The U.S. debt crisis is a reminder to all of us that our economic lives are very much at the mercy of an unpredictable, tenuous, global system built around debt. National and international organizations can buy time by going more deeply into debt. But what about communities? What can make communities less vulnerable to the global debt mess?
Transition Towns try to make the local economy more resilient. Resilient economies rely less on outside, corporate ownership and more on smaller, locally-owned business. They are based on an awareness and commitment to low carbon or no carbon. They are committed to fair wages and fair trade principles. They explore ways to create 100 mile supply chains for food and for many other products and services. And they are creating forms of exchange that do not involve cash at all. They try to hold nature, people, and profits in balance.
In Canada, the Transition Town movement is not yet three years old. The complexity of the economic issues before us is formidable, to say the least. But transitioners know how important it is to just do something. So many experiments need doing, so many approaches need inventing, Transition Towns aren’t afraid to try one thing now, while they consider other options for later.
The following collection of activities comes from a very quick scan of the websites of Canadian Transition Towns.
In Guelph, Victoria, and Vancouver, Economy Working Groups are carrying out local research, learning, discussion, and planning activities. Transition Ottawa ran a Sustainable Finances workshop. Transition Powell River is planning a whole Economy Weekend this fall with workshops on Local Currencies, Natural Business, Plugging the Leaks, and of course, Personal Finances.
Local currencies have been in circulation on Saltspring Island, in Kitchener-Waterloo, and in Toronto for awhile now. Peterborough and Victoria both have Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) where members earn credits when they contribute a product or service to another member. Members then freely exchange these "green dollars" and Canadian dollars for other goods or services, at prices set by the vendors. Given the number of members required to make these systems worthwhile, they may be most practical in larger centres. The founders of the LETS system invented the Community Way as a means for people to "test the waters" of local exchange with their communities. Local Money: How to Make it Happen in Your Community is a good book on the subject.
Cashless Forms of Exchange, based on barter or on gifts, are another common type of initiative among Transition Towns. Kitchener-Waterloo offers a barter program. There are Timebanks in B.C.'s lower mainland and in several Transition Towns in the United States. Barrie, Ontario has a free cycle network.Transition Victoria is offering a Gift Circle. Transition Saltspring and Transition York Region have Repair, Re-purpose, and Reuse Groups. Saltspring also offers a Rideshare Group.
Resilient economies are thinking ahead. They are developing the skills of the future today, like green building, farm mentorships and food processing, herbal health care products, shoe making and repair, and many, many more. They hope to discover skills and business services they can promote to increase local self-sufficiency. To get an idea of the range of abilities this may involve, check out the Skills Inventory at the Poplar-Hill Coldstream Resilience Initiative.
And speaking of business, how are Transition Towns building relationships with local businesspeople? Transition North Bay has a Green Business Map on its website. I believe that green business and socially responsible business featured strongly in the Resilience 2011 Community Festival that Transition Guelph co-ordinated last March. The Transition Peterborough Greenzine covers a lot of its costs through green business advertisers.
In Victoria we are proud of our local Car Share Co-op. I see that Vancouver, Nelson, Ottawa, Toronto, and Kitchener-Waterloo each have one too. There are now 25 car share co-ops in Canada. Can we create 25 more?
In the United Kingdom, transitioners recognize how crucial co-operatives and social enterprise can be to community resilience. The U.K.'s Reconomy Project helps Transition Initiatives to engage local businesses and organizations, and to stimulate new Transition Enterprises. In Canada, provincial co-operative associations and in some cases social enterprise funds (called Enterprising Non-Profits here in B.C.) offer support to those who wish to explore and plan these types of social or environmental purpose business.