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 same...it 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