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Archive for the ‘Rural communities’ Category

World Made By Hand

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Harmony Community, Putnam Co., GA, May 28-June 1, 1941

This letter was published today at

I recently finished trenching and running a few hundred feet of irrigation pipe on land that has been in my wife’s family for a few generations. We are the proud recipients of this small farm in the Southeast US. My Mother-In-Law was helping, and getting various tools and such out of the 100 year old barn (still standing and strong). We found an old hoe that was worn so that over half of the tine was missing. She said that her father and grandfather had used this hoe to manually weed and till every bit of the 50 acres! This was a farm that didn’t have indoor plumbing until the early 1970s.

Here I was, exhausted from digging a trench (with a machine of course), and laying pipe (plastic with glue), and had been working “very hard” for a few hours. Slowly realizing, listening to my mother-in-law that her family worked this land without the aid of gas powered equipment until her father died in the late 1980s. For over 125 years this farm had produced an income and raised families. I was tired after working, but now had an understanding that in no way can I count myself in the same league as the men that had worked sun up to sun down by hand, these were true men. I whine when the lawn mower won’t easily start, or when the padded handle on the shovel gets too hard for comfort!

In the interest of preparedness, each of us should examine ourselves to see if we have it in us both physically and mentally to work at providing for our loved ones. After this experience, I am doing more to get myself physically in shape for what may come. No matter, I will be happier, healthier, and more humble than before! God Bless, – RJ in the Southeast US

This letter serves to remind us how much we’ve lost, how much we’ve forgotten, and how much we take for granted in our modern world.

For an imaginative view of life in a possible future world without abundant, cheap energy, I thoroughly recommend James Howard Kunstler’s novel ‘World Made By Hand’.


Written by Pete Smith

May 19, 2008 at 10:14 am

Village Green

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Archers mucking out

The environmental propaganda machine continues to rumble forward on ‘The Archers’, BBC Radio 4’s venerable soap opera and green information channel. Tuesday’s episode featured an earnest discussion of anaerobic digesters on farms, turning animal muck into methane and generating electricity for sale back to the grid. According to jet-setting career agriculturist Debbie Aldridge, calling home from Eastern Europe where she runs her father’s offshore organic farming operation apparently single-handedly, the Germans are streets ahead of the UK with this technology. She wants a piece of the action at Home Farm.

It’s taken a while for art to imitate life. Last year the BBC reported how an agricultural college was using methane from the muck produced by its dairy herd to power its working farm all year round (‘College harnesses cow pat power‘ ), saying “the technology is used at more than 1,000 farms in Germany but only at a handful in the UK”.

Why are we so far behind here? The natural conservatism (small ‘c’) of UK farmers? Problems financing the project? General uncertainties in the farming industry? The idea seems to tick all the right boxes: cheap electricity, lower emissions, reduced water pollution. For me, the only fly in the ointment is the need for artifical fertilisers to replace the muck that used to be spread on the fields.

The reason they’re ahead in Germany is, you guessed it, money. In 2004, Renewable Energy World reported:

In Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, the incentive system for anaerobic digestion consists of both a subsidy for the green electricity generated, and of either investment subsidies or fiscal incentives. Of all the countries reviewed, Germany has the best investment climate for anaerobic digestion at this level, the main reason being its high feed-in tariff for the electricity generated – 10.1 Eurocents/kWh. Moreover, this rate is guaranteed for a period of 20 years.

Sounds tempting. I bet Brian Aldridge would jump at that deal, if it were available in the UK.


An Everyday Story Of Climate Change

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More evidence, if any were needed, that climate change has irrevocably invaded the consciousness of Middle England. The BBC Radio 4 soap opera ‘The Archers’ featured a touching scene in which a young member of the Archer clan, disturbed by a school lesson on the impact of climate change, quizzed her parents on what they were doing to fix the problem.

For the uninitiated, ‘The Archers’, “an everyday story of country folk”, was first broadcast in 1951 and is the world’s longest running radio soap with over 15,000 episodes under its belt. Set in the mythical English village of Ambridge, somewhere between the Midlands and the West Country, populated by characters who are mostly named Archer but without the slightest whiff of inbreeding, the program was originally conceived as a government propaganda and information tool in the dark days of post-war shortages. It has evolved into a more conventional soap, but still finds time to offer thinly-veiled advice on rural issues.

Last Friday’s episode had the concerned Archerette bemoaning her grandparents’ imminent climate-busting flight to New Zealand, and demanding to know what her parents were doing to reduce emissions on their farm. Cue a stream of worthy initiatives: hedge planting, better pasture management, reduced fertiliser inputs. All good stuff, it’s just a shame that only a minority of the show’s listeners live in the country, and even fewer have anything to with agriculture.

Episode synopsis and podcast

Written by Pete Smith

November 24, 2007 at 11:52 am

‘Planet In Peril’: Review of Part 1

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Presenters Billy Bragg and Mark Viduka show their emotional involvement in the issues

Well I’ve ploughed through the first part of CNN’s much-vaunted eco-documentary ‘Planet In Peril’, and I wasn’t that impressed. A series of episodes filmed around the world, loosely linked by a cobbled-together ‘theme’ of interlinked ecosystems under threat from human exploitation, it kicked off with a slot about illegal wildlife trading in Thailand. After 15 minutes of shaky footage of sad caged creatures and police raids, we were off to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot with only 10% of its natural environment remaining. We followed a Conservation International RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) team as they surveyed the forest for rare species. Inevitably, a tiny lizard was found which might or might not be a completely new species. After a brief aside on the economic pressures driving the locals to over-exploit their environment, we were off again, this time to the US.

Yellowstone Park is a “pristine ecosystem”, and we reviewed the progress of the re-introduction of the grey wolf in 1995. A natural predator for elk and bison, the wolf has brought about a ‘trophic cascade’ benefiting all levels of the ecosystem. After establishing the vital role of the high-level carnivore in maintaining ecosystems, we went to Cambodia where a small team of park rangers funded by the Wildlife Alliance are struggling to keep tiger poachers at bay. Collateral damage from indiscriminate laying of snares has reduced the population of wild elephants in Cambodia to 2-3000. The Asian elephant is a “keystone species”.

Tigers are hunted for their supposedly therapeutic body parts, so our next visit was to China, the world’s number one destination for illegal wildlife. Apparently, “the Chinese will eat anything”. Despite swift punishment and hefty fines for selling endangered species, the trade continues to grow. Traditional Chinese medicine is driving species to extinction, leading on to a discussion of general resource exploitation, shortages, pollution and health problems. Cancer is the leading cause of death in China. Finally, back to the USA for a slot on “body burden” testing, highlighting the accumulation of pollutants and toxins in the human body and their effects on health.

All a bit of a muddle really, but how refreshing to see a 90 minute (excluding adverts) documentary about the environment that didn’t mention global warming once. That is still to come in Part 2. Sadly, I can’t find any trace of that having been uploaded to P2P. Perhaps the guy who uploaded Part 1 lost the will to live after watching it.

Positive Thinking

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My colleague Matt has recently spoken out against the doom ‘n’ gloom merchants: “Try smiling. Think positive. Get positive. Make changes. Get involved.” Five years, that’s all we’ve got …

It’s true that for every disaster that might befall us, there’s a group taking an almost pornographic delight in talking about it as if it’s inevitable. Current favourites are climate change, terrorism, a ‘flu pandemic, Peak Oil and global financial meltdown. What steps you take depends on who you are and where you live. In the USA, you buy a remote stronghold and stock up on beans, bullets and band-aids. In the UK, you queue outside your bank and treat yourself to a beige cardigan from M&S.

Well, here’s a bunch of people who are really putting their money where their mouth is. The Lammas community is creating an ecovillage in Pembrokeshire which will become a demonstration model for low impact living.

“We aim to combine the best of the old with the best of the new. Our project is based on the traditional welsh smallholding model. To this we will also bring the latest developments in environmental design, green technology and permaculture. We are currently applying for planning permission for stage 1 of the project. We are optimistic that we will succeed.
“The proposal is for a new settlement of eco-smallholdings. It will be sited on 175 acres of mixed pasture and woodland next to the village of Glandwr. The Ecovillage will be completely independent of all mains services. All water will be sourced from the site using a combination of an existing spring for drinking water and rainwater harvesting from rooftops. All electricity will be produced on site using renewables. Fortunately there is an existing water turbine system on site which Lammas plans to renovate. All organic waste will be composted on site using a combination of compost toilets, wormeries and compost heaps.
“In accordance with Pembrokeshire Planning Policy for Low Impact Development residents will need to demonstrate that they are substantially meeting their household needs directly from the land. In practice this means that the people involved will need to be working the land to good effect. Lammas residents are proposing a range of livelihoods from the land including woodland crafts, horticulture, tree nurseries, livestock and woollen crafts.”

This group deserves all the praise and support they can get, as does the Pembrokeshire local authority, currently the only county in the UK with a low-impact policy (if you don’t count Milton Keynes!). Will their ideas and ideals enter the mainstream? I wish.

Lammas Home Page

A Low Impact Woodland Home

Dates For Your Diary

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September 14-16: Clean Up the World Weekend 2007

Clean Up the World Weekend is an annual campaign supported by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The campaign encourages individuals and communities to clean up, repair and conserve the environment. Organizers estimate 35 million people from more than 120 countries will take part, in activities ranging from tree planting to educational talks.

September 26-28: Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, New York

The Clinton Global Initiative is former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s initiative to tackle poverty, climate change, religious conflict and governance. The themes of the 2007 Annual Meeting will be education, climate change, global health and poverty alleviation.

October 25: UNEP Global Environment Outlook

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) will release its annual flagship report, the Global Environment Outlook (GEO), on the state of the world’s environment.

November 5: Solar Plane Prototype unveiled, Zurich, Switzerland

The Zurich-based Solar Impulse project will unveil part of its prototype solar-powered plane to the press. The project aims to circumnavigate the world in 2010/11 using a solar powered aircraft.

November 16: IPCC Final Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its final 2007 report, examining the scale, impact and action plan for global warming.

Devon Permaculture Settlement Wins Planning Appeal

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The Landmatters Co-op, an eco-settlement in South Devon, has won its appeal against an enforcement notice served by the local district council after retrospective planning permission had been refused.

Members of the co-op moved to the 42 acre site near Allaleigh, ten miles from Totnes, two years ago. The community of ten adults and three children lives in yurts, benders and other timber-framed buildings. They grow their own food, compost and recycle all their own waste, use water from a borehole and generate power from solar panels and a wind turbine.

The alleged breach of planning control was “a material change of use of the land without planning permission from agriculture to a permaculture holding comprising a mixed use integrating agriculture, forestry, education and ancillary rural enterprises and residential use”. The requirements of the notice were:

  • Cease the use of the land for residential purposes
  • Cease the use of the land for the parking overnight of motor vehicles
  • Remove from the land all unauthorised residential structures and structures erected for a use ancillary to a residential use.

At the appeal, the planning inspector endorsed the permaculture aspect of the settlement, noting that the group’s ecological footprint is far smaller than the regional average*. The permission granted is subject to a low-impact assessment. The inspector concluded that “the advantage of permaculture and sustainable ways of living facilitated by this project has sufficient potential value to outweigh the limited harm to other interests”.

If you read the full findings, it’s obvious that this was a very pragmatic decision. If the appeal was denied and the residential component of the settlement was removed, other (legal) activities already associated with the site would continue, resulting in many of the ‘harmful’ effects cited by the council in justifying its enforcement notice.

This is a victory for Landmatters, but don’t expect to be able to bypass planning laws at will just by sticking a ‘permaculture’ sign on the gate. This was a special case, which succeeded only with the help of an unusual dose of common sense from the appeal inspector.

* The Landmatters ecological footprint is approximately 46% of that of a typical UK citizen. Their average carbon footprint is 3.6 tonnes compared to the UK average of 10.92 tonnes. This far exceeds the Stern Report’s recommended target of a 30% CO2 emissions cut by 2020. Landmatters have already achieved the 60% target cut in emissions recommended by the Report for 2050.