Real Media conference celebrates independent journalism

real media flyerTransition Free Press has been one of many publications, telling the stories that are seldom heard in mainstream media. This weekend a new campaign is being launched that brings grassroots and progressive media platforms together – to highlight media distortion and to promote independent  public interest journalism.

On Saturday, 28 February the Real Media Gathering will take place in Manchester, with speakers, discussions, workshops and networking on independent journalism and the alternative to a mainstream media which many feel is selling us short.

The Real Media campaign argues the mass media currently acts in the interests of the establishment, not the people. Media ownership is not only concentrated towards wealthy corporates but working journalists are finding themselves squeezed with a knock on impact on the news that citizens are provided with. A quarter of local authority areas do not now have a local newspaper, once an important source of information for people about their community.

Another inspiration behind Real Media is the lack of coverage of issues such as inequality, corporate power, fracking and privatisation, and the often misleading and largely negative stories on topics such as immigration and welfare.

Real Media is planning a series of events and actions in the lead up to the May general election and beyond. Independent media organisations from across the country have got behind the campaign, including local alternatives like the Salford Star, Slaney Street and the Bristol Cable and national ones such as Red Pepper, New Internationalist, Media Diversified, openDemocracy and Transition Free Press.

Real Media has been set up by Real Fare, a project that aims to challenge myths about the welfare system. “One of the major obstacles to be able to have an honest conversation about welfare reform is the mass media and how the issue is covered,” says Drew Rose of Real Media and the Bristol Cable.

The dominant narratives in the media, and in politics, can contribute to misconceptions. A 2013 survey by Ipsos MORI highlighted a number of gaps between public perception and reality on topics including immigration, teenage pregnancy and the religious and ethnic make up of the UK.

Following the conference on 28 February, Real Media are planning a national Anti Daily Mail Week from 13-20 March with online blockades, subvertising, protest and parody. Then, Occupy Rupert Murdoch Week will take place from 22-29 March, organised by Occupy The Media. The week will include art and action and is being brought right to Murdoch’s door: his News UK headquarters in London Bridge. Occupy the Media have also drafted an 11 point Charter For a Free Democratic Press.

Later this year Real Media is planning to launch a new website to aggregate independent reporting from reliable grassroots sources and eventually there are plans for a ‘co-op of co-ops’ which could potentially raise funds for member organisations or fund individual journalists to investigate particular issues.

Find out more about the conference and the campaign at the Real Media website. The Occupy the Media website can be found here, along with details of events and the Charter For a Free Democratic Press.

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BREAKING: Transition Free Press goes out of print

1467299_627314473976940_658843296_nDear Readers and Supporters of Transition Free Press,

I am sorry to inform you that our innovative grassroots newspaper will not be published this year. We were hoping to relaunch this Spring with a bright new expanded edition but have been unable to raise sufficient funds to pay for our core costs.

For the past three years we have produced seven issues, all of which have documented the actions, skills and intelligence of Transition and affiliated progressive movements. Our purpose was to reflect the cultural shift many of us are involved in and to act as a communications tool for Initiatives and groups. Thanks to over 150 contributors, over 100 distributors, 50 advertisers and a collective editorial team, over 70,000 papers have appeared all over the UK – in shops, in cafes, universities and libraries, waiting rooms and market stalls. At public events and in private moments.

We have never been at a loss for material.

TFP_Advert_STIR_FinalRunning newspapers is hard work and it was always our intention that TFP should be a co-operative social enterprise that paid people for their skills and dedication. Backing from a crowdfunding campaign and grants from Network for Social Change and Transition Network has given us time to build up a social infrastructure, with the aim of eventually becoming a self-sustaining enterprise.

However to become a sustainable business involves a paradox. Even though our editorial might challenge a ‘growth-at-all costs’ culture, we ourselves needed to grow massively to keep going. We needed to sell tens of thousands more papers, charge much more for them, dedicate more of our pages to advertising and find hundreds more subscribers. And fast.

Image1507At the end of last year we did (finally and happily) succeed in finding funds for two of our proposed 2015 issues, but not for the whole year. To fulfil our obligations to become  ‘financially sustainable’ meant we could not remain a ‘steady state’ enterprise: we would have needed to make at least £20,000 pa profit to pay our core costs, and if we wanted to pay ourselves the minimum wage, over £30,000.

This was beyond our capabilities. We have always covered our production costs, but have never made the kinds of sums that make business sense. So even though the big picture public debates, from the May elections to COP16 in December, probably need the presence of a free press more than ever before, TFP will not be there to discuss them. Nor will we be there to record and celebrate the small events, actions, gatherings, projects, productions and conversations that make up the grassroots culture of a world-in-flux.

P2100023 MW & TFP LondonAs the paper’s editor and co-founder, I had hoped we could make a livelihood from our professional work within Transition. However, I now realise that for that to be the case independent journalism needs to be held in far greater esteem than it does at present. It has to matter there is a free press, that what we write matters, that our voices be heard. Because until our words are given space and attention the new story of community and collaboration everyone is waiting for will not be told.

I hope that new alliances, such as Real Media (see Amy Hall’s post below) will demonstrate why the future needs a people-friendly, Earth-friendly media and that TFP’s contributions and insights will have helped make that happen.

Meanwhile, dear readers, thank you for supporting us during these years. Thank you especially to our contributors, subscribers (whom we will be refunding) and also our loyal distributors who, sometimes against the odds, have kept selling the paper to their communities. Thank you to my fellow writers, editors, designers and managers at TFP. Thank you all for your generosity, creativity and for giving it a go.

With best wishes,

484997_460945680613821_965150950_aCharlotte Du Cann

Images: Charlotte Du Cann (Editor) reading TFP3; Trucie Mitchell (Designer) reading TFP2; our first reader on the train, reading the preview issue: Mark Watson (Distribution Manager) reading TFP4

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Accelerating transition, city by city

By Oxfam/Climate ConnectionsA European research project hopes to find out what makes Transition Initiatives thrive and, in turn, support the change towards sustainable low-carbon societies

In communities across Europe there are people getting together to build stronger, greener local communities and economies. But why do some regions turn into vibrant hubs, while in others things peter out?

A European Union (EU) funded research project aims to help answer these questions through bringing together lessons from across the continent. Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions Towards Sustainability (ARTS) focuses on five EU city regions which have been identified as front runners in local sustainability, places where “you feel that change is in the air”: Stockholm (Sweden), Brighton and Hove (UK), Genk (Belgium), Budapest (Hungary) and Dresden (Germany). The ultimate aim is a regional ‘transition strategy’ for each one.

The study aims to understand the role and impact of local ‘transition initiatives,’ from community gardens to energy co-operatives, based on the premise that they can act as laboratories for experimentation by ‘demonstrating and innovating’ how communities can live sustainably.

ARTS also employs a citizen journalist in each city region. The collective blog gives a direct insight into the transition work on the local level, as well as following the research developments.

Florian Kern of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex is one of the ARTS researchers. He says the project is looking further than individual initiatives: “We are not planning to just do another set of case studies. It’s about how they come together and whether the sum is more than the parts.”

ARTS will also look at some of the more critical questions raised about transition initiatives, such as diversity. “Often it’s more middle class people involved and the question is, if the whole city is going to move then we need to be more inclusive, we want other people to be active,” explains Kern.

By Rain RabbitThe first stage of the study was for researchers in each of the regions to map local transition initiatives. In Brighton they found almost 100 initiatives across different sectors including education, food, energy and transport.

The second phase is to look at the ‘governance context’ – policy and the dynamics between local governments and grassroots initiatives. Each regional team will then select five to ten initiatives to focus on in more depth. In Brighton the team is hoping to look at the Waste House ecological design experiment and Brighton Energy Co-operative, among others.

The other cities are following the same process and there are regular Europe wide workshops to share knowledge. All the regions will also be holding two local workshops. In Brighton the first one is in May and will include people from transition initiatives across the region. The event will discuss initial findings and transition initiatives will be able to share ideas, challenges and ideas of how to overcome them.

The second workshop will bring together people representing transition initiatives, the council, local businesses and elsewhere to create a practical strategy or roadmap for Brighton and Hove.

Kern is keen for ARTS to do more than produce interesting data: “At the end of the day it’s about the people who are doing this work; we want to give something back to people who give their time up for these things, often on a voluntary basis.”

He also wants there to be a legacy after the project officially finishes at the end of 2016: “If it’s just for us and the sake of the project then there’s not much use in that, but if it’s something that continues or allows people to make new connections then it could be more useful.”

Follow the ARTS findings at the project website, Twitter (@ARTS_EU) or via the citizen blog. For updates from Brighton specifically, see Miriam Steiner’s posts.

Photos: Brighton Bike Train and the Big Lemon bus company: both Brighton ‘transition initiatives’. (By Oxfam/Climate Connections and Rain Rabbit, under a CC License)

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ENERGY: exploring biogas for communities

By szczelSuffolk-based group Transition Lavenham is considering launching its own energy project: making biogas from food waste, reports Transition Free Press energy editor Gareth Simkins

Late last year Transition Lavenham won a government grant to investigate the viability of building an anaerobic digester. This was awarded by the Rural Community Energy Fund, intended to support renewable energy projects to boost the rural economy and cut consumption of fossil fuels.

In essence, anaerobic digestion uses microbes to break down food waste, manure and other organic substances in the absence of air, producing a methane-rich biogas. This can either power an on-site generator or be injected into the natural gas grid (with a little propane added).

A compost-like material known as digestate arises as a by-product, which can be used as a fertiliser. So the end result is that waste products are used productively rather than ending up in landfill.

The investigation is being conducted by local firm Farm Renewables, which project managed the construction of another digester near Bury St Edmunds.

Carroll Reeve, chair of Transition Lavenham said, “This is a really exciting chance for us to access expert advice to investigate a way in which we can develop a renewable energy project which provides real benefits to local people, while allowing us to make a positive impact on tackling climate change.”

Photo: Transition Lavenham want to turn food waste into energy. szczel, under s CC License.

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POLITICS: Citizens lobby for the climate

By Ian BrittonOur Autumn issue featured many stories of inspiring climate activism. In this post Hugh Chapman explains why he is behind another campaign calling for carbon pricing as a way to mobilize the transition to clean energy. 

We urgently need to get society off fossil fuels. Individual and community action to reduce emissions is a great way to show that a low carbon future is possible, but if we’re going to reduce global emissions at anything like the scale and speed required we also need to be thinking about pushing for big structural solutions.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is a supportive network of volunteers who lobby elected representatives to take decisive action on climate change. Having started in the US in 2007, CCL has now grown to be an international network of over 200 groups campaigning in countries around the world.

CCL has a specific policy proposal for pricing carbon called Carbon Fee and Dividend and the Pathway to Paris initiative aims to get this centre stage at the United Nations Conference of Parties which takes place in Paris in December 2015.

What is Carbon Fee and Dividend?

A fee is placed on the carbon dioxide content of fossil fuels. This fee is levied at the mine, well, or port of entry. The fee starts at a low level and rises steadily over time and the revenue is redistributed to citizens. This means that households are protected from the financial impact of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Countries with fee and dividend can charge a tariff on imports from countries which aren’t pricing carbon in order to ensure a level playing field for goods in the domestic market. These border adjustments are to ensure fairness and competition.

CCL’s research shows that this is not only good for the climate, but also promotes a stronger economy.

What does the Citizens’ Climate Lobby do?

CCL aims to empower individuals to make their voices heard in the climate debate. Some of the ways it does this are by providing toolkits for direct lobbying of local and national elected representatives and their staff. The Lobby trains members in getting letters and articles published in print media and online and building relationships with editorial boards. CCL also conducts monthly actions and conference calls with experts to expand members’ knowledge and understanding and develop their capability as agents of change

At CCL we believe that pricing carbon is the most powerful mechanism we have available to galvanise the huge transition we need to make in the next few decades away from fossil fuels and towards clean alternatives. With an increasing number of expert endorsements and in this important year for climate action it’s clear that the right time has arrived to be pushing governments on this.

As James Grant, former executive director of UNICEF, reminds us: “Each of the great social achievements of recent decades has come about not because of government proclamations, but because people organised, made demands, and made it good politics for governments to respond. It is the political will of the people that makes and sustains the political will of governments.”

If you would like to find out more about CCL’s work email CCLobbyUK[at]gmail[dot]com or connect via social media on Facebook or Twitter @citznsclimateUK. The website is http://citizensclimatelobby.org

Hugh Chapman is a carpenter and creative activist based in Cambridge. He is currently co-writing a musical about climate change with fellow CCL representative Clive Elsworth. Hugh is on Twitter @_Hugh_Chapman

Photo: By Ian Britton, under a Creative Commons License.

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WASTE: Rubbish resolutions

Big Bin Landscape Love Few WordsIn TFP5 we featured social enterprise The Rubbish Diet  and the witty and effective ways it invites people to ‘slim their bins’ at both household and community levels. Here Bin Doctor Katy Anderson writes about the Diet and how you can Learn to Love Your Bin as a New Year’s Resolution.

 Sometimes we make New Year’s resolutions that we don’t keep.  The key, psychologists tell us, is to make the resolution simple, with stepped rewards along the way until the goal is reached…Luckily The Rubbish Diet challenge is a perfectly-packaged resolution in-waiting!  

 The Rubbish Diet started as a blog by Karen Cannard when she took her Council’s Zero Waste Challenge.   She slimmed her bin from a full-to-the-brim wheelie bin to just a plaster over eight weeks.  She was so amazed at how much influence a family like hers had to control their waste, that she carried on blogging and sharing her discoveries. 

In 2013, she teamed up with social enterprise Cwm Harry to develop a Diet that would help people slim their bins and also provide a toolkit for people to spread the waste reduction message in their communities. The Rubbish Diet invites you to change the way you live and make a positive difference to the world around you with a simple two-step process of tailored emails with top tips that help you recycle more, shop better and save money.

People have taken the Rubbish Diet across the country, taking it on-line, with their street or in their group.  Jackie and Howard from Shrewsbury took the Diet with their street, meeting to talk rubbish with their neighbours over tea and cake.  They now have slim bins, run clothes swaps and share trips to the recycling centre.  Poulomi and Sarah from Harrow, have started running Restart parties where people come together to repair electronics.

the change is permanent

 On average people slim their bins by 40% and the change is permanent.  Slimming their bin saves people money as they reduce food waste and start reusing more.  And it has obvious benefits for the environment – food waste alone in the UK is the equivalent of one in four cars on our roads in terms of carbon emissions.  

Across the UK, huge amounts of recyclable materials are being lost to landfill.  In West London, 67% of the waste sent to landfill could have been recycled.  It goes to landfill by train.  The waste train is one-third of a mile long, taking 1,000 tonnes of “rubbish”, six days a week, see our video here.  1,000,000 recyclable bottles a week go to landfill every week on the train, when they could have been made into new bottles and been back on the supermarket shelves in just 3 weeks.

 Taking a close look at what we throw away has a real impact on our lifestyles.   As Dieter Sarah from Harrow explains,:

I thought I was good at recycling, but The Rubbish Diet Challenge has really made a big impact on how I view, well, everything in fact.  It’s really changed my life. It made me think about the make do and mend culture that everyone had back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. I am much more careful about what I buy, and I reuse and mend much more than I used to. 

 Vitally, people enjoy taking the Diet.  It’s light-hearted and easy to do, and leads to unexpected pleasures.  Simon from Shrewsbury who shrank his overflowing wheelie bin by two thirds said:

I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved. The whole family is loving our weekly trip to the market where we can buy food with less packaging, and save money too.

LYB clr illustration onlyIf you would like to learn to Love Your Bin, sign-up is simple.  You can take the diet online, we send you emails with top tips and instructions and before you know it you’ll find yourself part of our growing community of Rubbish Dieters with a slimmer bin and a fresh outlook on shopping and waste. 

Even if you already have a slim bin, we’d love you to try the Diet and share the message. 

Katy Anderson is Co-ordinator of The Rubbish Diet and member of Transition Shrewsbury.  To find out more visit http://www.therubbishdiet.org.uk/ or contact Katy on katya@therubbishdiet.org.uk

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NARRATIVES: What kind of story is climate change?

imagesA key element in our books and arts pages is the search for a narrative in which the Transition drivers of climate change and energy depletion find their creative expression. Scientists can give us the data, but they cannot tell us how to live or how to respond to the ecological and social crises we face. We need a new cultural storyline to help us navigate a challenging and leaner future. Here storyteller and writer Nick Hunt looks at some of those responses in his review of  Culture and Climate Change: Narratives ed. Joe Smith, Renata Tyszczuk and Robert Butler (Shed, Cambridge)

If the six essays, eleven stories and one conversation in this book agree upon one thing, it’s that telling people the facts about climate change – deluging them in statistics in the hope it will change their behaviour, or translate into political action – stopped working long ago. Culture and Climate Change: Narratives is a welcome attempt to think beyond the ‘hurling facts’ approach to the problem, bringing together writers, artists, academics and theatre-makers to investigate the role of stories in responding to the crisis.

But, as the book’s introduction asks, what sort of story is climate change? “Climate change is too here, too there, too everywhere, too weird, too much, too big, too everything,” writes Renata Tyszczuk in an essay entitled ‘Cautionary Tales: The Sky is Falling! The World is Ending!’. “Climate change is not a story that can be told in itself, but rather, it is now the condition for any story that might be told about… our inhabitation of this fractious planet.”

Climate change is… too everywhere, too weird, too much, too big, too everything

“Stories about climate change don’t need to be about climate change,” says Intelligent Life’s Robert Butler. In Voltaire’s Candide, he points out, the devastating Lisbon earthquake is not the principal theme of the book but the apocalyptic backdrop to the characters’ ordinary lives: ‘…the sailor goes looting, Candide goes begging, and Pangloss delivers a lecture on optimism. Voltaire’s interest lies in the human reactions that follow on from the earthquake.’

A natural disaster, Butler says, is not a story in itself. George Marshall later notes that climate change is problematic as a dramatic subject: “It contains no heroes, no villains, no enemies, no victims, no motive, no clear beginning or end, no pivotal event, no climax, no catharsis, no denouement – other than the ones we choose to project onto it.” How, then, do we tell engaging stories about it?

Bradon Smith, in his excellent analysis of recent climate change fiction (including Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Will Self’s The Book of Dave and Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods) hints at an answer in viewing climate change in terms of “the many interconnected forms of loss that it will bring about – of loved ones and family, of other species, of beauty, of humanity, of culture.”

DSC_0387But the book really comes alive in the ‘In Conversation’ chapter, which brings together author Caspar Henderson, theatre-maker Zoë Svendsen, poet Nick Drake and the London College of Fashion’s Kate Fletcher in a panel discussion chaired by the OU’s Joe Smith. Each describes the personal stories that have sustained their work, the narratives bringing them to this point in their understanding of climate change; the conversation asks more questions than it answers, but the willingness to investigate new approaches where others have failed makes this the most honest and urgent part of the book.

At the end of his essay, Bradon Smith returns to the closing words of The Road: a vision of trout whose backs are patterned with ‘maps of the world in its becoming.’ “In the maps and mazes on the brook trout are revealed two paths,” writes Smith, “one a way out of this mess, and one that takes us further in.” Culture and Climate Change: Narratives contains possible keys to those maps. Whether we head further in, or out, depends on what stories we tell next.

Nick Hunt is a writer, storyteller and co-editor of Dark Mountain. His first book, Walking the Woods and the Water, was published earlier this year. nickhuntscrutiny.com

Image: Arctic terns on the wire: Cape Farewell’s Bird Yarns project with artist, Deirdre Nelson. An Tobar gallery and community knitters in Tobermory, Isle of Mull  (Photo: Sarah Darling)

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