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Water Tap What will be the fundamental 'currencies' of the future? What, if we are serious about global sustainability in all its forms, should these currencies comprise now? It's likely, if we collectively are ever going to achieve a level of long-term viability for the human race, that we will have to shift the emphasis from money (or the gold standard) to the really basic requirements for life on earth - carbon, water and nitrogen, plus knowledge of all sorts to keep the whole show on the road.

Knowledge Economy and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Money is self-evidently important to individuals (how else do you secure the roof over your head and food on the table, in complex modern societies?); and it's one indicator of collective economic well-being.

But it's 'only' a measure or tool. It's not a fundamental requirement in its own right for living.

We can, at least hypothetically, survive without money, but we can't survive without water and - in its many forms - delicately balanced amounts of carbon, and of course nitrogen. In all three instances, it's a case of not too much, not too little.

Back to basics
Water, carbon and nitrogen are the fundamentals of life.

To my mind we shall all need to understand the significance of these fundamentals much better at every level from the local to the global; and when we've grasped this, the next step will be to trade in the universal units - not just as now for some specialist concerns, but as globally recognised everyday currencies.

Climate change and polar ice caps are critically important, but they don't easily interpret into something which the person on the street feels empowered to do much about.

Making it meaningful
The problems and the indicators have to be far closer to home to be meaningful in terms of action for most people. And ideally there needs to be a recognition in the discourse that we're all in this together.

Our neighbours are global as well as local when it comes to the future of the human race on the planet. (The planet itself will of course 'survive'. It's people and other currently living things which are imperilled by human activity in the twenty-first century.)

Convincing currencies
So let's see how we can reconfigure the notion of currency to have wider meaning for survival.

We all share the need for water, carbon and nitrogen, in suitably balanced and sustained ways.

The additional (secondary) critical currency is therefore knowledge; not least knowledge about how to maintain and sustain our planet. This cannot be just scientific and abstract knowledge, but needs to be shared by us all.

And that's before we even begin to consider knowledge and knowing of very many other sorts also as a basic currency of the twenty-first century.

Knowledge and knowing
Knowledge in its formal sense will, in time, become recognised as the major currency of formal activity; and 'knowing' will be the currency in everyday life which keeps us all going.

Knowing is the social glue which can keep communities sustainable and simultaneously open our eyes to new ideas and scenarios. It enables us all together to engage, empower and explore.

Cash won't be king
We can't eat cash. We can run out of formal finance and still somehow survive.

But we need the fundamentals of life, and we also desperately need ways to share our common humanity, and our connections too with other living things. This is where the eco-system meets the communalism which must bind us all together.

No return to mediaeval ways of thinking
The difference between this time around and previous eras where the good earth was the known fundamental, is this:

In the twenty-first century we can create new, non-static way of life which incorporate the very basics of life but also lets us explore the vibrant and exciting challenges of science, humanities (in every sense) and our actual selves.

A more holistic view
The time when carbon and water, if not as yet nitrogen, are recognised universal currencies, measured formally as commodities of exchange, may not be long in coming.

As we understand that knowledge and knowing are the fundamentals of our existence in communities, we will also want to emphasise the basic currencies of life.


Read more articles about the Knowledge Economy and 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.

Sunrise over an urban park, from a window This is the day and date when the clocks go 'back'. We have an extra hour in bed on Sunday morning, and then... darkness an hour earlier until next Spring. And most of us will miss the dawning of the day as well, since the majority of people in the UK no longer keep agrarian hours. So let's do something about using daylight in the best way, in the modern world: Sign the No 10 Petition for 'better use of sun'.

The petition for 'Daylight Saving' - i.e. keeping British Summer Time (BST) all year long - is here [http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/betteruseofsun/].

We have already discussed in detail on this website the safety, energy, health, leisure and other benefits of not going into the grimness of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) every Winter. Let's make it clear that (as is in fact the case according to surveys *) most of us would welcome a continuation of 'summertime' hours.

Watching beautiful sunrises and sunsets offers aesthetic reasons for keeping summertime hours. But there are many hard-headed reasons too; and if you still doubt this, just check out for yourself with bodies such as RoSPA - or indeed read the views of Sir Stuart Hampson, who, as chairman of the John Lewis Partnership from 1993 to 2007, surely knows a thing or two about looking carefully at the facts.

Who can really argue, when the evidence is so clear? In Sir Stuart's words,

Daylight is precious. Let's stop wasting it. If we didn't put the clocks back we could cut crime, keep fitter - and reduce carbon emissions.

And enjoy more sunrises....

Sunrise and sunbeams through trees on a frosty morning

* 4,215 people took part in an online vote on RoSPA’s website between 24 October and 2 November 2006. The vast majority (86%) supported this change. Of those who voted, 3,625 voted ‘Yes’, 548 voted ‘No’ and 42 voted ‘Don’t Know’.


Dates for 2008 - 2011 when at 2 a.m. the clocks go back (October) and forward (March) by one hour in the UK are:

In 2008: the Sundays of 30 March and 26 October
In 2009: the Sundays of 29 March and 25 October
In 2010: the Sundays of 28 March and 31 October
In 2011: the Sundays of 27 March and 30 October


Read more about BST: British Summer Time & 'Daylight Saving'

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

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?.

08.04.02 place laid for dinner 140x78 010a.jpg Food is rising rapidly up the agenda. Allotments, biofuels, calories, customs, eating disorders, famine, farming, fats, fibre, foodmiles, GM, health, organic, packaging, processing, salt, seasonal, security, sell-by, sustainability, vitamins, water.... Where do we begin with what to eat and drink?

Modern society has moved from food as nutrition and survival to food as an element of our leisure experience. Until recently it's been seen by many as an issue to be left to dieters or even ‘health freaks’.

But now people are beginning to ask what food's about. The immediate answer to this question could be, it’s all very confusing. There are 'facts' and there are, it seems, 'food factoids'; and there are some consequences for action, when we think things through....

Here are some general headings and questions about food which may help:


Nutrition (Should we eat it?)
Strange as it may seem, for most adults there is still more concern about calorific value and ‘losing weight’ than there is about the nutritional value of what we eat. Almost everyone wants to be slim; yet despite concerns in many parts of the world about obesity and health relatively few people actually eat their fruit and veg ‘Five A Day'.

We as consumers still don’t fully appreciate nutritional information or understand the significance for our health and well-being of salt and other minerals and vitamins, various sorts of fats, fibre, ‘additives’, sugar, glycaemic index, units of alcohol and so on; and in some respects nor, completely, do the experts.

The healthy eating message is beginning to sink in, but questions around nutritional labelling and how to project the public health message continue to loom large.


Children eat too (Is food for kids especially important?)
Even (especially) for children, the health impact of being overweight, along with issues around longer-term well-being and educational outcomes, are now major concerns, as Jamie Oliver and his School Dinners campaign keep reminding us.

It is not altogether clear however that poor children necessarily have ‘worse’ diets than better off ones – possibly because even wealthier children eat ‘the wrong things’, albeit from choice (kids of all sorts it seems won’t eat their greens). But perhaps some groups consume ‘nicer’ food than others, even though the direct nutritional value - or not - of food consumed by children may (sometimes) vary independently of income.

So what more if anything needs to be done about family eating patterns, or advertising food to children, on the television and elsewhere? How much value should we put on meals together as a way to promote family well-being and cohesion?

And how important, as a good start, is breast-feeding? Should we as a society do more to encourage it?

Or should we emphasise exercise more than nutrition, to protect children's physical and mental health?


Organic? GM? Nano? Sell-by date? (Is it wholesome?)
Confusion reigns when we look at the science behind modern food production.

Is organicWho says so, and why is it so pricey?) What about free-range? What's a superfood? And do superfoods really exist?

Has the product we're about to eat, or an antecedent of it, been genetically modified? Is that good or bad? – and for whom? consumers, farmers or other people in the developing world? Also, how has it changed the food?

What of new techniques? Are any food nanotechnologies involved? Whatever would they be for? Are they good or dangerous?

Who decides ‘sell-by’ dates? And by what criteria?

Can we trust the Food Standards Agency, the government and European legislation and everybody else involved in food regulation and statutory labelling? What about the consumer organisations and the supermarkets? Who knows best?


Presenting, preserving and not wasting our food (Is tinned OK and who needs packaging?)
How can we tell whether tinned food is as good as frozen or fresh? How much packaging is required for hygiene and how much is, for instance, simply there to make food look good?

What's the relative energy and resource cost of different ways of preserving food?

And, crucially, how can we ensure that food we buy is not wasted? At present one third of food purchased - in restaurants, shops or wherever - in the UK alone is simply thrown away: hence the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Perhaps even with today's relatively higher prices we are more careful about food if we're locavors, when we know locally who grew or prepared it, and where, than when we don't?


Food miles (Does it cost the earth?)
Food travels the world in strange ways. We (in the UK) get tomatoes and lamb from the other side of the globe, yet we also grow them ourselves.

How to tell people usefully about the food mile cost of what they eat may be a moot point. It’s not just how many miles, or even carbon footprint: it takes some eight units of grain to produce one unit of beef; but some people still reckon that good value - including, no doubt, growing numbers of consumers in China and India, who have a preference for an affluent Western diet.

So sometimes the real cost or value can only be calculated by comparing what would happen if foods of equivalent nutritional or other sort of value were produced in a different way. And how would you put that on a label?


Biofuels (Is growing 'food for cars' acceptable?)
We all know that we're using too much oil, charging around in cars and planes when often we don't need to.

Biofuels seemed for a while to be the perfect way out of this - grow crops to substitute for more usual oils. But now, as the UK's Chief Scientist has said, we know there are costs too; some biofuels are neither sustainable, nor ethical.

And on top of this we must acknowledge that biofuels, like food for people, takes up valuable land space. The question is, what's the 'right' balance - if there is such a thing?


Water used (Will it increase global tensions?)
There is an emerging awareness that food is mainly water, and that water is the also the most precious (and sometimes wasted) commodity in its production.

If the beef-to-grain carbon ratio is high, the equivalent water ratio is many times more so. (Let us pass on the comlex issues around food for domestic animals and pets - there is an important balance to acknowledge here between these animals' functions as sources of security and comfort for people, and their costs to the environment - but who has looked at this balance?)

There are those who believe that water, not oil, will trigger the next global disputes; but as yet few of us have thought how to approach the global issues of water scarcity and food.


Food prices (Can we afford it?)
The cost of food against income has fallen for most of us in the first world over recent years. Now it’s beginning to increase again to more traditional levels – though it will probably stabilise - as global issues such as draught, climate change and biofuels impact on the market.

Food habits have changed from agrarian times, but often seem nonetheless to lag behind the reality of what's available, and may say more about cultural expectations or how a person ate when they were young, than about what's now regarded as 'best' for them (or, indeed, with modern advertising the converse may also be true on occasion).

Perhaps people need to know about less expensive and more nutritious alternative foods, if the ones they’re used to become more expensive, or may now be known to be less 'healthy'? But who can best tell them?


Commercial advantage and competition (Do supermarkets cause ‘food deserts?)
Allied to this is now a fear that supermarkets placed in disadvantaged or poor areas will result in so-called food deserts, where poor people can no longer afford to buy even the basics of a decent diet.

But some observers say that food deserts are really different types of access, or actually an urban myth or 'factoid'. Evidence for these food deserts is to date far inconclusive – indeed, some research indicates that when supermarkets come to poorer areas, both the economy and local people’s diets may improve.

So how can we indicate economic ‘value’ and nutritional benefit in the contexts of where people live, what they expect to eat and how they get access to their food?


Customs, symbols and traditions (What sort of foods for whom?)
Shared food has always been a way of bonding - we cut cakes and 'raise a glass', offer potlatch, drink tea and conduct many other ceremonies across the world to denote belief, position or togetherness.

Then there's the fascinating question of why different people in different places and at different times eat different sorts of food. Sometimes it's easy to explain - 'luxury' and difficult to obtain foods are reserved in almost all cultures and communities for conspicuous consumption on special occasions, for instance - but often there are other styles and patterns to eating too.

And what do we know about 'healthy' diets across the world? Why do people in some places live longer and fitter lives than others? What traditions and customs help us keep our communities intact? And is any of what we might learn about customs and habits of food consumption transposable from one community or culture to another?


Seasonal, allotments and home grown (Should we grow it ourselves?)
Locally produced foodin season' is the new mantra, but it can’t be the whole story. There are many localities which can’t provide the full spectrum of nutritional need. Varied diets often require varied sources.

Nonetheless, an appreciation of the cycles of nature helps us to understand how our food is produced and what makes it special. ‘Seasonal’ recipes draw attention to the possibility of ingredients with a low carbon footprint, just as allotments, smallholdings and local market gardens offer the possibility of learning about how what we eat grows.

Producing and sourcing food locally may not resolve all our problems, but they certainly have their place in the spectrum of things we as consumers can enjoy and need to know. How about allotments for everyone who wants one (there are long waiting lists in some places), and special efforts to grow – and eat - vegetables and fruit in schools and other community locations?


The food economy (How does all this fit into UK plc?)
There are many things to think about here; just ask the politicians, farmers and market gardeners. And that's before we get to talk about European subsidies and farming compensation packages...

That however is not the whole story. Slowly, we are grasping the interconnections between the economic impacts and needs of farmers and growers, and how official policies affect the welfare of the wider rural and urban economies. Never again, hopefully, will problems like foot and mouth be addressed without understanding the fragile complexities of the rural economy as such; and hopefully too in future the wider public will perceive the business and scientific complexities of matters such as animal vaccination.

But let’s understand that not all food needs to be produced in rural areas. There’s plenty of scope also for townspeople to develop opportunities and skills via commercial companies and social enterprises around food, as is evident from the popularity of city-based organic foodstores, local vegetable deliveries and farmers’ markets... not to mention the universal interest in restaurants and cafes in modern day society!


Food, farms and famine (What about the developing world?)
If opportunities for stabilising the food economy remain to be developed efficiently, effectively and well in Western economies, how much more so is this true for those parts of the globe where even the grain supply is critically under-resourced, and where water and food are in desperately short supply. These were the sorts of concerns of the Downing Street Food Summit in early 2008.

Many people would like reassurance that the food they purchase is ethically sourced and gives a fair return to the farmers who produced it. And we need to understand much more about the food supply chain, as Professor Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy has been saying for years.

Movements such as Fairtrade are gaining wider recognition – plus a greater share of commercial shelf-space - and are critical to our understanding of food as a global issue.


Sustainability and ‘food security’ (Will there be enough food for everyone?)
There are those who fear we are sleepwalking into a global food disaster. We need to find ways of adjusting our eating habits (and other consumption) without delay.

Currently it’s said that humankind acts a though we had three planets-worth of resources at our disposal, not just one. And that's before we start to look at how population is increasing (in the UK as well as almost everywhere else).

It is also suggested that, in contrast to the current situation, the UK (and doubtless numbers of other nations) could with ease be self-sufficient for food if everyone were vegetarian - even though our lifestyle in the Western world is many times as water and carbon intensive as that of people in developing countries. Veganism, of course, is even more effective as a way of feeding everyone. Becoming 'selfsufficient-ish' (and largely vegetarian-ish?) can be achieved in most, except perhaps the most extreme, locations.

These last few observations offer a rather pointed context for all the other matters discussed above.


Read more about Food
and about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

What questions and views do you have about food?

08.3.25 Two clocks 129x133 017a.jpg U.K. clocks go forward on Sunday morning, 30 March '08, and the lighter evenings which British Summer Time brings will cheer up almost everyone. But there would also be many other anticipated benefits, from road safety to energy conservation and healthier lifestyles, were we to keep 'Daylight Saving' all year. A Downing Street petition has now been set up to urge a continuous BST trial period of three years, with research to establish the extent of these benefits.

'Daylight Saving' is an issue which won't go away. And now there's a Petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to not to let that precious extra hour of afternoon light go away in the Winter either.

Downing Street petition
The Downing Street petition aims to 'make better use of the limited daylight we receive'. It reads as follows:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to consider a change to the current system of British Summer Time / Greenwich Mean Time (BST/GMT). This could consist of a trial period (similar to that adopted 1968 to 1971) and could take the form of a move to year round BST, or a 1 hour shift to GMT+1/GMT+2. Research shows that such a move could reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce road deaths, facilitate business with Europe, potentially boost tourism, increase outdoor activity, promote healthier lifestyles and enhance the well being of UK citizens.

You can read more detail of the Petition, and / or sign it, here.

BST Facebook group
There is also a Facebook group, set up like the Downing Street petition by Dave Alexander, which seeks to 'raise support of and debate the possibilities and benefits regarding changes / trials of different time zone options for Britain.....This could reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce road deaths, facilitate business with Europe, potentially boost tourism, increase outdoor activity, promote healthier lifestyles and enhance the well being of UK citizens.'

An enduring idea
This is by no means a new proposal, as we have already established very firmly on this website, but the need to get some action becomes greater with each year. If further debate is needed, the BST: British Summer Time & 'Daylight Saving' section of this weblog remains a forum where everyone from the South coast to scattered Scottish isles is welcome to share their ideas.

Discussion is however no substitute for evidence-based action. Health, energy sustainability and accident prevention are too important to ignore.


This article was also published as a New Start external blog.

Read more: BST: British Summer Time & 'Daylight Saving' (The Clocks Go Back & Forward)

Ian Pearson (Minister for Science) & Tom McKillop (Science Council) 07.11.07 97x108.jpg The Science Council's first Sir Gareth Roberts Science Policy Lecture on 6th November 2007 was an excellent opportunity to learn the views of Ian Pearson MP, Minister of State for Science and Innovation. Much of the Minister's speech concerned science and society, and the enormous challenges that scientists and the wider community must now confront.

The inaugural Sir Gareth Roberts Lecture, delivered on the same day as the Queen's Speech to Parliament, was our first opportunity to hear in any detail how science policy will be developed under Ian Pearson, the new Minister for Science. The Minister, whose portfolio lies in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Science (DIUS), took three broad themes for his address:

* STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills - what expertise will be required from whom in taking science forward;
* Science and society - public understanding, engagement, enthusing young people about science; and
* How multi-disciplinary science can serve the UK and the world.

Unsurprisingly, these themes have many interconnections.

STEM skills
It's now widely accepted that there must be involvement in science from as wide a range of people as possible. This was spelt out in Sir Gareth Robert's 2003 review, SET for Success.

Sir Gareth's recommendations, all accepted and now again endorsed by the Government, included providing additional resources for schools, universities and research bodies, and the promotion of school-business links. The review led to an increase in the stipend paid to PhD students, and initiatives to encourage women and young people to consider a career in science.

To this the Minister now added a renewed emphasis on the global context and on the national initiative, STEMNET, which is currently on course to achieve its 18,000th Science and Engineering Ambassador, drawing one million children into the STEM agenda.

Science and society
The last twenty years having seen a revolution in e-technologies, Ian Pearson suggested, the next twenty will see vast changes in the bio-sciences. And in these transitions ethical and other social issues will come even more to the fore. This is why the work of Sir David King, Government Chief Scientist, on the Universal Ethical Code for Scientists is so important.

'Scientists may have discovered [the science],' said the Minister, 'but they cannot operate in a vacuum. They are part of the society in which they and the outcomes of their research operate. We need to engage at an early stage with our publics and we need to recognise that there will be valid concerns and genuine ethical dilemmas in certain areas of research.'

To date, he suggested, the record on public engagement is 'checkered'. Whilst nuclear energy and genetic modification, for instance, have 'not been handled well', engagement with the public in the UK on stem cell research and nanotechnology has been more positive.

In today's 'citizen-centric' world the value of public-science two way communication is, we were told, vital. This is why the Beacons for Public Engagement programme of university-based centres to help 'support, recognise, reward and build capacity for public engagement work' will be launched in January.

'Refreshing the Vision and Strategy' was Ian Pearson's theme. He referred to the ten year Science and Innovation Investment Framework to 2014 in the context of strong and effective external communication of science. Taking this forward, a mapping exercise has just been completed to identify the work being undertaken under the 'science and society' banner.

The Minister's aim, he told us, was to achieve 'A Society that is excited about science, values its importance to our economic and social well-being, feels confident in its use, and supports a representative, well-qualified scientific workforce.'

Facing challenges in the UK and globally
Ian Pearson's final theme concerned the growing importance of cross-disciplinary research. Researchers no longer work within 'silos' in their narrow fields, needing rather to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries. This kind of work is encouraged by initiatives such as the Medical Research Council's Discipline Hopping Grants.

Such an approach combines theory, computer modelling and experimental science and can be used to tackle issues as diverse as energy, living with environmental change, global security, ageing, nanoscience and the digital economy. It is about bringing together the insights of scientists natural and social across the spectrum of human experience.

In launching the debate, the Minister told us, he sought to open up the Government's policy making process to the wider scientific community. This is surely a call to engagement which many will warmly welcome.

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