| The Tran­si­tion Move­ment

The Tran­si­tion Move­ment is a global net­work of lo­cal towns, vil­lages and suburbs pur­su­ing a com­mu­nity-level re­sponse to the is­sues of oil de­ple­tion and cli­mate change.

Living Now - - Editorial - by Martin Oliver

The Tran­si­tion Move­ment is a global net­work of com­mu­ni­ties re­spond­ing to the is­sues of oil de­ple­tion and cli­mate change.

In the Al­sace re­gion of north-east France, not far from the bor­der with Ger­many, is a small town ( com­mune in France) that has been at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion for its many ground­break­ing sus­tain­abil­ity projects. Unger­sheim is a pho­to­genic tourist mag­net with some half-tim­bered and chalet-style houses. Its sky­line is dom­i­nated by an onion-domed church, and a tall brick agri­cul­tural silo that looks like a me­di­ae­val tower.

For decades, the lo­cal econ­omy had been dom­i­nated by po­tash min­ing, but by the early 2000s all of the mines had shut down. Around this time, the mayor, a for­mer miner named JeanClaude Men­sch, drew up a wish list of 21 ac­tions for en­gi­neer­ing a lo­cal sus­tain­able trans­for­ma­tion, and suc­cess­fully per­suaded the com­mu­nity to get on board.


A few years later, the com­mune heard about the Tran­si­tion Move­ment, a global net­work of lo­cal towns, vil­lages and suburbs pur­su­ing a com­mu­nity-level re­sponse to the is­sues of oil de­ple­tion and cli­mate change. Af­ter launch­ing in the UK in 2006, it has ex­panded to more than 2000 lo­cal­i­ties, of which a re­mark­ably high 150 are in France. Unger­sheim quickly recog­nised the strong con­nec­tion be­tween Tran­si­tion projects and its own eco-evo­lu­tion, and joined the net­work.

Many of the town’s am­bi­tious sus­tain­abil­ity goals in­volve en­ergy, and in par­tic­u­lar an ag­gres­sive push to­wards re­new­ables. Men­sch is aim­ing for Unger­sheim to be en­tirely au­ton­o­mous in en­ergy for both heat­ing and elec­tric­ity by 2023. Most im­pres­sive is He­lioparc 68, a so­lar farm that at 5.3 megawatts is the re­gion’s largest. He­lioparc was built by the mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties on a for­mer min­ing waste dis­posal site, and the space un­der its slanted so­lar roofs houses light in­dus­trial units.

In other en­ergy-re­lated ac­tions:

• A 540-kilo­watt (kw) wood-fired biomass boiler links about seven mu­nic­i­pal build­ings in a heat dis­tri­bu­tion net­work.

• A sep­a­rate 120kw so­lar pho­to­voltaic

in­stal­la­tion heats the swim­ming pool.

• The lo­cal pri­mary school has a 40kw so­lar power sys­tem.

• Elec­tric­ity costs associated with street light­ing have been re­duced by 40% by switch­ing to LED tech­nol­ogy.

• One ve­hi­cle op­er­ated by the au­thor­i­ties is a 4.5-tonne elec­tric truck.

• Lo­cal chil­dren en­joy be­ing trans­ported to the pri­mary school in a horse­drawn cov­ered wagon. Horse­power is also used for garbage col­lec­tion, some pub­lic trans­port, and on the land to help pro­duce food. • A lo­cal ac­tivist group is call­ing for the clo­sure of the nearby Fessen­heim nu­clear power sta­tion.


Another im­por­tant area is food sovereignty. An eight-hectare or­ganic mar­ket gar­den em­ploys 30 young peo­ple. This sup­plies 250 weekly bas­kets of pro­duce, and ev­ery day an on-site kitchen pro­duces 500 meals for pri­mary school chil­dren who eat 100% or­ganic meals and snacks dur­ing their school day. This lo­cal food econ­omy ex­tends to a can­nery for pre­serv­ing sur­plus pro­duce, and there are fu­ture plans for a malt­ing plant and a brewery.


A fur­ther project in­volves a co-hous­ing eco-vil­lage, sit­u­ated on the edge of the vil­lage on land owned by the com­mune. Unger­sheim had been in­spired by the pi­o­neer­ing BEDZED hous­ing project in South Lon­don that was de­signed to op­er­ate on a zero-emis­sions ba­sis. This led the town to run a com­pe­ti­tion for the design of a zero-car­bon de­vel­op­ment, in­cor­po­rat­ing a check­list of other sus­tain­abil­ity cri­te­ria. Straw bale is be­ing used for the walls, lo­cal tim­ber is sourced for the frames, and the houses are be­ing built to Pas­sive House stan­dards (a very strict en­ergy ef­fi­ciency stan­dard for tem­per­ate cli­mates where heat­ing en­ergy re­quire­ments are typ­i­cally 90% lower than a com­pa­ra­ble dwelling).

Other ini­tia­tives have in­volved a ban on pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides from pub­lic ar­eas, and a ‘bio­di­ver­sity at­las’ cov­er­ing the com­mune. As a Fair Trade Town, it sup­ports the sale and pur­chase of cer­ti­fied fair-trade com­modi­ties. It has even gone so far as to launch a note-based lo­cal cur­rency in four de­nom­i­na­tions that is known as the ‘radish’, and which is ac­cepted by a num­ber of busi­nesses.

To stim­u­late lo­cal in­vest­ment in eco projects, and to serve as a hub, the Mul­ti­carte Co­op­er­a­tive was set up in 2013. One of its poli­cies is for prof­itable projects to be used to sub­sidise oth­ers that are less eco­nom­i­cally vi­able. Fi­nan­cial sav­ings from the sus­tain­able en­ergy projects in par­tic­u­lar have trans­lated into rate dis­counts for lo­cals.


Unger­sheim’s ex­am­ple has in­spired six nearby towns and vil­lages to join the Tran­si­tion Move­ment. Its sus­tain­abil­ity jour­ney led the film­maker Marie-monique Robin to make the doc­u­men­tary Qu’est qu’on at­tend? ( What are we wait­ing for?), which in­volved re­vis­it­ing the com­mu­nity at in­ter­vals through­out the space of a year, and which was re­leased in late 2016.

As Tran­si­tion is a group ac­tiv­ity, it is less of a chal­lenge in mod­estly-sized com­mu­ni­ties such as Unger­sheim where the pop­u­la­tion is less in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic and ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, where the pri­or­ity is the long-term greater good.

In Aus­tralia, there are numer­ous Tran­si­tion ini­tia­tives scat­tered around the coun­try that are ac­tively pur­su­ing sim­i­lar, prob­a­bly less am­bi­tious, plans and which can be tracked down via the Tran­si­tion Net­work web­site. n


Tran­si­tion ini­tia­tives


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