Cristiano Bottone

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INTERVIEW WITH Cristiano Bottone
("Transition Town Italy," Coordinator; Monteveglio - Transition city -

Since 2006 (Totnes – United Kigdom) a movement called Transition cities has been growing. Thanks to local initiatives, it is developing a new lifestyle aiming at reaching more (and even absolute) resilience from the “Oil peak” and producing a lower impact on “climate change”. Cristiano Bottone, one of the facilitators of the movement in Italy, answered to our questions about this matter.
INTERVIEW - (April 2012)
The interview was realized and published in April 2012 - (Original interview in Italian)
Subject: Transition Town: the movement, its principles and diffusion in Italy and in the world
1. Question: Could you describe when and why the Transition cities’ idea was born?

The founder of the movement is Rob Hopkins, a teacher who wondered about the challenges our society is going to face in the next years. The transition towards a completely different world from the current one is sure and unavoidable as there are thermodynamic causes (due to the wrong use of the earth sources) and the current economic-model (based on an infinitive growth in a finite world) is not realistic.Rob deeply thought on the creation of a new model able to manage the transition process in the next years and came up with the idea of Transition, a pattern that will bring us to live in balance with Earth sources generating wellness and fairness in all the world; to the fore, there will be the idea of reconstruction and resilience (lost in our society). During our voyage we need to make ourselves able to face the bad events that are overwhelming in this historic phase:  sources crisis, climate crisis, economic crisis and the deriving negative social consequences.
2. Question: When a town is in Transition, what does exactly this mean? Does it mean that all the town is in Transition or that there are groups of people adopting such kind of initiatives? 
The Transition Town idea is a little provocative; every Transition initiative begin with a group of people in their community. To make it clear, a public office cannot start a Transition initiative by itself, but can support it in its territory. The purpose of the group is that in the course of time all the people in the city will take part in the project.
3. Question: How can we activate a process of “energetic decrease”? (some advises for people who want to start a Transition initiative and for the single person in his own lifestyle)


First of all people must understand current conditions; most people are not aware of the amount of energy they consume, how this energy is used, what kind of energy it is and the effect of this consumption on a local and global scale. Before going into practice it is important to understand what the future scenario is going to deserve us. In this phase there are strong emotive reaction we need to cope with. Most people think it is impossible that by few years aero-planes will no more exist and that petrol will be rationed (it is probable that the first to become scarce will be the diesel petrol).When we started our job here in Italy, we explained that a deep economic crisis was going to come; this was unthinkable in that moment (before 2008 – author entry) but now it is reality.Then come the psychological consequences. Fear and depression are the first reactions; if this phase is badly managed, people will have a negation of the problem. On the other hand, if this “shock” is well managed people will discover the positive points in having a new lifestyle and that there are interesting and exiting perspectives. This is the moment when people start seriously to think about a reduction in the energy consumption, without dogmas and prejudices.
4. Question: What are the main steps in order to manage a Transition initiative?


The “leading group” - the little group of people that start the process in their community - has the key role in the success of the Transition initiative. This group of people must be sufficiently prepared; the strength of will could not be sufficient in order to manage a social innovation process. Then it is possible to follow the “12 steps” (but there are also other way to proceed),  a series of steps useful for a well managing of the process, a sort of starting process. The group must have a systematic planning system useful to orientate itself during the pathway and a series of operating instrument to facilitate the process.Differently from the leading group, other participants don’t need a sufficient level of knowledge; any person could enter the process, no matter his knowledge of the process.The Transition pays great attention to HOW things are done, because WHAT has been done is the result of HOW the relations between participants have been structured and HOW were the quality of the basic information from which the process started.This is not an approach rooted in our culture; for example, looking at 2 houses both with photovoltaic panels, what is important for us is the process leading up to the building of these panels. The panels of both the houses could be very similar in terms of forms and materials, but the reasons why these panels have been built could be very different. For example in Monteveglio who is going to install photovoltaic panels know that public incentives are very short-living, public incentives our not the main reason. So the reasons underlying the installations of photovoltaic panels could be different. This doesn’t mean that our story is better, but what is important is that the underlying paradigm is different.
5. Question: One of the 12 steps of the Transition process is “reskilling classes”. Could you explain what does it mean and what will be the economic and social consequences if adopted not only by Transitionists, but by the entire population?


First of all there is no way to distinguish “Transitionists” from other people; Transitionists are not a club or an assosiation: the Transition process is open, without borders. Secondly, restarting “Autoproduction” of simple daily things makes us in conditions to reorganize our life (and are thought) and achieve more resilience from the outside.This gives people a new vision to organize economic relations, completely different from the current one, son of the “Growth”. Nowdays, in a system based on growth, each person commits specialized technicians also simple jobs; this bring to a dangerous hyper-specialization and a dangerous fragmented  vision of the world around us.
6. Question: What is Permaculture?


Permaculture is an ecological engineering method which develops sustainable human settlements and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled on natural ecosystems. It gives a sustainable alternative to agricultural industrial systems, but since its first appearance (after the second world war) it was considered difficult to last in the long period.A couple of Australian people decided to try a new agricultural system originally called PermacOltura (based on permanent cultivations). The idea was to imitate natural systems as woods and grasslands which grew well without human intervention feeding billion living beings for hundreds of millions years without ploughs or chemical fertilizers.In this trial they understood that, in order to improve the method, technical aspects must have been joined by a new way for structuring the relations between humans and nature; a method to manage a “permanent” adaptation with the several changes of seasons, infesting agents, meteorological conditions and so on. So a new cultural model was coming and it was called “PermacUltura”. This new “framework” of systemic planning was applicable to both agricultural contests and human activities.     In retrospect, we can now say that the results and arguments of Permaculture are very similar to those achieved by scientists operating in the most advanced system laboratories in the world as well as to a town planner like Cristopher Alexander who has created a planning method like Permaculture, trying to understand how to build a town where people really want to live in.
7. Question: Totnes – the first (and one of the most important) Transition town in United Kingdom – has instituted its own local currency (co-existing with the national one) in order to make the production-consumption process more local. How much do you think such initiative could work and, in particular, do you think it is applicable in Italy?

In Italy a complementary local currency is considered illegal, but, in our opinion, this limit has brought the birth of a more powerful initiative. This is the SCEC, a solidarity ticket based on the trust between people. The SCEC started independently from the idea of Transition, but since the beginning a collaboration has been made between the two instrument.
8. Question: A big step will be made when big cities will adopt a Transition model. What people living in big cities could do to start a Transition process?

There are already many big cities hosting Transition initiatives; in Bologna, for example, there is a “quarter” in Transition, while in other cities (Ferrara, Torino, Reggio Emilia) there are Temporary Starting Centre (Centri di Avviamento Temporaneo). I don’t see any difference between a Transition process in a big city and that in little towns; the process is similar. Anyway big cities present more psychological difficulties for the “leading groups”. Perhaps it will be easier to cut cities in starting from the neighbor centres… we will see about that; we are still so young.
9. Question: What kind of support could local and National politicians give in order to back the proliferation of Transition initiative?

They could do (and in many cases they are already doing) many things. For example, they can support the divulgation of information by giving Transition groups public places where organizing their conferences. But the key step is to face the reality of the scenario, and when politicians do this, their decisions change automatically. Politicians, and more general political parties, are becoming more and more interested in methods and projects supporting the Transition process. The number of public representatives inspired by Transition Towns when implementing their projects is rapidly increasing.
10. Question: And firms? What they can do in order to increase their resilience from oil and, above all, what the government can do in order to incentive firms to adopt behaviors that reduce energy consumption?

I and other supporters are already helping firms in their Transitions process. The process is similar to the people’s one. Firms must understand what is happening, what are the real reasons of the current socio-economic crisis, what is the scenario that is coming. Then they will be ready for planning again their business without being influenced by an economic vision distant from reality. There are not many experiences, but the results are encouraging as Italian entrepreneurs immediately understand the seriousness of the situation and, once having the necessary elements, are creative in reorganizing their activity.A far-sighted government should provide entrepreneurs with the right information in order to support re-planning processes. The Scottish government, for example, directly supports Transition Scotland activities. The English government supports the Transition network (the starting group in the world) in order to open a discussion on the Oil Peak with groups of firms asking for an operative plan on the theme (great companies like Virgin are involved). But, as you can see, in that country firms are a step ahead; here in Italy many enterprises don’t know what we are talking about. London’s Lloyds have made all their clients aware of the energy shock that is coming in the next years recommending counteractions; Italian entrepreneurs don’t even know that problems are coming…
11. Question: How many are Transition towns in Italy and in the world? Which is the biggest Transition city in Italy and which is the most successful?

In Italy, there are 26 initiatives; in all the world the official ones are 900, while 2000 is the number for the no-official initiatives. What about the most successful initiatives? Talking about success in this context is difficult as standards of success generally used in the current society are not appropriate to assess a Transition initiative. Often newspapers and magazine focus on less important things and ignore most revolutionary aspects. In any case, the effects of a social innovation process must be measured in a long period; so what could seem exiting at first then could lose its appeal a bit later, while what doesn’t seem interesting then could generate great changes.
12. Question: Could you describe Monteveglio (Bologna)’s story as a Transition town? What are the main projects of this community?

In Monteveglio, by now, the Transition process is already at an advanced levels; when we speak about what is happening here, a great excitement rise, but people focus more on the results than on how they have been generated. One of the things it is important to underline about Monteveglio is the great potentiality generated by the local public offices support. With such a support everything become faster and simple to do. The diffusion of this practice (an efficient public support) can be very positive  for all Transition initiatives.
13. Question: There is some Italian centre that give  advises to Transition groups?

The Italian hub is Transition Italia (, that supports the birth of  “leading groups”, trains the facilitators and develops national and international relations with all the organizations willing to a collaboration.