Friday, 7 December 2007
In my travels, in 2050, I see communities generating all their power locally, through community-owned Energy Services Companies. Money will be replaced with tradeable energy units, also owned locally. Money as power, power as power. We’ll grow food and make things again, including our own entertainment. We’ll have moved completely away from fossil fuels and learned to live within our planetary means. Weaning ourselves off our fossil fuel addiction is going to be fantastic news for our wellbeing as humans and for all beings on the planet. The future looks bright, if we get it right.
Friday, 23 November 2007
This is going to be a huge debate in the year to come, I think, as the majority of leaders still say we can essentially grow our way out of our planet’s crisis.Next up was Stewart Wallis of the New Economics Foundation (nef). I am in love with this organisation and everything that comes out of it. We’re running out of planet, he said. And the poorest are suffering the most. In 1900 the ratio of poor to rich was 36:1. Now it’s 75:1. He talked about the moral economy and how it is the right of every child to be brought up to consider the needs of others. Interesting, and true. His solution was devolution to local energy, food and community power while maintaining a global perspective.Change happens, he said, when people power start demanding it. It’s got to start with us. Maybe this wombat can teach us something.
Friday, 9 November 2007
Not that I do buy much these days: apart from food, one can live extremely well off the fat of our society’s excesses by harvesting skips, swapping with friends, buying second hand or using Freecycle. But the other day I did, after some thought, buy something new: a pressure cooker. It was, at £106 from Steamer Trading on School Hill, the most expensive thing I’ve bought in ages. A month on, this tribute to Swiss engineering is practically a member of our family. We can now cook rich meat stews or chickpeas for houmous in 20 minutes, brown rice in 10 and steam root veg in seconds. It’s a great investment that, the makers say, can pay for itself in six months through energy savings. Plus, unlike most bought stuff, it’s helping us do our bit for the planet.
Friday, 26 October 2007
So, on one hand, the best way to increase personal resilience to cope with rising energy prices is to get out of debt, mostly by reducing our spending, and consolidating assets. And yet that act itself is almost unpatriotic in the possibility it could bring on economic downturn. Plus, the steady growth of our economy over the past decades has been underpinned by growth in the use of fossil fuels. Now we’re starting to realise that fossil fuels are making us sick, and that they’re finite anyway, and the oil prices are starting to go through the roof. This could get interesting.
Yet perhaps this is not altogether a bad thing. We all know that money doesn’t buy happiness. Change is happening anyway, so my feeling is, let’s be conscious co-creators of another, better, story.
Friday, 12 October 2007
Commentators like Monbiot write that we in the West have lengthened our supply chains so much that we can no longer trace our waste. Just as carbon dioxide emissions, and methane farts and burps emitted by cows are invisible, so are the ramifications of our actions, thus preventing us from having to feel any guilt. Perhaps it’s ever been thus.
A year on from our family’s zero-waste week, we had a dustbin review. It’s now almost entirely populated by plastic wrapping. Shops are quite cheerfully taking back our excessive packaging. We’re still plagued by those darn yoghurt pots and biscuit wrappers; maybe we’ll find an alternative. For now, plastics and fossil fuels cannot be disposed of without polluting. I look forward to a more enlightened time when we’ve learned to close the cycle, create a cyclical economy, get off oil etc and use all waste as a clean and healthy resource.
Friday, 28 September 2007
For those who believe in fair trade to promote international equity, there’s another option though, now that Hilary Moore’s flower shop stocks a selection of plants and flowers with the ‘Fair Flowers Fair Plants’ label. They do what they say on the package and if you care about these things, it’s important we support our local shops who care on our behalf. Meanwhile, I believe the best things in life are free, and glean increasing satisfaction from the occasional whiff of jasmine and rose in my garden and now winter flowering viburnums and witch hazel starting to send out their improbably powerful scents out in to the cool air up on Castle Banks.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
I’ve been living for so long in my perfect world that I get a shock when I step out, as I did this summer, into what could be called the ‘surreal world’. Out there, people are living like there’s no tomorrow. Getting in a car to drive half an hour to the nearest Waitrose while on holiday seemed perfectly normal to my dear sister, when the organic farm shop, a scenic walk up the road, stocked plenty of cheap staples for a fortnight’s holiday. Now even the broadsheets are telling us to ‘cut our carbon’ yet there is little appetite for what that means: to wean ourselves off fossil fuel and everything it’s in. It’s killing us (at least, poor people and nature) and it won’t last. But we are addicted to oil, and by not dealing with our addiction we bring on the oblivion of no tomorrow. Today I give up alcohol (again). Plus, I’m starting to enjoy being frugal. Here are ten steps for a starter:
1. Educate yourself. Read Energy Bulletin for global updates.
2. Just buy less. Join Freecycle.
3. Share things; develop community.
4. Start learning skills.
5. Join an organic box scheme. Get off supermarket addiction.
6. Buy bulk food with Just Trade.
7. Eat more simply and locally.
8. Get into hot water bottles and heat one room.
9. Get a grant from LDC for solar water heating. Bathe less.
10. Wake up from the dream. Find out what true pleasure means!
Thursday, 26 July 2007
George Monbiot in his Guardian column this week questioned whether it’s sufficient to simply become ‘green consumers’ or whether in fact we need to consume less overall. It’s an essential question. Twelve months ago I drove without compunction, flew with little hesitation, ate meat with abandon and sourced my clothes and other consumer goods wherever I wished. Those days are gone forever. Knowing what I do now, I can’t justify a three-planet lifestyle, or even such things as offsetting. I’m slowly adapting to live within my planet’s means. It’s not very sexy and it doesn’t boost the economy. So it’s deeply unfashionable. And it puts the journalist in a tough spot: there’s only so many column inches one can write about the frugal life.
Thursday, 19 July 2007
The boys played in the sea and invented a complex game involving throwing pebbles at each other, and my mate and I settled into an afternoon of napping and reading, reading and napping. One of the best pastimes on earth, I reckon. As evening drew in we headed home, ice creams in hand. Cost of travel: £5 for four. Cost to the earth: affordable, even, probably, for six billion of us. Pleasure factor: high. Britain, apparently, is less happy than in the 1950s. Could it be that voluntary simplicity on a fossil fuel diet could lead us towards greater happiness?
Thursday, 12 July 2007
So what’s the answer? Living lightly, it seems. Consuming less, working and eating locally, and getting used to living on much smaller amounts of energy. It’s not very sexy but living within our means - one planet living - is how most of the world actually lives. We’d do well to learn from older, simpler cultures, or from our grandparents. Putting it another way, we need to go back, with more wisdom, into the future.
Thursday, 5 July 2007
Thursday, 28 June 2007
Last Wednesday I booked the community car and drove cross country to pick up a child of mine. In a moment of joyriding flashback I wound down the windows, turned up the volume and sped through the hot evening landscape. I swear the verges have been left to grow this year. I let my mind run wild, imagining what will happen when petrol prices rise so high that the council stops strimming the verges altogether, and the elders and the gorse and the herbs re-seed the sides of the road and then the road itself. Because the oil party’s over. It’s been great. But the midnight hour has struck, the era of earth repair has begun and it’s time to go home to what matters. Our home, our family, our community, our land. Our food, our roses, our friends, our music.
Friday, 22 June 2007
Then the light in our trusty fridge also went, and after realising I could remove the unit and order another, I decided that I can perfectly easily see the contents of my fridge without artificial light. Saving two: Kerching!
How about a bigger gesture then? After much contemplation my son and I flipped the trip and changed our dimmer switches to normal old- fashioned ones (most low energy lights don’t work on dimmers). I’ve been putting off this step for years as I’m deeply attached to that sparkly light given off my spotlights, so have cunningly planned the changeover this midsummer to make it relatively painless. Next step is to replace those lovely halogen lights in my kitchen and bedrooms - Megaman does a version but I’ll have to budget in changing the fittings too… soon, I promise! Changing my light bulbs has been more uncomfortable to contemplate than giving up a car. Although, once through the momentary pain barrier you get that pleasure of becoming part of the solution as well as an increasing feeling of empowerment through powering down.
Thursday, 14 June 2007
Just stop, cold turkey.
Take stock of the local shops. Visit.
Savour the lovely, healthy food.This assumes you’re also considering cutting back on cars.
Delivery: that’s how the Victorian middle classes did it.
Things our family gets delivered: weekly veggie boxes from Ashurst Organics, including eggs, bread, juice and now an organic fruit bag.
Infinity Foods delivers cheap, bulk, whole-foods; either direct or via Just Trade.
Unigate delivers organic milk, and we hope Gote Farm in Ringmer might start to deliver unpasteurised milk to Lewes soon.
Farmers’ markets are a great source for all produce, including meat for the freezer, and you can’t get more local than our lovely Boathouse Farm.
Get used to shopping daily for other fresh food, which means that if you are a commuter, you might have to develop another career (over time).
Food used to be 30% of a household’s budget. It’s now 8%. So now we get food-related illnesses. If budget is an issue for you, eat further down the food chain: eat less meat and dairy and more affordable organic pulses and vegetables in season. Lewes shops are rife with low-impact, high-joy foods such as olives and oysters and cucumbers and cabbages, beer and blueberries, mince and mint, carrots and carrot cake, potatoes, tomatoes, basil, carrots. Enjoy.
Friday, 1 June 2007
natural resources such as topsoil and clean water.
We can blame corporate agriculture and retailers but, essentially, it is we who have chosen through our purses to give away our power. Our family stopped shopping in supermarkets a while ago, mainly using them occasionally as after-hours convenience stores. We tend to eat further down the food chain now, which helps make supermarket liberation affordable. And hey, we eat so well from local shops. There’s a wealth of fantastic food to be had here in Lewes - staples and luxuries too. Humanity has created Tesco so we can uncreate Tesco, and the first place to start is in our mind, just imagining life without Tesco (and Waitrose for that matter). Look at the excuses, one by one. Do they really stand up? What is your gut feeling?
Thursday, 24 May 2007
I love bees, am in love with them. I took up beekeeping 15 years ago and when I first lifted the lid off a hive was blown away by the energy that came out - pure love it seemed to me. I can smell how bees feel - and they sense how I feel. I’m pretty allergic to bees, though, and swell up when stung. Last Friday I took a dozen stings on unprotected ankles, taking honey off in stormy weather, and spent the weekend on the sofa. Tonight, at dusk, I plopped the bees from the box into a hive in the middle of the woods I caretake. Birds and bees and trees and flowers; being a beekeeper, making these movements; I am a native, living in heaven on earth.
Sussex Beekeepers Association
Tuesday, 22 May 2007
I remember as a child noticing intensely all the flowers in the London streets, learning their names from my father. That’s what inspired me to study biology - the science of life. And as the years pass, the awesomeness of nature soaks more deeply into my being. Last month, my son Adam and I shook the ornamental fruit blossoms around the bowling-green on to each other, confetti scattering madly in the hot air. I notice my favourite trees as I walk, many of them old ones like Bay and Lime and Apple. Opposite my house there is a fine young but ancient Ginkgo Biloba, next to it an Elder adorned with flowers. All these trees and herbs are our medicine.Now as I walk the short stretch from home to work, I pick wild flowers from the verges, and the odd Rose hanging over someone’s garden wall. If you stop to smell the roses, you will find that they all smell slightly different; walking through Lewes you can experience an orgy of noble scents.
Breathe in deep; blast away the thin veneer of civilisation. The primitive pleasure of life itself is right here, right now.
I wrote this as an alternative to a piece I wrote that despairs for our future. It helps me to remember that beauty will exist for ever - if we remember to seek it
Thursday, 10 May 2007
Thursday, 3 May 2007
The whole amazing sacred cycle has started again. Five of my friends are growing vegetables for the first time this year. Latest figures from the Horticultural Trade Association show a 31% increase in the sale of vegetable seeds and a corresponding 32% drop in flower seeds. A combination of disillusion with what’s on offer and a renewed appreciation for the soil, our land and food, are making veggie growing a compelling pastime.
A few tomato plants, year round herbs and an experiment to find the best drying beans is not going to feed my family. But what I love, what I deeply passionately love, is the anticipation brought by seedlings, working late on a summer’s evening, listening to the blackbirds; smelling the earth; feeling the rain; harvesting the food; co-creating with nature and the universe. I’ve rejoined the blessed cycle of earth to belly to earth.
Thursday, 26 April 2007
Local people owned the gasworks and the waterworks. Local people owned the farms and the shops. Local people owned the barges that went up the river and the breweries. Local people owned the three newspapers and the print-works. Local people owned the foundries, including a big one called Phoenix. Local people owned the banks, including Lewes New Bank, on the site of Barclays Bank, and which joined with other banks to create the first Barclays Bank, a direct line from local to global. The only business that Lewes people did not own was the London to Brighton South Coast Railway, but local people initiated and were shareholders in the Lewes to Uckfield line.
In the age of capitalism, we Lewesians have given away our power; leaving ourselves vulnerable to the hunger of corporate and supermarket agendas and out of town developers. However, the tide might be turning. The picketers at Lewes Arms pulled off a great coup last week; another group is forming a community land trust to investigate community ownership of the land of Lewes, and Lewes Community Partnership is seeking funding to buy the Pinwell Road site for an array of local businesses. With troubles ahead, we might just be waking up to the need to rebuild our resilience and abundance. Colin Brent will be talking at Pelham House alongside Bill Collison and Topsy Jewell at the next Transition Town meeting, ‘Feeding Lewes - Past, present and Future’ Wed 2nd May, Pelham House 8pm, £3
Thursday, 19 April 2007
This story - the Hundredth Monkey - is one of the great Urban Myths, made up by a sixties philosopher, Lyall Watson, to illustrate a phenomenon called morphic resonance, a term coined by the scientist Rupert Sheldrake. Sheldrake himself carried out experiments to prove morphic resonance, which explains why, for example, dogs know when their owners are about to return, and why the more rats complete a maze, the easier it becomes for succeeding and different rats to complete the maze, and so on. Humans also communicate through morphic resonance, or as Karl Jung called it, the collective unconscious. Viva Lewes might call it the zeitgeist. Malcomlm Gladwell writes about it as the Tipping Point. I see myself as one of the first hundred monkeys (or rats) creating new pathways, new stories, to help us live more humanly and within our collective means. Our society desperately needs a new story - or maybe we should revisit some of the great fairy tales and native traditions. Transition Town Lewes is a process of designing a story, or pathway - together - towards a more viable reality. I hope at least 100 monkeys will be at the Official Unleashing of Transition Town Lewes next Tuesday.
Thursday, 5 April 2007
But what going off-grid, briefly, made me realise is that this is what I want, deep down. The feeling was what you get when you walk through an old wood, along the river at sunrise, make love particularly beautifully, happen to coincide with the dawn chorus or spend an hour over supper with your family just chatting. Times like that you feel, this is real; this is what I value.
And every step I take, away from dependence on electricity, cars, supermarkets and all the supposed luxuries of the modern world, feels sane and safe, a step in the right direction. Maybe there a better life just around the corner and it’s only when we do something random and un-habitual that we realise it in a gleeful peak moment. So I say bring it on, flip the switch!
Thursday, 29 March 2007
Thanks so much for the photos of your trip to Mexico. The girls look so grown up and ladylike - I bet they are real characters… Mark, you know I love you and your positive take on life. And there’s no easy way to say this: I have a problem with your flying on long haul holidays. Bottom line: it’s affecting me, and my family’s future. The information is all out there, in Britain at least. Excessive burning of oil is causing global warming, melting the ice caps, which will make sea levels rise, and at this rate Lewes and many of the world’s great cities will flood.
I can be smug, as it’s you that’s travelling - and paying for - flying to England this summer, so all our spread-out family can be in one place. Occasional Love Miles is one thing, but this flying long haul on a non-essential holiday bothers me deeply. As you can see, I do judge your behaviour. I’m not happy with that; judging people is too time-consuming. In the past I would have said: live and let live. Feel compassion; I’m just happy to live lightly and locally. Like you I loved to travel; I’m a recovering travelholic. Since that paradigm shift last autumn and taking the Flight Pledge in December I still get the travel bug, big time.
But the stakes are high; we’re interdependent, the party’s over and it’s time to move towards new territories. Brother - can we talk about this?
Mooncups are a great local product invented by women from Brighton. I look forward to all re-localisation of crafts and manufacturing, and I support and thank with all my heart those who have weathered the era of oil: our blacksmith/toolmaker on Fisher Street, our potters, clothes makers and menders, guitar makers, cheese makers, basket makers and brewers.
Thursday, 22 March 2007
Next step on the citizen/consumer front: good citizens will by now have written to Lewes District Council to support Glynde’s wind turbine (because it creates energy from a renewable source) and have put in their diaries the next Town Council meeting (5 April). As a citizen this week I have decided to write to Waitrose to ask why they keep all their lights on at night. For good measure I will write to Tesco to ask why they keep their doors open through the winter and their freezers and chill cabinets open while operating a central heating system. As consumer I continue the journey towards unconsumer. Last week I walked the length of Lewes in search of a cushion. Not only did I not find one good enough, but neither did I buy a single other thing on that journey. I’m free! And I now carry lightweight cotton bags wherever I go. Barefoot Herbs, our local eco-store, now simply does not offer plastic bags, even recycled ones. If people have forgotten to bring a bag, they can buy a cotton one for a quid. Imagine Tesco doing that.
Thursday, 8 March 2007
Now honeybees are dying. Last autumn, across the US, bee farmers started to notice that whole colonies were fleeing the hive never to return, leaving behind the queen and a cluster of enormously diseased bees. In many cases those bees were infected with a massive toxic load of virtually every bee virus and fungus known to man. This sudden and unprecedented collapse of colonies - dubbed the Marie Celeste phenomenon - is causing enormous concern among scientists and farmers, whose crops, and our food, depend on bee pollination. Some say it’s been happening in Europe too. More will be revealed when the hives are open come springtime. Wouldn’t it be terrible if the bees are dying out in order to show us how interdependent we are with all beings?
Thursday, 1 March 2007
The Sussex Energy Group debate at Brighton Library on Tuesday addressed our responsibility not just as consumers but as citizens, who influence the way our politicians behave. As individuals we have more power than we realise in both roles. So here’s Step One. As consumer, the single most effective easy step I’ve taken to reduce dependence on fossil fuels has been to change our family’s electricity supplier to one that gets energy only from wind. The companies (slightly more costly than standard fare) are Ecotricity and Good Energy - Kerching! towards fossil fuel liberation and a little smugness too. As educated citizens, we can influence our leaders to do the right thing for the community, regardless of national, corporate or party political agendas. We need to understand the process of local government and help inform it.
So two steps for the citizen here: join Transition Town Lewes in attending Lewes Town Council meetings and (two) write to the Lewes District Council planning committee to support the first wind turbine application in Glynde, the first proposal in East Sussex. Lovely natural wind is limitless, and becoming ‘zero carbon’ is part of our post-oil economy - towards which we are making a transition, said Sec of State for the Environment David Miliband last week. Those exact words.
Thursday, 22 February 2007
It’s dawning on me that I’ve been supporting economic slavery, without being fully aware of human beings in the Far East making cheap Primark clothes, and of Kenyan mothers growing Valentines flowers for a pittance, killing the great lakes and soils of African lands, and their history and community. It’s more insidious than forced labour: sometimes the great economic beast of western consumption just makes it so. So. That’s it. I’m going local for clothes. On the whole, I’ll be buying from some of the great ethical shops in Lewes: Gossypium and Susanna Wolf, along with second hand clothes: Roundabout, Stock Exchange, Barefoot Herbs, as well as all the great charity shops around. I hear M&S is investing in fair-trade cotton too; organic knickers, why not? Apparently, it's the bicentennial year of the abolition of slavery. I wish.
Thursday, 8 February 2007
It’s not a great stretch to understand that cutting CO2 emissions means a planned descent from fossil fuel use. And unless we move en masse to nuclear or renewables (both of which are problematic large-scale) this means the economy - so closely linked to oil and gas production - has to turn the peak towards terminal decline. But that very solution for the biosphere is also the greatest fear of governments and corporations, whose lifeblood is economic growth. I spoke to Chris Skrebowski, Editor of the Petroleum Review, on Sunday inviting him to speak about peak oil in the Transition Town Lewes programme later this spring. He confirmed this and more: our leaders will not make the first move. Many people have been saying, and it was reiterated at the Soil Association conference: change will start from the individuals, communities and organisations who don't have as vested an interest in endless growth.Which is what gives me the greatest hope: we are moving towards a paradigm shift or turning point, into a new era, when we stop believing that the earth belongs to us and start realising that we belong to the earth.
Thursday, 1 February 2007
Our current culture has made us massively de-skilled and vulnerable, in the face of great uncertainties. We’re also dependent on transport and supermarkets. Remember the lorry strikes of 2000: the supermarket shelves started to empty after two days and within a week, local food supply would have dried up completely. Our leaders are talking, theoretically at least, about a 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and unless we segue to nuclear, this means a crash diet from oil use. What on earth will that entail? It’s encouraging that a major body such as the Soil Association is starting to look this issue in the eye. If we are to eat in the coming decades, and in order to stop the planet burning, we will need a massive shift in habits. One speaker said up to 20% of the population will take up farming. There was a strange sense of optimism at the end of the conference. Are we ready to let go of our addictions? There’s everything to lose. Listen to keynote conference speaker Vadana Shiva
Thursday, 25 January 2007
Thursday, 18 January 2007
Basically, most of us Westerners are ‘oil eaters’: Huge amounts of oil are involved in the growing, fertilising, processing, packaging, transporting, selling and preparation of food.When I came across this information last autumn I had a crisis that went like this:
1. Not another global problem.
2. Things are going to change in my lifetime.
3. But actually it could work out for the better.
4. I’m sure the government has a plan to get us through this.
5. But why would any government or corporation knowingly precipitate an economic decline?
6. Why didn’t anyone tell me?
7. What about alternative fuels/technologies? Not on any scale.
8. Biofuels? They will compete with food and step up climate change problems.
9.What the hell are our world leaders doing?
10. Hope this is not just another conspiracy theory
11. Where do I get more information?
12. What can I do?
If you’re still interested, can I suggest the Energy Bulletin, and Powerswitch as a starting point? Let me know how you get on.
Thursday, 11 January 2007
These are a few of my favourite things; thinking about them helps offset the depression.
- Hearing the choir practise in St John’s Hall on a Sunday afternoon.
- The Ouse when it’s flat and brown.
- The winter mimosa down by the Railway land.
- The smell of bhajis from the stall at the Farmer’s Market.
- Lying on a grass bank near the Ouse up from Willey’s Bridge, watching the sunset.
- The walnut trees in Baxter’s Field.
- The lights of Lewes from the golf course at night.
- Downstairs at the Needlemakers; it smells old and there are trinkets that people have stockpiled over the years.
- The bowling green in the watery light of a winter morning.
- Picnic on the banks of the river under the blossom trees.
- The first apple from Oakhurst Farm and knowing apple season has started again.
Friday, 5 January 2007
Al Gore (yes, him again) warns us not to go from Denial to Despair, a very convenient segue. So I decided to take action instead. Apparently it’s all about changing habits. At the Climate Change March last November, George Monbiot urged everyone there to give up watching telly and dedicate that time instead to campaign for the environment. It’s one of the best things I’ve done. New Year is an excellent time for fresh starts. I’m working on cutting down on alcohol, my personal fuel addiction (hmmmm), and have pledged to not fly this year. Lewes District Council has published a draft report: Taking Action in a Changing Climate, which has a lot of excellent ideas for commitments we can make at home and work. The great thing about all this habit changing is that it’ll make us more robust, physically, emotionally and financially.