RIDGWAY – It used to be the only thing that got launched was a boat.
Nowadays, you launch a new book, you launch a charity bike-racing event. A couple of Sundays ago, 40 or 50 Ouray County folks (and a couple of interested Montrovians) got together at the Ridgway Community Center to launch Transition OurWay, a grassroots, upbeat, solutions-based approach to changing the world.
(Members of the Initiating Group admitted that OurWay could be pronounced two ways: “our-way,” or like the home county, “your-way.”)
I’m not kidding about the changing the world part. The Transition Movement, which began in the town of Totnes, England in 2006, and at last count had 421 “Initiatives,” or official groups, in 34 countries around the world, aims to reinvent local economies on the “energy descent” from peak oil – to transition, ultimately, to a world without oil.
The Scotsman who started the whole thing, Rob Hopkins, said in a TED talk last year that the era of cheap oil, which brought so much creativity and material wealth to the world, is inevitably in decline, along with the oil-based global transportation systems that developed along with it. The idea now, Hopkins believes, is “a system moving toward becoming inherently more local.”
Not to look back, said Solar Ranch resident Paula James who spearheaded the Initiating Group and welcomed the launch proceedings at the Community Center – back before semi-trucks and supermarkets filled with seasonal fruit flown in from the southern hemisphere – but to move forward to “develop community resilience.”
Transition people like the word resilience better than sustainability, though at times they are interchangeable. A more resilient Ouray County would look more like the region did a hundred years ago: It would grow and process more of its own food, would generate locally a greater portion of its energy, would work together to find local solutions to transportation, conservation and educational challenges. It would be more self-sufficient, more resilient, less dependent on outside forces that cannot be controlled or predicted.
James told me the idea for Transition OurWay came last summer when she and her husband, Don Rogers, read Hopkins’ Transition Handbook. “We hadn’t paid much attention to sustainability before that,” said James, an attorney from Austin, Tex., who retired to Ridgway three years ago. “I liked it because it was so positive, so hopeful. We can all get depressed by the environmental news. But this model doesn’t work so much in the political arena.”
In his TED speech, Hopkins said the movement’s two goals – to be pursued with “joy” and “neighborliness” – were to “significantly rebuild resilience (in response to peak oil),” and to “drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change).”
The viral growth of the movement, in the U.K. and around the world, surprised him as much as anyone. He described a typical initiative, or Transition Town, as a “collaborative, creative process, with a sense of serendipity. It starts out with a bunch of people running around madly showing movies, then all of a sudden you become ‘Transition Wherever.’”
That’s pretty much what happened here. Beginning in January, James and her group, including Ouray activists Donna Green and Wayne Pandorf, showed the two Transition movies to curious crowds. Then they organized informal discussions on topics ranging from local ag opportunities to the “Time Bank” concept, wherein [people trade services without money actually changing hands; to investing locally; to a concept now at work in some English Transition Towns, where a community prints its own currency to encourage shopping and spending in the local economy.
The Initiating Group got help from sustainability veterans Kris Holstrom of EcoAction Partners in Telluride (formerly The New Community Coalition), past-president Sheelagh Williams of ROCC, Sara Coulter of San Juan Corridors Coalition, and Ridgway mayor John Clark, who built the group’s website (transition-ourway.org).
They decided to go “official” and register with Transition U.S. and Transition Colorado. “We were the 114th initiative in the U.S.,” James said. “There are 117 now. Boulder was the first in Colorado, in 2008. Their focus is on local food.”
Transition OurWay subgroups were formed to study food, transportation, energy, local economy, conservation and education. At the launch each table had a facilitator and an expert or two in the field: Ouray Mayor and small-hydro guru Bob Risch and solar installer Wylie Freeman, for example, at the energy table; Shining Mountain Herbs interns Soleil Pacetti and Carrie Reese at the food table; biking advocate Sarah Ballantyne and Terri Wilcox of All Points Transit at the transportation table. And so on.
Now the really hard work begins. Following the euphoria of the launch, the separate committees must now come up with specific projects they’d like to tackle, identify resources and obstacles and get started. It’s not going to be easy. As Donna Green said at the conservation table on Sunday: “I don’t want to take back America. I knew a very lovely America. But it’s not coming back. We have to move forward.”
Paula James quoted founder Rob Hopkins, who ended his TED talk with this: “If we wait for government to act, it will be too little too late. If we do it on our own, it will be too little. But if we do it as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.”