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Where to go? ~  green, grey & brown sites Sustainable development is a challenge for us all. If we don't engage everyone, future generations will soon begin to pay for our neglect. For this reason, there are in the UK Sustainable Development bodies with national, regional and more local focuses. But what should these groups actually do? Here are some of the ideas which I as one individual have thought about as a member of a sustainable development group with a regional remit.

Sustainability As If People Mattered

What are the regional Sustainable Development (SD) bodies in the UK for? Is their role to provide 'advice' to politicians and state-employed policy-makers at the regional level? Is it to lead by example and implement programmes of work? Is it to be a talking shop between people representing different 'stakeholding' interests in SD? Is it something else altogether? Or is it all of these things?

Meaning and leadership in regional Sustainable Development
My personal view is that good regional approaches to SD are all these things.

Regions in the UK are all of a size (between 5 and 10 million people) where well-crafted action for sustainable development can have meaningful impacts. Regional SD groups should therefore:

* work together, with each other and with others, on the basis of mutual confidence and shared understandings - both of the factors shaping the region's physical and socio-economic contexts, and of the perspectives of all partners;

* recognise that everyone is a stakeholder in this difficult challenge, not just those who are formally represented at the regional level;

* understand that SD is different from almost all other processes in that what happens now and in the near future cannot be revisited on the same basis and revised at some point later on: SD is globally shaped and uni-dimensional in respect of time;

* also understand that 'good enough' and actually deliverable has some chance of success, whilst 'beyond any scientific doubt' but not yet actionable is of very limited value in this period of rapid eco- and socio-economic change;

* offer visible and clear thought leadership to 'people on the street', as well as more formal and conventional strategic advice to those who formulate regional policy;

* recognise that this is real life; our current insights into the challenges of SD are far from perfect. Nurturing an ethos of shared responsibility in all who live and work in a region is however critical, right now.


Supporting regional approaches to sustainable development
The UK government has been working with the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), Defra and others to promote regional SD. To this end, there does now seem to be a modest level of financial support.

It is nonetheless puzzling that these national bodies apparently imagine that each regional SD group can identify without further effort what the specific or even unique challenges for their region are. Yet, whilst this can be done for matters such as flood risk, the issues are far less obvious in many other respects. Not many policy makers and politicians at the local level, for instance, are even aware of what the risks might be.

Much work still needs to be done to bring together the relevant social, economic and environmental profiles for each region of the UK, and to encourage regional SD protagonists to share pro-actively their assessments and responses to these profiles. Just as UK regional strategies in science remain weak, so do those for SD.

Hearts and minds
There is a compelling case for regional SD bodies to recognise that 'advice' alone is not enough - especially in a time of flux for overall regional development policies, even before we come to the ultimately much more pressing matters of global warming, diminishing bio-diversity, economic difficulties (domestic and global) and the general well-being of current and future citizens.

Regional SD approaches are about leading from the front (no-one else has that specific focus and remit...). They must recognise the stakeholding of every person in their region, and find ways to reach them all. This is about encouraging dialogue, sharing good practice, aligning policy and developing the ideas which will help us all to face the future.

To achieve this requires not only analysis of the current regional state of play, but also commitment to help change the cultural climate as well as the environmental one.

Here is one challenge which a rational-legal or scientific approach alone simply cannot resolve.


Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Terraced housing & cars The new economics foundation (nef) tells us that, as of today, the UK has used the levels of resources it should consume during an entire year, if it were environmentally self-sufficient. In 1961, nef calculates, the UK's annual eco-debt began on 9 July; by 1981 it was 14 May, but in 2009 it falls on 12 April, Easter Sunday. But how can we help people in their daily lives to address and cope with these frightening calculations constructively, rather than such information just causing further alarm? Science and 'facts' alone won't get us where we all need to be.

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

I'm not sure that those of us already concerned with sustainability approach these matters in the best way to engage others yet to be converted - nef* says Easter Sunday (eco-debt day 2009) is 'a day which for many has become synonymous with over-indulgence'. That's a pretty unempathetic perspective on one of the UK's few annual family holidays.

Sometimes perhaps the force of our convictions and fears about sustainability can make us sound a bit crass.

Offering hope, not inferring guilt
Inducing guilt and/or alarm is not often the most effective mode by which to gain mass support, in an open democracy, for complex and uncomfortable change. Personally, I'd rather see Easter as an occasion with a message, whether sacred or secular, of new beginnings and hope - an opportunity for positive reflection on the future.

Eco-protagonists and scientists are vitally important to our understanding of what's happening to the environment. But they're not always good at helping people in the wider community to face up to the enormous environmentally-related challenges which, we must urgently acknowledge, are already upon us.

Research findings and predictions based on rational calculation do not always translate as clearly as the scientists imagine into policy acceptable to the wider citizenry. To the person in the street it can all seem just too difficult and scary, well beyond the scope of 'ordinary folk'.

Engaging people for positive change
Nonetheless, the UK's increasing eco-debt is desperately alarming, and something we need to get everyone to think about, right now.

The question is, how?


[* Andrew Simms (2009) Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations, cited in Transition Network News, March 2009. Andrew Simms is nef Policy Director and Head of the Climate Change Programme.]

Read more articles on Sustainability As If People Mattered.

derelict site What’s the reality of low carbon communities? You can have your say about the future of zero carbon development for two weeks from today. The Homes and Communities Agency Academy is hosting an open, on-line debate about creating low carbon communities, addressing issues like the carbon implications of the credit crunch and lessons from the international experience. Contributors include podcasts from high profile speakers such as David Lock and Paul King So now have your say....

Sustainability As If People Mattered
The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) Academy, for which I am a tutor, has existed only since 1 December 2008, when it arose from the previous Academy for Sustainable Communities; but already it is reaching out to engage people in debate about critically important issues.

The first of these open-access debates begins today, Friday 23 January 2009 (until 6 February), on the new HCAA Debate Place portal.

The question under discussion is how we can rise to the low carbon challenge?

The weblink to this national debate can be found here.

Creating low carbon communities
The HCA Academy will be asking:

What is the reality of creating low carbon communities and what can we learn from International experience?

The debate will be facilitated and you can post comments, ask questions and watch video clips on climate, connectivity and community issues.

The on-line discussion will probe issues such as:

- Will the Code for Sustainable Homes be affected by the credit crunch?
and
- How do we reduce the carbon footprint of new homes in the UK?

Low carbon case studies
The debate will be supported by a series of on-line films from high-profile speakers, including David Lock from David Lock Associates and Paul King, CEO of UK Green Building Council.

Research published by the HCA Academy which examines lessons learned from international case studies will provide further insight into the latest issues and skills implications of low carbon developments.

Continuing the debate
Following the debate, a short summary report will be published on-line.

'Debate Place' will also host links to resources such as the website Demystifying Climate Change, a resource designed to help practitioners navigate the low carbon debate and work out relevance for their own work.

We hope you can contribute to this high profile and important debate, and that you will encourage others to do the same. To join the debate please click here.


Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered and about Carbon Neutral Villages.

fish market Recent advice is that, to 'save' the planet, we in the developed nations should eat meat at most four times a week; but we should also recognise the current fundamental economic centrality of meat in many parts of the developing world. Discussion of these recommendations has produced some very interesting ideas about what might constitute almost zero carbon food and even zero carbon meat. Hill grazing sheep, jellied eels and lobster aquaculture are amongst the food items and techniques coming to mind.

A recent Food Climate Research Network report says that we should reduce our meat consumption to four portions a week, to avoid 'runaway climate change'.

By a coincidence, this topic came up when I was at a Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Farming) Consumer Consultation in London last week, with other consumer people and Defra senior policy makers and stakeholders . Food and food security were debated in some depth, and amongst the topics we considered were future trends in the production and consumption of food.


Food security and self-sufficiency
How secure and / or self-sufficient is the UK, or indeed Europe, in the way this very basic commodity is used?

Actually, it transpires that the UK is about 60% self-self-sufficient in food (even though we are a small island with a lot of people, 70% of the UK's land is still in agricultural use), and Europe as a whole almost completely food-secure, if it chooses so to be. It's not just the self-sufficiency in food as such which counts, but also food supply security overall.

And this is where the discussion of the move towards vegetable-based food came in; generally, it uses much less carbon in the process of take-to-table. Nonetheless, this carbon equation cannot always be judged simply on the basis of e.g. 'food miles' alone.

Mostly-meat based local economies
As is frequently acknowledged, there are many places where moving to a vegetable-based food economy any time soon is not an option. Some of these economies are in Europe, and quite often they are very local, but meat is also basic for many much more challenged food economies in the developing world.

As examples, we might consider sheep grazing on rocky hillsides (to quote: "Forages constitute 75 to 90 percent of the total diet for sheep. Sheep are excellent converters of forage to meat and fiber") or perhaps eels in estuaries ("Jellied Eels were once a staple food of the poor in the East End of London").

Other functions of food animals
Not much else edible is likely to grow in these environments, and sometimes (aka the sheep) the animals also perform other functions, such as wool production, or keeping the balance of plant life in check.... which both in turn help rural tourism and other rural trading and local economic functions.

This is of course critical in some parts of the world where local economies (and local ecologies?) are particularly fragile.

The management of naturally occurring meat sources
Another example, which involves deliberate human agency, is an aspect of the newly-termed aquaculture. Work at the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow, Cornwall has I gather shown that if baby lobsters are nurtured in a protected environment (i.e. with fewer predators) until they are a few centimeters long, they can have a survival rate about one thousand times greater than if their initial growth is totally 'in the wild'.

Just think what a thousand-fold increase in good food could do for some communities in the developing countries... (and what more immediately it can do for fishing-based economies closer to home).

Transitioning to low meat economies
These few observations are clearly only the tip of a very big 'carbon iceberg'.

There's strong evidence that in general cutting back on meat (in the developed world anyway) is a move in the right direction for sustainable living and sustainable food supplies.

And there's also the very real issue of how to make the global step-by-step transition - probably over decades and even longer - from meat economies, to those which are likely to be more realistically long-term food sustainable. Even in New Zealand you can't just stop growing beef at a stroke....

[Later note: A colleague, responding to this agenda, has suggested that part of 'food transitioning' should be to link sustainable energy technologies with sustainable foods, e.g., marine wind turbines should also have a facility to grow edible mussels.... the scope is no doubt becomes endless when we start to think about it.]

Food for thought
It's not up to me to decide who eats what, and for which reasons; and 'even' vegetarians can't assume that all they nibble is virtuously eco-good. And there's nothing virtuous in those of us who are more blessed criticising a way of life elsewhere which requires meat-eating, if meat is the basis of an already desperately poor livelihood.

But if I were a meat eater - and especially if I were a younger meat-eater - I'd be thinking quite hard about all this.


Read more about Food and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Greece Corinth railway line with freight Energy is a commodity with variable value, it seems, depending on where you are. 'We Greeks,' said a fellow-traveller on the train as we journeyed out of Athens, 'could have free hot water and free lighting all year; but we prefer to pay for it... Why put an annual 2000 hours of sunshine to good use, when we can produce energy more expensively in other ways?' He was, of course, being ironic.

The train tracks from Athens to Corinth are shiny and new, and very impressive; but there is as yet little stock to run on them. The evidence of intention to develop the Peloponnese peninsula region's economy is plain. There are huge shunting areas and massive swathes of land ready for industrial investment and construction.

Sunshine is (almost) free
But where were the solar energy panels and, perhaps, the power windmills? We saw almost none.

It's not the business of visitors to a neighbour in the European Union to make critical comment. There are doubtless plenty of reasons why renewable energy is apparently not as yet the Next Big Thing in Greece.... but when you're from the UK and accustomed to the sort of sunshine which might, saved up, boil an egg (I jest, a little) for each of us over the year, the solar blessings of the Mediterranean seem to be a gift best put to good advantage.

Counting blessings
We all fail to see the benefits of things we're familiar with. It's more complicated than at first glance to convert sunshine into 'free' energy, but perhaps our train companion had a point.

Read more about Energy and Climate Change.

And a note too on Africa, where the issues are much more acute: Africa awash in sunlight, but not solar energy

08.2.2 Sticky tape dispenser 114x86 040.jpg 'Saving the planet' is a project which must surely involve everyone; but apparently not all designers of domestic recycling technology agree. For recycling to be effective, design should logically follow, not lead, function. This requires an understanding of how ordinary people will use recycling opportunities - before systems are designed, not as an afterthought.

Stories abound of people who have been fined for recycling things in the 'wrong' way - collections with mixed content, paper with an individual's name on it as 'proof' that they put items in the wrong repository, using a compost heap inappropriately - all make good stories to create media martyrdom to the recycling regulations.

Short-term technology before people
Almost anything can be recycled, but at present it seems Local Authorities decide for themselves what they will and will not process. Often immediate costs are not measured against the long-term implications of not taking action now. Despite challenging targets set by central government, few of us are yet holding local decision-makers to account for by-passing future sustainabilty.... if we were, there would be more conversations around involving 'ordinary people'.

The factors which feature most in local decision are likely to be the economics of recycling, available recycling technologies and where to locate recycling facilities (including the NIMBY - 'not in my backyard' - factor). Public understanding of the very serious situation we are all in is rarely discussed.

What repeated stories of fines and public naming show is how very far officialdom may be from the real need to get the public on-board, and quickly.

Silly civic expectations
Our own City Council is party to non-automated recycling processes which still do not accommodate some recyclable plastics. Yet the need is to raise the currently very poor performance of the city, at just 7.6% - when one council already achieves 50%, the Government target for all councils by 2020.

Doubtless, those who have designed the process see it as innovative and positive; and certainly it is better than what preceded it.

But is the City Council serious? I however will continue to have my doubts whilst the Council briefing, issued to every household in the City, includes the instruction to 'Please remove sellotape' before recycling gift wrapping paper - an instruction which was even issued as part of the recycling initiative last Christmas. (How else would one spent Christmas afternoon?)

Citizens as wrong-doers or as partners?
Whether individuals intentionally break the rules, or do so unknowingly, the outcome if detected is the same: a news story which makes others wary of doing anything at all.

The physical technology exists to recycle pretty well everything; processes are available for all domestic waste, if the budget and machinery are up to it.

Making people into media stories because of their recycling behaviour will simply encourage their fellow citizens to cynicism and an unwillingness to recycle at all, for fear of wrong-doing.

Sustainable behaviours are not optional
The imperative to get recycling is urgent.

We need, very soon, to get much cleverer about how to help everyone be part of the solution, not the problem.


Read more articles on Environment and Sustainability:

Conserve, Recycle & Sustain and

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Ratatouille Today marks the start of UK National Vegetarian Week. The arguments for a balanced vegetarian diet are persuasive - it 'saves' energy, it uses less carbon and water, it can respect the seasons, it has potential to make a huge contribution to resolving global hunger, and it's good for us. So how can we make vegetarianism more often the diet of choice?

Nobody expects an immediate cessation of meat production, let alone a stop right this minute to diary farming. Many people, admittedly not all, will be happy for now to see the continued consumption of vegetarian diets could just be 'meat-free', with all the benefits that would bring.

But one of the things National Vegetarian Week can do is introduce us to the wide and tasty range of foods which a vegetarian diet includes and the reasons for choosing it. And it can help raise awareness of how to prepare and cook vegetarian ingredients.

Long-term business
And, most importantly, perhaps National Vegetarian Week can help along the debate about how in reality the transition to a more sustainable food economy might happen. There have to be ways to protect the livelihoods, for instance, of people who currently produce meat, but who in the future will need to farm differently. Food production is self-evidently critical for us all. It's the nature of the product, not the supply, which must change.

At last we're beginning to act (albeit far too slowly) to the idea that carbon needs to be conserved in our industial, domestic and transport arrangements, as does water.

Canny investors have already realised that now is also the time to get a grasp on how to make meat-free food an integral part of the move towards what we all hope will be a sustainable future.


Read more about Food (a series of postings on this theme)
Food, Facts And Factoids
Beans Or Beef? The New Eco-Moral Choices
Seasonal Food - Who Knows About It?.

08.2.1 Sefton Park renovation tree chopped and felled pink ribbon  117x110 025a.jpg Mid-winter, and the rawest, sorest part of the oh-so necessary works on Liverpool's Sefton Park has begun. Here lies the pink ribbon of protest an anonymous tree-lover tied on this felled tree. And here (below) lies scattered the still fresh sawdust of the vigorous cull of trees around the upper lake. Soon, we are assured, these voids will be host to new and vibrant growth. Soon, our park will be even more lovely than before.

08.2.1 Sefton Park renovation trees felled and fresh sawdust, top lake with stump machine 496x372 020a.jpg

More information on Sefton Park is available here.

Photographs of Sefton Park on this website include:

Liverpool's Sefton Park Trees Under Threat - Unnecessarily? (Photo of the subsequently removed Willow tree in the Cherry Blossom / central lake)
and
Cherry Blossom For May Day In Sefton Park, Liverpool.

For more photographs please see here.

The New Harvest Festival

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Seasonal vegetables harvest festival pumpkins 2520 (88x103).jpg This is the time of year when churches urban and rural across the nation urge us to attend their services for Harvest Festival. For many of us however this annual celebration is now marked more secularly, observed at one remove, via our newspapers, rather than physically in our communities. Media celebration of seasonal food is the order of the day.

The Guardian, like other similar publications, is hot on seasonal food. A story in that newspaper today gives a flavour of that theme: 'Green' shopping possible on a budget, watchdog says.

What then follows is that irresistible combination of knocking the supermarkets (fair enough if they're not up to scratch), going rustic with references to in-season fruit and veg. (why not, it really is good for you), and angst about affordability and carbon footprint (fair enough again).

Contemporary perspectives
So here is the contemporary version of We plough the fields and scatter...

Way back over the centuries people have known about crop rotation and storage and the seasons, and have celebrated all this with Harvest Festivals of one sort or another. Now we know about food miles, sustainability and ethical buying.

Appreciating our sustenance
This is the better informed (or at least more techno) version of the wisdom of the ages, translated for those of us who hope for the future but have no bedrock of faith on which to base an annual thanksgiving.

Perhaps it doesn't matter how we demarcate the changing seasons and the beneficence they offer. What does matter is that at least we notice.

Pinhao smallholding & boat 2007 (small) 115x117.jpg This week is U.K. National Allotments Week, promoting 'the awareness and availability of allotments both locally and nationally, to show ... the strength of support and interest for the heritage of allotment culture.' This excellent initiative is quite new, but allotments themselves have stood the test of time. Here is an example from rural Portugal, on a tributary of the Duoro River, of a smallholding which has probably been in place for centuries.

Pinhao smallholding, Duoro River, Portugal August 2007 (480x439).jpg
























You may also like to see these photographs and articles:

Early Summer In Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

Cherry Blossom For May Day In Sefton Park, Liverpool

Wirral's Ness Gardens

Sefton Park, Liverpool: Winter Solstice 2006

Flowers In Pots For All

Liverpool Botanic Garden, Edge Lane

Visiting Valencia

Love Parks Week!

Seasonal Food - Who Knows About It?

Read more about National Allotments Week here: National Allotment Gardens Trust

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