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Hopkins, local mayors discuss community

Published: Friday, October 4, 2013

Updated: Friday, October 4, 2013 08:10

  Rob Hopkins, founder of the international Transition Town Movement, spoke last night in Cabot Auditorium on how communities around the country are changing to develop more sustainable and resilient economies and social networks. 

Hopkins was joined by community leaders Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn and Mayor Lisa Wong of Fitchburg, Mass., who explained how they were making important environmental and social changes in their own towns. 

The event, hosted by the Peace and Justice Studies Program, drew audience members from all over the state and lasted an hour and half. 

Event moderator and Assistant Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Program Dale Bryan began by connecting the event to the university’s ongoing debate on fossil fuel divestment.

“It’s a critical issue for our society and civilization to consider: What are we going to do to safely, cooperatively and constructively transition to a post-party world and a new economy?” he said.

Hopkins’ Transition Town Movement seeks to build community resilience in the face of global challenges. “Transition Initiatives” utilize local assets and citizen-led action to generate environmental change while still respecting the culture and nature of the community.

Hopkins explained that, nowadays, people face four main challenges to creating a sustainable future. 

The first challenge, he said, is that our economy has changed to favor large businesses. This is a problem because local businesses are what give local economies their resilience, Hopkins added. 

“If we’re serious about those local economies, [small businesses] are where the kind of future we need to face comes from,” he said. 

The second challenge comes from the idea that economies must always aim for growth. Growth, however, does not necessarily result in progress, Hopkins said.

“If our children just continued growing forever, exponentially, it would be terrifying,” he said. “But for some reason we imagine that the economy ... can grow indefinitely.”

In reality, he said, economic growth results in increased economic inequality and carbon emissions. Twenty percent of economic growth goes to the top one percent of earners and not to regular people.

According to Hopkins, the final two problems that transition seekers face are climate change and oil dependency. While the large-scale efforts of governments and small everyday efforts, like switching to more efficient light bulbs in homes, are important, the missing element in making a change is getting together with one’s community. This is what Transition initiatives aim to do, he said. 

“How do we make the politically impossible politically inevitable?” Hopkins said. “That starts with us, in the places where we live, making that happen.”

Since the first transition movement began in Totnes, England, about 1,400 transition organizations have cropped up all over the globe — from Portugal and Brazil to Great Britain and Japan. Each organization is tailored to and run by community members and their specific needs, according to Hopkins

He said that people hoping to become more active should not feel restricted by lack of financial resources. 

“What transition does is unlocks enthusiasm that you could never buy with funding,” he said. 

Hopkins encouraged audience members to continue building their communities and to start Transition efforts. 

“You don’t need somebody to come from England to give you permission to start your transition, and if you do, you just got it,” he said.

McGlynn then discussed Medford’s myriad environmental undertakings over the last several years. Since McGlynn’s time in office, Medford has constructed a wind turbine, implemented curbside and single-stream recycling systems and expanded community garden space, among many other projects. 

The community has responded positively to all these efforts, he said, noting that Medford is recognized as one of the most environmentally active towns in the nation. 

“We’re addicted to trying to do good things for the environment,” McGlynn said.

Wong explained how her background in economics helped her turn Fitchburg, one of the poorest municipalities in the state, into a thriving community through the support of town members.

“People started, through those informal networks, working with each other ... and that all happened organically,” Wong said. “That really made me really proud. That unlocked something.”

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