Thursday, 22 February 2007


Last week I asked Sheila Marshall, the dressmaker on Station Street, to alter my daughter Anna’s winter coat. In the spirit of make-do-and-mend I was keen to support a local artisan whose skills will become important when the fossil fuel fiesta winds down. It turns out Sheila had just returned from a trip to China, a package tour that took her to Beijing, Shanghai and beyond. It was like a Hollywood set, she said: from the top deck of the double-decker tour bus, she could see behind the glossy fa├žades into the filthy shanty towns behind, whose roofs were piled high with coal soot. My friend Gordon also told me last week that when villagers enter these shiny new cities, they are rounded up and given work in factories for minimum board and lodging, often never to be seen again (perhaps from choice).

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

We belong to the earth

I’ve just had an Emperor's New Clothes moment. In deep despair this weekend over the UN report, I was thinking and dreaming about how we humans were going to turn this beast around in time to avert unimaginable cross-species suffering by 2100. With our leaders not only in denial but in the case of Bush and his neocons, appearing to be deliberately ‘bringing on’ Armageddon, things look bleak.

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

Soil Association on message

I’ve just returned from the Soil Association Annual Conference, to which I was invited to speak about Transition Town Lewes. (I also showed Keith’s short film of Lewes people and our oil dependence). The conference was called ‘Preparing for a post-peak oil food and farming future’, and it was an urgent call to action to farmers nationally to look at a very different reality. It brought home just how dependent we are on farmers for our survival. Growing your own is a skilled job - believe me, I’ve tried it.

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