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Last week I spent one lunchtime inside a darkened corridor, armed with a solar torch to light my way. This wasn’t a potholing expedition or a powercut, but a visit to the Strand Gallery in Charing Cross, London, to see an exhibition of photographs hosted by the Ashden Awards.
Photographer Peter DiCampo spent months documenting life after dark in northern Ghana without a basic utility that in rich countries we take so much for granted: electricity.
In the villages he visited, nightlife is lit fitfully, by candle or kerosene or moonlight – a way of life known to 1.4 billion people worldwide.
At the Strand gallery, you are handed your own solar lamp with which to light your way through the darkened exhibition. By their nature, diCampo’s photographs are deeply, densely devoid of light, and at first glance some seem to be no more than black rectangles. But as you bring your lamp closer, and move it across the image, details of village life bloom out of the darkness and into your vision, portion by portion: children squinting over homework; the extraordinary nighttime market at Gbulung.
I admit I brought some reservations to the project with me – my nagging thought was that the lack of electricity should not necessarily be characterised as a sign in itself of a deprivation that always requires a solution. That humans have lived without it until the most recent blink of an eye, and will some day all do so again. That there is a valuable attunement with the earth in structuring individual and community life around the natural rising and setting of the sun – the kind of connection whose loss has helped to lead the rich world down such a destructive path.
On the other hand, I was reminded by the exhibition of the hardship that in many cases electricity might alleviate: teachers are reluctant to serve remote villages that lack light, for example. And caesarian sections are often performed by torchlight, raising the risk to mother and baby.
The Ashden Awards focus on supporting charities and businesses which seek to bring clean energy to the global South – not on a grand, industrial scale but on a human scale using technologies the community can itself own, control and fuel, and for me it is this notion of community ownership and social justice that makes its work so admirable. So this might mean, for example, small-scale biogas generators creating power from waste, or in this case solar lamps.
Upstairs at the gallery there is a display about the inspiring projects supported by Ashden, which is also well worth a look.
So we had an October heatwave, but let’s not kid ourselves, we all know what’s coming. So this month’s challenge, inspired by our own office ‘winter box’ of communal jumpers, is that we want you to show us all the clever, low-energy, no-energy and low-cost ways you can keep toasty during the chilly months.
Have you knitted yourself a beanie or some slipper socks? Stitched and stuffed a colourful draft-excluder? Done some crafty energy-saving DIY? Or maybe you know what you want to do but need some tips from the Otesha community? Whatever you choose, it’s a great opportunity to save money, cut carbon and learn a new skill (or get even better at an existing one).
We want to see your work and hear your tips and questions, so email us your photos, videos or words. Get cracking!
A normal conversation whilst visiting my parents house in Wales goes thus:
Me: “Where are you off to Dad?”
Dad: “Just up to see Nora, I’ll be back for lunch.”
Me: “Is she alright? This is the third time you’ve been this week!”
Dad (looking slightly perturbed): “I’m not sure, she’s not been moving much lately – I just want to go and check on her.”
Enter Mum, rolling her eyes: “Are you still going on about Nora????”
Now you may be wondering whether Nora may be an ailing neighbour, or even a mystery female. However, Nora, the woman so close to my dad’s heart, is in fact a wind turbine, formally known as the Nordtank 500, which stands proud and tall on the hill opposite my family home in the heart of Wales.
Nora is one of two turbines owned by Bro Ddyfi Community Renewables, one of the first locally owned energy cooperatives in the UK. The co-op is owned by mainly local shareholders – just normal local people – who want to put their money where their mouths are and create renewable energy for the local community, as well as getting a small return from selling the electricity to the grid. The project was also funded by Ecodyfi, a local NGO dedicated to sustainable development, the project from which is used to tackle energy poverty through providing grants to households for energy efficiency measures.
For many, wind turbines are an emblem of the environmental movement, symbolising the essence of sustainability: harvesting clean, renewable and often cheap energy from the natural environment. Many people, me and my dad included, see wind turbines as things of beauty, majestically gracing the hills and mountains of some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. And all over the country normal people are walking the talk, getting involved with community owned wind projects from Scotland to Oxfordshire in a bid to do their bit in the fight against climate change and other global environmental destruction associated with the oil industry.
However, not everyone shares these views and aspirations. As anyone who lives near a planned wind farm site knows, there is often substantial and vocal opposition to wind power. Driving through small villages in mid-Wales you can see fields littered with increasingly humorous placards proclaiming ‘No to wind’.
Paradoxically, opponents of wind also see themselves as stewards of the environment, although with a slightly different mandate to wind supporters. One MP from mid-Wales called proposals to create a new wind farm ‘environmental vandalism’, citing the usual (and often unsubstantiated) criticisms concerning noise pollution, bird deaths and damage to tourist-luring vistas.
So how is it that members of the same community, who are fighting for the same cause of environmental protection, end up in such embittered conflict over wind? It seems to me to depend on depth of environmental worldview.
People who see the environment as a global and long lasting entity tend to see wind turbines as a necessary tool in fighting climate change, and perhaps are willing to overlook small scale distruption to the local environment. Others, who see the environment as limited to what they see in their gardens, are passionately fighting to limit what they see as destruction of the natural landscape and biodiversity in their locality – resulting in what is commonly known as NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) syndrome.
It would be naive to say that people accused of NIMBYism do not understand the environmental issues at stake. However, it it boils down to how this information is processed, depending on how you look at the world. Some people will put their hard-earned savings into building a wind turbine of their very own, whilst a neighbour may spend long hours planning campaigns to shut it down.
Obviously one of these viewpoints is going to have to change or be overruled, which is why the issue of wind in many communities is such a touchy subject. Perhaps as climate change comes more to the forefront of people’s minds, and the cost of fossil fuels increase as peak oil looms, then attitudes will change. Perhaps the people who support wind should become as vocal as the often minority anti-wind protesters, to show local support to counteract the resentment.
Maybe it’s up to people like my dad and his friends to change people’s attitudes and show that wind turbines are the lesser of the evils in the quest for a secure energy supply. All I know, as I follow my dad’s gaze to watch a Nora happily spinning round on her hilltop throne (and I’m sure even the most NIMBYistic of my community would agree), is that I’m glad she’s not a hulking great power station.
All over the world people are taking to the streets. March, cycle or skate and join the call for the world to go beyond fossil fuels.
Hop on to www.moving-planet.org to find an event local to you or even register your own one. They’ve got a great website with loads of resources and support, from printable posters, stickers and t-shirt graphics, through to guides on how to organise an event and get a whole school involved.
During the day Moving Planet will be delivering a clear and strong set of demands:
– Science-based policies to get us back to 350ppm
– A rapid, just transition to zero carbon emissions
– A mobilization of funding for a fair transition to a 350ppm world
– Lifting the rights of people over the rights of polluters
More details on the demands here moving-planet.org/demands
Why hello there, Tartan Followers
We last left you as we made our journey towards the big bright lights of Edinburgh. Whatever happened we hear you ask??
We were welcomed immediately by Ali (an Otesha alumni) and her other wonderful housemates. We rejoiced in sharing their very cosy house with them and pitched our tents in a higgildy-piggildy fashion in their garden. By the end of our stay most of us had migrated inside with our sleeping bags because of everyone’s generosity. We also enjoyed the rare luxuries: a stove, oven and easy access to a well needed shower.
We had traveled to Edinburgh as the Fringe festival was dominating the city, and the highlight of our agenda was that we were going to have our debut performance on the Royal Mile. This prospect began to fill us all with excitement and fear and we got on with rehearsals, occasionally interrupted with thunderstorms and hail. Staying with Ali meant we were a short cycle ride away from the city centre so on the day of our first performance we donned our Otesha t-shirts and cycled into town, a tangible feeling of being a part of something bigger struck the group. The Royal Mile was bustling with performers all strutting their stuff and working hard to keep a crowd. We found our spot, did a classic Otesha energiser (the banana game!!) and started the day. Our energy was fantastic but given the setting we found we had passers-by strolling right through Gilly’s bedroom. We set to work on adapting the play to make it a bit more Fringe friendly.
We found help with this challenge from a surprise source – Ben- a friend of a housemate was keen to get involved and debuted his song ‘we’re all gonna die’. Some were dubious at first but the whole group became enthusiastic to the irony and we invited Ben to join our play and bring his musical talent.
Ben also brought the rain; the next day the rain poured down. But in true Tartan trail fashion we sang, acted and danced through it, having an amazing uplifting time.
We grabbed our free time where we found it and ventured out to see what else the Fringe had to offer. We found comedy, street performance and free events. Somehow we found time to also visit a city farm, a stark contrast to Whitmuir’s values and approach to farming. The city farm’s main purpose is to allow diverse groups to see animals in their environment.
We left Edinburgh with a fond farewell to our hosts, armed with an amazing herbal first aid kit from Ali, almost taking one of them with us for a jolly. We traveled over the Forth bridge and to new ventures. We spent our next night at the Ecology Centre and Earthship at Kinghorn Loch. Our home for the night was a yurt! A new experience for many of the group. The Ecology Centre was a project originally set up to engage young people with their environment, run by voluntary members of the local community. The earthship itself was the first of its kind in the UK, made from tyres to be super insulated, running on solar gain (no heating needed) and renewable energy.
After a night’s sleep in the yurt we embarked on some work exchange at The Ecology Centre to help out our hosts – weeding was their task of choice but weeding ragwort quickly turned into playing in a massively idyllic field by the sea with two very very cheeky ponies. Later that night the playing continued as we went to a BBQ of a friend of the centre. The vegan diet was not entirely maintained by all…
After the BBQ we cycled on a few short miles to Kircaldy, and took up residence in a vast church hall, we were all hyper at the thought of turning the rooms into bedrooms and again using the luxury of a kitchen. The mood was particularly high given the news that Arthur had got his A- LEVEL results and would now be going to the University of East Anglia (well done Arthur!!)…
Here we must leave our adventures but please read on in the next edition of the Tatarn Trail adventures! Love from Luciana Banana, Leah-Pop, Jenny Tree, Jenny A, Lucy Colbiz, Zoe, Kimberley (Eco), King Arthur, Colin-der, Dina the Dinosaur, Andres, and Catherine xxxxxxx
As I cycled along the Somerset coast this weekend, I was thinking about the wind. The wind and hills. It was a perfect road for cycling: an amazing gradient, hardly any traffic, moorland, ponies. But man, that crosswind! That wonderful gradient, pedaling hard but going so fast (how fast I don’t know, I forgot the speedometer..), but fast (but not quite as fast as the people on racing bikes with carbon-fibre bottle cages)… but that crosswind. Man.
Later on, going up a never-ending hill – one of those not-so-steep but really never-ending hills – accompanied by another crosswind I thought, as I’m sure others have before, about putting a sail on my bicycle. It could be quite fun, not knowing where the wind will take you, just don’t try it on a cliff-top. Or a busy road. Or any road?
I thought again: just get over it, cycle up the hills without complaining and use the wind a bit more usefully! Exmoor’s pretty spacious: other than beautiful moorland, it’s also got some fields and roads, pubs, cream tea places (yum), and, did I mention? Wind! Ten points for guessing what my more useful suggestion is.
In April this year wind power became Spain’s main source of electricity for the first time ever! It hurts to not bring my sailing bicycles plan to fruition, but just in case there’s not enough wind to go around, I won’t steal it – I’ll leave it on Exmoor and hope some clever people help us follow in Spain’s footsteps!
We’ve told you before, but we’ll tell you again.
Insulate with a friend. Insulate with a loved one. Insulate with a glass of wine. Then insulate some more.
We’re often told to reduce our electricity use. Sure. But space heating accounts for 60% of the energy we use in the house, with 20% on hot water and electricity only 20%. Reducing the heating demand for energy in the first place will do wonders. Pester you parents, landlords and friends on the housing ladder to insulate lofts, flat roofs, slanty roofs, floors, pipes, cavity walls, solid walls…
(If you’re interested in learning more you can read some or all of David McKay’s book Sustainability Without the Hot Air book for free online)
The Energy Saving Trust will be able to tell you about grants for insulation, draft proofing and other super-sexy energy saving measures that are available in your area so give them a call on 0800 512 052. They also have detailed guides on home improvements that you can download for free.
With loft insulation going at only £3 a roll, it’s more a matter of can you be bothered to pay a smaller heating bill than can you afford to insulate.
Involved in the 10:10 campaign we commit to reduce our carbon emissions by 10%. Check out the photos with our office changes!
Winterbox – Get ready for the winter season with cosy jumpers (instead of overheating)
Changing bulbs to energy efficient bulbs (big energy saving factor!)
Cycle to work together office plan – We try to get involved more people from the office in cycling. We organise meeting points for people from same areas or directions to have company on a way to work.
Growing our own food and flowers in our office garden.
More information about the 10:10 campaign: http://www.1010global.org/uk