Category Archives: Community action

Swiss voters embrace shift to renewables and ban new nuclear plants

Reuter journalists Michael Shields and John Miller reported from Zurich that Swiss voters have backed the government’s plan to provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewable energy, ban new nuclear plants and help to bail out struggling utilities in a binding referendum.

The Swiss initiative mirrors efforts elsewhere in Europe to reduce dependence on nuclear power, partly sparked by Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. Germany aims to phase out nuclear power by 2022, while Austria banned it decades ago. “The results shows the population wants a new energy policy and does not want any new nuclear plants,” Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said:

“The law will boost domestic renewable energy, cut fossil fuel use and reduce reliance on foreign supplies”.

Leuthard said the package would cost the average family 40 francs more a year, based on a higher grid surcharge to fund renewable subsidies. Under the law, 480 million francs will be raised annually from electricity users to fund investment in wind, solar and hydro power. An additional 450 million francs will be set aside from an existing fossil fuels tax to help cut energy use in buildings by 43 percent by 2035 compared with 2000 levels.

Solar and wind now account for less than 5% of Switzerland’s energy output, compared with 60% for hydro and 35% for nuclear. Under the new law, power from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources would rise to at least 11,400 gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2035 from 2,831 GWh now.

Most parties and environmentalists hailed the result. “The voting public has … paved the way for a future that builds on sustainability, renewable energies and energy efficiency. Today’s decision is good for the climate, the environment, our jobs, the Swiss economy and the whole population,” the Social Democrats said.

The growing number of American visitors to this site (left) will contrast this decision with the stance of Myron Ebell, who led President Donald Trump’s transition team for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He recently complained that the new administration is moving too slowly to unravel climate change regulations.

 

Visitors from 10 countries came to this site in May. Noting the Slovenian contacts we were pleased to read that the European Commission has agreed to finance a grid-integration project between Slovenia and Croatia through the Connecting Europe Facility. It will improve the links between the electricity grids of Slovenia and Croatia, and drive renewable energy development across the region, allowing smaller power producers to participate in the local market, and including storage solutions in order to stabilize security of energy supply. Source: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2017/05/22/eu-supports-integration-of-renewables-between-croatia-and-slovenia-with-e40-million/

 

 

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What went right? January to March 2017

From political upheaval to natural disasters, the first three months of 2017 have seen many challenges. But behind the headlines, there are signs of progress and possibility. Here are 20 of our favourites

  1. China is planning a national park three times larger than Yellowstone in the US, to help boost the wild population of giant panda. It will link 67 existing reserves to make mating easier
  2. A seven per cent annual drop in teenage suicide attempts among US high school students is linked to the legislation of same-sex marriage, say researchers
  3. More than 30 million people in Kerala, India, will given access to free WiFi after the state declared it a basic human right
  4. El Salvador became the first country in the world to ban metal mining
  5. Clean energy jobs in the US now outnumber jobs in oil and gas by five to one
  6. Denmark announced it has reduced food waste by 25 per cent in five years
  7. Experts revealed that 86 per cent of new power in Europe came from renewable energy sources in 2016 with wind energy overtaking coal as the largest form of power capacity
  8. The world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, has warned it will vote out directors of companies who fail to address the risks posed to their businesses by climate change
  9. A teenager is on track to plant a trillion trees. Felix Finkbeiner, 19, who began his tree-planting quest when he was nine, founded environmental group Plant for the Planet. It has overseen the planting of more than 14bn trees in 130 countries and aims to plant 1tn – 150 trees for every person on Earth
  10. The value of UK ethical markets grew to almost double that of tobacco, new research suggests

Read on here for the other ten points; https://www.positive.news/2017/society/media/26491/went-right-jan-mar-2017/?mc_cid=e55ab60695&mc_eid=99a7ecd039

 

 

 

Lambeth patients, doctors, nurses and local residents create food-growing NHS gardens

A food co-operative set up by a GP surgery is helping patients to grow food in Lambeth, one of London’s most deprived boroughs. Set up in 2013, the Lambeth GP Food Co-op includes patients, doctors, nurses and local residents who created a network of food-growing NHS gardens.

On 23 March, it launched a new venture with Stockwell GPs – building gardens at their surgeries. The initiative – inspired by the work of food co-ops across the UK and abroad – started at three GP practices, with initial funding of £160,000 from the clinical commissioning group and Lambeth Council.

As part of the project, 11 GP surgeries across the borough have turned unused outdoor space into gardens where patients can grow fruit and vegetables. The produce is sold in King’s College Hospital via a market stall, a joint venture with Medirest, the hospital’s catering supplier.

Preparing the raised grow-boxes used for growing food near Lambeth surgeries. Read more here.

As well as helping patients with long-term health conditions, the co-op aims to influence food procurement within the NHS, serving both an economic and a therapeutic purpose. Its long-term aim is to encourage NHS hospitals to buy locally sourced food by drawing on community capacity to grow food in an urban environment, engaging patients in the management of the co-op. The patient group makes decisions on what is planted, what happens to the produce, when meetings are held and whether they should get involved in other food-growing activities.

The benefits of gardens and gardening on health are highlighted in a report by the King’s Fund. These include reductions in depression and anxiety, improved social functioning and wider effects, including opportunities for vocational development.

 

 

 

 

Germany’s people-powered energy and American micro-grids

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Source (2013): https://ilsr.org/germanys-63000-megawatts-renewable-energy-locally-owned/

A 2015 National Geographic article with the most remarkable photographs: Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future … led to the ISLR article written earlier this month.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ISLR) informs readers that its mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. To this end, ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to design systems, policies and enterprises that meet local or regional needs; to maximize human, material, natural and financial resources; and to ensure that the benefits of these systems and resources accrue to all local citizens.

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Instead of expanding or connecting to the national energy grid, some companies, municipalities, and individuals are creating miniature grids of their own that can operate independently – “microgrids” – providing options for groups that want lower energy bills, more control over where their energy comes from, or a level of reliability that the grid cannot provide.

The costs are high and they are economically viable for only a limited set of situations. As Karlee Weinmann, ISLR Energy Democracy Initiative Research Associate pointed out, however, the cost of new technology invariably falls as it is adopted: “The cost of materials, installation, and maintenance for the components that make up a microgrid are going down, so the value proposition for a microgrid increases in turn. The general viability of microgrid projects is also reinforced through replication, like anything else, so the more that various stakeholders test the technology, prove its value, and improve upon it, the easier it is to justify buying in . . . As we see it, the future of the grid will be far more decentralized than the system we have now. Rather than paying a far off utility for electricity, which in many cases comes from problematic, dirty sources, customers’ money can stay closer to home.”

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Hurricane Sandy, which cut power to 8.5 million people, one million of whom went without power for a week, was cited by the ILSR report Mighty Microgrids as one of the key motivators of regional investment in microgrids. While up to 60% of backup diesel generators failed in medical centers and other essential facilities, Princeton University’s 20 MW microgrid kept the campus operational in island mode for three days while a connection to the grid was being restored.…

Regulations governing interconnection processes can also hinder microgrid adoption, particularly because these regulations vary from state to state. Opposition from utility companies is often a factor that makes the regulatory environment hostile or resistant to positive change. In an ideal world, a national standard would be adopted.

Richardson concludes: “Perhaps in the future, microgrids will be a common feature of communities . . . connected by the larger grid and selling electricity to each other as necessary. For now, they represent a useful tool for businesses and communities that need reliability that the grid can’t offer or that can leverage scale to reduce energy costs”.

 

 

 

Citizen to Activist – news from Australia

A reader sent a link to this text (summary below) and the video, prompting further searches.

Average Australian citizens from farmers to doctors, are being compelled to fight battles they never imagined they would need to, with reports out of Standing Rock about America’s North Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), filling news feeds on global social media sites, and people powered planetary protection happening in just about every nook and cranny of the world. One blog is headed: Australia has its own Dakota pipleine story and it’s happening right now!

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Koonorigan filmmakers David Lowe and Eve Jeffery (our reader’s sister-in-law) produced, directed and edited the clip, working with local artivist filmmakers Cloudcatcher Media, who spend much of their time documenting these struggles and were themselves compelled to create a short animation as a response to those who would if they could, but didn’t know how.

Citizen to Activist, or as it is affectionately known C2A, is a not-so serious guide to becoming an activist, using the example of the Australian fight against unconventional gas and coal mining, travelling the film festival circuit for almost a year with national and international screenings. It has had great success with audiences from every quarter enjoying the film, as well as some wins at film festivals including a place at the Noosa International Film Festival and winning the jury prize for best film at Byron All Shorts.

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Everyone involved with the film gave tirelessly and freely of their time and energy. David and Eve felt that with no money made or exchanged in the making of the film, it was destined to be a part of the Creative Commons, so C2A has one more gift to give – the film has just been released on several platforms for free public viewing.

‘With NGOs being hamstrung by fears of losing tax deductibility, the ABC under the hammer and much of the private media increasingly owned by mining interests, it’s up to citizens to educate and uplift one another,’ says Cloudcatcher David Lowe.

‘This is why we’re giving this film away for free.’

It is hoped that citizens will watch and share the film and gain strength and hope from its message as we step one more day into the fray.

You can view the clip on YouTube, Vimeo or on Facebook

 

 

 

There are plenty of brilliant plans for getting us moving without trashing the planet

George Monbiot asks: “So why aren’t they happening?”

In the Guardian he described and denounced the current inefficient and polluting transport system.

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“If you controlled the billions that are spent every year, privately and publicly, on the transport system, and your aim was to smooth the passage of those who use it, is this what you would do? Only if your imagination had been surgically excised.

“Even in a small, economically mature, densely-populated nation like this one, where change is easy, we’re still driving in the wrong direction.

“The simplest, cheapest and healthiest solution to congestion is blocked by the failure to provide safe transit. Last year the transport department crowed that it could cut £23m from its budget, as a result of an “underspend on the Cycle Cities Ambition budget”. Instead of handing this money back to the Treasury, it should have discovered why it wasn’t spent and ensured that it doesn’t happen again”.

So here’s a novel idea: how about a 21st Century transport system for the 21st Century? Here is a summary of the excellent constructive advice he gave:

  • aggregate people’s requests via a smartphone app,
  • use minibus services to collect people from their homes and deliver them close to their destinations while minimising their routes.
  • build a network of such safe, pleasant and convenient walking and cycling paths (like those in Hamburg) that no one with the ability to do otherwise set a date by which no new car is manufactured unless it’s electric,
  • set up household charging points, allowing people to plug in without having to take their car off the road,
  • introduce a scrappage payment to replace old cars with no car at all: it would take the form of public transport tokens,
  • facilitate ‘walking buses’ to school: parents take turns to lead a crocodile of children,
  • organise local drop-off points, so that parcel companies don’t clog our streets, and we never miss deliveries,
  • provide bikes to hire at train and bus stations,   synchronising bus and train timetables,
  • reopen old rail lines which were closed in the mistaken belief that train travel was on the way out and build new lines to bridge the gaps,
  • bring train services under public control and use the money now spent on road building to make tickets affordable for everyone,
  • implement the brilliant plan proposed by Dr Alan Storkey: for an intercity bus network faster and more convenient than car travel, using dedicated lanes on the motorways and interchanges at the motorway junctions and
  • build new settlements around public transport hubs – light rail, tram and electric bus systems – rather than around the car.
  • (Ed: place more bulky freight on our waterways.

What is difficult about any of this? What technological barriers stand in the way? None. Transport is among the simplest of our problems to solve.

 

 

 

Residents in one of Britain’s formerly most run-down areas now run a housing association, their library and swimming pool

The BBC noted in 2010 that during the 1970s and 1980s, the post-war Castle Vale estate, dominated by tower blocks, became known for poverty and crime. Residents in Castle Vale established a housing association with power and responsibility given to local people. The housing association has helped to lower crime levels, demolish and rebuild 2,275 houses and address health and unemployment concerns.

The area underwent a 12-year regeneration in the 1990s, with 32 of the 34 tower blocks demolished, new homes built and a new retail area created. Read more here. http://old.mycommunity.org.uk/stories/castle-vale-community-housing-association-working-with-stockland-green-opportunities/

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Now the Castle Vale estate in Birmingham is pioneering a new way of running services that councils can no longer afford, due to government cuts. Ray Goodwin, chief executive of the tenants and residents’ alliance, said: “People came together and said this is taking away our community and we are not prepared to accept that.” Read the BBC’s update published on Wednesday 23rd November here.

castle-vale-poolLocal residents’ groups have taken over the swimming pool and the library which were in danger of being closed. Read on here. A resident posted on Facebook: “You keep doing articles in the Tyburn Mail about the swimming pool on castle vale saying how it’s been saved by the community and for the community. I think you need to do an article about its lack of opening times. Half term and it’s only open for a few hours in the week for the public and what about the residents of Castle Vale who work and want to use it when they finish. Guess what it’s shut.” He needs to volunteer to help as 40 others are doing.

castlevale-libraryThe library employs one member of staff and about 40 volunteers look after the library and pool. Volunteer Amanda Cutler was behind a 6,500-signature to save it. She said: “One of the lifeguards came to me one day and said it was closing down. I said it’s not happening and I got a petition together myself. Luckily, we’ve done it, so we’re really pleased.“ Later, facing further cuts, in 2014 the residents pulled together to save their library from closure. A cinema and theatre for the community are also planned. Read on here.

They are now being asked to show other local communities how they can rescue council services threatened by cuts.