Thinking about transitions

The Planning and Environment Research Group (PERG) for the Royal Geography Society had its annual get together last week in Birmingham. The aim was to think about issues around transitions and climate change. Somewhat surprisingly, many of the geographers present were engaged in practical projects a long way from the ivory towers of academia. The workshop covered a lot of ground, since papers were circulated beforehand. Attendees were therefore spared two days of powerpoints, which allowed for much longer discussions on the issues. Not so surprising was the constant debate about what transitions are and who they are for, with a lot of criticism on the so called ‘Dutch School’ of transitions…a discussion far from finished by this group of geographers.

Amanda Smith from Nottingham Trent University gave some feedback from her work with
the Nottingham Transitions Town group ( and their focus on community resilience, permaculture, changing behavior and the desire to be seen as ‘apolitical’. A discussion on whether the transition town network had a cult feel with its ten steps to happiness took up some of the questioning, as did the inaction of a number of transition town groups and the often bumpy relationships with local authorities.

Harriet Bulkeley from Durham University gave an overview of initial findings from her mammoth quest to create a database of hundreds of transition experiments from cities across the globe. Harriet went on to show how the collection of over 450 of these experiments shows the diversity of different things going on and the different ways community groups and local authorities are thinking about the challenges of climate change. Manchester had a number of entries into the database which will be finished over the next year.

Sarah Hards from York University presented some of her initial research looking at people lifestyles in relation to addressing climate change and how transitions in individual lives are shaped by their location in specific times and places. Does this mean that people in Manchester are transitioning differently to people in neighbouring cities?

Other discussions included how communities are adapting in Hull to the danger of flooding and what this means to different neighbourhoods in terms of being prepared for climate change affects. A paper about public building energy systems in Burkino Faso began a fascinating debate about the responsibility of African countries to lower their carbon emissions…should they bother when people are poor and hungry? Should historical polluters such as the UK pay for these changes? and should African
cities see these as challenges or opportunities?

It was good to see much of the research supporting practical action alongside communities and local authorities showing the positive role academics can play in addressing climate change challenges.

These conversations will continue at the annual Royal Geographical Society conference in London 1st to 3rd September. You can email James Evans,( a Manchester based geographer for more information about the work of the PERG group.

All papers are available for download on the blog
“MCFly’s roving reporter”


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