Transition Exits Ann Arbor

A little more than two years after Transition (a worldwide movement) introduced itself to Ann Arbor,  the local group has announced (via its email listserv) that it is disbanding.

After much deliberation and collective soul searching, we are writing to let you know that the initiating team of Transition Ann Arbor is officially disbanding.   We believe it is important to announce this widely so that we can release the effort into the hands of others, should there be a future groundswell of committed individuals.  

Some challenges we faced were the usual ones, such as personal time constraints and life circumstances. But there were other challenges that we didn’t anticipate, such as the fact that the Transition model has proven difficult to implement in a city the size of Ann Arbor without staff or a strong ties to an existing 501c3 nonprofit.  

We are excited to see the growth of Transition-related efforts in the Ann Arbor community and region. We continue to believe that there is a role for an umbrella organization that strengthens these efforts and develops cohesive plans, action groups, programs, and messages that help our community prepare for the long emergency–the impacts of peak oil, climate change, and economic instability. Unfortunately, we don’t have the necessary resources (or person-power) to make this happen. We have a wealth of accumulated knowledge and lessons learned from our efforts over the last 2 years, including the beginnings of an energy descent action plan. To improve future organizing, we would be happy to share our insights and resources with anyone interested in picking up similar work.

As might be understood from this statement, Transition was founded to support the worldview of those, such as former Environmental Commission chair and mayoral candidate Steve Bean, that we in Ann Arbor (the country, the world) are facing a future singularity in which conditions of life will change drastically.  (The reference to the “long emergency” is a direct reference to the dystopian classic, The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler.)  Transition Ann Arbor has been especially notable for its “reskilling festivals” in which such skills as sock darning, keeping bees, and other domestic crafts are taught.  According to the announcement, these will continue under the guidance of their organizer, Laura Smith (

A core concept that Transition and similar efforts are based on is “peak oil”, a belief that the world economy and our very way of life will shift dramatically once the cost of energy increases because of dwindling oil supplies.  The data for peak oil are fairly unambiguous and (discounting the possible effect of shale oil) it appear that the point at which oil supplies begin to dwindle is in the next decade (by 2020).   Lester Brown and the Earth Policy Institute have been promulgating news of this and related impending disasters (most having to do with resource depletion of various kinds) for years.  Yet there are doubters and deniers like Michael Lynch (though these arguments are rebuttable).  Problem is, a worldview in which a collapse is imminent definitely undercuts the current growth paradigm and interferes with business as usual.  We’d really rather not be bothered as long as it looks as though things will go along much as they have since most of us can remember.

We all got a bit of a wake-up call with the economic cataclysms of 2008 and 2009. Though Kunstler has not changed his views or his predictions,  what seemed so imminent during the few months following the crash of 2008 now seems to have retreated a bit over the horizon.  It’s a little hard to get excited over darning your own socks when socks made in East Asia are still available at discount stores at pretty decent prices.  Admittedly, lots of people are out of a job, but gas prices seem to have stabilized.  And though food prices have gone up a little, we can still get most of everything we want and the expensive restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor seem to be doing a booming business. This means that choosing “local food” and making your own still appears to be just that—a choice.

Since one of my own interests and concerns is community food security, I was glad to see that Transition Ann Arbor is passing along its modest treasury to Growing Hope.  But otherwise we are left with pale washed-out “sustainability” efforts like the Ecology Center’s 350.0rg  and the UM’s “M Planet Blue“, which basically tinker around the edges with time-honored environmental fixes (all good).  It’ll perhaps be a little while longer before we have a group in Ann Arbor that really sounds a singular alarm.  If that is going to be you, you are invited to contact Jeannine Palms (, one of the organizers and a longtime community activist.

Explore posts in the same categories: Basis, Sustainability, Trends

14 Comments on “Transition Exits Ann Arbor”

  1. Steve Bean Says:

    We developed such an unsustainable society through the types of rationalization and denial you allude to in your penultimate paragraph, Vivienne. Pretending that today’s circumstances will project into the future beyond peak oil is what led to that big, expensive auto-abandonment sarcophagus next to the library, the fantasies about new “transit” stations, and the continued existence of Argo dam (and all the others on the Huron), just to name a few local examples.

    Gas prices have dropped not in spite of higher unemployment, but because of the deflationary impacts of the financial bubbles bursting. We’re in a depression, and deflation will continue. Prices for gas as well as housing, labor, and food will continue (or begin, in the case of food) to drop for (several?) years. That doesn’t mean that food, etc. will be more affordable for more people–more likely the opposite.

    Let alone climate change…

    This isn’t a worldview, it’s a prediction based on history, geology, physics, and reality. The growth paradigm will be undercut by events, if not by some alternative worldview. Transition is an effort to develop–with community input–such an alternative so that the changes are more survivable, not to present some predetermined solution.

    Speaking of which, “time-honored environmental fixes (all good)”? Really? I’m not aware of anything that’s been fixed. Regardless, thanks for continuing to cover Transition.

  2. David Cahill Says:

    I’m not impressed with the doomsayers’ arguments, especially since variants of these points have been made for decades and the sky has not fallen.

    If “Transition” couldn’t make it in Ann Arbor, the home of lots of enviros, it will have a tough time making a difference elsewhere.

  3. Steve Bean Says:

    Actually, David stated the opposing dismissal, not a case. Erroneous statements by others in the past don’t negate statements by anyone today.

    Please, anyone, point to data that demonstrates that more oil will be produced ten years from now that was produced last year and I will point you to information that clearly demonstrates that it is without merit.

    Whether you’re impressed or not, David, you’ll have/get to live with the reality of less abundant fossil fuels just like the rest of us. The only thing doomed by peak oil is industrial civilization, to which I say, better late than never. Ignoramuses who prefer destruction of the planet and continued oppression of non-white, non-male, non-stealing people by those at the top of the hierarchy might be pleasantly surprised by what’s to come.

    • varmentrout Says:

      I didn’t want to argue with David, but I’ll just say that I have found that “the past is the best predictor of the future” arguments have been failing repeatedly in the last couple of years.

      Ever read the Black Swan (Nicolas Taleb)? In it, he cites the example of the turkey. Everything is going fine, so he assumes it will always. Then comes Thanksgiving.

  4. David Cahill Says:

    Erroneous statements in the past cause a loss of credibility for similar statements in the present. This is a truth universally acknowledged.

  5. LastTechAge Says:

    If unrestricted, resource usage increases in ever growing amounts. Today’s desired growth is bigger than yesterday’s. Tomorrow’s amount will be bigger still. Almost all resource utilization starts with an ever increasing usage growth because current applications suggests increasingly more and different ones. This is fairly easy to model (see )

    Forever-growth won’t happen for any resource. Our needs will/must out-strip our ability to draw down any resource pool. A finite pool becomes harder to tap as it drains, meaning production will/must drop. That is ‘peak oil.’

    David, saying it won’t happen will not make U.S. oil resources resupply itself. Lots of “gobbling” happened when we peaked in the 70’s.

    Steve, I think that our society is not changing into a wonderfully pleasant place as resources decline. To paraphrase a recent tweet — this is how you spell “feudalism.” Only pretty if you earn in the top 1%, though 0.01% is prettier. (Emmanuel Saez @ and Robert Reich @ — Charles Armentrout

  6. Vivienne, in what sense does the Ecology Center’s Ann Arbor 350 campaign represent a “pale washed-out ‘sustainability’ effort?” The biggest Transition Ann Arbor project, last year’s 350 Gardens, were in fact a partnership between A2 Transition and 350.

    In my mind, one of the less satisfying aspects of Transition, as a movement, has been its rejection of politics in favor of a do-it-yourself ethos. There’s definitely a place for that, especially in smaller towns and places like Detroit where government is getting pretty skeletal. But we also need to be looking at changing powerful institutions like UM and the City, instead of just quickly rejecting them as hopelessly corrupt and conspiratorial, which I think some of us in Ann Arbor have been tempted to do.

    As the Wall Street protestors have suggested, there’s real value in building broader coalitions that speak to more people’s concerns. There have been very few attempts here to engage students – the people who helped launch the environmental movement here 40 years ago – and build a partnership in the interests of both students and townies. That will involve some compromises on the part of both, but for goodness’ sake, it’s about time we got the dialogue going.

    Thanks, Jeannine & co., for all your work. Let’s make sure this isn’t the end but the beginning of something bigger.

    • varmentrout Says:

      Well, I did say their efforts were all good. Yes, the little gardens were a nice idea. I’ve seen quite a few in my neighborhood that don’t seem to have produced much since they were installed, but getting people started gardening is something I’ll always support.

      I don’t think that I indicated anywhere that either the city or UM is hopelessly (or even slightly) corrupt and conspiratorial, so I’m not following your train of thought there very well.

      Do you think that the students of 40 years ago waited for people from the community to “engage” with them? Or did they just start organizing? If students want to be part of the community, they need to engage the community. A few (like you) do, and enrich us by doing so. But no one provides leadership and energy by waiting to be asked.

  7. Ypsilanti has a small but active Transition group. Their most busiest Web presence is on Facebook:
    but they also have a page at

    I’ve been very peripheral with the group, but those of you who are more active in the gardening and re-skilling aspects might want to join forces with Transition Ypsilanti. What about a “Transition Washtenaw”?

  8. deendeens Says:

    Interesting comments. I was sad to hear of the demise of Transition Ann Arbor, but understand the burnout. I myself recently stepped back from the default leadership position of Transition Ypsi. We will see where efforts towards creating a sustainable society go, now that the seeds have been planted. That’s the hardest part for me, having faith that my/our hardest-possible work on this will have been enough.

    A word about the role of government in Transition — I don’t believe that government or other giant institutions like the UM are seen as conspiratorial or corrupt, but rather that the community as a whole MUST be engaged at a grassroots level and that’s where energy for change is best invested. Speaking for myself, yes, government leadership is getting pretty skeletal in Detroit and the same for Ypsi. That’s kind of the point: we can’t keep hoping for somebody in charge to make our lives sustainable, we must do it ourselves — and then, we must demand that government follow our lead. If you think the problems of state revenue sharing & falling property values aren’t going to effect government in Ann Arbor, you’re kidding yourself, Joel.

    I believe our Transition Initiative has done some great work in Ypsilanti — perhaps the case can be made that the synergy of friends and neighbors talking and learning together has led to Solar Ypsi, Co-op programs, library themes, discussions & films, uptake of Ypsi 2020 Task Forces recommendations, the Ypsi tree inventory, permaculture growing, rain gardens in Depot Town, tonight’s Climate Action Planning meeting, movement towards rail transportation, etc. On hopeful days, I believe our actions have made a difference.

  9. Since none of us is a giant, none of us can realistically expect to take giant steps. The cheap-energy techno-culture has permeated so many aspects of people’s lives that inertia (that is, the law of physics that keeps things moving in the same direction) requires tremendous cost and effort to overcome.

    So while we’re not happy about taking baby-steps, we must keep taking baby-steps rather than sitting down in despair and going nowhere. While we yearn for “the perfect”, we must be content with “the good” rather than fall into cynicism. Yes, Argo Dam is still in place, and yes, a large parking structure is being built adjacent to the planned Fuller Road transit station. Perhaps not “perfect” (according to who you ask) but realistically practical (for the station), and the case is not closed (on the dam). So let’s keep pushing in the right direction. 8-)>

  10. varmentrout Says:

    I love the discussion. Thanks, guys, for keeping the flow going. The most important thing is not to turn away from these issues. We won’t always agree on the steps, but we need to keep the goal (of a sustainable, liveable future) in mind.

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