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Think a New Economy Is Possible? Meet the Man Already Making it Happen

Rob Hopkins helped start the first Transition Town. Now it's a global network of thousands of communities showing no signs of slowing down.

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I did a talk yesterday with a group and people were saying it’s terrifying, it feels like things are moving so fast here. I remember someone saying, “when everything is getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster all at the same time,” and I think you get that sense very strongly here. But if anywhere can do this and turn it around, it will be here I think. The resources, the incredible can-do spirit here, the entrepreneurial spirit — if that can be harnessed then that will be extraordinary. 

TL: I understand you don’t normally fly. What made you decide to make an exception and come to the States?

RH: I haven’t flown in seven years. I went to the cinema in my town and watched An Inconvenient Truth and I got to the end after watching the last five minutes of ice water pouring down the glaciers in Greenland and then the bit comes up at the end of the film, “What to do: Change your light bulbs....” That’s not going to cut it! And I felt I had to leave the theater having changed something that was appropriate so I decided I wasn’t going to fly anymore. So Transition Network as it is currently seen and understood is having been created in 44 countries and thousands of communities without anyone getting on an airplane. Although it does mean sometimes feeling like Osama bin Laden sitting in a cave sending out DVDs of presentations round the world. 

I can get to places in Europe by the train and I do a lot of presentations by Skype. The thing that swung it for me was I went to a film called Chasing Ice, which is visceral about what’s happening to the Arctic and shortly after that a woman who we know who has given some funding to Transition Network who is very connected in the U.S. to all the foundations and philanthropic organizations, she asked if we would come over and do some stuff and we said, no, we don’t fly. She said, “OK, I really respect that’s the case but all the foundations that I talk to, all the people at the UN, all the politicians I talk to, they’re all saying they give it 18 months and then they give up on mitigation, they pull all their funding out of mitigation and they just put it into adaptation.”

In other words they give up on staying below 2 degrees [celsius] and there was kind of a catch in her voice as she was saying it. And I thought, actually, do I want to be in a position in 20 years to say to my grandchildren, well, we didn’t sort the climate thing out, but I didn’t fly! As someone put it to me, “The moral high ground is all very well until the water is lapping around it.” 

She said, “I can’t guarantee you anything will happen, that we’ll turn it around, but I can get you in front of lots of people.” So we came.

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan or visit her website, taralohan.com.