Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Community Powerdown session 2

Wow. I have just come from the second session of a once a week evening course I've just started, entitled Community Powerdown, which is focussed on finding solutions and building community to face the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. I'm feeling so inspired and fired up having just cycled back from the course (it's even got me cycling again, which I love, but haven't been doing enough lately for various, fairly good, reasons) that I decided to write a blog post about what I've learnt this week, and if I have time, last week too. I'm going to try and keep the post short however as I also need to sleep and take care of my health. So I decided to log into Blogger to post, and what is it featuring in 'the latest from blogger buzz' a kind of news page that presumably everyone working on their blogs now or today has seen, but 'environmental blog roundup', in honour of blog action day it has decided to focus on Blogger blogs focused on the environment, climate change, and sustainability! Talk about a good yes from the virtual universe. Unsurprisingly my own blog is not featured seeing as it contains about 7 posts in total over 2 years, with a very loose theme of sustainability. But definitely inspiring me to write more.

So the course is run by Cultivate sustainable living centre, which I've written about before. I was a member of this cooperative a long time ago, and it has since gone from strength to strength and does lots of education as well as having an eco-shop, an information centre, a garden and much more. This course is running for 10 weeks one evening a week. There are about 25 people on the course, the entry level is supposed to be simply an interest and initial knowledge about climate change and peak oil, and there is a diversity of opinions and expertise in the class, which is quite big, about 25. So I'm learning a lot. And hopefully contributing too although as usual I feel like I'm talking way too much.

So this week was about Community and the Local Economy. Our homework from last week was to calculate our carbon footprint. I did this using an electronic calculator set up on the course dvd which we were all given to take home, which contains all the course readings as well as video clips and podcasts and links to further reading. So the carbon footprint calculator gives you a very rough idea of your CO2 emissions per year, based mainly on the food you eat, the transport you use, flights you take, how your home is heated and insulated and a few other items. The average in Ireland is 17 tonnes per person per year, 22 tonnes in the US, and 11 in the UK. Which is interesting as was pointed out last week it's not like the UK has 'half' the quality of life of the US, it would in fact appear very similar, but uses half the carbon. The global fair share, ie per person if it was split up equally is only 2.5 tonnes.

So my own footprint, shockingly, was a whopping 22.3 tonnes. Almost all of which was on flights. In fact, if I took out my flights, my footprint was only 3.82 tonnes. But, I do fly. All the time. And frankly I'd fly more if I could. So the first part of the class was pairing up with a random partner in the class, talking about our footprints and how we felt about it. My classmate's was only 8 tonnes, which I thought was very impressive. He felt he'd fudged a little by not counting the lifts he takes in his wife's car, or the flight to Australia he's booked but not taken. But very impressive. As for me, I use hardly any carbon, outside of flying. If it was just that amount sans flights, the class instructor said it was the lowest he'd heard of. But I have lots and lots of flights. It was very interesting doing this, which I've done before, but this made me really see the impact of flights, and it helped you to see which areas were the main energy intensive areas of your lifestyle. Two friends were over during the weekend and both did theirs too, we all had different things that were driving our totals up - though theirs were only about 8 and 13 tonnes respectively. For the first, his main issue was long distance rail journeys and perhaps heating his house, for the second friend it was her car and regular long distance car journeys. I then tried redoing the calculation using what seemed like the least carbon intensive options - eg electricity from renewable sources, 1-2 room flat with 8 people living in it, no car, vegan, no flights, no fridge, all locally grown food, and the total still came out around 2 tonnes, showing that it requires a lot of energy just to live at all in a typical industrialized 'western' economy.

Next we talked about the article that was the second piece of homework, 'Reinventing Community and Building Resilient Local Economies' by David Fleming. It had 7 features of such a local economy, with a major emphasis on the idea that we will have to 're-localize' to survive in the post-oil world. This prompted the question whether we want to live in such societies, and whether it'll happen in our lifetime. To the former - I don't think so, although some elements are attractive. To the second - quite possibly. I intend still to be around in at least 2050, and I'd say things might look quite different then.

I better head to bed shortly, but other issues that came up that would be interesting to learn more about were:
David Fleming's ideas of Tradeable Energy Quotas versus Richard Douthwaite's ideas of Cap and Quota (I think) - these are opposing views that have had some debates.
Robert Putnam's ideas of social capital, made up of social networks and norms of reciprocity. Apparently his book Bowling Alone is our glorious leader Bertie Ahern's favourite book and he has had him over to speak a number of times.
Things to check out: Taskforce on Active Citizenship. Combat Poverty Agency research on social capital.
Does social capital relate to natural capital, or decline as natural capital declines?
Has decline in social capital been related to the rise of television?
What about social networking on-line? The rise of those services and is it a useful form of building social capital. You might not talk to your neighbours, but you have friends all around the world. Won't help much in a geographically local future, but could help the transition.
The affluent don't travel on public transport, may not engage with the problems. As I've said in the past, if you want to make say the Minister of Education listen to you, don't strike in schools against students, who are anyway powerless, strike at the Ministry of Education and don't let the Minister out the door. Likewise stop the Minister of Transport from getting into his chauffeur driven car for a couple of days and she or he might actually do something about public transport.
How much of energy actually gets used - could be as low as 22 units out of 100 after it's been produced at the powerplant, transported to homes and then wired around the home.
The New Economics Foundation idea of the leaky bucket of inputs flowing out of the local economy.
Imports of milk, lamb, pork, poultry into various European countries versus their exports of those same products.
Essential needs seem to come down mainly (during a small group discussion) to food, water, shelter, clothing, love/interaction/social engagement, energy.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs was specifically referred to - self-actualisation.
The Dupont and Hearst and nylon vs hemp battles.
How little I know about where the ingredients of the construction industry in Ireland come from.
Lots of other ideas and thoughts but can't write them down now. Perhaps I will find some time to link to some of these eventually. But inspiring stuff.

Meanwhile I got to use video skype to chat with The Amazing Boyfriend in Poland, while one relative just got back from New York and I got a postcard from another friend who's visiting NY for a week, more relatives just got back from China and another is in Sicily. And I'll be missing next week's class because I'll be weekending in Paris. Plenty of love miles as George Monbiot apparently refers to them. I'm going to need some bigger carbon boots for my giant carbon footprint - that's going to have to change.



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