UPDATE Nov 2018: NOT ANYMORE – see post

NOTE – UPDATE 4 Nov 2018: Ecotopia no longer exists, so you don’t get the £50 vouchers anymore.  Sorry!  But World Land Trust will still get the £50 to buy rainforest and protect it from destruction, so still use my code!

Woah!  I wasn’t expecting that!

Yes, you read it right – Ecotopia heard what I was doing and have said they will give YOU £50 of vouchers to spend in their online shop if you swap to Ecotricity using my code (see the last post for details).

So, if you swap to Ecotricity, you will get £50, I will buy 1/2 an acre of rainforest, and all the other wonderful stuff I put in my last post will happen.

I honestly didn’t know that was going to happen, it has come out of the blue.  And I’d like to say at this point that I am not being paid by either company to do this, and have no affiliation with them at all.  It’s all just serendipity.


By the way, I’ve just decided to use a hashtag for the first time.  Please use #PracticallySavingTheUniverse.

John Bell,

Ordinary Bloke

Special Post: If you swap to Ecotricity, I’ll buy 1/2 an acre of rainforest

This post is a bit different.  If you swap your energy supplier to Ecotricity*, I’ll donate £50 to the World Land Trust to buy half an acre of rainforest in South America, to protect it from loggers.

Why Ecotricity?  Because their prices are guaranteed to be lower than the Big Six; they have frozen their prices for 21 months; if they raise prices in the future, they guarantee to raise them by less than the Big Six.  How can they do that?  Because the electricity they generate is 100% green and they invest all of their profits in more renewable energy, including research into wave power and green gas plants – which means they are all but immune to changes in the global cost of fossil fuels.  And they guarantee to never use fracked gas.


Plus they are by far the best energy company for customer satisfaction.  They get an average of 0.51 complaints per 1000 customers, against the next best of 3.35 (Good Energy) and 19 to 30 for British Gas, Scottish Power, npower and EDF.

How am I able to make the offer?  Because they have made an offer to all of their customers: If I persuade you to swap to Ecotricity, they will give World Land Trust £30 and you will get £50 to spend at Ecotopia.

Why World Land Trust?  Because they are actively saving rainforests from destruction, which in the end is what I think should be our first priority as the human race.  On average there is roughly 1 species made extinct for every 10 acres destroyed, and 366 tons of carbon dioxide is released (that’s about the same amount as the average Brit is responsible for in their entire life).

I’ve just been on the phone to them, and they have confirmed there is no limit to the number of people who can take up this offer.  Woo hoo!  I’m not sure whether there is a time limit.  For terms and conditions, they say go to http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/ecotopia.

It’s easy to swap – either call them on 08000 302 302 or visit www.ecotricity.co.uk and quote this code: WLT1.  When you have done so, please comment below this post (preferable) or email me so I know how many vouchers to expect from Ecotricity (I’ll only donate for the money I save using vouchers I receive), and you can hold me to account to make sure I donate the right amount to World Land Trust (I’ll put proof of my donation up on this blog).

So, what are you waiting for!  Get on with it!  And share this post far and wide, to the corners of the UK (and beyond for info).

UPDATE!!  Ecotopia have said that they will give YOU £50 of vouchers AS WELL if you swap to Ecotricity using my code!  AARRAGGAHH!  Wow!

John Bell,

Ordinary Bloke

* I am looking to maximise the impact of this, so if you are already with Good Energy I’m afraid you are exempt.  They’re already great.  Also this is only available to people in the UK.

Tricky conversation

As you may know, I am planning to start trying to pull my street together as a community via getting kids out on the street playing and maybe a street party.  At some point I want to move the conversation with my neighbours on to what we can do to reduce our carbon emissions as a group.  This jump causes me some anxiety, as I haven’t got it clear in my head how to start that conversation without undoing the community building work.

So, I’m doing some reading.  When I feel confident again, I’ll try my newfound tactics out in practice with some people I know where I’m not as concerned about the outcome.

So far my logic, reading and some personal experience leads me to postulate that bypassing the confrontational conversation about belief in climate change might be a fruitful avenue to take.  I’ll approach the town of climate change, but take the ring road and go straight to community energy and reducing bills.

ConfrontationLogically, if you want to get people to change their habits, talking about how to go about making that change in a positive way seems to be a good route to take.  Using an analogy, if you want someone to put out a fire, telling them to get that fire extinguisher would be more likely to succeed quickly than first trying to convince them there are flames.  I wonder if the same would work for smoking?  If you talked to an addict about where they could get an e-cigarette, would that make them more likely to quit than discussing lung cancer?

There has been limited scientific research on messages that have been more successful in convincing people of the existence of man-made climate change.  One study showed that describing a positive possible future where climate change is defeated leads people to accept the science, whereas describing a negative future did the opposite. This was particularly true for people who have an underlying belief that the world is a just place.

One evening I went out in London for a meal with friends.  One of us is in denial about climate change.  Although of course they know I am passionate about the issue, I generally avoid that conversation for fear of unnecessarily stoking up an argument.  What I have noticed is that if the subject comes up, by breezing over it as though the debate is simply not there to have, and talking instead about the solutions, leads to a much lighter and more constructive conversation, at least than the one I was expecting.  Interestingly, it also means that the consensus support for action among the group comes to the fore.  When in the past the conversation has been on the more divisive subject of the existence of man-made climate change, it tends to lead to a shorter tete-a-tete involving just the two protagonists, with the rest of the crew keeping their heads down.

So, I think the next step for me will be to construct that happy, constructive story of a positive future, and my plans to get there.  I think the exercise will be good for me personally, as well as preparing me for the trial conversations.

Make sense?

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

Berkhamsted look out, here we come

I’ve just woken myself up from a nap, embarrassingly finding myself lying on the carpet in the living room.  Bubs is sitting nearby, avoiding frustration while trying a jigsaw for a much older child.  The weather outside is intermittent, so I’m taking a few moments to get my thoughts down on how my third and final year as “leader”* of Transition Town Berkhamsted (TTB) might develop.

We have a good platform now that a number of people have stepped forward to take on the official roles, responding to my challenge of a few weeks ago.  It was great to see such a turnout at the AGM a week and a half ago, representing the decent number of projects and initiatives that are getting up and running at the moment.  I think we rivalled the attendance of the town council’s annual meeting, and without offering free tea and biscuits.

The TTB strategy remains intact after 20 months, and so ought to be the main thrust of this year.  That would mean formalising how the numerous groups, clubs, businesses and organisations in the town communicating with one another regularly, and using that to help develop a longer term plan for the town, incorporating principles of community, ethics and sustainability.

My thoughts on that approach haven’t changed wildly, but have changed a little.  If we want to see a rapid change to energy efficiency, renewable energy and fuels, local food and a less car-centric transport system, then town plan, or Neighbourhood Plan, is the way to go.  Season that with our get-up-and-go local food growing and energy co-operatives, and we’ll be laughing.

What is different now is that I have realised that whatever development track we take, the marginalised will continue to be in the margins and the excluded will continue to not be included.  Unless we pay attention to community at a personal level.  Hence the idea of having a getting our streets to know and help one another a little more.  We’ll have fun with street parties, getting the kids out and forcing the parents to chat with Street Play, and then having those conversations about the opportunities of Transition Streets.

I just caught myself writing “it will be a hard slog” then, by which I meant we won’t get instant results.  But there is something Freudian in my subconscious choice of phrase.  Now I’m pondering why I think it will be “hard” and “work” – it needs to be fun; something that people choose to get involved with rather than doing so through guilt or a sense of duty.  I’m concluding that it’s not so much the street parties that will be hard, it’s the dreaded taboo conversations about climate change (wibbly font needed).  I’ll need to do a little more research and thinking as to how to have a conversation about carbon footprints with a UKIP or Conservative voter that doesn’t fall in the bracket of boring or confrontational.

Other priorities for the year will be continuing where we’ve left off with the Ashlyns Conversations, with three talks held last year and one already so far this.  And the Steering Groups need to be re-scheduled, with an important decision over the year as to whether we become a charity.  Maybe part way through the year we will do away with the current constitution, and be led by an elected board of trustees with a regularly revolving chairman, following the blueprint of Totnes, Lewes and Stroud?

Before any of that can be started, though, I will follow through on my announcement at the AGM that my first priority will be to fill the gaps not so far filled for the new TTB roles.  The communications role is the glaring hole, and we also need to find some help for Claire and Bex in the membership and publicity positions.  I’ll also try to organise the attendance of the monthly Green Drinks socials with Emma, while changing the format so people want to attend.  Similarly with the online forum, I’ll do a little investigation as to what it is that gets in the way of it being taken up more widely.  Just as importantly, I’ll give my support to the people who have taken on roles, so they know what is expected of them and can get on with it without interference.

So, roughly, that would mean June spent on roles, July to the end of 2014 on street stuff and setting up the communication network with local groups, and then build towards town plan, expand the streets initiative and become a charity to May 2015.

Let’s see how long that lasts.  I’d like to talk it through with the team at the next Green Drinks, which at the moment is unfortunately scheduled to start as England kick off against Uruguay in Brazil, which might scupper things.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

* You may remember that I wanted to change the official title from Leader.  That hasn’t quite happened, because we couldn’t think of an appropriate alternative.  I’d suggested Chair, similar to neighbouring Tring, but it has associations for corporate types.  I’d been thinking of maybe something a little whacky, like naming the position after part of a tree.  Bark maybe?  Root might be better?  Then it came to me.  How about Sap?

The geek shall inherit the Earth

After the third Ashlyns Conversation on Wednesday night, I can’t help but wonder whether there was some mis-translation early on when the Bible was being compiled.  “The meek shall inherit the Earth” has been an eye-catching and thought provoking phrase for me.  I’m wondering whether the “m” was a mistake and it should have been a “g”.

I’ve read Mark Stevenson’s book, and while feeling out of place in a hip pub in London Mark he did take me through his go-to slide presentation.  While there were adaptations in the talk he gave last night to what I’d read and heard before, it was largely similar.  It didn’t stop me letting out involuntary gasps of astonishment as I sat in Berkhamsted Town Hall while he rattled through his bewildering torrent slides, taking the 70 attendees through already existing technologies such as Star-Wars-like thought controlled robotic hands with sensitive touch, to reversing the aging process using telomerase; from successful competitions to find businesses that can make money by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (without government incentives), to the meteoric rise of renewable energy and algae creating petrol from carbon dioxide and water.

Optimist's Tour of the Future

After the talk I gave a lift to Jean to get her home and save her knees, and worked into the evening to prepare for a client meeting today.  A short night’s sleep later and I’m on a train to Derby, thinking.  What I heard last night changes everything for me.  And at the same time it changes nothing.

It changes everything in that I have to admit that I’m much more optimistic about the potential for us defeating climate change.  Technologies are on the way, and they will come sooner or later whether governments get on board or not.  It changes nothing in that the steps I need to take now are to orient myself in moral philosophy, and help to build and inclusive, collaborative and fair community, starting within myself and working out to my family, friends, neighbours, street and town.

I now have renewed insight and belief that the work of the Transition movement is all the more fundamentally important and pressing.  Climate change will knock us to the floor unless we reduce our individual, local, national and global carbon footprint – we need to give ourselves another decade or two to allow these technologies to come through and help repair our battered planet.  Our humanity, our understanding of our place in the universe and our moral outlook need to keep pace with the onset of the world-shifting technologies.  That can only happen if we get to know the Blaneys next door and the Yarkers across the road, talk about the important things in life and yes, dare I say it, love one another.

The world just around the corner (ooh, I like that phrase) isn’t going to wait for our lumbering political systems and unresponsive behemoths of corporations.  Either through Mother Nature showing her hand or through Fred building a self-replicating 3D nano-printer in his bedroom, government and big business are going to get caught napping.  So we need to be there to help smooth the transition and ride the wave of change rather than get swept aside.

The new insights Mark gave change everything in that the destination I now imagine looks very different from the one I had in mind, with just as much nature and collaboration, but a few more gizmos and a lot more algae.

It changes nothing in that we are still at a crossroads in the history of the human race.  Will we race unthinking into that future, use a shiny new monofilament graphite saw too cut off the branch upon which we are sitting.  Or will we allow our humanity to transcend our animal instincts for competition, to move with self-aware assuredness into a collaborative and equitable paradise.

I’ll probably aim for the paradise option, hope that most of us go the same way, and build a bolt-hole in case those that go for the fast lane try to wipe me out.

A massive thank you to Bex in particular, plus Emma, Phillipa and Ivan for organising the talk, and to Mark for delivering such a profound message to us all.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

A year of Transition

Last year we did quite a bit actually, with the Transition Town here in currently wet and windy Berkhamsted.  The bits I will remember fondly aren’t necessarily those that would grab the headlines.  OK, the headlines I am talking about are in the local rag the Berkhamsted & Tring Gazette.

It won’t be the steering groups and updating strategies that will stick in the mind, even though they have given us the foundations and direction to transition the town as a whole rather than just our own back gardens.  It won’t be the Fresh Local Accessible local food initiative, with the extensive survey of the opportunities, opinion and barriers to local food, mainly because I’ve not personally been involved in that.  I’ll remember singing along while we broke our backs digging up and reclaiming rough ground at the allotment to plant a community orchard with the other allotment holders.  My little bubs running with an excited shout through the runner bean bamboo wigwam thing, and it not collapsing, will stick in the mind.

The work with Safer Routes to Schools, making a difference to plans for traffic so kids can walk around more freely, is great, but I haven’t been involved in that either so it’ll slip the mind.  I will remember finally getting into the habit of cycling everywhere, zipping past Trevor or Kate shouting “hello!” while not being able to wave as I held on for dear life.  It’s great to have got over that initial wobbly stage.

I probably won’t even remember the B-Hive town consultation and all the invention, creativity and scribbling of the townspeople as they designed their ideal town centre.  I’ll not forget how I felt, mouth-agape, as Anna Perry silenced the bustling Civic Centre hall with her breath-taking a cappella rendition of ..?  No wait, I seem to have forgotten that.  I remember the tears in people’s eyes though.  Beat endless meetings with councillors.

I’ll probably forget all of the meetings to organise not one, not two but three big talks – the Positive Money talk with Fran Boait and the first two Ashlyns Lectures, with Ian Roberts and Polly Higgins.  I won’t forget chatting with Ian and finding out we went to the same primary school and that our retired parents are working together on the leisure centre in Beaumaris, or eating Parul’s wonderful vegan curry before being awed by Polly Higgins warmth, wisdom and knowledge.

It won’t be the emails and phone calls organising the first two gatherings of the Transition Towns of Beds, Bucks and Herts that will stick in the mind.  It might be the shared meal with Berkhamsted Transition Towners at Danny and Jo’s understated mansion.

I do like to eat.

I may remember the start of an energy co-operative in Berkhamsted, with the cricket club and potentially one or two of the local schools being lined up by Seb, Tracy, Peter, Tom and John.

The point of this?  I’d like to see Transition Town Berkhamsted grow, not just food, but in numbers and the time we want to put into it, so we can really make the practical steps to live the life we expect to see after the town has transitioned into the future of local energy and food, with less reliance on cars, lorries, planes and fossil fuel and more biking.  Oh, yes, I’d obviously forgotten the Bikefest (but not my 7-year-old Tall cycling out of the Canal Fields car-park without me, onto the main roads and making it up the Bridgewater Road hill without gears during the guided ride – Go Tall).

So my aim for the coming year will be to make the work that we do be include socialising, eating, family, friendship and be attractive for us all to want to spend more time doing it rather than seeing it as a drag .  We can then bring in more members and a lot more will be achieved.

Come to the AGM tonight (Thursday 15 May) at HERE Berkhamsted from 8pm and we can plot a fun year ahead.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

Power Shift UK 2014 – How it happened

It took three hours to get through to London via circuitous route on Saturday, with the trains up the swanny. It was worth every minute to get to Power Shift UK, which after all these months of planning, copious use of skype and the waxing and waning of the team, has now happened.  I feel very privileged to have been part of organising such a historical event.

After buzzing backwards and forwards to London to deliver painting materials for the conference banner and then working late into the night on Friday to make sure we knew the plan for the two days and had some idea of how our introduction would hang together, Saturday morning was about getting the posters, programmes, tea urns and accoutrements to UCL before the delegates started to arrive.

The introduction was due to start at 11am, and I have to admit that as the time drew near and I felt as though the attendance was going to be well down on the 150 people who had booked their places, as I was seeing the same few faces wondering around the building trying to find their bearings that.  I need not have worried, as 130 people of all ages and backgrounds rolled into Lecture Theatre 1 in the Cruciform building to kick off the event.  The other 20 would make an appearance at different times over the weekend.

We had a few inspiring videos lined up to get everyone in the mood for sharing stories and skills and hatching plans to shift the power from those who seem hell bent on destroying our natural world.  We pressed play, and watched some interesting looking pictures of flooding and wild fires, but not a decibel of sound accompanied them.  Veiled panic ensued – all rather annoying given it had all been working beautifully just an hour previously.  Eventually Tom found that someone had sat on the mute button on the remote and the audience were treated to this:

Our carefully planned intro had to be curtailed, which meant my idea was dropped, which would have involved me frantically pointing around while people shouted out a word to describe what they wanted from the weekend.  I’ll have to keep that one up my sleeve for another day.  It’ll be great.

The plenary speakers performed verbal miracles on stage, eruditely communicating on complicated topics, bringing interest and emotion, all without notes.  I have to say that for me personally, it was Fiona Brookes who stole the show, with a speech from the heart about being challenged to accept the innate differences and similarities between each of us.

Power Shift UK - Stretching after Day 1

Only when we are together can we bring about the change in society that is needed for social and environmental equality and justice.  Over the weekend we found out how many different takes there are on how to go about that, and we also recognised how we need to incorporate all of those viewpoints into our thinking.  Once we recognise that we are all part of the same movement, we can move to critical mass.  As George Barda said in one of the opening plenaries, historically it has only taken between 1-7% of the population to be actively following a cause for it to become mainstream.

If the social and environmental movement in the UK can join together effectively, we would have that 4 million activists necessary to change our world for the better.

I was part of Power Shift UK 2014.  Will it be seen by history as one of the steps on that road?  Next – Power Shift UK 2, if the students from Warwick Uni keep their enthusiasm, plus potentially Power Shift Scotland.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke