Sunday, 29 June 2008

"I'd like to support renewable energy, but..."

Energy use in the home is hugely significant to your carbon footprint and accounts for around 25% of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions. Of this 25% total, three quarters is due to heating (by electricity, gas, oil or solid fuels). So, what is important in reducing your home's energy requirements are three factors:
  • Reduce the amount of energy you use - especially for heating
  • Increase insulation - on the building and you
  • Use renewable energy
The first measure after energy saving is very simple - change your electricity supply to a renewable tariff, such as Good Energy or Ecotricity. This a very simple action, it will cost you very little extra (if anything) and will drastically reduce your carbon footprint. And, as the price of fossil fuels rises, so renewable energy becomes even more cost effective.

What gets more exciting, and is more appropriate for Transition, is to become energy independent. The Energy Saving Trust gives a good overview of all the different types of renewables and what grants are available to support home installations.

So what are the costs like? It varies massively and depends on what you want. Solar panels, for example, are less cost effective than solar water heaters - but you can only heat water with hot water tubes (like the ones pictured).

But what is more interesting is this concept of "payback" on renewable energy installments for homes. If you buy a new car, laptop, kettle, fridge, have a holiday, meal out - does payback come in to the equation? No. Of course, some renewable energy technologies are significant investments, but so are cars, home improvements and many electrical appliances. Rather than ask about payback periods (based on current prices for energy) there are bigger questions to ask:
  • Will it improve the value of your property? Probably yes - to at least the value of the installation
  • What will happen to the price of fossil fuels? Increase significantly as the effects of Peak Oil hit home
  • Will it give you energy independence? Depends what you install, but to a certain degree, yes
  • Will it give you greater resilience? Yes, which frees you from forces beyond your control - political, market, physical
The Community Energy Plus website is a useful resource. Transition Scilly will be doing more on renewable energy in the near future - checkback here for details.

Monday, 9 June 2008

What will drive you to act?

Transition is driven by two key issues - Peak Oil and Climate Change. The former is an economic and social driver, but the latter...well, it's ecological, social and economic. But primarily, Climate Change is a moral issue.

It's a complex issue and is truly global, in both scale and ramifications. In industrialised countries like ours, who create vast amounts of greenhouses gases, we affect not just our climate, but climates of other countries and people - many of whom have produced tiny amounts of greenhouse gases.

The injustice is made worse by the fact that most greenhouse gas-emitting countries are in temperate regions, which Climate Change will, on the whole, affect less severely. On Scilly we should rightly be very concerned about rising sea levels, caused by melting glaciers - but this is a gradual process that may not affect us severely for another 30 years.

In recent days the plight of starving people in Ethiopia has come to light on international news sources. To some extent political issues are to blame here, but the underlying cause of the extreme food shortages experienced by some people are climate change. Severe lack of rain has caused crop failures and hence reserves of food have virtually run out for some people. These changes in weather patterns have been inextricably linked to a changing climate, caused by a warming of the world's atmosphere.

So what will drive you to reduce your carbon footprint and hence your contribution to climate change? Is it the possibility of children in 30 years time using Holgates Green as the new Quay, or images of children dying in Ethiopia today?

It's an interesting moral question and one that doesn't really have an either/or answer. The truth is that Climate Change now was caused by emissions 30 years ago and our emissions will create problems 30 years hence.

The need for action has never been more urgent.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Food security in unindustrialised countries

We talk of peak oil, climate change and food security issues in the UK as almost passive issues. We know they're big issues, but don't really affect us in our daily lives - not yet, at least. To get a perspective from southern Africa, as featured on the BBC website, makes particularly interesting yet painful reading.

In Lesotho many farmers can't afford diesel for their tractors now and the curse of industrial agriculture has robbed the soil of its' fertility. It is also very vulnerable to climate change due to its elevation - and consequent short growing season. These factors spell bad news for people and, in particular, for the food production on which everyone depends.

So "keyhole gardening" has become an important Permaculture technique to improve families' food security. These are small and very intensive gardens that give a family a large proportion, or all, of its vegetable needs - and perhaps a surplus to generate a small income.

Whilst the harshness of the situation cannot be simply dismissed, this is a really good example of a community increasing its resilience in the face of adversity - and with very little money. Humans are resilient by nature and are survivors - this is heartening for the future.