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Is Transition a More Effective Post-Oil Recipe Than Permaculture?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page.

The Transition movement seemed to catch fire right from the beginning, and I confess that its success made me, as a permaculturist, a bit envious. Here was a program for converting to a post-oil society, created by a permaculture teacher using permaculture principles, and it seemed to be becoming better known and more highly regarded than permaculture itself. Over a thousand towns have adopted Transition plans, national Transition organizations have sprung up in dozens of countries, and the Transition Handbook offers a clear implementation plan for energy descent, while permaculture lacks formal national and even regional centers in most places, and is a word that not only few people have heard, but one that many practitioners can barely define well enough for others to grasp. What was it that made Transition so comprehensible, exciting, and respectable, while permaculture seemed diffuse, slow-growing, and smelling a bit of patchouli oil?

In a recent article in Permaculture magazine online, Transition founder Rob Hopkins is quoted as saying that Transition is "a Trojan horse for permaculture," a way of introducing permaculture concepts to people without their knowing it. I think we need more Trojan horses, because although I am convinced that permaculture offers solutions for our current crises, its growth is slow because few people think of themselves as designers. Trojan horses like Transition can speed the spread of permacultural thinking by giving people who need solutions some concrete recipes to follow, instead of demanding that they retrain themselves to be whole-systems designers before saving the Earth.

One of the barriers to adopting permaculture is that it doesn't spell out exactly what to do. It can be used to design anything from gardens to refugee camps to whole economies, but you have to figure out what you want to design and, even worse, how to develop the design and the techniques that will create it. That's too vague for most people. There are no hard and fast recipes in permaculture. It is site and circumstance specific. Permaculturists often joke that the first answer to any question should be "It depends," and, although true, that's annoying to someone who simply asks how to control slugs in their garden, and in response gets a slew of questions about their soil type, climate, plant selections, and feelings about slugs' rights. Most people just want to be told how to solve their problem. They want recipes, not a lecture in design principles. And therein lies Transition's strength. Transition, unlike permaculture, tells you exactly what to do. It is a recipe. I don't mean that as a criticism. It's precisely what is needed: a clear example of applying permaculture design to arrive at a concrete set of steps to solve the specific problem of energy descent.    


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