For the love

I love walking with friends and family, or on my own, in the summer, winter, autumn and the spring.  I love a good book.  I love eating.  I love my wife.  I love my children.  For the love of all that I care for, we must get to grips with climate change.

You’re now supposed to be ripe and ready to have a conversation about what it means to tackle climate change.  The “For the love of…” campaign of the Climate Coalition has been carefully designed and researched to have the maximum impact on those people who are ready to talk about climate change.

The research was carried out by COIN (Climate Outreach and Information Network), who ran workshops with a range of people to understand what messages worked, and what fell flat.  Not surprisingly, they found that people find most existing rhetoric on climate change disenfranchising, over-presumptive and preachy.  Pictures of polar bears and discussions of the “most serious threat we face” are a turn-off.  Certainly explains why it’s only really the “converted” that read my blog.

The one message that did gain traction was in tapping into people’s emotions and asking them what they love.  Almost certainly, whatever that is will be under threat by climate change.  You can then say something like “For the love of chocolate, we must do something about climate change”.  And so the conversation starts and is remembered.

This only works for people when the example is something real and precise, rather than abstract.  “For the love of the future” wouldn’t cut it.  It seems that the more emotional the connection and the unexpected the example the better. “For the love of a decent pitch” might work.  Above all, the message will be respected if it is seen as being said with integrity.

Next Monday I’ll be going to a meeting with the Climate Coalition to discuss the launch of this campaign, with 80 other representatives of the 100 or so organisations that form the coalition, representing their millions of supporters.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

There were a couple of other interesting insights in the COIN research.  One was that conservatives and community-minded optimists (like me) alike identified avoiding waste as a core value.  I wonder if the information that we dump 40kg of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for every 1kg of waste we put in landfill would bring a few more people along?

The other titbit of information in the COIN research was that a lot of people involved thought that examples of real people doing real things to solve the climate change problem would be persuasive.  Diverse voices work.  I’m glad to hear it, as that is the focus of the Power Shift UK conference in London on 3/4 May.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

Conference Pair

I love it when a plan comes together.  After taking on a little too much before Christmas, not anticipating work taking off in January, I’m very happy to say that two of the initiatives are bearing fruit.  Not one, but two conferences are over the next few weeks.

The local Transition conference is now scheduled for Sunday 23 March, and we have our line-up.  If I’d had more time we may have been able to advertise it earlier, but it is happening, which looked a remote possibility just a few weeks ago.  Thank you to John Ingleby in particular for picking up the reigns.

It will run from 10 to 4, with workshops on starting an energy co-operative (we’re starting one in Berkhamsted), how to use gizmos like thermal imaging cameras, building community street-by-street, food security, personal resilience (I need this, getting run down) and scaling up the movement (we all need this).  All will be run by local Transition Towns, other than the personal resilience and scaling up workshops, for which we have Andrew Davies to thank.

If you are interested in coming along, you can book in here.

And not to be outdone, the Power Shift UK is in the diary.  This one really is for all of us.  It will be on the weekend of 3/4 May.  The theme will be connecting all of the disparate elements of the climate movement in the UK, particular to give voice to the down-trodden or marginalised in society.  The itinerary is not particularly confirmed at the moment, but is likely to include expert workshops on confronting oppression in organisations, practical skills in creating wind-turbines and training in the use of a new online platform created by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition for the sharing of stories in the fight against climate change.  Huge thank you to Emily Myers, Susan Poupard, Claire Morris and to Fiona Brookes and the rest of the Campaign against Climate Change team.

Watch this space.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

No help here, oh dear

So, we met with the UK Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Tax), MP David Gauke.  As promised, we talked to him about shale gas and how its exploitation is incompatible with keeping global warming to less than 2º Celsius.  My conclusion after the meeting is that the current UK government will not back up its rhetoric with equivalent action – climate change will not be addressed.

The surgery was running late, so Danny Bonnett and I had a chance to practise our arguments beforehand, while sitting outside the Berkhamsted Town Council offices.  We would also mention the risk to our pensions that continued investment in fossil fuel exploration and extraction brings, as raised by the UK Environment Audit Committee recently.  We’d also discuss how the UK renewable energy sector is stagnating due to government planning policy.

We then went in, got through the formalities and the conversation stated.  I read the recent quotes from David Cameron and George Osbourne that climate change is serious, man-made and something we should do what we can to address.  I stated the evidence that current targets gave us a less than 50% chance of avoiding the 2 º Celsius rise in temperatures.

David started by saying how the US has reduced its carbon emissions by more than anywhere else by moving over to shale gas.  He backed down from that argument after I pointed out that the US had a coal-based electricity generation network before they switched to gas, whereas we already have a gas-based system, so we won’t get the same benefits.  Plus we are starting 10-20 years later than the US – the remaining carbon budget is much lower now than it was then.

He did seem very interested in Danny’s first-hand accounts of how the UK renewable energy sector is on its knees at present due to uncertainty.

But his main argument for continuing with government policy was the need to keep energy bills down, particularly for businesses, and to do so in a way that was politically acceptable.  I.e in a way that would help them get re-elected.  Whereas shale gas is controversial, they think it is low-carbon (it’s not) and they think it is less controversial than onshore wind-farms.

They are evidently not going to take a strong stance to persuade the population that it is worth paying to replace our dirty power stations with renewable energy.

So, where does that leave us?  For meaningful action on climate change, at least a couple of Business, Government, Media and the Public need to make seismic changes to change our attitudes and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  I know some think that they are within their moral rights to live as they please, and there should be incentives in place to make sure that our actions are acceptable to society.  Or that there is no point in making changes in their lives if the majority do not do similar.

Well, the Government is not going to bring in those incentives.  The media continues to serve all opinions on climate change, whether scientifically valid or not, so the public will be able to find a way to justify denying the problem or that they can be part of the solution.  Business will aim for profit, and the Government will not be incentivising sustainable practices to a large enough extent.

So, the only way through is a revolution.  Society as it stands cannot cope with climate change.

Or get those kids trained in survival skills.

Or maybe we all need to take responsibility for our actions, and reduce our own emissions.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

So, climate change is real – what next?

Danny Bonnett and I are meeting David Gauke, the UK minister for tax, on Friday.  In the context of recent affirmations on the reality of climate change from the leadership of the Conservative party, we will discuss with him the policy implications, particularly for shale gas or fracking.  The following is what we intend to say:

David Cameron and George Osbourne have recently stated that climate change is man-made and that we should do what we can to prevent it.  We are faced with a choice between either leaving shale gas in the ground or with missing international pledges to limit temperature increases to 2° Celsius.  What will the government choose?

David Cameron, UK Prime Minister “I believe man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world faces”.

“I’m someone who believes climate change is happening, that it’s caused by human beings. We should do what we can to prevent it” George Osbourne, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer.

According to the science, current climate change targets in the EU would lead to a 30-50% chance of keeping temperature rises below 2° Celsius.

To me, “doing what we can to prevent it” does not equate to aiming for a 40% chance of success.

Put simply, if we are to back up these words and commitments with action, shale gas production cannot happen in the UK, even with carbon capture and storage.  At the point when shale gas production in the UK would be becoming large scale, we would have to stop, leaving wells only partly tapped.  Investment in shale gas would also delay investment in very low or zero carbon sources, leaving a huge legacy for future generations.

Achim Steiner, head of UN Environmental Programme “We sometimes have to take a step back and ask ourselves: for the sake of having another 20 years of dirt cheap energy are we really going to put millions of years of evolution, of ecosystems, of ecosystem services at risk?”.

I agree with George Osbourne when he states “Let’s try and do this in as cheap a possible way as we can”.  The cheapest way to tackle climate change is to invest now in zero or very low carbon energy.  The sooner we make this move, the lower the overall costs, as Lord Stern described in his report in 2007.  If we want to continue to revitalise the economy, let’s do it in a way that creates skills and jobs that are relevant for the future.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Update on all things Bell

Here goes, for an update on everything climaty (climatey?) going on in my life.

Let’s start from the inside as ever, in true permaculture style.  I have been working on my self-control and freewill.  I’m able to avoid too many biscuits, although the tin does go down too quickly, and haven’t allowed myself to fall into the trap of too much coffee or alcohol. Mrs Bell was away last week during half-term, and a bottle of wine stayed unopened on the sideboard.  Well done me.

I’m going to use nicknames for the kids from now on in the blog, so they will be Tall, Small and Bubs.  Bubs has just got over a bout of chicken pox, which we’re expecting to pass over to Small in the next few days.  I’ve been walking around London with a very muddy jacket after a kick-about with the kids and a few new friends from nearby Tring – I was in goal but only using my head.

I’ve been excessively busy with my business, but still have managed to find the odd day here and there to keep the climate related projects on the move.  The allotment is pleading for my attention, though, with the compost heap sprouting weeds and nothing being sown so far this year.

In Berkhamsted, organisation for the B-Hive public meeting continues apace.  We have sent out invitations to all of those organisations, groups and businesses we have identified as stakeholders in the town, as well as those on the mailing list.  The public meeting will give us a chance to let the people of the town know what happened as a result of the town consultation we organised last year, and for them to influence what happens next.  Interestingly, a survey run by one of the town councillors (and founder of Transition Town Berkhamsted) on the subject of a proposed multi-story car-park (please, no) showed than no matter what our opinion on car parking we all seem to want a more holistic plan for the town – something like 97% of us.

The opportunities seem to be opening up for a community energy scheme in the town as well, with Seb Beloe starting up a team looking into prospects building on the successes down the road in King’s Langley.  Couple that with some possible interest from a local secondary school and we may be looking at lift-off.

Which will tie in well with the upcoming Transition Beds, Bucks, Herts conference on 23 March.  We’ll be meeting up to talk about how to scale up the movement, while avoiding burn-out and taking time to celebrate.

Further out still, the Power Shift UK conference is getting close to having a date and venue in April.  If you get emails from, you may have seen something about it.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke


Regular readers will know that I was thinking of getting a bike a while back.  Astute regular readers will know I got one (from Lovello‘s in Berkhamsted).  I did do a tiny amount riding when I was a kid, and I’ve even been on a mountain biking break once.  Nevertheless, I was nervous about coming a cropper on the roads, and am still learning.

For those who want to know, the bike is a hybrid, which means it is not an out and out road bike, but does work away from the tarmac as well.  Good job too, given the state of the roads around Berkhamsted, where potholes are a continual problem.  I’m using it on the roads mostly, although I expect to cycle to nearby Tring or Hemel Hemstead on canal tow-paths at some point.

My bike

My bike

Before I got this bike, I’d picked up a series of second hand rusty contraptions from eBay or friends for £20 a time.  I was under the impression that I was terribly unfit and not built for riding a bike up a hill, and so gave up.  With the new bike, full tires and a few gears, suddenly I can now whiz from the station at the bottom of the hill in Berkhamsted to my home at the top near the woods in no time.

I’m still nervous on the bike, though.  I find myself tensely holding on and hovering over the seat.  When I notice, I tell myself to relax and sit down, otherwise my balance is a little edgy.  I’ve already fallen off once, skidding round a corner in the wet going to fast.  Thankfully the only involvement of a car was a nearby driver asking if I was alright.  Of course I was, I said.  Took me a couple of weeks to recover from the painfully swollen wrist, but I didn’t let the driver know that.

The bike is definitely a better mode of transport than car for one person to make short journeys around town.  It’s quicker and gets you moving, and you don’t have parking problems.  And of course it’s zero carbon.

It’s not as clear-cut for longer journeys or those where you need to carry a load, such as shopping or the family.  There are those that commute between towns with pedal power and cart their food and children around in contraptions on the back, and those people do tend to be very fit and healthy.  I do see myself doing that sort of thing at some point, but I’ll need to feel a bit more confident and a bit more fit beforehand.

Using a bike rather than car for short journeys is very logical and sensible.  I would hesitate to say that the reason not more of us do so is because of fear and that intangible comfort barrier.  That’s what stopped me.  I can now honestly say that my life is better for taking the plunge, as I have more time and am getting fitter.

What’s stopping you?

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

“Climate change” flooding out

After years of avoiding the subject, our illustrious political leaders are now starting to talk about climate change.  Here are their recent quotes, in light of the incessant floods in the UK:

David Cameron (Prime Minister, Conservatives): “Colleagues across the House can argue about whether that is linked to climate change or not. I very much suspect that it is”

“We can’t attribute any one event to climate change, but we know climate change is going to mean we have more events like this – more extreme weather events, more flooding, more storms.  If there’s one thing we know about the effects of extreme weather, it’s that the costs – financial, human and other costs – of not acting are much greater than the costs of acting. It’s a totally false economy to say ‘Don’t act’. The Government’s got to realise this and it’s got to take the problem seriously.” Ed Milliband (Leader of the Opposition, Labour)

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrats) – on the prospect of leaving Europe “We will not have the clout to lead in Europe and the world in the fight against climate change as we do right now”

“David Cameron hasn’t committed to serious, sustained action on climate change, which the Met Office tells us all the evidence points to as contributing to these extraordinary floods. It isn’t too late for the sadly laughably self-titled ‘greenest government ever’ to start to live up to its name Natalie Bennett (Leader, Green Party)

Nigel Farage (Leader, UKIP) dismissed climate change as the cause of the Somerset floods and said it was “just the weather”.

The most famous quote from recent days from this bunch was David Cameron saying the “money is no object” in dealing with the floods.  Of course, he meant in conjunction with the immediate relief effort, but he wasn’t specific, and left himself open to questions as to whether he meant longer term measures for flood defences.

It would be cheaper long-term to reduce our carbon emissions rather than spend billions on making the country more resilient.  Unfortunately, it’s probably too late for that.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

My name is John, and I’m a denier

Everyone is. You are. I think this is really important.

I am in denial about the inevitability of climate change disaster. The good news is that realising I am in denial might just allow me to come to terms with the apocalypse and find my way through.

It seems that the natural human way to deal with any change, not just a bereavement, is roughly the same. Firstly, there is brief shock, then denial. Ignore the facts, and we cope. As we accept the facts, we move through anger, bargaining and inevitably depression. Only when after dealing with those emotions can we move on to acceptance and positively learning our way beyond. We can stay in any of those phases for long periods, and can yo-yo between them.Phases of accepting change

I went through these stages with climate change, just as I am going through them again with our ability to avoid its worst effects. With climate change, for years I was aware of the problem, but avoided thinking about it. Then I remember watching the climate change denial documentary “The Great Climate Change Swindle” and grasping on to every word with hope. It was of course gibberish, but I wanted to believe. I’ve written about the anger I have felt. My experience now makes sense, with an understanding of the stages of accepting change.

I am ever hopeful that we will avoid catastrophic climate change, but I now accept the need to prepare for the worst. We have put a defibrillator to the beating heart of the planet, and are fiddling around trying to reduce the current rather than taking the paddles off. Emissions are increasing, targets are being watered down, and there is no sign of us making the connection between the destruction of the planetary life systems and our own wanton consumption.

When it comes down to it, I’m denying to myself is that there is a half-decent future out there for us, even if we are laggardly in lowering our carbon dioxide emissions. I am reluctant for some reason to think through what that future would mean. I have a painful vision of defending my family homestead from hungry marauders, like a scene from 28 Days Later. Maybe a better version would be the world working together to survive, long enough for us to stabilise the climate once more over a few hundred years? We’d unlikely be able to do it more quickly than that – there are 7 billion of us spending every waking moment burning as much fossil fuel as we can, what hope of doing the same in reverse?28-Weeks-Later-28-weeks-later-26663151-1499-996

So, what next? I’ll have to get depressed for a bit, I suppose. Then I can get on with designing my future in a Cretaceous world.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

PS – does that mean that in the meantime I can happily stop worrying about reducing my own carbon emissions? Can I fly again? Oh, no. That would be immoral. Climate change kills, and will kill. Contributing to it makes me as guilty of manslaughter as a parent smoking in the family home or car.

Who needs me?

The projects are all moving on, it would seem, in spite of my being busy beyond reason with the business.  More people are getting involved and taking the lead.  My lack of availability has allowed others to take charge, and a fantastic job they are doing as well.

In Berkhamsted, the main projects are Transition Town Berkhamsted (TTB), B-Hive and B-WEL.  B-Hive was the project to find out what the people of the town wanted to see in the centre, which turned out to be more open space, workshops and small business units, plus a museum and performance space.  After an open meeting and a few follow-ups, there is now a slightly wider team involved, setting up a large public meeting to decide what to do next, mapping out the stakeholder groups in the town and drafting publicity to keep the momentum going.  Well done and thank you Jane, Kate, Stephen, Svetlana and Roger for getting back involved.

B-WEL is this new idea to promote the proposed Ecocide law in the town, which was unanimously voted as a good idea by the readers of this blog.  The local paper, the Gazette, are very interested and have asked if we would like to write an article for the paper in Speaker’s Corner, which is usually the stomping ground of the local MP or the Police Crime Commissioner.  I’m hoping that one of the TTB team behind the Ashlyns Lectures will be inspired to write the article.  Go Bex.

TTB itself is on the verge of breaking through, I feel.  There are a number of newly engaged an interested people who are ripe to get involved.  We just need to find the project or projects to hook them.  It is an area that needs my attention, to get the community energy project or Transition Streets up and running.

Slightly more widely, there is the proposed local Transition Town conference.  Having sent out a survey to understand what people would like to see, there is now the job of absorbing that information and booking a venue.  Workshops on community energy, thermal imaging and air tightness gadgets, balancing life priorities, celebration and identifying a unifying strategic intent are waiting in the wings to be organised.  I’ll probably give that a little push.

Then there is the UK and beyond.  The Power Shift UK, part of the Global Power Shift, has now got a few people working part time to make it happen.  Emily has been a star, coming in late on and devoting a large chunk of her time to pushing it along.  The Campaign Against Climate Change, People & Planet, Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Young Friends of the Earth are now on board, and momentum is building.

And the online platform for challenging misinformation on climate change in the press is on the back burner, awaiting response from the Climate Reality Project.

Of course, all this work has meant that I’ve not seen Rowan and the kids as much as I’d like.  Tell me, is it more healthy to walk for 40 minutes a day or cycle for 10?  I get more out of breath with the cycling.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Balls Pond Balls Up

Oh dear, does that sound like too much of a tabloid headline? This one is about local government. Who are they serving?

You may remember me mentioning a project I was at one point on the fringes of, to buy a local farm. Well, I decided to stay on the fringes to preserve my sanity and to focus on projects closer to home.Balls Pond Farm

The team in Kings Langley went ahead and have tried to buy it. It is currently owned by Hertfordshire County Council (HCC). So effectively its owned by the public. Already.

So, what should local government do if the public want it as a community farm, low cost housing and a training / conference centre? What should local government do if the public are willing to stump up £1.9 million from their own collective pockets to buy it? Effectively to buy it, I remind you, from themselves.

Turns out they decided to sell it to the highest bidder. It will be interesting to see who that is. Farm land round here is at a premium because of rich folks from London buying the land to keep horses. Is that who has bought the farm? Will the new owner allow the community to use the land?

I’m not going to sit hear on my sofa and say that the decision from HCC was bad, or short-sighted. I don’t know what services they will be able to now provide that would have otherwise been unfunded. I don’t know anything about the new owner elect. I will be very interested to find out.

Depending on the answer to those questions, the finger of guilt may point towards the reasons behind local government being strapped for cash. Is it the policy of reducing the size of government? Is it the policies that lead to are high national debt in the first place? Is it the excesses of the banking sector that lead to the financial collapse? Is the new owner a banker?

There is a parallel with another aspect of local government decision making. Fracking. The blame rests with the Tories for that. Big cuts to budgets leads to impoverished councils. So to then to offer the councils a wodge of cash to allow fracking is a lot like racketeering in my view. Blackmail.

In the meantime, those wonderful people who formed Kings Langley Community Benefit Society have brought the people of their town and its surrounds together. I’ll be very excited to see where their energies take them next. Well done Vicky and Jean-Paul in particular.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke