t they?

ROB: Or sometimes there’s oaks that are like this, sort of red oak, I don’t know. I don’t know what this one is. Beautiful tree though.

HENRIK: I’m not, I’m not actually good on trees, which is sort of ironic.

ROB: Good in trees, but not good on trees.

HENRIK:  Yeah, exactly. Um, so yeah, um, thanks for you know, taking time out of saving the planet.

ROB: That’s alright.

HENRIK: To help me do this.

ROB: OK. That’s alright; pleasure.

HENRIK: Um, yeah, could you, what we were just saying, like, the way things happen, like, if you have good intentions, or you’ve been lucky enough to… when you started.

ROB: Well, you asked whether, you asked whether I believed in synchronicity and sort of serendipity and things happening.

HENRIK: Or the way, when those things seem to happen that way, like what that is?

ROB: What that is? Uh, I think it, I definitely notice in the work that we’ve been doing with transition initiatives; setting them up and supporting them over the last 3 or 4 years that there is an element of serendipity that comes in sometimes, you know, that actually you think ‘what we really need now is someone who knows about blah…’ and then that person arrives at the right time, or, ‘what we need is this’… and then that happens. Uh, and I think partly that comes just through doing what you do with a good motivation and being kind of open and genuine and that being clear in what you do, but I don’t really attribute any higher purpose to that, because, like, as I was saying, you know, I think there’s lots of people who work with a very good motivation and that doesn’t necessarily happen, you know. We can set up a situation where we say, somehow, if it doesn’t work, it’s cos you’re not doing it right, or something, and actually, I think we’ve been very fortunate in terms of, you know, we’ve started the transition thing at a point in time when there is a lot of concern about peak oil climate change, environmental issues in general and it does kind of resonate with people and I think what we’ve also tried to do it to take the sort of blame culture out of it. You know, whose fault is it that we’re in this mess? Which I think makes it much more accessible to a lot more people to…

HENRIK:  Make it more about action?

ROB: More about action but also it takes out that thing of people feeling judged by something, you know.

HENRIK: Right.

ROB: Climate change is your fault cos you’re bad, you know, or something in a supermarket… economic growth is evil and stuff, you know, while actually it’s just not a very good idea when your energy sources are depleting.

HENRIK: So it’s less, uh, emotional?

ROB: It’s not less emotional, it’s just less judgmental I think.

HENRIK: Right.

ROB: You know, sometimes environmental stuff can come across as mm-mm-mm: very finger-pointy and people feel quite judged by it and I think we’ve tried very hard to take that out of what we do.

HENRIK: OK. So do you wanna just imagine that I don’t know anything about what the heck you’re talking about…


HENRIK: Could you just sum up what the whole point is.


HENRIK: I mean, not like, let’s take it as read that we all believe that the planet, there’s something wrong with the planet etc, but…

ROB: Let’s take it as read, is that?

HENRIK: Yeah, so you don’t have to say, “Well, once up a time there was…

ROB: “There was a planet…” No, well let’s put, I mean, transition is really, is driven by two key issues, one of which is climate change and the other one of which is peak oil, which is the, coming to the close of the end of cheap oil, not the end of oil per se, but all the cheap oil is made possible for us, so it’s really about looking and saying, well, maybe we can see those things as an opportunity as much as a challenge, or more than a challenge. So, it’s about saying maybe within those two challenges is the potential to respond with creativity and adaptability and entrepreneurship and design and to come up with something that actually is better. Who ‘s to say that the way we live now is the best we could possibly do, and if we design within the kind of, the limitations of realizing that the amount of net energy that underpins what we do is gonna decrease and we better pull our finger out about climate change or our children are gonna inherit something really quite unstable and miserable and wretched, uh, that actually we start at the local level. Transition as a grass roots things, starts at the local level and argues that by strengthening local economies we can actually start to maybe turn this round much quicker than with top-down responses. So it’s happening all around the world; all around the UK. It’s really about communities imagining the kind of future they could create and starting to do it, you know, from setting up their own energy companies, local food projects, uh, um, uh, local currencies; looking at ways to cycle money locally more effectively. There’s a whole range of different things that they actually then get on and do.

HENRIK: So you… are you side-stepping politics?

ROB: Um..

HENRIK: I mean, not side… maybe that’s the wrong word, but you know, are you getting involved with that stuff?

ROB: I think we do try and consciously side-step, particularly party politics.


ROB: Because Transition is, see, I mean, there’s lots of people who are doing that, you know, there’s lots of stuff which is out, which is very political stuff about climate change and I think that’s really vital and it has a role, but I think we also felt there was really importantly a role there for something which didn’t have any obvious allegiances.

HENRIK:  Right, so not…

ROB: That was really just about people doing stuff and getting on with it.

HENRIK: Right. So the, like the Green Party; you’re not…

ROB: There are people who are involved in Transition who are involved with the Green Party, there are also people who are involved with all the different political parties and…

HENRIK: Right, yeah.

ROB: Because Transition is very much seen as… I increasingly see what Transition is doing as not so much being about environmental change; it’s more about cultural change and actually, if you want to try and, in a town like this, you want to try and instigate some really deep cultural change that can start to shift this, it has to appeal to everybody, whatever their faith, whatever their political beliefs. So it tried to come in under the radar I think, as effectively as possible in that way.

HENRIK: Right. Yeah. And so how did you sort of, I mean, I’ve sort of, something about, you came from Ireland. You’re not irish?

ROB: No, I lived, but I lived there for ten years. I was teaching permaculture there.


ROB: And found out about peak oil, which led to quite a sort of, uh, rethink of various things that we were doing and then Transitions started, so I always think, it’s a bit like in music, you know, that actually, when Afrika Bambaataa said “What happens if I take this Led Zepplin record and this James Brown record and kinda mix them up together”? You get a whole new genre of music starting to emerge from that.

HENRIK: Right. OK.

ROB: The Transition was a bit like “What happens if we look at peak oil through permaculture design lenses and we start to look at this as a challenge that can be solved like a design problem. In permaculture there’s the saying that the problem is the solution. So if we start to apply good design using permaculture principals to figuring out a way through peak oil, that’s really where the Transition idea came from.

HENRIK: So do you think the peak oil thing, ‘cos climate change maybe on it’s own is sort of a bit nebulous at the moment anyway, to some people, anyway, whereas peak oil is sort of like, you know, it’s happening, or it is gonna happen, so, but. I don’t know, it’s perhaps more of a concrete, or…

ROB: Yeah, I think climate change says “We really, really need to change what we’re doing” and peak oil says “you really don’t have any option here sunshine; this is changing, and really rather soon. And for some people, climate change is the thing that fires them up, but what we have seen since Copenhagen and the very well organised campaign of climate skepticism that was launched just before that happened has been unfortunately and vastly, irresponsibly, a sort of, a tailing away, no, not completely, but there has been a fall in people who express a concern in the climate change.


ROB:  And particularly I think, you know, in government level, it’s just died really, you know, particularly in the US.

HENRIK: And the whole economy has just taken over, hasn’t it?

ROB: And the economy becomes the main concern and peak oil in that context in actually a very useful way of engaging people because it’s very much about, you know, some people operate out of an altruistic motive, that’s what drives them: “Well, what does this mean for everybody?” and climate change is the thing that really hooks those people. Some people operate out of a more kind of protective “me”, “mine”, some might say it’s a more selfish… Motivationally, it’s just a more human motivation and peak oil kind of gets to those people, you know.

HENRIK: Right.

ROB:  So, you know, which is why we kind of overlap the two and also, what’s happening with economics, you know, so to sort of weave that in as well.


ROB: But, uh, you know, and it’s sort of, you know, well people say, “Which is the most important: peak oil or climate change?” Well, ultimately, climate change, because it’s gonna…

HENRIK: Yeah, but without the…

ROB: It’s gonna be catastrophic, and already is catastrophic and, but actually, peak oil is the more immediate, mind-focusing thing for some people.

HENRIK: Well it’s a lifestyle thing, isn’t it? Suddenly your lifestyle is completely altered, like, by a system we’ve created rather than, the climate is something we can’t, we’re kind of in.

ROB: Well, yeah. Peak oil is something that you can, is a lens, it’s a really powerful lens to look at things through. People who are used to kind of seeing the world around us as a permanent structure, a permanent system; actually, when you look at it with your peak oil lens, you know, the supermarket actually goes from being somewhere you just buy your food every day to being something that’s an incredibly fragile system for feeding everybody.

HENRIK: Oh, totally, yeah.

ROB: Um… so it’s very useful in that way I think.

HENRIK: Yeah. So, you moved to Totnes; did you move here to do this?

ROB: Partly; yeah, partly. Uh.. and partly because it seemed like a good place to come; good place for the kids. They were keen to come here.

HENRIK: Right.

ROB: Um, yeah.

HENRIK: And what did you start doing here?

ROB: Here? Well, we started just showing films; myself and a colleague of mine, Nuresh.


ROB: We just started showing films in the evenings; peak oil films and doing talks and starting a sort of an awareness raising campaign around peak oil and climate change and um, that went on for about six months I guess, seven months and then people started stopping us in the street and saying “What happens next? What’s the next bit? Where’s all this going”, you know?

HENRIK: Right.

ROB: And so we started thinking about uh…

HENRIK: So did you not. What was your intention from the beginning?

ROB: Well, when we were in Ireland, in Kinsale, we’d done this thing called The Kinsale Energy Dissent Action Plan that was, that I did with my students that was like our attempt with nothing else to go on ‘cos no-one had really done one at that stage, attempt to do a sort of community power-down plan for Totnes, for Kinsale as it were.

HENRIK: Right.

ROB: And it was just done as a stupid project really, but lots of people then started getting in touch going “Ah, ah, that’s the bit we’re missing, you know, the sort of organised community response thing. So the idea initially was just, was, was, we were saying maybe we should do one of those for Totnes. What would it look like if we did one of those for Totnes. It was more deeper, that emerged more out of the community. And so we really just started making it up as we went along really.

HENRIK: Right.

ROB: And then people from other places started getting in touch and saying “What are you doing with that Transition thing? How does that all work?” And then we started to try and pull the elements that we were using together and called it Transition.

HENRIK: Right, yeah. So you started what, 2006?

ROB: 2006 we had what was called the official unleashing of Transition Town Totnes; that was the launch. And then it’s been going ever since and then other ones then started, obviously, after that in different places. Firstly in the south west and firstly mostly kind of market towns, but now it’s kind of cities and islands and universities and all sorts of different scales.

HENRIK: And, sort of, ‘cos I mean, if you were to talk about a percentage of, you know, Totnes being the vision that you want it to be, how far down…

ROB:  Well, physically, or the people?

HENRIK: Well let’s… both, at different, you know…

ROB: Well, people, well we did a survey in April which found that um… 75% of people in Totnes and Dartington, the two areas here, had heard of Transition Town Totnes. About 61% of people said that what it was doing was something that echoed with them; they agreed with what it was doing. And about 33% of people had had some kind of engagement; they’d come to some event or done something to do with it. I think in terms of realistically the people who are sort of…

HENRIK: 33%? That’s a lot!

ROB: Yeah, has said they’d come across it in some way or other. But in terms of people who are actively involved on the ground, it’s sort of a few hundred I would think, probably, and then, but then, we’re now doing this program; this project called Transition Streets which is one of the most exciting things we’re doing which is about working on a kind of street by street level doing behavior change, so they have three stages; the first one is they have this Transition Together pack they work through. You get out on the doorway; you get out; you knock on the doors; you get a group of seven or eight people, households on your street together and then you do, you work your way through the first week looking at energy, then water and so on…

HENRIK: Cool. I was thinking of doing that.


HENRIK: Well, my idea was that you’d, sorry, I’m just gonna (laughs)…

ROB: OK, go on…

HENRIK: That, that people would, um, people who are concerned about these things could be Transition people or whoever, could actually, you know, they could choose, ‘cos I think a lot of people just wanna do something, like myself, I’m investing money in this, um, so you invest a certain amount of money in buying packs for your street that have stickers in for example, that are reminders that you can put places like on your front door, like, “Did you switch the lights off?”, “Did you blah, blah, blah?”, you know, kind of simple things that energy, you know, sort of turning the heat down, all those kind of basic things, but then also giving information about local, you know, where you can buy ethically and all that sort of thing and then those people then just deliver those packages. But what you’re talking about is actually engaging people face to face as well.

ROB: Yeah, I suppose it’s more kind of structured in that there, so the first step is…

HENRIK:  There’s actually a step, yeah…

ROB: And it gathers a lot of data as well, so it means that you can, so now we know that on average, each household that does Transition together saves about £600 a year in terms of energy and water on different bills and they also cut their carbon emissions by about 1.2 tons.

HENRIK: Oh, wow.

ROB: Yeah, so the first step is that they do Transition together, then the second step is that they’re eligible for grants from the council for retrofitting loft insulation, that kind of stuff and then a third one is that they’re eligible for grants towards putting a solar photovoltaics on their house. So they are kind of the carrot I suppose, that kind of draws people in.

HENRIK: Right, right…

ROB: But there’s now about, well, the first phase was 35 groups and then there’s another 20 something about to go through.

HENRIK: 20 streets, or groups?

ROB: Well, groups on streets, yeah, so it might not be the whole street, but it’ll be people on each street.


ROB: So it’s really,

HENRIK: That’s really cool. That’s so good.

ROB: That’s a really exciting thing to see and part of that has been putting solar PV on the Civic Hall. If you go up to the top town, the main public building at the top, that, all the roof of that is PV now as part of the…

HENRIK: And is that Transition’s work?

ROB: That’s Transition’s work.

HENRIK: Encouragement, yeah, getting that to happen.

ROB: So in terms of other things that are kind of underway here: there’s a garden share scheme, which links up people who want to grow food with people who, uh, have a garden but they don’t use it anymore. There’s about 40, it’s like a dating agency really, there’s about 40 families now who are growing food through that, um. There’s a tree planting scheme which is planting fruit trees and nut trees throughout the town. There’s about 200 trees that are planted in different parks and different spaces throughout the town. We’ve had our first crop of almonds just over there last year.


ROB: We are working with one of the big estates on the edge of town with Dartington to look at their kind of land use review and how they might shift what they’re doing more to meet the needs of the town.

HENRIK: So, but is the, I mean, what did you say, was it at the City Hall?

ROB: The Civic Hall.

HENRIK: The Civic Hall. So the local government must be quite… How…?

ROB: Well they partnered us, yeah. The local council are a partner on that scheme, so they give, they offer people low interest loans so that they can buy renewable systems.

HENRIK: So they’re, but they’re totally on side are they? With this, or…

ROB: They’re on side with that scheme, uh, local councils are always complicated things and there are certainly some aspects that are not so…

HENRIK: I’ve just witness the shocking flipping debacle in Bristol, it was about the Tescos, no Tescos.

ROB: Oh, Tesco at Stokes Croft?


ROB: Is that happening?

HENRIK: It’s not sealed yet, but it’s, they ended up twiddling over shop front kind of, you know, after all these impassioned speeches about, you know, why we don’t need another, we don’t need Tesco here, uh, you know, including a guy who’s be running a shop for 31 years selling farm produce from his own farm, and then they gave all these speeches and then at the end of it, the council, all they could argue about, ‘cos they weren’t allowed to, all that was on the table was noise pollution, the shop front; the material quality of it and something else.

ROB: It’s very, very difficult to resist, to refuse those for councils ‘cos they don’t have the depth of pockets to stand up to them.

HENRIK: Tesco snuck it in as well; they snuck in their um proposal, like the planning permission under a different name.

ROB: Really?

HENRIK: So they didn’t get any opposition of course and then when people got wind of who it was it was too late to oppose it. Anyway, sorry, you were um, yeah, so, yeah, it’s complicated, you know, the politics and all that; it’s a bit complicated sometimes.

ROB: Yeah, yeah, I mean I suppose we tend to kind of approach them on a project by project basis, you know, like if we want to do tree plantings in places that’s their land we go and talk to them about that. We’ve given responses to different council planning development plans and stuff and we invite them along to different things. I mean, the head of their, we did a big project here that was called The Totnes Energy Dissent Plan that was a kind of a plan B for Totnes and district and uh, the head of the council came along and spoke at the launch of that, so there’s plenty of places where we overlap.

HENRIK: Yeah. Do you like…


And they’ve been very good with Transition Streets.

HENRIK: Alright. Yeah, yeah, that’s good. Well that’s positive. I mean, it’s just flippin, it’s like rubbing away at the Blarney Stone or something isn’t it?

ROB: Yeah. Yeah, yeah it is. Well, you know, there’s a lot you can do.

HENRIK: Well, not the Blarney Stone, some stone or other that takes a long time to wear down.

ROB: Yes. Well, there’s a lot that you can do without them and there’s a lot more you can do with them, you know, and there are some transition groups that have actually been quite skillfully working with their local councils, probably more so than here. I mean, the hard part’s…

HENRIK: But it takes individuals though in the council who can have vision.

ROB: It does, yeah. Well, also, I mean, our council here, there’s, it’s a very, very conservative council with a number of very outspoken climate skeptics and stuff, which is not very conducive…

HENRIK: Really? I’m really surprised!

ROB: Yeah, but you see, Totnes is a little sort of green liberal sort of mad jewel in the middle of a sort of ocean of Tory councilors, all the towns in rural areas around here, we have a conservative MP here and stuff.

HENRIK: Oh, do you, yeah? Right. Yeah, yeah, it’s amazing isn’t it? Well, that’s cool; it’s great that you’re, you know, you’re in the middle of this whole, you know, you’re doing it here. But, I mean, I know that Totnes has got a special; I was reading a bit about the history of, who is it? These Counts? This couple who moved here, like, rich couple that set up…

ROB: Oh, the Emhursts? Yeah, yeah. Dartington.


ROB: Yeah, yeah. No, it has a long history of being a creative sort of, unorthodox, kind of, attracting those kind of people.

HENRIK: I was thinking that you actually, you owe us, I don’t know, “us”, I don’t know about “us”, but, ‘cos you, all these creatives were sucked here from out of everywhere else…

ROB: (laughs) The brain drain.

HENRIK: Yeah (laughs).

ROB: Yeah, maybe.

HENRIK: So it’s time to give it back, so you’ve come to return the favour.

ROB: Maybe. Maybe we’re giving something back. Yeah, I think as well, I mean, the thing that was most heartening, I mean, our local, one of the local papers who is the Western Morning News which covers the whole of the West Country and is typically a very sort of wind farm bashing, pro-hunting sort of right-wing paper. And when we got that grant; when TTT was chosen as one of the twenty low-carbon communities by the Department of Energy and Climate Change just before Christmas, they ran this editorial called “Hippie Town Comes of Age”, which basically said, “We’ve always laughed down our sleeves at Totnes for being bonkers, but actually maybe they’re on to something here”. And that was actually felt to me like one of the biggest achievements we’ve managed actually.

HENRIK: Oh cool; oh wow, yeah.

ROB: That actually, what happens here was viewed with a degree of admiration, which was really nice to see.

HENRIK: Yeah, yeah, well it’s recognised by the establishment I suppose, without wanting to sound too lefty, which I am a little bit, but anyway…

ROB: Yeah, no, it was, it was, it was er.. and I think as well, you know, often things that are seen as alternative are, are quite happy to sit in a sort of er… kind of er… a more comfortable space with other people who agree with them and not necessarily to step out of their comfort zone very much.

HENRIK: Yeah, well that’s something I wanted to ask you about is, it’s one thing to reach people who are kind of already on side; the challenge, I suppose with the Streets thing, that’s what you’re doing there, isn’t it?

ROB: Yeah.

HENRIK: Is reaching, you know, how do you, I mean I’m thinking about… Bristol’s very divided: you’ve got Montpellier, Stoke’s Croft, um… How much time have you got?

ROB: What time is it now?

HENRIK: I don’t know.

ROB: Um… about another half an hour or so?

HENRIK: Half an hour?

ROB: Yeah. Is that all.. is that alright?

HENRIK: Yeah, yeah. Shouldn’t even need so much. Um… but yeah, there’s a whole sort of, whole areas of Bristol that you think, you know, these people aren’t, it’s far away from their thoughts, is, you know, even recycling, you know.

ROB: Um.. Bristol, Bristol’s my home town, you know.

HENRIK: Is it?

ROB: So I know Bristol quite well, yeah.

HENRIK: So how do you reach those people?

ROB: Well also, Bristol, Bristol always likes to think of itself as terribly multi-cultural and groovy, but I never met a more, I’ve never been to a more kind of…

HENRIK: Divided place?

ROB: Sort of ethnically divided place. It’s really quite something. Um… well, I suppose, you know, there’s lots about, about messaging and how you put ideas across and um… and that in some places you put the message out and lots of people go “yeah, yeah, yeah, great; let’s get started” and then actually, sometimes, the people who come along can actually be the people who just put everybody else off, ‘cos they’re the first people who come along and they’re the usual kind of, they’re the people who are sort of seen as always being associated with that stuff. So what we see in quite a lot of Transition places actually is that people who pick it up are actually often not those people at all.

HENRIK: Right.

ROB: And sometimes you go to some places and they might be the same people who would set the Rotary club up or something. I mean, when there was the Transition storyline on the Archers, you know, when they made Transition Village at Ambridge or whatever it was, you know, that was er…

HENRIK: Oh, is the Archers, is Ambridge a Transition town? Is it?

ROB: Yeah, yeah.

HENRIK: That’s cool!

ROB: Yeah.

HENRIK: Somebody suggested I climbed one of the trees in Ambridge.

ROB: (Laughs) A virtual tree climbing? Er… get some sound effects records from the BBC! But I think, er… and that was, that again, that felt like something really interesting that pops up in that…

HENRIK: Well, that’s so cool!

ROB: Yeah.

HENRIK: Transition; Archers; Ambridge is a Transition town!

ROB: Yeah. I, but, you know, if we’re then looking at what does Transition Easton (Bristol) look like? You know, if it’s like driven by a more sort of diverse culture and is more reflective of that, you know, what does, I mean, as we’re doing a lot of work around diversity at the moment and how do you present the Transition message in such a way that it appeals to different people, you know. It’s very much emergent kind of work really, I think. But I think the main thing is, you know, that actually, we have to be really aware of, you know, actually, if you’re all sort of really scruff and dreadlocky and you go along and expect you’re going to turn everybody on about climate change, you know, actually, I think we need to be a bit more skillful and more mindful about how we come across and the language that we use and how we message what we’re doing and, that actually, a lot of the things that within a kind of alternative protest culture that we’re used to as just the way we do things, we really need to look at that through very different eyes I think.

HENRIK: What about television? ‘Cos I mean, I think, obviously TV is massive. A lot of people watch TV. A lot of the people that I’m sort of, I suppose, I’m thinking about watch television.

ROB: Yeah, no, I think, I mean, I think it’d be great to do some Transition thing on TV. I’d love it.

HENRIK: But something that’s really sort of, not people sitting in trees…. Talking about…

ROB: No (laughs). It was your idea!

HENRIK: (laughs) Do you know what I mean? Like, I don’t know what that would be.

ROB: Yeah, yeah, well, I mean, it would be a bit like in The Archers or it’d be a bit like, actually what you see in a lot of, you know, like in Tooting for example, in London, which is one of the most diverse parts of London, they’re, one of the things that Transition Town Tooting did this summer, you know, you think well, what would you do about raising awareness about peak oil and climate change? Do you do talks? Do you do knocking on doors, you know, what they did with the organised thing called the Trash Catchers Carnival – it was a huge street carnival through Tooting with about a thousand people in the parade and everything made out of recycled stuff. They used about a million plastic bags, half a million crisp packets to make these incredible big displays and it was music and… An incredible thing! An incredible story about how they actually got the thing to happen in the first place ‘cos the council kept saying, Transport for London said “There’s no way you’re shutting a road to parade down it”, and they did, you know. But actually, in terms of engagement and getting the message out to people, maybe that’s far more effective than holding a talk and showing a film. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, actually, we need to be quite playful and skillful I think about how we do this.

Rob's son was in the park with his girlfriend... a nice little twist.

HENRIK: Yeah, the message is good, but it also has to be, I mean, it’s actually people, well I suppose a message is the beginning, isn’t it; it’s the seed, ‘cos it’s people having to change the way they do things, isn’t it, to some extent.

ROB: Yeah, it is, but it’s also things happening around people, isn’t it? I mean, like, one of the things that we’ve just launched here 2 weeks ago was the Totnes Renewable Energy Society which is an industrial improvinence society: anyone in Totnes and district can buy between £20-£20,000 worth of shares and the idea is they’re gonna put 2.3 megawatt turbines over there, up on the top of the hill that will be owned by this community who will then benefit from it. So that’s something that actually, people can just get involved with and actually, that, investing money in that will save far more carbon than putting solar panels on your roof, you know. It’s really about…

HENRIK: Yeah, that’s so cool.

ROB: So in Transition it’s about individual change; behavior change; reducing your carbon, becoming more resilient and stuff, but it’s also about new infrastructure and creating a new, stuff like, own energy companies and car shares and local food systems, that kind of stuff, so it runs in parallel in those 2 ways.

HENRIK: I’ve got some things here I wrote down, but, just something, do you think that, how much of it is inspired by, or motivated by inspiration and how much by, kind of, fear: fear of what might come? Do you know what I mean?

ROB: Yeah, yeah, yeah…

HENRIK: Or is that a bit of a difficult question?

ROB: Well, the way I would think of that, is, it’s like when people say “Are you an optimist, or a pessimist”, you know.

HENRIK: Yeah. What are you?

ROB: Uh.. I try very hard to be neither actually, because I think, it’s just such an enormous waste of energy trying to just, you know, ‘cos actually, anybody who’s involved in this stuff, you flit backwards and forwards between both about 300 times a day, you know. So the way I like to think about it, is, is that actually, Transition is about moving away from a focus on probabilities, you know, what is the probability of run-away climate change of 3 degrees… to looking a possibilities, you know, that’s the focus. It’s about well, what are the possibilities that we could create out of this?

HENRIK: Yeah, so it’s just basically getting on with it ‘cos something needs to be done.

ROB: It’s getting on with it! You know, I mean, it’s perfectly possible to be paralysed by it, particularly about climate change if you kind of keep… I remember Paul Hawkin put it really nicely: he said, you know “If you read this science and you’re up to date with the studies in science and you’re not a pessimist, you’re not reading it properly, but if you see what’s happening around the world in terms of the response that ordinary people are making to this and are not an optimist, then you don’t have a heart”, you know, so I kind of feel like that really, you know, I don’t know: optimist or pessimist – there’s no guarantee that any of this is gonna work, but we’re all where we are we’re all doing what feels like the only thing we can be doing at this time, really. I mean, this is the way that comes to me to respond to the situation that I see; other people may well come up with far better ways of doing it, or far more… you, know, I don’t feel I can be doing any more than I’m doing and of course, you know, I mean, I have days when I feel profoundly pessimistic about it, you know, because actually, if you read, if you’re up to speed with the climate change science, there is a very strong argument that says that we’re too late.


ROB: That actually, the time we should have started all this was in the late 70’s when we had the chance to, you know, and we didn’t. And so really what we’re doing now is designing to live in world with a changing climate, you know, the idea that we can stop climate change is kind of rather nonsensical at this point.

HENRIK: And when you travel, I mean, I did a bit of traveling through Europe this summer and you realise how big this world is and how many people are here and how many houses there are that need, you know, the infrastructure changing and all that business, anyway, yeah, it’s…

ROB: Well, I mean, it’s a huge, it’s a vast, I mean it is, where people like Lester Brown talk about it in terms of being like a wartime mobilization, well that’s what we’re looking at…

HENRIK: That’s something I wanted to ask you, is, do you feel like you’re in a war?

ROB: No, I don’t feel like I’m in a war, no. I don’t take a sort of, I don’t take that sort of adversarial take to it, but I do feel like…

HENRIK: So you’re inclusive?

ROB: What I feel like I’m in is in one of those times in history when everything is at stake and when you live in a time like that, your senses are somehow kind of heightened I think, sort of running on adrenalin a bit, you know. It feels to me that actually, this is this little window of time, that actually, we’re, we’re the people, the last 5 years or so, we’re the people that our children, grandchildren will look back to and say “Why didn’t you do something about it”? You know?

HENRIK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally.

ROB: And it’s like, well, we didn’t because…

HENRIK: Because we were too busy.

ROB: I wanted a bigger telly, you know. And, you know, we have to live with that, but, you know, I think that at least…

HENRIK: OK, do you feel like, like a resistance?

ROB: What do you mean, the angry brigade?

HENRIK: No, no, not at all. Um… Let’s move on (laughs). We’ll move away from the wartime kind of..

ROB: Do you mean, like, do you feel like we’re the French resistance? (laughs).

HENRIK: Well, personally, I feel like anyone who is… I kind of feel like anyone who is sort of working for these, towards these positive ends, you know, and often against the flow of the current, you know, system, like, globalization, you know, the way that everything is just like a clock, you know, supertankers moving round the world, you know, all of this stuff; this massive, enormous machine; those people… I mean, I suppose you can, you know, the Matrix, you know, you can talk about that.

ROB: Yeah, yeah…

HENRIK: You know what I mean? Like. So anyway, you don’t have to answer that, but that’s what I feel like.

ROB: Yeah, I kind of, you know, it’s funny, I suppose the kind of, the shift for me with that is that actually, I feel like for me, climate change has become a very politicized kind of thing, you know, the Right look at climate change and so on, it’s just cooked up by Greenies and Communists in order to sort of cripple economic growth. Peak oil is something where everybody is really vulnerable. Climate change hits the poorest first; peak oil hits the richest first in some way, no it doesn’t really, but it actually is fairly, it has more of an impact; it hits the developing world as much, developed world as much. So for me, I kind of feel like actually, most people when they really sit and think about it see that it’s something that impacts them and that they’re vulnerable to and so for me, Transition actually is, comes as a compassionate response and actually, I, there are lots of people who work in councils and government and they have kids and they worry about this stuff as well, you know, it’s just, what I think we need to do is be more skillful about what we come up with that they, that we can do about it.

HENRIK: Right. So you’re not sort of, you don’t feel like a faction then in other words. ‘Cos I suppose a resistance movement is like a secret movement that is sort of working against the powers that be whereas you’re actually working with a lot of the time you’re working alongside them and bringing everybody in to it.


Yeah, and actually, that idea that we’re the resistance is something that runs through a lot of the Green movement I think and inherent within that is a position that kind of says, you know “We’re the ones who know and actually, nobody else does and actually, you know, one day everybody else will get it and everybody else will understand that we were right all along”, you know, and there’s a kind of a smug undertone to that which we find very problematic.

HENRIK: Yeah, I totally agree, yeah.

ROB: So um…

HENRIK: Self satisfied, sort of…

ROB: Yeah, we’re right and someday everyone will know that we were right and actually, for me, Transition works best when people just get it who normally have just never ever thought about this kind of stuff before and don’t associate with that kind of thing at all and even that way of thinking “We’re the resistance” has built, has all that stuff built into it and actually, you know, and also, I don’t know. I mean, actually, there’s probably, here we are down in Devon, there’ll be old fellas who live here in Totnes who’ve been gardening for 60 years who know this land inside out, upside down, back to front who lived here when there was no, when cheap energy wasn’t really something that there was that much of, you know, but who think that people who talk about the resistance is just a load of lefty, daft rubbish, you know, and actually, I’d just as much draw those people in as people who think in terms of, you know, think about it as being a resistance, you know. We need to…

HENRIK: It depends, it depends…

ROB: A wartime mobilization needed much more than just a particular strata of people.

HENRIK: But there’s, like you say, there’s a whole group of people, in fact, most people are probably not um… they’re not an opposition so much as just sort of immersed in this whole thing like we are in different ways. But I think there is a, like Exxon kind of creating websites that are, you know, appear to be kind of from community groups that are climate skeptics, you know. And they’ve actually funded this stuff and that’s, that’s flippin…

ROB: Yeah, I mean there’s hideous stuff that goes on and I’m not for a moment saying…

HENRIK: That’s, I suppose, those are the real people that we’re fighting. Anyway, we don’t have to dwell on this too much.

ROB: Yeah, but is it, because in some ways it’s actually, you know, it’s you and I and our parents and our next door neighbours who buy petrol and if nobody bought petrol, Exxon wouldn’t exist, would they?


ROB: So actually, you know, we, Coca Cola and Tesco exist because…

HENRIK: But it’s a war of ideas.

ROB: It’s a war of ideas and actually there are a lot people who are, who are fighting that in a more combative way and there is lots of protest stuff and lobbying stuff and campaigning stuff and I have all the time in the world for this, it’s really important that that stuff happens; I’m not saying that Transition says we don’t need that.

HENRIK: Sure. It’s not your niche.

ROB: It’s not. I’ve done it; I did years of roads protesting and campaigns and actually, personally speaking, it’s absolutely exhausting and it burns you out in a way like nothing else burns you out and people who do it for too long…

HENRIK: Too much of an uphill struggle.

ROB: People who do it for too long become very jaded and cynical and it’s important, it’s really important that it happens, but also I think we need something as well which gets around the fact that actually, 95% of people look at that and go…

HENRIK: Yeah, and when you feel, when you’re actually making progress is something incredibly um… well, I mean, it keeps, it gives you energy.


Yeah, well it should be, you know, if you’re doing Transition right then it, it’s really, you know, it should be what fires you up, really. I mean, like I say, I was involved in roads protests and it’s heartbreaking; absolutely heartbreaking. Some of the people who have really, really, the really brave people jumping on diggers, getting pulled off, jumping on… all that kind of stuff, you know. A lot of the people I know did that for too long; became very hard and cynical and jaded and um… and there’s a need for it, God, you know, we need a whole generation of young activists throwing themselves in front of coal fired power stations and all that kind of stuff, but at the same time I think we need something that’s, that’s focused on solutions and doesn’t cut people out because they don’t identify with protest culture.

HENRIK: Yeah, yeah. Well said! (laughs).

ROB: Hear, hear!

HENRIK: Ok, I mean, I know you sort of didn’t wanna talk about, well, you said you don’t really get involved with politics, but, who’s on your cabinet?

ROB: Who would be in my cabinet if I could make one?


ROB:  (laughs). Uh… I had a lot of time for Ed Milliband actually when he was Climate Change Secretary. I thought he was uh… yeah, I thought he got it actually and, yeah, and I think he’s a man of integrity actually when I’ve met him. Caroline Lucas I think is exceptional.

HENRIK: You can have other people, like people you know.

ROB: Oh, they don’t have to be politicians then?

HENRIK: No, no, no.

ROB: Oh right, OK, I’d have Simon Fairly as the Minister of Agriculture.

HENRIK: Who’s that?

ROB: He wrote a big, he edits the Land Magazine and he did a thing called ‘Can Britain Feed Itself?”. He just published a book called ‘Meat: A Benign Extravagance’ all about sustainable food and meat and stuff: brilliant; a brilliant guy.

HENRIK: Right, right.

ROB: Um… Who else?

HENRIK: People in your family?

ROB: (Laughs). Yeah, I’d have my kids in senior ministerial positions! Uh… I’d have, there’s a guy who lives here called Rob McCloud who’s an expert on passive houses and local materials, building houses; I’ve have him as the Housing Minister ‘cos I don’t know anybody who knows more about passive building than he does.

HENRIK: Passive as in like, houses that don’t need any…

ROB: That don’t need any space heating at all.


ROB: Uh… Yeah, I don’t know.

HENRIK: Who’s, uh… so, what, are you Prime Minister here? Or are you gonna, would you rather…

ROB: I wouldn’t wanna go anywhere near; I wouldn’t wanna be in politics.

HENRIK: What if you have to be in the Cabinet; what job are you gonna have?

ROB: (laughs). The one I can screw up the least publicly I guess! I don’t know; I think um… I think that there’s a very particular skill I think to being in politics and about, about all the games that go on; I’m far too nice to really to get into politics really. I don’t have that sort of that ruthless streak…

HENRIK: But, don’t we need a few nice people in there? God, I mean, it’s just like…

ROB: Maybe.

HENRIK: Just normal people who just, who have…

ROB: Tony Juniper. I might get Tony Juniper in there. I had a lot of time for him; I thought he was good. Yeah, maybe we do, but I don’t know, it’s…

HENRIK: Just honest people who like, are just straight, you know what I mean? Just straight, honest people who know their thing.

ROB: Martin Bell was good. I think, I think basically what you need, anybody who’s in there making any decisions really has to get peak oil and climate change because otherwise, you know, what we’re seeing at the moment is policies being made on the understanding that when we get back, when we get back to economic growth and all this…

HENRIK: Yeah, yeah.

ROB: Which is just madness, so that would be a pre-requisite. Martin Crawford who runs the Agroforestry Research Trust here, I’d have him as Agroforestry Minister I think.

HENRIK: So you’re creating a new…

ROB: Permaculture parliament. (Laughs). Tony Benn; I always liked Tony Benn; I thought he was the only person with any integrity in that rather….

HENRIK: I told him to keep up the good work, after one of his talks (laughs). Just slightly, yeah, he gave me a slightly odd look, I think, when I said that.

ROB: It’s a bit like when I met Jonathan Richman. Do you know Jonathan Richman? He’s one of my sort of musical heroes. I think he’s just brilliant and I went to a gig and I came out and there was Jonathan Richman. I had totally, it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life; I was totally paralyed and star-struck and all I could think of to say was “I’ve got all your records”! It was just the most crap thing I ever said and he just looked at me like “You arsehole!” (Laughs). And so did everybody I was with, so uh…

HENRIK: That’s so good.

ROB: Yeah. I won’t do that again (laughs).

HENRIK: That’s classic! (Laughs) ‘I’ve got all your records’.

ROB: Isn’t that rubbish?

HENRIK: That’s great! It’s a classic thing.

ROB: Oh well. Yeah, never meet your heroes.

HENRIK: Who are your heroes now then? I wasn’t gonna ask you that actually, but I thought, oh yeah, I thought of that and thought that’s such a classic kind of uh… interview question, but since it’s come up….

ROB: Uh…

HENRIK: Who do you admire the most?

ROB: Who do I admire? I admire David Holmgren, who’s the cofounder of permaculture, who’s one of the brilliant, most brilliant thinkers and Richard Heinberg I admire very much.

HENRIK: Who would you be?

ROB: Who would I be? I’m quite happy being myself.

HENRIK: No, but you can’t be yourself; you have to be someone else. In this game. Anybody.

ROB: Some historical figure. Oh, in this game?

HENRIK: But you can’t be, you can’t have your own mind; you’re completely them. This wasn’t in my list of questions.

ROB: What a bizarre question!

HENRIK: I don’t know who I’d be.

ROB: Who would I be?…………………….. It’s a very long pause to edit out here (laughs). Who would I be, Jesus.

HENRIK: We can come back to it. You can email me when you’ve thought of it.

ROB: Yeah, I’ll come back to you. I’ll have a think about that one, yeah. That’s very tricky.

HENRIK: It’s a ridiculous question!

ROB: Because, because within that, we always sort of idolise and big other people up as being “oh, you know, if I could be like that”.

HENRIK: I mean, I kind of think it’s gotta be someone who’s got quite a nice life but is still doing something worthwhile, you know, and, to be honest, they’d probably have a few quid.

ROB: Like, Brad Pitt.

HENRIK: The hilarious thing is, I thought of him as well! I don’t really wanna be him, but…

ROB: He does lots of stuff about climate change.

HENRIK: Does he?

ROB: He uh… gives lots of money to good causes; he’s sort of very much engaged; he was in Oceans 11, which my kids really liked and uh, lots of kids. But then he might end up, he might be the most miserable guy on earth, you know. How do we know? I wouldn’t be Wayne Rooney anyway, that’s for sure (laughs).


ROB: No, I’ve no idea who I would be. No, no idea. Tricky question.

HENRIK: Um… OK, so what do you actually do, day to day? Generally…

ROB: Well, I work with the Transition Network. I don’t work so much with Transition Town Totnes any more. I do sometimes, but mostly I’m with Transition Network. So we were set up about 2 and a half years ago to inspire, encourage, support, network and train Transition initiatives around the world, so we produce books and a film and web resources and a staff. To support that I do a lot of sort of traveling; giving talks and writing and meetings and… basically, that’s my day to day bread and butter, really is supporting that. My official job title is Catalyst and Outreach Manager.

HENRIK: Right. And so do you… so how many groups are there now?

ROB: There’s about 350 formal ones around the world and then there’s a lot of other ones that are at an earlier… what we call ‘the mullers’: the ones who are mulling whether they’re gonna become official ones or not. Uh… probably about 200 formal ones in the UK and then there’s national hubs in Scotland, The US, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Sweden, other places… Germany uh… so it’s become a sort of global phenomenon, which is very interesting.


So how… Did you imagine this would happen?

ROB: No. Not at all; we didn’t even think it would work in Totnes.

HENRIK: Really?

ROB: And we had no expectations of it going anywhere else particularly. It just felt like worth a go really; to see if it would work.

HENRIK: Yeah. So do you feel like you’re, I mean, obviously it’s kind of, I guess you must be the right guy for the job. You seem to be.

ROB: Well, it depends what the job is really. I don’t know. I don’t; I kind of feel like, well actually, we had an idea and we developed a kind of a model and sort of developed some resources, but actually, if nobody else did anything it would be useless, wouldn’t it? So it’s really, I mean, it’s a network of thousands of amazing, inspired, committed, resourceful people who are doing all kinds of stuff and actually, without them if would just be another idea, so…

HENRIK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

ROB: So we can keep churning out the ideas, but I don’t think, I take this sort of, the idea that it’s a movement with a guru kind of stuff…

HENRIK: No, no, no, no. Kind of what I meant was like, I suppose if I ever, ‘cos I’ve spent, I’ve you know, I’ve been writing and doing all kinds of projects and this was one of them now, and if I actually, if something really took off, like, I would be in shock for a start (laughs). You know?

ROB: Well, I think that’s what I said, what I meant when I was saying about how it feels like a time… A friend, my friend in Bristol, Chris, he always says, you know, “life is a series of things you are not quite ready for” and as a result of which I think when you do come up with something that takes off with the kind of pace that this has…

HENRIK: Yeah, that’s what I mean though.

ROB: That it does feel like you just run on adrenalin really and you’re just… It’s a bit like, I always use the analogy I use is it’s a bit like for years doing environmental stuff for me felt like trying to push a broken down car up a hill and this feels like you’ve gone over the crest of the hill and it’s just gone rolling off ahead of your and you’re running after it, trying to work up how to get back in the car again.

HENRIK: Well, yeah.

ROB: Which is great, you know. It’s fantastic that it’s happened and that it’s something that’s caught people’s imagination at this time and they’ve responded like that. Um… yeah, it’s…

HENRIK: I feel a bit like this, that, with this tree thing.

ROB: Good.

HENRIK: I mean, it’s obviously a different scale involving less than, you know… thousands of people.

ROB: Well that’s what all things should feel like when they’re, when they’re, you know, that’s what all good art or all good music; if you’re in a band, that’s what being in a band should feel like if it’s working, you know, that there’s something else that actually comes out, you know, Van Gogh didn’t paint paintings just ‘cos he didn’t have anything else to do, you know, it’s a passion; it’s a drive; it’s something that keeps you awake at night; it’s your life’s work; it’s actually the thing, the thing that if you weren’t doing you’d probably go mad, you know. And actually, I think that that’s the sort of, there’s a creative spark that runs through all those things and I think quite often, you know, the idea… I suppose what Transition tries to do is kind of creative spark that produces great music and great art and great books about sitting in trees interviewing people and use that as the drive that underpins the move towards a low carbon society rather than trying to guilt-trip everybody into uh… feeling sufficiently miserable that they’ll do something.

HENRIK: That could work as well… for some people (laughs) no, no, no.

ROB: You know, we had a thing in Transition Network… Yeah, I mean it does work with some people, but a fraction; much, much less than we would have thought it would.

HENRIK: The carrot sort of thing; affirmation is more effective than, than um… the other one.

ROB: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, we had a thing in, there’s was a thing called the ‘Hundred Months Campaign’ that New Economics Foundation did; a climate change thing, so we’ve got a hundred months to avoid runaway climate change and they count down so we’re now in month 80 or something. And I had this idea that, I said to everyone else in Transition Network, “I think we ought to tie this organisation and say that this organisation is designed to last for a hundred months, ‘cos if we don’t crack this in a hundred months we’re all buggered anyway so what was the point, you know. Because I really like admired that thing with groups who would just do one brilliant, absolutely seminal, perfect record and say “We can’t top that actually” and had the honesty and then they just released one thing and that was it, you know, and uh… anyway, nobody else agreed with me but I quite liked the sort of the emotional integrity…

HENRIK: Right, what, on that day?

ROB: On that day, well yeah, everyone else said “No, no, I don’t like that, it’s a bit silly”, but I quite like the kind of emotional honesty of that myself, really (laughs).

HENRIK: Yeah, I mean, it’s an interesting one isn’t it? Like, what do we all do when that flipping clock flips over and you know, the chances are we haven’t got our, you know, parts per million by whatever…

ROB: Well, you know, to put it in perspective: the Tindal Centre on Climate Change say that we need to be cutting our emissions by 9% every year and what that looks like is, everyone… we had the dash for gas in this country; that led to a 1% fall in emissions and the collapse of the Soviet Union led to about a 5% cut in emissions. We need to be doing 9% every year starting a few years ago.


ROB: You know, it is a monumental challenge.

HENRIK: But then there’s, I mean, I see it as much as well as people just living more healthily and happily.

ROB: Yeah.

HENRIK: In the last flippin… let’s not get on to (laughs). The last days of the flippin whatever. But I don’t know anyway…

ROB: Roman Empire!

HENRIK: Yeah, exactly. Um… so… Anything that you wanna tell me about? You’ve done a lot of um… you’ve spoken very eloquently. I imagine, I think I’d hire you.

ROB: Did I pass the interview. I didn’t realise this was an interview I had to pass! Uh… well, I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories: TTT stories.


ROB: We had Michael Portillo came here about 6 months ago making an episode of his Great British Railway Journeys programme and he wanted to do an interview about Transition Town Totnes and stuff and so I met him on the high street; I was supposed to meet him on the high street just below the arch. He wanted to film in the high street. So I met his researcher just before he came up to do the actual film piece; I was talking to his researcher person and she was asking about Totnes and Transition and how it’s going and stuff and then this old, kind of, very tall rather gruff gentleman came and stood… We were talking like this and he kinda came and stood here sort of looking at us very sternly and I said “Can I help?” He said “I can wait!”. So we carried on having this conversation and she was saying “So what’s Transition Town Totnes doing about this and we were having, kind of keeping one eye… What is this guy? And I thought, oh no, it’s gonna be some old grumpy so and so who’s gonna say “let me tell you, this is all rubbish and climate change doesn’t exist and these people are all lunatics” or something, you know, and we got to the end of talking and we both sort of turned rather nervously to this guy and said um… “ Can we help you?” He said “Yes. I’m from Transition Berlany” or somewhere “in New South Wales. Please could you direct me to the Transition Town Totnes office?” And it was really interesting; it went just within a little second from being a sort of Uh… to sort of ah, now you see how far this has gone?! You know, it was really interesting.

HENRIK: Yeah, that’s cool.

ROB: ‘Cos we get people coming here from all round the world, you know, which they haven’t quite got the point, they sort of fly here from Australia to see Totnes; it’s like no, no, no stay at home! What are you doing? Go away!

HENRIK: But do you think that they can get something from coming here?

ROB: I suspect they get much less than they imagine they’re going to. You know, they seem to think they’re coming to some sort of spiritual Transition Place. You know, we had one German guy came in the office one time and he said, he was really cross, he said “I have come all the way from Germany and you still have cars!” You know (laughs). It’s like, well what do you expect, you know? You need to be a little bit realistic here. Um… you know, so there is, and also there is the fact we’re a small voluntary organisation and actually, the pressure on us of people who, that the people who want to come and, you know, and actually then they walk around and there’s nothing much to see ‘cos a lot of what Transition does goes on under the surface, you know, it’s a town. And actually, there’s some solar panels here and there’s some food growing here and, but actually, if you want to get a windmill up on that hill, that’s a 6 year project, you know. You wanna have a farm on the edge of town that’s feeding this town with agroforestry and nuts and hemp and d,d,d… it’s a long-term project.

HENRIK: Well, it’s early days isn’t it?

ROB: It’s early days, you know. I think what we’ve done in a short period of time has been remarkable really, but it’s not enough by a long stretch.

HENRIK: Yeah. So you’re quite, I mean, you know, going into your office, it’s quite, you know, it’s not a big place.

ROB: The Sunday Telegraph described it as a rickety set of, a set of rickety rooms.


ROB: No, it’s not, and actually, you should, if you come in on the, I mean there’s a lot of hot desking goes on, you know, there’s a lot of people work in that small little building; it’s amazing how much it’s used, you know.

HENRIK: So you need some, do you need more support, really?

ROB: Yeah, I mean, I think what the Transition Streets programme really showed is, you know, when you have people, when a project like this has a programme like Transition Streets which is properly resourced and we have people who aren’t just doing the stuff on their kitchen table at 2 o’clock in the morning, we’ve actually got people who that’s what they do and they can put all that and it’s got resources behind it; we can do amazing stuff, you know. We can reach more people than government can, we can make change happen on that kind of street by street level, you know. We can do stuff in that way that is really exciting I think, but it needs some kind of resourcing, whether that resourcing comes from the community itself attributing value to it and supporting it or whether it comes from, from government local council funding whatever… You know, it needs support really.

HENRIK: So are you asking for support? You must be.

ROB: Different initiatives ask for it in different ways I suppose; they approach different places. I mean, I always say when groups start that actually funding is never a substitute for enthusiasm and I’d rather have enthusiasm than funding any day of the week. The first years of Transition Town Totnes we didn’t have a bean, you know, it was all self funded. But you get to a stage where you have particular projects that you want to really get going and you really want to resource them and fund them. You need something meaningful that then comes in to support that process, you know.

HENRIK: Yeah. It makes a big difference if you can, I mean, there’s the triangle of, in film making, you know, your quality, speed and cheap. You can’t have all 3.

ROB: Well it’s like people said to me when I first had kids, you know, “You can have 2 out of the following 3 thing, you know: you can have a tidy house, you can have a healthy relationship or you can have happy children; I think it was something like that, you know.

HENRIK: Right, right, right.

ROB: And something has to give.

HENRIK: Well, yeah.

ROB: You know, you can’t do everything.

HENRIK: Yeah, yeah. Well, ah Gyaad… So… I think there’s 2 more little things that I wanted to ask you about. Um… I mean, I suppose resistance, because you know, like I was saying like, people, not a resistance movement but resistance to what you’re trying to propose, I mean like, the problem is that, like most car journeys don’t need to be made, you know, but people have grown up with their, firstly they’ve grown up being carted around in cars as kids, or in prams. And then they get their own car and they’ve had an expectation that that’s…

ROB: That’s how it is.

HENRIK: That’s how they want to live and that’s, you know, I don’t to walk! I don’t want to go on a bike! Or whatever, you know. So… I don’t really know what I’m asking, but…

ROB: Well, I mean, people are always going to…

HENRIK: How do you get around that? Just time? Showing people…

ROB: Well, people, yeah, people, people… I think part of it comes with starting to shift the stories, the cultural stories that we tell ourselves, you know, ‘cos actually, the story is that the future will be like now, just more of everything and actually, that’s the wrong story to tell. And it’s not that everything is going to unravel and collapse overnight, but it is that we are; it’s a change in direction and I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that the same ingenuity and creativity and adaptability that meant that we created an industrial revolution and put a man on the moon and created the oil age in the first place suddenly is going to totally disappear when we have to work out a safe, gentle way away from it, you know. And I think, you know, people, in our own lives when change happens, it’s why in Transition there’s the kind of, the sort of, the inner aspect of it is so central, you know, that it’s not just purely an outer process of solar panels and cabbages, you know, it’s also a process of acknowledging the fact that this is a process that gonna be upsetting for people and will involve, you know, what we imagine we have waiting for us 5 years in the future may well not be that and that we need to think of a different way that that’s gonna work. What’s it gonna be like, you know? Um… so there’s, you know, supporting people in grief and anger and disappointment and…

HENRIK: Disappointment over not being able to do things the way they thought they were going to?

ROB: Well, are my kids gonna be able to fly around the world for £600? I doubt it. I doubt it very much, you know. Are my kids gonna be able to um… to… you know, to sort of squander resources in the way that we’ve done? I don’t think they are, you know. And actually, if we can start to say, well actually, you’re the generation that gets to make the change and gets to do the, and be innovative and brilliant and entrepreneurial and creative and, and, and not that whole, that hackneyed whole environmental rubbish thing where people say “You’re the generation who are going to have to figure this out”, to which the only response is “Well, thanks a bloody lot, Sunshine!” Actually, I think if it’s more, you know, that there are already brilliant young people coming through thinking about, thinking a way through this, you know, doing all kinds of interesting stuff…

HENRIK: Totally, yeah.

ROB: That’s the really exciting part of it.

HENRIK: So… God… There was one more thing. It’s soooo important. This is the most important thing.

ROB: The killer question?!

HENRIK: (Laughs). Um.. oh no, it’s not that important, but it is, if there’s one oil based luxury that you get to keep; let’s say all the oil is gone, or we’ve got just enough left for, each person can have one thing, or would that be…?

ROB: Uh… well, if it was an appliance, it would be the washing machine, but I think if you look back historically, particularly at the lives of women, the washing machine has been the most, the single most wonderful invention. Uh…

HENRIK: Yeah, that’s a good one.

ROB: Personally, in terms of an object made of oil, uh… for me it would be the 7 inch single, which I still think is the greatest art form of the 20th Century and I have hundreds of them and uh… and…

HENRIK: OK, it’s good, good choices, good choices.

ROB: There’s a romance to 7 inch singles that I still absolutely love.

HENRIK: I find them slightly annoying because; sorry, but they’re so quick to finish.

ROB: There so quick, yeah, yeah, yeah…

HENRIK: I mean, if you’ve got a juke box then…

ROB: Yeah, there’s something about them, well, the thing I love about it…

HENRIK: The size of them.

ROB: And I love the, I mean, I would, you know, there’s some little scratchy things people would write in the run-off grooves and, and I love, I love the thing that it’s actually like, you’re putting one song out and saying…

HENRIK: “This is the song”. It’s like a painting.

ROB: “This stands on its own 2 feet, yeah, and then actually, and then often on the B side there were things that were just absolute treasures that no-one ever found.

HENRIK: Yeah, yeah. Oh good, that’s good. And then final question is: when is the last time you laughed your arse off?

ROB: The last time I laughed my arse off?

HENRIK: So I mean, do you ever roll around on the floor laughing?

ROB: I do actually.

HENRIK: Do you?

ROB: I can’t remember. I think watched Dara O’Brien doing something live one time uh… recently.

HENRIK: What, and had you doubled up?

ROB: It was very, very funny.


ROB: And someone sent me a joke the other day that had everybody in the office laughing which I thought was very funny, which was a Tommy Cooper joke.


ROB: I like Tommy Cooper jokes. He said: “I was in bed with my new girlfriend the other day. She said, I’ve never held such a big will in my life. I said, you’re pulling my leg!”

HENRIK: (Laughs).

ROB: I rather enjoyed that (laughs).

HENRIK: Um… I liked, I think it’s Bob Monkhouse; it’s quite a famous one: he said, er… yeah, I think something like: “My friends, yeah, I used to say to my friends that I was gonna be a comedian and they used to laugh at me… They’re not laughing now!” (laughs).

ROB: (Laughs). He had one that as well, Bob Monkhouse, where he said um… I had a great sex life at 72. Mind you, I live a 76; it wasn’t far to go”.

HENRIK: Yeah. Cool.

ROB: Now we’ve got to work out how to get down out of here.


ROB: It’s gonna be interesting. Call the fire brigade.

HENRIK: Can you just hold fire a sec, you know, one more amazing…. (picture)


3 responses to “Tree 131 :: Rob Hopkins & the Transition Network ::

  1. Pingback: On being interviewed up a tree….

  2. Dear Rob,
    I actually thought that was one of your most fascinating interviews, and really shows just why the whole transition thing works so well …. Thank you, Henrik and the Tree! !
    Warmest wishes

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