Monday, 29 June 2009

Local Seeds

Last Monday, 22nd June, I attended the first meeting of Transition Bedford (http://transitionbedford.wordpress.com/) and I have to say that it was inspiring. The “stars” of the meeting were the local community groups who are already taking action in some aspect of preparing or building local resilience. Speakers included representatives from Golden Gardens, a community gardening project; Zero Carbon Castle and others.

The transition concept of building local resilience in the face of the combined global effects of peak oil and climate change is vital. With our society so heavily dependent on “just in time” deliveries and imported food, energy and skills, it is essential that we begin the process now.

The grassroots aspect of the Transition movement is the secret of its success. We are accustomed to “top-down” solutions to our problems, and have become passive. But there may not be time for a coordinated government response, even if there was the political will for such a thing. We all have valuable skills and knowledge; these are wasted if we rely on salvation from above.

One central theme that ran through the meeting was food. Eating is a visceral connection to the planet, and growing your own or communal growing seems to be a gateway to a greater environmental consciousness. As only ethically sourced and homemade food was provided at the meeting, conversation and networking really hit the right spot.

All attendees agreed that we need to live more bioregionally, to look at our local ecosystem and live within its means as far as possible.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

All that Glitters

I have recently been reading the report Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities and the Environment by Earthworks and Oxfam America (available here http://www.nodirtygold.org/dirty_metals_report.cfm). It is shocking.

Take gold as an example. About 2/3 of the gold in use is new gold and 2/3 of new gold is mined from open pit mines. Over 80% of gold is used for jewellery, such as wedding rings.

Open pit mines are hugely ecologically destructive and generate vast amounts of rock waste. Cyanide is sprayed onto the piles of crushed ore, to trickle through the heap and bond with the gold. The gold-cyanide solution is then pumped to a mill for chemical separation and the cyanide is stored in an artificial pond for re-use. Each bout of leaching may take months, after which the heaps get a fresh load of ore. The piles of cyanide-contaminated waste ore are often abandoned and can continue to contaminate the surrounding area for years.

Another very visible problem is the failure of mine tailings dams. Tailings are a soupy to semi-solid suspension of pulverised rock in water, generally toxin loaded. On-site tailings disposal generally consists of bulldozing some of the dried tailings into a dam which can hold more liquid waste. These dams are constructed and enlarged over the life of the mine, so structural integrity can be a problem. When the tailings dam at Omai gold mine in Guyana failed in 1995, it released some 3 billion litres of cyanide laden waste into the Omai River, which is a tributary of Guyana’s largest river, the Essequibo. The whole 51 km drainage from the mine to the Atlantic Ocean (home to 23,000 people) was subsequently declared an official “Environmental Disaster Zone” by the president of Guyana.

After chemical separation, the extracted gold is transported to a highly energy intensive smelter for processing. There is potential here for a conflict of interests as governments have to choose between supplying energy to smelters or to homes. For example, China’s aluminium smelters use enough energy each week to supply 2 million of its citizens for a year (see Bloomberg on this issue here http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aCUU6NbjPfmM&refer=us).

The purified gold is sold and made into its final product. According to the report, a typical 18 carat wedding ring produces (at a conservative estimate!) about 20 tons of mine waste (without including “overburden” i.e. the earth which was blasted away to get at the ore)!

This is symptomatic of our lives. Our need for status-objects from stone axe-heads to cars, designer clothes, gold jewellery and wedding rings is having a huge impact on the planet that we live on. As we become more affluent and our model of “success” is spread around the world, the burden we are placing on the planet increases.

We must change our priorities and give serious thought to our “status-objects” if we are to survive.

Friday, 26 June 2009

This blog is moving

Hi All
Just a short post to say that I have been invited to join GreenPress an online host site for eco-bloggers and I am moving this blog over to there
Thank you all for your comments and feedback, I hope that you will all come and find me at
http://environmentchaos.greenpress.com/

PS I have decided to keep posting the same posts on here for a while to see.

Have Fun
Kester

Monday, 22 June 2009

Parental Responsibility

My eldest child is 10 years old and already keen to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Currently, I am trying to teach her what little I know about foraging for food and wild medicine. This is because I think she will need these skills later on in her life.

Sadly, I think that society "as we know it" will alter radically in the course of her lifetime – perhaps in as little as 10 or 20 years – as peak oil and climate change impact our food security, pharmaceutical industry, health service and all aspects of our modern lifestyle.

We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren. The decisions that we make now (and there is no escaping the decision, as doing nothing is itself a decision) will affect the world that they inhabit. The lifespan of carbon in the atmosphere, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification and loss of cropland, among others, will have a huge and lasting impact.

In each of our actions we must consider the world which we will be leaving to our children, and we must teach them the skills to survive and prosper in that world.

I am not talking about a survivalist "I alone will survive" type of mentality. I think that community-based co-operation and sharing of skills is the only realistic way. But we must take our heads out of the sand and face the stark reality of the situation we have created for our children. Only then can we adapt. Only if we consider our children's future will we be motivated to act as we must.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Small Candles

Rising from the present climate of frustration and despair (which I seem to express repeatedly on this blog), I see candle-flames of hope. Lights which are growing and which may lead to the changes we need.

The Transition movement (http://www.transitiontowns.org/) seems to me to be one such light. The community-based, decentralised nature of the movement with its focus on identifying local solutions and resources to meet local needs is a positive step towards the change of paradigm which we need. The very concept of "Transition" in its transformational nature expresses this.

For many years, writers and activists from the Deep and Social Ecology movements have been highly critical of "shallow" "reformatory" conservation. Writers like Arne Naess and Murray Bookchin argued convincingly that ethical and social transformation is a necessary first step towards dealing with the oncoming crisis and that without this we will be doomed to slow, despairing failure. The growth in environmental consciousness and grass-roots movements offer hope that such a transformation is possible.

I live in Bedford in the UK, which features in the excellent film Age of Stupid (http://www.ageofstupid.net/) – not in good way. But even Bedford has taken its first steps with the formation of a Transition Bedford group (http://transitionbedford.wordpress.com/) and people from this group attended the national Transition Town Conference recently. The fact that the Transition Town movement is now big enough to hold a national conference, and that even people from a green "desert" like Bedford attended it, is definitely a good sign. This is not to minimise the huge challenges we face, but it is encouraging that so many people believe they can make a difference and are making concrete plans to address climate change at the community level.

It is essential in this process that we communicate! Others have different skills, viewpoints and knowledge. There is no point in re-inventing the wheel, and discussion of differing views is essential to avoid parochialism and isolation. When we are planning for the eventual transformation of our society, then the "hows" "whys" and "what ifs" must be thoroughly discussed.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Green Dictator

Recently I have noticed, both in conversation and in print, a marked increase in people calling for a dictatorship to solve the current environmental crises. This is a natural human response to fear for one’s family’s security, but I am very concerned by it. What people calling for a dictatorship actually want is for everybody to be forced to address the climate crisis, but a dictator might well do far more than that, and we would not necessarily approve of all his/her policies. Considering the history of twentieth century dictatorships and the recent rise in popularity of right-wing political parties in Europe and the UK, I fear the consequences of accepting a dictator.

As we grapple with ecological, political, financial and ethical crises; as we face the uncertain future, debate must not be circumscribed. All alternatives should be examined, from anarchism and non-statism to monarchism, nationalism and fascism; from voluntary simplicity to war for resources; from communal living to population limitation. However unpleasant some of these alternatives are, without honest and open discussion we risk sliding uncritically back into the old patterns and systems which have led us to this point.

What is needed is not just reform, but a radical change of paradigm.