Re-imagining our world


By Gord Stewart

A movement of communities coming together to re-imagine and rebuild our world.

That’s the catch phrase and explainer for the Transition Network. The network grew out of the Transition Towns initiative established in the UK in 2006.The emphasis is on sustainability, resilience and local self-reliance in the face of a growing climate crisis.

“It’s a bottom-up, community-led action,” says founder Rob Hopkins. “It can have a real impact on people’s lives, with care and the creation of healthy communities at its heart.”

“Where might it go next?” asks Hopkins in a short promo video. “Well, that’s kind of up to you.”

In our community – our Transition Town effort – the focus is on efficient resource use, sustainable living and a strong local economy. While our goal is to effect meaningful change, arguably the best part of it is the people you meet, the friends you make.

Gord Stewart volunteering in his happy place.

Our planning group comprises an assortment of like-minded folk. My ‘partners in crime’ include: a young dairy farmer with a passion for sustainable food production; a clear-thinking business analyst with a penchant for electric vehicles; an IT specialist who built the most amazing eco-friendly house, and a star teacher from the local college.

We also have our Consummate Contributor (he once apologised for leaving our gardening work early as he had to rush off to a local primary schools to read with the kids) and his wise and practical, and similarly committed, partner. A builder has joined in with hopes, among other things, of stemming the tide of construction waste going to landfill. We recently added to the brain power, recruiting a law-trained young mom to the group.

Our projects reflect community needs and draw on our skills and interests. We help a local primary school with a community vege garden. We’re planting fruit trees on public land. We do business waste audits, funded by the local council.

We hosted an open-day at the above-mentioned eco-home. More than a hundred people came along for the tour. We organised a sustainable transport expo with a range of electric vehicles on display. We kicked it off with the mayor and some councillors cruising in on e-bikes.

We led a road-trip to a nearby city for our mayor, councillors and staff to tour and learn about sustainably-designed commercial buildings (food for thought as they planned our own new civic centre and library). We did another day out for the same group to a nearby town to see their legendary resource recovery centre.

We advocated for solar on the new civic centre (won that one!). We are now pushing to turn a council-owned vacant section into a public garden and we’re lobbying for a network of bike lanes around town. (We can generally make a nuisance of ourselves when necessary.)

We have run educational workshops and hosted film nights. And, of course, there’s the obligatory AGM. We call it a ‘Social’, though, or people will stay away in fear of being elected president.

Volunteering works best, of course, when it involves something you have a passion for, it’s enjoyable, and you stand to gain some satisfaction from it.

That’s why I recently I added helping out at Blind + Low Vision NZ’s Guide Dog Services to my routine. My wife Sandy and I have had a long association with Guide dogs as guardians to two beautiful Labrador Retrievers involved in the breeding programme. Eben, a magnificent black male, and Bindi, a lovely yellow female, are retired (and now our ‘pets’) and I was missing the Guide dog connection.

So a couple days a month I have been going to the Breeding and Training Centre to help out where needed. Best of all is time with the puppies. Part of their socialising is simply exposing them to people of various sizes, shapes, voices and manners. It’s an early start on making sure new situations and experiences won’t startle or surprise them.

Sit with the little beauties and they’ll chew your shoe or yank on your sleeve. They might wander off and pile on a litter mate. Or they’ll curl up on your lap for a scratch and a chat. Then they’ll flop down and nod off. It’s a tough call, really, as to who benefits most from the interaction.

For us humans, there is solid research showing that social ‘connections’ and active involvement with others are crucial for healthy aging. I reckon you supercharge the whole process by adding in some time with Labrador puppies. I have no empirical evidence to support this contention. But I know that it works for me.

Gord Stewart is a sustainability consultant with a background in environmental management and economics

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