Is Wales Learning to Live Differently?
(This is a follow-up to the 2000 document Learning to Live Differently)
I will attempt to be brief so all these points are summaries. I have been learning to live differently, with the emphasis on sustainability, since 1977, and have the scars, the bank balance and the roundhouse to prove it.
1. Best Practice. We do not need to invent things that other countries have already learned. We might have sustainable development written into the constitution, but we have considerably less experience in actual practice. For example, if we want more organic agriculture than the current 3-4%, let us look in detail at how Austria does it, with 42%.
If we want a responsive, democratic system where the public are fully consulted on all major public decisions, and where the power elite seem to have avoided the traps of ego and power politics, look at Switzerland.
If we wish to encourage eco-villages, look at how Denmark has set up fast track procedures to eliminate red tape between government departments to allow ecovillages to grow and flourish.
Germany and Holland have excellent experience in eco-design and radical sustainable clusters of housing. And so on.
2. Permaculture. I did my first Permaculture Design Course in 1989. Permaculture, the design discipline for naturally based sustainable systems, is now established around the world since originating in Australia in the mid eighties. In the CCW sponsored report into Low Impact Development carried out in 2002 by the University of the West of England and Land Use Consultants, every one of the six low impact case studies chosen had been strongly influenced by the principles and practice of Permaculture. The report, as a result, contained a two-page definition and exposition on permaculture, and recommended that future planning applications for low impact developments be accompanied by a permaculture design. Since then, further reports and recommendations by planning consultants and working groups of planners have entirely ignored the subject and weeded out all reference to permaculture. Why is this? Everyone can learn from this discipline, even people in suits.
3. Ecovillages need planning for and setting up as a matter of urgency. For housing, for models and experiments in sustainable living, and, if current global warming predictions are correct, as liferafts for survivors of the coming environmental crisis.
Ecovillages will need different building regulations, different roads and transport requirements, new planning guidance, and, last but not least, a new council tax band for low impact livers. At Brithdir Mawr we have the local council wanting to charge council tax in the £30,000 value band for huts that cost £250 to build. Ecovillages can do their own sewage, recycling, roads, water treatment, community heating and lighting, plus possibly education and waste disposal as well. How much should council tax be in these cases? This needs work right away.
4. Sustainability objectives. We now have the means of evaluating sustainability, in the form of ecological footprint, and know, thanks to studies by the WWF, that the Wales average is a three-planet lifestyle. This means that if the whole world had the same lifestyle as Wales, there would need to be three planet Earths to supply the resources and handle the wastes sustainably. We have therefore a clear target of a one-planet for Wales. But this is an average. For us to have the present three planet footprint, there are probably hundreds of thousands of people living above this level - it is arguable that many of our decision makers and executives - maybe some people in this room - consider that they need a high level of resource use to do their jobs effectively. In that case, they will need to be counterbalanced by hundreds of thousands, or millions, of people at the bottom of the scale. How easy will this be? Well, we in the roundhouse were also assessed by the WWF researcher, and come out at under one planet, but only just. That's as we are, with solar panels, wood stove, no TV, fridge or freezer, walking and cycling a lot, compost toilet, recycling our wastes, making our own wine, growing some of our food. There is no spare. Where are the millions of less than one planet lifestylers going to come from to counterbalance you lot on four planets?? Hadn't you better stop trying to get us to pull down our wooden shacks and start being a bit more encouraging?
Don't forget, in the long run we have no choice but to live sustainably. The question is, do we start now or wait till Port Talbot, Swansea, Cardiff and anything at present at what we now call sea level are half submerged?
5. Planning needs total overhaul. The planning system was set in legislation in 1948 to preserve a nice view for toffs and landowners. ( As a compromise, big barns don't count.) Planning determines the efficiency with which society operates. It has failed to take account of the environmental costs of separating out so many functions that used to be close together in naturally formed villages, and is largely reponsible for our gross ecofootprint.
The Welsh Assembly planning inspector reporting on our roundhouse, in para 9.9 of his report, was able to dismiss years of design and radical work on my part in one sentence:
'With regard to the claimed sustainable nature of the appeal dwelling, bearing in mind that all new development should be sustainable, this is not of substantial weight'.
The Welsh Assembly must retrain these people in powerful positions to understand what learning to live differently actually means, and giving them some real policies to apply. Pembs County Council are preparing a checklist for sustainable design. This should be given full support, so that all developments are sustainable. Partial sustainability is, in the long run, failure.
Tony Wrench June 16th 2005