Feature: The community groups tackling air pollution

The Transition Network has been changing the way that communities function since 2005 — the ongoing social experiment focuses on encouraging local people to come together to reimagine and rebuild society. 

Air Quality News reporter Pippa Neill set out to explore how the Transition Network functions and to find out the benefits that it brings to the environment and local communities. 

The Transition Network was founded when Rob Hopkins, a former permaculture teacher, had what he described as an ‘epiphany moment,’ when he realised that he had to do something bigger to help tackle the climate crisis.

‘Transition originally began when I moved to Totnes in Devon,’ Rob told Air Quality News. 

‘I started inquiring with other local people to see what a community-led response to the climate crisis could look like.

‘We all knew what the government needed to do, and we knew what we could do as individuals, but at the time no one was exploring what we could do if we got together with other people in our communities, and this is where it all started.’

The Transition Network is now spread across 50 countries, with thousands of groups in towns, villages, cities, universities and schools all making concrete changes to their local communities, from introducing local currencies to holding plastic-free days.

In 2016, Transition Brixton even managed to raise £130,000 to open the UK’s first inner-city, community-owned power station, consisting of 82kW of solar panels on top of a council estate.

Lynn is a member of Transition Bollington and told Air Quality News how lockdown has provided her with the opportunity to join the network.

‘I had known about the group for a while, but I’m a single parent so am pretty stretched for time. During lockdown when I was working from home and the meetings went on Zoom this gave me a chance to take part.

‘I am really passionate about the work that Transition Bollington is doing, especially their work around air pollution.

‘Air pollution affects all of us, but I feel really passionate about it personally because I’ve got a small child.

‘At Transition Bollington we recently invested in an air pollution monitor and we have since been using it to assess how lockdown has impacted air quality.

‘Air pollution is something that affects all of us and so we should all be thinking about the changes we can make as a community.’

The Transition Network works by encouraging individual community members to set up their own networks, it is all run on a voluntary basis and the premise is to reimagine what life could look like if we changed the way that society functions. The focus is on diversity and bringing people together who might bring something new to the table.

‘Transition gives people a voice,’ said Lynn.

‘It elicits and pushes for change by focusing on what really matters locally.

‘I have a keen interest to ensure that I do my bit to make things better so it’s great to be involved with a group of likeminded people who all want to do the same.’

Lynn is just one of the thousands of Transition members all across the world who have taken direct action on local environmental issues.

But the movement is more than just an environmental one, it also provides an essential sense of community to so many people — something that in our current climate has never been more important.

Rob told Air Quality News: ‘Although the pandemic has posed a challenge to the movement, it has also highlighted its resilience.

‘During Covid people have harnessed these networks to look after vulnerable people, when an emergency or something like this happens it’s amazing to see how community groups step up and come together.’

Another challenge to the movement is the growing voice of climate sceptics.

‘Climate sceptics have changed their tactics,’ said Rob.

‘People no longer say they don’t believe in climate change but instead, they argue that it’s too expensive to fix, or they pass the blame onto other countries.

‘That is both a lazy and absurd argument.

‘In the UK we found £200bn for Brexit — this is the more than the cost of the International Space Station and it will achieve nothing really.

‘Imagine how different the world could be if David Cameron had invested £200bn on a green new deal.’

When Transition works best is when the network can collaborate with local authorities to help the members bring their vision to life.

For example, the Transition Town of Ungersheim in north-eastern France is an amazing story of what Transition looks like when it is led by a mayor.

Ungersheim is the first network to be launched by a local authority and thanks to this collaboration in the past decade, they have successfully introduced a more participative democracy, formed a citizens forum about renewable energy, launched a local currency, returned a former waste heap created to nature and installed a 120m2 solar thermal installation at the local swimming pool.

Ungersheim has become a well-respected example of the magic that can happen when Transition and local authorities work together.

But according to Rob,  we need more than just collaboration to create the momentum needed to tackle the climate crisis.

‘We know how to build a low carbon society, the technology is there — the bit that is missing is the longing.

‘To create this, it is not down to the works of facts or figures or policymakers, if that was enough, action would have started in the 1980’s — it’s about imagination and storytelling and nurturing the memories of the future.’

For Rob, the future doesn’t look like a world filled with Transition Networks, but a world where this revolutionary approach has become the norm.

‘I hope that we will get to a stage where we don’t need to talk about Transition because those ideas and this way of thinking will become so mainstream it is no longer different.

‘I hope that we see towns and cities combat climate change, improve the economic health, and regenerate by bringing all of these things together rather than seeing them as separate

‘We need to reimagine how society works — that has to happen, it is what our survival depends on.’

Photo Credit — Pixabay



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