Mao and Radishes: 21 Stories of Transition @COP21

The common thread through tonight’s event, as asked by Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Towns movement and host of this evening, was the humility, lack of ego and localised thinking. In communities across the world from South Africa to Brazil, the collective brain of the community instinctually and creatively solved a single issue, that spiralled into easing a host of wider problems, as a result of this collaborative effort. The more actors you have in the decision making, the more needs are satisfied. Of the fifteen projects featured from his book 21 Stories of Transition and those we heard from, highlights were a project in France that not only brought together the diversity of seeds, but also diversity of language by including labels for the plants in Latin, in French and the local dialect, that reinvigorated the community again.As we know, when we work to ‘’change’ something, it helps to recognise and identify the different motivations at bay that trigger a response to act. For example, a project in Brussels 1000BXL in Transition, came out of a response to ugly clumsy concrete blocks laid in their street to restrict punters driving around looking for the prostitutes at all times of the day and night. Instead of concrete, a couple the council asked if they could replace it with a vegetable garden, using reclaimed materials to contain it. A nine year old girl was shocked that women were allowed out now without their husbands. This has been a cultural change, said Maria the founder, not just a garden project. The poetry of generating energy, a clean energy was noted, that often cleans and renews more than just an energy supply.

Local currency featured heavily as a successful tool, particularly in its development as an investment model in Brixton and Bristol for local businesses and campaigns and a fave was the circular form in Brazil of the currency.

As propositioned by Rob, this was an evening that showed there is little need for COP21, it is irrelevant to the tide of change happening by people incrementally at a local scale. And though doubt may be cast as to their influence, scale and validity, Rob has observed a pattern, how an idea by a collection of people to fill one gap, or solve one localised problem often extends strategically to answer more needs, shifts to a new economy and empowers the members. “We do not need to write a heavy report for COP21 that no one will read, it is better to hold a celebration.. so many of you are doing things that don’t need reps at COP21.”

Radishes: the French phrase for “I don’t have a cent” is “I don’t have a radish”, adopted by Ungersheim in Alsace for their local currency. The ebullient Mayor was rightfully proud of their work, as we all were, and had collected it into a manifesto following the ‘Transition’ way, which he compared to Mao’s manifesto.

The event was held in La Generale, a majestic building that is occupied by a fun coop of artists and activists. Sadly, it will be demolished next year to be replaced by a cinema. Odd, when the building could easily hold such a space.