Transition Town Totnes

Local resilience and global connection
A community-led strategy for disconnecting the local economy from fossil fuels whilst building international networks of solidarity and cooperation. An exemplar for how decarbonisation can also deal with wider issues of climate breakdown


In the mid-twentieth century, decades before knowledge of the link between climate change and greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels became mainstream, researchers anticipated a time when the extraction of fossil fuels, particularly oil, would no longer be economically viable due to the depletion of reserves. This point, termed “peak oil”, would see rates of oil extraction and refinement decrease permanently.1For more on peak oil, see M. King Hubbert, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels (Houston, TX: Shell Development Company, 1956) <> [accessed 26 August 2022]. The necessity to reduce dependencies on fossil fuels and to transition to other forms of energy has long been anticipated.  


The notion of a transition from fossil fuel dependency inspired the British environmentalist Rob Hopkins to apply the principles of permaculture to a small town in an experiment to address the problem of peak oil—not with alarm and fear but by embracing the challenge of finding alternatives to oil. With a group of students at Kinsale College in Cork (Republic of Ireland), Hopkins developed an action plan for making “the transition from a high energy consumption town to a low energy one” by intervening in systems including “food, energy, tourism, education and health”.2Students of Kinsale Further Education College, Kinsale 2021: An Energy Descent Action Plan, ed. by Rob Hopkins (2005) <> [accessed 23 August 2023]. This action plan became the template for the transition movement, its tagline—“from oil dependency to local resilience”—signalling the movement’s central tenet of localism.3Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience (Totnes: Green Books, 2008).

The most well-established example of Hopkins’s model is found in his hometown of Totnes, Devon (UK). Transition Town Totnes (TTT) draws from permaculture’s three areas of concern: ecology, the self, and equality, emphasising the importance of individual transformation as part of the transformation of society. 

“How we work is as important as what we do.”4‘How we work’, Transition Network <> [accessed 16 September 2022].

TTT formed as a voluntary group tasking itself with improving local food, energy, and economic systems. Strategies towards building local resilience included food growing, the use of local quasi-currencies to encourage spending in the local economy, and the creation of a hydro power plant on the river Dart in 2015. Motivated by what members saw as a dysfunctional local economy that didn’t serve the needs of the people of Totnes, TTT established the REconomy Centre as a space to meet, discuss, share ideas, start community projects, and support new business through the Local Entrepreneur Forum. Established in 2006, TTT is involved in developing affordable housing, supporting people to save energy, and creating new networks such as Caring Town Totnes (CTT), a collaborative network of health, social care, welfare, and employment services.5Rob Hopkins, ‘Caring Town Totnes, England’, Transition Network <> [accessed 30 August 2022].

Since the establishment of TTT, the transition process for developing and implementing a community-based action plan has spread internationally, on scales ranging from cities to villages. Transition scales not through expansion, but through linking networks: there are currently more than one thousand initiatives registered in over fifty countries.6‘How we work’, Transition Network <> [accessed 16 September 2022]. The strength of the Transition Network lies in the combination of local-scale action, global-scale networking, and knowledge sharing. Transition’s notion of locality is not a retreat into regionally—or nationally—bounded political and economic spaces, but about building local resilience as part of a wider network. Groups also stress the importance of working in inclusive, participatory forms of governance and decision making, and use “subsidiarity” decision making, whereby responsibility lies with those most likely to be affected by the result of a decision.  

TTT and the wider transition movement demonstrate how tackling a problem on a global scale of peak oil requires transformation across scales, including the smaller scales of individuals, institutions, and local economies. The movement’s ability to work across scales in this way offers a model for dealing with other issues of climate breakdown, such as biodiversity loss and water scarcity. 


External links

Transition Networkrepresents the global movement on a website that hosts a large number of resources and a directory of local initiatives worldwide