Monday, 26 October 2009

The Wales Green List

Find a link here to the first ever Wales Green List which we announced on Tuesday 20th Oct. We had some great media cover in the papers, radio and TV, which is still continuing.

The judging panel consisted of Richard Jarvis, Helen Nelson, Mike Batt, Peter Davies, Chris Kelsey and Clare Sain Ley Berry. The final List was unanimous.
The Green List of 52 people (one for each week of the year) will be promoted by us and Media Wales over the forthcoming year. Seventy Five people in all were nominated. All are worthy of recognition and we hope next year a different list of 52will feature those who didn't make the list this time. We also hope that the public will continue to nominate people.

The evening event at the Senedd on Monday 19th October was a celebration of all 75 nominees and an opportunity to take stock of where we are in Wales when it comes to sustainable development. The event itself was a big success, with so many new faces and a great reaction to the photographs and film which will be touring venues across Wales to promote the list. We've had very positive comments from the people that were there - it was great to end a busy summer on such a high note!

But the importance of all this is that it shows that ordinary people - communities, businesses, charities and enterprises - understand that we have reached the end of a consumer-driven, resource-hungry economy powered by fossil fuel. We stand on the brink of a new age where human beings will draw on all their ingenuity and capacity for invention and change to grasp new technologies, new social structures, yes even new spiritual and philosophical outlooks. This isn't greenwash - The List proves that people out there get it and are taking action on their own initiative. The challenges still remain and they are daunting but in Wales for certain there is now a citizen-led movement that is gearing up to meet whatever a future of climate change and peak oil may bring.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Engineers Warn Governments About Climate Change

Not so long ago, engineers were part of the problem. Take the Cardiff Bay barrage as an example: biologists warned that damming two rivers and flooding a tidal delta would create long term management problems. Sure enough, at huge expense, air is now pumped into Cardiff Bay to keep the water oxygenated. Large-scale engineering projects have in the past contributed to climate change. It is therefore refreshing to be able to quote the following from the press release of The International Federation of Consulting Engineers:

"Without agreement at Copenhagen, consulting engineers believe the world faces starvation, poverty and war over resources. To avert these disasters, the world consulting engineering industry demanded a meaningful dialogue with governments. They also urged a conclusive agreement on carbon reduction levels between governments at the coming Copenhagen summit.

Over the last three days, the consulting engineering community met in London at the FIDIC 2009 conference to discuss the answers to the world’s problems. FIDIC intends to send an open letter to the governments attending Copenhagen that demands that they reach an agreement on climate change. The letter will also provide examples of how the industry can offer sustainable solutions to these global challenges.

The last days have brought together over 700 consulting engineers from around the world who have proposed critical engineering solutions to these issues. Sustainability is the most important issue facing humanity. Failure to act now will condemn many generations to come to prolonged hardships.”

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Pembroke Can Make A Difference

Set against the backdrop of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, key environment campaigners in Wales are meeting in Pembroke for the first time.

The event, to be held in Foundry House on Pembroke Commons on Thursday 15th October, is organised by Pembroke 21C Community Association’s Sustainable Energy Group to showcase their project designed to encourage behavioural change in Pembroke.

Pembroke Can Make a Difference! encourages individuals, households, schools and businesses to begin taking small steps to reduce their impact on the environment and to build a cohesive community approach so that Pembroke really can make a difference and plan for a sustainable future.

Starting at 5pm the evening will bring together national and local organisations who are working in the field of climate change. There will be a showing of the film Ecoworriers: An end of the road movie by Rhodri Thomas of Sustain Wales, who will later join a panel of experts to examine whether this small community project can affect the big picture.

The panel, to be chaired by Angela Burns AM, Shadow Minister for Environment and Planning, with Peter Davies of the Sustainable Development Commission for Wales, Gordon James from Friends of the Earth, and Andy Middleton of TYF Group, will examine the question Can Pembroke Make A Difference?

The event is free and refreshments will be served.

If you live in or near Pembroke and want to get involved contact Pembroke 21C on 01646 680090 or e-mail foundryhouse@pembroke21c.org

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Rhythm of Life

EARTH RHYTHMS 350:
DRUM & DANCE FOR A SAFER FUTURE
350 minutes of drumming and dance in a zero-carbon celebration of earth rhythms as part of the www.350.org global day of action on climate change.

Call to Arms - Groove along for 10 minutes or more - free to join in - bring the kids to the seaside - look for the gazebo village!!

Sandy Bowl, Porthcawl, October 24th
Start time: 12.10pm, Ends: 6.00pm

See www.sustainablewales.org for updates on location and activities.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Is This It?

Every day for the last seven I have heard news reports about unusual weather patterns across the globe - dust storms in Australia, droughts in Africa and Iraq, floods in the Philippines. It is tempting to see these as evidence of anthropogenic climate change.

I did a web search on "east Africa drought climate change" and every item on the first page of the search linked climate change to the drought. So the link has been made at a populist level. Will this affect behaviour in the UK and the rest of the world? Probably not. Maybe a drought and apocalyptic dust storms turning day into night in Kansas City, Toronto, London and Paris would make a difference but so often history shows that only when the stormtroopers of crisis are hammering on the door do people wake up and realise "So this affects me too?!" Damn right.

At our conference this weekend we heard expert evidence on what is likely to change behaviour. We considered social norms and peer groups, resonant narratives and market psychology. All good stuff but when you read about the catastrophic change now taking place around the globe it does make you think that really there is only one issue here - survival. Surely that's something anyone can understand and respond to? Well yes, but not while the threat is perceived as "far away and someone else's problem". Its getting nearer everyday my friends. Just how near does it have to get?

For the thoughtful, here is an extract from The Guardian: Many people, in Kenya and elsewhere, cannot understand the scale and speed of what is happening. The east African country is on the equator, and has always experienced severe droughts and scorching temperatures. Nearly 80% of the land is officially classed as arid, and people have adapted over centuries to living with little water.

There are those who think this drought will finish in October with the coming of the long rains and everything will go back to normal.

Well, it may not. What has happened this year, says Leina Mpoke, a Maasai vet who now works as a climate change adviser with Ireland-based charity Concern Worldwide, is the latest of many interwoven ecological disasters which have resulted from deforestation, over-grazing, the extraction of far too much water, and massive population growth.

"In the past we used to have regular 10-year climatic cycles which were always followed by a major drought. In the 1970s we started having droughts every seven years; in the 1980s they came about every five years and in the 1990s we were getting droughts and dry spells almost every two or three years. Since 2000 we have had three major droughts and several dry spells. Now they are coming almost every year, right across the country," said Mpoke.

He reeled off the signs of climate change he and others have observed, all of which are confirmed by the Kenyan meteorological office and local governments. "The frequency of heatwaves is increasing. Temperatures are generally more extreme, water is evaporating faster, and the wells are drying. Larger areas are being affected by droughts, and flooding is now more serious.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Where's the climate changing?


Australia it seems it experiencing the affects of climate change more acutely than the UK.
Take a look at this report on the continent's record warm winter.

And footage of the dust storms is apocalyptic.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Local carbon footprints released

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 17 September 2009
Regional CO2 Emissions Results Released Today

New climate change stats revealing the carbon footprint of every single part of the UK are published today.

The statistics calculate the climate impact of the energy used by homes, businesses and road transport in each local authority area throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

- The UK has already reduced its emissions by 21% on 1990 levels and is committed to a reduction of at least 34% by 2020

- In today’s results the UK’s overall CO2 emissions dropped by2% between 2005 and 2007

- Emissions have fallen in 335 out of the 434 local authorities in the UK

You can find a breakdown of the results for your own area at; http://decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/statistics/climate_change/climate_chang e.aspx

Monday, 7 September 2009

Who Are The Green Heroes?

Only One Week Left to Nominate Green Heroes
There is only one week left to nominate green heroes for the Wales Green List. The Wales-wide search to identify 52 champions, deserving of recognition for tacking sustainability and climate change, ends on 14 September.

Despite the word ‘green,’ the search is not limited to environmental champions. Rather, the list seeks to identify people who are simply making a difference by working towards building a better, more sustainable Wales.

Nominees could be tackling environmental and social issues in their own village or town, at a regional, national or international level. And candidates can range from artists to politicians, from campaigners to company directors, from business leaders to community groups, staff members or project promoters.

The Green List will feature 52 green champions – one for every week of the year – selected by a panel of people from business, media, the voluntary sector, social enterprise and sustainable development fields.

Helen Nelson, Executive Director of Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales, said:

“There are so many amazing people doing great work to ensure a sustainable future for Wales and it’s time to recognise their efforts. We are searching for people who are making a positive impact on their communities, the environment and, ultimately, other people’s lives.”
Visit www.sustainwales.com to find out more and nominate. The closing date for nominations is 14 September 2009.

For more information, case studies, images and interviews, please contact Roz Robinson or Gwenllian Evans on 029 2019 2025 or email roz@sustainwales.com / gwenllian@sustainwales.com.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Arctic 'warmest in 2,000 years'

Sometimes a piece of scientific evidence emerges that is a gift to headline writers (and bloggers).

A study of ice cores, tree rings and sediments in the arctic has produced a climate reconstruction that indicates that the arctic has warmed dramatically in recent decades against a background of global cooling, the BBC reports.

What is striking about this new evidence is the appearance of the contentious 'hockey stick' shape made famous by Al Gore. Bar room sceptics like to tell you all about the medieval warm period and how "all this global warming is due to natural variation" but according to this reconstruction, the earth has been steadily cooling since the medieval period due to natural variation and this sudden rise is despite the natural processes that cause cooling. There must be some other variable forcing the warming. What else has changed as dramatically in the last 100 years? Mmmm....

Its not scientifically proven but its very tempting to link this summer's bad weather to climate change. Models of global warming predict higher rainfall in the northern hemisphere with storms of increased ferocity and intense rainfall pulses. So news that Wales was drenched by a 44% increase in rainfall this summer, tempts one to claim this as evidence of a longer term trend in motion. The latest projections from UKCIP however suggest drier summers in future.

Its always worth remembering that natural systems share a common trait - tipping points. Things can seem stable and unvarying for a long time as the system absorbs change and then suddenly the capacity to absorb change is exhausted and BAM! the system tips into a new energetic state via a period of chaos. If you have time you should watch this lecture on line by Martin Scheffer

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Real people feel the same way as us!

When you work for an organisation like Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales you tend to meet other environmental scientists, politicians, green activists and academics who broadly share your view.

It is therefore very encouraging and refreshing to meet people who are not 'green' professionals but citizens who have through their own experience and observation reached the same conclusion as the scientists.

One such person is Linda Ware who lived without a bin for three months and has embraced the challenge of living without plastic and is determined to escape the snares of the consumerist economic culture which is addicted to energy consumption and perpetuates the fantasy that continual infinite growth is possible in a finite universe.

Have a look at her blog Auntie Plastic and be inspired!!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Rules to make micro-generation easier in Wales come into force

Installing micro-generation equipment such as solar panels in Welsh homes becomes easier from today (1 September) as new planning rules come into force.
Environment Minister Jane Davidson hopes the changes will give households the opportunity to minimise their carbon footprint and to reduce fuel bills.

The aim of the changes is to remove certain types of micro-generation equipment from requiring planning permission, making it easier for individuals and local communities install equipment that will contribute to tackling climate change and lower energy bills.

There will be no requirement to pay planning fees, also reducing the financial burden.

Equipment that comes under the new rules includes:
- small scale solar panels
- ground source heat pumps, and
- biomass flues.

Ms Davidson said:
“A key part to tackling climate change will be lessening our reliance on carbon based energy. This is where micro-generation has a major role to play. It gives households the opportunity to produce their own clean, green energy.

“Here in Wales we have a large share of off gas-grid homes where micro-generation could provide an alternative. We want these new rules to encourage people to consider micro-generation and make it easier for them begin producing their own energy.”

Walking Away From Nature?

The UK Royal Society - the scientific body founded at a previous time of profound change - has reviewed the technological solutions to climate change that are currently being proposed and has concluded that many are technically possible. See here.
These include: a giant mirror on the Moon; a space parasol made of superfine aluminium mesh; and a swarm of 10 trillion small mirrors launched into space one million at a time every minute for the next 30 years.

The numbers of suggested technological fixes for the earth system crisis are steadily increasing. Although many of them remain only ideas and the time and investment to realise them is just not being made available, they are significant in what they represent. Human beings are ingenious and creative. A crisis always brings out this trait. Many environmentalists advocate a down-sizing return to nature, a turning away from technology which has been the cause of pollution, species loss, climate change and an over-reliance on finite resources. What may happen however is the exact opposite.

The future, on the other side of the inevitable crisis, may well be more technological not less. The technology may be more subtle and more in tune with natural processes - see biomimicry for example - but it will nevertheless be one more step away from our origins, enabling us to maintain our unique position on the planet.

If human bio-engineering, mirrors in space, carbon capture, GM farming and robotics increase our chances of survival then is that what people will go for even if it increases our disconnect with nature or even changes the understanding of what it is to be human?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Peak Water?

The earth system crisis is about so much more than climate change and yet this has been latched onto by politicians and commentators alike so much so that one might assume it is the only challenge we face.

The point of a holistic approach to sustainable development is that there are no simple solutions or singular threats.

New data from NASA satellites suggests evidence for impending water shortages that could in some parts of the world be compounded by climate change while in others be alleviated by higher levels of current rainfall. In the case of this latest data, the assumption is that groundwater depletion is due to human over use rather than a long term trend of lower precipitation locally or in the Himalayas.

While the report from NASA focuses attention on the mining of groundwater reserves in North West India, there are similar concerns in the USA, China and other parts of the world.

In addition to recharge from rain, groundwater and climate change are linked by the threat of rising sea levels which are increasing the salinity of coastal aquifers.

Where human society is indulging in mismanagement of environmental resources, climate change could be the source of further stress that tips local ecosystems into chaotic behaviour leading to total collapse.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Development Trusts - The Future Looks Communal

On the 10th July, Development Trusts Association Wales held their annual conference. Inspiring speeches were made by Michael Pyner, Steve Wyler and Peter Williams of the DTA and by Mal Williams of Cylch. Their conclusion, and its a view increasingly held by others, is that the social enterprise sector offers hope for not only a way out of the current recession but for a renaissance in community economic development that is sustainable and ethical.

The credit crunch has been an early sign that the age of consumer-driven global capitalism is coming to an end. Even as the far east seeks to emulate the materialism of the west, the immanent decline in oil production, the exhaustion of mineral resources such as phosphorus and the increasing exploitation of finite reserves of fresh water means that we can be certain of one thing - our world will change. Either we will reconstruct global capitalism based on so far unknown technological advances that will free us from our dependence on fossil fuels or our world will shrink to a global network of localised economies that subsist rather than grow indefinitely. As nothing in nature grows indefinitely I suggest you put your money on the latter scenario.

This means then that the future will be low energy, low carbon, technologically efficient and non-materialistic. While individual entrepreneurs will still continue to emerge, they will have to compete or co-operate with a co-operative and communal enterprise sector that is growing in confidence.

Declassified Satellite Images Reveal Truth Bush Tried to Hide

A report in the Guardian makes very interesting reading. Is this suppressed evidence of climate change?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

All We Ask For Is Commitment

Jonathan Porritt and Andy Middleton gave a qualified endorsement of the Welsh Assembly Government's commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 3% on radio Wales this morning.

Jane Daidson, minister for Environment Sustainability and Housing, will announce Wales is to spend £300m cutting carbon emissions as part of its commitment to tackling climate change.

The BBC Wales report emerges the morning after a Newsnight report on the Obama administration's problems in honouring the election commitment to pass a radical climate change bill.

With no big oil and coal lobby to grapple with, perhaps the Welsh Assembly finds it easier to make progress on climate change. Similarly US state governments have provided progressive leadership on GHG emissions while the federal Bush administration failed.

The Newsnight report and subsequent discussion suggested that the Obama administration has been thwarted and the climate change bill, if passed, will be considerably weaker than was proposed by the man himself during his election campaign.

We all know that politicians who are supposed to represent us are often compromised by powerful lobbies. We the electorate know its tough at the top but like in any relationship all we ask for is a bit of commitment.

We could make it easier for politicians to remain faithful to their ideals by demonstrating in that we want leadership on climate change and that we are prepared to live with the consequences of difficult decisions.

Monday, 22 June 2009

A Time For Heroes Like You

I recently went to a session in which Dr. Chris Johnstone and Sue Weaver tried to help a group of environmental professionals come to terms with the burden of knowledge that the earth system is in crisis.

Chris works a lot with helping people overcome addiction. I am struck by the fact that our society is addicted to oil and cheap energy. Cold Turkey is going to be interesting to put it mildly. Frankly the prospect terrifies me but that's what Sue and Chris were trying to help us with.

I recently encountered the story of Tricia Morgan, a voluntary worker in Swansea who through her work on Swansea Community farm underwent transition from an ex-addict on probation to director of a community regeneration trust. The message is clear: individuals can change. Their efforts are heroic. As society is made up of millions of individuals, it too can change.

Chris publishes a newsletter called Great Turning Times. Through this he develops ideas of positive visions giving routes through adversity, creating resilience.

Often what is needed for change is a positive vision to aspire to. This is true for individuals and societies. That's the most important thing I got out of the day. The burden of knowledge that climate change and peak oil threatens our way of life can result in a paralysis of despair. But while we fail to act, others will. A political solution is part of the answer. A positive political vision that recognises that salvation will come from what we have in common not from that which divides us. The battle lines are drawn - recall the results of the recent Euro elections. Sustainable Development is the movement towards a more equitable, less greedy, slower, more peaceful and harmonious way of life. Lets work on that vision and learn to articulate it so that it can inspire others and overcome fear.

As Chris says, 'this is the time of the Great Turning'. We are all heroes in this epic struggle.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Information Age

Information exchange is central to the work of Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales. As explained in previous blogs, information is rich in embodied energy and a key component of any sustainable system is fluid information exchange.

Information and communication precedes change. All agree that in the face of rising global temperatures and falling supplies of easily accessible oil, change is needed on a major scale.

Events in Iran dramatically illustrate this point. Read here how mobile phones, and internet communication platforms such as Twitter are being used to co-ordinate protest. The same technology has been used by Ant- Globalisation protestors in the West and by President Obama’s team during his election campaign.

The sustainable development movement needs to use this technology as effectively. Cynnal Cymru has a Facebook and Twitter page. But we and our partners could go further. Ultimately, the power to bring about change resides in individuals not organisations. I await the day when a critical mass of citizens demanding change develops. This may not be until the price of oil and rising sea levels curtail the freedoms we in the west all take for granted.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Surfers View of Climate Change

Surfers are people embedded in the coastal environment. If the climate is changing or if the water quality is deteriorating they should know.

A new film "On The Push" by young Welsh surfer and award-winning film maker Ann Gallagher gives a surfers perspective of climate change.

You don't need planning permission to start an allotment

Some local authorities in the UK have expressed reluctance to release land for allotments saying that planning permission would be required. This is apparently not the case as is concisely explained here.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The Oil Crunch

The Oil Crunch is a report by the UK industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security.

It is backed by ARUP, The First Group, and Virgin amongst others. It reports reliable and respected analysis that predicts peak oil as occurring between 2011 and 2015. After this point the depletion of existing oil reserves can no longer be replaced by additions of new capacity.

The result will either be a gradual descent as oil becomes increasingly scarce or a sudden collapse in supply.

Descent is maintained by the exploitation of alternative "not-so-easy" oil sources such as tar sands and ultra deep water reserves. Exploitation of some of these have serious ecological implications.

The report argues that the threat to our society of an oil crunch is more imminent and therefore more deserving of a priority policy response than climate change. The current policy perspective, the report says, prioritises climate change and so the time scale for bringing in alternative energy sources is too long for the 2011-2015 window.

The report makes a number of recommendations. A brief summary can be read here.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Precious Information - the gift that keeps on giving

I make no apologies about using this blog spot to promote the work of Howard T. Odum. As mentioned previously I am reading “A Prosperous Way Down” – a book in which Odum succinctly explains his theoretical world view of how human society and the environment interact at the energetic level. Since all matter is energy, this amounts to ecological theory of everything. This may sound glib – well a blog is not the place to explain Odum’s thinking in detail – you’ll have to buy or borrow his books and read the many scientific papers written by his former students.

Odum offers the observation that the most energy-rich material we have on this planet is information. Energy-rich is to be understood as rich in embodied energy, rich in the sense that a great deal of effort by nature and humankind has gone into producing it. A seed is rich in information. All the information needed to make a mighty oak tree is contained in an acorn. The genius of Einstein (and Odum), the magnificence of our greatest athletes and artists is contained in a single cell.

With this stated Odum considers modern societies – highly powered with fossil fuels, highly structured, complex and overflowing with resources. What characterises such a society – our society - is that it overflows with information. We live in an information age, they say.

Of course, most of this information is useless. Hello magazine contains information as does the chat show of Jonathan Ross but does that compare to the wisdom to be found in books, professional journals or even humble blogs?! And yet a profusion of information sources and outlets is what Odum’s theories predict for highly powered societies. If we removed cheap energy (peak oil) there would be a fall off in inane chatter as people sought out the most vital, useful information. In hunter gatherer societies for example, all information is instructional and essential for survival – read Jay Griffiths’ wondrous book “Wild” in which she fully explores the deep and resonant worlds of so called primitive savages – our ancestors.

In a hunter gatherer society there is little or no surplus energy. All information is valuable and highly prized. Stories instruct. Gossip cements social bonds or gives tips on where the best food is to be found.

Useless information is quick and adaptable. It spreads easily. The more useful information is, the more embodied energy it contains, the slower it is to impart and explain. Think how long it takes to train a doctor or for someone to become a master craftsman or that genetic information is the product of millions of years of evolution.

Two examples of the role of information are in the news this week. The one is MPs expenses, the other is calls for compulsory MMR vaccinations. What makes the headlines is pretty low grade stuff. In both cases there is a more complicated set of facts behind the headlines that require sober, reasoned analysis. One story raises questions about the fundamental structure of our system of governance and the values upon which it is founded, the other raises questions about the role of drug companies in our medical system and our perceptions of risk.

We need politicians so how do we get ones motivated by principle and not material gain?
At what level of risk do we rely on naturally acquired immunity over commercially produced vaccinations?

And all of this presents the sustainable development movement with big questions. We know that society needs to change in order to survive. We know that the spread of information precedes major social change. Ayatollah Khomeini distributed tape players and cassettes to spread his revolution in Iran. Joseph Goebbels distributed radios tuned to the state controlled station.

This summer and autumn, Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales will be addressing the issue of social behavioural change. We have invited leading thinkers to submit essays on the topic and it will be the theme of our annual public conference in Carmarthenshire on the 25 and 26th September. Our colleagues in BBC Wales are also addressing the same issue later this year.

What type and quality of information will convince people that it is necessary and possible to plan for and develop a low carbon, resource efficient, environmentally harmonious society? Is the situation so desperate that we should resort to the cunning of Khomeini? When an idea’s time has come, it spreads like a virus. But by then it may be too late. What follows is revolution not evolution. Instead of reasoned, planned change based on high quality complex information you get rapid and destructive change based on slogans and fear.

One point that Odum makes that we should all consider: he says that information is too valuable to be held and used for profit. Good quality information is vital to our survival. The stories of our ancestors told around the camp fire were given freely and with love. They were necessary for survival. Having read the chapter on information in Odum’s book, I now understand why a colleague and fellow Odumite gives books away to those he knows will cherish them.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Trees Trees Trees! Lets plant them!

I met a lady at the recent Community Climate Change events who wants us to plant more trees. She is setting up an organisation called:
FREETREE
Freetree`s purpose is to get trees planted. She would like to put growers like herself in touch with people who want to plant them. This would range from someone planting a tree in their garden (which they get free from Freetree) to persuading government to plant anything from a solitary tree to community orchards and woodlands. Ideally each community would grow their own trees to plant locally.
FREETREE NEEDS BRANCHES –ONE COULD BE GROWING NEAR YOU
Freetre Website is being developed meanwhile:-

Contact Jules Newman for more information
jules@freetree.info

Friday, 22 May 2009

After The Descent

I am reading "A Prosperous Way Down" by Howard and Elisabeth Odum.

Howard Odum's work on ecological systems and how environmental limits interact with human economic systems should be better known.

Odum describes the way natural systems (and human socio-economic systems) pulse in a frequency determined by the availability of resources - just think about the four seasons on the Northern hemisphere if you are wondering what this means. This pulsing appears as a rise in productivity proportional to the consumption of a resource. Once this resource has been used up, productivity falls. This fall could be gradual or sudden and catastrophic. In most systems there is no choice but for we humans, currently coming to the end of a number of resources which have fuelled our recent growth, there is some choice - we have knowledge and we have technology but do we have the will? Take a look at a presentation by Dr. Steven Harris of Science Shops Wales for more on this.

So with Odum's work fresh in my mind I yesterday visited the Creation Trust in the Garw Valley South Wales.

The Garw was one of those iconic coal valleys in the last century. Hills rise vertically from the narrow flood plain, roads and houses cling to the sides in narrow terraces. At one time the narrow valley echoed to the sounds of steam and clanking machines. Engines and aerial ropeways disturbed the ancient peace, slicing the sky and the flesh of the place in a frenzy of industrial greed. Human beings were dwarfed by the industry. Coal (and the elites who controlled it) was king.

Before coal there were only five farms. Now, though the houses remain, there is no industry, no machinery - it is once more a rural, beautiful place.


Blaengarw is a living example of the pulsing phenomenon that Odum describes. Coal was the resource that fuelled the rapid, rabid growth - a brief pulse in time. Before coal, a peaceful low energy state where the only pulsing was that brought by the seasons. After coal....? What?

Well the descent, when it came was sudden and catastrophic. Socially, economically, environmentally, the valley landed with a bump. Now, thanks to the Creation Trust and the residents who support it, the community and the ecosystem in which it is embedded are recovering. It is reaching a new kind of steady state - not that of five farms but of a community in harmony with nature and itself, pulsing with the seasons once again. There is a lot more work to do but the achievements and aspirations of Creation Trust and the people of Blaengarw offer hope that with commitment, patience and vision, regional, national and even global society can negotiate the descent and reach a new, low energy existence that pulses not with the insane fever of stock markets dependent on oil, gas and coal but with the natural pulses that have always existed and will remain as long as the sun shines and the earth rotates. These can be devastating in their own way - who can predict the eruption of the next super volcano - but if human society is obliterated at least it will be by some natural perturbation and not as a consequence of our own folly and greed.

COMMUNITY ACTION FOR CLIMATE CHANGE

The Welsh Assembly Government in partnership with Science Shops Wales and with the support of Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales and other organisations have recently hosted a series of one day information and networking events.

These took place in Llangollen, Aberystwyth and Cardiff. Each event featured rousing and inspiring presentations from leading activists and academics, advice shops on specific topics and group action planning.

The purpose of the events was to support people who are working closely with communities to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and to enable them to become more effective.

Delegates were given the opportunity to learn about a number of topics at advice shops. These included; measuring your outcomes, calculating eco-footprints, applying for funding, working with policy makers and changing behaviour.

A group activity in the afternoon, led by the Do Foundation, sought to plan actions along a timeline from 2009 to 2050. This exercise, as well as being repeated at all three events will also be replicated at the Hay On Earth festival. The output from the planning sessions will be collated and summarised before being presented to policy makers.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

No Polar Bears please

Nasa Scientist Gavin Schmidt in The Guardian says simplistic stories and cliché pictures of polar bears have failed to engage people in the true debate

We follow a blog which Schmidt helped to set up called http://realclimate.org/

This aims to flesh out, with scientific data and rational debate, some of the stories that hit the headlines.

I, like many environmental scientists and campaigners, have had to endure the bombastic assurances of friends relatives and complete strangers that "its all down to sunspots - this global warming thing is a scam to keep people like you in work."

Being a scientist one can only sigh in exasperation - climate science is complicated, where do I begin?

So Gavin Schmidt makes an important point. We all need to become more scientifically literate. I was very pleased to hear Robert Jolliffe, Chair of the trustees of the National Botanic Garden of Wales say recently that his organisation wanted to make the population of Wales one of the most "environmentally literate" in the world.

We are entering new territory whether we like it or not. This is a period of massive change and the future, if it is to be sustainable, must be born from a new Renaissance where science, technology, art, philosophy and faith do not operate in isolation but are integrated as components of the whole human/earth ecosystem. But within this system, the scientific method rather than some vague notion of science, should be respected and understood by all as a process of illumination by rational enquiry. Scientists are practitioners of this method and not an insidious cabal to be feared and railed against. The Real Climate blog can only help bring this future closer.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Real Men Take Climate Change Seriously

Just in case anyone was thinking that climate change was something that only freaky greens in beards and sandals are worried about (and you'd be surprised at how many still think that way!), the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) have recently initiated a programme of energy efficiency measures and awareness raising for rugby clubs across Wales.

The action is sponsored by SWALEC, part of the Scottish and Southern Energy Group. The WRU group is leading by example by switching to SWALEC’s business green tariff for the Millennium Stadium, which means that Scottish and Southern Energy has committed to match the energy used by the Millennium Stadium by generating the same amount of energy from renewable energy sources. That's a lot of energy.

But perhpas most significantly, the WRU press statement says "The WRU Group accepts climate change as one of the biggest challenges facing the world today and hopes the measures and the impact of today's announcement will have a positive effect on WRU club members, Welsh rugby supporters, and visitors to the Millennium Stadium."

Despite the rise and success of the women's international team and the many female fans who work tirelessly to support the game at club level, it is still a fairly masculine culture. The other day I was speaking with two colleagues who work for environmental organisations. They both recalled the many times that they had been labeled "hippy" by others with the suggestion that climate change and environmental awareness was something a bit fey and not relevant to the real world. Rugby on the other hand is a reassuring constant, as much a part of the real world of Wales as it has been for generations. A recent sponsorship deal had a picture of key players looking butch with the tag "Defend This House". Great mun! Solid, dependable, manly stuff!

So for the WRU to be so clear in its recognition of climate change as a threat to business, community and ultimately rugby, it must be real and it must be important, surely? Defend this house? Yes we must - all of us - not just the hippys.

Tax Them Til The Pips Produce Shoots Of Green Growth

The Chartered Institute of Taxation have produced the Green Taxes Report. It can be viewed on line with an option to add comment.

The CIOT president Nick Goulding has pressed for this report in recognition of the important role green taxes must play. With contributions from Prof. Paul Ekins and an overview of The Stern report, this work confronts the grim possibilities of climate change and proposes progressive green taxation as a key instrument in promoting behaviour change and stimulating investment in green-tech low carbon futures.

Read it here

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Eco Worriers - Laugh and Learn

As development officer for Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales, I have met a number of community based organisations trying to develop a more sustainable way of living in some of the most economically deprived areas of Wales. Whenever I meet new people I always ask them what they think is the best way of engaging people on sustainable development issues. The answer I get is always the same; “show people like us doing it… and make it funny!”

With help from friends in the TV business, Dafydd Palfrey and Boyd Clack, and with the support of Cynnal Cymru, I decided to make a film that would both celebrate the actions of real people and also provide the viewer with a few laughs. The result is the ten minute pilot episode of Eco Worriers which you can watch here:-

Eco-Worriers: Episode 1 from Daf Palfrey on Vimeo.



We’d like to make more episodes and visit more community projects and see the characters struggle with getting out of the car and using more sustainable modes of transport to get about. We are conscious of the considerable impacts filming has on the environment so we would also like to explore the options for ‘green film making’ and try to work with minimal environmental impacts.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Built To Last

So the government are trying to boost the car industry and reduce emissions. The new frontier in car manufacture seems to be electric or hybrid vehicles. Such as the Volt from GM. Great idea? The Volt is using a petrol engine to serve an electric motor. So it still produces exhaust gasses and how much CO2 did it take to manufacture? We talk about retrofitting houses, could we do the same for cars?



It is claimed that 15% of the total energy associated with a car is in its manufacture - what's called the "embodied energy" - and when you scrap the car before its useful life has ended, that energy is thrown away. It is also claimed that doubling a car's life reduces its lifetime energy-use by 42% compared with scrapping it and building a new one, because repair and maintenance are more energy-efficient than new manufacture.
Mmmmm.... interesting. Makes me feel better about driving a ten year old Skoda. And I also feel good about the local mechanics taking a percentage of my wages on a regular basis.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Don't Be Afraid of The Dark (or the bus)

There is general cheer for Ed Miliband's announcement (BBC story here) that all new coal plants must be fitted with carbon capture and storage technology. He's given the go-ahead for four new plants on the provision that they will capture the carbon dioxide and store it under ground.

Nobody is sure if this technology is viable however. Greenpeace give the news a cautious welcome then retreat to a more sceptical wait and see position, pointing out potential pitfalls in the proposal.

On BBC Radio Four's Today programme the coal policy was reported as a move necessary to avoid black outs. Have a look at this for more.

All of this, in my opinion illustrates a central flaw in how we are responding to climate change, peak oil and the other causes of sleepless nights - we are trying to protect our current way of life.

The real inconvenient truth is that our current way of life is completely unsustainable. Why are we burning coal and relying on unproven technology to avoid blackouts? Because we are scared of the dark? Will darkness bring lawlessness, chaos and murder? It might but there is no a priori causal link between darkness and acts of evil. The New York blackout of 1977 resulted in widespread looting but the blackout in 2003 saw people helping each other - citizens directing traffic, bars serving free food, block parties and The Indigo Girls performing in Central Park using power from diesel generators. Why the difference? In 77, there was recession and a lot of social tension. The New York of 2003 was a very different place.

And that in a nutshell folks is sustainable development. If we manage to create a socially just, equitable and affluent society then we will be able to handle regular blackouts. If we built strong cohesive societies where people look out for each other and the strong take care of the weak then we have nothing to fear from the dark. Lets stop kidding ourselves that there is any way we can maintain this energy addicted insatiable society and start building the society that doesn't need coal, that can survive happily without oil.

Another illustration of our folly is the lengths we will go to cling on to our mobility. In order to meet demand for transport fuel we are gleefully embracing biofuels as the answer to our problems.

To grow biofuel we are cutting down primary biomass and using land that could grow food. Systems thinking see...

Friends of The Earth are trying to point out that there's no such thing as a free lunch or free journey for that matter - here

Once again this is an illustration of the folly of trying to maintain our unsustainable lifestyle. There is an alternative and no doubt subsequent blogs will explore this but for now we have to start adjusting our values and aspirations and realise there is nothing to fear from the dark or from leaving the car at home.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Fat Flares, Slim Hips, Low Carbon?

A study at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine makes a link between diet and carbon emissions - read the BBC report here

Apparently we are using 19% more food than we were in the 1970s and this could equate to an extra 60 mega-tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The calculations include the extra fuel related emissions needed to transport the generously proportioned Britons of the twenty first century.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health said "In the 1970s we had bigger portions of vegetables and smaller portions of meat and there's been a shift in the amount of exercise we do."

Eating less and walking or cycling more is of course good for the environment and our own and society's chances of survival but making links to the 1970s as the report and the BBC story do is rather misleading.

The British population was slimmer in the 1970s because it was poorer, smoked more, worked longer hours and most of the work was hard manual labour associated with heavy industries that pumped tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The incidence of obesity in children is higher than it was in the 1880s but you wouldn't want to send them down mines or up chimneys to work off the flab.

Systems thinking, as I am always keen to point out, reveals that a gain in one part of the system is always paid for by a loss in another part. While I'd welcome a reduction in food consumption and hence average weight, I wouldn't want to go back to wearing flares and tank tops even though I am an avid fan of prog rock.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Prosperity Without Growth

The Sustainable Development Commission have published a report by Prof. Tim Jackson entitled Prosperity Without Growth. This is well worth reading and you can find it here

Jackson considers the mechanisms in the economy and how they might be adjusted to a zero growth scenario. His frank conclusion is that there is no macro-economic model for sustainability but that one is possible.

I find the most useful and stimulating parts of the report to be the chapter where he articulates the nature of the philosophical and psychological changes needed to arrive at a sustainable human society. Put simply, the growth paradigm is dead. Basing our economic and spiritual well being on the consumption of ever more stuff is a strategy for the extinction of modern human society. Why? Because we live on a planet of finite resources. There is no celestial conveyor belt from planet Argos. The old analogy of "space ship earth" could do with being revived. Everything we need we carry with us, the only external source of energy is the sun and all our waste has to be stored on board or recycled into something useful.

If we can accept that economic growth as defined by the last 100 years can not continue, then we can shift the debate to where it really matters: on what basis do we calculate value? How we do satisfy basic human needs such as a requirement for status and respect?

Some might argue that there is no need for this kind of existentialist self examination because technology will provide us with alternatives for oil, with greater efficiency of production and with a closed loop manufacturing process that minimises reliance on primary non renewable resources. This amounts to a gradual greening of the existing economy.

If nature operated by a process of gradual, incremental change then we could all carry on striving for the mansion, the SUV and the three overseas holidays a year confident that technology would deliver a sustainable consumerist society but nature has a tendency to do nothing much for a very long time then change very suddenly and very dramatically. Human societies usually follow the same pattern.

We don't have to repeat history or be caught out by nature: for once we are fore-warned and this time we have the depth of scientific, technological, sociological, spiritual, medical and psychological knowledge to side step the coming apocalypse like Shane avoiding a South African prop.

Prosperity Without Growth is an important step in the right direction but a lot more thinking by a lot more people is needed urgently if we are to transcend the death of consumerism.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Barrages In The Mind

ScienceDaily (Mar. 27, 2009) — Engineers at the University of Liverpool claim that building estuary barrages in the North West could provide more than 5% of the UK’s electricity.

How much energy and raw material is used to build a tidal barrage? How much Carbon Dioxide is produced in building a tidal barrage? What is the payback time for the CO2 produced in construction? Will it be offset in other ways? What is the impact of tidal barrages on the carbon budgets of estuary systems? What are the consequences to the economy of the disruption of major ecosystems? In quoting figures such as 5% of UK's electricity demand are we referring to today's demand or projected future demand?

Howard Odum articulated his concept of embodied energy and coined the term Emergy (spelt with an M). This is a calculation of all the energy from all sources that has been used to produce a product or service. It recognises the true value of a product or yield because it quantifies the amount of effort used in producing the yield, including the contributions of natural systems as well as human systems in the upstream processes. It thus provides a basis for valuing the work of ecosystems and human economies in equivalent terms. It also provides a means for quantifying the impacts of economic decisions on natural systems and follows these through to their impacts on the economies that generated them. In other words it provides a quantification of the maxim "what you sow so shall you reap". This is in contrast to the current economic paradigm which externalises costs related to environmental degradation and fails to account for the consequential cost of abatement and repair to human and natural systems.

What would contemporary emergy analysis tell us about tidal barrages?

When engineers boast of meeting 5% of the UK's energy demands, they are missing the point. The Point is this: the future will be darker. It has to be. The sums just don't add up. We are all going to have to use less energy. We will travel less, eat more locally grown food and see more stars in the sky above darkened cities and towns. Its going to be different. People don't like change but building barrages is not the answer. Managing expectation is.
This is the personal opinion of Rhodri Thomas and is not representative of any official position held by Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales on the Severn or any other barrage. Comment is encouraged and welcome.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Power To The Community

My friend and well-informed blogger Simon Goldie makes a nice point here
about the devolution of decision making to the level most appropriate to the problem at hand. This will be a fundamental feature of a sustainable society should we ever succeed in building one. Any sustainable system exhibits local feedback control mechanisms. These co-exist with longer range linkages that typically act on longer timescales but immediate, local mechanisms take precedent.
So in the examples Simon cites, a threat to local environmental quality is being controlled from its point of origin and bonds of credit and investment are maintained within the area where the money is being spent.
This is in stark contrast to the normality we have become acclimatised to in which faceless nameless vandals foul our streets and we respond with a plaintive "why doesn't the council do something....!" and our willingness to entrust our savings to impersonal corporations from whom we gladly accept credit with sanguine imprudence.

The credit crunch is providing us with a blunt lesson: we must become responsible for our own lives and seek the legal and administrative mechanisms that allow us to exercise this responsibility. The lesson is timely as a crisis in the economic system precedes an altogether more intransigent environmental crisis.
Diverse, decentralised, self-regulating systems are common in nature and as the product of several million years of evolution, they could be considered sustainable. The key question is at what scale should the self-regulation occur and what do we mean by 'self'?
In nature it is the system that self-regulates not the individual component. So the development of a sustainable society is a question of appropriate system design and a recognition of the importance of scale. Clearly the international banking system was the wrong scale at which to self-regulate. In societal design there appears to be a scale at which the gears of morality, self-regulation and personal responsibility engage and the machine runs smoothly. In considering this, an ecologist would refer to mutualism and symbiosis but ecologists are rarely to be found in financial services.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Recycling Good Ideas

My sister lives in Trafford Greater Manchester. During a phone conversation over the weekend she announced that at last she would now be recycling. I had often teased and chided her in the past about the fact that glass, plastic and other recyclable waste was going in the general bin but as she pointed out, she could only recycle what the local council was able to accommodate. Well the good news is that she now has four large wheelie bins in four different colours that have to be put out at monthly, fortnightly and weekly intervals depending on the bin. This means that she can now send glass, plastic bottles, papers, cans and garden waste for recycling/composting. You can see the details here
Its a good job she has a large garden.

I told her that in Cardiff, they have one green bag fortnightly. In Vale of Glamorgan we have two green boxes on intermittent weeks. Simple. Convenient.

It would be nice to think that local authorities in the UK would be able to learn from each other and adopt the best of all possible recycling schemes based on tried and tested methods rather than each authority devising its own scheme. Maybe someone could do a study and find the best, most convenient, most efficient, cost effective recycling scheme and for that to be adopted as the national standard.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Farm For The Future

At 5pm (in Wales) on Sunday 22nd February 2009 there was perhaps the most significant hour of broadcasting in British television history. In the Natural World's A Farm For The Future, it was explained that our current methods of food production, massively dependent on fossil fuels and purchased inputs is time limited. One day, unless we find another way of growing food or work out how to run tractors on moonshine and prayer, we will starve.

Its not even possible to return to pre-war levels of labour on farms as most of the skills have been lost and the old methods were essentially no more sustainable in the long term than the methods employed today.

The answer to our problem is Permaculture. This is not hippy gardening, this is a rigorously scientific process of food production based on natural ecosystems. The essentials of permaculture are observation, design, minimal inputs and reduced labour. For years I have been aware of exponents of Permaculture such as Chris Dixon and Patrick Whitefield making their case from the fringe. To see them at last on mainstream network television was very satisfying.

Whether Permaculture can feed Britain (as it has in Cuba) is a question yet to be answered, but one thing we know for sure: the way we farm today will not feed Britian. It can not. It relies heavily on fossil fuels, it mines the soil of carbon and nutrients so that these have to be bought in from industry, it breaks ecological webs and reduces biodiversity so that pests and disease organisms fill the vacant niches and in response, the land is sprayed with persistent toxins that enter the food chain.

The way we eat will have to change as well as the way we grow our food. We can not expect to have so much grain and wheat in future and will have to find alternative sources of carbohydrates. Rather than read my words, you'd be better off watching the programme on BBC i-player:

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

All That Glitters Is Not Sustaining

This morning on Radio Four, there was a report which told us that purchase of gold in the form of bars, coins, jewelry etc. had risen by around 80% as people sought a safer form of investment. Gold does not provide growth but it is secure. You can see why: it is an element forged by geological processes, enduring through the ages and never losing its lustre or malleability. But imagine now that you are an alien species observing earth. You'd understand that metals and minerals were precious but would you understand why these crazy homo sapiens value inert components of the earth's crust far more than they value the species and systems on its surface which are the basis of all human life? You can't eat gold, you can't use it to keep warm, you can't clothe yourself with it. Our pantheon of characters from myth, legend and fiction is populated by anti heroes who learnt to their cost the folly of valuing gold above all else. In this time of economic crisis when there is an opportunity to rethink our whole approach to the exchange, accumulation and calculation of wealth we risk making the mistakes of Midas and Bloefelt.

The systems ecologist and thinker Howard T Odum conceived with David Scienceman the concept of Emergy (spelled with an M). This is the available energy that was used in the work of making a product or any other manifestation of energy - i.e. any material, knowledge or service. Other thinkers have sought to refine similar concepts that generally refer to the embodied energy of a product or service. It seems sensible to calculate value on the basis of how much work has gone into creating something but Odum's methods explicitly link human systems to the embodied energy of natural systems. All human systems ultimately involve an input of free, natural forms of energy such as water, sunlight, soil, wood but in most industrial processes, this is supplemented by purchased inputs such as oil and gas or human labour. The more purchasing power a society or company has, the more purchased inputs it can use until natural free inputs become the limiting factor. By the law of diminishing returns, systems that rely on large amounts of purchased input are inefficient. What Odum does is to give us a common unit by which we can measure the embodied energy of everything and calculate value based on the work done in order to bring something into existence. Thus we recognise that natural inputs are not "free". Besides being limiting factors, they are themselves the products of work just as a Porshe is a product of work. So using Odum's methods, we should calculate the value of forests, watersheds and other ecosystems so that we can compare the value of gold, rainforests, information and Porshes on the basis of a common unit. Irrespective of common bloody sense, the limiting factors of life should then be valued higher and invested in appropriately.

Guyana's President, Bharrat Jagdeo, has offered to place the country's extensive rain forest under protection in return for money from the west. You can read more about the progress of this initiative here: http://www.guianashield.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=50&lang=en

On BBC's Horizon last night, buried in a largely optimistic plea from physicist Brian Cox to invest in fusion power research, was a scene in which Brian and another scientist did a rough calculation on the rate of development needed to give up the world's dependency on oil and fossil fuels. It was predicated on an assumption that everyone in the world would get an equal share of energy to service their lifestyle which of course won't happen but given even the widest margin of error, their conclusions were numbing. For anyone who still thinks that we can continue living the way we are and meet all our energy needs from renewable sources, the conclusion was - it ain't gonna happen. Lets all hope for fusion power then. from rhodri@cynnalcymru.com

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A single mobile phone charger for all phones, this is something like progress.

The Guardian reports on the mobile 'phone industry's intention to develop a single charger, a charger of chargers and plug amongst plugs that will rise above all other chargers and, well, charge phones. The specification is for a 50% reduction in energy consumption (why not 99?) and if I'm seeing the bigger picture correctly, we'd see reduced emissions from the manufacture, distribution and of course waste of chargers in the longer term. New phone? Well no need for a new charger in the future. Lost charger? Just buy the universal charger. This has to be seen as a progressive step, even if it doesn't take us towards renewable powered phones (Like this new Samsung offering), but that's another debate for another day. There's also the broader question of environmental sustainability regarding mobiles, which the Guardian article touches on.

Good stuff and from a market point of view, interesting: Mobile phones are marketed as lifestyle devices and consumers are sold each phone as a unique badge of identity (see the first cell phone ad here), a symbol of the consumers supposed business acumen, or need to connnect or love of music...whatever fits the market niche. So it's ironic that the manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with a paralell recognition that nobody really cares what their charger looks like. That said, you can expect a range of diamond encrusted universal chargers to emerge once those with the bent towards wasting money realise that they're subject to the same perfectly adequate technology as everybody else.

Anyway, I keep leaving my charegr in hotel rooms, so this new development at least increases the chances of me being able to borrow somebody elses when I next do this.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Shopocalyptic: Bird poo and life after the church of consumption.

The Reverend Billy is magnamamous in victory: Now that everybody has stopped shopping, the Reverend takes time out to explore the plus sides of 'life after shopping'. Yes the 'shopocalypse is at hand':

"And we Americans stand in the wreckage of miles of pavement, empty billboards, dead super malls… We want to change our church's name because our communities are bravely changing around us. Our neighborhoods and Main Streets, shuttered by the big boxes and their big banks, are now blossoming again. There are record start-ups each week, usually family businesses. People are meeting their neighbors and are trading with each other, skill-swapping and loaning tools. This last Christmas, indy shops out-performed chain stores. We shopped local. Local-a-lujah!
"

The question is, has this happened in the UK and has it really even happened Stateside? The Guardian (09/02/09) reckons business start-ups are at record low levels and we've certainly stopped shopping, or slowed down at least. I could find you some figures to back this up but I'll reference what I call the ' Cardiff-seagul-muck-relative-target-expansion-phenomena' instead.

This well established method for gauging retail sales relies on the layout of Cardiff's main shopping artery, Queen St. (see picture). Essentially, we have in Cardiff, the typical uk high street, what the NEF might call 'clone town Britain'  - with stores on both sides and save for the occasional bank or cafe, it is just shops - what else would we want in our city/town centres? We also have people, lots of people -  and these are a constant. You hear reporters say on news channels that 'shoppers are staying away from the highstreet' but as a city centre resident I can record the same steady flow of people down our highstreets on weekdays, if not weekends.

The reporters are right though, there's not many shoppers amongst them. How do I know this - do I have detailed figures on footfall? Pray no, I have the qualitative gold dust that is a marked increase in the number of people I've seen who've been Bird-Pooed. Yes, the trees that run down the centre of Queen St are home to Cardiff's charming seagul population and when people aren't shopping they stay nearer the middle of the road. Having been, literally, on the end of this stuff years ago when walking down Queen St, I know exactly how these people feel.

When it happened to me, my jumper was ruined, so I went to the nearest shop and asked for a carrier bag - they told me I had to buy something to get one. And standing, covered in white muck, aged 15ish, skint (with no access to infinite personal debt) and with my adolescent pride shaken, amongst friends, I said 'No thankyou' and went on with my day.

Lesson: No matter the consequences of not shopping (on debt, for the sake of it, as religion), no matter how much bird-poo lands on your face because you choose the middle-way on Queen St - don't feel guilty, because in your hour of need you may find you have to pay to take sanctuary in the church of consumption..




Friday, 6 February 2009

Calm Down Dear.... its more sustainable!

Hello, its Rhodri again. Having pondered the thermodynamic properties of recycled pens I found myself considering another relatively minor detail of a sustainable life: pasta. Actually, any boiled food would qualify for consideration. I read somewhere that food can be cooked slowly using less energy to produce the same result. I think I read it in Ecology Begins At Home by Archie Duncanson - a great little book with a great title. We are after all part of the human ecosystem within the greater global ecosystem and the same rules apply at all levels - we're back to thermodynamics. And why not? It is the foundation of the universe.

So, pasta and thermodynamics. Well the second law tells us that everything around us is inexorably decaying and breaking down into a less ordered state. Left to itself, pasta, with the help of microbes and weevils would break down into its constituent parts. By boiling it, we speed up a natural process of decay. We control the rate of decay for our own benefit to produce a more palatable and easily digestible stage of decay. Hammering pasta or vegetables with high heat does speed up the rate of decay and puts food on the table quicker but the gain is relatively small - how fast do you need your food? For an extra ten minutes of cooking time you can save energy, money and lower your carbon footprint. I now add ten minutes cooking time to all my boiling and actually turn off the gas once the water has boiled. The water stays sufficiently hot to cook the food without gas. Sitting in the hot water, cells break open, molecular bonds are severed, new molecules reconfigure - the laws of the universe apply at all times and at all levels.

So this, like all aspects of a sustainable life, is a way of working with nature. Nature's going to win anyway so you may as well work with it. I think it was the Victorians who were responsible for the British cuisine of limp, tasteless boiled food and they saw nature as something to be conquered and tamed. We are now paying the price for that way of thinking because nature can never be tamed. It may be hundreds of years going about it but in the end, nature (largely in the guise of the second law of thermodynamics) will have the last word. With that in mind, why boil vegetables anyway? Why not eat them raw? We have a perfectly good system for breaking down cells and molecules, its called the human digestive system. That's only a rhetorical question: I like hot, softened vegetables....... and raw pasta?! Well I did eat some once when I was a student but it was late at night and I was rather drunk.

Anyway, I was thinking about starting a slow food campaign until I discovered that there already is one. This lead me on to thinking about all the various sub tribes of sustainable living. I hope the number grows. It resembles other times of great social cultural change - the English Civil War with its Levellers, Diggers, Quakers and other sects and factions. Similarly in Russia in the twenties and both Europe and North America in the sixties. So we have the slow food movement aligned to Cittaslow which is itself basically trying to achieve the same thing as Transition Towns, and you have town councils, Agenda 21 groups, independent development trusts and eco-centres and hey - why not join the international Ecomunicipailty movement? What I hope we don't end up with is a fierce civil war in which peaceful little market towns become battle grounds until one faction with the most charismatic and ruthless leader emerges triumphant. That is the precedent set by history - Cromwell, Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon..... ? My tongue is in my cheek and my fingers crossed. Plurality is central to the sustainable development paradigm. Lets not forget that. Slow down, take the gas off and open your mind.

On the theme of historical parallels, could that be the twenty first version of Timothy Leary's famous mantra? I got first dibs if it is.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Welsh creativity offers optimism in midst of economic downturn, say business leaders, politicians and experts

From www.sustainwales.com / www.cynnalcymru.com

Welsh creativity offers optimism in midst of economic downturn, say business leaders, politicians and experts
Business leaders, academics and politicians identify solutions they are confident can secure Wales' economic, social and environmental future in a series of essays launched today (4 February 2009).

The advent of the global financial crisis led Cynnal Cymru–Sustain Wales to challenge business leaders, politicians and sustainable development experts to consider how Wales should respond to the considerable challenges that the economic downturn presents.

Contributors to the 'Defining a Sustainable Economic Future for Wales' anthology express concern for the country's economy, ecology and society and question the compatibility of economic growth with a sustainable and equitable future.

In his essay, 'Not easy being green?' Owen Evans from Business in the Community writes:

"Whilst the private sector delivers the wealth and tax revenues that drive and support the Welsh economy, it is also responsible for 40% of carbon emissions and so is having to address two major issues – economic prosperity and minimising its impact on the environment."

Options proposed by the authors for creating a sustainable economic future emphasise Wales' natural resources and the creativity and innovation of its people.

Bill Thomas, general manager at Sharp Manufacturing UK, based near Wrexham, writes:

"On a planet that has an estimated 54 billion tonnes of oil equivalent in wind power and countless times that in solar capacity, Wales has the land and shorelines and innovative skills to complement this with biomass and tidal power."

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams A.M., believes that the credit crunch creates an opportunity for change:

"It must be a catalyst for the development of a new green economy, which will stimulate our marketplace with jobs and businesses that benefit the environment.

"Going green is an economic opportunity."

Victoria Winckler from Wales' social justice think tank, the Bevan Foundation, shares that view. "The recession is an ideal time to re-skill and up-skill," she says.

As the impact of the financial situation is felt across Wales, it is timely that the Welsh Assembly Government's draft Green Jobs Strategy and the new Sustainable Development Scheme, 'One Wales: One Planet,' have been released for public consultation.

The Green Jobs Strategy aims to ensure that businesses in Wales have access to expert advice and technology, making their operations more efficient in an increasingly carbon constrained economy. The new Sustainable Development Scheme, One Wales: One Planet, aims to put sustainable development at the heart of all of the Government's policies.

Helen Nelson, Director of Cynnal Cymru-Sustain Wales, said:

"The damage and uncertainty caused by the economic crisis presents a need for us all to evaluate the way we live and do business.

"We hope the solutions presented in our essay series, from a broad range of contributors, will give pause for thought and make a contribution to Wales' transformation into a sustainable, equitable and prosperous country."

'Defining a Sustainable Economic Future for Wales' will be launched today (4 Feb) at an event in the Senedd, where some of the authors will take part in a panel debate on Wales' economic future. Former government minister, Sue Essex, will chair the debate. At the same event, an essay competition for university students will be launched on the same topic. The winner will receive free training and a year's membership from the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Download Defining a Sustainable Economic Future for Wales - Collected Essays.


Launch of sustainable ecomomy essays today

Defining a Sustainable Economic Future for Wales: Essay Launch and Panel Debate
We've challenged business leaders, politicians and SD practitioners to consider how Wales should respond to the global economic crisis. Join us at the Senedd on 4 Feb and hear the case for a sustainable economic future for Wales [read more].

 blog it

Monday, 2 February 2009

Cynnal Cymru Essay Series Launch, This Wednesday, Senedd 12pm.

We have a few spaces left at the launch of Cynnal Cymru - Sustain Wales' 'Defining a Sustainable Economic Future for Wales' essay series. We're having a panel debate, followed by some lunch and hot drinks, which by the looks of things will be needed.

12pm start, Senedd, Cardiff Bay, Media Briefing Room.
Panel: Julian Rosser, Oxfam; Morgan Parry, WWF; Victoria Winckler, Bevan Foundation; Bill Thomas, SHARP electronics - Chair, Sue Essex.

The essays, drawn from the worlds of politics, academia, business and Welsh civic society seek to offer solutions at a time of great uncertainty financially, economically and ecologically. They'll be on our website, www.sustainwales.com from Wednesday afternoon, available to download in English or Welsh, at no cost.

email:
Michele@cynnalcymru.com for more information or to book.


Off track - why booking a euro-train couldn't be harder

So a third runway is given the go ahead and quite rightly we all cry 'what about trains?'. Well, what about them?

I love travelling by train. Aged 17 I set off, interrail ticket in hand, with 5 mates, to travel around Europe. With no plan we went city to city, consulting the Thomas Cook European train timetable as to our next move. We slept, ate and drank on trains and watched Europe go past our eyes as we did so. With the Interrail ticket, you can travel anywhere in Europe, as much as you want on most trains and even some ferries. We got as far as Ios, in Greece and somehow made it back. We resereved 6 berth cabins with nothing but our smelly feet and diligently filled in our tickets with each new journey.

We even blagged some free buses in France on the basis that SNCF was the bus company. We dodged paying supplements and went wherever we pleased. I did the same thing for the following few years, travelling to most European cities and all the way to Morrocco. Lots of other jeunes did the same and still do. Only once did my efforts to avoid paying a supplement backfire, on a train in Austria, the guard argued with us at length, something about 'first and second' - we assumed we were sat in first class, instead of second and moved to the end of the coach. The train split in two and we went to Graz, home of Arnie Schwarzenegger not Ljubjana, as planned.

So it was with great excitement that I sought to plan a summer rail journey over the weekend just gone. With plans for a trip to Budapest and some ramblinga round Hungary, I went to the RailEurope site, which promised :

Travelling around Europe by train is fast, affordable and fun. A huge European rail network enables you to choose from thousands of destinations – and it's so much less hassle than flying, too. By train you'll enjoy:

1. No tedious transfers – trains go straight to city centres
2. No long check-ins
3. An ever-changing view
4. No extra charges for baggage or flight duty
5. Travel with a clearer conscience – it's greener to go by train -
and I concur!

Online booking isn't working today, as you'll see if you click the link above - but it normally is, it's just that it's not that easy to book a train across Europe, even if you know your way around the train networks.

If you use the Rail Europe site you can try and book from, say, Cardiff to Budapest - this fails. Then you try London to Budapest, this fails. Then you try Paris to Budapest, this fails. Then you try Paris to Munich - success, but it only offers you the expensive train and I want the slow and cheaper one. The same happens if you try and book London-algeciras (spain for boats to Morrocco), you end up booking Paris to Madrid, only given the TGV option.

So here's what you do. You go on Ticketline and but Cardiff to London, Eurostar website for London to Paris, SNCF website for Paris to Munich, then DBahn website for Munich to Budapest. And the total cost for one person, return, cheapest tickets = 400quid+. It takes a day or so aswell. It's also worth noting that planning a rail journey like this requires alot of pen and paper and a reasonable knowledge of european trains. I know, for example that my bum will hurt as the above option includes no sleeper seats and even no reservations for some of the journey.

Or of course you could fly, in a few hours, for 150 quid, at the busiest time of year, booking via one website and taking a couple of minutes. I checked using Skyscanner, flying from Bristol.

Now, somehow, I'll find a way to travel by train but it just can't be like this, if we're to stop the runways being built we need to get the alternatives in shape. Pronto.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Post Code Lottery? Let your leaders lead.

The new president, Barack Obama looks set to allow California to forge on with tougher emissions standards, paving the way for individual states to set their own targets. The car makers wont be too happy, says the Guardian, at the thought of different rules in different states. Here's why California wasn't allowed by the EPA to have its own standards until now - sweet unadulterated corruption  - as this letter explains.

A classic lobby line 'Maverick alert' - a bit like killing a good initiative by pushing the 'postcode lottery' line - you know the score: Local authority or NHS trust does something good, like introducing a new drug or care service, then the reactionary press kill the joy of thos receiving the service by labelling the lack of blanket service coverage as a 'postcode lottery'.

The postcode lottery response spells death for innovation, creativity, localism, diversity and quirkiness. The psychology triggered by the postcode lottery lobby is no different to the feeling a bratty five year old gets when they see a friend's parent has arrived at the school gate with a chocolate bar or new toy in hand...'I want one too'.

The parent of the angry child is then faced with the same dilemma central govt faces everytime somebody in the shires has a better idea than they've had - roll it out everywhere (the justice-sharing approach) or kill the progress where it started (the injustice-sharing approach). In the UK we seem to favour the latter.

Anyway, just as trialling new services or piloting new collections of waste is the only way we'll ever improve the way we do things, I commend Obama for realising that the easiest way to reduce emissions across the States, is to allow a few mavericks to lead the way...to create a Zipcode-lottery then share the justice!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Shock: Predicting climate change accurately tends to produce emissions

The classic line of argument against any activity aimed at predicting, mitigating or adapting to climate change - It incurs emissions. We've seen this before with Al Gore, who flew around the world converting people to his inconvenient truth and with Bono, who'd done the same but with sunglasses on. Of course a supercomputer emits lots of C02, even a not so-super computer does that. Is it better to understand likely climatic change or not buy such a computer at all and stumble blindly towards a future we haven't planned for? I don't know, but my computer emits C02 and I'd like to think that over the course of its lifetime, it will contribute to policy making and decision making that results in far larger savings of C02.

A new £33m machine purchased to calculate how climate change will affect Britain, has a giant carbon footprint of its own

 blog it

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Little Details of a Sustainable Life

My plastic pen has just run out of ink. I dismantled it and found that it has a replaceable ink cartridge. Good. I searched on-line for a supplier but could only find suppliers in Japan and the USA. Bad.

This got me thinking about all the pens in use in the UK at this moment. I have around twenty pens and pencils that I have bought, inherited or somehow acquired over the last five years. Some are biros, some are disposables, some are felt tips and some carry encouraging messages such as "I used to be a cd case!" or "Made from recycled vending cups." All of them are little symbols of our society's stark predicament because each one of those little plastic constructions is doomed to be landfilled. Pen manufacture, like the manufacture of so much else, is not a closed loop system. Pen manufacture requires the processing of low-energy, finite resources into high energy products but because these products exist in a universe defined by the second law of thermodynamics, they must in time proceed towards a lower energy end point.

Consider the pens made from recycled cd cases or the pencils made from vending cups. Most major environmental organisations have boxes of these to hand out at events. In order to manufacture these, the original source material (the recyclate) had to be processed, using input energy (probably from a pollution producing non-renewable source), to become the secondary product - the pen. When the secondary product has fulfilled its purpose it is landfilled. At each stage of the manufacture there are waste products as the creation of ordered structure equilibrates with the background disorder (entropy) of the universe as required by the second law. Have you ever seen a pen with this written on it: "I used to be a cd case then a pen then a child's toy and now I'm a pen again and then I am going to be a cd case again!" Even if it was possible to organise this level of recycling, each stage in the lifecycle would have to be bought with energy inputs and waste products. Another way of articulating the second law - "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

One day I was sharpening a pencil which used to be vending cups, feeling smug and environmentally responsible. I watched the shavings of recycled vending cup fall into the black bin bag and my smugness fell with them. You can give yourself the illusion that you have cheated the second law of thermodynamics but as it is one of the non-negotiable laws of the universe it will only ever be an illusion.

So what would be a sustainable pen? A sharpened birds feather and a ceramic pot of ink made from plants.

Taking the basic principles of the quill, I am sure it is possible for humanity, with all its endeavour and creative genius, to invent a sustainable pen for the 21st century. It would be made entirely from biodegradable natural products and would require minimal energy to manufacture. Ideally it would be manufactured using only energy derived from wind or sun. Perhaps such a product already exists?

So next time you're in a meeting discussing matters of great weight and import - how to develop a sustainable society perhaps - have a look round the table at the pens people use. The revolution or transformation in lifestyle required to achieve a sustainable society permeates to the smallest details of everyday life. We'll know when we're succeeding when everyone is using that new fangled natural pen alluded to above, and we'll laugh to think we once used to congratulate ourselves for using a pen that used to be a cd case.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear...

There's not alot going on in the world of sustainability (or the unsustainable world) this week, not alot that is apart from:

  • The Welsh Assembly Government published the first part of their Climate Change Strategy, for consultation. It's here and in due course I'll put a nice flashy turnpage version up. The pdf file doesn't open in Acrobat on my machine, let me know if it's just me please folks.
  • Victoria Winckler at the Bevan Foundation highlighting the dangers of downward mobility in Wales, "where there is evidence of downward mobility i.e. children doing worse than their parents". Victoria references this report which, to me, is confusing on first reading but repeatedly confirms Wales is failing on mobility once you get beyond the analytical jargon.
  • The Heathrow runway saga continues as the Government delays its decision, and a group of protesters sit down for cake and champagne (Telegraph) and here (Guardian), with a video of the shennaningans if that's how you spell shennannyguns. Apparently Alastair McGowan and Emma Thompson have joined hundreds of others in buying up tiny parcels of land so as to stall any development. Newsnight ran a debate on this on Monday, which you can see here.
  • George Monbiot continues his interview series, this time speaking with Andy Harrison, chief exec. of Easyjet. There's talk of new, efficient engines being noisy noisy noisy and they both seem to agree on that. Growth v. technology - Global problem versus UK responsibilities, carbon offsetting v. carbon saving with discounting.......it's all here.
  • And then of course there's George Bush, who had a goodbye press corps session on Monday. Video here, transcript here (FOX NEWS!) : George was full of fun and there was no chance of misunderestimating the extent to which he was dissapointed by some of what his office had or had not achieved: "I guess I could have been popular by accepting Kyoto, which I felt was a flawed treaty, and proposed something different and more constructive."  I guess you could but no regrets eh.