On a cold winter's morning in early 2013, I stood on the roof of a tower block in Brixton, London, in the company of Agamemnon Otero, one of the founders of Brixton Energy, an offshoot of Transition Town Brixton (www.transitiontownbrixton.org). We stood and looked out across Brixton, looking at the two installations, Brixton Energy Solar 1 and 2, already in place using money raised from local residents. "Energy, solar panels or whatever, are just a way to get there", Agamemnon told me. "We're not wedded to solar panels, or combined heat and power, or whatever. We're wedded to well-being".
As far as he was concerned, there were no limits to the potential of Brixton Energy to install solar energy on every rooftop in Brixton, to turn Brixton into a solar power station, but a power station owned and for the benefit of the people. There was not a shred of doubt that this was possible. His passion was infectious. So is the thinking behind the project.
Something thrilling is happening around the world. Rather than succumbing to despondency, waiting for the cavalry to come riding to their rescue, communities are deciding that they hold the seeds of their own economic future. That they are the cavalry. For the past seven years I have been part of one approach to this, the Transition movement (www.transitionnetwork.org). Transition could be thought of as a social technology, that rather than the nuts and bolts technologies we need to create a low carbon society (solar panels, energy efficiency and so on) we also need a way to bring communities together to make this stuff happen, to, without waiting for permission, seize the opportunities that our uncertain times present, to want them into being. Transition supports groups to form, to work together in ways that involve celebration, good listening and effective groups, while seeking to minimise the burn-out all too familiar in such initiatives. It works.
Increasingly, Transition initiatives are creating new enterprises, founded on the principles of resilience and localisation, community ownership and wider social purpose. Examples such as Bath & West Community Energy (www.bwce.coop/), Crystal Palace Transition Town's 'Palace Power', Transition Homes in Totnes, www.de4food.org.uk/ in Matlock, Green Valley Grocer in Slaithwaite, the Bristol and Brixton Pounds (brixtonpound.org/), the Malvern Gasketeers, the Brixton Remakery (www.transitiontownbrixton.org/projects/brixton-remakery/), the Dunbar Community Bakery are just a few of those showing what's possible. The Transition context of these is vital at the local level, as it holds the role of telling the larger story of the context, weaving the projects together, innovating and networking.
But given the scale of the challenges we face in a world in deep economic crisis and having just passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, how can an approach like this, focused on local, piecemeal projects like this, possibly be proportionate to those challenges? There is no guarantee that it can be, but we're giving it a good go.
For many Transition groups, scaling up from a small project to creating a viable enterprise is a big step. Transition Network's REconomy Project offers the support and resources needed to do that. Hereford, Brixton and Totnes are creating 'Local Economic Blueprints', putting an economic value on the economic potential of this approach, and finding that it is considerable. Work is underway to develop a revolving loan fund to bring in the kind of funding required to make projects like these a reality. Getting all of these in place means we start, as I argue in The Power of Just Doing Stuff, to be able to tell a different story about the economy and its possibilities, focused around the idea of community resilience as economic development.
Even if you aren't aware of this approach, it is already happening all around you. It's a quiet revolution unfolding up and down the country. The guy sat next to you on the train this morning could be setting up a community brewery. The woman sat opposite could be the director of a community energy company. It's everywhere.
As Agamemnon Otero told me, as the cold got too much and we starting heading back down to street-level, "the only way people believe in themselves and get involved is when they're allowed to be involved. As soon as you take responsibility for something and you give and you take back and you give and you take back, you develop self-will and self-belief, and that's what's been taken away from people".
Rob Hopkins is the founder of the Transition movement and author of the newly-published 'The Power of Just Doing Stuff'. He holds a PhD from the University of Plymouth, blogs at www.transitionnetwork.org, tweets as @robintransition, was voted one of the Independent's '50 New Radicals' and is winner of several awards. To find out more about Transition, about what's happening near you, and about other projects already underway, visit www.transitionnetwork.org.