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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SPORT: Outdoor philosophy

summer2011-021-400x300When we came up with a blueprint for Transition Free Press we decided that it would follow the contours of a regular newspaper with news, features, reviews, opinion pages… and sport. In our back pages we have covered team sports-in-transition (including netball!)  as well as individual physical activities done in a community or environmental spirit – vegan and wild running, ecological diving and surfing, and of course cycling. Here philosopher and adventure cyclist Kate Rawles  explains why encountering the sea in a kayak inspires an immediate sense of connection with the planet.

I am in the glorious Arisaig Islands off the west coast of Scotland and have ‘parked’ my kayak in seaweed. Secured from the wind-drift, I watch the Arctic Terns travelling home from Antarctica. They are small, silver birds with graceful swallow-shaped tails and a screeching call at odds with their delicate frame. Flying up to 70,000 km in one year – by far the longest migrations of any bird – they will clock up the equivalent of three round trips to the moon in a lifetime!

Sights like this explain why sea kayaking has become a passion of mine. About 17 feet long, sea kayaks are both beautiful and immensely sea worthy. In their sealed holds you can pack camping gear and food enough for multi-week trips and their shallow draft and manoeuverability gives a competent kayaker access to islands and beaches that few other craft can reach. It is a low impact, quiet and wildlife-friendly sport.

Once I went to the Lofoten above the Arctic Circle in Norway but, like the Arctic terns, I always come back to west Scotland. However, despite the sheer beauty, diversity and intrigue to be found here, all is not well in the sea.

OP kayak 1 groupHumans mostly understand nature as a set of resources. All other living beings, from blue tits to blue whales, are valued only in relation to their usefulness to us. This anthropocentric outlook, the belief that humans are the most significant species on the planet, is undoubtedly a root cause of our interlocking environmental crises.

For many years, I was lucky to have these debates as part of my job as a philosophy lecturer. But discussing human-nature relations in ivory towers and overheated lecture theatres left my colleagues and I disconnected from the natural world we were trying to think about and without a mandate to act for environmentally positive social or political change.

Outdoor Philosophy is an attempted remedy; it is a discussion about human-nature relations conducted in the middle of other species and ecosystems. It aims to harness the power of this kind of experience – an invigorating sense of reconnection – to nurture, ignite and support people in their environmental work.

Sea kayaking tends to dissolve anthropocentrism, effortlessly. Despite their seaworthiness, it is nigh on impossible to sit in a small boat on even the laziest Atlantic swell and retain a bloated sense of human power and superiority.

In a small boat it’s impossible to retain a bloated sense of human power

Of course, when my sea kayaking trip comes to an end, I load my boat on to my van filled with fossil fuel and drive home, thereby adding to the greenhouse gases that are threatening the lives and wellbeing of the species I‘ve just been revelling in. But, in the end, perhaps that is the point – not to dwell in guilt and blame, but to stay in touch with the deep discomfort of reconnection, as well as its invigorating power. To re-see and revalue the sparrows on my terraced house front. To energise work that aims to reshape our economic, social and intellectual systems so we can co-exist as half-decent citizens of our extraordinary ecological communities.

Kate Rawles lectures and writes on ‘big picture’ environmental issues, sustainability and values. Her 2012 book The Carbon Cycle – Crossing the Great Divide used adventure cycling to communicate climate change. Her next book The Life Cycle will focus on biodiversity and a bike trip in the Andes planned for 2015. Find out more at www.outdoorphilosophy.com

Images: Exploring the coastal wonders of Arisaig in the Scottish Highlands (Kate Rawles)

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BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Fermentation

AOF-with-awards-hi-resFrom  reviews of climate change collections and peak oil fiction, from a Talkback take on resilience studies to the art of making pages out of foraged plants, books form an integral part of all TFP issues. In the autumn edition Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything features in our editorial and Dark Mountain editor, Nick Hunt looks at contemporary responses to the call for a new narrative. Here Alexis Rowell breaks out the pickle jars in his hands-on review of a store cupboard maesterwerk (Ednote: the mead was our toast to TFP at a recent editorial meeting…it was divine!)

“Between fresh and rotten,” says Sandor Ellix Katz, “there is a creative space in which some of the most compelling of flavours arise.” I’m right in that creative space, but my partner, Sarah, is starting to complain about the smells coming from my fermenting cabbage!

I’m a novice fermenter. It’s something I’ve admired from afar but I’d always felt a bit daunted by the mystique surrounding fermented foods and all that bacteria.

“My advice,” says Sandor – a self-described ‘fermentation fetishist’ – “is to reject the cult of expertise. Do not be afraid. You can do it yourself.”

I started with fruit mead. All you need is a bail-top jar, a pot of raw honey, water and fruit. I used redcurrants from a friend’s allotment, cherry plums from Hampstead Heath and rose petals from my neighbour’s garden.

Reject the cult of expertise. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated

“It looks great – if you like murky pond water,” said Sarah dubiously. But a few days later it was bubbling furiously and had turned a beautiful rose-orange colour. “That looks great,” said a friend, “can I have the recipe?” “Recipe?” I laughed. “Sure – combine honey, water, fruit and petals. Stir and release the pressure twice a day. Drink and be merry after ten days!”

hp581

Next up – sauerkraut. Pack a bail-top jar with shredded cabbage, juniper berries (or caraway seeds or other spices) and brine (salty water), weigh it down with a small glass jar filled with water to keep the cabbage submerged, then leave to ferment.

After a week it was starting to release some powerful odours, Sarah was apologising to visitors and I was worrying I’d got it wrong. But it tasted great. A few days later it tasted even better and it was time to move it to the fridge to slow down the fermentation process.

My fermented radishes looked fabulous as the brine turned red. “Are you sure we’ll be able to eat all this stuff? asked Sarah nervously, as I made plans for a huge jar of kohlrabi, carrot and beetroot kraut.

It’s perhaps a shame there aren’t more photos in The Art of Fermentation and that the illustrations, although lovely, are repeated a lot. But these seem like minor gripes set against the delight of learning from a master fermenter. For this is the omnibus, the bible, the encyclopaedia – it is everything you’ll ever need to know about fermentation – from molecular biology to cultural history, from philosophy to health benefits.

Sandor himself is a larger than life character with a massive handlebar moustache. He looks a picture of health, although he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s been living with HIV for ten years. “Is he healthy because of fermented foods?” I ask. He won’t go that far, but it’s hard not to draw that conclusion.

DSCN6810His book is also a remarkable political statement about the perils of industrialised food and the need for humans to reconnect with nature. In his words: “As microorganisms work their transformative magic and you witness the miracles of fermentation, envision yourself as an agent for change, creating agitation, releasing bubbles of transformation into the social order.”

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz is published by Chelsea Green. Beginners might like to start with his earlier book, Wild Fermentation.

Images: cover of The Art of Fermentation; Sandor Ellix Katz teaching a fermentation class (www.wildfermentation.com); Alexis’ summer mead undergoing fermentation (Sarah Nicholl)

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Practical action on housing

tumblr_mn4ax9kiZC1sq6ylzo1_1280From the Focus E15 mums to tenants unions and co-operatives, the housing crisis has triggered a wave of activism and people exploring their own solutions to its problems.

Today in Hoxton, East London the residents of the New Era Estate marched against a 10% hike in rent after their homes were bought up by a private investment company. Families fear they will have to leave, or be evicted if they can’t pay and are calling on MP Richard Benyon, whose family company is part of the consortium which now owns the estate, to keep rents affordable for current tenants.

The New Era residents are part of a wave of housing activism that has been taking place across Britain as people fight back against high prices, poor tenant’s rights and a lack of social housing. Tenants unions are springing up across the country and campaigners like the Focus E15 Mothers have forced people to take notice of the experiences of some of the most vulnerable.

In September, the E15 campaigners occupied four empty flats on London’s Carpenters Estate protesting that homes like this were standing empty, and due for redevelopment, while families in the borough are being evicted and rehoused outside the city. The group, mainly made up of young mothers, first become active in 2013 after funding cuts to the Focus E15 young people’s hostel led to many of them facing eviction.

Tenants unions are springing up across the country and people are also exploring creative solutions to housing problems. In Edinburgh students are settling into a student-run housing co-operative, aiming to provide affordable accommodation. The project is only the second of its kind and is the largest with over 100 students taking residence.

In October the House of the Commons conference took place in Oxford. The event discussed diverse topics around the housing crisis, including community energy, fuel poverty, the financial crisis, inequality, natural building techniques and community-led housing.

The current issue of Transition Free Press has a page dedicated to housing and some of the pockets if practical, collective resistance in the challenge of accessing safe, affordable, stable housing. Rachel Savage reports from Bristol on the Abolish Empty Office Buildings (AEOB) scheme which has now attracted £225,000 worth of community investment to turn unused offices into much needed, affordable housing.

In the same section, Amy Hall looks at cohousing – combining communal living with private space for each household. She speaks to people setting up intentional, low impact communities around the UK and experiment with new models of shared ownership.

Research published by Shelter in October indicates that two-thirds of private renters in England are unable to save towards a house deposit and with more than 81,000 homeless households in England alone, grassroots housing action in the UK is looking set to grow.

Read the autumn edition of Transition Free Press online here, including our housing focus on page 6. Find out more about print or online subscriptions here.

Photo by Andy Lord: Downtime at the Lilac cohousing community in Leeds -the UK’s “first affordable ecological cohousing project.” 

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