Where am I? Coo-ee!

This post is a general catch-up on what’s happening in my life at the moment and where I see it going in the short term.  I’ll start with me and work out as usual.

I’ve reduced down to one day fasting from two, because I’ve managed to motivate myself to start jogging again.  With that and the cycling I was edging towards 10 stone, which is a little too low.  I’ve also been reading Sophie’s World, to get a very basic grounding in philosophy – more about that in a later post or two.  I’m intending on grounding my next activities on my insights from this work.

The family are well, with Tall and Small back at school again.  Small is particularly pleased about her new school shoes – it took all of our parenting skills to coax her into taking them off before going to bed.  They made up a fantastic competition last night that involved everyone winning.  Tall had to take as few hops as she could to get from one end of our short landing to the other, and had to do fewer than Small.  Small on the other hand had to try and hop as many times on the same route, and had to hop more times than Tall.  So they both always won.  Genius.  Bubs was happy as well, as he just walked around while everyone counted – great fun.

There has seemingly been a very encouraging response to my pre-requisites for taking on the Transition Town Berkhamsted leadership role for a third year.  For once I was unable to attend our monthly Green Drinks social event at HERE, where they had some very fruitful discussions. As a result, I am very pleased to be able to say that if I’m wanted, I will accept the nomination to be leader again this coming year.  I’m looking forward to the 15th so we can get started – this year will be big.

Then we get to the UK and international level, where we are closing in on the 3/4 May for Power Shift UK, part of the Global Power Shift.  Emily and Lindsay in particular, plus Claire and Susan, have put in a humungous amount of effort in organising every last detail.  The list of speakers and workshops is very exciting, and the aims of the conference to plan the connection of the diverse UK climate movement look very attainable as a result.  It has been a huge strain on those who have put in such a lot of time and energy, and the outcomes will be all the better for it.

If you haven’t already done so, please do register to attend the event.  It’s free.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke


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

I’m an idiot

On Friday last week I did my first media interview.  One of the two guys who formed TTB in the first place had been contacted by BBC Three Counties Radio as they were running a broadcast from Berkhamsted.  They’d found TTB on the web, and wanted to include us in their show.

Danny wasn’t available, and put them in touch with me.

Nick Coffer

DJ Nick Coffer

So I found myself in The Lamb, a real ale pub at the north end of the Berkhamsted high street, talking to a friend while DJ Nick Coffer and the BBC team were getting on with their broadcast.  My stint was to be 5 minutes long, and the rather attractive producer Emma was to call me over when my slot came up.  There were live bands playing to give a bit of atmosphere, and to promote the second Berkofest that will be held in September.

Emma waved me over, and I went up to the part of the pub where they were set up.  Nick was standing up at the bar had his headphones on and was holding a massive blue microphone.  He had his back to me, and was evidently talking to the main studio in Luton while some music was playing on the station (you couldn’t hear that in the pub).  I waited patiently for him to say hello before our interview, and took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with Emma about the radio business.

All of a sudden Nick turned round and started talking about TTB into his mic, getting some of the facts messed up, and without much warning I was live on air.  Once I’d jokingly cleared up his error, we got on to the serious business of describing TTB to the masses who listen to BBC local radio.

My first mistake was mentioning a low carbon future.  What is that, asks this stranger with a massive microphone.  He had now produced a pen to wave in the air occasionally while I was talking, for what purpose I could only guess.  I felt like I was playing lead violin while the conductor tried to correct my wayward tune.

I had a go at describing that, and I was then asked what we are doing in Berkhamsted.  For some reason, probably nerves, the question slightly threw me.  I half thought he meant what are we doing wrong in Berkhamsted that was causing problems.  I realise with hindsight he actually wanted to know what we are doing in TTB.  So I started talking about austerity and peak oil.  “We are finding ingenious ways to get oil out of the ground” I said to describe peak oil.  Listening back to the show later it seemed very much that I was inadvertently suggesting that the transition movement in Canada were good at boiling sand and bitumen to get the oil out.

We moved on, or rather Nick did.  Next question was a difficult one – “What’s the worst case of what could happen, for the people in Berkhamsted?”.  What could I say?  I said that the worst case I’d heard of was the oceans boiling away, but I didn’t think that would happen.  Of course I don’t.  But I said it in the heat of the moment (no pun intended).  With a bit of time bought I then described another possible outcome, where extreme weather gets worse, commodity prices go up and life generally gets more difficult.

At home later I thought – that doesn’t sound too bad really, as a worst case.  Why would anyone want to change their lives particularly with that as a worst case?  I’d avoided talking about mass migrations, food and water wars, mass extinctions, global starvation because I didn’t want to alarm.  I would have said these things if I had felt confident.  It has crystalized my opinion that without an accessible and trusted place for people to go to and to refer to in conversation or writing about the size and seriousness of the climate change issue, we are always going to be running up hill.

What is it that makes me think this issue is serious enough to spend a lot of my life dedicated to fighting it?  I was worried about abrupt tipping points and boiling oceans a few months ago, but no longer think that is likely.  When it comes down to it I am worried that we are seriously tampering with something that we don’t really understand, and what we do know is that we have pushed the climate system into a new and wholly man-made position, from which it will not recover.  The longer we continue burning, the less we know about the consequences, the more damage we do.

It scares the hell out of me.  But I imagine to others “we’re permanently damaging the climate” sounds quite benign.

Back to the disastrous radio broadcast, I did at least finish with a flourish, coining a new phrase “Fair Future”, which I compared with Fairtrade.  With Fairtrade you are being fair to others on the other side of the planet – with Fair Future you are being fair to the inhabitants of the future.  They may seem distance, but actually they are the people you packed off the school this morning.

The show is available to listen to for people in the UK on BBC iPlayer for the rest of this week.  Fast forward to about 1 hour 14 mins into the programme to hear the whole thing in gory detail.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

What have I been up to?


Berkhamsted Castle – we could make more of this

It’s been a while since I have given a real update as to what I’m actually doing, which is remiss of me.  I’m going to change the balance of my posts so there are more about what I’m up to and fewer that sound more academic.

So, what have I been doing?  I’ve spent some of my time working on the strategy of Transition Town Berkhamsted (TTB), which is still a work in progress and needs the others involved to give their pennyworth before it is made official.  I’ve also been networking with organisations and individuals involved in the area, to discuss my ideas and help refine them.  I’m getting somewhere with that.  And of course I’ve been researching a little for the posts and responses to comments.

Berkhamsted is a commuter town, with a predominantly right-wing political outlook.  It is also quite large, with a population of 16000.  Unfortunately all of those things lead to it not having a great sense of community.  This makes it that much more difficult for the town to move forward in a meaningful way into the uncertain future.  We need to strike the balance between talking and engaging with local organisations, such as schools, and us taking the initiative, rolling our sleeves up and getting on with it.  There is some debate about that.  When the strategy is sorted I’ll put some more up about it on here.

The other difficultly in making a difference at a local level is the overall sense of apathy and denial on the issue of climate change, which is why I also want to work at a national level to help us overcome that temporary obstacle.  I say temporary because it is inevitable that nature will let us know in no uncertain terms that it doesn’t care whether we believe or not in climate change: it will just get on with dealing out the consequences.

My self-appointed job is to help us realise what we need to do before nature rubs it in our face, by which time it will be too late.  The idea is that we put together the toolkit required – credible information about the reality of climate change, plus information and support for people wanting to take action at home or in their towns or wider.  Then to launch it all with a big fanfare and bring the issue back square up front.  I certainly am not going to do that myself, and it is encouraging to find that a lot of organisations are already working closely together.

I’ll be posting more often from now on, so will explain more in a few days.

Please do let me know what you think.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke