Naresh Giangrande, co-founder of Transition Network: the future for local economies, Part 2

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Naresh Giagrande : the future of local economies

This is a continuation of an interview with Naresh Giangrande, co-founder of Transition Totnes and the Transition Network, on the future for local economies post-covid. Part 1 is here.

How could we approach Transition groups about the potential of mutual credit (especially now that the coronavirus lockdown has decimated small businesses)? We hope we’re soon going to be able to offer local groups a package, with a website that includes a local directory and a trading engine, a membership agreement – everything they need to set up a local mutual credit club, that can trade with other clubs around the country and eventually the world. Do we go to the groups, or through the Transition Network?

Probably the best thing is to go the regional hubs, and see what they think might be the best way. You might want to give a talk or a training; write a blog post, put it on Transition Network website. Get someone there to interview you. But again, it’s one of those questions that we’ve often been asked – ‘we’ve got this great idea – can you put us in touch with all the Transition groups in the UK?’ It’s not that we don’t want to, we just don’t have the mechanisms – we’re not a membership organisation. And local groups don’t always keep their contact details up to date. But if you go onto the Transition Network website, you’ll have just as much information as anybody about who’s doing Transition.

 

 

I think the gender balance in TN is quite good isn’t it? But I know that it’s not balanced in terms of either class or ethnicity. what could be done about that?

Let’s take class first. There is an issue. I don’t think we were that good at talking across class divisions. In one of my last blog posts, I made the assertion that maybe Transition was talking to middle-class people. The message was that if you’re really good at reducing your energy use, you may be able to retain some of your privileges and comforts that you’re used to. But for working-class people, that sort of message doesn’t work. I don’t think there’s that much in the Transition movement. Part of it is how we talk about it, part is about the sort of things we did. Some groups were better at it, most weren’t.

Ethnicity is difficult too – and again, I don’t have a magic wand. I’m sure there are people doing great things in building diverse movements, but you’d have to speak to them to find out how they do it.

I get the feeling that the middle-class has too much to lose, so are less interested in large-scale systemic change – whereas the working-class have less to lose. And I think the changes need to be economic – about work – to attract the working-class. I’m from a working-class town and I go back regularly, and I can say that I don’t honestly think there are many people who say that they enjoy their work. It’s something they do to get a wage, and they’re often bullied. They don’t find work meaningful. But the Preston model is interesting. It’s a working-class town, and the changes they’re introducing are economic – they’re changing the way people work. But I looked at the Transition map – the little flags showing Transition Initiatives, and where I’m from – the West Midlands – there were flags in villages around the West Midlands, but in Dudley, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Walsall, West Bromwich – nothing. I think the same goes for XR – there needs to be a slightly different message to engage the working-class.

Yes. I’ve been talking to some Labour party activists in Cumbria, very working-class, ex Glasgow dockers. They asked how they could get involved. I asked if there was a local XR group, and they said yes, but it doesn’t feel that we belong there. I don’t know how you bridge that divide. The things they talked about – standing up, holding hands and feeling the energy of the group etc. For me, I understand that, but for a lot of working class people, they’d think ‘what is this?’

Yes, I remember seeing a video of an XR demo, holding up the traffic. One guy said he’d go and talk to the lorry drivers to explain, and it would be OK. I remember thinking ‘mate, it’s not going to be OK’ – and it wasn’t. They weren’t speaking the same language at all. But what do you think about XR? It seems along the same lines as Transition, but with more urgency, as the situation becomes more urgent.

I’m involved in our local XR group, as are a lot of people from Transition are. I think XR get a lot of things right.

They seem more willing to give up privileges, like flying, or avoiding arrest. I don’t know if that’s fair.

That’s certainly the culture of XR.

What kinds of economic change was brought about by the Transition movement? There’s the Local Economic Forum. Anything else?

That’s a really good question. I don’t know of any, except for very local things that people have done, of which there are many. Some interesting ways of working have evolved out of Transition, particularly on the Continent. Some towns in France, Belgium have been great at making a bridge between local authorities and Transition. There’s a project about municipalities in Transition, making the bridge between the municipality and its citizens. Lots of local governments are poor at communication – they speak at people rather than getting them on board. Transition has been useful in several places across Europe in that respect.

Do you think the narrative was right? What would you have changed, in hindsight?

I struggle with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Some things work better. When I look back, I can see that we are going to live more locally, be more resilient locally, know our neighbours, revitalise local economies. As the high-resource-use, globalised system breaks down, we’re going to need those things. I have a big question mark about the role of technology. Most Transition groups seem to believe that most advanced technology is going to crash and burn, whereas I question that. In the building industry, there are some interesting high-tech developments in the way that buildings are built and maintained. We’re also seeing some interesting developments in agriculture. I had my first plant burger the other day (one of the new kind, that tastes like meat). I’ve been trying to find one for a while. It was delicious. I think there’s going to be a revolution in the way we produce food over the next ten years, that George Monbiot is talking about – and it’s going to rely on technology. I don’t think that technology is going to go away. I’m just interested in who owns it, who has access to it, and is it going to cause even more inequality, or can it be rolled out in a way that’s more egalitarian, and create a better world for everyone?

My approach is to find out what works in local communities, replicate it and to grow and federate to scale. I think that would be very difficult without the internet.

That is what micro-based agriculture is talking about – a fermentation farm in every community, and they’re going to produce a whole range of different products. It will be networked together, but locally-based production.

I guess the question is, how do you stop the big food producers from taking it over? I’ve talked with people in my local Transition group, and although I haven’t talked with everyone, I haven’t found much of an understanding of extraction, which I find surprising, and a bit disappointing. In one of your articles, you said that whatever kinds of business activity there are, there’s always the capitalist growth imperative sitting on top of it. But if the growth is required because of a demand for constantly-increasing returns by shareholders, and from the extra economic activity required to cover interest payments to banks, then how do we build the alternative that doesn’t need to extract wealth from your community. People seem to be fooled by extractive corporates who put solar panels on the roofs of their branches.

At the trade show I went to recently, my partner and I coined a term ‘eco-bling’. It’s a marketing ploy – put a bit of eco-bling on something and market it as sustainable.

I read the ‘Rocky Road’ critique (a long time ago), by Paul Chatterton I think. He said that we should name and confront capitalism as the problem, and that Transition people seemed reluctant to do that, because they’re too ‘nice’. I’m not sure what I think about that argument. I know what he means, but I don’t think the first capitalists talked about naming and confronting feudalism, they just built something different.

That was always our angle. We’re not really interested in naming and shaming. We’re much more interested in creating an alternative. If it works, people will come along. One of the ways in which people have framed Transition’s theory of change is that we ‘ignore capitalism to death’, but of course we’ve been unable to do that so far.

A lot of people only see two alternatives – either you’re for capitalism or you’re a Stalinist, but there are other alternatives.

There are. I think it’s important to open up a more nuanced space in terms of alternatives, and I think that’s happening. I think it’s clear that capitalism isn’t going to take us where we need to go – but what is? What will it look like?

Anything you’d like to finish with?

I’m a great believer in taking from what’s gone before, and repurposing it if it’s useful, and we talked about this many times in Transition. Is Transition going to take us to where we need to go? Probably not, but as we stood on the shoulders of those who came before us, we hope that others who come after us will stand on our shoulders and take us where we need to go.

Highlights

  1. In one of my last blog posts, I made the assertion that maybe Transition was talking to middle-class people. The message was that if you’re really good at reducing your energy use, you may be able to retain some of your privileges and comforts that you’re used to. But for working-class people, that sort of message doesn’t work.
  2. I can see that we are going to live more locally, be more resilient locally, know our neighbours, revitalise local economies. As the high-resource-use, globalised system breaks down, we’re going to need those things.
  3. I think it’s important to open up a more nuanced space in terms of alternatives, and I think that’s happening. I think it’s clear that capitalism isn’t going to take us where we need to go – but what is? What will it look like?