Get Small to Go Big: How Howard County MD Launched a Transition Initiative

Posted October 6, 2014 in Blog, Featured, Maryland, Story. Tagged:

Transition HoCoMargo Duesterhaus has an amazing house. “We have solar PV, solar hot water, rain gardens and rain barrels,” she says. “We did a big rehab a few years ago to put in major insulation, recycled glass counter tops, and lots of other good stuff.”

Creating a low-carbon house was incredibly satisfying. But even a commitment this huge wasn’t enough for Margo. She knew she needed to do more, though for a while she didn’t know what. Eventually, through a community group focused on climate change, she learned about the Transition Initiatives movement. “It sounded perfect,” she explains. “Exactly what I wanted to do.”

But launching an Initiative proved tricky. “Folks from our community group did some online outreach. But it didn’t really take off.”

Eventually, eight members decided to form a small discussion circle together. “We met seven times and talked about the economy, climate change, and peak oil. We thought about our community’s strengths and where the needs are. We talked about supporting each other through mutual aid.”

“Somehow, these seven meetings created enough group cohesion and momentum to really launch the Transition Initiative,” she says. “At the end of the curriculum, everyone had a lot of energy to get it off the ground.”

Margo’s group used the free seven-session Resilience Circle curriculum to focus its meetings. Other discussion circles have used curricula provided by the Northwest Earth Institute. “The important thing is to meet in a small group and get to know each other more personally,” Margo explains.

Nowadays, Transition Howard County has a mailing list of over two hundred people and several vibrant working groups. They organized an energy forum in the spring of 2013, and a green home tour in the fall of 2012 in conjunction with the big DC Solar Homes Tour.

“The tour is fantastic,” Margo reports. “My home was on the tour, and it’s a great chance to get practical with people. They ask about costs, which companies to use, was it worth it? Having these concrete conversations with people allows them to actually envision making changes.”

She adds, “This year, we’re going to go even bigger and have more homes from our area on the tour. And the projects we feature don’t have to be big and expensive – it can just be a bucket catching rain water, or a small container garden.”

Margo is clear that her Transition Initiative had to start small to get big. Lots of other efforts are also using small groups with real success, such as “Mothers Out Front – Mobilizing for a Livable Climate.” Under this umbrella, dozens of house parties have taken place in Massachusetts, where women have met to talk about their concerns about the future.

Andree Zaleska is one of the organizers. “The sense of relief in the room is palpable,” she says of the gatherings. “Many women have been shouldering their fears for themselves and their children alone. The house parties are a chance to talk and vent and be real about how scary climate change is, and they’ve been really successful in engaging women at a new level.”

“Having wine, cheese, and chocolate at the meetings doesn’t hurt either,” she adds.

Margo agrees. “People are so busy and over-committed, but meeting in a home with friends and food to talk informally – that can really be a game-changer,” she explains. “It recharges your batteries instead of draining them. And it can provide the needed energy to make a big splash out in the wider community.”

Email [email protected] for resources for small groups.