Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Green Wizardry: A Response to Rob Hopkins

Since the Green Wizards project got under way two months ago, I’ve wondered off and on whether it would field any sort of response from the Transition movement. Thus it was not exactly a huge surprise to read Rob Hopkins’ blog post on the subject yesterday. I admit that the tone of his response took me aback, and so did the number of misrepresentations that found their way into it; I have no objection to criticism – quite the contrary, an idea that can’t stand up to honest criticism isn’t worth having in the first place – but it might have been helpful if Hopkins had taken the time to be sure the ideas he was criticizing were ones I’ve actually proposed.

When I sat down to start this week’s post this morning, I considered going through his comments one by one and correcting the misrepresentations, but what would be the point? Those who are minded to take his statements at face value will doubtless do so anyway; those who are interested in checking the facts can find my views detailed at quite some length in the series of posts beginning June 30 of this year. Instead, I think it’s more useful just now to talk about the things Hopkins’ critique got right. Rob Hopkins is a smart guy, and even though he’s garbled a fair number of the details, his post raises useful points regarding some of the core issues I’ve tried to bring up in the Green Wizards posts.

The first of those is that one of the motivations behind the Green Wizards project is a recognition of the limitations of the Transition Towns project. I’ve discussed my concerns about that movement on several occasions on this blog, and don’t see any need to repeat those comments just now. The crucial point, though, is one that Hopkins himself cheerfully admits: that neither he nor anyone else in the movement can be sure that it will accomplish what it’s trying to accomplish.

That’s a bold statement, and one that’s worthy of respect. Still, it has implications I’m not sure Hopkins has followed as far as they deserve. If the difficult future ahead of us can’t be known well enough to tell in advance what strategies will best deal with it, in particular, it seems to me that it’s a serious mistake to put all our eggs in one basket, whether it’s the one labeled "Transition" or any other.

This is the underlying strategy that guides the Green Wizards project. I’ve argued here that the best approach to an unpredictable future is dissensus: that is, the deliberate avoidance of consensus and the encouragement of divergent approaches to the problems we face. The Green Wizards project is one such divergent approach. It tries to address a broad range of possible futures with a flexible set of tools, but there are no guarantees; it’s entirely possible that the project will fail, or that the future will turn out to be so different from my expectations that it could never have succeeded at all.

That last comment could be said just as accurately of the Transition approach, and of course that’s exactly the point. Neither project offers an answer to all the challenges the future might dump on us, and neither one is guaranteed to work. This is why I’ve tried to craft the Green Wizards project to fill in some of the gaps the Transition Town movement fails to address. Does that make the two projects mutually exclusive? Not at all; it could as easily be argued that they’re complementary – though it also needs to be remembered that the two projects taken together don’t cover all the possibilities, either. Other projects will be needed to do that, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get them.

This leads to the second point that Rob Hopkins got absolutely right, which is that the Green Wizard project isn’t a solution to every problem the future has in store for us. I’m not at all sure where Hopkins got the idea that the project is predicated on an imminent fast collapse, which is very nearly the opposite of my views – the most popular of my peak oil books so far isn’t titled The Short Descent, you know – but he’s quite right to say that I consider peak oil, and more generally the impact of fossil fuel and resource depletion on an economy and society that depends on limitless growth, to be the core driving force of the next century or so of social crisis and disintegration. (The main impacts of anthropogenic climate change, according to most climatologists, will come further down the line.) That’s what the Green Wizard project is intended to address, and criticizing it for not trying to do what it’s not intended to do is a bit like criticizing a hammer because it’s not a very good saw.

The Seventies-era appropriate technology that’s at the core of the project, for that matter, is only one of many options that could be used within the strategy I’m proposing. I chose that option partly because it’s something I happen to know well, having worked with it for thirty years now; partly because it evolved to deal with the consequences of energy shortages in a time of economic turmoil, and that promises to be a fair description of the decades just ahead of us; and partly because I’ve discovered that a great deal of what was learned back in the days of the appropriate tech movement never got handed down to the people in today’s peak oil scene.

I’ve also found that a great many people who are worried about peak oil take to the old appropriate tech material like a duck to water, once they learn about it, and are refreshingly likely to do something practical with it. One of the challenges most of us who speak publicly about peak oil face all the time is the honest question, "Yes, but what can I do about it?" Hopkins has offered his answer to that question, and it’s an answer that’s clearly satisfactory to many people, but it’s not suited to everybody.

The birth of the Green Wizard project itself came about as a result of that last fact. The project started with a post here that tentatively suggested the archetype of the wizard, and the toolkit of the old appropriate tech movement, as the starting points for an option worth exploring as we move deeper into the Age of Limits. That post fielded more comments and email than any other Archdruid Report post has ever gotten, and a very large number of the responses amounted to "This is what I’ve been looking for." Many of the people who responded in that way have gone on to begin saving energy, planting gardens, and doing other admirably practical steps. Should I have closed that door in their faces, and insisted that they had to embrace the Transition agenda or do nothing at all? I trust not.

This leads in turn to the third point that Rob Hopkins got unquestionably right, which is that the Green Wizard project is not aimed at building resilient communities. That’s the core of the Transition Towns strategy, if I understand Hopkins’ writings correctly, and the Transition Towns program is certainly one way to go about trying to do that – though it’s not the only way, and not necessarily the best way in every case. What I’m not sure Hopkins has grasped is his strategy isn’t the only game in town.

To begin with, as I’ve just mentioned, there are plenty of people who are interested in doing something about the challenges of the future, but for whom the Transition program is not a viable option. There are people, quite a few of them, who live in communities full of rock-ribbed conservatives who believe that global warming is a hoax manufactured by the Democratic Party and that we’d have all the oil we need if the government allowed unrestricted drilling, and as many who live in communities full of liberals who believe just as firmly that their SUV lifestyles can run just as well on wind farms or algal biodiesel as on fossil fuels. There are people who, for one reason or another, are not suited to the work of community organizing, and others who have been there, done that, and would sooner gnaw a rat’s pancreas than sit through another round of long meetings in order to produce another round of elaborate plans that everyone involved knows will never be anything more than ink on paper. Insisting that such people ought to follow the Transition program anyway is not going to have any useful result.

Yet there’s another issue I don’t think Hopkins has addressed, and it comes right back to his cheerful admission that there’s no guarantee the Transition program can do what it’s supposed to do. The Transition program assumes that the best way to deal with the impending crises of the future is to organize for resilience on a community level, and it also assumes that the best way to do this is to produce a discreetly managed consensus within individual communities, turn that consensus into a plan, and then act on the plan. Neither of those assumptions is a certainty, and there are reasons – some of which I’ve discussed in this blog – why strategies based on them may be doomed to fail.

This point deserves making in the clearest possible terms. It’s pure speculation, however appealing the speculation might be, that communities are the best option, or even a workable option, for building the sort of resilience Hopkins has in mind. Even if he’s right, it may no longer be possible to build communities that are resilient in any meaningful sense, in the face of the troubles bearing down on us at this point. Even if it is still possible to do so, the methods the Transition movement proposes may not be a viable way of doing it. Based on his public writings, I believe Hopkins would agree with these statements. That being the case, though, we’re back to the point I made earlier: in the face of an unpredictable future, it’s wise to explore more than one possible response.

The Green Wizards project is an attempt to create one of these alternative responses. As I’ve already suggested, it’s partly inspired by an attempt to fill in some of the gaps left open by the Transition program, and so it should come as no surprise that it differs from the Transition program in a great many respects. It doesn’t claim to be a solution to every problem the future might throw our way, and so it’s pretty much guaranteed that there will be things the Transition program covers that the Green Wizard project does not, and vice versa. It doesn’t focus on the creation of resilient communities, but instead of criticizing it for that reason, Hopkins could as well have said that Transition already has that covered, and alternative projects could use their time more wisely by tackling other issues Transition is not well positioned to address – which, again, is what the Green Wizard project is trying to do.

That this wasn’t his response troubles me. That’s not because I think Hopkins ought to accept all the presuppositions behind the Green Wizards project – if he did that, presumably he’d have launched some project like it, instead of the one he did in fact launch – or because I think the Green Wizards project shouldn’t be criticized. As I mentioned toward the beginning of this essay, any idea worth having is worth critiquing, and the skill of learning even from harsh criticism is essential to projects of the kind Hopkins and I are pursuing, each in his own way. Equally, when criticism misses or misunderstands its target, it can be useful to point out where this has happened, and try to clarify the issues under debate. Still, there’s a line of some importance between such responses and the kind of defensive stance that treats any critique as an assault to be repelled, and any alternative project as a potential rival to be quashed.

I don’t think that Hopkins and the Transition movement have crossed that line yet, and I trust they will recognize the risks and stay well back from it. Still, it worries me that recent responses on the part of Hopkins and other people in the Transition movement to criticism have begun to display traces of the defensiveness and the spirit of rivalry to be found beyond that line. I’m thinking particularly of the responses fielded by Alex Steffens’ critique of the Transition movement on his Worldchanging blog. I’m by no means a fan of Steffens, but he raised points that deserve more attention, and a more substantive and less dismissive response, than I feel they received.

Ultimately, though, the way people in the Transition movement choose to respond to its critics is their choice, not mine. Meanwhile, the Green Wizard project is moving ahead. I’m pleased to announce that after many requests from participants in the project, an online forum for aspiring green wizards is live at; a tip of the wizard’s hat to Teresa Hardy and Cathy McGuire for the hard work that made this happen.

I’m by no means sure what the next steps forward will be. This project is barely two months old, and has already expanded and developed in ways that I never anticipated; for the foreseeable future, at least, improvisation is the order of the day. Still, aspiring green wizards and more casual readers alike can expect another exploration of the practical options ahead of us in next week’s Archdruid Report post.


The Onion said...

I'm sure everyone has their own picture of what Green Wizardry will be.

From the get go, I've envisioned Green Wizards as those who will not concern themselves so much with the great debates and politics of decline. Instead I picture Green Wizards quietly going about their business, collecting and conserving knowledge and practical skills for future use.

Our efforts may not pay off until the next generation or even the next after that come of age and hopefully take up the Green Wizard's cap. I see my mission as that of a gatherer and conservator of the knowledge and skills that will be needed by future generations. While I may be able to take certain actions now to save energy, I may not live to see the full realization of our efforts.

Apple Jack Creek said...

I didn't read the Rob Hopkins article (yet) .. but I like the way you chose to phrase your response. :)

I'm one of the people for whom Transition is never gonna be an option - I have sat through more than enough meetings in my life already, thank you so much, and any thought of 'community organizing' makes me queasy. Really, I'd rather just feed my chickens, or putter in my garden and try out new pickle recipes (beans and carrots with garlic, and zucchini with peppers were attempted this week) then tell my friends and neighbours about the stuff I'm doing along with the repeated refrain of "hey, why don't you try it? I'll help if you want."

I'm just more Wizardly than Transitional, I guess. Thank goodness there's room for all of us. Now I'm off to the GreenWizards website to sign up! :)

Brad K. said...


Rob's position seems to me - though he doesn't state it - that he worries about distractions, energy lost following leads that aren't driving and supporting the Transition efforts.

As well, Rob is likely correct, that Green Wizards won't accomplish the goals set for Transition.

I did notice one particular statement of Rob's that felt . . funny. He stated that "I can’t help thinking that the idea that we will see the rapid onset of peak oil and economic collapse, at which point society starts to unravel, and desperately and reverently turns to a few enlightened souls who are fortunately bravely clutching a load of tatty books from the 1970s, and who are then able, from those curled and well thumbed xeroxed pages, to rebuild the world anew, is somewhat naive."

First, I never understood that Green Wizardry was intended to rebuild today's world. Next, I got the impression that in the coming Age of Limits, fragmentation of society and social structure will be more likely than a single, unified social structure ready to recognize and turn to the One True Light to save everyone. It was my impression that we can expect lots of will-he, nil-he unfocused striving to retain, restore, or hijack social power. That would make finding a single solution and applying it usefully, across the nations (or tribes or bands or villages or whatever) would be astonishingly remote.

Where Transition Towns prepare to preserve community structure, autonomy, and governmental functions, I see Green Wizards as helpful neighbors, community "asset" people but on an informal basis. There will likely be a need to focus on character and ethics to assure Green Wizards are due the respect they will need to be accepted and allowed to contribute.

So there you have it, my assessment of Rob's concerns. That is, that Green Wizardry isn't likely to save the social and governmental structure of communities and regions the way Transition Towns intend. And that diverting energy and attention and other resources from Transition Towns is bad.

Ariel55 said...

Dear John,

Thank you for your leadership over the past year or so, for me. You have lent great stability to my gardening efforts, and I like to think that we are facing an uncertain future, but, together! :)

Smith Mill Creek Notes said...

I was one of the first to tweet about Steffen's remark on Transition Towns this spring. It struck me with sadness-- between March 2007 & Dec 2009 I checked Transition Culture and Worldchanging daily; and the Archdruid weekly; often finding them amongst the best essays on the web.*

It feels like a little bit of silo-ization. That said, I'm glad there's debate going on-- I'm nervous about cultures where the community is so fragile that disagreement is seen as potentially blowing the community wide open.

And I'm glad the debate isn't virulent. I'm reminded of the quip that the arguments amongst Trotskyite sects was because the stakes were so small.

But as McKibben's interview on Letterman(!) last night demonstrated, the stakes are not small.

The concept of dissensus is a great one; it bears spreading.
*I guess Copenhagen changed my schedule somehow.

Candee said...

I was rather surprised at the tone of his post also and of the childish pictures used presumably to mock Green Wizardry. Glad of your tone on the matter,and IMHO would not spend any more time on it.
That time and effort would be better used on Cultural Conservers and your other fine pursuits.

Robo said...

I don't know too much about the Transition movement, but it's a waste of time and energy worrying about minor differences when there's so much to be done and so little time.

There is certainly more of a community emphasis with Rob and a bit more of an individualist approach with you, but he's British and you're American. The two national landscapes are quite different physically, culturally and politically. Both approaches are equally valid in their respective contexts. I'm sure a Chinese writer would have a completely different take on these same issues, and would be equally entitled to it.

The important thing to remember is that we're all on the same planet. The more people there are working on informed individual, community or regional solutions to our worldwide problems, the better. You are acting to inform and inspire your readers and so is Rob. My thanks to you both. Keep it up.

John Michael Greer said...

Onion, it's a valid picture! I'd say that anything worth doing, on the large scale of things, won't be completed in the time of a single generation. Certainly the Long Descent is something our grandchildren's grandchildren will still be coping with, so thinking on the long term is pretty much required.

Apple Jack, thank you! Enjoy the forum.

Brad, I suspect you're mostly right. Still, the peevish tone and the misrepresentations concern me. For heaven's sake, if you're going to denounce something, taking the time to be sure you know what you're denouncing is a useful first step!

Ariel, thank you!

Smith Mill, the comment about Trotskyites is uncomfortably close to the bone! Still, I think it's important to foster a sense in the peak oil scene that it's okay to disagree, to have your own opinions and pursue your own projects, and not be told that you have to fall in line in some approved project or it doesn't count.

Candee, I don't plan on pursuing it; his post needed a response, but now that that's out of the way, yes, I have other things on the to-do list!

sofistek said...

I'm not sure why you think climate change impacts will be much further down the line (i.e. towards the tail end of this century or further). I'm pretty sure most climatologists wouldn't be that specific. Some think it's quite possible that tipping points may be reached which hasten climate change but, in any case, climate change is already having an impact as extreme weather events are becoming more extreme, if not more frequent. Individual weather events can never be traced to a cause of AGW but forecasts are for increasing extremes and, in some cases, increasing incidence of extremes. Food prices seem to be heading up, following the drought in Russia. Whether that is down to climate change is unknowable but the impacts of climate change can't really be dismissed so easily.

Fortunately, I think individual (or family) self sufficiency is one way of mitigating the impacts of climate change, at least in some areas.


Jim Brewster said...

One thing that struck me was when Hopkins says, "what green wizardry is definitely not, though, by any stretch of the imagination, is a response to climate change." I have to agree to the extent that a response to climate change is an engineering problem, either at the social, political, or biogeochemical level. OTOH in terms of reducing personal/household carbon footprints, as well as adapting and coping with the fallout of global weirding, green wizardry most certainly can address that.

I wonder if Hopkins fears that a) green wizardry is draining energy away that should be directed into Transition initiatives, or that b) in the future green wizards might be a monkey wrench in some initiatives that rely on unified consensus on a community level.

Huzzah on the launch of! Now there will be less need to hijack the comment thread here!

PanIdaho said...

I am another for whom the Transition Town option will likely never work. I live in one of those type of communities mentioned where Transition Town tactics would go completely against the cultural grain. However, individual self-sufficiency and sharing amongst immediate family and neighbors is not only tolerated, but celebrated. This is why, for me, the Green Wizard approach seems to be my best option for doing my bit to help myself, my family, and in the future, my community get through the tougher times ahead.

Joel said...

This reminds me a lot of The Life of Brian, and the puzzled look on the Roman soldiers' faces as they watched the Judean People's Front and its rivals attack each other.

It also makes me want to track down a copy of Doris Lessing's Prisons We Choose to Live Inside...apparently, she sketches out a strategy for dealing with this human tendency toward ugly schisms.

John Michael Greer said...

Robo, no argument there -- though I know people in Britain who are on the Green Wizard side of whatever fence there may be, and plenty of Americans who are more enthusiastic for community solutions. One of my points is that there has to be space for both, and other options as well.

Tony, I'm simply citing what I've read in works by climatologists. The point I'd make is that the impact of peak oil is already with us right now.

Jim, any movement that demands a total consensus in any human community is far more likely to yield nightmares than solutions. Let's hope that Transition never goes that direction.

Panidaho, same here. I can imagine the reaction of the local folks here in the Appalachians to being asked to sit in a circle and engage in consensus-building exercises!

Joel, why must a serious and meaningful difference of opinion be put down as an "ugly schism"? Rob Hopkins and I disagree on important issues; it's well to have those disagreements aired, so that those who feel drawn to one approach or the other can see the options clearly, and others, comparing them, can either find a middle way or go zooming off in some new and possibly even better direction. I expect both Rob and I to keep on working on our respective projects, and everyone else will have a clearer idea of how those projects differ and why that matters.

BrightSpark said...

A fascinating rebuttal. I had read Rob Hopkin's original comments and was wondering whether you'd devote this weeks post to it. I'm glad you did. Your ecosystem analogy that you use in the Ecotechnic Future is apt here - keeping all possible options open for as long as possible is by far the sanest and most sensible strategy.

I am a planner by profession (whatever that means), and I really don't think that traditional planning can even begin to deal with the problems that we face. It requires too much authority to being with, authority that will become increasingly disrespected in the years to come. It may be at some point down the line (i.e. when the first plateau after the first descent period hits) that we do get sufficient stability to put some old Transition plans in action.

However, the knowledge base to do that will have to come from somewhere else. Me thinks that might be the Green Wizards :)

Luciddreams said...

Very excited about the forum. As far as Rob goes...I read his blog and I too did not like the pictures. If you are going to make fun of something than you should have the balls to make fun of it and not practice the equivalent of speaking under your breath to somebody. Or waiting till they leave the room to start spreading your infectious negativity.

I sort of think of this as a yin/yang thing. Or an introvert/extrovert thing. I would love to be involved in community, but that ain't gonna happen around here where the concept of PO might as well be a unicorn. "You ever heard of Peak oil?" "No, can't says I have," is 99.9% of the time the reply.

Keep on keepin' on John...that's all I've got to say. Thanks for being the bigger person and keeping it mature. It would really suck to watch a project that is this needed go down the crapper cause the man creating it is a child.

LewisLucanBooks said...

One line resonated with me: "There are people, who for one reason or another, are not suited to the work of community organizing." Here!

I'm kind of a hermit-in-waiting. And I think among the Green Wizards there will be plenty of room for hermits and solitaries.

Currently reading: "Of Heards and Hermits; America's Lone Wolves and Submissive Sheep or The American Intellectual as Loner and Outcast" by Terry Reed. That's got to be the longest title in recent memory.

Yvonne Rowse said...

I am British and a regular reader of this blog. I am also on the periphery of the transition movement here in Sheffield. I've delivered newsletters, I take part in the local carbon reduction commitment monitoring through transition and I have attended a number of meetings but, at the moment for me, transition is looking at too big a community. I'm also on the email list for our local neighbourhood group which is full of dedicated people towards the older and more conservative end of my neighbourhood and I respond and feed in about transport & other bigger issues here. My 'real' community work, such as it is, is based around the street party movement, the Big Lunch, promoted by the Eden Project; This has been a way to meet and connect with my immediate neighbours and has worked for me. I can pass on gardening tips and demonstrate resilient behaviour without preaching here. I think my biggest problem is, as someone who was raised in the Methodist church in moving away from this I have lost the little evangelical fervour I had. That said, the churches in my area, though not in any way overtly transition, provide some of the stability, community & resilience needed. Transition is one very useful, high profile movement and I value what it has done in moving the (last) British government to look more seriously at transitioning to a low carbon economy. Good for them! I don't feel that my leanings towards Green Wizardry are taking any of their impetus away.

Lamb said...

I have to admit, I had never heard of Transition Towns before I began reading your blog here.
But, after reading it here, and then going all over the web looking into it, I must admit, it doesn't seem like something that would *work* for me.
You see, I am a sorta conservative, sorta libertarian, sorta anarcho-capitalist (I actually got that result on a *what are your politics* quiz.Still have no clue what it means...maybe I want to buy stuff to blow up?), sorta liberal. I am the polygon peg that fits in no hole, politically speaking.
I do know that I want to have a low carbon foot-print, I want to have a sustainable garden and homestead and I want to contribute to the welfare and knowledge of others that want sustainable lifestyles as well.
I am moving within the next 24 a place I have never been and an ecology I have never had to deal with. Desert gardening will certainly be a challenge and an adventure for me!
Keep the magic of green wizardry going here... it is needed, now, and in the future.
Kudos on the forum. I'll be there!

Blagroll said...

First off, I tip my hat to ya John Michael. A thoroughly positive and unemotional response. Sterling.

That said, I am somewhat sympathetic to Hopkins' (not sure about the apostrophe seetuashawn) efforts on local levels. I feel that local solutions are what we working folk require - not grand macro blueprints that always end up serving the few over the many.

That said, I couldn't or wouldn't follow Hopkins' methodology. It's doesn't suit my temperment nor my world view. I tend to think, by way of analogy, that an atomatistic approach is better. That is, individuals or groups experimenting and finding out their true strengths and weaknesses by pursuing skill based exercises that engage them and, hopefully, contribute to our collective well being.

For an ecology class project, I'm setting up a locally based blog to connect the bee-keepers, iron mongers, canners, independent green grocers, tailors and so on that are the foundation of the primary local economy. If there is sufficient energy transfer and appropiate receptacle uptake between various atoms (skills) new molecules may form which may lead onto other new formations. If not, no sweat. The conditions were not right at this time. (My wee effort to give something rather than to merely take.)

The Green Wizard project, to my mind anyway, points out the efforts may not be immediate and quantifiable, but the energy expended by many people in upskilling will bear fruit in other and unintended ways that we mere mortals cannot chart in our short life spans. And many of us will be eating great tasting food and quantifiably reducing our waste footprints.

Anyhow, back to the seriously fun business of upskilling. First point of order, sign onto the new website.

áris, slán

BrightSpark said...

Oh, and I was going to say, that there is an interesting linguistic shift going on - it once was transition towns, now it's Transition, with a potentially ominous capital letter. Kind of similar to how terrorism became terror. Religions start like that, and I don't think Transition would be a bad one, but the shift is there.

hari said...

Not too much difference between the two really. We might say one is a little pessimistic, the other a little optimistic. One is community focused and right in that communities will inevitably have to change whether they want to or not. The other is individually focused and right in that some people aren't interested in or capable of preparing for the future as a community.

The biggest difference I see is that one movement is big right now and the other is growing right now. One is perhaps a threat and the other perhaps threatened. I could imagine Rob Hopkins being a little taken aback by how JMG speaks of the two movements as equal while one is so much newer and perhaps it would be fair to say less proven than the other. However, for the most part, I think that JMG did a very good job in keeping the tone of everything civil. And I also have to say that I didn't like those silly green wizards pics, that was disrespectful. My take on it was while writing what they wrote, Rob Hopkins was a little scatter brained, and JMG was very clear with himself about what he would and would not say.

In any case, the best thing I've heard from all this ruckus between JMG and Rob Hopkins has been that it's good that, to quote Iaato verbatim, "the descent movements are starting to develop enough weightiness to create the inevitable jockeying".

Pangolin said...

I can't help but think that Transition Towns and "sustainable" colleges and other such noisily visible programs are gimmicks. Like permaculture projects that used heavy diesel equipment they are as realistic as the (plastic)Treehouse at Disneyland.

At some point either the oil or climate situation will force people to look for solutions they can implement with materials at hand. If that happens all the power-point slides and graphics of the Transition/Sustainability conferees will be moot.

The guys who know how to build rocket stoves and cut hoes from cultivating disks will be the ones to know.

sofistek said...


I don't want to start a long discussion about whether climate change impacts (or significant ones, for which we should prepare) are a very long way off, or with us now so I wonder if you could reference a climatologist (preferably more than one, since you implied that it was the opinion of most of them) who claims this. Thanks.

I do agree that peak oil impacts are with us now, though.


austrodavicus said...

Chalk me up as yet another who won't benefit from a Transition Town. We live in an isolated rural area that already had a tiny, spread-out population before the farmers started selling their farms to the timber plantation companies. Now the area is positively empty of people. There simply isn't a town to transition. Green Wizardry is perfect for us, and although so far it has just confirmed the strategies we have put in place for the future, the series has made me think a lot more deeply about they why's of what we are doing, so thanks for that John.

sofistek said...

I wholeheartedly agree that the Green Wizards project is just what we need. Learning to do stuff for ourselves, and simply, is surely the ultimate way to live, whether that is as a hunter-gatherer or as a consumer society drop-out. I anticipate its being rewarding and satisfying, as well as providing a path to support one's family long term, short of catastrophe and rampage.

I'm not so sure that peak oil folk take to it like a duck to water, though. Most seem to look for a tech fix, as far as I can tell.


J9 said...

Hi John,
I read that post yesterday and hoped that you wouldn't see it, but of course you've shown marvellous leadership and expansive thinking in how beautifully you've used it to engage further on the core issues and topics. I wanted to tell you that one of the things about the GW that I enjoy most - is the breadth and depth that you've hinted at and I expect is coming. It will not just be about gardening (although these are skills I'm enjoying learning), and I don't know what else is yet to come ... but for me, the way you handled this situation is a great example of a life skill/worldview/spiritual equilibrium that I aspire to as my own GW process unfurls. Thank you for your voice and please keep teaching.

Cherokee Organics said...


Top work. Constructive criticism is an excellent way to grow. As a society we've moved away from this as people seek not to harm other people's self esteem. It's a trap though.

Some people are simply threatened by different ideas or ideologies. Others have closed minds or are lazy. However, rubbishing others thoughts and opinions with no substantive basis is simply bad form.

I am a little guilty though. I've been involved in committees over the past year without a great deal of experience in the past in this form of communication. At present, I have basically cut ties with them. The problem that I have with committees, is often seen in discussions re global warming. Everyone believes that all opinions are of equal weight and value, and this is simply not true. Actions speak far louder than words.

As a society we lack the tools to be able to filter these opinions or the harshness to allow those people to stand or fall by their actions / thoughts.

Intentional communities often fail for the same reasons because they attract passengers who like the idea, but not the actuality of work.

The attraction for me in the green wizard path is that it involves actual pragmatic and achievable results which will be useful regardless of the outcomes in the future.

The generalists may succeed where the specialists fail.

Good luck!

Cherokee Organics said...


One more thing that comes to mind is that Transition tries to retain a centralised structure whilst what you are trying to achieve is a broad dissemination of ideas, information and technology.

I'd suspect that the Transition movement is threatened as it dilutes their power base. I'm not sure that this is at the top of their thinking, but it is an instinctive reaction among humans in these times.

In terms of our history, humans have been decentralised for far longer than we have been centralised. This to me indicates that it is probably a more sustainable basis for a society. Villages may emerge in the future, but you cannot force them. People have to occupy this village space willingly.

Good luck!

Ranger Man said...

In some ways I see Transition as the idealist approach and Green Wizardry as a more realist approach. Both are equally important. Both must be pursued.

When I look around at people in my community they don't want their perfect little, high energy consuming lifestyles disturbed. I don't see much happening on a community level until people are forced to, and that (unfortunately) will likely come as the result of a catastrophe.

I hope I'm wrong, I'd like to think communities can organize to address the issues, but for the average, everyday American ... I don't see it happening. Not yet.

But when it does, communities will look to Green Wizards to help guide the way.

Pops said...

I've been urging people for over 6 years at to make their own assessment, considering their own skills, their own assets and their own priorities to develop a plan and work it.

Still, I get a lot of grief from people - who understand the situation - but say they aren't cut out for doing what I'm doing or are not quite ready yet, or just need a few more dollars, or, or, or...

Some people are movement types and some aren't - that's a good thing. So don't get caught up in what the TT folks say, or anyone else for that matter. Continue outlining your plan and hopefully you can help someone build theirs.

"Make a Plan and Work it"


MaineCelt said...

Robo's commment about our different geographies is helpful. In most of the UK, with its thousands of villages and its historical emphasis on inculcating its citizens with the uniting greatness of the British Empire, the numbers of folk who experience extreme isolation, either physical or psychological, are very small. U.S. geography, however, still allows for extreme isolation, and our nation's emphasis on "self-made" lives has produced countless strains of rugged individualism. If an American citizen doesn't agree with the folks around them, we have long had the option of hitchin' up and movin' out. The crowded landscape of the UK may not prevent a similar impulse, but it does certainly place strict limits on one's ability to carry it out. Just look what they've done to curtail/destroy the lives of the Travellers, a.k.a. Tinkers.

I'm in rural Maine. I've attended a few Transition Town meetings, but I have to expend a fair amount of fossil fuel to get to the larger population centers where these groups meet. "Transition Towns" are only helpful if there's already a "Town" there in which to make the Transition! Sometimes their programs are genuinely helpful--like the Eric Toensmeier's recent inspiring talk about cold-hardy perennial vegetables. But just as often the topics don't speak to the needs of us homesteader-types out in the sticks. My options for "consensus-building" typically involve my attempts to humbly listen to, and engage more respectfully with, the other (nonhuman) members of my microclimate and bioregion.

That's why we need the resources--and now, the network--of Green Wizardry, which offers us stuff to DO with--or learn from--those sticks amongst which we live, and ways to share knowledge and wisdom with other people who struggle to balance their sense of isolation with their desire to actively engage with the unfolding future.

James Samuel said...

I first read Rob’s post then your response. I couldn’t help but feel a desire to see the two of you in the same room, clarifying your respective points, and coming to a mutual respect for the valuable work each is doing.

Dialogue is something I have long felt has such an important part to play in creating a different sort of future than the conflict-ridden recent history we have witnessed.

Let's talk

Jason said...

JMG: Does that make the two projects mutually exclusive? Not at all; it could as easily be argued that they’re complementary

Indeed; that's the way I take them. I think anyone can ignore Steffen with no great loss, but TT and GW are both interesting. I'm not completely sure I get the big wup here on Rob's part.

Don Plummer said...

Thanks for your fair-minded, well-worded, and respectfully-toned reply. I too was put off by Rob Hopkins' "peevish" comments, most especially the notion that Green Wizardry was some kind of manifestation of smug, arrogant know-it-all-ism.

I also admit that I'm one for whom the Transition approach probably won't be too helpful. I hate meetings! I have read The Transition Handbook and found much to admire in the approach, I cringed over the descriptions of the consensus-building meetings.

In addition, I'm not sure Transition is viable--at least not currently--here in my city. Building community resilience a la the Transition is a great idea, but I wonder if it will work everywhere. We have other kinds of initiatives going on locally.

PS: Am I wrong in saying that we may have observed a nascent revitalization movement on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last weekend? Thinking of what happened there makes me wonder whether building community resilience may be an idea that has arrived too late for many parts of North America.

Robin Datta said...

As the ArchDruid notes the Green Wizard project is not aimed at building resilient communities. That’s the core of the Transition Towns strategy, if I understand Hopkins’ writings correctly,
and the Transition Towns program is certainly one way to go about trying to do that –
though it’s not the only way, and not necessarily the best way in every case.

and The Transition program assumes that the best way to deal with the
impending crises of the future is to organize for resilience on a community level, and it
also assumes that the best way to do this is to produce a discreetly managed
consensus within individual communities, turn that consensus into a plan, and then act
on the plan.

That implicicly places dissensus outside the pale of acceprable norms and is the kernel for future Gestapos, HomeLand Securities, Jihadists, etc.

Indeed as the ArchDruid furtther notes Still, there’s a line of some
importance between such responses and the kind of defensive stance that treats any
critique as an assault to be repelled, and any alternative project as a potential rival to
be quashed.

and recent responses on the part of Hopkins and other people in the Transition movement to criticism have begun to display traces of the defensiveness and the spirit of rivalry to be found beyond that line

The ArchDruid's current post is a response to the essay is which Mr. Hopkins states: "This will not be able to be brought into being purely by communities of course, it will also need local government, national government, and international action."

Wthi the coming of the paradigm shift, such a stance will result in retaining the coterie that claims a right and retains the power to initiate the use of force against the non-compliant. At best it will only shift that claim and power to another group.

There are many traditions that hew to the non-aggression principle, the non- initiation of the use of force, including Buddhism, Jainism, non-dualist Hinduism and ofcourse, Druidry. But to create that mindset is a much greater challenge than Green Wizardry or Transition Towns.

The logical outcome of the principle of the non-initiation of force, the non-aggression principle, is anarchy.

Everyday Anarchy

Practical Anarchy

No other system eliminates a group that claims a right and retains the power to initiate the use of force.

Yupped said...

Thanks for your measured response. I read Rob Hopkins piece the other day and wondered how you would respond. I live in one of those liberal, affluent towns in the North East. Big houses, big Volvos, lots of travel, lots of stuff. Although the town is only a couple of generations away from a less energy intensive, more resilient way of living, its current occupants are not going to go quietly to the compost heap, believe me. If I was good at community organizing, which I’m not, I could probably get twenty of us into a church hall to brainstorm a community plan and listen to a talk on fruit tree grafting. And at some point in the future, when the moment is ripe in wherever I’m living, I may do so. But right now I’d rather spend my time gardening, insulating my home, installing a stove and building a solar shower. I’m still learning, and don’t want to push rocks up hills. And I also believe that community can flow from all of these individual acts, in some way. We didn’t have a top-down plan to build out the Internet, for example, and that seems to have worked out OK.

idiotgrrl said...

I have noticed that a lot of small-scale individual solutions have been routinely dismissed with "That can't possibly work - as a centralized large-scale sole source or whatever." It's as if they can't get their heads out of the GI Generation paradigm of huge centralized nationwide answers to all things.

In fact, the first time I ran across that was in a 1948 novel in which someone from an urbanized culture is waxing romantic about "back to the land" and his critic answers that it can't be done because -- (paraphrased) "Who would make and sell you your tools?" In other words, assuming that everybody would be doing that exclusively. I saw through it then - when I was 10 - and still see through it now, but many people can't.

They simply cannot wrap their minds around "small-scale and piecemeal." Forget them - they're dinosaurs.

darius said...

Onion said From the get go, I've envisioned Green Wizards as those who will not concern themselves so much with the great debates and politics of decline. Instead I picture Green Wizards quietly going about their business, collecting and conserving knowledge and practical skills for future use. and I heartily agree!

Haven't checked the online forum yet; that's next, but I'm glad to read it's up and running. Kudos to Cathy and Teresa!

Robo said...

Come to think of it, there is a monastic quality to the Green Wizard approach, while a Transition Town might well be surrounded by some kind of wall, or perhaps a moat.

Kirk said...

"improvisation is the order of the day". JMG, you've captured the essence of a generation to come. We'll be "makin' it up as we go along" for a long time.

I've been going to Transition meetings for a few months, and realized a while ago that it may be the most important thing I ever do. None of us can live in isolation, no matter how big our bunker is. Helping establish community awareness and avoid some panic and anarchy may be the best legacy I can leave my kids.

I've taken to Green Wizardry because I'm more at home in the woods, and I need to be doing something, not just sitting in a meeting.

Community and individual are linked beautifully through gardening, as pointed out by Scott McGuire at
In the interview he points out that our gardens usually generate excess, which we can give away to neighbors, thereby creating community.

David said...

I read Rob Hopkins' essay at yesterday and was also puzzled by the negative critique of Green Wizardry. Perhaps he is confusing it with American Survivalism? If so, he should stop and think about that for a moment. Local Transition groups in the US would do well to ally themselves with Green Wizards, who would be people more interested in learning how to make and to grow, and also quite willing to teach what they know, than they are in sitting around talking about the need to do it.

I've never read anything in John Michael's books and essays that suggests to readers that they can go it alone with guns, freeze-dried foods, and maybe a solar oven or two.

And Hopkins himself is a Green Wizard. He's been a Permaculture teacher and activist since the 90s. Permaculture is all about appropriate technology and self-reliance.

Transition Towns is very English, even though the first attempt was actually made in Ireland. I don't know if this is true, but perhaps Hopkins doesn't understand that Americans (as Greer has noted elsewhere) don't have local cultures or even a national culture anymore. Corporations have colonized the States with manufactured culture and atomized society into half-crazed consumers, such as yours truly.

I read Greer as encouraging people to become leaders by learning self-reliance (which always demands a social context) and therefore becoming a future resource for the community they live in.

Green Wizardry and Transition Towns fit well together. I don't see where there is any genuine conflict.

Alan Ray said...


When I read your first post describing a "green wizard", I did not say to myself, "This is what I've been looking for." I said,"Finally! A vivid way to describe what I already am!"-- and have been since the mid-90s when I woke up to the converging stresses likely to lead to collapse. So, thank you for that.

For my part, I have begun to document at "The Story of Here" what it means for me to truly inhabit the place where I live and apply green wizardry to life here and now. I look forward to continuing to profit from this conversation, and to contribute to it as I may.

gaias daughter said...

I, for one, find it discouraging that Green Wizardry and Transition Towns aren't being seen as complimentary rather than competitive. I admire Rob as I admire JMG and I find both approaches to be steps in the right direction. The Transition Town movement is geared up to address the issues Green Wizardry does not -- issues such as town ordinances against livestock, zoning laws, public transportation, community gardens, bicycle paths. I, for one, would engage in a Transition Town movement if I had that opportunity. But what Rob fails to recognize is that not every American community is fertile ground for a Transition movement.

So we all do what we can with what we have. We begin on the personal level because that is where we have the power to change things now. And as the decline and fall of business-as-usual becomes more apparent, as deaf ears and blind eyes begin to turn, we will have something to offer to the community, something we can then build upon.

My two bits.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

M, in case you missed it, this was my comment on Rob's page carrying his article:


In a previous post on TAR, John Michael offered a spell — with the essential caveat that you have to know a good deal about handling such things deftly — to keep always at the back of your mind, when estimating what’s the most savvy way to get ready for what’s happening and what’s coming. It was:

“There is NO better future ahead.”

With the critically-essential caveat in mind too, that strikes me as a profoundly right estimate of where we’re going. And with that in mind, JM’s Green Wizard initiative seems to me to be right on the bullseye.

Seekers after wisdom (practical, mucky-handed variety) could do worse than follow JM’s instalment novel ‘Star’s Reach’ too, to get the same insight as given in the spell above, but from a different angle, and with a lot of filling in of the blanks.

Good luck to all Transitioners, and thanks in advance for everything worthwhile that you achieve (and you will!). Without doubt we’ll all travel into the Interesting future together. But my hunch is with the Wizards.


I think Rob boobed a bit with this article. Unnecessary and ill-thought-out. Your response has greater wisdom. And now, I hope, back to the important work.....

SweaterMan said...


I am one of those for whom a Transition Town probably won't work, for a variety of reasons. The largest is that I can sometimes be so danged stubborn and will cheerfully go my own way, thus eliminating the community consensus that would be required for a successful transition town.

In some ways, the concept of the Transition movement seems more than eminently practical. In others, not so practical. For instance, Rob can envision said communities that work together in his transition town method. In theory I could believe it; in practice, I would say that a community with over 1000+ people is going to have a hard go of it, due to the social fractures and fissures that are just so common amongst our species. For communities of a smaller size, this may be a workable method. For crying out loud, I can sometimes have difficulty forming a consensus at a dinner party of a dozen people, regarding even trivial issues! How would I ever expect us to form a consensus about something important!

Thus, I would cussedly go my own way, and have my brandy alone on the back porch. :-)

And that is where the Green Wizardry project comes in. If, as is my wont, I decide to "go my own way" (sometimes) well then I dont want to sit around idling. Well, not all the time at least. Idling has genuine rewards too, although that would take up a whole post for another time. So, if not idling, then the GW project gives me some things to do/try and with feedback from other wizards, refine my attempts, and keeps me busy. And, if I then discover something, I'm glad to go a back to the community and share.

Just got done with a beekeeping class, and now I'll have to find a way to test my allergic response, before I go to the trouble of starting a couple of my own hives. The instructors method - get yourself stung by several bees simultaneously - is only workable for me if I try it in the ER.

Thanks Cathy & Teresa! I registered up this morning!


John Michael Greer said...

Spark, good. That's basically the plan, or part of it.

Lucid, I hope it doesn't come to that.

Lew, I think our culture lost a resource of unsuspected importance when we stopped leaving a place among us for hermits and monks. Those who work in solitude also have their gifts to offer.

Yvonne, thank you! I'm encouraged to see that there are quite a few people who are involved in Transition and also pursuing the Green Wizard project; the fact that they're different in no way makes them incompatible.

Lamb, your definition of anarcho-capitalist pretty much made my morning. Thank you!

Blag, that sounds like an excellent project. As it unfolds, keep us informed on the GW forum; it may be a model other people can use.

Hari, I wasn't too fond of the pictures, either, but de gustibus and all that. I'm not sure the capacity for quarreling is any measure of size, though; I've seen squabbles on an epic scale in some very, very tiny and peripheral groups!

Pangolin, I know the feeling; too often organization becomes an end rather than a means to an end, and making anything else happen gets lost in the shuffle.

Sofistek, I'll have to go dig up my sources. I didn't mean to imply that it was most climatologists; I haven't read a majority of the world's climatologists! It was simply the majority of the writers I've read who discussed global climate change from a scientific, rather than a journalistic or apocalyptic, background. As for ducks and water, all I can say is that the level of excitement this project seems to have sparked has been as unexpected to me as it's been pleasant.

Austrodavicus, thank you!

J9, thank you also.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, bingo. One of my quibbles about any project that focuses on making grand plans is that anybody can make a plan; given a week or so, I could come up with a really exciting, hopeful, forward-looking plan for transforming America into a green democracy poised to lead the way into the ecotechnic future, complete with color brochures. At the end of the day, what would that have done? Nothing. It's when you get down to actually making something happen out there in the real world that you get into what matters.

Ranger, I think more than anything else, green wizards need to lead the way by example. It's not a matter of lurking in the shadows until everybody else realizes you're right, as Hopkins insisted; it's about living a life that works in the midst of a dying system, so that other people can see that there are other options, and choose to follow those if that appeals to them.

Pops, good. "Make a plan and work it" is sage advice. I'm also reminded of Ernest Thompson Seton's rules for woodcraft: "Where you are, with what you have, right now."

MaineCelt, you know, the idea of building consensus with the nonhuman environment may be the best use of consensus I've yet encountered.

James, it would be an interesting conversation, that's for sure.

Jason, I don't think Steffen should be ignored, either. I think he's dead wrong, but he also has something to offer the conversation, and his comments raised a couple of points I think deserve to be faced in the peak oil scene generally.

Don, I think you're quite correct. The current surge in right-wing populism -- it's inaccurate to call it "conservatism," as it's not trying to conserve anything that actually exists -- is well on its way to morphing into a revitalization movement of the classic type; the question is simply what they decide they have to do to achieve the state of purity that revitalization movements always think will bring Utopia down from heaven.

Robin, well, that may be so, but making it happen is quite another matter, and keeping it in place for more than about six weeks is something else again.

Yupped, that's an intriguing metaphor -- though of course there was one heck of a lot of money available for building the internet, and that's not likely to be the case for green wizards!

Grrl, the problem with small-scale and piecemeal is that people don't often get excited about it, and people like to be excited. I think that may be one of the things the Green Wizard project has in its favor: being a wizard is exciting enough that it makes up for the unromantic moments of digging garden beds and messing with recalcitrant caulk guns.

Darius, by all means check it out. They've done an excellent job.

Mohnton man said...

JMG-I've been reading your blog for a few months now and appreciate your work. You try to focus on the small steps we each can take, recognizing that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Keep up the good work.
I have a request of you in your spiritual role. Next week I begin a shut down for the month of September at a nuclear power house. (standard refueling)I hate these things, away from the things important to me, family and children, garden and cattle, but I have only had perhaps 30 days of work this year. Can you pray for safety in travel and work for those involved with this? Thank you.

John Michael Greer said...

Robo, we'll be talking about that down the road. Monasticism is the one form of lifeboat community that consistently works; the only thing about it that makes it unacceptable to most people nowadays is that pesky vow of poverty -- which is actually what makes the whole thing work. More on this later.

Kirk, an excellent point.

David, neither do I. There are differences, but as ecology teaches us, the more diversity, the healthier the whole system.

Alan, I've heard from a number of people now who found "green wizard" a good label for what they were doing already. That's encouraging!

Daughter, good. I suspect that not every British community is fertile ground for a Transition movement, either -- just as not everyone is cut out to be a green wizard. The more diversity, again, the better.

Rhisiart, I did see your comment -- diolch yn fawr for that.

SweaterMan, there are a lot of people whose talents would be wasted or worse in a movement that focuses on meetings and consensus. Part of the point of the GW project is to provide some starting points for those people -- the loners, the eccentrics, the lateral thinkers, the ones who like to go their own way. They have much to contribute if allowed to do it in a way that works for them, whether or not it works for a movement.

John Michael Greer said...

Another reminder to all: if you try to post something and you get a Google screen that tells you your post was too large, it's lying; please don't keep on trying to post it. I got six copies of one person's post in the inbox this morning.

John Michael Greer said...

Mohnton man, I'll gladly do that, and I'd like to ask anyone else who feels inspired to do so to join me in that.

straker said...

"We didn’t have a top-down plan to build out the Internet, for example, and that seems to have worked out OK."

While the network operates in a decentralized way, the internet itself is a creation of the cold war military industrial complex.

straker said...

"Oh, and I was going to say, that there is an interesting linguistic shift going on - it once was transition towns, now it's Transition, with a potentially ominous capital letter. Kind of similar to how terrorism became terror."

Oh, please... This is kind of like Rush harping on Obama's middle name.

Michael Dawson said...

I didn't get Hopkins' piece, either. Seems to me Green Wizarding is pretty compatible with a range of larger movement-level efforts, or with none at all. Personally, I'm a socialist who still retains hopes of running a progressive state or network of states.

And I've certainly never felt that JMG's project was targeted against Transition efforts, or anything else. As you say, let a hundred flowers bloom is the rather obvious message here.

Matt and Jess said...

I follow your blog and read your books because your approach to and analysis of our predicament seems to make the most sense to me. I'd joined the transition towns website and attempted to attend a few meetings but the approach seemed very off to me. Then I read "The Long Descent" and it all made perfect sense. I could try to be polite to them but ... nah, TT just didn't work for me. And I don't know why they criticize -- surely it can't matter to them that you're teaching AT skills. I mean, someone could be a TT participant and still learn what you're teaching. Why waste the time critiquing unconstructively? It's very silly.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Cherokee Intentional communities often fail for the same reasons because they attract passengers who like the idea, but not the actuality of work.
Been there, done that - I totally agree! And that's why Transition Towns will never work for me - I am now an intense skeptic about consensus and committees -- there are too many narcissists out there! And I agree society has lost some ability to discern which opinions have more weight based on experience and/or actions that mesh with the opinion. The balance went too far toward "equality" and "diversity" - If I'm on a sinking boat, I will be paying attention to the opinions of an experienced seaman, not the choir director sitting beside me! ;-}

Glad to see a lot of you over at the forum - it's shaping up to be very educational!

Thanks, JMG, for starting it, and thanks for keeping this blog on a sensible, level-headed note.

Matt and Jess said...

And I should add that I've picked up a 70's copy of "The Organic Gardener" by Foster, "Wind and Windspinners" by Hackleman (70s as well) and Odum's ecology book, and I can't wait to get started with them :) We're going to be living in an apartment until we move next year, so this Green Wizardry course is perfect for the coming winter as a base of knowledge. Hooray for cooperative, yet self-paced learning!

galacticsurfer said...

Leading by example people will convert as they see you are right slowly but surely. Low energy will become faddish and popular. Whatever works best will win out. FEco-reaks will become cool.

tom rainboro said...

I like this post! Firstly I think that to take a non-confrontational approach was entirely correct. Secondly I am SO glad to see a focus on the attitude of the TT leader. I hope many will continue to keep an eye on this. The use of the children's toy picture was very typical and revealing.
Being English, I'm always interested in the comparison of UK and US cultures. I think that both can be good at collective projects but go about them in different ways (we fund them by taxes for instance!). I think the Americans often can't grasp the historical continuity here. This evening, for instance, if I go out for a drink it will be to a village pub built in the 13th century of cob (mud) with a thatched roof (straw).Nothing particularly unusual about that in Devon - but fairly uncommon in the US? The English village, up to
100 years ago, used to be a wonderful model of a self-sufficient community with all its own craftsmen using local materials and a market town within 15 miles. So for me this idea is both a vision of the future and a
very real reflection of the past. I think that any TT type movement in England will be affected by this past.
As ever I seek guidance from Monty Python - "JMG - you are NOT the Messiah! RH - you are NOT the
Messiah! We are all individuals!" Best wishes to all.

James Samuel said...

Hi John,

If you'd like I'm confident I could organise a conversation.

We could have a three way skype chat.

I have some training in facilitation and a deep empathy for both of your work. Let me know? I'd be honoured.

In service,


rsuusa said...

Not sure I'll ever be much of a green wizard and my survival plan, if that's what it is, focuses on skills I already have (gathering, fishing, small game hunting, and being satisfied with next to nuthing)but I am a great fan of the Green Wizard project anyway. Green wizardry is practical and simple and can be done with things already on hand. I actually have some of these "tatty books from the 1970s" and the knowledge contained therein is simple adaptable and useful in a very immediate way. Long live the green wizard and may he be lucky enough to live in a transition town as well!

joanhello said...

Smith Mill Creek mentioned the Trotskyites, but this kind of intra-movement bickering was also characteristic of the early stages of many movements that went on to a significant degree of success. Last February there was a memoir of the Civil Rights years, quoted in the newspaper, that described the infighting in Martin Luther King's organization, mainly because each arm of the group was trying to do a big job with scarce resources and therefore tended to regard all the others as competitors for those resources. Maybe in sixty years you and Mr. Hoskins will be regarded similarly, as a band of saintly heroes who always acted and spoke harmoniously, and only those of us who were there will remember what a messy, contentious beginning this movement had.

Kevin Anderson K9IUA said...

I don't consider Green Wizardry versus Transition Towns as an either/or, as I don't believe you do, JMG. It is sad, however, when others do see it that way, as one or other, and don't believe all solutions are needed.

Over on the Yahoo Group RunningOnEmpty2, there has been a discussion going on for about two weeks now under the general subject line of "Sustainable Society" that lately has been essentially a discussion of individual versus community solutions. Unfortunately the main discussants have become polarized, with apparent no hint of either side wavering on their stance. There are those who only want to care about themselves or their immediate family, and there are those who only want or believe in a community-based shared option. No doubt the discussion will continue, but it won't change any of the parties who are speaking out, although it might convince someone new to the topic or sitting on a fence to lean one way or another.

I don't know enough about the Transition Town/community approach to criticize it other than it seems to lack action. I am normally sympathetic to community-based or collective decisions and implications, but I also see all the energy of the 12 steps being taken up with identifying partnerships and options. The 13th step is action or implementation, but I don't see how the TT movement makes that happen in the end. And I worry about the time involved. Transition's 12 Steps may generate the collective plan, but will the process of getting there also make people want to implement that plan? I have my doubts.

I see the Green Wizard as not an individual's solution to survival (although it might be), but the training for people to be that resource person within the community to make things happen, or at minimum offer ideas and help. Kind of like a resource librarian who is ready to offer help. Or training people for their particular role in that community of people adapting to the changes. Or the person that shows through example.

Both/and, not either/or.

Twilight said...

Movement? Well, I hope not, as movements make my skin crawl and I am not a "joiner". I'm not sure why people need to have a name and group to belong to. Can we not just be people who share common concerns and interests, and use these tools to share knowledge? We are already part of the local communities we live in - must we join something else?

I was a little concerned about the green wizards name from the beginning, as I was afraid it would attract that kind of sentiment (as was our host, I believe). This is good example of why. There is a fairly small group of people communicating on the internet, focused around a small number of web sites (and directly too), and this forms a community of sorts. It already has social conflicts (like this one) that distract from the work at hand.

Today's response was thoughtful and well done. On the other hand, I did not learn much today.

Learn. Do. Share.

Andy Brown said...

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy said a lot of smart things, but that wasn't one of them. The idea that we should all be doing things "the best way" is a hard idea for people to shake. I think it is perhaps the most difficult thing to teach people about sustainability: the absolute necessity of diversity - including a whole lot of "inefficient", "sub-optimal", and even "mal-adaptive" forms. After all, when conditions change (and they always do) it is usually out of that reservoir that adaptation happens. Humans may think they've transcended the normal patterns of evolution, and that we can plan and just re-invent ourselves out of any cul de sac, and I'm afraid that could be a fatal misapprehension.

Joel said...

>Joel, why must a serious and meaningful difference of opinion be put down as an "ugly schism"?

Sorry, that I guess I didn't choose my words carefully enough. You're right that this is a polite disagreement, despite being serious and meaningful.

I intended to point out a human tendency for outsider groups to take offense at differences of opinion among similar groups, and to work very hard to establish distinctions among themselves.

In fact, a big part of the danger here might be to mis-interpret efforts toward distinction as something ugly or threatening. Thanks for speaking against that!

But here's how I saw that instinct manifesting itself, around the edges of your and Rob Hopkins' good manners and restraint:

Each of you described seeing your vision mis-characterized by the other. It seems to me that the two of you had felt you were both part of a shared vision, and the two of you together are struggling to get clarity about what each of you really think, both about the larger issues and about each other's opinions on those issues. A better word might be "tangled," for what I tried to convey about this tendency with the word "ugly."

streamfortyseven said...

I'd been going to a local Transition Towns meeting for about a year, and then we decided to stop doing it, because outside of the 4 or 5 people who were involved, we could find no one else interested. I live in Kansas, and usually what happens is that things get atomized, organizations blow apart, people get sick of going to three-hour-long meetings which accomplish nothing.

Organizations tend to be the outgrowth of the leader's ego; followers are solicited at first, but then comes time to do the real work, and the leader ends up doing it all alone, and the organization dissolves soon after.

Cities here tend to be tremendously unresponsive to this sort of thing, too, they'll form advisory committees who spend years working out elaborate policies and plans of action which are routinely discarded. One medium-sized city's Bicycle Advisory Board managed, after four years of hard effort, to get a bicycle lane designated along four blocks of a city street, next to a line of parking spaces. The Transition Movement is really premature for Kansas, we'll have to wait for a real crisis, gas prices going over $6 per gallon, truckers going out of business, and local stores not getting restocked, for anything to happen on a community basis.

One of the things we've seen with the Transition Movement in the US is its commercialization, offering "Transition Trainings", with certified "Transition Trainers" for $200 per person for two six-hour days (some more $$, some less). Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we're in a recession, and the people selling these courses and suchlike may see the Green Wizard bit as competition for market share, and are reacting in that manner. At this point I've got strong doubts about both the New-Age-y commercialization of Transition, and its applicability and timeliness here in the US.

John Michael Greer said...

Straker, while the internet certainly drew on the resources of the US military-industrial complex, it evolved in a remarkably ad hoc manner, without any particular intention to make a global network -- so the point stands.

Michael, to give Hopkins his due, I've criticized some aspects of the Transition movement in detail in a couple of earlier posts, in the hope that the criticism might be useful both to people in the movement and those outside it. It seems unfortunately that those critiques may have been interpreted as attacks.

Matt and Jess, thank you. I haven't read the Hackleman book -- be sure to post a review of it on the forum when you get a chance. Also of the others, of course.

Cathy, a good point; the notion that all opinions are created equal is not necessarily a useful one. Thanks for your hard work on the forum!

Surfer, commendably Darwinian.

Tom, a 13th century pub would be a bit unusual in the US! The city where I was born had its first white settlers arrive in the 1840s; the house where I spent much of my childhood was built on land that, fifty years previously, had been a forest. With bears in it. Remember that the difference between our two nations is that Americans think a hundred years is a long time, and Britons think a hundred miles is a long distance.

James, I'm far from convinced it would be the best thing right at the moment. Don't push the river.

Rsuusa, those are good skills.

Joanhello, if anybody remembers me as a saintly hero, I'll rise from my crypt and bop 'em a good one.

Kevin, exactly -- and with plenty of room for other options besides.

Twilight, I can't guarantee a learning experience from every post, but you may be pleased to know that we'll be back to brass tacks next week.

Andy, good. We have a motto in the Druid scene: "There ain't no such thing as the One True Way."

Joel, it's possible that Hopkins thought we were part of a shared vision. I didn't and don't, and have been trying to articulate my own vision as a distinct thing since this blog got started -- thus my sometimes short temper with commenters who insist I ought to agree with one or another form of the conventional wisdom.

Stream, good gods. Can you document that about the $200-a-pop "Transition trainer" trainings, and perhaps post a link here? That redefines the situation considerably, and not for the better.

Abe Karl-Gruswitz said...

Could this be a situation like what the Democratic Party did to Ralph Nader? There's the intentional communities, then there's Transition Towns, then along comes a third party candidate.

PanIdaho said...

Well, after reading Stream's post, I got curious, and this is what I was able to turn up in just a few minutes of poking around...

$195.00 per person for those two


Training to become an Energy Resiliance Consultant. Fee is £260 per attendee


This webinar appears to be free.


Training for Transition - how to set up and run a transition initiative. This is what they say about fees on the page.


We're aiming for £100-£110 for the two days. If you can't afford this, then perhaps others in your Transition group can make up the shortfall. A number of full or part bursaries are always available on every course, our aim is to make this two day workshop available to everyone regardless of their financial means."


This is just a teaser course, and charges $45, but you can also register for the full two-day course for $225 (in 2009)


Just FYI since there was a question of what was being offered and charged for the TT Training seminars.

John Michael Greer said...

Abe, I really hope that's not it.

Panidaho, thanks for these details. Unless there's some reason why the cost of putting on these seminars is high enough to justify such fees, this is very troubling. It smacks rather of turning other people's idealism into a moneymaking scheme. If that's what's going on, I'm going to have to reconsider a number of future plans and draw some hard lines I'd hoped not to have to draw.

James Samuel said...

Hi John, far from pushing the river - trust me that's not my style :-) I was more sensing an opportunity for two important servants of a brighter future (than the one we wil get if we don't actively participate in designing it) to share ideas, and acknowledge the common ground - rather than focus on the differences.

.. perhaps even to demonstrate that differences of opinion and approach are healthy and necessary elements in a thriving diverse ecosystem - whether that be a forest, a culture, or a response to challenges.

Unity in diversity. Feel free to skype me anytime @jmsinnz

That's all from me for now, lest I am misunderstood as being pushy.

Lance Michael Foster said...

hi JMG, I noticed my post was up for a while, then it disappeared. Did it go away for a reason? Did I say something I shouldn't have?

Lance Michael Foster said...

PS. Of course Transition Towns is in large part a money-making scheme, the same as Permaculture, and most stuff. That's why Rob acted so defensively. That's why I talked about the whole consumer/corporate mindset. I thought everyone knew that already.

John Michael Greer said...

James, I don't do skype -- I'm sufficiently out of the tech loop that email is enough of a challenge! -- but thanks for the offer.

Lance, sorry for not posting something -- I've been hopping from here to the forum to emails from the moderation team and back again. I let it through without reading it, and then had to yank it for profanity. Remember that this blog goes to schools and the like that have age-appropriate filters! If you'd like to repost without the profanity, it will certainly get put through.

As for Transition as a moneymaking scheme, er, "everybody knows" isn't evidence, you know. I've set some inquiries in motion. We'll see.

Jon Storvick said...

John, thank you for another great post. As an individual involved in permaculture design, I've seen TT pushed in an almost proselytizing manner by many folks who frequent the same scene. After reading Rob's book, I've formulated the following opinions (not "conclusions" as it were, my models are always subject to future revision):

TT is great - as ONE possible method of building more sustainable communities.Doubtless, there are many other ways to do similar things - or completely different things. There are some good ideas there, but they are by no means applicable to every community, to every situation, or to all individuals. Personally, I find that the TT movement does not speak to me as an individual nor fit the reality of the community in which I currently reside. This does not mean that TT should be dismissed out of hand - rather that it should be considered by individuals and communities as one possible path out of many.

One of the earlier commenters said something about not being a "joiner." - I can sympathize with that completely. For that reason, I'm skeptical about aligning myself with a "movement" (TM) - and communities should be as well. While TT may offer some good suggestions, I do not believe it should be considered the be-all and end-all of sustainable community development, as many folks seem to think that it is. I think individuals and communities should figure out for themselves the particular strategies they want to take.

This is why, while I also think it has left out some important things, I like the Green Wizard approach - while it offers some guidelines, it seems much more decentralized and individualistic in its approach. I appreciate the ideas you've shared with us, and am eager to hear more. Cheers!

das monde said...

Intentionally or not, this post highlights evolutionary aspect of decline survival projects. Any a priori devised scheme would certainly not be complete. Knowledge of previous movements is already serving JMG well. More of that kind of knowledge is needed, not less.

Evolution seldom offers all encompassing and ever sound solutions. But anything available is employed for even temporarily survival or adaptation. A collapse will pressure for many temporary adaptations (and temporarily does not necessarily mean self-destructive), thus even flawed practices could be helpful enough at some times. Both town or community structures and expert wizards are needed as adaptation resources.

So most ideas are worth both criticizing and supporting. Instead of guessing what will work or not, many things should be rather tried out. The obsessions like “it will not solve all problems”, “mine idea is better” will be a misplaced item in any long or short descent. There is enough agreement already here.

Andrew MacDonald said...

Appreciation for the weekly report and the great comments. Special thanks to JMG for saying a year or so ago that what we need is a radical relocalization. I agreed and renamed my fledgling site on building local community to It has some legs and thanks for the inspiration.

Much of my local focus has centred around face-to-face meetings: a same-tie-each-month local meeting to allow exploration of possibilities, a weekly "skills exchange" column for six months or so, that worked around mini-workshop sharings. The good news here was that the web of connections meant that many more interconnections happened with a steep increase in social glue: visiting gardens, canning together, exploring ideas that can support more "relocalistas" in our community. New and deeper friendships.

And when I became separated I was able to stay in the community thanks to the "social glue" and found an awesome property to do my green wizarding. I'm off grid and learning.

I'm also a active Transition Town member in a part of Ottawa where I used to live and still do some cash work. My main observation is that, here anyway, the real costs of building the new are soft-pedalled out, and few folks are actually making personal change on the ground. Most fail to grasp the extent of our predicament.

Bill Pulliam said...

Took me a while to get caught up on this whole discussion at both sites...

I won't repeat much of what has already been said; it seems the commentors on both postings have a much better sense of the situation here than Hopkins does. To me JMG's approach has felt more aligned with things like the extension service, master gardeners, etc. -- people who accumulate knowledge, skills, and resources so that these things will be extant and available in their communities whether someone wants them tomorrow or in a hundred years. How this is supposedly at odds with The Transition Movement (tm) is hard for me to see. I suspect the people who might chose not to go to the Transition (tm) meetings and instead opt pursue something like what JMG suggests are not likely to go to the Transition (tm) meetings anyway, no matter what.

Since it has been brought up, I have to say again that the money side of all this is indeed bothersome. Our local Transition (tm) group has been melded with the Financial Permaculture (tm) movement. One of the tag lines I have recently found from the Financial Permaculture (tm) people is "Profits for a prosperous planet!" That just scares me. We know all too well what effects the profit motive tend to have on organized activities; improved environmental and sociological health are not generally on that list. Charging money to train people so they can then charge money to train other people is a scheme with a name that brings up associations with Egypt (no, not that big river).

By the way, JMG won't get the sarcastic (tm) tag added to the end of "Green Wizarding" unless he starts charging substantial sums for training classes that offer "official" certifications. Book sales and speaking fees are a different thing, that's just ordinary compensation for services rendered, nothing pyramidal about it.

darius said...

Twilight made a good point:

"Today's response was thoughtful and well done. On the other hand, I did not learn much today."

Don Plummer said...

I am having troubles setting up an account at the Green Wizards site. It asks me to put in my e-mail address and then submit, after which a password is supposed to be sent to my e-mail account. I have tried twice and have received no password in my mail. I checked my spam filter to see if it might be deleting it a spam, but the setting is supposed to put "suspected spam" into a separate folder, not delete it. The password isn't even showing up in the spam filter.

The same thing is happening on the Energy Bulletin site, and neither site has any technical support that I could find or e-mail address that I could use to contact someone. So that's why I'm posting it here.

Can anyone help?

John Michael Greer said...

Jon, that's pretty much along the lines of my own take. As far as the Green Wizards program, though, of course it leaves things out -- it's not intended as a solution to everything. Just as one tool isn't going to be a good hammer and a good saw at the same time, one strategy won't answer all needs.

Das Monde, you get today's gold star; very well put. While the evolutionary dimension wasn't in the forefront of my mind in this post, it undergirds pretty much everything I'm trying to do. Maximum diversity in the early stages of a selection process is how nature does things -- see the Burgess shale for examples -- and it's a good model to follow.

Andrew, thank you! Those sound like very useful models to follow. As for the costs of building out a new future, yes, I've seen that too, almost everywhere. Very few people want to deal with just how difficult this transition is going to be.

Bill, thanks for this. As for the possibility of the Green Wizards project being turned into a moneymaking scam, I'd say this: the only person who can make you a green wizard is yourself, and the only way you can do it is to get out there, learn green wizardry, and put it into practice. I can promise you that neither Merlin nor Gandalf had a certificate from some institute or weekend workshop!

As far as I am concerned, the only costs anyone should have to pay to become a green wizard are those involved in buying books, tools, and raw materials, and maybe for taking classes from somebody who can teach hands-on practical skills. Oh, and if somebody wants to buy me a beer and listen to me blather, that's certainly welcome!

I'm aware that there will doubtless be people who are already thinking about how to cash in on this project. If any of those people are reading this, let them be warned: the Druid tradition has an ultimate, awful weapon for use in such cases:


By the time I get through with them, little children will point at them on the street and giggle, and their parents will be dusting off all those old Dan Quayle jokes to put a new name on them. Those who think I'm kidding may learn otherwise the hard way...

Twilight said...

darius - I guess John probably had to post a response, and he did so with typical eloquence and restraint. And in fact I was wrong - I did learn something, or at least have something reinforced: complex social interactions and obligations can get in the way of accomplishing things. Such complex interactions are why I don't believe our society will produce much in the way of a useful response to the predicaments we face, even though there are a great many things that technically could be done. Which is also an illustration of why things like TT don't remotely interest me, and why the ideas John has promoted do. There is no need to delay, every one of us is more capable than we may realize, even with one foot still stuck in the society of today. Learn things every day and practice them at earliest opportunity - partly to help today, but mostly so you can pass them forward. I can do that with a fair expectation of accomplishing something worthwhile, whereas I do not feel that way about trying to turn and change existing social organizations.

thestormcrows said...

Transition Town US definitely is,in part, about money making. Bringing trainers to your area costs $2000 for 2 trainers and it is required (see the criteria section)that any group forming an initiative have at least 2 core members go through the training at a cost to them of $200-$250 dollars each.

Additionally ,the host is required to collect $20 from each of the participants (22 people min.)and send it to the parent organization TransitionUS in California.

Below is a quote from the following link:

"Costs for Training for Transition

Our training fee which is for two trainers for two days is based on a sliding scale depending on the number of participants, plus travel and accommodation expenses. For 20-22 participants, our fee is $2000, or $500 per trainer per day. For more than 22 participants, we work out an arrangement to share the net income of each additional student with the local organizer. This rapidly increases the pool of funds that the local organizer can use for reimbursement of their time, scholarships, or donations to local groups.

To support building the Training Network and the evolution and growth of Transition Trainings the local organizer collects an additional $20 from each full paying participant and sends that to Transition US at: PO Box 917, Sebastopol, CA 95473."

Abe Karl-Gruswitz said...

JMG, I'd love to hear your comments on the classic essay by the feminist Jo Freeman written in 1970 -

I think that TT suffers from the tyranny of structurelessness. They describe their Training 4 Transition workshops as not "training" as in they are going to tell you want you need to know, but more of a "get on the train" approach. My take on that is that it is more a club, but without a group decision-making process. They have to go back to their leader for advice from time to time. GW doesn't touch how to organize a community much. Maybe the GW site will be more simply a place of sharing info than anything else. I think there is something really positive in that. People with different thoughts on community organizing can take from the same resources that way. Still, I'd love to hear more from you on the importance of community organizing.

skintnick said...

JMG: I think the key thing about Transition, which coincides with your desire for multiple adaptations to an unknown future, is that every Transition Town is unique - it's not as prescriptive as you assume (evidenced by the variety of responses provoked by this superficially rather petty exchange). You and RH have both been inspirational in my 2 year journey on the path to being an apprentice Green Wizard in transition.

Viva la difference. I will stick with both of you despite apparent (and non-contradictory) differences in emphasis.

Cathy McGuire said...

Sharon Astyk weighes in on the debate at:

I Can Save the World Better Than You, Nyah Nyah!: A Short History of the Peak Oil Movement and Reflections on Wizards, Transition and the Interstices of Reason

Her essay is actually much more rational/neutral than the title suggests. Like any good essay, it
can't be summarized in a sentence or two.

PanIdaho said...

Dear ADR Readers,

A few new users on the Green Wizard Forum have had their notification emails go astray, preventing them from logging in and using their new accounts. I have placed the following in the Forum Q & A, and am also posting it here so folks who haven't seen it yet will know what to do should this happen to them.

Q. I just registered, but I didn't get a notification email. What do I do now?

A. If you have a spam filter, you should first check there. If you still don't see a notification email, then email greenwizardforum at gmail dot com and the system admin will set a temporary password for you so you can log in. Be sure you email from the same account that you used to create your registration so your identity can be verified, and don't forget to include your user name in your message so we can find you in the list. After you log in, you can then change your password.


Hope this helps!

sofistek said...

I suspect that Rob Hopkins has movemented himself into a corner. The transition movement is now worldwide and, who knows, there may even be people whose livelihood depends on the movement.

He will be highly resistant to altering his approach and views because of the transition movement inertia.

That doesn't mean he is wrong, only that he probably now has a subconscious resistance to criticism, especially that which might suggest to him that his is the wrong approach. I therefore wonder if he's now having doubts and this is his way of trying to erase those doubts.


Smith Mill Creek Notes said...

Rob Hopkins has some more (conciliatory) remarks on this at
the end (3 Sep 10:20am)) of

You can find comments on this debate (exchange? volley? piffle-whiffle?)
by Sharon Astyk

by Erik Lindberg

(And I'd like to thank Bart Anderson, assisted by
Kristin Sponsler) for running a website
that's introduced me & so many other folks to Greer & Hopkins, these two articles, and so many other ones over the years).

And regardless of whether you'd like to do Transition or Wizard practical relocalization outreach, the Oct. 10th global day of workparties is not that far away:
1600 workparties in 135 countries

Natimukjen said...

Ii think this bickering between you and Rob Hopkins needs to stop. Its counter productive. I think you should both stop even referring to each others programmes. I love reading both of you points of view and it distresses me that you have both got caught up in trading lengthy refutations instead of getting on with the job. We all have a lot of work to do, and anyone new to Transitions Towns or Green Wizardry will see such arguments as an excuse to go back to sleep - just as climate scientists arguing over the finer points of just when the Himalayan glaciers are going to melt is used as an excuse by people not to give climate science much credence. Please write another post about doing useful things and leave Rob Hopkins to get on with what he's doing as he sees fit

The Onion said...

I have only just today read the original Hopkins article on Energy Bulletin. The one point he made that I really disagree with strongly is the image of Green Wizardy sitting around smugly awaiting the collapse so that it can say 'Ah ha! Now you'll need me!'

I don't think so, because Green Wizardry works as soon as you collect a bit of information that may be useful in the future, but put it to use for yourself now.

It works when you hear someone complain about their energy bill and you say 'I can help you save money by conserving, let me tell you what I did.'

It works because I don't have to present a lecture to people on my ideology in order to be of practical use to a community. They needn't even hear the words Green Wizard for it to be effective.

I don't think JMG has claimed to reinvent the wheel, but he's given us something to organize around that doesn't require a huge commitment of time to political activism. I have no interest in that. I have interest in putting things to use for myself first and passing that knowledge along, whether for free or in trade.

I feel Green Wizardry works because I can go off on my own, collect and put into practice these things and never look at this blog again and still be effective in making small changes.

John Michael Greer said...

Twilight, thank you.

Crows, that does seem like a lot of money; still, I'd have to know more about what's actually being provided to attendees.

Abe, I'm very familiar with the Freeman essay, and also with the phenomenon that she discusses. In my experience, the attempt to run a group "without structure" simply means that the hierarchy controlling the group remains covert, and thus exempt from checks and balances. As for community organization, that's an extraordinarily complex topic which would need to be discussed at much more length than this comment thread will permit!

Skintnick, if it works for you, by all means. My core point is simply that there has to be room for alternatives.

Cathy, glad to hear it. Thanks for posting this!

Tony, well, we'll see.

Smith Mill, "exchange" is the word I'd use. Good to hear that the work party thing has taken off so well!

Natimukjen, I'll make my own decisions about what I do and don't discuss on this blog, thank you. If all you can see in it is bickering, I don't think you're paying attention.

Onion, thank you for getting it.

John Michael Greer said...

Greetings all,

For some reason a bunch of posts I put through earlier today got eaten by Blogger or something. If you tried to post something this morning or afternoon and it hasn't appeared, please give it another try.

straker said...

Regarding Transition as a moneymaking scam...

I had just the same reservations before I went. But I felt different by the end of it.

First off, they explained, and I agreed, that by having to pay to go to a transition training course, only those who are really motivated will show up. You don't want people there who are not serious about doing something afterwards. Also, I can say that the people who put on these training sessions are not rich. Tina Clarke for instance drives around in a battered 3-Cyl Geo Metro and I don't think she even holds a regular job aside from stuff like this. If you've been to a TT you'd see how demanding it is of the trainers to speak for two long days almost nonstop, and to cover some really heavy topics.

They are kind of like Jimmy Stewart in Mister Smith Goes to Washington. It's a real marathon.

Also, I have a good friend in Maine who had his whole trip to Chinatown subsidized. The Trainers often pick certain people out for extra help for one reason or another, and they sometimes do followup work. This occured recently in Putney, VT.

I think anyone who goes through the Training course is much better equipped to start a Transition group than someone who merely reads the handbook. It's also incredibly powerful to sit in a room of 20 people from the area who are into peak oil. In the process of 2 days I felt that I bonded with everyone in the room. When all else fails, you will have developed, if not local, then regional contacts in the meat-space which means a lot if all you had before were nameless people on the internet.

MisterMoose said...

I have nothing against the Transition Town concept, and would agree that it is much better than doing nothing, but my experience with organizations leads me to believe that it may not turn out as well as its proponents would like for a variety of valid reasons. Many of the clubs, committeess, and organizations I've ever belonged to have ended up in acrimony, side-choosing, schisms and hurt feelings. Maybe it's just the nature of human nature, or at least the nature of the kind of people who try to organize things, but even in groups where everyone ostensibly has the same goals there will be dissent and power grabs and all kinds of unproductive game-playing. Endless meetings are the least of it. The meetings that end badly are even worse. Well-intentioned people end up drifting away, and even if the original group achieves its original goals there is often a lot of wasted energy.

It's impossible to know enough to be able to predict the future or run an economy (which is one reason why a market economy in which millions of independent actors making billions of decisions works better than a centrally-controlled economy in which an all-knowing elite make all the decisions). Chairman Mao made a lot of really bad decisions, but he did get one thing right: Let a thousand flowers bloom. Lots of green wizards doing their own thing may have a better chance of "success" (however you want to measure that concept) than a pre-conceived plan that may be based on incomplete data.

Is the downside of Hubbert's Peak going to be long and smooth, or steep and bumpy? What happens if Iran and Israel go at it with nuclear weapons in, say, 2012? What happens if the Greenland ice sheets start to slide into the ocean ahead of schedule? The best laid plans of mice and men...

Everybody else probably should be ready to learn what the green wizards can teach them, but exactly when that ends up happening will depend on a huge number of variables that we cannot predict, let alone control. About the only thing that we can get a handle on with any accuracy is the nature of human nature, as revealed by history and literature. I don't know if that should make us optimistic or pessimistic, but it is what it is, and we should probably think twice before we lay any grand plans.

Dwig said...

This is the first of a series of comments. (Having not commented for a while, I guess I'm making up for lost time. 8^) In the following, I'll abbreviate Green Wizards/Wizardry by GW, and Transition Initiative(s) by TI.

TIs aren't as centralized or monolithic as some have said or implied; they couldn't be, given the explosive growth of adaptation of the approach. In particular, it's now being adapted to places very different from the Transition Towns that Hopkins and friends initiated. Here in Los Angeles, for example, we're essentially taking the Handbook as a starting point, and making the rest up as we go along, based on our circumstances and the resources we have available and the challenges we face ("solvitur ambulando").

This shouldn't be suprising or "heretical"; the "Hopkins process" is intended to create outcomes appropriate to the situation -- after all, reslience is the name of the game, and like a healthy garden, each resilient community will have unique characteristics and challenges.

streamfortyseven said...

After thinking about the Green Wizard and Transition US approaches, I think I see that the main difference between them lies in the centralization of authority and finances. Transition US (and worldwide) is highly centralized and authoritarian, requiring (in the US, at least) certification and payment of fees to a central body, as well as getting authorized teaching materials from that central body (Transition US). It's a top-down hierarchical structure, with pretty strict control over what gets said and what gets taught.

It's really a substantial break from what Transition started out as being, when at one point there was an online, free version of the Transition Manual being published as a wiki ( which got pulled down in 2008 just as Transition US got its start. Of course, wikis are the antithesis of central control... and is still a great resource, uncorrupted by the Takers who seem to have taken over the Transition Movement.

In contrast, Green Wizardry is non-hierarchical, anyone can be a Green Wizard, you just have to do whatever it is you do, and share the skills and knowledge that you've got. No one tells you what to do or how to do it.

GW is well-adapted to the process of relocalization, TT is not, requiring reference to central authority for teaching materials, and payment to that same central authority for certification.

The usual new-agey bit of trademarking everything in sight now seems to apply as well with Transition, as well as selling information and keeping intellectual property safeguarded. It's a radical break with the way the Transition Movement began.

Really, if the information is as important as the Transition people are trying to get people to believe, then it's pretty immoral to put a price tag on it, it's like charging a fee to get on a life raft... and it's bloody stupid, because there are a lot of people who aren't going to ante up or can't ante up, who have vital skills which could be crucial to any sort of effort.

In my not so very humble opinion, the Transition Movement as it stands now is an utter betrayal and travesty of what it started out as, and should be re-formed to get back on its original path, before making heaps and scads of money seemingly became one of its main goals. Now it's nonsense, it's just another variation on a New Age moneymaking scheme.

Dwig said...

There's been some speculation that suburbs, far from being doomed, can become strong centers of post-carbon adaptation (at least in the first sere). I have the impression that many, if not most TIs, at least in the US, are based in suburbs, and are focusing on testing the truth of that speculation. That's certainly true in the TIs in my locale.

Regarding "joiner vs. individualist":
As a long-time techie individualist and late-blooming community activist, I'm enjoying (and more importantly, learning) from participation in both GW and my local TI. One of the things I'm being surprised by on a regular basis is the number and variety of resources I'm encountering that can possibly make significant contributions to our local transition(s).

Also on this theme: I find it interesting that this exchange has brought so many "meeting haters" out of the woodwork. It raises what I think is an important challenge to both GW and TI -- fostering frequent, productive collaboration without becoming infected by "meeting-itis" (which I interpret as a tendency to spend inordinate amounts of time on unproductive topics). (At this point, TI is probably more vulnerable to that virus, but give GW a few years, when the guilds get well established...)

Dwig said...

On a couple of JMG's themes:

I believe that TIs can benefit from the kind of foundational learning that JMG emphasized for GWs -- a basis of understanding of the nature of ecological systems.

On consensus vs. dissensus:
When reading the negative comments about consensus here, I wonder what it is that's being criticized; my understanding is that consensus-seeking and consensus-building can, in the right circumstances, be exactly what's needed.

In general, I don't see the need for a "vs." here, and I'd like to see a serious dialogue on the nature and proper role of each process, and how they contribute together to a reslient community.

Dwig said...

JMG: "It smacks rather of turning other people's idealism into a moneymaking scheme. If that's what's going on, I'm going to have to reconsider a number of future plans and draw some hard lines I'd hoped not to have to draw."

I don't see this as surprising in a culture so devoted to "free enterprise", in which literally everything is grist for the profit mill. Yesterday's revolution is given a label today, which is turned into a profitable brand tomorrow (suitably transmogrified, of course). In fact, you may have let yourself in for some of that by using a word, "green", that's already been nearly emptied of meaning in the popular media.

My suggestion would be to focus your energies on your vision, working with those who share it. if pushing the river is wasted effort, trying to push the river upstream is, well...

Dwig said...

Bill: One of the tag lines I have recently found from the Financial Permaculture (tm) people is "Profits for a prosperous planet!"

It looks as though FP may be a brand of Catherine Austin Fitts' Solari organization. Fitts has an interesting, and harrowing history; you can read some of it here. I have some sympathy for her, but it seems as though she's trying to build a business, and has latched on to the Permaculture name (see my previous comment to JMG about the possible fate of "green wizard").

sofistek said...

The greenwizards site doesn't work for me. I've tried creating an account a few times and always get the right messages and told to expect a mail but nothing arrives. I've tried over a couple of days but same result. I tried the forgotten password link and got the message that an email will be sent but got no email. I created an OpenID and logged on with that but have to create a user to connect the openID to. Tried again, same result.

I guess I'm destined never to join the green wizards.


John Michael Greer said...

Straker, if it worked for you, that's good to hear.

Moose, that's more or less the reasoning behind the dissensus approach.

Stream, it's certainly true that the way Transition US has been shaping up has stuck in my craw pretty much all along, from my first exposure to it via that appalling sales-pitch-cum-video I mentioned here in a 2008 post. Still, I doubt it's fair to dismiss it as purely a moneymaking scheme, even if that dimension has gotten into it; it's the usual problem of mixed motives, of trying to do good and do well at the same time, which never works but never fails to attract further attempts.

Dwig, thanks for an extensive commentary! Just one point of response: there are doubtless some situations in which consensus-seeking and consensus-building are what's needed, but in my personal experience I know of very few of them. Most of the time, again in my experience, consensus is either a vehicle for unacknowledged hierarchy to work without having to be up front about it, or it's a very, very efficient way to waste time and destroy a group. That is to say, when it appears to be working, watch carefully and you can very quickly sort out who is managing or manipulating the structure from a position of unacknowledged power to make it work; when nobody is in such a position, it doesn't work.

Tony, please see the comment by Panidaho above, or go to the forum again and check the FAQ pages. Several other people have had this problem, and we've got a way to get you your password already in place.

Lance Michael Foster said...

@streamfortyseven that's EXACTLY one of the points I was trying to get at, but you have said it so much more gracefully and concisely! well done!

disillusioned said...

Don't You Know There's A War On?

RH may have been expressing that to JMG.

So. What does that mean?

This goes back to WWII when the cause for all Britain was: Survive the Nazi's.

The whole society was on a war footing with overwhelming collective intent. The society was one, worked as one, was as efficient and focussed as possible and struggled as one, with the situation in mind: Win or Die in a Camp (the situation was on a knife edge).

But - there were times when an individual would go outside that unity. They would do something to benefit themselves, to be selfish or waste resources on a whim. This passively helped the enemy, by not contributing effort and resources to the fight.

Now the admonition: “Don't you know there's a war on?” would be thrown out. Be guilty! You are not aiding the Cause - stop it at once! It was a condemnation.

And we are in a war of sorts - time is short, much remains to be done, ignorance and passivity are the norm.

For RH collectivism is seen as the way forward. Well, in Britain people are crushed together, the resources of land are woefully small. The single biggest resource is: people. RH works with that resource and sees through that lens. He is a collectivist, motivating unity and striving together.

To my mind, this is good. I want to be part of a group. I know that I will not be able to do everything for the 1 or 2 decades it will take for society to find a new norm.

I fear that, as a Green Wizard, I can't defend my gardens from even a small gang. I'd have to let them take it all - or end up in a ditch with my head bashed in.

But, as well as filling in weaknesses and finding helping hands, a TT group could stand up to a gang. The group is more survivable if things get tough.

I see GW and TT as two sides of the same coin; both are needed.

Cathy McGuire said...

BTW, Teresa did ALL the hard work on the GW forum! I just jumped in to test-drive it the last two days, and volunteer as a moderator. So - a hearty THANK YOU to Teresa for months of hard work!!

Dwig said...

JMG, re consensus: There are examples in which consensus decisionmaking has been applied successfully, and on an ongoing basis; examples are the Quakers and the Iroquois League (at least that's my understanding from reading; I haven't had direct experience with either of them). While I haven't done the research, I'd guess that there have been studies aimed at uncovering the "success factors" in such viable consensus processes.

One reason the consensus process is interesting to me is its potential for exposing issues and points of view that weren't clear (or not explicitly acknowledged) at the outset. By simply stating a motion and voting on it, without serious engagement between the proponents and opponents, important factors in the issue at hand can be missed or glossed over. Here, I'm emphasizing the value of the attempt to reach a consensus, whether successful or not. (In fact, one possible outcome that I'd consider successful would be to create a better basis for dissensus; another would be to "unask the question", or call into question the nature of the issue at hand).

Joe Dupere said...

I'm new to this, but the Green Wizard concept works for me. My wife and I were discussing this the other day and realized how we've already been passing on to various friends and family members some basic skills in construction as we build our cordwood house. It's not really all that hard to pass on a bit of knowledge to someone else, without having to wait until there's an emergency.

We've also jumped in a started a small flock of sheep, and a small herd of dairy goats. We actively seek out information from people as we have questions. I suppose that's turning them into Green Wizards without them even knowing they're filling that role!!

Abe Karl-Gruswitz said...

I hope that previous post attempts didn't go through because of gliches and I'm not bothering the moderator.

I'm a Consensus decision-making fan. I just wanted to clear up some misconceptions. First of all, Consensus decision-making is not the same thing as "consensus building". There are a number of business management books that use that term, but the process is more about getting your employees to agree with you. There's a lot of pseudo-consensus out there, so a lot of people get a bad impression of what Consensus is, thinking they've experienced it, when in fact, they haven't. I've heard this with people who know consensus from the old SDS, or Green Party conferences, or Rainbow gatherings.

Consensus is not unanimity! Consensus is not even about getting people to agree. It is not about agreement. Consensus is about consent. Consensus is a process of sifting through a proposal looking for concerns. The group works on making the proposal the best and making sure it lines up with the groups vision and goals. A proposal goes through with consent (again not agreement). Good meeting guidelines include a description of the only criteria someone can block a decision, like if they believe it is against the already stated mission and vision of the group. Blocking is not the end of the process. It continues from there, often with a counter-proposal.

In Consensus, people don't look at proposals in terms of what is best for the individual, but what is best for the group, and raise concerns in that light. That's a huge difference from making decisions by the mathematical sum of individualism.

So, what here is being called discensus can fall under the category of Consensus decision-making. C.T. Butler titled his book on Formal Consensus "On Conflict and Consensus". He states that Conflict is essential. That is, it is essential to look for concerns in proposals. It's not about making everyone agree. Dissent is essential.

Here are some helpful links on Consensus decision-making -,,

If the moderator will allow, I will also separately post the Consensus process from the Iroquois Confederacy. It's not online. I got it from the Mohawk Nation.

Abe Karl-Gruswitz said...

In a future where economic collapse means government social supports disappearing faster still, I think community organizing is essential. Rob Hopkins is given credit for his "community organizing" stance, however, I think that is false. In Transition circles I have been in, the word "community organizing" or any mention of a formal group decision-making process hushed. The words "emergence" and "self-organizing" are thrown out as part of Transition 2.0 (both words being as meaningless as the word "holistic"). Michael Brownlee, from Transition US, at a talk I had gone to here in NJ in speaking of the official Transition stance, spoke against community organizing, and said that formal group decision-making processes like Consensus or Robert's Rules of Order can sometimes be against the principles of "emergence" and "self-organizing". He said people who come from a community organizing background may find it a hard fit with the Transition philosophy. He spoke in the context of talking about what the Transition position is, which he shied away from doing in most of the talk. This to me sounds like The Tyranny of Structurelessness, where they have to keep going back to the boss to find out what the official word is at any time whether it's 1.0 or 2.0 or something later down the road. Getting popularity throughout many communities doesn't mean that any of those communities understand effective community organizing.

Abe Karl-Gruswitz said...

If you can break down the peak oil, climate change, economic collapse responses in three categories of intentional communities, Transition initiatives, and Green Wizards (and other DIY'ers), I'm of the first category. Being an IC person doesn't make me not a Green Wizard though. I think both Rob Hopkins and John Michael Greer both put down IC's for being isolationist "lifeboat ecovillages" that are "self-selecting". Green Wizardry is pretty specific to skill acquisition, though, so someone could be a GW and be involved with Transition initiatives or IC's.

I believe community organizing is essential! When I've talked to people about my wife and planning a common treasury, 501(d), intentional community, I have heard a good many people speak about how they really want to be involved with the local community, not isolated. This is the assumption a good many people still have. . . of a hippie commune hidden from civilization in the woods. Albert Bates once wrote to me, "Another thought is that ecovillages are not lifeboats. You can't grow your own food in a lifeboat. It gets you off the ship and safely ashore. Ashore you will find both transition towns and ecovillages. I continue to be active with both.

I tend to think the TT analogy better fits lifeboats."

Another assumption we get is that we are trying to "save the world" and that IC's won't save the world because not everyone is into community meetings and cooperative sharing. While I think those skills would be very, very useful in a world in decline, I'm not trying to save the world. I have no idea how to effect societal change. I can only imagine the community level. For my wife and I, we like the concept of community as family, where the community takes care of individual needs and individual members take care of the community. We look forward to getting on the land (hopefully within the next 12 months) and homesteading, foraging, starting cottage industries, building appropriate technology DIY projects (like the passive solar food dehydrator, passive solar water distiller, and the pedal-powered washing machines that I'm building) with others, and supporting each other in the ways we can.

The round of various blog posts on community were a great start to a very important topic. I think that this RH and JMG "discussion" touches slightly on it. Overall, I think the importance of effective community organizing is not highlighted enough! Yes, that means meetings! It also means learning skills for effective meetings that don't drag on into the night, that don't lose focus and touch on everything from economics to sprituality to finance reports. It means learning facilitation skills that acknowledge different ways people communicate, that give voice to everyone, that keep people on track, and that hold people responsible to their actions and words.

If a community does not work on these skills of people-focused governance, then they will have to rely on someone else doing the governance for them, or more accurately to them.

I'm not saying that everyone needs to focus on IC's. That's just what we're interested in. We're also interested in being involved with our local community, and organizing with whoever is interested in a non-IC context.

The main point is there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. The self is not the level for sufficiency, the community is.

streamfortyseven said...

A few Green Wizardry books I'd recommend everyone have:
1. Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard
2. Companion for the Apprentice Wizard, both by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, available presumably from Amazon or from (

Both of these books are highly entertaining (either that, or I'm easily amused) and they have a great deal of practical knowledge interspersed.

3. The Art of Shen Ku by Zeek: It's a bit of a comic book but it's got quite a good bit of well-summarized info, suitable for copying and laminating... The entire title makes me laugh out loud.

4. The Whole Earth Catalog... the ones from the 1970s. You can find them on Amazon for cheap, less than $10 in a lot of cases (I saw one selling for $6.44) - They're an excellent lead for books on appropriate technology besides being useful in and of themselves. I'm giving this reference now, because I own about three of them, including both of the ones I bought almost 40 years ago. Amazing then, amazing now.

tom rainboro said...

I think that if you read RH's writings you will find that one thing that he does NOT cover is how to defend your garden. I can't recall him ever describing himself as a 'collectivist' either - got a reference?
As for 'Don't you know there's a War on?' - I think I'm with George Orwell in 'Animal Farm' on that.

Blagroll said...

Do I see peak oil around me? Are people lining up at the pumps for hours? Are mine and my neighbors conversations dominated by oil and environmental concerns? In Ireland I can emphatically say this is not the case. Its BAU land, and people are just waiting for the consummer economy to mend itself before we begin another wave of debt and consumption.

Sure there are a small, most times very minute, number of people in various areas surrounding me that have some awareness that things just aren't right. Yet, their responses span from the ecotechnic (they'll buy fuel security with high tech devices); to the basic belief that making a few pots of jam will ward off bad times; to the ability to ignore all information and frame present conditons within past conditions: ". . . sure it's bad now but its just like it was back in the 1980's when immigration and money were tight."

Which is a round about way of saying that conditions, local to be sure in the fullness of time, will ultimately decide on how people organise. If there is even a very modest recovery in the economy, the pot jars will go back into the cubbards forgotten. The ecotech devices will become conversation pieces while a new SUV is purchased. Going by past experience, people's resource and environmental concerns will melt like snow on the ditches - if only for a brief moment this time around.

These present social conditions, allied with the various agency and govt departments around the world who are finally and explicitly telling us that conditions have changed with regard to peak oil and the environment, are guiding my response to up-skilling; along with the green wizard project, of course.

When I make decisions about people whom I might want to share activities with in regard to sufficiency and sustainability I use hard criteria. How close are they in case travel is serverly restriced. What skills, activities and mind sets do they have, and how can their and my skills mesh. Again, conditions will determine the efficacy of our efforts to find common ground, but I cannot expend my own limited energy and resources on what might happen or what other people might say now but do differently when confronted with a real shift in conditions.

Right now, and given the conditions, the green wizard project allows me to use my limited resources in the best possible way. When the muck hits the fan, whenever that might be or, worse again, if conditions change very slowly and unappreciably with regard to the awareness of the vast majority of people, I can then gauge what community responses are worthy of engagement given my own personal assessment .

Right now and right here the GWP make me think, makes me learn, and make me do. I cannot control macro economic conditions nor my neighbor's various attitudes or behavior. I can only attemp to control my own. Fate or fortune will decide the rest.

I just have one quibble with JMG. A full head of hair. Ok. A full head of hair and a big bushy beard. Those of us who are follicly challenged think your taking the proverbial JMG :-)

(not sure if this is double posted or a response to the wrong article as blogger is throwing me anywhere and everywhere when I try to post. ta.)

PanIdaho said...

Abe said:

"The main point is there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. The self is not the level for sufficiency, the community is."

I agree with you on this - no one is an island, after all. But community can mean many things.

In my local area, "community" to over 80% of the population already means "The Church" and this is the way it has been for over 100 years. If we, as non-churchgoers, want to participate in any serious community preparations for sustainability here, then reality dictates that we will have to join The Church in order to do so. Trying to import a community model that operates on a totally different type of political and social ideology will never work for this area. In fact, it would likely be seen as being in competition with what is already being accomplished by The Church. At the very least, it would be considered redundant, and therefore, totally unnecessary. (Honestly - given that The Church already has a fairly robust and long-standing system for growing, processing and moving local food and supplies to those who are in need, maybe in some ways it *is* a bit redundant.)

So, Green Wizards may not be the entire solution for everyone, but for us, it gives us at least a partial solution and also allows us the possibility of developing something of value to share later with others in the community.

Bill Pulliam said...

When I used to be an academic and in the "peer review" system, there was one type of review that turned up frequently that was especially exasperating. This is the reviewer who criticizes you for not having done a different study addressing different questions than the one you actually conducted. Essentially these reviews amount to "I think you should have done this and this and this instead, because I would have found that paper more interesting to read." This is absolutely useless, of course; you want to smack them (except they are anonymous) and say "Hey, maybe you could review the paper *I* actually wrote, not the one you would have written!!"

On more reflection, and after reading Sharon Astyk's discussion, I think there is a lot of this sort of thinking involved in Hopkin's original post. Essentially, JMG addresses different questions, and addresses them differently, and Hopkins took him to task for this. If Astyk is a reliable source (which by all accounts she is), this is a recurring theme in Peak Oil discussions -- heck, it's a recurring theme in all discussions about everything.

Different people have different backgrounds and different interests, focus on different matters, write different books, have different suggestions. And thank the gods for this.

logic11 said...

Right now I am trying to start another path... one that uses some elements of the green wizard movement, some from the transition movement, but has slightly different goals. It is early days for us, but a lot of our goals are outreach related. Our group is called the Way of the Preserver ( and our main goal is to fulfill the role of monastic orders during the christian dark ages and preserve knowledge. In order to do this, we are using some of the trappings of religion, in both terminology and ritual. I don't see us as a rival of either movement, but something that people can belong to if they want, even if they are part of the green wizard movement or the transition town movement (in fact some of our members have gone the transition route and I am doing at least some of the green wizard stuff myself).

It's part of what you said John, that there are simply going to need to be many different movements, many different cultures. No single one will suit everyone and no single one will be able to do everything.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Bill P: This is the reviewer who criticizes you for not having done a different study addressing different questions than the one you actually conducted.
I get this a lot in my writing critique groups -- and it points out that many people have yet to grow enough to recognize their own biases. They simply see their preferences as "truth" - and I have seen it in various green groups (and others) as well... it's actually not so easy to take something (or someone) as you find it, and comment helpfully on how it could be itself better. It means being able to put yourself in the mind of the writer/creator somewhat... good teachers are able to help the students become who they are - not who the teacher is/wants to be... but that's a real skill, and I value it more and more as I get older.

disillusioned said...

@tom rainboro

:) agreed about defending gardens. GW's may well need friends - and who are our natural allies?

(I assume a risk that hungry criminals or impulsives will actively seek out and seize food rather then meekly starve; gangs will form and brutality arise. Lord of the Flies rather then Animal Farm. Perhaps feudalism will return, propelled by strong arms, blunt weapons and rumbling stomachs.)

RH I see as collectivist from observation, in the general sense. RH is used lecturing and having an audience - and he encourages people to work together. He encourages collective approaches. This is not pejorative; it's a valid approach.

As an aside- it's not unexpected that in a world of two sexes and two instinctive mindsets, there are essentially two approaches to any problem.

One thing I wanted to tease out: the idea of this being a war situation (re Peak Oil and the need for Transition to ease our cultural predicament, not RH / JMG). Is there really a war? Should there be? Isn't the urgency enough to justify a full mobilisation?

I'd say it's later then we think - we need to get our skates on. I see the first down-step coming c. 2015+/- 2 years. If the markets crash further + PO squeezes supply, it really could be as soon as 2013 that the trucks stop rolling and there's no food in the malls.

Our lives, our society is at risk. WHY isn't there a war on?? A war on the Home Front to free us all of these carbon chains?

Hal said...

I wouldn't get too worked up about the money being made on TT. Not that they're ever going to see any of mine, but if you start from the premise that a movement is needed, and then believe that an organization is needed to promote/direct that movement, it is easy to decide that the organization must be staffed by people who have to eat. In this case, rather than having a membership organization supported by dues (or maybe in addition to it, I really don't know much about TT), they are providing trainings. $500/day when they happen to work is not unreasonable, probably below the going rate in the field.

I don't begrudge the Sierra Club or Greenpeace having paid staff. Something has to pay for people doing some good in the world. Of course, there are dangers down that road.

It has often been pointed out that organizations tend to grow into self-perpetuating interests and lose touch with their original purpose. I'm sure this process happens faster in ones that have a professional staff.

But I hope this little tiff doesn't turn into recriminations over someone making a buck over what they're doing. There are a lot worse things to worry about.

joanhello said...

I have been part of both successful and unsuccessful community-building efforts, and I hate to say this, being an egalitarian in my bones, but one of the secrets of success appears to be exclusivity. When the meeting is open to anybody who has something to say, on topic or not, then the meeting turns into socializing or group therapy and nothing gets done unless those who are there to work manage to create a covert network limited to themselves and arrange for this network to somehow get control of the group's resources. I hypothesize that one of the reasons the Grange and other lodges succeeded as long as they did was that they didn't let just anybody join; they were able to exclude the parasites who wanted what the group had to offer (socially or materially) but had no intention of contributing or had the mistaken impression that their directionless blathering constituted a contribution. Of the many intentional communities launched during the Vietnam draft years (a term I'm trying to promote instead of "the Sixties" since it's a much more accurate representation of the period) the ones that failed tended to be anarchistic and open to anybody who walked in, while the ones that succeeded tended to be based on a well-defined set of values and ideas (usually but not always religiously derived) and to have rules and discipline and a mechanism for throwing people out.

Once the hard times really hit, exclusivity may mean casting people out to starve. The time to be exclusive is now, while all that's being hurt is people's feelings.

joanhello said...

One more thing about organization: My first computer programming job, starting in 1978, involved a certain amount of automation of tasks that were being done by clerks with adding machines. I learned that you don't junk the adding machines and reassign the clerks the day the software goes live. Instead, you have a long period of parallel operation during which you work out the bugs, even if you think you've fully tested the software and fixed all the bugs already. Setting up the local face-to-face social networks that will meet our needs when the present system fails us is kind of inefficient in the short run. There are a lot more entertaining or more productive things we could be doing than listening to our boring neighbors, whether in a meeting or over the back fence. Your survival-network-to-be may be formal or informal but it's better to build it and maybe put it to a test or three now, while you still have the old system to fall back on, than to still be scrambling to put it together when getting through the winter depends on it.

Twilight said...

What happens to any individual person or community is unknown and unknowable. What we can predict is that everyone will need to live with less access to (concentrated forms of) energy. The project our host has laid out relates to learning, practicing and sharing techniques for surviving with less energy.

The issues of what any individual plans to with this knowledge - whether they plan to re-organize their town around it, try to build consensus for the use or dissemination of it, whatever - are not really relevant. In addition to being a separate issue from from learning and practicing, very few of anyone's plans will survive our chaotic future intact anyway, making such discussions doubly irrelevant. However, the knowledge can survive even if one's grand plans on how to use it do not.

This is similar to Bill Pulliam's comment about reviewing the paper that was not written.

Dwig said...

Abe, thanks for exploring some of the key concepts behind some words that have been thrown around here. In particular, thanks for clarifying the consensus process.

Also, picking up on your comment: If a community does not work on these skills of people-focused governance, then they will have to rely on someone else doing the governance for them, or more accurately to them. This is a good quick description of the effort I've started over at my On Community wiki, to begin to identify and classify what these skills might be, and on the other side, to identify the kinds of pathology that degrade community. Abe, I'd be grateful if you'd take a quick look at the pages there, and give me any feedback you consider useful. Either post it here, or send it to fe001 at

Joanhello: I hate to say this, being an egalitarian in my bones, but one of the secrets of success appears to be exclusivity. As long as I'm pointing to my work, I'll mention one of my outline entries, under Paradoxes: "Identity and Openness". I haven't written anything there yet, but I consider what you're calling exclusivity to be part of the concept of community identity, without which any group won't last long. (Also, Elinor Ostrom includes it as one of the necessary characteristics of successful institutions for stakeholder-managed commons.)

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy McGuire,

The narcissists scare me too! As a general rule, they make poor company and are to be avoided at all costs. Committees seem to attract them like flies to a corpse.

Good luck!

Bill Pulliam said...

One of the more interesting real points that has come up in Hopkins' essay and its comments is this question: Is 1970s era "appropriate tech" really "appropriate" now? This clearly represents a basic difference of opinion between those who are more enamored of 21st Century "high tech" versus those who feel more drawn to simplicity and directness. I do have to say, in my own life and my observations, when people around here of limited means are looking for a solution to an energy or food or shelter related problem, they/we tend to make choices more in line with the things JMG is talking about. Two cases:

Our drinking water comes from a spring that is at about the same elevation as the house, so to have indoor pressurized plumbing we need to do some pumping. The spring is also a good ways from the house. In this present-day world, flexible black poly pipe is cheap, copper cable is expensive. I essentially had three options: 1) run grid power to an electric pump; 2) set up a photovoltaic/battery system to run a pump without the hundreds of feet of copper; or 3) put in a ram pump (a pre-electric centuries-old technology made easier in the present day by readily available plastic pipe and brass valves). I chose 3, because it was far less expensive both in the initial cost and in the maintenance. Low tech beat high tech.

Just earlier today, I was talking to my neighbor and he mentioned his astronomical heating bills from last winter; he heats with propane. Is he thinking of getting a ground-source electric heat pump installed? Not a chance. Passive or active solar? He is kinda interested, but is gonna watch my experiments with those this winter first and see how it goes for me. No, he's gonna put in a wood stove and power it with the abundance of scrap lumber and timber available to him. The 19th Century beat the 20th and 21st.

Now of course JMG would be the first to point out that we are not really stuck in the 1970s; technologies promoted then have gotten even better. "Airtight" (a misnomer) woodstoves widely used now deliver much more heat into the house and send less of it (along with less air pollution) up the chimney than what we had in the 1970s. I don't think anyone is really talking about rewinding 35 years in the details of the technology. It's about revisiting the ideas, concepts, and basic methods, with the advantage of another four decades of development and hindsight.

Steve said...

I'll also chime in about the $200 fee for "Transition Training" not being that big of a deal. I know personally some of the people who give the trainings - it happens for them maybe 4-6 times per year, usually at the request of TT groups with interested people who want to get involved. The $2k fee generally covers airfare, lodging, meals, and a couple hundred bucks left for their "fee" as trainers for much more than a weekend's work.

As much as we'd all admire people doing this for free, nobody I know can afford to do so. Besides, just as with Permaculture, the Master Gardener/Composter programs, or backcountry skiing, you can pick up a book and try to do it yourself for free. Many people find it worth their time, however, to pay for a lesson or class to learn this new thing they want to do, thereby avoiding many beginner mistakes and having a mentor from whom to seek advice.

I never took the TT training class, but I was fully involved in the local TT group as one of the initiators for a year. It's not required to take the class, and the fact that they offer the training for a fee really just lets us know who it's for: people who like weekend workshops as an initiation into a "movement."

That said, I'm better pleased with JMG's Green Wizard approach - I can't stand weekend workshops!

streamfortyseven said...

Maybe the best way to figure out what kind of technology would be most "appropriate" would be to make a back-of-the-envelope guess about the cost of energy from various sources, figuring in availability, and figure out what people in the past were able to accomplish with that form of energy.

If we figure that our supply of oil goes to one-third of what it is now in (say) 10 years, and the current population in the US grows by 10%, we could figure out some sort of oil-availability-per-capita measure, and then look back and see what kinds of technology were being used when a comparable oil-availability-per-capita existed.

My thought is that we'd probably have a situation like that which existed in World War II with the rationing for civilians.

We could be a lot better off, because we've got electronic infrastructure which can be produced for low energetic input, and require very low energetic input to operate (and yes, I know about server farms - compare that with a single FM transmitter at 100 kW ERP).

We might be a lot worse off due to a lack of transport infrastructure (rail) and the collapse of mechanized agriculture (barring the reintroduction of 1870s tech like steam traction engines fueled with cornstalks and the like).

But this might give a starting point from which to plan. BTW, doing an alternate wifi network might be a good idea to work on, it's line of sight and building it could be relatively inexpensive (although not easy - there'd have to be a lot of thought and plain hard tedious work done to realize it). Or you could get a 1921 edition of Audels Engineers and Mechanics Guide - I've got vol. 8, "Wiring and Electrical Reference", which illustrates how various components work and can be built, from dynamos to "pictures and writing by radio" - a precursor to what we know as a FAX machine. I'll bet that a series of books like this might end up being worth its weight in gold...

Bob said...

I am literally posting this on Wednesday at 1:45 pm EST, while waiting for the new post, so I feel a bit like I'm beating a dead horse, but here goes...
I think JMG is being, if anything, TOO kind with his response. I may be distorting or exaggerating, but I seem to recall the description of Transition movement activities as a revitalization movement: that is, a desperate attempt at maintaining an unsustainable way of life. My understanding has been that JMG sees Transition towns as unsustainable both at the physical level (the energy they will require is simply not there), and at the social level (whatever hierarchical structure is put in place will inevitably lead to power imbalances, rights violations, etc.). GW is being discussed as complementary to TT, but it seems to me that it is designed more as a safety net for ANY future society, including TT, and that JMG expects TT to fail alongside currently existing systems for the same exact reasons.
I would LOVE to be set straight about this.