Something remarkable is happening in the UK. Something is happening in a place near you. Quiet little places, that you might have once driven through and given little thought. But to those who live there a pioneering sprit has been unearthed. One by one villages and communities are gathering together to take action on climate change. Not for them the writing to MP's or signing of petitions. Not for them the waiting for government to take lead on how to address the impact of environmental issues on our daily lifestyles. No, they are taking matters into their own hands and promoting grassroots action by changing the way they live and work as people and communities.
What is so remarkable is that these are ordinary places taking practical steps and using practical persuasion. Villages and towns for from as far afield as Biggar in Scotland are committing to reducing their carbon emissions through tree planting, renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Other networks, such as Transition Towns in the West Country, and the Crags network of Carbon Rationing Action Groups has at least 20 group members, from Chiswick in west London to York, Leeds and Glasgow. All are actively tackling climate change from the bottom up and are embracing the need to help their communities to live a cleaner energy, lower carbon emission, future.
One such village is Ashton Hayes, a village in Cheshire of approximately 1000 people. It is their stated ambition to become England's first carbon neutral village. Since their formal launch in January 2006, much has been achieved.
They are a community determined to do its bit to put the brakes on global warming, and it is proving immensely popular. So much so, that since the launch of their initiative, they have received £26,000 funding from Defra to assist them to take actions that should enable the village to declare itself carbon neutral in a matter of years. In their first year, they cut their emissions by 20%. Now they are busy advising other villages not only in the UK but also in Australia, Norway and Denmark on how they can do the same.
To help in its aim of becoming carbon neutral, the village has invested in a ‘carbon sink’ - new and young trees that will absorb some of the CO2 produced by residents. Chester city council has pledged its support by offering every child under seven in the area an opportunity to plant a tree at school. Local businesses have given free expert advice ranging from suitability of plants to be used.
The project has generated tremendous community support with many people keen to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through personal energy saving and lifestyle considerations, some volunteering to provide practical help, others offering tracts of land for tree planting. Recycling rates in the village have risen, The Golden Lion pub (and hub of much activity revolving around the project) has reduced it's own carbon emissions considerably and saved £200 a month by hanging laundry outside, switching off the cigarette machine at closing time and turning down the thermostat. It now serves locally sourced produce to complement their immensely popular carbon neutral quiz nights.
Energy is supplied from 100% renewable energy suppliers, such as Good Energy, and six houses have so far invested in solar panels as has the local primary school. But some of the most ambitious plans are still to come, including a microgrid to transmit renewable energy to buildings on the north side of the village from local renewable sources, a wood burner is to be installed at the school, wind turbines or solar panels to be situated on the church.
There's much strength in numbers. What started with one or two individuals has created a rolling momentum, with other villages and communities taking up similar challenges. It starts at the bottom, showing the way and then shapes decision making at the top. In this way government ministers will be encouraged to take politically bold decisions - be it the banning of high energy light bulbs, taxing of unnecessary plastic packaging, supporting renewable energy projects and local initiatives, investing in more sustainable infrastructures and setting necessary emission targets.
As one local Ashton Hayes resident commented, “it's simple really, you just start with changing the lightbulbs and keep on going from there.”
This is what George Monbiot calls active citizenship. Let me know what is happening in your town.
For full article, see Concept for Living, September 2007