From Paris to Llanfyllin

The Paris Accord is our chance, we must take it. When Trump announced that he wanted the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement this month even the US coal industry advised him against it. ‘We need to be at the table, not out in the cold’ they told him. 195 countries signed the ground breaking global treaty in December 2015 and to date 142 countries have ratified it. It must be the single most important piece paper ever signed.

So what does it say? At the Llanfyllin Transition project we have been stopping people in the street and asking them what the Paris Agreement means to them. It is revealing that very few have heard of it enough to know exactly what it says or what the huge ramifications are as we begin to implement it.

The core ideas are this: every region, city, state and nation needs to work on its own carbon reduction plan. We have until 2020 to develop these ideas and be ready to implement them.

paris targets
This is the path laid out by the Paris Agreement

Between 2020 and 2030 we are required to halve our CO2 emissions.

Then we need to do exactly that again the following decade and then again. By 2050 our emissions need to be close to zero and not only that but farming, one of the most significant sources of green house gasses needs to move from being a big emitter to a net carbon sink. Yes, we have to transform agriculture into a carbon sequestering process, one that also protects biodiversity and feeds a rising population. It is a huge challenge and one that will over-ride all our other concerns or objectives as the seriousness of the encroaching climate crisis bights ever deeper.

Will this save us? Science gives us a 66% chance of avoiding run-away climate change if we achieve these targets. That is like playing Russian Roulette with 2 rounds in your 6 shooter, it is still far from safe. Every day we delay facing up to this challenge is a day wasted and a day our children and grandchildren will live to regret.

Before you all get too gloomy I have to say I think this is a fantastic opportunity.

Achieving our Paris commitments has the potential to rejuvenate our economy, creating numerous opportunities for the next generations in a way that will revitalise our communities at the same time. Facing up to this requires a complete transformation of food, energy, farming, transport, housing and economy. The era of economic growth at all costs and throw-away consumerism is already over. The evidence is all around us, solving climate and biodiversity challenges will require new economic models and new thinking creating a whole raft of opportunities.

Greening local Politics

With the encouragement of colleagues and I friends I have put my name forward as a Green Party candidate in the local elections on May 4th, not least because I believe we need to register our recognition of the new directions required. My work with the Llanfyllin Transition Project and in permaculture education means that on a daily bases I am immersed in the reality of the challenges we face as well as the many responses and strategies at our fingertips to set us in a new direction. I am convinced this is a change we can embrace and benefit from. We are gong to have to!

Join us, we are organising on-going events and publishing regular articles on our website and blog.

Steven Jones
steve@dragons.cymru
www.llanfyllin.sector39.co.uk

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Image attached: Paris targets graph

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Animism and the Personhood of Ecosystems

“I am convinced that in the somber decades to come, the end of the world ‘as we know it’ is a distinct possibility…when this time comes (it has already come in my opinion) we will have a lot to learn from people whose world has already ended a long time ago – think of the Amerindians whose world ended five centuries ago, their population having dropped to something like 5% of the pre-Columbian one in 150 years, the Amerindians who nonetheless, have managed to abide, and learned to live in a world which is no longer their world ‘as they knew it.’ We soon will all be Amerindians. Let’s see what they can teach us about matters apocalyptic.” (Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, 2014).

If we are to take heed of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s suggestion that we might be able to learn something about ecological sustainability from the life-ways of our ancestors, as well as from the cultures of indigenous peoples around the world, we are inevitably going to bump up against animist worldviews. The term animism derives from the Latin root word anima, meaning soul, and in its scholarly usage refers to the belief that the world is populated by ‘spirits,’ or, to use a more recent term, ‘other-than-human persons.’ For an animist the world is alive, so that rocks, trees, animals, plants, mountains and rivers could all posses personal attributes, desires, fears and needs, just like human beings. From an animist perspective, ecosystems are communities of beings in dialogue, and we are participants too.

Animism was first popularised as a scholarly category by the anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), who saw the belief in spiritual beings as the very earliest expression of religious thought. Indeed, for Tylor there was little distinction between traditional indigenous religions and the major world religions. Tylor’s version of anthropology, however, was closely wedded to a form of social Darwinism that was particularly popular during the latter half of the nineteenth century, which saw European (and especially British) culture as the pinnacle of social evolution, and other non-western and indigenous cultures as backward, irrational and misguided. Sadly, such a view distorted Tylor’s perception of the animistic worldview(s) he wrote about in his books, and it wasn’t until much later that scholars began to re-engage with animism without such a dismissive and colonialist attitude.

In his 1960 publication ‘Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior and World View,’ the American anthropologist Alfred Iriving Hallowell (1892-1974) described how for the Ojibwa people of central Canada the world is populated by persons ‘not all of whom are human.’ Hallowell famously gives the example of his conversation with an old Ojibwa man:

‘I once asked an old man: Are all the stones we see about us here alive? He reflected a long while and then replied, ‘No!’ But some are’ (Hallowell, 1960)

The old man’s answer to Hallowell’s question had a lasting impact on the anthropologist. The old man’s response suggests that for the Ojibwa people, stones have the capacity for life – their worldview leaves open the possibility that stones, trees, mountains and so on can be persons, and as such ought to be granted the same respect as a human person, just in case. Interactions with features of the landscape, therefore, must be understood as interactions between persons, as relationships.

More recently, scholar of religions Graham Harvey has taken up the themes of Tylor and Hallowell’s work (amongst others), with the formulation of his ‘New Animism.’ New animism differs from Tylor’s ‘old’ animism firstly through not assuming a social Darwinist perspective that sees animism as primitive and irrational, and secondly by shifting its focus away from the somewhat problematic notion of ‘spirits,’ towards the much more encompassing idea of ‘persons.’ Harvey writes:

“Animists are people who recognise that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others. Animism is lived out in various ways that are all about learning to act respectfully (carefully and constructively) towards and among other persons. Persons are beings, rather than objects, who are animated and social towards others (even if they are not always sociable). Animism…is more accurately understood as being concerned with learning how to be a good person in respectful relationships with other persons” (Harvey, 2005, p. xi).

The underlying relational philosophy of the new animism (which is only ‘new’ to academia), represents the antithesis of the materialistic-industrial-consumer philosophy that has dominated Euro-American attitudes to the environment for the last 200 years, and would seem to offer a route towards the kind of ‘Deep Ecology’ advocated by Arne Naess.

Many in our post-industrial society are likely to feel uncomfortable with the notion of attributing personhood to the various components of our ecosystems, but we can take a hint from the Ojibwa and treat ecology as if it possesses personhood, without necessarily believing that it does. If we were to adopt a relational attitude, and interact with rivers, streams, trees, animals, soils and so on as if they are persons, our behaviours and actions would also necessarily be altered as a consequence. We wouldn’t want to pump sewage into another person, for example, or destroy the home of person, or abuse, misuse or exploit another person. When we think in relationships, we realise that we need to develop good relationships with the other persons in our ecosystem – prosperous, mutually beneficial relationships. Much as in systems thinking, a relational worldview makes us aware of our own interconnected and interdependent relationship with the world around us. So, even if we don’t believe that the tree in our garden is a person, or the river in our village, or the sky above our heads, we can still behave as if they are – our actions can be informed by a relational ecocentric perspective, rather than a purely anthropocentric one.

Granting Personhood Status to Ecosystems

An interesting recent development is the gradual granting of personhood status to key ecosystems by some of the world’s governments. For example, the Whanganui River in New Zealand, known as Te Awa Tupa amongst the indigenous Maori people, was the first river to be granted the legal status of personhood. The Maori people, whose lives are dependent on the river system, and who have always thought of the river as an ancestor, have been fighting for the last 140 years for the river to be treated with the respect that it deserves as an ancestor and living entity, a request that was finally granted on Wednesday 15th March 2017. Gerard Albert, the lead negotiator on behalf of the Whanganui tribe explains:

“We can trace our genalogy to the origins of the universe, and therefore rather than us being masters of the natural world, we are part of it. We want to live like that as our starting point. And that is not an anti-development, or anti-economic use of the river but to begin with the view that it is a living being, and then consider its future from that central belief.”

What this means for the Whanganui River is that, as a legal person, any damage inflicted on it is equivalent to damaging a human being. What if we could do this for our own rivers, forests and mountains? What impact would it have on our relationship with our local ecosystem? Might it help us to achieve the goals laid out by the Paris Climate Agreement? Would it encourage us to behave more responsibly? To change our use of chemical fertilisers, for example, which may leach into the river from farmlands? I think it would.

Within days of the New Zealand government’s decision to grant personhood status to the Whanganui River, a court in Northern India ordered that the sacred River Ganges, and its primary tributary the Yamuna, also be granted the legal status of personhood, as well as glaciers and other ecosystems, precisely so that they can be protected and preserved for the benefit of future generations, and for our global system as whole.

Briefly turning to the theme of folklore, we might be surprised to find that many of our local landscape features have already had their personhood recognised by our ancestors. Bala Lake, just over the Berwyn mountains, for example, is inhabited by the great monster Tegid, and the River Severn was known by the Romans as the goddess Sabrina. What about Afon Rhaeadr, Afon Tanat and Afon Cain? Are these persons too? If so, have we been treating them with the respect they deserve? Could animist principles be a catalyst for the change in thinking required by the Paris Climate Agreement? Perhaps we should consider lobbying to have our rivers and ecosystems recognised as persons, just as the Whanganui tribe have been doing for the last 140 years.

References

Hallowell, A.I. (1960). ‘Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior and World View.’ In G. Harvey (ed) (2002) Readings in Indigenous Religions. London: Continuum. pp. 17-50.

Harvey, G. (2005). Animism: Respecting the Living World. London: Hurst & Company.

Tylor, E. B. (1930). Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and
Civilization. London: C.A. Watts and Co. Ltd.

Viveiros de Castro, E. (2014). ‘Who is Afraid of the Ontological Wolf?’

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/21/ganges-and-yamuna-rivers-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-beings

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Are you ready? Big change is coming!

This is the Paris Accord,

  • 195 nations signed the Paris Accord
  • If we follow path it sets out the planet gets a 66% chance of avoiding run-away climate change
  • The accord says we have to halve our emissions in the next ten years
  • Then halve them again and then again in the following two decades
  • It also says we need to find really creative ways to take carbon from the air and put it back into the ground.

This is the Paris Agreement

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Ex High School student wins Grow Wild grant for Llanfyllin

grow wild
Grow wild, is a project by Kew Gardens to support wild plants and landscapes across the UK

Protecting Wales’ wildlife and biodiversity is an essential part of fighting climate change. Plants trap carbon from the atmosphere and build it into fertile soils where it becomes an asset rather than a danger.

Cae Bodfach is a community space for exercise, recreation, fun and specialising but it is also planned as an essential part of protecting and enhancing biodiversity in the area. It contains more than 50 heritage fruit trees as well as many more support plants, willow coppice and now ex Llanfyllin High School student Grace has secured funding from Grow Wild to add more dye plants, herbs and meadow species to the field.

Many of our wild plants can be sued as dyes as well as being good for nature and wildlife.
Grace at Cae Bodfach pruning fruit trees back in February

What was once a ‘green desert’ monoculture of rye grass is slowly turning into diverse rich space that can help feed the community and the surrounding wildlife. This is great news and a big credit to those who drafted and submitted this application, congratulations!

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‘It is not an investment if it is destroying the planet’

Yet here in Wales we are still proposing new roads that destroy increasingly rare habitat.

The M4 relief road key points:

The Welsh Government wants to build a £1.1bn six-lane motorway to the south of Newport.

The 14.23m (23km) highway will be between the current M4 junction 23A at Magor to junction 29 near Castleton.

The Welsh Government plans to begin construction in 2018 and open the new road in 2021.

The Welsh Government said the current M4 around Newport, opened in 1967, “does not meet modern motorway design standards”.

Environmental campaigners and local residents claim the scheme will devastate the ancient marshlands of the Gwent Levels and four sites of special scientific interest.

There have been 335 formal objections, compared to 192 letters of support.

A public local inquiry is expected to last five months.

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Wales/ Africa, links between Llanrhaeadr and Llanfyllin and Kamuli, Uganda

Wales based educational enterprise Sector39 are teaching permaculture design in Uganda, building on the success of their 2106 course an with support from the Wales Government via their Hub Cymru Africa programme

The course will also coincide with a visit from a group of teachers from Llanfyllin High School who wil be visiting the area with Dolen Ffermio, a Llanfyllin based farming support charity. We are excited to be meeting teachers from our own community while we are out in Uganda running our permaculture design course

as it presents an excellent opportunity to develop links between this project adn the work of the school.

We hope to raise funds to support participants on extremenly low incomes attend this ground breaking course. Any support is welcome! Steve Jones

We are working in partnership with the Permaculture Reseasrch Institute of Uganda, PermoAfrica and Dolen Ffermio to create new opportunities for farmers, teachers, project leaders and social innovators.

 

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GCSE Photography Students at the Community Orchard

We have just received some more photographs and a little write up from Louise Bass, Photography Teacher at Llanfyllin High School:

My year ten Photography class have been working with the Llanfyllin Transition Project to produce banners and a booklet cover. Very kindly Jack Hunter came in to introduce the project to help fuel ideas to do with Permaculture. Students spent time discussing environmental issues and ways of encouraging cultural changes to work with nature to help support green practice and ways of working.

Students also benefitted from a visit from a past textile student who is now studying at university. Marianne Terrill spoke about her project using digital images of green foliage inspired by environmental issues. Her sketchbook showed the digital manipulation of images to produce beautiful printed fabric designs. Bringing the outside inside on soft furnishings.

On a damp Thursday morning Mr Hunter and Steve Jones kindly agreed to show the students around the Wetlands and Community Orchard. Here students had the opportunity to photograph the environment in detail. Steve spoke very inspirationally about using nature to heal the damage we have done. The space is a beautiful location providing fun for all the community and a real environmental mini ecosystem. My favourite comment was that there is no such thing as waste in nature only another resource!

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In lessons students plan to use their new found knowledge to combine with images captured to produce real banners, posters and a booklet cover. I look forward to seeing what they produce.

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GCSE Photography Students at the Community Orchard

We had a lovely morning taking Llanfyllin High School photography students down to the community orchard and the wetlands as part of the Llanfyllin Transition Project. It was really good to see them getting up close to nature. We are really looking forward to seeing the fruits of their efforts!

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What is Systems Thinking?

The following is a little snippet of something I am working on for the Llanfyllin Transition Project Handbook:

When we think about our position in the world, especially in Western societies, we tend to think of ourselves as somehow separate and distinct from nature. We live our lives in a human-made bubble. This idea is most clearly expressed in our culture’s binary distinction between nature and culture, between the wild and the domesticated. This perceived divide between ‘us’ and the rest of the natural world has had an enormously destructive impact on our planet. Our assumed dominance over nature has led us to plunder the Earth’s natural resources, to destroy vast swathes of wilderness, and to decimate whole populations of plant and animal species – all because of our own self-imposed distance from the natural world, and our self-elected dominance over it.

All of this can be understood as resulting from a form of reductionism – the notion that we can better understand and control the world by breaking it down into individual component parts. For example, forests become ‘trees,’ which then become ‘wood,’ which we can use for our own purposes. When we enter into a reductionist mode of approaching nature we ignore fundamental connections between these component parts. By breaking nature up into commodities, we destroy a complex whole. In our desire for oil (as a component-commodity of the natural world), for example, we have tended to ignore the negative impacts of extraction processes on other components of the natural world. Think, for instance, of the destruction of precious habitats for the extraction of oil from tar sands in Canada, where focussing on just one part of the whole (oil) has led to the collapse of other interrelated parts (woodland habitats, animal species, plant species, and so on).

We can express this situation in a simple formula:

Nature/Culture Divide + Reductionism = Ecocide.

Systems thinking is one method by which we might be able to overcome our culture’s dominant destructive attitude to the natural world. Although there were precursors to systems thinking throughout human intellectual history, we can trace its current popular formulation to the writings of the physicist Fritjof Capra, perhaps most famous for his synthesis of quantum mechanics and mysticism in the book The Tao of Physics (1975). Drawing on his background in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics, Capra came to the conclusion that reductionism fails as a mode of interpreting the natural world, which, contrary to the old Newtonian view of physics, does not consist of mutually distinct ‘objects’ (e.g. atoms as simple balls of matter), but actually is much more accurately described in terms of systems of relationships, processes and networks of interrelated, and interdependent, parts.

“The new vision of reality we have been talking about is based on an awareness of the essential interrelatedness and interdependence of all phenomena – physical, biological, psychological, social and cultural. It transcends current disciplinary boundaries and will be pursued within new institutions” (Capra, 1985, p 285).

Key to this new vision of reality is the system, very simply defined as set of things working together as parts of a complex whole. The idea of systems derives from observation of the natural world, and indeed from ourselves – human beings are complex systems too!

“Living systems are organised in such a way that they form multi-leveled structures, each level consisting of subsystems which are wholes in regard to their parts, and parts with respect to the larger wholes. Thus molecules combine to form cells. The cells form tissues and organs, which themselves form larger systems” (Capra, 1985, p 27).

Perhaps the clearest example of the kind of system Capra is talking about is the ecosystem. Broadly defined, an ecosystem is a community of interacting organisms (plants, animals, etc.), in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (air, water, soil, minerals, etc.), interacting as a system.


If one element of the system is damaged, removed or destroyed, all of the other component parts will fail too. This is precisely what has led to the current crisis facing our global ecosystem today. The underlying philosophy of the industrial revolution was one of mechanism, reductionism and human dominance over nature. Natural resources were seen as independent commodities, the extraction of which had no consequences for the rest of the environment, so we had no qualms with mining coal, chopping down ancient woodlands and replacing them with factories and refineries.

Similarly, human beings were viewed as separate from the environment, above it almost, so that the pollutive byproducts of our industrial activities were somehow thought to have no direct impact on surrounding plants, animals, or even other human beings. This we now know to be entirely false, and yet incredibly we continue to perpetuate an outmoded worldview – as though we are separate from our ecosystems and our actions have no consequences. The adoption of a systems view and a re-awakening of our intimate inter-connection with the natural world, might assist us in realising the error of our ways and point us in new directions for change.

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Your roadmap to a 66% chance of survival

Climate change and run away green house emissions are here, exactly as predicted. What next?

It is actually not hard to understand the basic premise of climate change, you burn stuff made out of carbon and the amount of carbon in the air increases in direct proportion.

Carbon in the air combines with oxygen forming CO2, this acts like a blanket and traps more of the sun’s thermal radiation in the atmosphere, hence global warming. This warming effect energizes climate systems which in turn changes the weather, ie climate change.

The earth’s bio-systems are actually pretty resilient and able to tolerate a lot of stress whilst remaining relatively stable. This self-regulating effect, much as how our bodies regulate temperature, only works within a narrow tolerance range, when we step outside of the warm/ safe zone, things get really unstable quickly and outcomes become impossible to predict.

Scientists are certain about all of this, the only uncertainty is just how bad and how dangerous is the situation exactly and what will it be like this time next year? We will only know these answers with hindsight. The key point is: Science is certain about what is happening and when confronted with the amassed evidence governments are forced to agree with it, hence the Paris Accord.

The escape route it short and sharp,
We will have to crash-land the carbon economy over the next three decades and think up some other way of doing things pretty quickly. This is none negotiable, in terms of the science and in terms of our economy,

paris targets
This is the path laid out by the Paris Agreement

which also has to change rapidly to reflect our sudden shift in priorities.

 

GDC Gross-De-Carbonisation

We wont be able to sustain the same kind of GDP growth we became accustomed in the last century in this one. GDC will drive the future economy. Gross de-carbonisation. The future economy will reward innovators not in the through-put of energy and materials (GDP) but in fnding economically efficient ways of carbon sequestration and substitution.

Trump can trumpet for coal all he likes but he is rolling stones uphill and gravity will always win out in the end.

The final thing to know about Climate chang and the Paris Accord is that when confronted with all the evidence and with no way to escape the reality, 195 governments around the world agreed to sign it.. but they only agreed to committing to 50% of the measures required to avoid climate catastrophe, (in effect 4 degrees of change when the agreed target is 1.5 with an absolute ceiling of 2). Politics in its bigger sense has therefore failed us.

Democracy and economics

Governments therefore are not the leaders, they will have to follow.

Permaculture is a global phenomenon as people around the world realise the future is working with local and natural resources.

It is down to community, individual action and our collective political and economic impact to shape and form the future. Together we must find a way to forge the road to a carbon neutral 2050.

Only permaculture, regenerative agriculture, ecological and cyclical design processes can get us to where we need to go. These approaches are generally bottom up, niche market led and decentralised approaches but they are popping everywhere. It is if a mycelium of ideas has permeated the very substrate of our society and as it all starts to unravel around us a whole new set of options and approaches are popping up like mushrooms on a damp autumn morning.
Next Transition Event

We are celebrating Earth Day in Llanfyllin Town Square

narch for science
Global actions are planned in support of the scientific community
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