Transition Through Troubled Times

Climate Change has slipped down the agenda for now and some fear that all the momentum built this last year will disappear. But the response to COVID-19 reminds us that we have an incredible ability to act when threatened.

This pandemic has been an opportunity for learning and reflection, and for Transition, a prompt to adapt the work we do. I reached out to Transition’s staff and volunteers to find out what they are doing differently and to share some thoughts and feelings. Many thanks to Nikki Moorhouse, Kaska Hempel, Tansy Torkington, Wink Emmerson, Georgiana Mazilu, Freyja Hadrill Selman, Alistair Macleod and Andrea Roach. Although not everyone was directly quoted, their responses were influential.

Unjust Global Systems

Since this pandemic we are reminded of some sad realities to humanity and the fact that they too exist close to home. We are reminded of the injustices and inequalities stemming from capitalism and colonialism. From how the virus’s spread has escalated exponentially to how violence is angled towards minorities and the vulnerable. We are exposed to the real world of food, job insecurity and the true costs of intensive farming and poor animal welfare. We are shown who society’s key workers are: doctors, carers, truck drivers, teachers and cleaners. We have seen that our economy can fracture under stress and many sadly suffer as a result.

This pandemic is not a matter of climate but there are a lot of parallels. As Tansy says, “this dark cloud that we are all living under at the moment is giving us a small taste of some of the challenges that climate change will bring”. As a Transition Towns group, this pandemic has been an opportunity for reflection and a prompt to rethink the work we do. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to our community, climate and local economy.

Physical Distancing ≠ Distancing Community

Kaska writes, “the key to the Transition way of building community resilience has always been physically bringing people together. This is a powerful tool for connecting people, sharing skills, knowledge and the effort of moving towards lower carbon lifestyles… Physical distancing required to control this pandemic has thrown a spanner into this way of working for us in climate change.”

While we are unable to continue face-to-face Climate Conversation workshops, Bike Pool events, Edible Campus gardening sessions, community Skillshares, St AndReuse drop-ins and The Tree pop-ups, there has been urgency and enthusiasm to continue these in other ways. For The Tree this has been about delivering people’s online orders to their homes. For other projects, by going online, sharing videos, starting forums, teleconferencing and encouraging others to be active and do the same from home.

For Nikki, “it is circumstances like this that allow us to see what we already have in abundance – firm relationships and wide ranging support networks”. The ability to sustain projects and community ties in new ways are essential. Particularly for projects like Skillshare, Tansy firmly believes, “it helps with the loneliness and the sense of powerlessness”. So, “for the foreseeable future, Transition’s ethos and commitment to the climate and one another must be embedded from a distance” (Nikki).

Tansy lets the community know that we’re thinking of you and here for you

Going Online

At a distance has meant a strong online presence kickstarted with gardening videos and Skillshares. Andrea’s video of turning toilet rolls into plant pots in her garden has reached over 11000 people, demonstrating the demand for more. What has been more inspiring is the participation from people contributing their own videos, from foraging and cooking with seaweed to making homemade hand sanitizer. If you have a skill to share, upload it the St Andrews Community Skillshare group on Facebook.

And it doens’t end there. The increasing number of teleconferencing platforms like Zoom, Jitsi, Skype and Teams are being explored by the team to deliver Climate Conversations and Skillshares in real time from the comfort of our own homes. For Kaska, she hopes that in the long term people will be more open to the idea of “travelling less to have meetings and connecting deeply with others at a distance”. Something to keep your eyes out for!

Food to the People

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An arm of Transition that adapted to the pandemic in a different way is our local food hub, The Tree. Basic supplies are often hard to come by, especially for those relying on friends and neighbours for shopping runs. As a result, The Tree is determined to remain an active supplier of affordable, organic and local foods and household products. To meet demand across St Andrews and avoid face-to-face interaction, The Tree has adapted to a home-delivery system.

With the current pressures on supermarkets, The Tree’s online shop, via Open Food Network, is linking local food producers to more people than ever before. Where people’s welfare is at risk, ensuring that local residents and students have access to healthy foods is vital now more than ever.

For Freyja, a lead student with The Tree, times like this are an example of how important developing local food networks are on the one hand. And on the other, demonstrating that these “food systems and networks must be robust enough to survive and continue under duress, operate safely for all parties involved”. Enabling people to buy or grow healthy and sustainable food is a big part of the resilient local economy that Transition aspires to.

Inspiration Is All Around

With all that is going on in Transition, it is equally important to highlight the beautiful sides to people that have surfaced. Tansy remarks, “I am so struck by how people are helping each other, starting to grow food at home, reaching out to the vulnerable and think of the collective response that is needed to solve a global issue”. “If nothing else, this current situation is proving that it is possible for society to make huge shifts very quickly and this bodes well for slowing down climate change and creating a low carbon future”.

The Community Aid St Andrews (CASA) facebook group is a great example of this. Like the Transition Town’s movement, there is strong sense of St Andrews coming together to reimagine and rebuild the world we live in.2 The active comraderie and altruism is truly inspirational.

One can only hope that by the end of this humanity may have learnt some valuable lessons. For tackling climate change, Christiana Figueres argues there are five to learn from:

  1. Global challenges have no borders
  2. As a society, we’re only as safe as our most vulnerable
  3. Global challenges require systemic change
  4. Prevention is better than cure
  5. Our response measures need a science base

Just as the pandemic and our global climate crisis are amplified by the same systemic flaws, they also share solutions. This can only be a good thing for reconstructing a fairer society from the rubble of life’s standstill. One where the care and community forged through COVID-19 sustains as we reconnect physically.

In The Meantime

Remember to stay active, stay connected and reach out to those around you. Till then, online may not be a replacement for face-to-face, but through these unprecedented times we urge each and every one of you to stay engaged.

  • Don’t become a stranger. Connect with us through writing or video – communicating your needs this way.
  • Follow closely our social media posts offering practical ways to not only learn necessary skills but also to establish techniques that will help us deal with self-isolation and lockdown.
  • Reach out to us if you require support, either physically, mentally or emotionally.

Our mission statement has always been, Together We Can Tackle Climate Change, but for now, lets just get through this together.