So much for putting the world on the back burner

Well, so much for not putting so much time into climate change antics.  No sooner had I published the last blog post about concentrating on the business, that I got a phone call from the Transition Network.  We are hosting one of the four UK Transition Roadshows.

It was only a week or two ago that there was a flurry of conversation on the email group of the Transition Beds, Bucks, Herts conglomerate.  Or whatever we’ll call ourselves – basically the group of a dozen or so Transition Towns based around these here parts.  Should we be Transition Three Rivers, maybe?  I don’t know.

Anyway, a few of us had noticed that there will not be a national Transition Network conference this year – instead there will be four Transition Roadshows across the UK.  The thinking is that given Transition is about permaculture and local being key, having a range of roadshows around the country rather than one central conference will give more people the chance to attend, make them more relevant and give local Transition Initiatives a boost of profile-raising pizazz.  The deadline for applications was in a day or two.

TN Roadshow
Kings Langley, Haddenham, Letchworth and Milton Keynes were all interested in a roadshow being hosted somewhere within our catchment, as were we in Berkhamsted.  With the deadline for expressing an interest looming, ducks were churning their legs unseen behind the scenes to decide who would like to put in an application, and weren’t showing great signs of getting in a row.  So Linsey in Haddenham and me in Berkhamsted decided to put in our applications anyway, with the promise of support from the other groups.

A couple of feverish hours later my application was off to Amber Ponton at the Transition Network, and out of my mind.  So the following week, when I got a phonecall on my mobile from Totnes while having breakfast with my wife and the little one, I couldn’t figure out who it was on the other end of the phone.  It had been a different sort of a morning because my laptop had packed up (I’m writing this from the replacement) and we’d just watched Small in the Reception assembly dancing to the samba in celebration of all things Brazil.  Apologies Amber for our slightly whacky conversation, as I danced along a narrow wall in celebration.

We will be hosted one of the four Roadshows.  Oh yes, we will.  Oh, no, that means organising something.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke


Absence makes the heart grow fonder

OK, it’s Wednesday 25 June 2014, nearly a year and a half into my year off, let’s take stock.  In this post I’ll outline my plans for the next few months.

BellvediYou may have noticed that I’ve not been writing as much in the last week or two.  The business is teetering on the edge at the moment, with an avalanche of potential railway projects just up above us as we carefully ascend the mountain of Never-rest.  If a few of the projects land, my business partner and I will be rushed off our feet and thinking of inventive ways to get through the workload.  That’s starting now as we try to get as much preparation under our belts as we can.

Which means life is looking more ordinary, with less zooming about saving the world.

I can justify that by realising that Transition Town Berkhamsted is now stabilised, with a number of people committed to the cause and several projects on the go.  I have realised that the most important work I can do is on myself, building relationships within the community of the people involved in TTB and getting to know the people on my street.  The solutions to the big problems can create big problems in themselves, emphasising the importance of a moral outlook.

What shall I write next?  How about going through plans from the inside to the out like I have done in the past.

So, starting with my inner self.  A smidge of mindfulness, especially when I’m stuck in front of a soul absorbing screen, like the one I am looking at right now.  It will be all to easy to get side-tracked when I am overly busy, forget the body in which I live, moment to moment.  I’m getting exercise riding my bike every day, and will be keeping up the early morning jogging.  Or at least I will when I don’t get drawn into staying up late to watch the World Cup.  I’m eating healthily thankfully, now that the diet is 90% vegetarian and I’m still fasting two days a week (or one when I’m into the habit of exercising regularly).

One thing I have to do, no matter how busy I get, is to remember why I am doing all of this.  My children.  Yes, I spend time with them now, but it is often just when getting them ready to go to school, or for bed at night, apart from the weekends.  Yes, we have fun.  I’ll need to prize them away from the telly after school.

For the plans for allotment, street, town, country (including the For the Love campaign and an upcoming visit to the UK parliament) and planet, you’ll have to wait for the next post.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

A year of climate change news in 400 words

Over the past year or so I have been keeping abreast of the latest social, political, technological and scientific news on climate change.  I’ve not been sharing every last detail on my blog, so here is a whistle-stop tour of all you need to know.  To make my job a whole lot easier, Al Gore has just written an article in Rolling Stone magazine on the same subject.

So, here goes:

Solar power is getting much cheaper, and looks set to become cheaper than fossil fuels.  Utility companies are shrinking from the US to Europe as a result.  It’s small-scale solar owned by individuals and communities that’s leading the way.  India plans to provide power for 400 million people using the sun.  Wind energy is following fast.

Big business is fighting back, investing millions in lobbying to effect law that holds back the renewable revolution by increasing taxes, but are being largely defeated.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has passed 400 parts per million, the highest it’s for at least 800,000 years, where we started farming only about 10,000 years ago.  13 of the 14 hottest years on record have been since the year 2000.

This year looks likely to be the hottest yet, with an El Nino brewing.  People worldwide are starting to realise that there is a common cause behind the droughts of the US, floods and storms in the UK, Serbia, Philippines and New York, seas rising and already threatening the lower lying lands.

Ice is retreating at more than a glacial rate everywhere from Antarctica and Greenland to the Arctic.  The changes are already irreversible.

The US military have changed their mind about climate change being the most significant force in destabilising world peace because of it being a “multiplier”.  They now say “it’s going to be the direct cause of instability”.
The technology is available, and the political will needs to follow.  The wording for the Paris 2015 agreement on climate change is being drafted as I type.

In one of my first blog posts, I compared climate change to the forces of Germany building before the second world war.  I suggested that Churchill didn’t try to persuade us to build spitfires based on an economic argument.  It turns out that the comparison was more apt than I realised.  In November 1936, he said in parliament: “Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. . . . The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences. . . . We cannot avoid this period; we are in it now.”

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke


There was a moment’s peace, with the faint murmurings of the dishwasher in the next room only disturbed by the all knowing pronouncements of Mark Lawrenson in comment on the football World Cup match between Spain and the Netherlands.  The children were all in bed, but weren’t quite ready to sleep.

Rowan came downstairs after persuading them to close their eyes, and started to tidy the piles of toys left on the living room floor.  John felt a vague momentary feeling of guilt as he sat and watched, in front of his laptop.

The past few days had been busy and long, with head hitting pillow in the early hours each night.  No contracts had been signed, but there was a lot of work to persuade the railwaymen of Britain to adopt new approaches.  He had to be honest with himself, it wasn’t all slog.  Two of the late nights had involved a spot of food out in London, meeting with friends and colleagues, intent on turning the oil tanker of human society against the drag of willful ignorance about the need to change the way works.

Van Persie scored a wonder goal with a looping header to level the match for the Netherlands.  Holland.  They were playing in Brazil, which is a hot and humid part of the world at the best of times.  In the south of the country, 130 cities are in a state of emergency as torrential rain and floodwater engulf the region, and tens of thousands have been evacuated.

Like a fly gorging on effluent, blissfully unaware of the massive form of the rolled up newspaper poised threateningly above it, the crowds of brightly coloured fans knew little of the trouble brewing just below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.  The Child is awaking, after years of heat building up in the deep ocean.  El Nino is nearly upon us.

El NinoThe much maligned scientists, unfortunate messengers being shot with every new report, have used the technologies at the forefront of the advances of the human race, from vast super-computers to detailed intricate surveys of the extremities of the planet.  Only recently they have finished collating the data, and the news again is not good.  Their is nothing left to stop Antarctica from melting into the oceans, and Greenland is on its way.  The tipping point has passed.  Our oceans will be metres higher, and there is nothing we can now do to stop it.

Interesting times.

John Bell,

Ordinary Bloke

Interview with Transition Free Press

Hello guys.  I am being interviewed today by Michaela Woollatt of Transition Free Press, about my involvement with Power Shift UK.  I’ll post up here when the article comes out.  In the meantime, I answered a few questions via email as a lead up to the interview.  Here are my answers:

Why you became involved in the Power Shift movement?
left a full-time job a little over a year ago to allow me to spend more of my time on what I think of as the most pressing issue of our time, namely climate change.  I was already heavily involved with my local Transition Town, but realised that there needs to be a general change in attitudes nationally if we are to reach critical mass in our Transition.  Having met Nico of at a demonstration in London, I found the opportunity for me to contribute strategically to the movement via the Global Power Shift.
Why you believe there is a need to broaden the climate movement?
In my experience, the movement tends to form around a few key individuals in any one town, village or district.  The people who are involved are those in the circle of friends of those key individuals, from a similar age range, political viewpoint, ethnicity and socio-economic background.  To build momentum at a local level, groups need to move beyond their natural catchment.  As a movement overall, there are certain demographics that are very under-represented.
To gain true critical mass, the movement needs to grow beyond its current reach.
Which groups/movements/individuals do you see as key actors in facilitating this?
Obviously, I see the Transition movement as hugely important.  The Transition movement can take hold in locations outside of the progressive, liberal parts of the country, and I see community energy and Transition Streets, in combination with other initiatives such as Playing Out, as being important in allowing the movement to grow.
The Climate Coalition is key as well, in providing the possibility for groups small and organisations large to join and share progress.  There was talk at Power Shift UK of them providing an online platform to allow successes and experiencce to be shared, so we can all feel part of something bigger, without necessarily feeling as though we need to spend a lot of time at rallies.
And of course the last and most important individual to make sure that the movement is inclusive and grows is you.  Or me.  Or anyone reading.  Growing the movement is not something that will happen overnight.  It will involve thousands of people having millions of conversations with friends and acquaintances.
How groups/movements should do this?
The methods will be different for all, and I wouldn’t presume to know more about what will be effective than people involved in a group already.  but key tips can be gained from the likes of COIN.  People can join in with the more regional Power Shift groups, by contacting Power Shift UK.  They can also, or instead, think about their own local area and which parts of society are under-represented in their group or in their thinking.  And if we share our progress with each other, we can start to realise just how much great work their is all over the country, by a huge number of inspirational and dedicated people, and can gain encouragement to carry on ourselves.
What are the challenges individuals and groups face in doing this?
The challenges are many, but we need to be optimistic and determined.  We need to pace ourselves to avoid burn-out, take on enough to be effective while still doing a proper job.  We need to realise that for a new idea to take hold, you first need to go through a lot of rejection, slowly changing the attitudes and behaviour of a minority, and to not stop there.  Once a few more are saying yes, carry on and a few more will say yes, and start to help your cause.  Patience is needed, which can feel demoralising and defeatist in the face of the urgency of the climate crisis.  But when you realise that the critical tipping point might be just around the corner, you need to keep going.
What can the green movement do to make itself more accessible to all?
Stop calling itself the “green movement” for a start.  It’s not just about saving rainforests and helping endangered species.  It’s much more fundamental than that.  Our way of life will change, either through the climate or the incredible opportunities that advances in technology and provision of renewable energy provide to make our societies more equitable.  We need to find the underlying beliefs that we all have in common, such as a love for the seasons, personal freedom and of our children, all of which need protecting from climate change and inequality.
John Bell,
Ordinary Bloke

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

It’s easy to swap – either call them on 08000 302 302 or visit 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.

Unexpected twist

Life is taking an interesting and unexpected turn of late.  It all started with reading the “Optimists Tour of the Future” and meeting the author, Mark, leading me to visions of the engineered utopian or dystopian future we are accelerating exponentially towards.  Then I visited a Fab Lab, under construction, and have seen first-hand how near that future is becoming.  And how dangerously easy it would be for me to jump on that bandwagon and race off into the reddening sunset.

A Fab Lab is basically a workshop for geeks and entrepreneurs alike to get to grips with automated, small scale manufacture of gadgets and gizmos, using a variety of burgeoning technologies such as desktop laser-cutters and 3D printers.  The important part is that use of the facility is free, within limits.  There are hundreds of the blighters appearing all over the world, including potentially one being put in place by a couple of friends here in Berkhamsted.  The one I checked out was in the Enginuity museum-like-place in Ironbridge, which we visited on Tall’s birthday last week while on a break with the in-laws.  The man behind it, Phil, was very enthusiastic and willing to tell me all about it after I asked for a back-stage pass to nose around.

Fab LabBoom.  Whizz.  Bang.  Brain goes off with inspiration and ideas blasting out of every neuron, as I saw Pixar-quality free 3D design software, printed scanned busts of the staff, laser etched key fobs of photos.  I heard stories of 3D printed houses in China          , business cards with videos activated when you look at the card, and everything created by ordinary people on a shoe-string, not requiring the deep pockets of government or corporations.  Collaboration by the likes of you and me.

On the drive home the following day, fuelled by caffeine, the possibilities thrummed through my mind.  I allowed myself to get drawn further into the intoxicating science fiction come real.  With the M54 rolling past, I designed two new 3D printers, with high resolution and colour (my designs are unworkable, I’m sure – and already done for a mere £200K).  How about an online playing field for ordinary people to evolve computer brains with artificial intelligence, building on each other’s ideas and programs?  Why stop there: with the Fab Labs ordinary people can design, share and build any sort of technology, linking together different components to create larger objects.

Mind racing.  Combined with plentiful supplies of local, community owned renewable electricity and fuel generation, there would be no reliance on central facilities for power.  (That might help sort climate change.  Oh, yeah, climate change).

There would need to be some cataloguing mechanism so the latest breakthroughs are easy to find, not hidden by competitors or left on the workbench due to poor advertising.  I parked that, brain not letting me rest on any one thought before moving me on to the next.

Which was about money.  With the idea of sharing technologies and breakthroughs widely, then how would the army of inventors support themselves back in the real world?  How about some reputation system, so useful contributions are recognised?  Food.

We’d need to eat.  When’s lunch?

It was only when I let myself slow down that I started to think through the consequences.  Where would the materials come from?  Maybe centralised manufacture, while putting the power in the hands of a few, does use resources more efficiently.  Unless the resources required are readily available almost everywhere, such as carbon, air and water.  It feels as though this new world will make it more difficult for people or groups to monopolise power and influence, and level the global playing field regarding living standards.  But what about the environment?  Who would look after that?  There isn’t much nature left in science fiction, other than in distant space.

So, both the potential and the excitement and enthusiasm I felt mean that this could be the start of a story about the future that might galvanise society into a move towards renewable energy.  The question is: How to tell it and move towards it responsibly?

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

PS – this short movie shows what is possible with the free 3D software and with a collaborative, open project.  If you have 15 mins to watch it, it also has a moral message about the dangers of pursuing a goal without thought as to the consequences.

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?