Tide turns on fossil fuels

By John MinchilloOver the past week, hundreds of thousands of people have taken action for climate justice in 160 countries around the world, joining People’s Climate Marches ahead of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23rd September.

Just before the Summit started, the heirs to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which made much of its fortune in oil and holds investments of almost £550m, announced that they were going to take their money out of fossil fuels.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has been one of the major mobilisers of climate change activists over the past year. While for many socially-minded institutions, investing in tobacco or arms companies would be taboo, the funding of fossil fuels now looks more ethically indefensible – and less financially viable, as Amy Hall reported in this article from our Autumn issue:

When the World Council of Churches, representing over half a billion Christians, announced in July that it was removing its investments from fossil fuel companies, it sent a shockwave around the world of business as usual.

“We can’t bankrupt these companies – they’re too rich – but we can start to politically bankrupt them,” says high profile environmentalist Bill McKibben. In 2012, the campaign group he leads, 350.org, kickstarted Fossil Free, inspired by movements like the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, which also used the divestment tactic.

The anti-fossil fuels movement has become the fastest growing divestment campaign ever, according to a recent University of Oxford study, one which poses a “far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain”.

By Paavan BuddhdevIn its 2013 Unburnable Carbon report the Carbon Tracker Initiative calculated that between 60% and 80% of coal, oil and gas reserves of publicly listed companies are unburnable if the world is to have a chance of keeping global warming below 2°C. This could result in ‘stranded assets’ as regulation forces companies to leave fossil fuels underground. The UK still  gets 86% of its energy from fossil fuels.

Universities have seen some of the most sustained activism against fossil fuels. In May 2014, the UK’s National Union of Students passed a motion committing to divest.

Stanford University has joined 11 other US colleges and announced that its $18.7 bn endowment would no longer make investments in publicly traded companies whose primary business is coal mining.

“When I was first learning about global warming I thought that by the time I was graduating from college the problem would have been taken care of already,” says Stanford student Yari Greaney. She remains optimistic however. “This is the movement that will be remembered as the one that helped put an end to the fossil fuel industry,” she says.

The British Medical Association voted in June to end its investment in fossil fuel companies, making it the first health organisation in the world to do so. “If the health community took their money out of the fossil fuel industry it would send a really important message to both politicians and the public,” says Christopher Venables of health professionals’ organisation MedAct.

Brighthelm Church and Community Centre in Brighton was the first Church in the UK to divest, removing their investments from Shell. “We want to support and invest in a better world; that’s what we’re here for,” explains Brighthelm’s minister Alex Mabbs. “It wasn’t a difficult decision.”

By Steve EasonFollowing on from the World Council of Churches’ divestment decision, a Church of England internal committee, set up to look at climate change and investment, is expected to report next year.

Local authorities are also coming under pressure. Al Chisholm of Fossil Free Oxfordshire says the county council has £42m invested directly in fossil fuel companies through its pension fund. “For many years I felt hopeless and scared about climate change,” says Chisholm, “but then I came across the idea of divestment. I think it could really be a game changer.”

From 19th until 21st September, divestment campaigners in the UK will up the pressure in a weekend of action, part of the global People’s Climate mobilisation to coincide with the New York climate summit.

Divest-Invest is a coalition of 17 philanthropic foundations who have agreed to pull out of fossil fuels, but who also work with those who are willing to move their money. “We have this invest message which is take your money out of the old economy into the new economy – out of the dinosaurs and into the future,” explains Chuck Collins from the campaign. “We’re really promoting innovative investment in local communities. It’s about putting your money where your heart is.”

By Steve EasonLocal renewable energy projects are starting to attract significant investment sums. Bath & West Community Energy (BWCE), which was started by Transition groups from Bath and Corsham, have raised more than £2.5m from community share launches, including from people moving their self-invested pensions into the social enterprise.

Surplus funds from projects like this are often reinvested into the community, according to BWCE Chair, Pete Capener. “We are giving people an opportunity to put their money into projects that they can see, run by people they can contact,” he stresses. “That’s very different from the experience offered by traditional investments, particularly in the energy sector.”

“The choices that we make actually create the kind of economy that we want to see happening around us,” says Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition Network. “As communities we can divest every day.”

Amy Hall is News Editor of Transition Free Press.

Images from top to bottom: New York’s People’s Climate March by John Minchillo, under a CC License. Oxford students call for divestment by Paavan Buddhdev. Two images from the London People’s Climate March by Steve Eason, under a CC License.

Read the whole of this Transition Free Press edition on line here, including an article on how students have led the way in the campaign for divestment.

Subscribe to Transition Free Press and keep grassroots media flourishing here.

Keep an eye on the website tomorrow when we will publish Tara Clarke’s article about another movement to stigmatise oil companies by campaigning creatively for public institutions not to receive its sponsorship.

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People’s climate march happening now – Sunday 21st September


Wishing everyone out there a great convergence today! Read our fossil fuel divestment and climate action stories in the latest Autumn edition: http://issuu.com/transitionfreepress/docs/tfp06_2014-09_issuu

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The dawn of a new Scotland

yes posterAs everyone’s eyes look North for UK’s perhaps most debated and exciting political event this century, we are publishing our current front page story on Scottish independence. The result of the referendum will go to the wire next Thursday, but the Yes campaign has already changed the nature of Scottish democracy. Justin Kenrick reports from Edinburgh:

A year before the referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country, the average lead for No was 22%. By mid-July 2014 the No lead had halved. Why was there such a swing away from support for the status quo, and what might it mean for politics?

People like Jonathan Shafi of the Radical Independence Campaign think Scots are seeing a chance to move away from a Westminster system that seems only to benefit the rich. Shafi writes: “If Britain was not carrying out the austerity that’s leading to a long-term socio-economic crisis, there simply wouldn’t be the same thirst for independence as there is now.”

Some argue that Scotland has always been distinct from England. The respected commentator Iain Macwhirter says “Our political cultures are worlds apart”. Others, like Adam Ramsay,  Co-Editor of openDemocracy’s OurKingdom website, point out that in the context of other social democracies in Europe, “Scotland isn’t different, it’s Britain that’s bizarre.”

The conclusion that Scottish voters appear to be reaching is that if you can’t effect change within the system, then you have got to change the system. The two year referendum process has seen an extraordinary resurgence of democracy as people engage in intense and energetic debate on how to make a fairer, healthier, more caring society in town hall discussions the length and breadth of the country, which are amplified in online forums.

There are also many ‘working groups’ that people join to follow their passion, including the Common Weal project, which is designing a social democratic system for a society that “puts all of us first”, welcomes immigrants and persists with free education and health care.

The Radical Independence Campaign has been going door to door in the poorest parts of the country, encouraging those who have lost hope to register to vote. Opinion polls show that the rich are voting No, while those suffering under austerity are more likely to place their hopes in an alternative future.

“There has been an extraordinary resurgence of democracy”

Robin McAlpine of the radical political thinktank the Jimmy Reid Foundation points out that though the No side is fond of claiming that pursuing a social democratic path like Norway’s means paying far higher tax, they do not point out that Norway’s higher taxes are used to create a high wage economy which means that even after higher tax and higher prices, the average Norwegian is still roughly 43% better off than the average UK resident, while enjoying far higher social provision, and living in a much more equal society.

All but one of the 37 newspapers read in Scotland are against independence, many vociferously so. This is where the No campaign’s ‘air war’ takes hold, making far more media noise than the Yes campaigners’ engagement on the ground. Radio and television, especially the BBC, take their cue from the newspapers, amplifying their anti-independence stories.

With media projects like Newsnet Scotland’s citizen reporting and Wings over Scotland’s sharp exposures of media deception, with National Collective and Bella Caledonia’s online space to contribute to imagining a better society, and writers like Wee Ginger Dug bringing intense and poignant humour, whichever way the referendum goes something has changed in Scotland. The real challenge now is how the transformation can spread to England and Wales. Even if we become autonomous countries, we can be better together by declaring ourselves independent of a paralysing status quo.

Justin Kenrick is a founder member of PEDAL, Edinburgh Portobello’s Transition Town Initiative, and works supporting forest peoples in Africa to retain or regain self-determination.

Image: Bella Caledonia ran a competition asking entrants to design a poster that “inspires a nation.” Design by Ciaran Murphy

Read the whole edition on line here.

Subscribe to Transition Free Press and keep grassroots media flourishing here

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We’re out! New Autumn issue is now published and on sale

TFP06_2014-09_CoverWe’re here! In paper and on-line, our new action-packed edition no 6 can be now found in shops, cafes and at Transition events across the UK. If you can’t put your hands on a copy, or have not had one through the door, you can also find it here:


(though there is nothing quite like the real thing!)

What’s our latest news?

In this sixth issue you can find our signature mix of the practical, political and the philosophical. In line with a renewed push towards climate action this autumn, we’re focusing on fossil fuel divestment and climate activism. We are also showing how the humble acts of fermenting cabbage and saving seeds are also radical acts of liberation, why in the face of increased corporate control we are out digging fields, brewing beer, helping our neighbour, telling our own story, doing art in whatever place we find ourselves (Editorial)

Bv5LwwiIUAAdk4bTuning into the zeigeist, practising for the future means many things. In Transition media, it means setting out the culture we are forging together and showing it in all its colourful, smart and finely detailed aspects. It means listening to Tom Crompton on intrinsic values, 350.org’s Danielle Paffard on being radicalised, standing alongside indigenous peoples, foraging for scarlet mushrooms, getting to the roots of plant medicine, sharing our houses, making stuff together, getting in a seakayak and most of all getting a handle on the big ecological and social drivers that are challenging the world and ourselves in every action we take. And then doing all of this in a very different spirit. Why? Because climate change and carbon reduction frames everything that happens in this paper. Because this changes everything…

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (Allen Lane) will be published on 16th September.

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From waste to taste

Nov 2013-16-24The Transition Community Cafe in Fishguard makes use of waste food to produce good quality hearty meals for the community. Since this article on the cafe, by Tess Riley, was published in our Spring/Summer edition, the cafe won £10,000 in the ‘Future Dragons’ Den’ at the Hay Festival. They will use the money to help expand the enterprise and spread the word, encouraging other communities to take on the challenge of opening their own cafe.

As Transition Bro Gwaun member Ann Bushell was trawling local businesses for waste vegetables to feed her chickens, it dawned on her just how much edible food was going to landfill. It was this realisation which eventually led to the birth of the Transition Community Cafe in Fishguard in June 2013.

The cafe now opens four days a week in the centre of Fishguard, on the southwest tip of Wales. The thriving Transition Cafe makes lowcost, healthy meals and preserves from products with a short shelf-life, including fruit, vegetables, dairy, bakery goods and a small amount of meat.

“I always find it hard to believe that what comes out on the plate is made from gluts and surplus from the community,” says local resident Paul. “The food here is worthy of any high-class restaurant!”

As the waste food can’t be predicted, the menu changes daily. The typical ingredients the cafe receives means that most of the meals served are vegetarian, such as quiche, vegetable gratin and curry, and they try to have at least one gluten-free option available each day. Popular puddings include fruit crumbles, sponges and pies. With prices from £2.00-£4.00 for a main course, and £1.50-£2.50 for a pudding, the cafe’s customers aren’t complaining.

“Bendigedig! [fantastic in Welsh] And so reasonable – long may it last!” says happy customer Carys.

According to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, Wales produces an estimated 400,000 tonnes of household food and drink waste every year, the majority of which is sent to landfill. That’s £700 per household thrown in the bin.

Like Transition Bro Gwaun’s other major projects – renewable community energy and skill sharing – the cafe focuses on carbon reduction. Turning food waste into delicious meals means no methane emissions from rotting food, and surplus food is collected within a four mile radius of the cafe to keep fossil fuel emissions down.

“We have an energy monitor in the kitchen to monitor how much electricity we’re using, and we try to reduce it wherever possible,” says co-organiser Chris Samra. “We also monitor our storage systems – there’s no point in rescuing food from landfill if we then use lots of energy keeping it frozen for ages.”

Local support has been key to sustaining Fishguard’s Transition Cafe. The enthusiasm of the local Co-operative shop manager led to the cafe’s installation rent-free in an empty building next door. The property was then renovated thanks to the generosity of local businesses and volunteers, plus several grants.

The cafe team say that it has been particularly successful in attracting volunteers from a much wider cross-section of the community than ‘traditional’ Transitioners. It provides a meeting place for local groups, addresses food poverty, promotes ideas for sustainable living and offers valuable work experience for local people. In the words of Chris Samra: “The Transition Community Cafe demonstrates that a food system characterise by waste, food miles and low social benefit isn’t our only option.”

Tess Riley is a freelance journalist who writes about food, the environment and communities, and co-edits the Food pages of Transition Free Press. 

Subscribe to the digital edition of Transition Free Press here at Exact Editions or sign up to get the paper version through your door.

Photo: By Brian Jackson. Sarah Purbrick, Rosi Jones and Fay Ford work in the cafe.

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On the edge: How permaculture and Transition meet

1353788229_40c1c68f80_zSometimes there just isn’t enough room in the paper for all the great grassroots stories we are sent. So in advance of our Autumn issue (publishing next Monday, 1st September) and the Permaculture Convergence in London (12th-14th September) here is a tale from the road about the relationship between permaculture and the Transition movement, and the challenge in communicating both.

Permaculture is a design system that underpins much of Transition’s ethos. One of its tenets is that some of the richest and most interesting places are found at the edges where ecosystems overlap. Phil Moore reports from the junction:

Trojan Horses and Golden Geese

As my girlfriend Lauren and I hitch-hike across the UK visiting various projects on our way to the UK Permaculture Convergence in London this September, explaining permaculture to people has been an exercise in public relations and has led to some fundemental observations.

We have always been keen to couch the language of permaculture in a way our audience can grasp: whether it’s Jivad, a Pakistani immigrant who arrived in England with just a fiver and is now expanding his clothing business, or Lola and Peter of the Flying Theatre Company, on the road to their next school performance.

As hitchers, on the side of the road, we are, in some senses, at the edge of the mainstream. The parallels with permaculture are all too apparent! Many of our kind lifts have heard of the Transition movement, whereas the word permaculture is a new one to them.

So what does permaculture have to say to Transition? Permaculture is founded on a three-fold set of ethics: fair shares, earth care, and people care. From this foundation flows an intelligent design system pointing to how we can do stuff here and now. A design solution for a sustainable present and future.

Whether it is using your window sills to grow greens, placing your compost bin relative to your needs, running effective, inclusive meetings, or project managing the build of a compost loo, permaculture enables us all to be active designers.

3459711224_bb4a60d188_zPermaculture is the art of connecting things. This type of joined up thinking is paramount at a time when questions around food sourcing, and where our stuff comes from – and goes – become more prominent.

Similarly, permaculturists, those practicing and at the centre of the global movement, shouldn’t lose sight of the wider general public. As Rob Hopkins said, “We need to be where people are, rather than expecting them to come to us.” The golden goose of permaculture, the chicken-greenhouse is a nice idea but one that is hard to readily communicate to the public without recourse to a flip-chart and drawing a bunch of arrows. Transition has been dubbed the Trojan Horse of permaculture, as the language used by Transition and the way it communicates is seen as more digestible. Transition is permaculture, evolved to communicate differently.

Culturally, this is changing. The Permaculture and Transition networks share an interest in energy and how we reduce our reliance on unsustainable sources. In respect to ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), how can we collectively respond to the issue of energy and distribution? Widening the self-interested idea of human survival to include the natural world, the fair shares ethic at the core of permaculture rejects the model of pure industrial growth. An ecology and economy that truly takes into account our actions makes the interconnection between our lives and well-being, and that of the planet’s there for all to see. Making these decisions, focusing on what is appropriate, permaculture provides real, positive examples of how to design more equitable systems.

4287480727_2abe5cb1b7_oFrom a public perspective The Offshoots Permaculture Project in Burnley is one of Nesta’s 11 Rethinking Parks project, a huge boost to the profile of permaculture.

Permaculture and Transition still have much to share with each other. So, who’s coming to the UK Permaculture Convergence this September in London? You’re all very welcome. There will be good food and drink, entertainment, and let’s make sure of good conversation! For the UK Permaculture Convergence 2014 are available to buy now, book your place at www.permaculture.org.uk/convergence2014

Phil Moore is one half of Permaculture People. Having spent two years travelling the Americas they are currently touring the UK visiting projects, places and people working toward sustainable, sane and human futures. www.permaculturepeopleuk.tumblr.com and @permapeople on Twitter 

Images from London Permaculture

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We have gone to press and other timely matters

Years-of-Living-Dangerously-350x230This week our Autumn issue went to press and the TFP editorial team are breathing a  collective sigh of relief. It can be tense on a deadline, particularly when you are working on-line in different locations (instead of in a shared office). But hey, time is what Transition is all about: knowing it’s time to change tracks, not getting stuck in the past, looking forward to the future, as well making time to focus on community projects,  living seasonally and pausing to reflect on our actions and the bigger picture.

While we wait for the bundles of our bright new edition number 6 to come back from the printers and be distributed to Initiatives and enterprises around the UK, thanks to our stirling distribution system (aka Mark Watson), here is a great piece about Sustainable Time from our last issue. It’s by Michelle Bastian who co-ordinates the Transition Research Network, a team of academics who support research that is beneficial to the Transition movement, “making research more accessible, developing best practice guidelines, running events and developing new research projects”.

transition cambridge

Sustaining Time Michelle Bastian

The pressure to do everything faster, to produce, consume and discard with greater frequency and with less thought for the future, has become central to affluent Western lifestyles. Whereas the clock once represented all that was wrong with early capitalism, its current incarnation is represented by speed.

The Sustaining Time research project has been looking into this connection between economies and time and particularly what it might mean for developing sustainable economic systems. Would a shift towards more sustainable ways of life bring a shift in how we experience and understand time? If so what would a ‘sustainable time’ look like?

Working with the REconomy project, the new economics foundation, Co-operatives UK and Permaculture UK, the research team visited ten sustainable businesses and four archive collections in the UK and Australia to see how past and current attempts to develop alternatives to capitalism come up against the question of time. Enterprises ranged from Lammas Eco Village of nine smal holdings in Wales, IT co-operative Webarchitects in Sheffield to Open Shed’s ‘collaborative consumption’ start-up in Sydney.

There were already a few candidates for what a sustainable time might be. The most obvious is the Slow Movement, which has expanded beyond its original protest against fast food, to embrace Slow Cities, Slow Technology and Slow Science. Other possibilities include moving from linear time to a more cyclical time, developing a longer sense of time (looking forward seven generations), or simply more focus on a better work/life balance.

Real life is always more complex however, and we found that the ways people were negotiating their time didn’t fit neatly into these possibilities. Most continued to feel pressured and overworked. Others had strong criticisms of cyclical models of time because of the way they been co-opted by big business. Why worry about upgrading to a new phone when you can recycle your old one? The long-term was important, but we didn’t see any seven-generation business plans.

Instead what we did find pushed us to dig deeper into what each of these sustainable times might be standing in for. So while people weren’t slowing down, they were developing a wider sense of what the ‘right time’ for a task might be. For example, the continuous time of industrially produced food (where everything is available 24/7) became the intermittent time of seasonal food. The well-planned out time of the ‘good worker’ made room for the unpredictable time of community-building, and ‘wasted time’ became the time of learning.

Importantly each of these kinds of time are thought to have little value within mainstream economic models. However, just as the idea of a sustainable economy challenges a narrow focus on profit and the limited way in which ‘economy’ is understood, our research suggests that perhaps a sustainable approach to time would throw open the ways we value time and allow it too to become a site of experimentation and creativity.

Find out more about the project at www.sustainingtime.org.

Michelle Bastian is a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a co-ordinator of the Transition Research Network. She previously led an Honouring the Elders project called Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden, as part of her work with Transition Liverpool

Images: Times of Living Dangerously, US documenatry series 2014; keeping in the seasons, Cambridge CropShare (also features in our Summer issue).


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