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Life beyond energy bills

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The UK’s homes are some of the leakiest in Europe. Every year, we spend a small fortune on heat which simply escapes through our windows, doors, walls and floors.

As well as wasting our dwindling carbon budgets, it’s a serious public health problem. Climate change think tank E3G reckon cold homes in Britain kill as many people each year as breast or prostate cancer.

Dr Brenda Boardman, Emeritus Research Fellow at the Oxford Environmental Change Institute, wants us to think big when it comes to insulating our homes to help tackle this problem.

By Alice Bell,  22nd August 2019

Community owned solar panels
Low income households should be first in line for transformative, tenant-controlled rollout of efficient heating systems.

Super homes

Household energy demand has been dropping, it’s about 20 percent lower than it was ten years ago, but there’s still a lot of space to up our ambition. “How far could we go, if we really wanted to?” she asks. “Could we phase out all active heating systems in all buildings?”

Buildings in Europe are ranked on their energy efficiency from A to G. If you live in the UK, your home’s probably a D, but you might be lucky enough to be higher, or unlucky enough to be lower. If your home is an A, you’re part of a very elite group.

Of the British domestic properties which have registered an energy efficiency rating, only 0.05 percent of existing dwellings and 1 percent of new builds are an A. Band A homes are rare and special beasts, intricately designed to be kept temperate with almost no heating or air conditioning.

In the UK, this means high levels of insulation, high performance windows, and a clever ventilation systems which recycle the heat lost in the home so you can make the most of it.

This is the stuff of glitzy TV home design show and architecture prizes, or so-called “superhomes” where enthusiasts have poured love, time and money into retrofitting their older homes to bring them up to scratch.

Urgent need

Boardman wants us to consider a 2050 target of everyone living in a band A home, and put low income households first in line. After all, aren’t these households the ones who most urgently need freeing from the expense and stress of energy bills?

Some of this sort of work is already happening, albeit not at scale, or to band A levels.

Take, for example, Wilmcote House, a large concrete panel building owned by Portsmouth city council. It’s in one of the most deprived areas of England, a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Charles Dickens. It was recently given a £12.9 million deep retrofit, all done with tenants in-situ, so people didn’t have to move out.

They aimed to take dwellings to a band C, saving tenants £750 a year on energy bills. As a report on the project by the LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion notes, before the retrofit, residents had multiple issues with damp, condensation and mould, as well as draughty windows, leaky roofs and freezing rooms which were expensive to keep at a liveable temperature.

Children were having to do their homework wearing woolly hats and mould grew on walls and even mattresses. Residents were embarrassed to invite people to visit, and got used to having to lend each other money to keep their heaters on. 

After the improvements were completed in 2018, tenants were, on the whole, warmer, healthier, happier and saving hundreds of pounds per year each in energy bills. The cost worked out at about £117,000 per flat for the council, but they felt it was justified, cheaper and less disruptive than demolishing and rebuilding the block.

Insulation and ventilation 

Wilmcote House is unusual though. Ruth London, from campaign group Fuel Poverty Action, regularly sees cases were tenants have been fighting for insulation but can’t get it. She sees cases of bad retrofits too.

London explained: “The problem is usually ventilation. When this is done badly, it can end up causing damp and mould, making the space even less healthy than it was.”

Since the Grenfell fire, cladding has understandably dominated discussions about insulation, with stories of tenants living in fear as they wait to have their building’s cladding replaced. According to Fuel Poverty Action, even when cladding has been removed, replacements have sometimes been delayed. 

London continued: “When the cladding’s off, the insulation’s off, leaving people in the cold. In many cases, this has happened over the winter. People freeze. Even if you keep heating on 24 hours the flat won’t always warm up, and anyway people can’t afford to.

“The winter after Grenfell, the deaths from cold homes were 17,000. And it’s not just a matter of people being cold in their homes, but afraid to go home – sitting in cafes, libraries, anywhere they can go to get some warmth.”

Repowering London

Dave Fuller runs a community solar project in north Kensington. Talking to residents in the Lancaster West estate – the larger development the Grenfell tower is part of – he says people have been living without hot water because boilers have been shut off, as well as issues with communal heating, and problems where the cladding’s been ripped off.

Fulled said: “It’s clear people are still being screwed over in various ways when it comes to heat.”

Fuller’s solar project is part of Repowering London, whose world-leading work has already transformed communities in Brixton and Hackney.

For Repowering, solar isn’t just something for the eco-keen rich: people who own a roof and have the money to glaze it with shiny blue photovoltaic cells. It’s for everyone: the panels are installed on social housing blocks by local young people.

Repowering’s move into north Kensington – an area infamous for housing injustice for decades before the Grenfell fire – is significant. Could they take the transformative, tenant-controlled approach to heating systems? Work like this would need investment though. 

Spending plans

Nottingham council are pioneering a British rollout of a Dutch “energiespong” approach – wrapping houses with insulated panels which snap on a little like Lego – after the local authority won £5m from the EU’s European Regional Development Fund. Most councils struggle to find such funds though.

Ed Matthew, Associate Director at E3G, argues we should, at the very least, get on with cutting the amount of energy we use in British homes.

Matthew believes we should at least halve it: “It is not an option, it has to be at the heart of the government’s zero carbon energy infrastructure and spending plans.”

This Author 

Alice Bell is director at 10:10 Climate Action. This article originally appeared in 10:10 Climate Action’s book Stories of Heat from our Warming World.

Image: Lambeth Community Solar, Repowering London.

Source: The Ecologist, U.K.

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Right to Repair Bill Introduced in Congress

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Hot on the heels of last week’s victory in the New York state senate, the fight for Right to Repair comes to the US Congress. Today, Congressman Joe Morelle (D-NY) introduced the first broad federal Right to Repair bill: the Fair Repair Act.

“As electronics become integrated into more and more products in our lives, Right to Repair is increasingly important to all Americans,” said Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO. Lawmakers everywhere are realizing the need to protect our Right to Repair—along with progress in the EU and Australia, 27 US states introduced Right to Repair legislation this year, a record number.

“Every year I’ve worked on Right to Repair, it’s gotten bigger, as more and more people want to see independent repair protected,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of Repair.org. Rep. Joe Morelle has been a champion for much of that journey, sponsoring legislation while in the Statehouse in Albany starting in 2015. Everywhere you go, people just want to be able to choose for themselves how to fix their stuff. You’d think manufacturers would wise up.”

Congressman Joe Morelle’s federal bill would require manufacturers to provide device owners and independent repair businesses with access to the parts, tools, and information they need to fix electronic devices.

“For too long, large corporations have hindered the progress of small business owners and everyday Americans by preventing them from the right to repair their own equipment,” said Congressman Morelle. “It’s long past time to level the playing field, which is why I’m so proud to introduce the Fair Repair Act and put the power back in the hands of consumers. This common-sense legislation will help make technology repairs more accessible and affordable for items from cell phones to laptops to farm equipment, finally giving individuals the autonomy they deserve.”

“Right to Repair just makes sense,” said Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG Senior Right to Repair Campaign Director. “It saves money and it keeps electronics in use and off the scrap heap. It helps farmers keep equipment in the field and out of the dealership. No matter how many lobbyists Apple, Microsoft or John Deere and the rest of the manufacturers throw at us, Right to Repair keeps pushing ahead, thanks to champions like Rep. Joe Morelle.”

“At iFixit, we believe that big tech companies shouldn’t get to dictate how we use the things we own or keep us from fixing our stuff.” said iFixit’s US Policy Lead, Kerry Maeve Sheehan. “We applaud Congressman Morelle for taking the fight for Right to Repair to Congress and standing up for farmers, independent repair shops, and consumers nationwide.”

We’re pleased to see Congress taking these problems seriously. In addition to supporting Congressman Morelle’s Fair Repair Act, we urge Congress to pass much-needed reforms to Section 1201 of the Copyright Act, to clarify that circumventing software locks to repair devices is always legal, and to expressly support the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to tackle unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive repair restrictions.

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For a healthier planet, management must change

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Our environment sustains all life. Both human and wildlife. When habitat degrades, the lives of all that depend on it also deteriorate: poor land = poor people and social breakdown.By Sarah Savory, Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe (like many other countries in arid areas with seasonal rainfall) we are facing the many symptoms and signs of our country’s advancing desertification: ever-increasing droughts, floods, wildfires, poverty, poaching, social breakdown, violence, mass emigration to cities, biodiversity loss and climate change. No economy can survive if we destroy our soil – the only economy that can ultimately sustain any community, or nation, is based on the photosynthetic process — green plants growing on regenerating soil.


So, if we wanted to find out the optimum way to manage our wildlife, people and economy, logically, shouldn’t we be looking at our National Parks for the best examples of what we can do for our environment? Because in national parks, we not only have the best management the world knows, we don’t have any of the issues that are normally blamed for causing desertification: ignorance, greed, corruption, corporations, livestock, coal, oil, etc. Let’s do that now…the following are all photos taken in our national parks (the first 3 were taken in May right after the rainy season when they should still be looking their best!)

As you can see from those photos, some of the worst biodiversity loss and land degradation we have in Zimbabwe is occurring IN our National Parks. But, as I pointed out, those have been run using the best management known to us and have been protected and conserved for decades. We’ve clearly been missing something…

The above 8 pictures are a mixture of National Parks and Communal Land…can you tell which is which?

We are seeing this land degradation both inside and out of our Parks because there is an over-arching and common cause of desertification that nobody has understood, or been able to successfully address, until recently.

We spend our lives blaming resources for causing the damage (coal, oil, livestock, elephants, etc) but resources are natural, so how could they possibly be to blame? Only our management of them can be causing the problem.

ALL tool using animals (including humans) automatically use a genetically embedded management framework…and every single management decision made is in order to meet an objective, a need, or to address a problem. And those decisions are made with exactly the same framework, or thought process and for exactly the same reasons, whether it is an animal or a human.

For example, a hungry otter has an objective: he wants to break open a clamshell because he needs to eat. He uses a simple tool (technology, in the form of a stone) to do so. He does this based on past experience or what he learned from his mother.

Or, the president of the United States has an objective: to put a man on the moon within a decade. He and his team use the same tool (technology, but various and more sophisticated forms of it) and base their choices on past experience, research, expert advice, and so on. It’s the same process, or framework, in both cases, only the degree of sophistication has varied.

A screen shot taken from a short video clip we took with a film crew last month, of 4 different areas, all near to each other: you will clearly see the terrible desertification in both National Parks and nearby Communal Land. In comparison, you will see a vast difference on Dibangombe, the Africa Centre For Holistic Management (our learning centre, which is only 30km from Victoria Falls.) This habitat is being regenerated for all life by simply managing holistically. Every year on this land, despite the worsening droughts, the biodiversity increases and the land and wildlife flourish.
All this footage was taken in the same area, at the same time, with the same climate, the same soils, the same wildlife and the same humans.
But different management.

To this day, this decision making process works just fine for the otter. But imagine that one day, the otter invents a machine that can crack open 1,000 clam shells a day and that all the other otters suddenly stop doing what otters are designed to do and just come to him to get their clams. They still use the decision making process but everything else has changed…that tiny advance in technology would have inadvertently set off a complex chain reaction through the whole ecosystem and there would soon be catastrophic environmental knock-on effects because the balance of the ecosystem has been upset. The ecosystem will keep trying to adjust to this change but eventually it will start to collapse. Imagine the otter started charging for the clams. Now, with every decision the otters make, in order to make sure their ecosystem didn’t collapse, they would need to be simultaneously addressing the social, environmental and economic aspects of their actions. Their management would have to evolve with the change.

This is exactly what happened to humans…As soon as our technology advanced, our management should have evolved to accommodate for it. But it didn’t.

Our natural world is rapidly collapsing all around us and we have ended up constantly chasing our tails and dealing with the symptoms and complications we’ve created. While there have been thousands of books written over the years on different types of management, if you dig a little deeper and ‘peel the onion’ the same genetically embedded framework is still inadvertently being used.

In the last 400 years, our technology has advanced faster than in all of the two hundred thousand or so years of modern human existence. Over those same few centuries, you can now see why the health of our planet has entered a breathtaking decline.  We now have the knowledge to change that…

No matter what we are managing, we cannot ever escape an inevitable web of social, economic and environmental complexity, so, in order to truly address any issue, the people and the finances have to be addressed simultaneously, not just the land itself. Isolating one particular part of the problem, or singling out a species and trying to manage it successfully, is no different from trying to isolate and manage the hydrogen in water.

With this knowledge, the Holistic Management Framework was developed. And, incredibly, it all started here in Zimbabwe, by my father, Allan Savory, an independent Zimbabwean scientist. This new decision making process ensures that no matter what we are managing, we focus on the root cause of any problem. It also makes sure that all our decisions are socially or culturally sound, economically viable and ecologically regenerative by using 7 simple filtering checks. And, it introduces us to a new, biological tool: animal impact and movement, that can be used to help us reverse desertification and regenerate our land and rivers.

This framework has received world-wide acclaim and is now being mirrored in forty three Holistic Management hubs on six continents, including the first university-led hub in the USA.

Now we can begin to understand that most of the problems we are facing in Zimbabwe today are simply symptoms of reductionist management.

Imagine that one day, someone starts to beat you really hard over the head, once a day, every day, with a cricket bat. It really hurts, and instead of trying to take the bat away from them, you just take a dispirin to deal with the headache it’s caused and carry on.

After a week, the pain will be getting much worse and the dispirin will no longer be strong enough, so you’d need a new painkiller. The stopain comes out. After a while, stopain won’t be enough, so you turn to Brufen. And so it goes on. Yet the blows continue.

Eventually, your organs will be struggling from all the medication and you’ll end up in hospital with very serious complications. The best doctors and specialists in the world are called in at great expense and they rush around treating all your worsening, and now life-threatening, symptoms. None of them can understand why you aren’t getting better – they’ve used the best medicines and procedures known. It’s because everyone is so focused on your symptoms, that nobody has looked up and seen the person standing behind you with the cricket bat.

It sounds silly when I put it like that, doesn’t it? But that is exactly what we are doing.

Our planet is in that hospital with life threatening complications, with Governments, Organisations and individuals doing their best, spending millions of dollars, often using expert advice, to find out how to treat the patient, but nobody has realised that they are only treating symptoms. Nobody has noticed the guy standing there with the bat.

The holistic management framework stops the blows to the head. As soon as we do that and the cause is being treated, all the symptoms will automatically begin to heal and fall away.

I am going to show you a screen shot taken from a short video clip we took with a film crew last month, of 4 different areas, all near to each other: you will clearly see the terrible desertification in both National Parks and nearby Communal Land. In comparison, you will see a vast difference on Dibangombe, the Africa Centre For Holistic Management (our learning centre, which is only 30km from Victoria Falls.) This habitat is being regenerated for all life by simply managing holistically. Every year on this land, despite the worsening droughts, the biodiversity increases and the land and wildlife flourish.

All this footage was taken in the same area, at the same time, with the same climate, the same soils, the same wildlife and the same humans.

But different management.

These pictures were taken on the same day on land only 30km apart in February 2018, The 2 photos on the left are Zambezi National Park and the photo on the right is Africa Centre for Holistic Management (Dibangombe)

The great news is that we can turn it all around and we don’t have the thousands of different problems we all think we do. We only have to adjust one thing. Our management.

It’s time for us to evolve from using our outdated, reductionist management framework. We need to adapt to a new way of thinking and  apply this paradigm-shifting decision  making framework so that we can all work together towards regenerating our Zimbabwe.

Culturally. Socially. Economically. Environmentally. For for our people and for our wildlife.

Let’s start by stopping the blows to the head!

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Free to Download Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs

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Fight the Fire

Fight The Fire Book Cover

OUT NOW!

“The most compelling and concise guide to averting climate breakdown.” – Brendan Montague, editor, The Ecologist.

Download Jonathan Neale’s Fight the Fire from The Ecologist for free now.

The Ecologist has published Fight the Fire for free so that it is accessible to all.

We would like to thank our readers for donating £1,000 to cover some of the costs of publishing and promoting this book.

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