It’s been a highly hectic couple of days. I’ve taken on an urgent job with the business, which kept me away from this blog yesterday. And last night saw the second Ashlyns Lecture. We were very lucky that the lucid and stirring Polly Higgins came to Berkhamsted. She may just have started something.

After setting up a vague horse-shoe of blue plastic chairs at Ashlyns School in the early evening, delivering my co-chair-re-arranger Trevor home, rushing around printing off the list of pre-bookees, I got back to the venue to find our star speaker was already enjoying a plate of the most delicious vegetarian food I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t eat Polly’s, no, I had a plate of my own. Thank you Parul, look forward to seeing you on Masterchef one day.

Doors opened at 7pm, and the steady stream started from the off. Food was bought, and it seemed that every other person who arrived hadn’t pre-booked. We’d not put enough chairs out. From pre-bookings of 77, we ended up with a very full hall of 130 enthusiastic folk, waiting to be inspired. They were very much not disappointed.
Polly TalkAfter an introduction from our very own Emma, Polly took to the floor. Without notes or slides, she let her trained barrister skills, natural charisma and deep understanding of her subject flood forward and wash over us. We surfed the rolling waves of her talk as she expertly balanced between emotion and logic.

We heard how, while she was overseeing an injury claim in the courts, she realised that outside there was a neglected and huge victim, laying seemingly passively outside her window. She decided to become the lawyer for the Earth.

That lead her to endeavour to introduce Ecocide as an international crime against Peace, within the Rome statute alongside genocide and war-crimes. It lead her to find out that Ecocide, the intentional destruction of eco-systems, was originally written into those very same international laws when they were first considered in 1972. It lead her to the incredible realisation that they had been dropped suddenly, with unpublicised and secretive discussions at the UN. Three countries had successfully lobbied to have the laws removed in 1996.

Those countries? The United States of America. The Netherlands. And the United Kingdom. In 1996. Under Sir John Major as Prime Minister.

The law can and should be passed. There are 121 countries signed up to make it so. All that is needed for it to be tabled is for one of those countries to put it forward. To do so, they need a mandate from their people.

So it is now our job to create that mandate.

Stroud recently formed Stroud Wants Ecocide Law. Other something like that. Spells SWEL. So we may form B-WEL. Berkhamsted Wants Ecocide Law.

If in 1996 Ecocide had been made a crime, as it rightfully should, the rainforests of the world would now be expanding, the tar-sands in Canada would be a pipe-dream and climate change mitigation would be well under way. Without it? What do you think?

It can happen by 2020. It could happen sooner.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

Byd Bach Tew

Last Wednesday we held the first ever Ashlyns Lecture.  Here’s hoping they will become famous.  The speaker was Professor Ian Roberts, author of the acclaimed book Energy Glut.  And when talking with Ian I discovered one of those incredible coincidences that seem almost unreal.
Ian Roberts giving inugural Ashlyns Lecture
Transition Town Berkhamsted have been forming a partnership with the comprehensive secondary school in the town, Ashlyns: Hence the name of the lecture series.  We are going to be holding three of these talks per year, one in each school term.

A few short weeks of hectic meetings over a bowl of crisps, putting posters and Facebook posts culminated with about 100 people making their way up the hill to the school to hear Ian Roberts talk about his book and research.  He co-wrote the book with Phil Edwards, who happens to be a childhood friend of one of the members of my curry club, Nick.  I’d met Phil sitting round a fire at Nick’s 40th, although neither of us was in a fit state of mind for a sensible conversation.

But that’s not the coincidence.  Before the lecture started, I had a chat with Ian about his slides, which were resting on my laptop.  One of the slides showed a rather harrowing picture of a child war victim, which we agreed to drop.

“I hear you’re from Anglesey” Ian quizzed.

“Yes, I was brought up there.  How did you know?” I replied.

“Bruce mentioned it over dinner,” said Ian – he’d eaten earlier with the main man behind the Ashlyns Lectures.  “Where did you live?”

“Beaumaris.  Do you know it?” I asked.

Ian stared back at me with a look of surprise.

“That’s where I grew up!” he revealed.

Turns out we went to the same primary school and both went to David Hughes secondary school in Menai Bridge, if at different times.  Talking of Beaumaris Primary, I asked whether he remembered any of the teachers.  How about Mrs Thomas?

“Yes!” he said, with a characteristic drawn out pronunciation.  “The one with the big hug!” he mimicked a very recognisable bear hug that was unmistakeably Mrs Thomas.

We didn’t have time to reminisce further, as I was rushing about getting water and welcoming the audience, and he needed to refresh himself of his slides.

The talk started with Ian describing the subject of his very accessible book, which shows how our full roads lead us to increasing levels of fatness and are curtailing the freedom of our kids.  He described his motivation for writing the book.  It stemmed from the guilt he felt when once he promised a young girl that she would be OK after a horrific car crash.  He then put her under for an operation that she didn’t survive.  He is a medical professor, you see.

It seems obvious now.  As we drive more, we move less, which is making us fat.  We drive more still, because the roads are too dangerous to walk or cycle, and we’re able to carry more food home, so we eat more as well.  Our children cannot roam freely and are being brought up in a world where you stay still more than you run about.  We’re talking world society as a whole here, not just the UK – in general we are all moving less, driving more and getting larger.  And of course, all those extra car journeys are contributing to climate change.

Ian and Phil have written papers on the financial, individual and societal benefits that would result from more people walking and cycling.  A relatively modest shift would lead to thousands of fewer deaths from cancer and heart disease, which would be a great saving for the NHS.

One interesting factoid was that for someone over 40, the extra years of life from the fitness gains of cycling far outweigh the risks of injury.

I’m getting a bike for my birthday.  Today.

Following up via email the following day, I thanked Ian for his excellent talk.  It turns out that not only did we grow up in the same village, but our parents are still in the same village and know each other well.  My mother and his father are both on the board looking after the Canolfan in Beaumaris as the townspeople take it over from the council.

Byd bach tew.  Small, fat world.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke