Category Archives: Action

Events which call for action.

A common purpose

There are probably thousands of groups now formed and many thousands more being formed which, like this one, centre on a common purpose, to develop a new kind of society,  one in which selfishness and greed are not predominant, one in which people belong, and one which  has true long term sustainability for all of us and our planet.

Some  may be more political than others, some are simple steps to facilitate change, there is even a Social Enterprise for Social Enterprises.

The August event for Uncivilisation is being held naturally enough at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire, England, and the organisers have in mind the Dark Mountain Project, which is an intriguing name to say the least.

They have 8 Principles, which are I guess deliberately open to interpretation. All a bit gloomy and for those who were around when Hippies hit the trail some of it will be very familiar.

It is easy to react to the various versions of Change Process without thinking much about why one may suit you better than another, and this post was inspired by the following picture from the Transition Network web site:

system diagram

The picture came from David Pollard who comments: “What is disconcerting,” he adds, “is that there is relatively little awareness among those in the four movements of what the others are doing, and the possible synergies between the models.”

I think one reason why, in an age of media, we find it difficult to connect these 4 is because we have lost how they connect within ourselves. We have become disassociated people.

Economy: How I manage my life, and it does need managing of sorts

My coexistence with others: How I exchange my emotions with others

My activism: How I work with my vision and sense of mission and purpose

My aesthetics: How my reason and intuition work with each other in harmony

My sense is that our sense of being excessively busy is because we have made efficiency more important than it should be, and it is not delivering effectiveness, in which my life as a worker is integrated with my emotional life and my mission and my aesthetics. The endless cycle of work, giving me money which leads to spending which needs more work and more money, it is not working for people.

I’m sure the Hampshire event will be great fun, and for those who go maybe take a copy of David Pollard’s picture as a guide. Thanks David


La Hambruna

The word in Spanish for hunger is el hambre, and for famine la hambruna. I think famine sounds far too technical, far too removed from what it must be like not just to be hungry but to be with tens or hundreds of thousands of others who are deeply, deeply hungry. Starving, dying.

Here on the south coast if we wander along the lanes we can find berries growing on bushes, plums falling off trees, and soon fields of apple trees will be dropping fruit because there is not enough demand in the markets at a price that makes them worth picking.

As the fruit wastes away on the ground we eat processed foods which make us fat and now it seems massively increase the chance that it will be cancer that takes us out.

I find it hard to support an economic system which does not readily move what is in excess in one place to where there is nothing. It is left to Charity, to the UK Government to donate £50 million on our behalf, and for us to donate as well, clearly there is a need, clearly we should help those in need, it was not their fault the rains failed again. But it seems Charity only occurs when the dying children reach our television screens, at other times we respond to 2 for 1 Pizza offers, with free delivery.

And of course, which Charity? Do we pick the one with the best adverts? Do we pick the one that shows us more pain than another, or one with smiling faces? Do we pick one that offers long term solutions rather than quick fixes? Or do we pick one our parents used to pick out when you went shopping as a child??

OK, so let’s review, who is out there saying what?

Oxfam  – £5 a month for helping to ‘fix the global food System’

Save the Children  – ‘Start saving lives from as little as £3 a month’

Unicef  – many options, it is like choosing a pension, donate for  the future or for now, you wil get a personalised service for large donations

 World Vision – Sponsor a child and see what difference you make

BBC Children in Need – OK, UK children, but every penny counts as costs are covered by investments

Disasters Emergency Committee – Committee doesn’t sound very sexy but they represent a number of charities and donations are directed where they are most needed

Aid for Africa – for projects not emergencies

Breadline Africa –  The ‘Charity with a heart’ – helping small projects in Africa

Develop Africa – It does what it ‘says on the tin’

And, of course, there are many more.

I am sure all these charities are doing everything they can for those in great need. And I am sure we need to continue to support them, but wouldn’t it be better if there was no need for so many charities trying to plug so many holes in a system which means so many people are poor, malnourished, and on occasions, in their millions, are part of La Hambruna?

Around the world groups of people are trying to engage in Transition, Towns, Cities, Streets, and as Individuals, and surely it is Transition that is desperately called for in areas which are so far from being sustainable that from tie to time, and seemingly ever more frequently, the system collapses.

Solar energy, a review

As I was walking along the road the other day I was looking up at the roofs of houses and wondering why so few have solar panels. They seem to be in fashion, more and more companies are sitting on stools waiting for you to exist some big store and sell you the idea of a free visit, to assess how much money you can save, and here in the UK there are probably quite a lot of people who could save money quite quickly, with Feed In Tariffs and lovely things like that.

I don’t want to do a who does what best kind of review, things are changing so rapidly that you need to keep in touch with what is going on on a week by week basis. What I want to do is list the kind of things that I think you should be thinking about, and then maybe one or two people who do the job can answer or reply. Gently of course.

Point by point, a review:

1. Will you save money? Well, you need to count the cost of the money itself, if you are paying interest on the money (and not paying off the mortgage is also, in a way, paying interest) then that cost needs to be included. People are generally terrible at making these kinds of calculations. I read somewhere that if people have 3 small loans at low interest and one at higher interest they will pay off the 3 small loans first to ‘get them out of the way’, which is not sensible of course. but I know how they feel. If you are paying high interest on a loan for buying your car, that is also what you could do instead of buying solar panels (though better still, sell the car!).

While interest rates are low in the UK then using savings is not losing you money, but if interest rates get hiked up this will change.

But as long as the money is not costing you too much, then solar panels will probably have good payback, if you get Feed in Tariff and you have good panels in the right place.

2. Is your roof right? The roof is the chosen place because  stealing energy from the sun is not OK if it would otherwise help grow green things in the garden, or your neighbour’s garden. But a lot of roofs can not be so good.

They obviously should face the sun, which means south facing is best and anything less not so good.

They need to be at a good angle, too steep is no good and too shallow or flat is no good.

There is no absolute about the angle because it depends where north or south you live. The further south you are the shallower the angle should be, by shallow I mean lying flat.

It depends on the trees in the way. It is funny how people plants trees as if they are never going to grow too tall. It seems a shame to cut down a tree (and you probably need permission) but if you were to make furniture from the wood at least you have stored the carbon it captured.

3. Is your lifestyle right? You might want to do 2 calculations, one in which all the electricity the panels produces is sold back to the Grid (Feed in) and one in which all the electricity is used by you. Take careful note that when you buy electricity you pay most for the first few units and less for the rest. If the panels mean you only buy a small number of expensive units this should be considered in the equation. You are only saving the cheap units not the expensive ones.

If your lifestyle is such that you use very little electricity then you may be saving the expensive ones, so that would be good. but then you would be selling the rest back to the Grid, which may be not so good.

Be honest about your lifestyle. A lifestyle switch could save you more than a solar panel or two. But of course you could plan to do both.

4. Are the panels good?

Like buying a car, buying the best panels takes some research. When you do that research you maybe want to check how people’s comments are relevant to you. Someone from Iceland or the Sahara is obviously not relevant for the UK, but what about Scotland, or simply inland or on the coast? And what about lifestyle, someone working from home with 5 kids is not the same as a working couple who go out every night.

Some panels will work better than other in lower light conditions, others will work better with strong sunlight. If your house is by the harbour and most mornings it is 11 a.m. before you see the sun, but then gets really hot, that is not the same as someone who lives up the hill inland who gets clear morning skies and later the sky clouds over.

There are some sophisticated things to consider, like tracking (but only if you have a big garden) and comparison with other kinds of green energy like heat pumps, ground heat, and maybe even wind (but not for most). But you are probably thinking this is all too much to consider anyway?

So what would I do? well, I would actually knock on the door of people who have solar panels, especially if you saw them installed about a year ago, and ask to see their electricity bills and returns from the panels. They can also tell you if the installers were good as well.

Finally, I don’t see any panels for the vertical walls on houses, the walls of East/West houses which have a south facing vertical wall. If anyone knows they are out there, please let us all know. It would add a lot of houses to the solar panel enthusiasts. OK, I know you can fit them to a pole to make the right angle, but why can’t they be segmented like a curtain blind? Get the idea?

When we finally get to be off the Grid altogether, here is a possible solution to the energy storage problem.

The sooner we lose the Grid the better.

Does parenting work?

I was sent a copy of a submission to the House of Lords on Foreign Aid, did it work or not. In my head I immediately wondered, does parenting work? The submission answer was yes and no, it depends, which I suppose is understandable, there is unlikely to be a simple answer.

But parenting, surely that works, yes? Well, let’s see what is recommended for foreign aid and see if we can make any comparisons.

1. Make it multilateral – Get many others involved – Oh yes, parenting often only works if everyone else backs you up, friends, family, neighbours, teachers, growing up is a community thing.

2. Make it predictable – Be consistent – well, Supernanny would back that one, do this get that, do the other get the other, consistently.

3. Make aid transparent, accountable and traceable. Oh yes, parenting is like that. Underhand dealings with no comeback don’t work for parents, so don’t try those tricks.

4. Build in accountability to Governments – the interpretation with parenting would be to hand over power to your children, let them make decisions about how to do what you want them to do. Otherwise, when no-one is watching they are off on their own game.

5. Focus on results and simplify – oh yes, ‘Is your room clean? Have you tidied up? Is your homework done?’ None of this have you been a good boy. What does that mean?

6. Invest in global public goods – simply said, this means if the kids have the job of raking the grass then buy them a decent rake! Your kids do need you to invest in things for them which are not rubbish, which do not easily break, which have long term value.

7. Focus on women and girls and chronic poverty – OK, that one is specific to Aid! Though for teachers it might mean, don’t allow the most vociferous to run your class?

8. Leverage the private sector – I think this means get them a paper round! Yes, the basic message as they get older is that all the treats are not going to come from you alone.

9. Use innovative financing – yes, learning to save for bigger and better things is a good lesson, so supporting a savings policy has got to be a good thing, it teaches long term as well as medium and short term.

10. Learn more and fail safely – parenting works when you are in there learning with them. If you come across as making all the rules and having all the answers it does not work.

OK, so a good number of parallels there, but what has that to do with Transition?

10 rules of Transition:

1. Get many others involved – which is other groups not just other individuals

2. Be consistent – I guess this means don’t be pro-technology when it suits and anti-technology when it doesn’t – voluntary groups can often seem all over the place, trying to please everyone. It doesn’t work.

3. Make it transparent, accountable and traceable – whatever you are doing, make the review public, even when things do not go well. Build trust.

4. Hand over power  – don’t parent too much, if people have projects let them get on with it, subject to the 10 rules here.

5. Focus on results and simplify – don’t try to be Sustainability and Resilience Gurus, Have a vision, a mission and some objectives, and keep them simple.

6. Invest in global public goods – investing in things which bring long term goals must be good. For example, some groups are creating their own energy companies.

7. Don’t allow the most vociferous to run your Transition Group. Listen to the quiet ones at the back of the room.

8. Leverage the private sector – a little time on that may bring bigger gains than forever trying to raise the odd pound or two.

9. Use innovative financing – this could mean bingo and it could mean writing your own books and selling them on Amazon/Kindle. It could mean starting your own local green business, food, energy and consultancy even.

10. Learn more and fail safely – sustainability and resilience has got to be about learning safely.

So it looks like Parenting, Foreign Aid and Transition have a lot in common. Maybe that is because these 10 rules are like rules for life?

OK, so what do you think? – Authors are needed for this site so I am not the only one writing, so please get in touch if you want to contribute on a regular basis.

When the wind blows

I watched When the Wind Blows last night, the animation of the book by Raymond Briggs (who did the more famous The Snowman – I bet you can sing it!).

When the Wind Blows was made in the 1980’s when nuclear war was the threat, not climate change, but it was interesting to draw parallels between the two big issues. The elderly couple, which Briggs admits are in small ways based on his parents, are confident that the ‘Governmental Committees’ will organise their rescue. The measures suggested in pamphlets available at the local library tell them what to put aside in case of emergency, including 2 pints of water per day per person and sundry plasters and bandages. It is clear that  the measures are totally inadequate, drawing a parallel perhaps to advice now to ‘switch off the lights when we leave the room’, good advice but way short of doing enough to save us.

Can we also draw parallels with closure of the News of the World? I think we can. In my life I have associated the News of the World with groundbreaking journalism and trashy voyeurism, a formula that somehow kept the newspaper profitable while most around them failed. But as income stalled, little by little the trashy took over, and then some pretty vile stuff/staff ruled, and when found out we have had a constant stream of too little too late. Too little too late is always very costly, yet again and again we fail to be wary enough to note that that is what we are doing. For BSkyB the cost so far has been a 4% drop in share price, a pretty expensive too little too late indeed (that is one link that will be out of date in seconds!).

Too little too late is also what we are facing in East Africa. Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, 4 countries so far, are facing a drought (donations needed) which seems to have appeared too late on our horizons and we are now in danger of once again doing too little. From over here on the Western side of Europe, I can’t help but wonder about how we don’t have early warning signs. I was in Ethiopia earlier this year and no-one mentioned the possibility of drought, but that was in Addis Ababa, where it was raining, on some days at least. But predicting consequences of drought is perhaps not easy. This drought has occurred from just two seasons rain failure.

In a country which only ever has seasonal rains, I can understand that you sit and wait and if they are a bit late then over a year goes by with no rain. Then suddenly you know you are not going to get any this year. And rain is notoriously unpredictable. When I was on a Finca in Spain over the 2009/10 winter, they were terribly worried about yet another year with inadequate rain, then mid December, very  late, the rains started, and filled all the dams so quickly, well, never has rain like that been seen before.

With the prospect of even more dramatic effects of climate change it seems vital we address the too little too late processes. We are probably too late already to avoid some pretty scary and terrible disasters, but we can do everything we can to get through, and advice to save 2 pints of water per person, or to switch off the lights as we leave the room, must be seen as far too little and far too late. We must stop consuming the planet as if every year it refreshes itself. We only have one planet, and too little too late will kill not just a few million people in Africa but a few billion all over the world.

Planet Earth must not have on its gravestone, Too little Too Late.

Tipping points

This article on what might be the planet’s tipping points is worth discussing.

This links with a previous article here, about how to assess risk.

I think this needs discussing.