Learning from an adult of the future

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Energy descent suggests a new way of thinking about the future: one in which we will need to significantly reduce the amount of energy we use, albeit in a positive way. This presents many new challenges as well as many opportunities to do things differently than at present.

The prospect of an education system without discussion on the issues brought about by climate change for 5 to 14 year olds, is being seriously considered by the UK government. Having a grown-up debate on energy descent is impossible with thinking of the implications of climate change. Both energy descent and climate change are the two defining aspects of the 21st century. Economic meltdown is there too, and is intimately linked with both in transitioning to a sustainable and resilient future for us all.

So, the news that a 15 year old school pupil from London has created a petition to keep climate change in the UK school curriculum gives me some hope for this future. Let’s learn from our children on this one, because it’s clear that us adults aren’t quite up to it yet.

Business as Usual? Not quite that good.

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So, climate change is being lost from Key Stages 1 to 3 in UK schools.

What?! Is this the Age of Stupid?

Speaking as both a parent and as someone who has taught Geography for the past 15 years, this comes as bombshell.  A report this week outlines that debate on climate change could disappear for pupils under 14. What this could mean in reality is that a large proportion of school leavers will have little understanding of climate change, unless they opt for Geography or Chemistry at GCSE. Or unless they have a teacher keen to incorporate climate change in to lessons.

The enthusiasm, clarity and sense of purpose demonstrated by children wanting to ‘do something’ about climate change is the result of the knowledge they gain between the ages of 5 and 14. My own experience of running various ‘eco-clubs’ over the years has shown me that kids of this age are far more committed and motivated than older students, and much more likely to influence the behaviour of their parents. If you want a flavour of this, check out Eco-Schools.

Some of those agreeing with this loss to the curriculum suggest that a return to more basic understanding of geographical processes should be welcomed. Well, yes, to a point, but back in the late 70s and early 80s I seem to recall endless lessons about coal mining, hill farming, and aquifers. All important, but maybe now we have some new priorities to think about.

What is the purpose of Geography if not to make the connection between what people do and how it affects the environment (and vice versa) and how if differs from place to place? Learning about climate change is more than understanding the physical aspects and science of the greenhouse effect; it is about discussing the implications, debating the role of humans and Earth’s systems, and it is about our options and choices as a species. High tech, geo-engineering, renewables, the future of fossil fuels, appropriate technology, taxation, international agreements and treaties, carbon trading, grassroots responses, global inequality and resource depletion are all themes which the study of climate change can lend itself to, amongst many others.

I had a conversation with a student recently about the themes covered in Geography at A Level. She made the point that it was a bit depressing: ‘All the challenges like population and food supply, energy and global warming. Not very cheerful is it?’ Well, no, but the point is what you do with that knowledge. You could pretend it doesn’t exist (and hope it goes away on its own) or you could motivate the kids to act on it. Debates, projects, tree-planting, gardening, visits to inspirational locations; part of the deal is that responses and solutions are studied as well as the causes of the problems.

The importance of education on climate change was underlined in 2012 by UNESCO in this short film. It makes the case for an holistic approach in four minutes, and goes far beyond telling us to change our lightbulbs.

Taking climate change out of Geography for 5 to 14 year olds means that it becomes marginalised and slips down the agenda; becomes hidden. To me, it feels like denial that there’s a problem. Business as usual wasn’t great; this new shift seems like a trip back to those care-free, pre-climate change days in the 1980s.

In fact, it would seem that this is part of a much bigger issue. The environment loses out in times of economic hardship. It would appear that we have gone back in time with our concerns, despite two decades of growing awareness.

Just as politics is too important to be left to the politicians, so education is far too important to be left in the hands of the Department for Education. There’s a job to be done. We’re all educators now. It’s the future.

Cartoon Energy Descent!

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Well, it had to happen at some point. It’s all been a little full-on recently. Work pressure, parenthood . . . taking their toll on the old blog.

Anyway, I have been turned into a cartoon by A2 Geography student, Max, as part of a homework task on energy security. Not sure about my bug-eyed cartoon alter-ego, but some excellent questions dealing with the theme of peak oil and climate change.

The 'Guy from Texas' looking happy with the oil industry . . . for now!

The ‘Guy from Texas’ looking happy with the oil industry . . . for now!

Interesting take on the ‘business as usual’ approach of big business, as represented by the ‘guy from Texas’!

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Here’s the overview!

Thanks for the flattering hair situation . . .

Thanks for the flattering hair situation . . .

And finally . . . the rise of Green Man to move us onto renewable energy resources. Resistance is futile.

Future? What Future?

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My original interest in Transition was fired by thinking about the future. Not the future of doom laid out in dozens of Hollywood movies where ‘it’s all gone wrong’ or even ‘all gone’; this future was radical because it was more boring. Not boring in that nothing happens, but in that we don’t collapse/destroy ourselves/meltdown into some dystopian oblivion before it’s too late.

Having become a new dad in 2011, I have tended to shy away from watching those awareness-raising films which seem to to the job, but sometimes make you feel like you’ve hit overload. You know. There’s only so much reality you can take.

All that 2012 end of the world stuff. It’s enough to make you just want to turn it all off and wait for it.

Anyway, Transition Culture recently did a great top ten Transition films (complete with a cheesy countdown voiceover). It made me wonder how best to approach the awareness-raising issue within Transition Towns and other initiatives attempting to build local resilience. My own experience with Transition Town Worthing between 2009 and 2011 showed that people often turned up for a screening, but they were usually the same people, and ones who already knew most of this stuff already.

I recently watched a great little animation called There’s No Tomorrow. Well, I must say, when I first saw the title, I thought ‘Oh dear . . .  how depressing.’ Then I thought back to my reading of The Power of Now and thought ‘no, hang on, not actually a bad title’ and so began my renewed exploration of the state we’re in. We don’t experience a tomorrow, only a today.

A bit of searching brought me into contact with the superb, yet heavy The Crisis of Civilisation. Sometimes, I need a film like this to draw it all together. All the threads about climate change, economic meltdown, peak oil, and the general ‘grinding-to-a halt’ of things need a way of making sense together, rather than as loads of disparate items.

Finally, how about this one? Life at the End of Empire . . .

Having become switched on to the writing of Derrick Jensen in 2008, the themes of this film still hit a nerve, although it’s not an easy watch. Read Endgame for a shattering critique of mainstream environmentalism, and a glimpse at a radical alternative approach.

The thing is, gripping as these films might be to some of us, the ‘end of the world as we know it’ is not an easy message to stomach. My experience of a Transition Town is that people can be turned off by too much of this. So . . . my favourite film, balancing a message about ‘nasties’ with a look at lots of wonderful Transition projects has still got to be In Transition 1.0. It’s the one I can watch as the parent of a 16 month old and still feel optimistic for the future.

Why? It’s about beginnings rather than ends.

Apple Day in Angmering

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It doesn’t get any better than apples at this time of year . . .  especially when there’s a chance of cider . . .

Well, I did purchase 10 litres (roughly 2 gallons) of freshly pressed apple juice and have since been letting it ferment in my kitchen. The apples were brought over from France (the rubbish UK summer and lack of Angmering/West Sussex input meant that we were struggling to find anything more local) butyou can’t always be so picky!

If you’d like to to start your own Apple Day, Common Ground is a pretty good place to begin.

It was certainly good to see the first stirrings of our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) scheme through a cider-tinted focus. I did sample a little bit a ‘Wild Thing’ cider, made in Sussex from ‘apples from trees on the Downs, on common land and abandoned orchards and along the roadsides in the Brighton, Haywards Heath and Lewes areas’

Hic!

Eureka! All our problems solved.

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It’s been a week of tragi-comic news for Energy Descent Beginners.

An appropriate response to current thinking on UK energy?

Firstly, there’s been the kerfuffle over the Coalition Government’s energy policy, with the proposal that energy companies would be forced to offer their customers the cheapest tariff. There’s been a torrent of criticism over the proposals, although listening to Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, it was hard to make out any of that criticism in relation to energy security of climate change.

How depressing. Isn’t it amazing how quickly certain issues drop off the agenda in times of economic hardship?

Although many despairing comments have been made about the merits of a free market versus industry regulation, there have also been plenty on the worrying lack of any real strategy from the UK Government, other than winning a few tabloid headlines. Coalition’s energy policy is even more confused than its ‘lowest tariff’ pledge, wrote Michael Jacobs in the Guardian, and went on to make the point that we now need to decide whether we go for a low carbon energy future which addresses climate change, or just carry on ‘business as usual’.

The thing is, sometimes people do have other reasons for choosing a product than just price. How about organic food, or even a fair trade banana? Well, some crazy people choose to source their electricity and gas from companies that deal exclusively with renewable energy.

But, there’s more to this story. We could look back at that cartoon of the ostrich with his head in the sand, or even that old chestnut about re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic (a personal favourite of mine) and conclude that denial is the big issue here. Denial not just about climate change (which we know, is still a well-documented sport for many), but about being realistic about the UK’s future energy security and the impacts of continued reliance on fossil fuels.

I am continually having deja vu about some of this, thinking back to reading Shaun Chamberlin’s book, The Transition Timeline back in 2010. In fact, I think the ostrich/denial was covered, as was the prospect of ‘Hitting the wall’.

This is the idea that you acknowledge the challenge (e.g. climate change, energy security), but just carry on as before. It is a recognition of environmental challenges, but the dominant mindset states that ‘there is no alternative to business as usual’. Ouch!

Secondly, like a breath of fresh air, was the Independent’s scoop on how scientists have been able to create petrol out of thin air. Hmmm . . . well, on the face of it, brilliant! Taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is clearly a welcome impact, and the whole thing sounds too good to be true. Now, not wanting to be over-critical of the Today Programme, there was a great discussion on this story today. Five litres of petrol have been produced over the past three months in this way, and although the chemistry was mentioned, most focus was on the economics of it. How often do we get net energy discussed on Radio 4?

The process uses renewable energy as fuel to make the petrol, but energy still needs to be expended to create new energy. The costs of doing this might be worth a thought. If it’s not affordable for people it’s going to be a non-starter. If the price of carbon is so high in the future, it might be more viable , said Tom Fieldon, Radio 4 Science Correspondent. ‘Eureka! All our problems solved!’ he said.

Some wag has calculated petrol produced in this way would cost £220,000 per litre. Wow! What sort of future economy are we expecting?

Stories of Energy Descent Part 1

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It’s 2030 and Worthing has changed. Without cheap oil or other fossil fuels, we’ve had to find new ways of doing things. From how we heat our homes, to how we get around, or how we feed ourselves, Worthing in 2030 is very different to Worthing in 2011. In fact, Worthing is a thriving, vibrant community, but how have things changed? What will we do? What will we be nostalgic for?

AT the end of 2011, Transition Town Worthing ran a creative writing competition which asked budding local writers to think about what Worthing might be like in 2030. And, yes, how on Earth could Worthing turn into a thriving and vibrant community (I thought that might prove a tall order . . . )

Anyway, here is one of the final entries. See what you think.

‘From The Sea, Plenty’ by Ben Ellis 

Detective Gray: Beginning interview with Mr Joseph Mannings. The time is 11.15am on Saturday 21st September 2030. Present are myself, Detective Gray, and Sergeant Hickman. Mr Mannings has forfeited his right to legal representation. Mr Mannings, are you aware that you have access to legal aid?

Mannings: Yeah, I’m alright. Gray: OK, can you confirm you are Joseph Mannings of 34 Mordinges Drive?

Mannings: Yes, that’s correct.

Gray: And you’re a licensed taxi driver for ‘Sunlight Cabs’?

Mannings: Yep, for over 15 years. Now, if this is about the dodgy batteries I used to pass off at the solar battery stations, I’ve already paid that fine…

Gray: No, this is nothing to do with that. Anything else you want to confess before I put the first question to you?

Mannings: Undeclared earnings?

Gray: For the benefit of the tape, I’m showing Mr Mannings Exhibit A1, a photo of two gentlemen. Do you recognise either of these two men, Joe?

Mannings: No.

Gray: At least look at the photo Joe! Let me remind you, you’re not under caution, you have not been charged and you’re not a suspect. We need your help Joe, it could be vitally important for the whole town.

Mannings: No, they don’t ring a bell, what more can I tell you?

Gray: I’m showing Mr Mannings exhibit A2, this is a CCTV still of the same two gentlemen walking out of the Maglev terminal at Worthing Station yesterday evening at 6.23pm, heading towards the taxi rank.

Mannings: OK, OK, now I’ve got them pegged. That one bloke with the orange suitcase, I remember now. What bloke walks around with a bright orange suitcase, you know what I mean?

Gray: Slowly, Joe, talk us through the journey with them.

Mannings: Well, I tried to help him put the suitcase in the boot but he insisted on doing it himself, whatever, I ain’t going to make a point of lifting a heavy case. He doesn’t say anything though, it’s all the other guy. Both of them look Middle Eastern but the guy doing the talking sounds like a Brummie and he translates everything to the other guy. I’m no language expert but I’m guessing it’s Arabic.

Gray: Where did they want to go?

Mannings: The seafront, which is a little strange because visitors usually want to go straight to their hotel. Anyway, the traffic’s a nightmare because of the World Kite Surfing Championships this weekend and some kids decided to kite-skateboard through town causing mayhem. The foreign bloke, the Arab, is examining the inside of the car, leaning forward trying to see how I’m driving it. I ask the Brum, ‘What’s he looking for?’, he says it’s the first time he’s been in an electro car, they still have petrol ones where he’s from. There’s more chatter and then the Brum says the other guy wants to see me change a battery at a solar station. So we go; I point out the big solar panelled roof, remove the battery and swap it for a fully charged one, pay and then off we go again. I take them to Worthing Marina, park up and they offer me more money for a little tour and a few questions.

Gray: What did they want to see and what did they ask?

Mannings: They were interested in the Worthing Wind & Wave Turbine Array out in the bay. I told them there were tours to the array from the marina and I could get cheap tickets from my mate Bazza for a private tour so I gave them his number. Bazza uses his staff discount, it’s nothing dodgy.

Gray: And then what?

Mannings: The Arab gets his phone out and takes photos whilst the Brummie asks about stats and all that malarkey. I’ve got no idea about the specifics, all I know is that Worthing is selfsufficient. The Brummie translates a question, something like, is Worthing the only town like this? I said not for long because foreigners are here all the time seeing how things are done. The Arab ain’t happy and wants to leave.

Gray: Where do you go?

Mannings: They’ve got rooms booked at ‘The New Beach Hotel’. The Arab babbles away on his phone all the way there. Obviously I don’t know what about but he weren’t happy, I can tell you that.

Hickman: Why was your in-car CCTV switched off?

Mannings: I wondered when you were going to pipe up. Busted innit. The taxi company ain’t paying to fix it and I can’t afford nothing until after the New Year.

Gray: Sergeant Hickman is from the Anti-Terrorism Squad. You got any reason to believe these men were engaged in any reconnaissance?

Mannings: Casing the joint? They took photos but then visitors do that all the time. Why would they want to blow up anything round here? They got a severe dislike of Lawn Bowls or something?

Hickman: Like you said, this town is fully energy self-sufficient which has got the Chinese, the Indians and others interested which is upsetting the apple cart. What was in the suitcase?

Mannings: I’m an honest cabbie officer plus it had a bloody great lock on it.

Gray: *** SOUND OF DOOR OPENING *** For the benefit of the tape PC Bragg has just entered the interview room.

Bragg: Sir, they’re not at ‘The New Beach Hotel’, they left early this morning.

Hickman: Damn! Gray, get everyone on this we need to know what’s in that case.

Bragg: Also, a body was found at the marina today. He’s been formally identified as Barry Jacobs.

Mannings: That’s Bazza!

Hickman: It’s kicking off! *** CLASSIFIED ***

Bragg: One other thing, sir, maybe connected. An hotel have phoned in a complaint about a kite surfing team leaving without paying and get this, they left an overturned barrel of oil in the room, it’s made a right mess.

Hickman: They’re going to head for the array!

Gray: Interview terminated at 11:34am.

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