Thursday, 29 March 2007

To my dear brother

Dearest Mark,
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?

How low can I go?

How low can I go? How much can I reduce my impact on our gorgeous, precious planet? Last September, I wrote about a self-imposed zero waste week in our household. That experiment was so eye-opening that our family life has continued to move in this low-impact direction. Here are some things I did this week that seem quite sensible, from the perspective of the polar bears and the endangered small pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies in our woods. I pruned a rampant Virginia creeper in our garden, cut and bundled up the pieces with twine and stored them away for next winter’s kindling. OK, it took an hour, but all that bending did wonders for my stiff back. I started to dig up our paved garden (15 ft square) to make vegetable beds. We used newspaper to line our compost bin. We talked to neighbours about newspaper sharing. We shopped mostly locally and walked a lot. I had several long conversations. I didn’t do any printouts. We only ate meat twice. I didn’t buy much, apart from food. On Sunday, six friends stacked coppiced wood that will fire our stoves for the next five years. I used a mooncup for my period instead of tampons.

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

Transitioning to a post-oil world

Is it still happening? The transition to a post-oil economy, I mean. The signs are that it is. Brighton has just announced plans for a sophisticated new public transport system that will help get people out of their cars. The Soil Association last week sent a letter to all members asking for support for their Food and Farming - Post Peak Oil initiative, including Transition Towns.

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

Teachings of the bees

I’m a beekeeper and like many beekeepers I have a strong connection with the bees. When I first took up this craft I was struck by the smell and the energy that seemed to emanate from the hive. I was lovestruck. Now I look after two colonies in the woods and can sit near the hives for timeless stretches. I visited them recently, on a strangely warm February day, and watched them come out of their winter huddle and do that dancing flight back and forth coming into the hive laden with gorse pollen. They were rather slow and dazed, as you would be if you’d spent the winter in a dark hive, keeping warm only by stored honey and the fanning of wings.

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 citizen consumer

It’s happening! In this week’s Draft Climate Change Bill we’re now witnessing our government’s transition from paying lip service to climate change to a willingness to tie itself to targets and even vie for being the greenest party in town. This may just be rhetoric but the shift towards action is welcome to many environmentalists.

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.

We live on planet bliss

I have a keen sense of smell. As I walked through Lewes last night I smelled at least five wood fires. I have a woodburning stove, installed by Home Heat last month and partly funded by a grant from Lewes District Council. It’s a British stove, a Dovre, and it’s specified for smokeless zones. It gives off a glowing sort of heat that gently seeps up the house. I have a woodland near Laughton where I go once a week in the community car. Sometimes I stay the night in a bender. I love the woodland, wholeheartedly; I keep bees there. And there are rare colonies of Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterflies so I’m helping support them and the other insects by gently clearing a heathy glade in the young oaks. A forester called Harvey Malthouse is coppicing the overstood chestnut this week with a grant from the Forestry Commission and I plan to form a group of people in Lewes with woodburning stoves to log together the coppiced wood. I have a life of beauty. Dirk and I started to realise a while ago that we humans are co-creating our lives, with the help of the Great Life Force, in a miraculous way we cannot really understand. And that life, especially nature, reflects it all back. My friends Alinah and Leo have this on their fridge: ‘Who you are in the present is given by the future you are living into.’ I am living into a future when we have all realised that we are living on planet bliss.