A Gathering Community Force
Welcome to the first of a new series for The Village Pump, which focusses on environmental matters and the climate crisis. Thanks to Borough Councillor Tom Ryves for his ‘pilot’ article in January’s edition and for suggesting a regular column. Over the coming months we hope to hear from a range of contributors sharing stories, ideas and information to promote understanding of the issues and encourage positive action.
In an era of misinformation, wilful or otherwise, how the climate crisis is discussed and reported is critical. If we are to start as we mean to go on, then facts must be supported by science and we must adopt language which is equally robust and unequivocal. For example, the term ‘global heating’ is more scientifically accurate than ‘global warming’. Earth has always experienced variations in temperature, but it is human activity which is heating the planet at an alarming rate. And ‘climate crisis’ is preferred by many to the widely used term ‘climate change,’ as it better reflects the broader impact and severity of global heating and consequently the breakdown of our ecosystem.
Much of the media coverage focuses on individual action and the personal choices we can make. It’s true, collectively we drive too much, eat too much meat, buy too much and fly too often, but changing our own behaviour alone will not solve the climate crisis. We need to create a consensus in our society, that will lead to actions which will save our planet. Governments must lead and take bold and urgent measures, and yet internationally, our world leaders are failing us. Take the recent United Nations Summit on Climate Change in Madrid. Talks ended on 15th December 2019 with the current Australian government effectively scuppering an agreement by siding with Saudi Arabia and other coal and oil producing nations in refusing to sign up to new emissions targets. Fast forward a mere two weeks later when the world looked on in horror at the apocalyptic scenes as Australian bush fires spiralled out of control.
Closer to home, the Norfolk coast has been experiencing erosion for thousands of years but rising sea levels as a result of global heating means this is happening at pace. The Fens, the lowest lying land in England sit below sea level in places and is only kept dry by massive pumping operations. There is a very real risk that much of the area could be reclaimed by the sea displacing whole communities.
Last summer we saw punishing heatwaves across Europe and a new UK record temperature of 39.5 degrees Celsius was set at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. From the Broads to the Brecklands, from the Coast to the Fens, a toxic combination of human activity factors (including intensive farming and construction) is affecting the ecosystem on which all life depends. A major study published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in May 2019 warned that wildlife and habitats are declining at an “unprecedented” rate worldwide and that up to a million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction, a greater number than ever before in human history. 13 species have been identified as in danger of becoming extinct in our region including the Stone Curlew, Norfolk Hawker and Hazel Dormouse.
But there is more each of us can do at a local level. A good next step – or even a first step – is for local communities to work together to tackle the climate emergency. One small town has been leading the way and is a great example of what local people working together can achieve. Ashton-Hayes is a small rural town in Cheshire with 1000 residents. In 2005, it’s Parish Council adopted a proposal, put forward by a local resident, to try to become carbon neutral. 75% of its adult residents came to a project launch in November 2006. Now in its 14th year, ‘Ashton Hayes Going Carbon Neutral’ has collected a plethora of awards for its multiple green achievements and it now has its own community energy company, owned by the people of Ashton Hayes, which works for the benefit of the town. Many households have seen their energy costs reduced by more than 50%. Find out more on their website: www.goingcarbonneutral.co.uk
In our own community, Stoke Ferry Parish Council had a discussion at the January meeting regarding the County and Borough Council tree-planting initiative and how to take it forward. Already, they have planted hundreds of saplings and hedging in the cemetery with help from local people and they are keen to encourage more people to join in and to share ideas for other local sites which would benefit from tree and hedge planting. Encouragingly, there were suggestions that the wider issue of the climate crisis should be addressed at a near-future Parish Council meeting.
A small, but growing number of Parish Councils have taken the leap and declared a Climate Emergency and it is something our own parish councils should consider. One of these is Holme Valley in Yorkshire which has joined 64% of District, County, Unitary & Metropolitan Councils in the UK who have already committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 (Source: Green World, August 2019). The challenge however is to turn a declaration from words into action. Since making the declaration in March 2019, Holme Valley Parish Council has worked to develop a Climate Emergency Plan involving ambitious energy efficiency measures (decreasing the energy used in the first place); getting electricity from renewable sources (such as wind and solar); moving away from natural gas for heating and electricity generation from fossil fuels; moving to transport powered by renewable energy, eliminating waste and reusing resources, travelling less and promoting sustainable cycling, walking and the use of public transport.
Neighbourhood Plans are another way in which local people can shape the future of their communities. Stoke Ferry Parish Council is leading on the new Neighbourhood Plan for the village and we all have an opportunity to feed our green ideas into that at the first community consultation day on Saturday, February 15th. There are plenty of examples of completed Neighbourhood Plans which have embedded actions to tackle the climate emergency, such as including ambitions for energy-efficient homes which are fit for the future. In our own county of Norfolk, Holm-Next-The Sea has the most far-reaching plans, for very obvious reasons but Brancaster, Fressingfield, South Wootton, North Runcton and West Winch have all either referenced or set out specific plans to mitigate the causes and effects of the climate crisis. Closer to home, Shouldham, is at a similar stage in its Neighbourhood Plan to Stoke Ferry and has green ideas they hope to incorporate and turn into reality.
The Whole Works Repair Collective is a local grassroots group you can get involved with. It organises regular events aimed at repairing the relationship between people, consumerism and the planet in a spirit of generosity and kindness. Who could argue with that approach? The Collective has held Repair Cafes in Stoke Ferry and more recently at Downham Market library where local craftspeople offered their repair skills; mending clothes, bicycle maintenance, jewellery repair, sharpening knives and much more. There is always hot drinks and delicious vegan cakes on offer too. The next Repair Café will be held at All Saints Church, High Street, Stoke Ferry also on the 15th February. Why not head along before or after you go to the Village Hall, you will be guaranteed a warm welcome.
And of course, there are plenty of local environmental projects desperate for your support. Nick Acheson, a wildlife evangelist for The Norfolk Wildlife Trust, recently blogged about our changing climate. He wrote movingly about the unprecedented levels of habitat loss and the continuing threats we face in East Anglia and ended with a direct plea for support:
“Above all I hope that the people of Norfolk will lend renewed support to the organisations, Norfolk Wildlife Trust among them, which are gathering forces for a fight as has never been seen before: for our wildlife, and for the wild we all call home, in the face of climate change.”
Let us heed his words. Let all of us who feel passionate about our precious Wissey countryside and the wider world we share take on huge climate challenge. And let us do so with positive action and in a spirit of kindness and generosity. Let us become a gathering force together.
If you would like to write an article or have ideas to include in future columns, we would love to hear from you. Please contact the Editor by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org