Juan del Río prometes the Transition Movement in Spain. Photo: Juan del Rio

Translating Transition: New book shares experiences of Spain and Latin America

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Magis Magazine

Rob Hopkins is one face of the Transition movement, but there are many more. In the Spanish-speaking world and particularly in Spain one of those faces is Juan Del Rio.

Del Rio, author of a new book in Spanish on the movement of transition, La Guía del Movimiento de Transición (February 2015), was one of the first outside the English-speaking countries in pushing this movement forward and researching its evolution. Del Rio shared his thoughts about his new book, the way in which Transition developed in Spain, the cultural differences and similarities, the  Occupy and Indignados movements and more. A Spanish version of this interview can be found on the Magis website.

Juan del Rio, author of Guía  del Movimiento de Transicion, has been a leader in the Transition movement in Spain.
Juan del Rio, author of Guía del Movimiento de Transicion, has been a leader in the Transition movement in Spain.

“In 2008 I began to hear that something very interesting was happening in England. At that time I was involved in various social and environmental initiatives, such as the “de-growth” movement and different agro-ecological projects, closely related to the ideas of the Transition movement,” Del Rio said. The Transition movement and how to adapt it to Barcelona became the subject of his master’s thesis and soon a central theme of his life. At that time Barcelona was created in Transició, then Transició Cardedeu, a small town near Barcelona where he currently lives.

Those seven years of practical experience implementing and promoting the Transition model in both urban and rural contexts, along with interviews conducted mainly in Spain but also in several Latin American countries, gave del Rio the material for this book – a book that is different from the Spanish translation of the Transition Handbook written by Rob Hopkins, says del Río, both in terms of the language and the cultural context of the historical moment of Transition.

“The Transition Handbook is very good and very helpful, though it was written in the beginning of the movement, and it has evolved and come a long way since then; so it was important to update this information. It is also based on examples mainly in England, and the reality of the English-speaking countries, the way we communicate and the culture is different from countries such as southern Europe, such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy – which share many things with the reality of Latin America. It was therefore necessary to adapt and contextualize the movement by giving examples nearby.

“Transition is necessary and inevitable; It is something that will happen whether we like it or not – so the point is, how can design virtually, collectively – and create a process of change that leads to a desired and possible future?” del Rio asks. “I think in Latin America, Mexico, and also in Spain, we must work to promote the process of transition in our communities. No matter if you live in England, New York or Zimbabwe; we’re hitting the biophysical limits of the planet and inevitably crossing a point of no return in terms of civilization. It will not be possible nor desirable to live as in recent decades. The question is where are we going and how are we going to do it – and this is where Transition has much to say and transformative tools to offer. ”

T: A few months ago your book came out. Can you tell me a little bit about it? 

Image 1J:  Sure. The idea of ​​the transition movement guide is to be a guide for anyone to start a personal and collective level this process of change in your neighborhood, town or city. It is the first book on the subject written in Spanish, with examples close to home, updated and adapted to the current situation for all Spanish-speaking countries. The idea is to be useful and allow readers to take action.

The reference book on the subject has been so far The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, published in 2008. A book was translated into Spanish collaboratively and is available on the network, but it was never really professionally edited in Spanish. It was therefore necessary to adapt and contextualize with current and regionally relevant examples.

I have had the opportunity to work with and to visit  Transition projects in different countries, including England, and one of the observations that I can share, always from my personal perspective, is that today in the “South,” society is much less individualistic . People share more and generally are closer. While on the other hand they tend to be less pragmatic and perhaps spend too much time discussing and talking. In Anglo-Saxon countries there seems to be greater difficulty to interact and create community, but they are best at getting things done. We have much to learn from each other.

Viewing the documentary Transition 2.0 via pedal power in the Transition space at the Biocultura Barcelona fair. Photo: Juan del Rio
Viewing the documentary Transition 2.0 via pedal power in the Transition space at the Biocultura Barcelona fair. Photo: Juan del Rio

For me it was important to write this book, especially after my experience over the last 7-8 years (as a trainer and facilitator of transition, local groups in Transició Barcelona and now Transició Cardedeu , and also coordinating the Transition Network in Spain – it gives a first-hand focus, discussing examples here in Spain, especially, but also from Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

It is a book that aims to share many tools, ideas, examples, experiences, with a practical vision, so that people can start in their own neighborhoods, cities, towns. The book’s foreword is written by Rob Hopkins, and if you want to read, it is here in English and Spanish. Also the website of the book features links to other materials and an extra chapter with interesting collaborations that are not published in the book.

T: Very interesting what you say about people of the South being less individualistic. In what other ways that are different has the Transition movement there in Spain been expressed and manifested?

J: What I’m seeing in southern Europe is that the different movements are mixing a lot; they are creating synergies among de-growth, permaculture, ecovillage, Transition, etc. I also sense that Latin America is going through a similar process. In England, I think it is a little more difficult; it’s like “this” is Transition, “this” is permaculture, etc.

It may be more difficult here to pigeonhole people in either movement. I think it’s a little in the character – it is also true that the climate has a great influence. In Southern Europe people spend more time in public spaces (streets, squares, parks, etc.), and when they go to buy bread they chat with the baker, as people do in Latin America – and I think to a large extent these are the things that have allowed us not lose a sense of community.

For example in Cardedeu, the town where I live, to get from one point to another walking, it can take half an hour easily, because you are constantly meeting people that you know along the way – but it’s just this that is a key aspect for the Transition movement, because these social relations are essential to build a resilient community. It is social resilience, because the connections between people allow that when there are problems, there is a lot of mutual support. We help each other a lot because we know each other, because we know what kind of problems we have and we all have a role in the community. And I think that in Latin America and Southern Europe these types of community networks are much more developed and we must value them and use them more.

T: And how has this characteristic been expressed in some of the initiatives that have been carried out?

J: In Southern Europe, the economic situation is very difficult, many people are having trouble making ends meet – which is why a great diversity of projects to boost the local economy are developing. In this blog, Vivir Sin Empleo, we can find very interesting information about the initiatives of local economy in the Spanish territory as well as a map with the different collaborative sharing networks in the world.

A phenomenon that was very important in the case of Spain, was the M15 or Indignados movement of Spain that arose  in May-June 2011, and served as a seed for the Occupy movement that emerged six months later in the Anglo world. In this interview that we gave at the International Transition Conference in July 2011 in Liverpool, we explain the link between Transition and the M15 movement. In fact after the M15 movement, an important growth in the Transition Movement and in the number of Transition initiatives was observed.

Right now in Spain there are around 50 local Transition initiatives and many others with different names. Given the current economic crisis I can say that such initiatives are certainly spaces of hope in which people seek support and solutions to transform the environment in which they live. Right now you see a lot of desperation, I think that there is about 50% unemployment for young people and 30% of overall unemployment, there have been large cutbacks in many rights and services, education and health, etc. So the situation is really difficult, and in Portugal, Greece and Italy, as well, although with different nuances.

An interesting observation is what motivates people to move to action. At present in Spain, perhaps the main motivator has to do with the economic crisis. Of course, the economic crisis is absolutely interdependent with the ecological and social crisis, but for many people the motivation starts with the economy and the question of how to meet their basic needs. That’s why you see the development of multiple projects developing the local economy. Consider that there are about 300 barter networks in Spain: 200 time banks (whose currency is time and is valid for exchange of services) and some 75 local currencies, among which is a great diversity of models and forms. Examples include the Puma, the Zoquito, the Turuta, the Ecos or Ekhi.

The MercaPuma, an alternative currency launched by the social currency network El PUMA in Sevilla. Photo: Juan del Rio
The MercaPuma, an alternative currency launched by the social currency network El PUMA in Sevilla. Photo: Juan del Rio

Also emerging are a lot of social enterprises and cooperatives, as well as the movement of the comprehensive cooperative, with a transformative and anti-capitalist approach, which includes in a single cooperative structure housing, health, work, education, credit, consumption and production, etc.

Another example that is emerging involves consumer groups that are looking to connect a group of people with local producers of vegetables and other products. Usually it begins with a group of friends or families who decide they want to eat vegetables and fruits organically produced; so they are organized in a collective way and cooperative contact with local producers and that’s the way they begin to consume locally instead of going to the supermarket. In Barcelona alone, ​​for example, there are about 100 groups and consumer cooperatives.

In Cardedeu, the town where I live, there are many such initiatives: the Transition group, Edible Forests, Time Bank, consumer and production groups, etc. For the consumer group, much of the products are produced by the members of the cooperative who form a group of so-called “prosumers”; several people produce vegetables; but at the same time, there are two people who produce bread; there are two that produce sauces and soups; others do olive oil, others do honey – they meet once a week, and the tasks are divided, and you pay with euros or by exchange with different products. It is a mixture of conventional currency and barter.

T: Are these projects really helping unemployed and economically disadvantaged people? Because in my experience these products are actually more expensive. Does it really help people to save money?

J: It’s an interesting question, and a belief that in many cases is erroneous. We could debate a lot about whether it’s “expensive” or “cheap” if you’re talking about it from a purely monetary perspective or from a social and ecological perspective, a short term or a medium and long term, on the issue of employment vs. work and decrease of demands on time, or the issue value vs. price, etc. But without going deeply into these discussions I will share several ideas.

First, we can say that behind local and organic products is the idea that in the medium and long term, even if you pay a little more monetarily, the benefits to the local economy, the environment and health will be much higher. Furthermore producers and consumers are much closer, for example in Cardedeu, we are only a kilometer from where we meet every week and work with each other directly, without intermediaries and thus reducing costs for everyone.

If you buy a lettuce, for example, in the supermarket, maybe lettuce costs 1 euro, but the producer received only 10 cents. In this case you may pay the same price but the euro is integral to the producer, with whom we have a relationship of confidence and know what, how and where he produces. In this way the farmer does not need large monocultures because less but better quality production gets the same monetary return, and more so on the social and ecological levels.

Another aspect is that all the vegetables and fruit is in season – so no tomatoes in winter. We have to accept that this is part of the transition; and this is how it will be for most people, in a few decades or maybe less. Fresh vegetables, a similar price, better quality, and the ability to exchange, share and support each other.

An important consideration is whether what matters most is to “save money” and “have a job” as I see the question — or to live well, happy and have one’s needs met. This is an important change of perspective and in this line of work is the Transition movement. We have to find new ways of relating, to identify what our real needs are and how to meet them. We may not need all that we say we do, and we must recover other things, and to understand that maybe there are other complementary methods to use the euro or the dollar.

One recommendation is the Human Scale development model by Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, which can serve as a framework for identifying essential needs and how to meet them.

T: What other projects exist or are developing in Cardedeu and elsewhere throughout Spain?

J: Actually there are many things. Let’s start locally with Cardedeu.
There is a restaurant-school for self-reliance and reconstruction of resilience called Esbioesfera. Here the local people who have different skills share their expertise in growing food, bread making, garment manufacturing, construction, etc. It also has organic urban gardens and a slow-food restaurant. It is also a meeting place for various groups such as Cardedeu in Transició, the local transition initiative.

Transition course in Cardedeu at Esbiosfera
Transition course in Cardedeu at Esbiosfera

Another interesting project developed by Cardedeu in Transició, is a community permaculture garden in one of the institutes of the village. It has involved school teachers and a group of students and they have jointly made a design for the garden. Shortly a crowdfunding campaign will be launched to secure funding and begin construction in autumn and winter. They plan to build an amphitheater, where teachers can hold classes, and it will be adapted so it can be used by people with disabilities.

Also underway is a collaborative map of sustainable consumption throughout the region inhere you can find local initiatives, shops, orchards, producers, etc. throughout the region that are following principles of localism and organic production. We also include a map with places where people can harvest wild foods for free. For example, fruit trees around the city like apples, citrus, plums, almonds, and some that are not so common for us, but they are edible.

One of the key points is that Transició Cardedeu on the 2nd Friday of the month in Esbiosfera performs what we call a “Transition Merienda (a Spanish tradition like Happy Hour or an English tea). From my experience in different groups, one of the main challenges is how to involve the community – how to communicate all such ideas to a larger group, but in a pleasant and entertaining way.

Hence the idea of ​​Transition Merienda, which for 2 hours invites everyone who wants to come, to share learning and have fun. They spend 10-15 minutes talking about the Transition movement, then focus with games and and activities on the specific topic of the day – it can be about food, energy, creativity, learning about projects, local economy, etc. The participants are diverse and dedicate at least half an hour to share different foods and drinks, which are usually local and homemade. With this we are building a space for the connection between people, to meet, to bond and learn from each other. It has become something of a tradition, it is very nice, and this is the way that new people start to get involved in the group. The local television station has participated at different times to do some videos about the project, for example when we had the visit of Transition movement co-founders Rob Hopkins andwith Naresh Giangrande.

Cardedeu en Transició after one of its "Meriendas"
Cardedeu en Transició after one of its “Meriendas”

Beyond Cardedeu is the Transition Network project as defined in its website: “The international Transition movement is organized in each country through a network of local initiatives and a central backbone. Transition Network Spain – REDTE – is a non-profit project, composed of a diverse group of people working to highlight and boost the Transition movement in the Spanish state, as well as support local initiatives and connect them together with the International Network of Transition. REDTE is part of the Transition Network.

From REDTE, many interesting projects are coming about. On the level of training, we just finished the first official online course  on Transition in Spanish with about 20 participants from Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, etc. In addition we have just released the second edition of the course this fall – October-November 2015 – and we hope it will be a success again. And new classroom training to be updated on the web are planned.

We also do a monthly newsletter with which we can keep abreast of what is happening in the world of Transition and that anyone can subscribe to. Other projects are related to research and dissemination, such as the study on strategies to promote awareness and action, or barriers and opportunities for social initiatives towards sustainability. Furthermore the Transition Network participates in multiple events and works in different permaculture networks, de-growth, ecovillages, and major European projects such as ECOLISE.

Students from a Transition course in Barcelona (Photo: Juan Del Rio)
Students from a Transition course in Barcelona (Photo: Juan Del Rio)

Also I participate in many other projects, as a trainer, facilitator, researcher, writer, etc. Examples include: the Sustainable Transition project; 15/15\15 Magazine for a new civilization, of which I am part of the editorial board; my regular collaborations with the magazine Ecohousing, etc. A brief summary of this can be seen on my personal website.

T: Why do you think it is important to promote Transition?

Transition is necessary and inevitable; It is something that will happen whether we like it or not – so the point is, how can we design it virtually, collectively -and put forth a process of change that will lead us toward a possible and desirable future?

I think that in Latin America, Mexico, and also in Spain, we must work to encourage this process of change in our communities.

There are many ecological and social movements fighting directly against the prevailing system, and while that is important, in my opinion it is even more necessary to promote alternatives and that’s where the Transition movement is working, creating new realities and building synergies with other initiatives, networks and movements.

I think it is now time to address that concern, we’ve no time to lose, we have the diagnosis so we have to take action. And so sharing is one of the most important challenges, and I consider the Transition movement is learning how to work with its holistic and inclusive vision to build bridges between islands, namely between individuals, peoples and various projects, both in its scope of work and its scale of operation. We must be inclusive, capable of integrating diversity and learning to cooperate.

T: What kind of impact is the Transition Movement having  in politics there in Spain?

J: In Spain because of the economic, social and political crisis, there is a lot of disappointment, a lot of disenchantment with traditional political parties. These new parties have emerged at the local level. And it’s very interesting to see how local parties formed by people from civil society who have made that leap in contacting us, saying that if they take office in our town or in our community, they want this to be a community in Transition. They ask us about what they should include in their election manifesto, what measures, they should take, what we want to appear there; they are asking us for advice.

Open forum in Mijas, Málaga, Spain, with Juan del Rio. Photo: Courtesy Juan del Rio
Open forum in Mijas, Málaga, Spain, with Juan del Rio. Photo: Courtesy Juan del Rio

The municipal elections were only a month ago and in many towns our people are now part of the government. The most striking cases are those of cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Cádiz and Santiago de Compostela among others. Although in my opinion the role of leading the process of change must come from below, local institutions have much to contribute to facilitate this process and new local political parties want to do politics in a different way, and are also taking inspiration from the Transition Movement. So we’re waiting a bit to see what happens in the coming months but we are having some interesting changes.

A case worth mentioning is in Carcaboso, a town of 1,200 people in the province of Caceres, where for the past four years, the council began to promote a large number of Transition projects – community orchards and chicken coops, small local businesses, naming itself a GMO-free municipality, with its own ecological label, etc. And this sort of thing is beginning to happen; we don’t know how it will develop. Without wanting to create great expectations the reality is that new windows are opened and it is an exciting process.

T: How can people who are fighting this crisis benefit from Transition?

J: I see the Transition Movement as an experimental tool. People in Spain, as in many other parts of the world, need solutions; they are looking for different ways to cope, because this is new for everyone. There are many families having their homes foreclosed, people starving, corruption. People feel that we need a new way of doing things and the Transition movement as discussed above contributes to this, to build new realities and create spaces of hope and mutual support.

Since 2011 with 15M many things have happened but this evolutionary process has only just begun. It is personal and collective change, we are talking about transforming our lifestyles and our values ​​and beliefs, and it is an integral transition, both internally and externally.

T: Tell me about your plans for the book, especially with regard to Latin America.

The Guía del movimiento de transición was published in February 2015 with the Catarata publishing house, for now just in Spain. It is the first book written on the subject adapted to the Spanish-speaking public so I’d like to reach as many people as possible. I have presented it in different cities of Spain: Barcelona, ​​Granada, Madrid, etc. and it is having a very good reception. I’m starting to get very positive feedback from people who have read it and hopefully it can be very useful for many people. One of my principles is to do things without many expectations and in a humble way; so I did the book, trying to share my experience and that of many people we have interviewed, for the purpose of promoting the progress of this process of change.

Presenting the book at the Central Library of Barcelona. Photo: Juan del Rio
Presenting the book at the Central Library of Barcelona. Photo: Juan del Rio

All the information can be found on the website of the book. From where to get it (for Latin America currently only via Amazon, which will soon offer an ebook version), the prologue in several languages, annexes, an extra chapter, a detailed index, interviews and articles, etc. So I invite you to enter, and check out the different materials.

Regarding my plans in Latin America, I would like that the book will also be published there and reach the maximum number of people. At the moment I am beginning to plan a trip to these lands for the next European winter (approximately from late November to March). I hope to visit several countries, presenting the book, participate in different functions, and mainly visit projects and meet people with whom I can learn, share and be inspired.

Juan Del Rio is open to invitations from from late November 2015 to March 2016 in Latin America. He can be contacted at juandelrio@reddetransicion.org

Interesting links:

Guía del movimiento de transición

Website of Juan del Río

De la Idea a la Acción: Aprendiendo del Movimiento de Transición Towns (Thesis of Juan Del Río)

Red de Transición Spain

Red internacional de transición

Transición Sostenible

Cardedeu en Transició