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Monday 2nd March 2015
Under 30? Then you've never experienced a month on earth that has been cooler than average
Contributor: Will Bugler

I learned something shocking today. This article reported the striking fact that "If you’re younger than 30, you’ve never experienced a month in which the average surface temperature of the Earth was below average."

According to figures from the US National Climatic Data Centre, the last month that was at or below that 1900s average was February 1985 when "Ronald Reagan had just started his second presidential term and Foreigner had the number one single with “I want to know what love is.”

Co-incidentaly it was also the first full month that this author spent on earth. Trying deparately to avoid any paranoid egocentrism, the news that, from a climate change perspective, it's been going downhill ever since I was born, has come as quite a shock. 

As the article points out, it is significant that the temperatures have been above average for 30 years. The traditional scientific definition of 'climate'  is the 30-year average of the weather. So assuming that February 2015 is also above average (the results are not in for that one yet), then this will mark the point when we can catigorically say that the earth's climate has changed.

The relavtively stable climate that humanity has enjoyed for centuries has come to an end. This remember, is the climate in which humans developed agriculture, industrialised and urbanised, settled on coasts, and built on floodplains. The stability of this climate is over.

It has been replaced by a climate that is gradually warming, we do not know how human or ecological systems will cope with these changes. We are entering a time of great uncertainty. A time when resilience will be crucial to our continued prosperity.

Wednesday 11th February 2015
New workbook on guiding local government in implementing resilience strategies launched
Contributor: Sharon Ferdinands

Today the Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific 2015 Congress witnessed the launch of a new toolkit to help local governments build resilience to climate change. The 'ICLEI ACCCRN Process (IAP)' has been developed by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability’s South Asia and Oceania offices through involvement with the Rockefeller Foundation-supported Asian Cities Climate Change Resilient Network (ACCCRN) program. Present on the stage for the launch were Gino Van Begin, Secretary General, ICLEI; Emani Kumar, Deputy Secretary General, ICLEI; Bernie Cotter, Managing Director, ICLEI Oceania Secretariat; Yeonhee Park, Director, ICLEI Korea; Sunandan Tiwari, Deputy Director, ICLEI South Asia; Qiaoqiao Xu, Program Officer, ICLEI East Asia Secretariat; Ashvin Dayal, Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation Asia Office; and Anna Brown, Senior Associate Director, Rockefeller Foundation Asia Office.

“We need to make people realise the need to make our cities resilient, to implement it in our climate regimes. We need to engage the government and the people to discuss on global steps that can be taken to make our cities more liveable. All of us make a city and hence the steps to make our cities more resilient have to come from all of us as well, mutually!”, said Gino Van Begin, Secretary General, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

The toolkit enables local governments to assess their climate risks in the context of urbanisation, poverty and vulnerability and formulate corresponding resilience strategies.

With a strong city focus, this toolkit is targeted at city governments and their role in catalysing community building. It provides a streamlined process that is simple and yet rigorous, and which can be implemented by the cities themselves, with only minimal need for external support. It enables local governments to assess their climate risks, formulate and implement corresponding resilience strategies.

“Resilience is a process, and hence the term ICLEI ACCCRN Process“, said Sunandan Tiwari, Deputy Director, ICLEI South Asia.

A copy of the toolkit can be seen here:

 

This article first appeared on the ICLEI 'Talk of the cities' blog and has been republished here with permission. To view the post in its original habitat please click here.

Monday 9th February 2015
Urban climate resilience to be centre stage at ICLEI's Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific 2015 congress
Contributor: Will Bugler

Urban populations around the world are growing rapidly, and nowhere more so than in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a trend that does not appear to be slowing. The UN human settlements programme predicts that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. For south Asia, this means more pressure on existing metropolises, and many more smaller cities becoming large urban centres. The fast-paced rise of such cities presents a huge number of challenges, with demand for infrastructure, water, energy and other services set to rise considerably. Added to these challenges is an urgent need for cities to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. So how will the Asian cities’ infrastructure, communities and governance structures cope?

These are some of the issues that form the basis of the 1st Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific 2015 congress, kicking off in Bangkok on Wednesday. Hosted by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, the 3-day congress will bring together experts, policy makers and researchers on urban resilience to discuss the issues.

Topics at the conference will range from financing mechanisms to disaster risk reduction and ideas of loss and damage for cities. Notably the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) will be launching a regional network of practitioners to help to kick-start the sharing of ideas and knowledge for building climate resilience around the region. The ACCCRN network arises from the work already undertaken in 30+ projects across 10 cities in the South-Asia region. By connecting climate resilience practitioners around the South Asia region, it is hoped that the ACCCRN regional network will lead to more and better climate resilience projects in Asian cities. Insights from the initial set of ACCCRN projects have been published in a recent report.

The Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific 2015 will attract around more than 200 participants from Asia Pacific and beyond, including Mayors, high ranking city officials, representatives from development and UN agencies, researchers as well as potential financiers.

Want to know how to keep up to date with the conference? Check out this handy infographic:

Monday 22nd December 2014
The joys of chopping firewood (or better yet seeing it chopped)
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

Trees are great scatterers of benisons. They give shade and fruit while they live, and habitats for countless creatures.  When they die, or we cut them down, they give their timber – and their firewood. 

One of the pleasures of living in the countryside, especially now in winter, is the burning of logs from familiar trees. A huge old cherry not far from our house failed entirely to come out in leaf two springs ago, so we had it felled, neatly to avoid other trees and greenhouses before it felled them. It had carried on its trunk two man-made features – a bat-box, put up by me, and a car horn. Attached by our predecessor on the farm, Edmund Wall.

Until the day he sold to us, Edmund slept in the bedroom in which he was born; on his bedside table a switch was mounted.   Running from the switch was a wire, going out of the window, across the yard to the old cherry. 

In the summer, when the cherries were ripe, the tree would be thick with birds eating their fill. But Edmund awoke in the early daylight, he would blast the car horn at intervals, scattering the plunderers. He was much more successful at getting a cherry crop than we have been.

When felled the cherry yielded a score of fine one-inch thick planks, some of which my old mate Dave is now making into a bookcase. But there was also a lot of firewood and we are now being kept warm in the evening by these wonderful logs, sawn and split by our peerless son-in-law Yann, with assistance from The Grandsons.

A huge ash tree has blown down in the Long Field and in a few days, Yann and The Grandsons will arrive.  The chainsaw will make short work of the tree and The Grandsons will ferry the blocks in the quad-bike trailer into a dry corner of the barn. After splitting, they’ll lie there for two years before we burn them.   It is immensely cheering to see this pile, a promise of future warmth.

Ash is said to burn wet or dry, but it’s much better after a couple of years seasoning.  Oak is not my favourite firewood; it tends to smoulder rather than blaze. We once bought in a pick-up load of oak, sold as seasoned, and had to dry the logs in the stove before they would burn at all.

Best burning wood of all, in my book, and even better than fruit wood, is hawthorn.  It blazes fiercely, lasts a long time and gives out a terrific heat.  Though I have to say that the greatest heat from wood I ever experienced was from a spar of pitch-pine we found washed up on a Pembrokeshire beach. The heat was so intense we almost had to leave the county, let alone the house.

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Talking of the fruit of trees, we are proud to have produced, from a four-and-a-half acre orchard, nearly £3,000 worth of organic cider apples, delivered to the peerless Dunkerton Cider Company - of Herefordshire, where else?

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A few months ago, a group us in Herefordshire were lucky enough to get a special visit from a man from the deep rainforest. We’ve been trying to set up a local group to get funds to protect an area of rainforest in Peru the size of the county (hence the  name of our project The Size of Herefordshire). Dilwyn Jenkins had come hot foot from the Peruvian Amazon where he had worked for great stretches of his life, especially with a tribe called the Ashaninka, helping them to protect their forests from loggers and miners.

A large genial man, he spoke rivetingly and inspiringly. People came away from hearing him saying they had new courage for the fight. So it was with utter dismay that I set my Kindle going yesterday, scanned the Guardian’s obituaries to read that Dilwyn had died unexpectedly at the age of 57. What a fearful loss, to his family, to Wales where he lived, to Peru and its forests and to the planet. His death will make us more determined than ever to get the Size of Herefordshire in the air.

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My eye was caught by a story in the New York Times last week, which had echoes of a South London disaster. The NYT story relates how farmers in the mid-west are now deploying combine harvesters with such sophisticated electronics – GPS data from satellites etc – that they cost half a million bucks.  A decade ago, a combine cost perhaps $65,000.

Such is the cost of the new combines that their technology is best maximised by growing crops at the largest possible scale, with easy-to-grow and easy-to-sell crops such as corn and soybeans.  In other words, the technology is dictating that the farmer grows mono-crops on a vast acreage. This is a certain sure recipe for disaster.  The Pest-Making God in the sky must be rubbing his hands.

The South London parallel lies in the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, an enormous estate of slab blocks which became a short-hand for  urban social problems caused by lousy architecture.   As if the Aylesbury hadn’t enough to contend with, it was once even used by Blair for a policy launch.

One reason why the Aylesbury was so badly designed was that Southwark architects deployed a type of system-building called 12-M Jespersen. This Danish idea deployed slab walling, dropped into place by vast cranes.   To get economies of scale, the cranes need long runs, so that their tracks did not have to be re-laid.  One of the Aylesbury’s blocks was the longest in Britain. A resident once said to me: “What gets me is that I can stand out here, looking at that block, and I can’t even make out where my flat is.”

It cost Southwark Council millions to pull the blocks down after only 30 years.  Jespersen, doubtless, was carting his kroners to the bank.

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Speaking of Blair, as sadly one is forced to from time to time, I wonder how much damage has been inflicted on Save The Children by the American branch awarding Blair a Global Legacy gong.  The boss of Save The Children  International was plainly shocked by the reaction in the UK, where many have seen the award as bizarre as Henry Kissinger, the illegal bomber of Cambodia,  picking  up the Nobel Peace Prize.  Jasmine Whitbread said “SCUS simply did not anticipate anything sensitive.  In the USA, Tony Blair is widely seen very positively for his contribution to international aid.” 

The gullibility of Americans amazes.  In much of the rest of the world, Tony Blair is widely seen very negatively for his contribution to international mayhem, and especially the slaughter of countless innocent children.

What I also find interesting is to learn how Save The Children UK turns out to be as stuffed with Blairites as a Christmas pudding is of raisins.  Its chief executive Justin Forsyth was a former Blair employee at in Downing Street and it turns out he played a key role in getting Blair the award, delivering the invitation.    Then there is Jonathan Powell, Blair’s former chief of staff and a facilitator of the Iraq War; he is on the Save The Children Board.  (I expect he was invited on by his old mate Justin).  Even the chair of the Trustees, Sir Alan Parker, is described as a colleague of Blair’s.

What’s going on?   It’s simple really:  just as corporations that plunder the environment adopt a few green policies as fig-leaves, greenwash – so politicians with blood on their hands take on charitable work as smoke-screen.  This time the smoke has blown clear.

What an awful error by Save The Children, which does good things and has many terrific employees. If I was Fiona Whitbread, or indeed a trustee of Save The Children UK, I would purge the Blairites. 

Wednesday 26th November 2014
Don't even think about it...
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

One of the features of a consumer society is to invent wants we didn’t know we had and turn them into needs we feel we must have. I came across this in a new unexpected form the other day when taking one of our ancient collie dogs to the vets.  

Ben had developed a swelling on his upper jaw.  We dropped him into our vets, not a million miles from the Welsh Borders, for advice. The vet took a quick look at the animal and said “This might be a tumour.”  We replied to the effect that in that case, he’d need to be put down pronto.  “Well” said the vet, on a different tack, “I think you need a kidney and liver scan on Ben.”  Need? This was his jaw, not his digestive system.  We declined the scans and left the dog with the vet to look more closely at the jaw and see if he had a tooth infection.  We expected to pay for a jab.

When I came back to collect the hound, I was ushered into a state-of-the-art operating theatre, which a few years ago might have been used to carry out heart-and-lung transplants on a fee-paying plutocrat suffering the after-shocks of years of indulgence in Nice or Monte Carlo. Now it was being used for pets.  The vet put up on a screen an X-ray of Ben’s jaw.  But so what? Nothing came of having this X-ray.  The dog got his jab… and we got a bill for £212.00.  In a day or so, the swelling subsided.  It was a bee-sting.

We mused afterwards how pet treatment was out of control. Was this the effect of pet insurance? Or the depressingly familiar 21st century story of socially useful services being turned into businesses and the clients, now customers, being shaken down for what my old builder friend Gerald called dirty folding?  Whatever, pets are now being given advanced and expensive treatments developed for people and one is deemed hard-hearted if one revolts.  A good friend’s cat was injured in a feline-fight the other day.  She took it to her vets (a different one) and later collected the cat and a bill for £800.  For a moggie

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I have just finished the most important environmental book I have read in many years. "Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change" (Bloomsbury) addresses this extraordinary problem: how and why we are able to turn away from thinking and acting on climate change despite many of us knowing the horror coming down the tracks towards us.  The writer is George Marshall, the founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network and author also of Carbon Detox, which he modestly describes as a slow-selling book on personal action on climate change.

Don’t Even Think About It sets out how the human brain has fundamental and universal cognitive wiring that that shapes the way we interpret threats and motivates us to act of them.  We are best equipped to anticipate threats from other humans, being terrifically skilled at identifying friends and enemies.  Faced with a threat from Isis, we leap to new forms of attack and defence. But climate change is not like such a relatively simple threat from Al-Bakr-Al Bhagdadi. It is, writes Marshall, “complex, unfamiliar, slow-moving and inter-generational. Of all the possible combinations of loss and gain, climate change contains the most challenging: requiring certain short-term loss in order to mitigate against an uncertain longer-term loss.” 

Marshall goes on, saying what’s worse, is that we all contribute to this problem by the C02 we put out. We are contributing to this ghastly problem for our children – yes 4 degrees and societal breakdown is only 60 years away.  “This moral challenge, combined with a sense of the relative powerlessness of individual action, helps mobilize a well-ingrained set of defence mechanisms that enables is to ignore the problem…

The book has full of rich anecdotes. There’s a hilarious one in which Marshall recalls a dinner party in which the guests, educated professional class, described their exotic holidays on the horizon - flying to New Zealand for Christmas (as some friends of mine are about to do) and so on.  Marshall interrupts to ask doesn’t anyone think of the global warming they are causing by these flights?  There’s a long embarrassed silence and then one lady says…  “Isn’t this spinach tart absolutely delicious.?

Don’t Even Think About It tells of how even communities which have been ravaged by extraordinary climatic events, like Hurricane Sandy, prefer to talk about almost any other subject than climate change.  But perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the way it shows how the human instinct for forming into groups and remaining loyal to those groups works against everyone coming together to take action on climate change.  So greens talk to greens, and deniers talk to deniers, each group slags off the other group, and no progress is made. George Marshall calls for a different kind of action, in which all groups agree at least to see climate change as a problem, and work together to try to solve it.  Well, it is worth a try.

For my part, I am flying for pleasure no more.

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One of the advantages of living on the Welsh Borders is that it is stuffed with good writers.  A Hollywood mogul was resistant to casting Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, saying “Throw a surfboard on a California beach and you’ll hit ten the same as him”  Well, on the Welsh Borders, you can throw a party and there’ll be ten good writers turning up for jollity.

One near-ish neighbour and good friend is the writer Matthew Engel.   He has just published Engel’s England  (Profile Books), an idiosyncratic  tour of all the counties of England, yes even Rutland. Matthew writes wonderfully but his eye is also a very individual one.   Fond of placing bets on horses, when he goes to Cheshire, for instance, much of the chapter is written around Chester races.   None the worse for that… he tells of the horse racing authorities having a special committee which vets the proffered names of horses coming under rules, to eliminate double entendres and private jokes, as in Wear The Fur Hat.  But they let through All Fur Hat, however, not knowing the phrase in some quarters is used to describe a certain kind of  extrovert woman and is followed by another… And No Knickers.

Matthew Engel’s writing is so witty and clever that one enjoys reading as much in reading about counties in which one has never set foot as counties where one has lived and worked.

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