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Ear to the Ground

Enthusiasm for Big-Picture Environmentalism Wanes as Local Causes Boom

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Posted on Jun 16, 2014

Photo by Moyan_Brenn DeLight (back again) (CC BY 2.0)

A new report contends that the environmental movement has been losing the battle for new converts largely because it places “too great a dependency on three things: elite-level engagement, the rationalism of climate science and the agency of top-down legislation,” Observer journalist Lucy Siegle writes.

According to Siegle, the report’s authors believe “environmentalism should begin at home, focusing on issues that people are actually concerned with, rather than ‘abstract’ international issues, such as climate change.”

The report, “Pride of Place,” comes from the Fabian Society, a British organization dedicated to advancing the principles of socialism incrementally and by reform. Siegle writes, a “grassroots, people-powered approach” is both a rising trend and “something that needs to happen if environmentalism is to have any chance of mainstream traction” and “achieving anything significant.”

Siegle continues:

Suggesting all this to Rob Hopkins, who set up the UK’s first Transition Town, in Totnes, south Devon, in 2005, is the very definition of teaching your grandmother to suck eggs. The theory behind the Transition network is that communities build resilience through sustainable blueprints for energy, food and transport and more. This will enable them to cope when the world runs out of oil or climate change kicks in.

In practice, the apocalyptic motivation seems to have been eclipsed as communities in 43 countries decide it’s just quite a smart way to live. “When people are presented with big-scale stuff they have no influence,” says Hopkins. “You have what we might call ‘a national debate’ but what’s that? If we had taken our energy blueprint the national government route and tried to lobby on a national level, we’d have found so many obstacles in our way, including resistance and barriers from lobbyists for national energy companies.”

Instead, he says, working at grassroots level means they could just “get on with it”. Consequently, a Transition hub such as Totnes already has 600 families in homes generating renewable energy (mainly solar) and saving upwards of 1.3 tonnes of carbon each year.

“Yes, the government’s new energy strategy does look a bit like it’s trying to catch up,” says Hopkins, who is ever modest and doesn’t like to brag that they got there first. But they did. He also believes that a lot of Transition is actually a gateway to the bigger issues. So you come for cheaper energy and end up engaging with global issues.

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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