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