Tuesday, 22 September 2009

fallout from the future

I wrote about the economic downturn in these pages long before it happened and it’s now very interesting to watch the fallout, as it were, from the future. Newsnight commentators, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, a year on from the Lehman bank collapse, agreed in this fascinating debate, that we were probably in for a long period of little or no economic growth, and that this would be a good thing. And they also agreed that they did't know what might replace capitalism as a more viable culture or ideology.

The environmental imperative is that economic growth that is based on consumption is brought to a halt and then even reversed. You can have a growth in services, in value added, and so on, however, and that’s what the new social entrepreneurs are going to be taking up in the future. But continuing to over-consume trees, metals, fossil fuels (especially by travel and transport) water and topsoil (thanks to supermarket-fuelled agriculture) is taking us to the brink of existence.

My personal view is that the change will take many forms – emotional, practical, spiritual - and is in the form of a wave. For many of us early-adopters, we’re already focused on building our own resilience, localizing, downsizing and changing the way we work, shop and spend our time. We’re aware of the paradigm shift and in some ways, say, through the Transition Movement, spending our new-found spare time helping precipitate it in a 100-monkeys kind of way. This isn’t a smug, middle-class indulgence. It’s more about cutting edge survival: learning to live realistically within the limits of our planet. And, as a writer commented in a piece about the ethics of climate change, it’s about becoming the kind of person I want to be.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

the buzz about bees

Things are looking up for honeybees as a small but significant number of people are looking for new ways to support their continued existence. The commercial world has latched on in the form of the Beehaus - plastic horizontal beehives that were launched in high excitement this summer. I don't think it's a good idea, because plastic beehives aren't great for bees, who like natural materials that breathe, to live in. But urban beekeeping is the general trend, as there's far more biodiversity and fewer pesticides in towns. Yesterday's You and Yours featured the urban beekeeping phenomenon. It appears that the Cooperative Bank has funded a movement to populate the allotments of Manchester with bees - next stop London and Birmingham.

But more and more people are questioning the promotion of this 'traditional' way of beekeeping, which has remained unchanged for 100 years. This involves taking off almost all the winter honey supplies and feeding the bees with sugar over the winter - surely a disaster for their immune system. It involves going through the brood - the intimate core of the integrated bee colony - every 10 days during the main flow to check for pre-swarm queen cells. And it involves chemical intervention for disease instead of creating a terrain for general good bee health.

The Soil Association this summer launched a campaign to get the government to ban nicotinamides, which have been found to be one of the causes of colony collapse disorder. The British Beekeepers Association, still the source of most of the standard beekeeping courses, receives sponsorship funding from Bayer, a major manufacturer of nicotinamides. So beekeepers are having to flout their association and go to the Soil Association's petition.

New forms of beekeeping are emerging - or perhaps a revival of old forms based on an old, indigenous, more caretaking attitude towards bees and nature in general. One of the pioneers, Biobees, last week launched the Natural Beekeeping Network, which is also a research arm as well as supporting top-bar beekeeping. More locally, in Ashurstwood near Forest Row, the Natural Beekeeping Trust, based on biodynamic beekeeping, also launched last weekend. They have two courses coming up in October. For more about biodynamic beekeeping, read this page.

Lewes's walled, biodiverse gardens were once full of beehives. Wouldn't it be lovely if Lewes's gardens, allotments and parks were, in a couple of years, buzzing with honeybees? There's already a bunch of us supporting, mulling or experimenting. Contact me if you'd like to get involved.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

first step 10%

The Silver Bean Car Club of Lewes is now the proud owner of a brand new Toyota Yaris. Our carbon emissions are so low - 106g/km - that our annual road tax is only £35. I've been involved in this car club for about three years and it has been so easy and saved us so much money that I never want to own a car ever again. The average car driver emits about two tonnes of CO2 a year and CarPlus estimates that sharing cars can cut that dramatically as well as create huge savings. The car is centrally parked and it costs £2 an hour to book, plus petrol, after an initial registration fee of £75. Nobody's making any money on that but it pays off the cost of borrowing. With 11 of us in the club, we're full at the moment, but we might well take on more people in the future. If you're interested please email silverbeancarclub@googlemail.com

Talking about cutting carbon emissions, this week saw the launch of an exciting new national initiative called 10:10 whose aim is for us all and collectively to reduce our carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. The point is that it's all very well for us to aim for 85% reduction in emissions/fossil fuel use by 2050 a la Copenhagen, but it's what we also do in the interim that matters: the line of trajectory. Transition Town Lewes's forum agreed last night to take this on as a major theme and I will be writing about this in the months to come. At present we in the UK each emit roughly 13 tonnes of CO2 per year. We'll need to aim for around one tonne by 2050 (if we're going for international equity). The first step is interesting: 10% - that's more than just recycling and turning down our thermostats, which I think we've all done now. It's about changing our habits more profoundly: changing the way we source food, buying far less stuff, halving our flying, sharing things. See here for some ideas about practical actions.

It's actually quite diffucult for our family to reduce our carbon emissions further: we're down to about 5 tonnes of emissions since we started as a household a couple of years ago, and apart from not flying, it's all been quite easy. Two of those tonnes are down to central government decisions on roads, airports and schools. But Dirk has just had a thousand pounds of surprise royalty from a piece of music he wrote and, inspired by Transition Town Lewes's Open Eco-house event in July, we're finally going to spend it on on an eco-lite retrofit of our house: perspex secondary double glazing from http://www.365plastics.com/, interlining our curtains in our main room; low-energy lightbulbs throughout (except the main kitchen light), reflector behind the radiators and draughtproofing windows and doors. I find the prospect strangely exciting.