13 Nov 2007
“How Green is my Valley”… the take-off of Transition Initiatives in Wales.
What follows is an article from the Western Mail newspaper by Christina Zaba which looks at how the Transition concept is spreading across Wales. It shows how much was initiated by the talk in Lampeter a few months ago, and how since then the idea has begun to spread all over the country. This Saturday sees the first coming together of Transition Initiatives from across Wales to explore the need for a **Transition Wales Network**. The event is a 11am, Saturday 17th November at the Royal Welsh Showgrounds, Builth Wells. If you are interested in going, contact martin(at)mfitton.wanadoo.co.uk. More detail on this event can be found below Christina’s article.
**How Green is my Valley** Western Mail, November 10th 2007.
**When it comes to putting good eco principles into practice, Wales is ahead of the game, finds Christina Zaba**
LAST month Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed a citizens’ jury to help choose the design for 10 new eco-towns to be built across England – but Wales is way ahead of the game.
We have already started putting the eco-town agenda into practice across the country, with schemes that prove there’s more to sustainability than solar panels. From Wales’ own zero-carbon eco-city in St Davids in Pembrokeshire to the new grassroots Transition Town movement – spreading fast since an inaugural meeting in Lampeter in April – communities throughout the nation are fast putting politicians’ rhetoric into practice.
Andy Middleton, arch-surfer, West Wales businessman and sustainability pioneer, saw the writing on the wall when he founded St Davids eco-city six years ago as a way of testing out green principles in practice.
The father of four and owner of TYF Adventure, an adventure sports, management training and hotel business, is a key employer in the community, with a staff of 30 or so and a £1.5m annual turnover.
But he admits that when the eco-town idea was first mooted, he had no idea of the magnitude of what he was taking on.
“We had the idea of making St Davids a zero-carbon city to raise the level of awareness of green issues and engage the community from the bottom up,” he says.
“But even with really good support from the National Parks and the local council, it was still excruciatingly difficult to get things done at first.”
St Davids, with some 2,000 residents, is the smallest city in the UK. But it gets 500,000 visitors a year, potentially creating a hefty carbon footprint. Persuading people of the need to cut gas-guzzling car journeys, wasteful heating systems and food miles was a challenge.
These days, the St Davids group is going from strength to strength: for example, there’s a biofuel scheme using recycled vegetable oil, solar panels and rainwater harvesting for public lavatories and an organic shopping bag scheme. Ysgol Bro Dewi, the local primary school, has installed its own solar power station.
“On a sunny day we get all our energy from sunshine,” says headteacher Ray Griffiths.
“We have a small solar-powered fountain so the children can see the connection between energy and sunlight, a digital weather station that we can upload straight onto the web and a school composting bin.”
The current chair of the St Davids eco-city group, TYF project manager Martin Powdrill, points to its recent plastics recycling scheme as an example of how sustainability ideas are now taking hold in the town.
“We organised the scheme through volunteers, and it was so popular we had to put it on hold while we recruited new helpers,” he says.
“The next step is to get some new allotments for St Davids. We’re in talks about that now.”
So when the Transition Town Network came to Wales last April, St Davids was ready.
“That first meeting in Lampeter last April was seminal,” says Powdrill. “Wales is at the tipping point now and the Transition movement gives us a framework.”
The Transition movement recognises several key points.
First, every community now faces an imminent crisis in two areas – climate change and “peak oil”. There simply will not be cheap, freely-available oil for very much longer. Second, communities can assess their resilience and prepare for the transition to a post peak-oil economy and climate change. And third, to be effective, the organisation should work from the grass roots up.
None of this is about sustainable buildings alone. It’s about sustainable thinking, in groups and communities.
And Wales is ready to grasp it.
Ben Brangwyn, co-founder of the Transition Network, says, “Peak oil means we’re very dependent on this cheap resource, and we’re also very close to the point where the amount of oil being pumped into the economy is going to peak, plateau and then decline. We need to face up to that now.”
Many experts believe the crisis is already starting. Three weeks ago, the international Association for the Study of Peak Oil noted that the price of oil has risen eight times in less than 10 years. Industry leaders are predicting that production will peak in less than 20 years. Before that, the oil price could hit $150 per barrel – almost twice its current price.
But the Transition movement says all communities can do something to help themselves – a message that’s now being heard from parish pumps to the corridors of power.
A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said, “Twenty-seven towns in Wales are in contact with the Transition Town Network with a view to becoming officially recognised Transition Towns.
“Community initiatives such as these are of crucial importance in tackling climate change.
“The Assembly Government will shortly be holding two Climate Change Community Events (December 1 in the Glamorgan Business Centre, Pontypridd, and an event in North Wales in February), which will provide an opportunity for active communities to share best practice about what steps they can take to tackle climate change.”
Patrick Holden, director of organic food and certification organisation the Soil Association,is evangelical about the way Wales is preparing for climate change and peak oil.
“I think things are going to get difficult very soon,” he says. “The first requirement of any civilised society is to have a reliable and sustainable source of food. We need to stop depending on oil to get our food to us.
“We’ve lost our local food infrastructure and that’s dangerous. That’s why the Soil Association wants to support the food and farming element of the Transition Movement in Wales.”
Peter Davies, Sustainable Development Commissioner for Wales, says, “Wales is five years ahead of England in seeing what’s needed.
“All new buildings here will have to be zero-carbon by 2011, which basically means the home will be using renewable energy and we’ll be building that into the design.
“If you have an eco-city, that begins to draw business into the community.”
In Penarth, Sandra Booth, active travel co-ordinator for sustainable travel organisation Sustrans, is just looking forward to getting on with it.
“I’m thinking about the potential for my town to become a Transition Town community,” she says. “It’s the ideal place. We’ve got a lot of skilled people who have retired, and it’s the right size to do it – not too big and with a lot of independent businesses.”
Meanwhile, Andy Middleton is taking action. He’s issuing a challenge to the first 100 businesses in Wales to come forward and sign up 10 of their key decision-makers for a day’s free training on beginning to make their own enterprise sustainable.
“We need to start behaving as though the crisis ahead is both important and urgent.
“If you can get business to make the environment part of what they do, everything else follows.”
**Transition Towns Meeting: Builth Wells, November 17th**
With every day that passes it becomes clearer that the impact of global warming will be greater and come sooner than expected.
It is urgent that both governments and public respond to this crisis. Climate change is co-inciding with oil depletion which will require new energy sources. In Wales the public, NGO’s and community organisations are already responding. Equally important are the local sustainable projects that are taking place and in various communities these are coalescing under the banner of Transition Towns.
**The Transition’s Underway!**
In Wales the Transition Towns movement started on April 3rd in West Wales when 450 residents from communities across the region committed themselves to working together to reduce the carbon footprint of their towns under the Transition Towns banner. The Transition Towns initiative encourages communities to work together to reduce demand by more efficient use of energy and creating less energy demanding local economies.
What started out as a meeting in West Wales, has turned into a much wider movement than anyone could have predicted – and more quickly.
There are now the beginnings of Transition Towns in Lampeter, Llandeilo, Llanidloes, Aberystwyth, Fishguard, Cardiff, Newport, Haverfordwest, and many more groups are individuals in another 10 Welsh towns and cities considering how to start. Interest has spread to north Wales as much as the south.
To build on this rapid response a meeting or representatives of existing Transition Towns and other community initiatives has been arranged at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells on Saturday November 17th. The meeting will have a two-fold purpose:
(1) to discuss the Wales network proposal; and
(2) to share experiences and good practice as the Transition Towns get established.
Each Transition Town group and potential group is invited to send a maximum of 2 representatives. In addition, all other community based initiatives promoting sustainable projects will be invited. These representatives would decide on a plan of action, priorities and a steering committee .
If you want to attend this meeting please email martin(at)mfitton.wanadoo.co.uk
17 Nov 9:38pm
I went along to this meeting today expecting something similar to the inspirational Transition Network day in Stroud last May.
What I found was something entirely different which I now see from reading the above more carefully I should have perhaps expected.
I did not feel that the event I attended today reflected my understanding of the Transition ethos. The way that the event was led, rather than facilitated, being particularly telling and which left me feeling that the organisers really hadn’t “got” the transition thing.
It seems that the transition “brand” has been understood by certain parties as a movement, rather than a process that communities go through in order for them to prepare themselves for peak oil respond to the problem of climate change. Instead it seems that some of the attendees, and especially the organisers, see it as a movement that is going to join together all the people concerned about climate change.
While I would not disagree that such a mass movement is needed, as a steering group member of a Transition initiative I did not feel that the agenda as proposed had anything to do with supporting local initiatives and in fact was entirely aimed at asking us, as the grass roots, to give the organisers of the meeting our mandate to be the spokespeople for the entire transition “movement” in Wales – being the interface with the Welsh Assembly Government, the National Press and funding bodies.
There was no clear mandate from the transition groups that any of these things were wanted or needed. Rather there were requests for networking facilities and a bilingual webspace for Welsh specific items. The organisers of the meeting seemed to be content for volunteers from the initiatives to provide these functions.
How do other people who were there feel about how things were and the outcome of the meeting?
More comments please.
18 Nov 10:46pm
I agree with the core of what you say, it was not an inspiring meeting in the spirit of the transition movement (nothing wrong with being a movment)
The audience had lots to teach the panel and each other, this was not a meeting for this to happen.
But now we are connected thru emails we can decide what networking and collaborative efforts we want to do, eg website, talking to the Assembly in our own way, not facing a panel who will do it for us.
Get in touch if you want to be on an open email group with other transitioners in Wales.
19 Nov 8:58pm
Having had a quick look at some Transition Town proposals for my local area, most of which looked very exciting. I would like to ask this question of anyone involved in the transition movement/process: How, if at all, does economic growth and environmental sustainability go hand in hand? I am myself sceptical, seeing the two things as directly opposed to each other. I would however like to open this up for debate
20 Nov 12:16pm
I went to the meeting knowing little and came away without knowing much more:-/
I didn’t learn anything about what those who have organized into groups are doing other than talking, despite the ‘best practice’ session. Although most people know what ‘climate change’ refers to I think that ‘peak oil’ would produce a majority of blank faces and would like to know the most successful ways to change that (if I’m right?)
On the question of economic growth & environmental sustainability I only see a problem if the traditional measures of economic growth are used – GDP etc. Measures of wealth and poverty, productivity and consumption, and so on, will need to be measured quite differently for geographically small but largely self-sustaining socio-economic communities.
Oh dear, now I’m just talking… 😉
21 Nov 3:55pm
The question could be: “Do we need endless economic growth?” Once basic needs are provided for and a little extra for comfort, do we need to keep on chasing after more and more money? Does more money make us(individuals and communities)happier? Does it give us a better quality of life? Or is it just the capitalist illusion of more is better? How about having more time to spend with our loved ones, to do a little community volunteering, to pursue some personal growth, to study, to play music, paint your masterpiece,learn a new skill or to just watch your garden grow?
It seems to me that economic growth happens not only at the expense of the environment, but also costs us in many other kinds of “growth” ( or other peoples’, if you take worker exploitation into account).
For myself, transition is also a change to a different mindset, from the empty promise of consumerism, to more enduring values and the pursuit of what makes me truly happy, something that most of the time I’m still to busy chasing money for, because there are bills to pay.
That what is coming = making do with less does not scare me anymore, I have a feeling I might become all the richer for it…
Any comments, keep’m coming
25 Nov 3:35pm
Came upon this site by chance.Love it. Very interested.
In response to a couple of the posts:
Peak Oil – google theoildrum for some good discussion (some get a bit technical but sift through anyway)
Economic Growth – As an economic illiterate, I wrestled with notions of (impossible) endless growth and its damage to humanity. It’s impossible to get out of econmic growth under our current banking system . Google Reserve Banks and Partial Reserve Banks. We’re under Partial Reserves which means we rely on being about 98% in debt for the system to flourish and which DEMANDS continued growth. It’s also interesting to look at an Islamic banking system as an alternative system – the are other alternatives too.
I currently live in Qatar, but shall soon be returning to Australia where an independent bank has been set us – though it’s not really an alternative system. The small eco community I hope to live in is investigating a ‘leak-proof’ small community economic model where what is generate in the community stays in the community. Still early days on this.
Thanks for a great read on this site.
10 Dec 1:04pm
referring to the transition wales meeting; i have noticed a lot of people already in enshrined organisations want to seize transition towns as a name, adopt it to cover their existing activities and carry on as usual. when i first heard about transition towns i was enthralled by it’s organic grass-roots nature, by the way it could be shaped to fit the local comunity and their needs.
since it has accelerated so dramatically into being supported by the WAG i worry a lot that it will go the way of many great environmental projects and become nothing more of a token gesture. nightmare scenes of entering towns and under ‘twinned with…’ there being a sign saying ‘… is a Transition Town’ but nothing actually changing in the mindset of the people.
i’m currently helping the very early stages of a potential transition initiative in swansea and it’s amazing how many organisations (including the council) want to be involved. part of me thinks this is great and part wonders how ‘grass-roots’ anything can be if it is being run by the same people whose advice already falls on far too many deaf ears. my hope with transition towns is that people would be more likely to follow advice if it was given by a neighbour or a friend in a commmunity run group than from people who have their organisation in brackets after their name whenever it’s written down..
maybe this is controversial!! i’d love to hear any comments about what i’ve said..