Saturday, 19 December 2009

Climate change impacts

Now we have come to learn of the outcomes of the Copenhagen climate change talks, it seems an awful lot less was achieved than was hoped for, or indeed necessary. Of course it was always going to be incredibly difficult to get 192 countries to agree to the same bit of paperwork, but the lack of political will and flexibility has resulted in a very watered down document that is not nearly good enough for the current predicament the human race is in.

Meanwhile, carbon emissions continue to rise, warming of the planet continues and its impacts are becoming evident everywhere. Recently the Met Office and UK Government produced a very useful map detailing global impacts of a changing climate if average temperatures rose by 4C.

It's very good to understand the impacts visually, and remind ourselves of the very serious situation that runaway climate change could bring about.

The Transition Scilly website has some free downloads to help you understand climate change better and do something by reducing your carbon footprint.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Population: the taboo subject

Human population levels are the one big environmental and social problem that are not given the degree of thought and coverage that they should be.

In this BBC Horizon program, David Attenborough presents a highly thought-provoking documentary about past, current and future population levels, and their impact on the world's resources.

It's available on the iPlayer until Dec 18th and is really worth watching:

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Wave

On Saturday 5th December thousands of people are expected to come together in central London to make a show of support for the UK Government to make every effort to secure a deal at the forthcoming climate change talks in Copenhagen.

This is a critical time in human history where the leaders from every nation in the world have a chance to come to an agreement that may just avert runaway climate change.

To show our support here on the Islands, Transition Scilly have organised an event running parallel to the London event. It will be on Saturday 5th December and start at 15.00 on Porthmellon beach, St Mary's (weather permitting). The only stipulation is that you wear something blue!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A vivid description of oil in society

Rob Hopkins is an eloquent speaker and this video, from the TED talks in Oxford earlier this year, vividly describes the role oil plays ion our society, how oil will become less available and what impact this has on climate change. It's encapsulating:

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Carteret Islands

As part of E-Day, Matt Prescott organised Earth Summit, where people from around the world (as well as more locally) were invited to talk about the impacts of climate change on their part of the world.

One of the most moving and profound had to be from Ursula Rakova from the Carteret Islands. The archipelago were she was born and lives is incredibly low lying in the Pacific Ocean, with a maximum height of just 1.2m above sea level.

Rising sea levels and increased storms, caused by climate change, has hit them badly. In this video she explains what life is like for Carteret Islanders in 2009.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The rainforests must not be lost

Tropical rainforests are the single most important habitat on planet Earth. Besides the tens of thousands of species for whom the rainforests are home, these forests regulate the climate of the planet and lock up billions of tonnes of carbon.

Destruction of this habitat cannot continue any longer. A Greenpeace campaign, Slaughtering the Amazon has had positive impacts already as multinational companies have signed up to not buying meat and leather products from cattle raised on pasture that used to be rainforest.

Now the Prince's Rainforest Project is pushing for the importance of rainforests to be included in the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in 5 weeks time. Add your voice to this campaign through the application below:

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Energy Saving Day

On Tuesday 6th October, the focus will be very much on Scilly for E-Day, short for Energy Saving Day. The event has been the brainchild of Dr Matt Prescott, who has done most of the organisation and has 'got the show on the road'.

E-Day is about everyone on Scilly joining in the effort to reduce electricity demand as much as possible, by witching off all unnecessary electrical items. By all of us concentrating our efforts on just one day, the E-Day team (by some clever gadgetry) can measure how much electricity has been saved over a 'normal' day.

The E-Day website is fantastic, featuring live energy feeds from the National Grid, videos of people who live on Scilly, advice and much more. It's a great resource with so much to look at, so do spend some time on it. Most importantly, we can monitor the drop in electricity demand next Tuesday as it happens.

On Saturday and Sunday is the Earth Summit in the Town Hall. It's a free event and is on from 12-6 each day. With a line up of speakers from all over the world, this is a must-go-to event as it doesn't happen on Scilly very often!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Home - a masterpiece

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a French photographer who specialises in aerial photography. His first book, The Earth from the Air, is a beautiful collection of photographs from around the world, portraying the natural environment with and without humans.

His latest project is called "Home"; again a stunning array of aerial photos, but this time with a very strong environmental and social message. Sub-titled a hymn to the planet and humanity, this book looks at man's impact on the planet. It combines photos with very accessible text and portrays a clear message.

A book, simply called "Home" was published just a couple of months ago and is available from most online book retailers. The author also has set up an organisation called Good Planet Foundation, to promote the messages in the book...and film.

Yes, there's a film. It's an hour and a half long, has stunning visuals and costs...nothing. The entire film is available on YouTube. It's an incredible piece of work, documenting the formation of the Earth (in geologicalm time), diversity of life and Man's impact on the planet. A complete joy to watch; here's the trailer, from which there's a link to the full film:

As a bonus, here is a link to a video of the author giving a recent talk in Oxford. Very inspirational stuff:
Watch it here

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The fruit season

For anyone who has apple trees, July is the month when you tend to start noticing the apples on your tree(s)! Signs are that this season will be quite a decent apple season - generally good conditions at blossom, an extended warm period in June and now lots of rain to swell the fruit.

All we need now is a maixture of sunshine and showers to bring on the crop for the autumn. There were reports in the national press of Discovery apples ready for picking in mid July in Kent - that is incredibly early! But perhaps it indicates that most apples will be ready earlier than most years.

We hope to be making the most of unwanted apples on Scilly again this autumn in the apple press - more details here nearer the time.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The extent of localisation possible

Local Food is a really important area to focus on for many reasons - resilience, health, wildlife, landscape, local economy, climate change and much more besides. As little as perhaps 75 years ago, the vast majority of food required by local populations up and down the UK would have been provided close to home. The only exceptions to this rule would have been major cities, which would have acquired food from a regional or perhaps national basis.
But before today's era of international travel and transport, imported food would have consisted largely of goods like bananas, spices, tea, coffee and cocoa. Today imported food can be anything from beef to vegetables and fruit to milk and thousands of items in between. In this mad world, where for example the UK exports about as much dairy products to the Netherlands as it imports from the same country, our food is entirely linked to cheap oil.

The question therefore remains, in the light of dwindling oil availability and a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% as soon as practically possible, could we largely feed ourselves from our local area? Transition Town Totnes have just completed a seminal piece of work, titled "Can Totnes and district feed itself?" A detailed study, this has been carried out in a very professional manner and comes to some interesting and enlightening conclusions.

In a nutshell, the answer is "yes", Totnes could (largely) feed itself, BUT it would require some major changes in diet - mostly by eating less meat and dairy and ensuring that arable land was producing cereals for human rather than animal consumption.

From a back-of-the-envelope calculation, Scilly would fall in to a similar situation to Totnes...the tricky bit is that economically Scilly is 85% dependent on 120,000 or so visitors per year. Feeding these people as well as the local population shifts the goal posts considerably.

This will be the subject of future Transition Scilly work. In the meantime you can download the full Totnes report here.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Transition Network conference

A big Transition Network conference is happening in Battersea, London at the moment which looks very exciting. If you're interested in what's going on, have a look at Rob Hopkins blog, Transition Culture and hear some interviews on Traydio.

There are lots of regular updates, interview and reviews.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Fair for the future - Penwith

If anyone happens to be in West Penwith over next weekend, there's a really good event organised on Saturday 9th May at Plan-it Earth in Sancreed.

Titled "a celebration of sustainability in Penwith", it will include all sorts of wonderful elements - local food, traditional crafts, renewable energy, recycling, music and much more besides.

It's co-organised by Transition Penwith and should be a brilliant day out. If they can do it, why can't we?! An idea for the future perhaps...

Read more detail about the event here.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Energy day on St Mary's

We're co-organising, with the AONB, an open day on renewable energy and energy efficiency on Wed 22nd April. You are welcome to come along to a drop-in session between 10.00 and 14.00 in the Old Wesleyan Chapel on St Mary's. Importantly, refreshments will be provided!

We will have a range of display materials, with experts on hand to answer questions. This is targeted as householders, with an aim to help people reduce the amount of energy used in the home through energy savings, improvements in efficiency and a reduction in heat loss.

There will also be information about micro-renewable technologies.

If you run a business, there is an afternoon talk with presentations covering renewable energy experiences and options for your business. Featuring a mix of both local and mainland-based speakers, this is an important event not to be missed. 15.00 to 17.00 in the Old Wesleyan Chapel.

Both events are free. We look forward to seeing you there.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Earth hour

It's all about a day of mass action. Organised by the WWF, the aim of Earth Day is to get everyone to switch off all their lights for at least on hour in the evening at 8.30pm local time. The slogan is:

On March 28 you can VOTE EARTH by switching off your lights for one hour...Or you can vote global warming by leaving your lights on.

Cynics may claim this is a bit of a gimmick, but I think this has a powerful message - that action en masse can have a major impact. It started in Sydney 2 years ago, where 2.2 million buildings switched off. You can't say that doesn't have a big impact on energy demand and must have been massively noticeable on the grid.

So get involved - sign up, spread the word and switch off for an hour (or more!) on March 28th.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Age of Stupid

There's really only one main topic of conversation to be had this week, the launch of the much anticipated film, The Age of Stupid.

The basic premise is a man, played by the famous actor Pete Postlethwaite, looking back in the year 2055 on a world devestated by human stupidity- he's living alone. He asks the question "why didn't we do something whilst we had the chance, before Climate Change ran out of control?"

Director Franny Armstrong and her crew inject a sense of realism, urgency, quality and amateur-professionalism in to the debate with this quality production. It's clear this project was driven by ethics rather than money and is everything that a Hollywood blockbuster isn't.

Have a look at the trailer here:

The system of 65 simultaneous screenings across the UK made this the biggest ever movie launch on Sunday night. Rob Hopkins spoke after the screening at the Eden Project and you can read his thoughts and a review here.

Needless to say this is a must see film. See the Age of Stupid website for full details of screenings and releases.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Tipping points

For a long time, the forward-thinking and very authoritative James Hansen of NASA has argued that we are dangerously close to climatic tipping points, as he explains in a Guardian article last year. This is the point at which "runaway global warming" starts - natural systems can't control the upward spiral of temperature rises.

This situation worsens as positive feedback comes in to play - for example as ice melts, the permafrost melts below it, which releases huge amounts of methane...which increases global warming. Staying below temperature thresholds to prevent tipping points is crucial.

David Attenborough is pushing the climate change message more so than ever now, vividly illustrated in the beautiful footage shown in Nature's great events. See the episode on the iPlayer here. It's a stark reminder that the seemingly huge and impenetrable mass of ice in the poles is a lot more fragile than we like to think.

Copenhagen 2010, scheduled for December, is where all the world's leaders come together to agree a strategy to tackle climate change. The importance of Barack Obama's position cannot be underestimated; quite literally one man could make or break the agreements. His language so far is encouraging, but actions speak louder than words.

In Copenhagen at this very moment scientists are trying to gauge a more accurate position of the effect of current, and future predictions of, temperatures on the world's ice caps and glaciers. There is enough freshwater stored as ice to cause sea level rises of scores of metres world wide; the extent to which it really does melt is critical for our mitigation strategies.

On Scilly we are incredibly vulnerable to rising seas, storms and changing weather patterns. Obtaining precise information of the potential effects on these small islands is really important and at last some work is about to start on this very issue (although it should've been started 10 years ago...).

Although this is a difficult topic, it's not one that I will apologise for tackling. Sea level rise is the biggest threat to Scilly and to millions of people around the world. Burying our heads in the sand is not a viable option.

Jonathan Smith

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Renewable energy opportunities

The third in my series of blog write-ups from mine and Clare's short trip to Devon and Cornwall is about renewable energy. We went over to North Cornwall, to the small fishing village of Port Isaac for a meeting of St Endellion Climate Friendly Parish (which is a parish adjoining Port Isaac). They're a very well organised group with a lot of energy; indeed they've been so pro-active they've been shortlisted to the last five of a national competition called "Future Friendly".

The village hall was very busy, in excess of 75 people there, a magnificent array of food and drink on offer and a good line up of speakers. The local MP Dan Rogerson gave an introduction to the issues, correctly stating that "tackling climate change issues must come hand in hand with tackling economic issues" - i.e. create so called 'green-collar jobs'. He also pointed out that renewable energy gives communities and nations energy independence from economic and political pressures and fluctuations.

And if anyone doubted that individuals don't have influence on the political process, Dan Rogerson MP confirmed that "a letter writing campaign has a huge impact"!

Four speakers gave their personal views on the costs, efficiency and effectiveness of four renewable technologies: solar hot water, solar photovoltaics, wind and ground source heat pumps. They key points to pick up were:
  • Get the roof aspect right for solar projects - i.e. as close to due south as possible
  • The economic situation still isn't overly helpful to allowing people to install their own renewable technologies
  • Technology is improving all the time with all the different technologies
  • There is some fantastic software available now to monitor outputs and monetary savings from various renewable sources - all to use with home computers
  • Whilst payback times should not be the whole consideration, they are coming down over time as costs of installation reduce whilst energy costs are rising
  • Ground Source heat pumps have noise issues, but can be very effective
  • Tenants need educating on how to get the most out of renewable technologies fitted in or on their house
A couple of wider points were raised: (1) ensuring insulation is maximised is critical in reducing energy demand and (2) maximising passive solar gain is very important in buildings - and there's no excuse on new builds.

Neil Farrington from Cornwall Energy Plus outlined a very interesting scheme called Community Power in Cornwall. This is a model more akin to some continental countries where there's a stronger culture of co-operation. The idea is simple - a number of people pool their investments in to larger scale renewable energy installations - in this case wind power.

These larger scale installations are more efficient, more cost effective and enjoy better support from the community, because they're owned by members of the community. It's an excellent principle that should be explored for Scilly.

Finally, the summary was made that whilst there are many realistic renewable energy options, there is no perfect technology and every situation is different. As communities and as a nation we need to explore the right mix for each location, with an aim to maximising our energy independence and minimising our carbon emissions.

Jonathan Smith

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Energy descent action planning

Last week I talked about a visit Clare and I made to the mainland to gain some more experience of projects and work being carried out by other Transition initiatives in the south west. We visited orchards, a community recycling project and attended a very interesting renewable energy evening. But perhaps the most interesting and brain taxing was an afternoon we spent in Totnes.

The main goal of Transition initiatives, be they on a city or village scale, is to design and help implement an energy descent action plan for the community. Just as an increase in the use if fossil fuels, from the industrial revolution onwards, has brought about significant changes to our climate and major depletion of fossil fuel reserves, so energy descent is the opposite.

Throughout the country there is largely an acceptance that we must reduce carbon emissions to tackle climate change. But there is a reluctance to give up the way of life we have become accustomed to. Because Transition is a positive process, our response to that is a lower energy future does not have to be a bad thing.

Our high energy society has brought us benefits but many negative effects too. For instance, are we happier for being able to fly around the world? Does electrical entertainment in our homes make us a stronger society? And no-one wins from badly insulated, poorly-deigned homes except energy companies.

One of the techniques Transition Town Totnes are doing in their Energy Descent Action Plan is to take positive visions and put them at the end of a timeline - in this case 2030 (see photo above). They then ask "if this is the vision we want, what are the steps we need to get there?" This is a process known as backcasting and is a very liberating and positive exercise. People put suggestions and visions next to a year - see photo.

The power of taking a backcasting approach is that it takes away those cultural and social barriers we come across when proposing new or radical ideas. "Oh, it won't work because..." or "good idea, but with all the current Government policies in place it just won't happen". This is a very negative approach.

My response to this would be:
(a) many of the solutions to both global and local problems are local and can be achieved by all of us every day of the year - think food, transport, powering our homes, etc.
(b) there aren't any technological problems, merely social and cultural. We can all elect MPs, we are all a part of society and we can influence Government. Talk to friends, family, neighbours, build that network and help move that groundswell; think if you talk to 100 people you know, then they do the works out to be a very large number! Obama's campaign worked because it had the support and momentum at grassroots level.

No-one would argue this is an easy process, but it is a positive one that holds much promise in the face of a negative situation. Transition Scilly will be working towards an energy descent action plan; in the meantime we've got lots of exciting project and ideas planned - we'll keep you posted here.

Jonathan Smith

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Orchards and May Queens

Clare and I have just come back from a Transition Scilly research trip to Cornwall and Devon, looking at a number of different things, from renewable energy and community recycling to Transition processes and orchards.

The latter was particularly relevant as we are on the verge of turning the idea of a community orchard on St Mary's in to reality. So we thought we'd go and see some established orchards on the mainland, see how they were set up, are currently managed and what the niggly issues are.

We visited three very different sites. At Milbrook, SE Cornwall, we met the lovely and incredibly positive Debs, who initiated two small orchards in the village - one by the recreation ground and one at the primary school. Whilst both were small (perhaps just a dozen trees at each), they were not only well managed and quite productive, but they had very little damage or vandalism because young people had been involved in the planting and continued to be involved in the management. Ownership of the project is very important.

At Stoke Gabriel in S Devon, we met the very kind and lovely Ted and Ian, who help to manage the orchard of 50 or so mature trees with others. The orchard contains mostly coder varieties, some identified and some not, all very suited to the damp climate and heavy soil. In that Parish alone there used to be in the order of 2o0 acres of orchards; now less than 5 remain. However there remains a strong desire to keep the orchard culture alive in the village, with extremely well attended apple days and Wassailing annually.

At Lustleigh, on the eastern edge of Dartmoor is a different orchard again. The largest of the lot, probably 3 acres or so and at least 100 trees, this is more open and clearly extremely important to the village. In the photo you can see the children's playpark, other mature trees, open grassy areas, benches, lots of mistletoe and lots of apple trees.

What you can't see is an enormous piece of granite, upon which is a beautiful carved seat, embossed with stainless steel - the seat for the annual May Queen. Clearly this is a site of enormous symbolic importance for the community, and what better way to celebrate than in an orchard?

News on progress on our orchard will be here before long - just sorting out the final details.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


Cotton is an incredibly valuable crop worldwide, used not just for clothes but a vast array of products and in industrial processes. Its value to the human race cannot be underestimated and it is cultivated on a vast scale. But with this scale of cultivation comes big environmental and social problems.
Non-organic cotto
n consumes vast amounts of water and, whilst occupying just 2.5% of the world's agricultural land, uses 11% of all pesticides and 25% of all insecticides (all of which also require vast quantities of oil). Much cotton is now Genetically Modified (GM) and it is impossible to tell what cotton is not GM - unless it's certified organic.

There are many social injustices
surrounding cotton production and processing, from very low wages to pesticide poisoning. Read more here.

Organic cultivation avoids the use of all agro chemicals, using natural methods of building soil fertility and weed, pest and disease control. There is much organic cotton in existence now and its popularity is growing rapidly.
Read more about organic cotton here. Organic cotton must be certified, so look out for these symbols:

Fairtrade products ensure that the people who produce, pick, clean, pack and spin the cotton in to products get paid a fair wage for their work. The Fairtrade Foundation certifies such operations and its symbol looks like this:

ere are some supplier of fairtrade organic cotton clothes and bags:

People Tree
Ethical superstore
Bishopston Trading Co