Thursday, 28 January 2010

fear of flying

I’ve just returned from Paris, where I was visiting my daughter Anna. I took the scenic route – on the Newhaven ferry to Dieppe and then by train to Paris. Including a leisurely lunch in Dieppe with a fellow passenger, the trip took about 10 hours, during which I worked on my permaculture diploma and read a good novel. And for £70 return door to door, it probably cost less than any other public transport.

There’s so much to be said in favour of slow travel, and I needed to get away from Lewes and my own head and heart, feeling deeply upset this month about so many of my caring, intelligent friends flying long-distance despite everything we know about the real cost of flying. I despair for our future if we can’t let go of such things. Anyway, going away helped me get away from this great shadow and get some perspective and physical ease.

I love Paris. The sound of the French talking, the smell of rubber in the metro, the fuggy bistros, the awesomely beautiful architecture. Perhaps because I was born there and lived there the first year of my life, I feel completely at home in a visceral sort of way. Anna and I figured out how to work the fantastic Velib system, a bicycle hire with banks of cycles on every other block. You just swipe your card over the dock and the bike is released; the bikes are free for the first half hour. We whizzed around Paris, which is pretty compact, down the dedicated cycle lanes and weaving through the traffic jams. On Sunday, a crazy bookshop on the Left Bank where Anna hangs out, called Shakespeare and Company, has open teas in an upstairs room crowded with books and people. Our 70-year-old poet hostess, PanMella, poured us cups of china tea with ‘a dose of love’ while the resident Brit and Yank writers read their latest stories and poems.

There’s a daily fruit and veg market round the corner from Anna’s tiny apartment, which comes with her au pair job. We visited the organic stall in the market daily, then did the round of the flea market. Not that she can afford to shop; she’s living on 20 Euros a week, about £18. But, she told me, ‘I’d rather be poor in Paris than rich anywhere else in the world.’

Thursday, 14 January 2010

power to the people

In April this year it’s going to be possible for a typical household to generate much of their domestic electricity needs from their own rooftops, with a payback period that’s very reasonable. The reason why this is suddenly possible is that our government is introducing a Feed In Tariff for household energy generation. That means that for every kilowatt hour I generate, I will be paid 36.5p, as opposed to the 14p per kWh I currently pay my electricity supplier. Not only that, but I get to keep what I generate, as well as be paid for it, effectively earning myself roughly 50p per kilowatt. And, during this first year that the tariffs are introduced, that level of tariff will be guaranteed for 25 years.

The British government, obsessed as it is with central as opposed to local power (and that’s political as well as energetic) has definitely dragged its heels behind other countries, but this move could revolutionise the way we generate electricity. The German government introduced FITs in 2000, and 5% percent of Germany’s electricity is already generated from solar.

I was told this news by the good people at Ovesco, the company (which has just become an Industrial Provident Society) set up by Transition Town Lewes’s energy group and who are funded by Lewes District Council to give advice and grants to Lewes residents. I’ve just received a quote from our local supplier, Southern Solar, for 8 solar photovoltaic cells on my average-sized Lewes terraced roof. With those panels at our particular pitch and orientation, the company estimates that we will generate a peak of 1.7kw, or 1,382 kw hours per year, earning me roughly £700 per year (untaxed, it was recently announced). This means at a cost of £9,337 (after an installation grant of £2,500, available nationally until April this year) the payback period would be roughly 13 years, a fabulous return rate of 7% and, perhaps most importantly, would insulate me against future fossil fuel price rises. For those who don’t have a flexible mortgage or imminent lottery win, watch out for forthcoming loans and mortgages to help people make that investment.

I’ve started to become energy literate this year, with the help of an Owl Energy monitor (£37 from Argos), which is surprisingly engaging gadget. With its help, we’ve nearly halved our electricity bills, mainly through replacing and turning off lightbulbs, though we still use about 2,500 kWh per year, which is about twice what we’d have the capacity to generate. I’m pretty confident we could reduce our needs quite a lot further, through using less of the big machines such as our oven and dishwasher, and because our children are leaving home. Apparently, it’s immensely empowering to watch one’s meter go backwards and to know that we’re producing our own energy and making money at the same time.

Now, the only question is whether the LDC planning officers and committee have the vision to allow Lewesians to generate electricity from our roofs visibly in a conservation area/national park-to-be. I guess I’m about to find out.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

jam today...

The organic Seville oranges have arrived at Bills and I’m making marmalade. For the past decade I’ve made a batch that lasts at least until July’s pick-your-own blackcurrants get turned into summer jam. My kitchen store cupboards are stacked with honey and pickles, my basement cold-store shelves still house home-grown pumpkins and Jerusalem artichokes, supplemented with bags of onions, potatoes and carrots from local farms. Plus the sacks of rice, lentils, oats and olive oil delivered by Infinity Foods. Yesterday, before the snow came, I picked kale, rocket and leeks from the allotment. Next week the veg box resumes. I have a good log store in my basement, from wood from our woodland, and my curtains are now interlined. I’ve been doing all this because it makes me feel more happy and more resilient, more interdependent, and because I want to help others be resilient.
As we enter a new decade, many commentators are predicting great change, uncertainties around money, livelihoods, food crops, energy, water, fish, weather (!), and other climate- and energy-related issues. Snugly snowed in with not much to do, it’s is a good time to review our resilience, our flexibility to change. Right now I’m looking into much-needed draughtproofing.
For me, there’s another imperative, and that’s one of justice. If we, the 20% of the world’s population who consume 80% of its resources, are living on 3-8 planets - or more if we fly - that means that on our one planet, other people’s lives are at stake as a result of our overconsumption. As the activist Joanna Macy, writes, it’s quite appropriate to feel the deep emotions that arise when I consider the effect of my life on other beings such as the tiger, the Maasai people and the butterflies in my wood. It’s from that raw emotion that I can then take action and not remain numb and paralysed.
In the absence of other solutions, the most obvious way about this is, I believe, is to gradually, over the next decade, reduce our living costs to one planet: to a third to an eighth of current levels, depending on the size of our current carbon footprint. That’s doable, without any loss of real needs. Yet, despite it being accepted in green circles, who embrace the idea as being something we’d want to do anyway for a wide range of reasons, the idea of consuming less and rethinking our economic growth paradigm, is still hugely unpopular, as reflected by our world leaders’ inability to reach consensus in Copenhagen. It seems that this fear of having to live with less accounts for a large part of the denial, excuses and obfuscation going on.
But I know plenty of people aiming to live locally and simply in Lewes; that inspires me. As does this short video by Eckhart Tolle.