Last Friday, I went to the University of New England in Portland to hear a talk by Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Movement, whose purpose is “to support community-led responses to peak oil and climate change, building resilience and happiness.” In the green world, Rob Hopkins is a rock star, akin to Michael Pollan’s and Mark Bittman’s status in the foodie world. The event was held in Ludcke Auditorium and was sponsored and supported by, among others, Portland Maine Permaculture, The Resilience Hub, and the School of Social Work of Student Organization.
Before I write about Rob Hopkins and Transition, I’ve got to come clean about the food. Margot, of Sustain Wayne, organized this trip, and her friend David and his daughter Vanessa came as well. Margot registered all of us, and I didn’t pay too much attention to the details other than the time—6:00 p.m. Because of Hopkins’s high profile in the green world, we knew the place would be packed—it was—and we all agreed we should be at Ludcke Auditorium early. I also had a vague awareness that there would be some kind of reception before the talk.
In fact, the reception was a potluck, and what a potluck it was. There were pickled beets with goat cheese—I could have easily eaten half of them; a kale salad; cheese biscuits; sushi; the sweetest homemade apple sauce, made from wild apples, that I’ve ever tasted; a roasted eggplant spread as well as many other delectable items. When a woman dropped off a plate of sliced carrot cake, I decided it was time to move away from the table, to return to my seat and start taking notes.
But because I didn’t realize there would be a potluck, I didn’t bring anything to contribute, and I hang my head in shame. “Never mind,” Margot said. “There was plenty of food.” This was certainly true. But still! If I go to another event sponsored by Portland Maine Permaculture and the Resilience Hub, you can be sure I will check to see if a potluck is part of the program and then duly bring something to add.
Rob Hopkins is from Totnes, England. He is attractive, smart, articulate, and funny. Then, of course, there is the accent. All his qualities ensured that he would receive rapt attention from most of the women—I certainly don’t want to speak for everyone—in the audience. Few American women can resist a cute, smart, funny chap with an English accent.
However, attractiveness aside, what is most important about Rob Hopkins is his message of how community and local work can address the biggest challenge of our time—climate change. While Hopkins made it clear that there is a definite need for government action on every level—from national to state to regional—he also made it clear that communities shouldn’t wait for government to lead the way. “We” can do something now, and it is crucial that we get started. (The Transition movement came about with that realization and with many years of teaching. Hopkins started the first two-year permaculture course at Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland.)
Using a slide show, Hopkins gave examples of the various projects that different communities around the world have started, from community gardens in public spaces to solar panels in a London inner-city neighborhood to the design and use of local currencies. The Transition movement’s philosophy is that because all communities are different, the projects will vary from community to community.
Hopkins also spoke of the myth of endless growth that seems to have taken hold in the minds of too many economists and politicians; of how dangerous it was to have our food production and distribution in the hands of so few; and of how we cannot burn all the remaining fossil fuel without disastrous results. Hopkins even stated, during the Q & A at the end of his talk, that he didn’t see how we could continue driving cars the way we do, especially here in Maine, where there is rural “sprawl.” (Naturally, we don’t like to think about our state that way.)
Because I am so familiar with the Transition movement and Rob Hopkins, none of what he said was exactly new to me. However, as someone who cares very much about climate change, it was good to be reminded of the various points—the dangers of climate change, how our current system is ill equipped to deal with the challenge of a new economy, and the importance of community work.
And speaking of community…before the talk, David, Vanessa, and I were looking at the crowd. “There is such a range of ages here,” Vanessa said. “Young, old, and in between.” Yes, there was a range of ages, and it was notable. All too often at such events, the age of the audience is either heading toward retirement or already there. But not this audience.
“The event is also well organized,” I said.
“Yet relaxed,” David said.
Diversity of age. Organized yet relaxed. A timely, important message delivered with humor and passion and an English accent. All in all, a very good event.