On Tuesday 8th March, Clare and and I visited the Sustainable Stamford, Stamford Transition Town Bright Green Energy Show 2016. Events were held across the week, though we were only able to attend the Tuesday night film screenings, but it was well worth a visit. A number of films were shown, some depicting what other Transition Towns have achieved. There were community owned energy generation projects in Fintry, Lewes, and South East London. One had created an investment model for the public to get involved and support the project; another had partnered with an energy company to part own a bigger project. Projects included both solar and wind energy generation. Two films looked at helping people on an individual basis, by draught busting for those in need, and helping people become more sustainable with their energy needs in an isolated town. The longest film was about Germany’s plan to become a market leader in the renewables sector, and was very informative, detailing the science behind different types of renewables, and giving a wider context to what can sometimes be an overwhelming topic. Denmark is also working hard to become a market leader, and plans to be entirely renewable, combining various technologies to collectively support its needs for power, heat and transport. It was encouraging and inspiring, giving us ideas of what we could do both now and in the future.
There was an informative exhibition, detailing many ways to reduce energy consumption, from changing light bulbs to adding loft insulation, and explaining the different types of renewable energy generation, ending with tips on what people can do now for free. This exhibition was supported by various organisations, who had stalls showcasing their products, including a lighting company selling LED lights and an energy company selling heat pumps, many of which produced case studies of projects they have worked on. I will bring the exhibition booklet, with copies of the exhibition boards, to our next meeting.
We were also able to talk with members of the Stamford group, discussing their successful projects, but also the challenges they have faced. They have created subgroups around themes, the energy group having compiled the information for the Bright Green Energy Show 2016. They also have groups focusing on waste, food, transport, and education. They have learned from bitter experience that each subgroup needs to have a key enthusiastic member to maintain momentum, and they offered to support us by sharing ideas and learning.
At the last monthly meeting, on September 6th, it was agreed by those present that Peterborough in Transition was in crisis. Over the last year there has been a decline in the number of people attending meetings on a regular basis, and despite some recent successes (our May Day celebration, and the Carbon Conversations group) there has been a loss of energy and purpose, in large part due to the fact that many of those who have given the most time and energy to PinT over the last few years can no longer do so. In some cases this is because people are now concentrating their efforts on The Green Backyard; in others it is because they have increased work or family commitments. There are no longer enough people willing and able to facilitate our monthly meeting or take minutes for it, nor are we able to start new projects as most of those coming to meetings are already very busy. All these factors conspire together to make it difficult to attract new regular members to the group.
It was therefore agreed by those present that our monthly meetings would be suspended for the time being. Perhaps we need to take a break for a few months, until more of us are once again able to commit to coming to meetings on a regular basis and have more time to take the group forward. Perhaps we need to change the time and format of our meetings. However, there was a consensus at the meeting that PinT needs to gain a new vision, and come up with some project ideas that are both achievable and give some energy and purpose to the group if it is to be worth continuing Peterborough in Transition’s existence. It remains to be seen whether there are enough of us willing to commit to coming to our proposed “Visioning Day” for this to happen.
If you are interested in helping to ensure that Peterborough in Transition does have a future, or have ideas for our Visioning Day and you are willing to help ensure the day does take place, then please get in touch with us via our regular email address. Currently, the plan is to devise a survey that will enable us to see what what appetite there is for the group’s continued existence, and, if this does exist, to hold the Visioning Day some time early next year.
We kicked off by sharing our food plans. Lots of useful ideas here: avoiding aluminium cans; getting a single, reusable water bottle rather than buying new bottles all the time (much more economical as well as better for the environment); cutting down on cheese, milk and other dairy (whose carbon footprint can be enormous).
Then the heart of the evening’s conversation was about consumption: what we buy and why. We shared thoughts on things that meant a lot to us: sentimental, emotional and practical value seemed to come up again and again. We competed to see who had the most out-of-date phone. We also reflected on the connections between wealth and attitudes towards materialism (some people felt that somehow, perversely, it’s easier to be frugal when you’re better off). We also had a fascinating discussion over how far we see the money we earn as ‘ours’ – is it ours to do whatever we want with? Or should we see ourselves as ‘stewards’ of money, with a social responsibility to spend it wisely and in socially constructive ways?
Finally we touched upon the difficulties of communicating climate change to other people. We felt schools ought to offer much more coverage in their curriculum. But that’s just a starting point. This issue will be discussed more in session six….
The theme for session four was food, always a favourite topic in these meetings.
We began by sharing some personal stories about food and what it means to us. Interestingly, many of our fondest memories came from experiences eating simple, local food, from home-made pizza using ingredients in the garden, to eating kimchi in Korea. It was a reminder that food is about so much more than what we put in our mouths – it’s something that connects us with our local environment and the people around us.
This led nicely into our next activity where we reflected on the wider meaning of food. Our conversation showed how food is connected with so many other aspects of our lives, from family relationships (sometimes tense, sometimes harmonious) to the vicissitudes of our emotional lives, to how our kitchens are designed. It really is something that shapes, and is shaped by, so many aspects of our lives.
Then we did the main activity of the evening: a game where we had to figure out the carbon footprint of all sorts of different foods, according to the different stages in their life-cycle (production, processing, packaging and transportation). The task of thinking about all the complicated elements that go into food production was fascinating in itself and highlighted how energy-intensive our food system is.
So what did we take away from the evening? Well, the obvious choice to keep our carbon emissions down is to eat fresh and eat local. But also to be vigilent! As one person pointed out, it’s all well and good going to a locally-owned restaurant. But if you order New Zealand lamb with Peruvian asparagus that somewhat defeats the point! Although it might seem difficult, we need to think about making smart decisions about our food choices everywhere we go The good news however, is that with practice, it soon becomes second nature.
Meeting three: slightly depleted numbers, but no shortage of energy and ideas in the room…
We began with a quick whip round to talk about positive steps we had taken to address climate change that week. They ranged from making a pledge to grow enough tomatoes to serve all winter ketchup and chutney requirements, to the building of bike sheds, to clever strategies to save money while driving (keep the tank half full), to harnessing solar energy to make jam, to aquaponics (and hydroponics too!).
But the main theme of the evening was travel. We brainstormed strategies for reducing our travel-related carbon emissions. One of the simplest but potentially most useful ideas to emerge was reducing one’s driving speed to 60 mph – people were surprised to hear what a big difference it makes to fuel consumption.
We then played a game which simulated some of the dilemmas that a typical family might go through when trying to reduce their travel-related footprint. Several members of the group commented that it had been very helpful in getting them to appreciate the complicated practical and ethical dilemmas people face when trying to take action on these issues.
We finished off with a discussion about how we can all personally reduce our travel footprints. Some people commented on their commitment to not flying and how they had imagined it might be difficult in our age of high-speed, long-distance travel. But contrary to their expectations, it had actually been a liberating decision, not a constraining one, and choosing to travel locally had made them appreciate and enjoy their holidays more. It made me reflect on whether the idea that people go ‘stir-crazy’ after spending too much time in one place is a myth promoted by the media to encourage us to travel more (and further). There are simple alternatives to hopping on planes for European city breaks – we could all learn to rediscover the joy of walking, and use to it connect more with a our local environment (as writers like Alain de Botton, and psychogeographers such as Will Self and Iain Sinclair, have shown).
Next session will be on food – perhaps the most fascinating issue of all!