Rob Hopkins at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 7

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Rob Hopkins at TEDGlobal 2009, Session 7: July 23, 2009, in Oxford, UK. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson

Rob Hopkins is one of the leaders of a new movement of people living as fossil fuel-free as possible called the Transition Movement. He explains that he teaches people how to grow their own food and build their own homes. Before he began his current work, he worked with the current global economic growth model, but then he says, he came into contact with something that changed him. At this point, he unveils a liter of oil. He tells us that this bottle of oil contains the energy equivalent of five weeks of human labor by 35 strong people.

Hopkins says that our degree of oil dependency is our degree of vulnerability. We will not have oil forever. For every five barrels we consume, we only gather one. There are 98 oil producing nations but 65 have already passed their peak. “Is our brilliance and creativity going to evaporate?” he asks. The answer he gives is no, but he says that our options have to be realistic and mentions that climate change scientist have an increasingly terrified look in their eyes.

He asserts that our society seems to have the idea that technology will solve everything, pointing out that this idea is always popular at TED. But, Hopkins says, we can’t create new lands and energy systems at the click of a mouse. There are still people mining coal, as we speak. We live in a world of real constraints and demands. Energy and technology are not the same thing.

Hopkins outlines the qualities of the transition response: iviral, open-source, self-organizing, solutions-focused, sensitive to place and scale, learns from its mistakes and is a joyful process. It’s not about winning the argument, he says, it’s about changing the climate. Transition depends on the idea of resilience, which he thinks is a more useful concept than sustainability. Sustainability wants the supermarket to be more energy efficient, while resilience questions the vulnerability of depending on the supermarket.

Then, Hopkins walks us through how one of the transition projects are realized. It begins when you have a group excited by the idea. That group then runs an awareness-raising program, looking at how this might work in their town. They form more groups from which projects start and then continue to spread. There are over 2,000 transition projects around the world at the moment and thousands more in the mulling stage. There are community agriculture schemes, community energy schemes, groups promoting recycling, garden-shares and even alternative currencies. There are also groups designing energy descent plans, in case there is not more growth in the world, but less.

Hopkins noted that the Transition handbook he has written was the fifth most popular book that Brits took on holiday. The Leicestshire and Somerset transition communities have become involved in local government. He says they’re not changing things, things are inevitably changing and we just have to work creatively with that.

We’ve been astonishingly lucky, Hopkins tells us, but he also asks us to honor what it has bought us. By loving and leaving all the oil age has done for us, he thinks we can begin a world of more resilience where we are fitter, more skilled and more connected to each other.