I was mulling over the fact that tomorrow sees the start of October and, inevitably, pondering what sort of winter we are in for. At the same time, I was reflecting on how beautiful this last month has been. Wonderful ‘easy-on-the-body’ temperatures, an inch or more of much-needed rain, wonderful Autumn colours; all being shared for the last ten days with our guests: Reggie and Chris.
I was unsure what to write about to reflect my thoughts and was then saved by the September Digest from Transition Culture back in the old country. I started to read it and immediately wanted to share it with you; dear reader.
First, to set the tone, here is a photograph taken just before I sat down to write today’s post.
Transitioners’ Digest (September 2014)
This month we have been exploring the theme of “Making Space for Nature” from a wide range of different angles. We started with an editorial piece which argued that one of the key things that nature can bring our work doing Transition is a sense of wonder. Something to do with glowworms apparently. We grabbed George Monbiot before he went on stage and talked about his book Feral and the concept of rewilding.
Writer and founder of the charity Write to Freedom, Caspar Walsh, talked about the vital role nature can play in the healing of young men. “She, it, whatever it is”, he told us, “works on them and softens them up so I don’t have to do all the work”. Ecopsychologist Mary-Jayne Rust talked about the impacts being separated from nature can have on us, and the benefits we get from making space for it. “When was the last time you heard of an activist going on a pilgrimage for eight months?” she asked.
Isabel Carlisle introduced us to Community Charters, and the potential they have for making space for nature at the community scale. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and of the theory of Nature Deficit Disorder, talked to us via Skype. “If we’re not careful”, he told us, “environmentalists and others who care about the future of nature will carry nature in their briefcases, not in their hearts”. Mike Jones, who builds natural play spaces for kids, talked about the need to make space for “the primodial nature of kids”.
Aniol Esteban of New Economics Foundation reflected on why we need to make space for nature in economics. He told us:
Nature contributes to our mental health. It delivers mental health benefits and physical health benefits. It delivers a wide range of societal benefits. It contributes to our education. It can help reduce levels of crime. It can help urban regeneration. There is a huge range of areas and ways in which nature contributes to our wellbeing – individual wellbeing and collective wellbeing.
Hayley Spann, one of the participants in One Year in Transition, reflected on “what nature taught me”. We had a review of the first mainstream novel about Transition, The Second Life of Sally Mottram by David Nobbs (see right). We also talked to the author about where the idea came from, and what makes a good story. We had a recipe for “Transition Plum and Almond Cake”. Mark Watson reflected on the importance of ‘Making Space for Flowers’, and the many ways in which his Transition initiatives, Sustainable Bungay, create opportunities for people to encounter and benefit from nature.
Rob Hopkins reflected on how different our approach to managing water and drought would be if we took forests as the model on which we based it. He also responded to a critique of Transition by Ted Trainer and explored why the language we use to talk about this stuff really matters. He also went on the Peoples’ Climate March in London and reflected on how that was.
We heard from Transition initiatives about their experience of making space for nature in what they do. Hilary Jennings of Transition Town Tooting talked about the Tooting Foodival. Chris Bird wrote about the Transition Homes initiative in Totnes. Cara Naden discussed the many ways in which Transition Langport make space for nature. “I believe we all have an inherent bond with nature”, she wrote. “It makes us feel happy and healthy and makes us feel we are doing something positive and worthwhile for the benefit of wildlife, each other and ourselves”.
A very rich and thought-provoking month we hope you’ll agree. Our theme for October will be Transition and development. We hope you enjoy that too.
(Note: there were many links in the original digest so do please check there as well.)
Can’t resist a couple more pictures from home to underline how we feel so strongly about having space for nature.
Let’s all have a great month of October embracing the natural world around us howsoever it can be done.
I read a recent article posted by Rob Hopkins on the Transition Culture blogsite, a blog that I subscribe to. Those who are unfamiliar with Rob, the Transition Culture site has his background, from which I quote this snippet:
“Rob Hopkins brings humour, imagination and vision to the great challenges of our time, and argues that what is needed, above all else, at this time in history, is “engaged optimism”. The rapidly-spreading Transition movement which he was pivotal in establishing, is an embodiment of that. Nicholas Crane, presenter of BBC2’s recent ‘Town’ series, recently referred to Transition as “the biggest urban brainwave of the century”.
Anyway, back to the article. It struck me as so absurd that I tried my hand at asking Rob for permission to republish. Back, almost immediately, came his positive reply. Thank you, Rob.
Oh, and before going to Rob’s article, for those that, like me, are a bit rusty on the composition of the G8, here’s a Wikipedia extract:
The Group of Eight (G8) is a forum for the governments of the world’s eight wealthiest countries. The forum originated with a 1975 summit hosted by France that brought together representatives of six governments: France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, thus leading to the name Group of Six or G6. The summit became known as the Group of Seven or G7 the following year with the addition of Canada. The G7, that is active even after the creation of the G8, is composed by 7 of 8 of the wealthiest countries on Earth (as net wealth and not GDP). In 1997, Russia was added to the group which then became known as the G8. The European Union is represented within the G8 but cannot host or chair summits.
Now without any further ado, here is that article.
12 Jun 2013
Why even the G8 prefer vibrant, diverse local economies really …
If there was one picture that captured the times we are living through it is this. It appeared on the BBC website recently with the following caption:
Kevin McGuire walks his dog past a vacant shop in Belcoo, Northern Ireland. The empty shop is one of a number that have had graphics placed on the windows to make them look like working shops ahead of the G8 summit which takes place nearby later this month.
Let’s take that a bit more slowly. Here is a shop, one of many that has gone out of business due, among other things, to the growth-fixated policies of the G8, situated in a place G8 ministers will be driven past en route to their summit. Rather than their being able to see how things are actually unfolding in the real world, the division and misery being caused by their approach to the economy, the windows have been plastered with stickers that present it as a fully-stocked, thriving shop. As singer/comic Mitch Benn put it on BBC Radio 4′s The Now Show on Friday, ”the last thing you’d want would be for a bunch of people meeting to fix the economy to see how bad the economy’s got”.
County Fermanagh’s district council sanctioned the fake retail units as part of a £1m makeover before it hosts the G8 summit. The event takes place on 17 and 18 June at the Lough Erne golf resort near Enniskillen. The chief executive of Fermanagh District Council has defended the optical illusion.
“It was aimed at undeveloped sites at the entrance to the town and then right throughout the county in terms of the other towns and villages, looking at those vacant properties and really just trying to make them look better and more aesthetically pleasing,” says Brendan Hegarty
Here’s the thing that fascinated me most though. It’s the kind of shop they chose to portray it as. They didn’t print up large stickers that would present the shop as being a Tesco Metro, a Sainsbury’s Local, an Aldi perhaps, or even branch of one of the banks that contributed significantly to our getting into this mess in the first place. They didn’t make one huge sticker, one false façade, that showed a new shopping precinct, glittering with all the usual chain stores that dominate every such precinct. Or a Travelodge perhaps. Rather they set out deliberately and in considerable detail to portray the kind of vibrant, local, independent business that has either become extinct, or which survives in spite of, rather than because of, the policies of the G8. Here’s another one…
The windows are hung with delicious-looking hams, the display features meats and a whole range of delicious local produce, beautifully arranged. Although the cut-and-paste nature of the graphic design rather gives the game away (the same arrangements of hams appear two or three times), what they are trying to portray here is that most endangered of species, the local, independent butcher.
In the mid-1990s there were 22,000 butchers in the UK, by 2010 there were just 6,553. The independent butcher is making something of a spirited fightback though, although certainly not aided, in any sense, by the G8. The butcher that would have occupied that shop no longer exists, most likely because a supermarket opened nearby and completely shifted the balance of the Belcoo economy (any readers from Belcoo who might like to write in and tell us what led to this shop’s demise would be most welcome).
We estimate that the top five major supermarkets in Herefordshire account for between 71% – 83% of all household expenditure on ‘brought home’ food and drink, or up to £180m annually. In addition, around £30m per year is spent in the smaller ‘chain’ supermarkets.
Their conclusion is that the true ‘local spend’ figure, i.e through local, independent businesses in Herefordshire, could be around 16% of the total. In terms of a national version of that figure, the best I can find is the figure from the Portas Review that states that 8,000 supermarkets now account for over 97% of all UK grocery sales. Although clearly other smaller supermarkets account for some of the remaining sales, let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that nationally, 3% of what we spend on groceries goes out through local and independent businesses.
I would imagine that everyone seeks an economy that is able to provide jobs, economic activity, stronger and happier communities and community resilience, while also skilfully reducing its carbon emissions on the scale required. The question of our times though, as far as I’m concerned, is whether that is best achieved by expanding the 97% of our economy currently dominated by huge supermarkets, the kinds of enterprise that the UK government and the G8 see as leading the push for growth, or protecting and enhancing the 3%?
It’s a vital question, because at the moment the push to eradicate the 3% altogether, or at least squeeze it a lot harder, continues apace. Yet that 3% is better suited to meeting those core needs of ours. As the recent report by Localise West Midlands on ‘community economic development’ states:
Our research has found strong evidence that local economies with higher levels of SMEs and local ownership perform better in terms of employment growth (especially disadvantaged and peripheral areas), the local multiplier effect, social and economic inclusion, income redistribution, health, civic engagement and well-being than places heavily reliant on inward investment where there are fewer, larger, remotely owned employers.
A study focusing on New Orleans compared 179,000 square feet of retail space that is home to 100 independent businesses to the same-sized space that is home to a single supermarket. The former generated $105 million in sales with $34 million staying in the local economy, while the latter generated $50 million in sales with just $8 million staying locally, and necessitated 300,000 square feet of parking space (see graphic below).
Santander’s ‘Market of Hope’ which I wrote about here last year is a great example of how a city can be fed by looking at large retail spaces in such a way that they boost and support the local independent economy rather than undermine it. When Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco, was asked whether there was any alternative to supermarkets, replied:
“… queueing at one store than trudging down Watford High Street in the rain to another shop … is this what people actually want to go back to?”
But no, it’s not about “going back”, rather about going forward in a way that meets our needs rather than those of the City of London. What we now know is that even G8 ministers would rather pass through High Streets populated with small, independent butchers, bakers, grocers, would rather see shop windows overflowing with delicious food, trusting that the relationship they have built up with the shopkeeper over many years will mean that he/she stocks the best produce they can find. It feels right. It’s human scale. It makes sense. It’s an economy that is ours, it belongs to local people, to the local economy. Even G8 ministers would now appear to prefer a shopping experience that actually involves interacting with other human beings rather than wandering anonymously around a superstore and then cashing yourself out at the end.
The core argument of The Power of Just Doing Stuff, published on Friday, is that if we really want to achieve our goals of jobs, economic activity, stronger and happier communities and community resilience, while also skilfully reducing our carbon emissions on the scale required, we’d be better off focusing on growing the 3% rather than the 97%. It’s a pretty simple idea, and, to me at least, a blindingly obvious one, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
However, the experience is that this fightback has already begun. The explosion of new bakeries, pop-up shops, community renewable energy projects, craft breweries, independent record shops, complementary currencies and communities acquiring their own assets is already happening around us, but it needs us to get behind it, to put our shoulders, our spending power, our sheer bloody will, to making it 10%, 30% 70%. If we want a stable climate, reduced energy vulnerability, economic stability, and a healthy human culture, we really have no choice. As Maria van der Hoeven of the IEA said recently at the launch of a World Energy OutlookSpecial Report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, ”the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C”.
Fortunately, it’s a push that is life-enhancing, thrill-generating and in which we discover a resourcefulness, a kindness and a passion in ourselves that we may have forgotten was there. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book, from Helen Cunningham of DE4 Food, a social enterprise food hub in Derbyshire that grew out of Transition Matlock. The project grew from helping a local farmer with lambing and has grown into an innovative new business:
“Never in my life did I imagine that I’d be able to bring lambs into the world! It wasn’t a skill I ever expected to have. It was such a different thing from what we were doing in the rest of our lives, and I think from then we’ve all thought “OK, we can learn these new skills, we can learn how to lamb, we can learn how to grow vegetables and learn how to do Excel Profit and Loss sheets and whatever.” I think we all just really wanted to change the way we live, and change our own personal lives and to change things and live different lives ourselves as well as a different life in our community”.
You can pre-order your copy of The Power of Just Doing Stuff here.
As has been said before, and undoubtedly will be said many times more, it really is a very strange world we live in!
For me that quotation sums up how I would like to reply to not only my dear friend, Dan Gomez, who is a denialist of anthropogenic climate change, as last Monday’s Post illustrated, but also to skeptics everywhere else.
I should also add the important qualifier that I am neither a scientist nor have any expert skills in the relevant areas. But, then again, neither does Dan. He and I are both citizens of Planet Earth with a passion for the truth.
So where to go from here? There is no question that the Earth’s climate is complex and endeavouring to understand ’cause and effect’ relies heavily on mathematical models. But many complex aspects of our world are treated similarly, therefore so what! Dan and I share with millions of others a lack of scientific competence, ergo we have to be rely on the scientific views expressed by those who do have the scientific competencies.
Would one challenge the competence of Scientific American magazine, that in an article on March 18, 2007, (five years ago!) opened thus,
Paris–The signs of global climate change are clear: melting glaciers, earlier blooms and rising temperatures. In fact, 11 of the past 12 years rank among the hottest ever recorded.
and continued later with this, [my emboldening]
For example, after objections by Saudi Arabia and China, the report dropped a sentence stating that the impact of human activity on the earth’s heat budget exceeds that of the sun by fivefold. “The difference is really a factor of 10,” says lead author Piers Forster of the University of Leeds in England: compared with its historical output, the sun currently contributes an extra 0.12 watt of energy for each square meter of the earth’s surface, whereas man-made sources trap an additional 1.6 watts per square meter.
The Wall Street Journal has received a dressing down from a large group of leading scientists for promoting retrograde and out-of-date views on climate change. In an opinion piece run by the Journal on Wednesday, nearly 40 scientists, including acknowledged climate change experts, took on the paper for publishing an article disputing the evidence on global warming.
The offending article, No Need to Panic About Global Warming, which appeared last week, argued that climate change was a cunning ploy deployed by governments to raise taxes and by non-profit organisations to solicit donations to save the planet.
It was signed by 16 scientists who don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that climate change is happening and is largely man-made – but as Wednesday’s letter points out, many of those who signed don’t actually work in climate science.
Later in that article Suzanne writes, referring to the 40 scientists, [again, my emboldening]
The letter goes on to note that some 97% of researchers who actively publish on climate science agree that climate change is real and caused by humans. It concludes: “It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses.”
There’s much, much more evidence that shows that the science is clear – mankind is risking the future viability of this planet for the species homo sapiens and countless other species!
One of the important points made by Dan in that Post last Monday was about the book, written by Senator James Inhofe, The Greatest Hoax. Dan wrote, “This is all about money and power, not weather.”
Next I’m going to repeat something that I have previously mentioned on Learning from Dogs. There’s a saying in the aviation industry, “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!” That saying underpins the culture that has turned commercial air transport into one of the safest means of travel in history.
Let’s ponder that idea of doubt.
There is no question that there is a great deal of doubt. Back in 2010 Gallup Poll reported that “42% of adults worldwide who see global warming as a threat to themselves and their families in 2010 hasn’t budged in the last few years“.
Would you get into a commercial airliner to fly from ‘a’ to ‘b’ if 42% of the passengers saw the flight as a threat to themselves? No, of course not!
So one certainly wouldn’t fly then if 62% thought it was risky! From here,
The newest study from the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which is a biannual survey taken since fall 2008 and organized by the Brookings Institute, shows that 62 percent of Americans now believe that man-made climate change is occurring, and 26 percent do not. The others are unsure.
So back to the theme that started this Post. For the sake of all of us on this planet, for all our children and grandchildren and beyond, we need to start caring deeply about the future, changing our life-styles in as many ways as we can and demanding that our politicians and leaders are similarly committed to the future.
Not because the future is anything like certain – but to reduce the risks of a global catastrophy. I have a grandson who will be one-year-old on March 21st. I want to be certain that he has a viable life ahead of him for many, many years. That means caring ‘a whole awful lot‘, letting hope motivate me to change, and recognising that change is already taking place, as the following trailer so superbly demonstrates.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
I am as guilty as the next person in promoting ‘doom and gloom’ when it comes to what mankind is doing to this planet. I devoted a couple of thousand words to that theme in a guest sermon that appeared on Learning from Dogs a week ago. That’s not to say that unless mankind, in the millions, changes in significant ways then avoiding a catastrophy to our species, and many others, is going to be hugely difficult.
But motivating us all to change is far better undertaken from a position of positive guidance and inspiration, than out of fear!
So when Jean and I listened to a recent BBC radio broadcast by Rob as part of the BBC Radio 4 Four Thought series we were blown away by the guidance and inspiration that Rob presented.
Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Culture movement, believes that “engaged optimism” is the best way to face the global challenges of the future, be it climate change, oil supplies running out or the economic downturn. He believes initiatives enabling people to produce their own goods and services locally – from solar powered bottled beer to micro currencies like the Brixton pound – are the best way to build community resilience. Four Thought is a series of talks in which speakers give a personal viewpoint recorded in front of an audience at the RSA in London.
Producer: Sheila Cook.
So do listen to the programme and then click across to the Transition Culture website where Rob has posted a transcript of his talk. Please, whatever your plans today find time to listen to the programme and read the transcript. Here’s how Rob closes his talk,
I often end talks I give with Arundhati Roy’s quote “another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing”. I think we might adapt her quote, so that, in the context of this bottom-up drive for more resilient communities, communities better prepared for uncertain times, it is not only a case of hearing another world breathing, but being able to see her around us, already setting up local businesses, reviving her local economy, setting up bakeries, breweries, food hubs, mentoring scores of young people with business ideas, attracting inward social investment finance, creating the models whereby people can invest in their communities and see them being strengthened and supported.
That’s why I get out of bed in the morning, because I feel that the potential in our getting this right is so exquisite that it’s all I can do, and because the grim predictability of what will happen if we do nothing is just unthinkable, especially in relation to the challenge of climate change. If we are able to turn things around on the scale we need to turn them around on, to replace vulnerability, carbon intensity and fragility with resilience, it will be an achievement our children will tell tales about, sing songs about. I hope I am there to hear them. Thank you.