Bristol is striving to be the UK’s green capital, a low carbon city with a high quality of life; green open and social.

Permaculture Two Day Course

by Paul Rainger

26 March 2014

permacultureFind yourself burgeoning with curiosity about all things permaculture? Brimming with ebullient enthusiasm for ecological and sustainable ideas?

Then this Introduction to Permaculture course in Bristol over the weekend of 5th and 6th April at Hamilton House by Permanent Cultures might be for you.

Permaculture is a regenerative, ethical design approach that replicates natural systems, to tread lightly on the Earth. Whether designing a community garden, or your urban window ledge, the principles of permaculture can guide you in your journey to a truly sustainable lifestyle.

More details about this latest course and booking details can be found here.

Permaculture course April 2014 poster

Should we dream of electric cities?

by Paul Rainger

21 March 2014

Internet of ThingsIn this month’s Sustainable Bristol column first published in The Bristol Post we look forward to the internet of things…

This morning I awoke to a note on my flat’s electronic notice board from the toaster reminding me I needed to buy more bread. Hoping to avoid breakfast disappointment, my muesli suggested I try a bowl full instead, but only half-heartedly as it knew statistically I am unlikely to eat muesli on a Tuesday. Fortunately I was saved by the doorbell and the arrival of a new loaf which had been ordered the night before by the fridge.

Welcome to the internet of things!

It must be important because the Government last week made £45 million available to support UK companies who are developing these so-called “internet of things” technologies.

But what is the internet of things? Basically it’s the world we are creating as more and more of our everyday devices are becoming wi-fi enabled so they can communicate over the internet. From heart monitors to yes, kitchen appliances. And it is predicted that some 26 billion of these devices will be connected to the internet of things by 2020.

It’s important because people believe this internet of things can be used to transform our daily lives. For example, it could help boost productivity, help keep us healthier, make transport more efficient, help reduce energy consumption, and help us tackle climate change.

Most reporters focus on how it might affect our homes of course. Usually how kitchen appliances might communicate through wireless internet connections. But it is also at the city scale, in places like Bristol, where there are big advantages to be exploited from the mass of data gathered by all these connected things.

Transport is one area already showing the way. From those live information boards at bus stops in Bristol telling you how many minutes away your bus actually is, to the smart phone app in San Francisco that will direct you to the nearest available car parking space.

Bristol City Council is sensibly getting in on the act early too. They want to encourage local businesses, social enterprises, community groups and academics to develop the commercial opportunities and create those new jobs here in our City. The Council is currently running an ‘open energy data challenge’ and the winners get £40,000 to use open data to develop services that support communities to buy cheaper energy, use it more efficiently, or potentially to make their own.

At the end of the day, like all new technologies, there will be advantages to grab and dangers to avoid. I like knowing my bus will arrive in two minutes, but I think I can live without my toaster offering me a choice of hot bread related products in the morning. Perhaps ultimately the most important feature of the internet of things will be the off switch.

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June.

Cameron, our new King Canute

by Paul Rainger

18 February 2014

King CanuteIn case you’ve missed it, Britain is now officially at war. Here’s our news from the home front, published last week in the Bristol Post.

Every Prime Minster needs a good war. Mrs Thatcher had the Falklands. Tony Blair had a dodgy dossier on Iraq. On the 30th January David Cameron called the army into Somerset. Like a modern day King Canute, Cameron has declared war on water.

News from the front so far has not been good. The marines lost the battle of Moorland, their mortars and tanks presumably proving less effective than the high volume water pumps of the Environment Agency and Fire Brigade already deployed.

The Mayor of Bristol was soon in action too, using the City’s emergency flood barrier for the first time, and the Council Reservists held back the storm surge’s high tide.

But a surprise attack by rising sea levels at Dawlish washed away the train line, prompting Boris Johnson to call again on Parliament to declare all trains and tubes ‘national infrastructure’ thereby solving any such future problems by simply making the whole thing illegal!

Of course behind every flooded home and business at the moment is a story of personal heartbreak and tragedy. But when the current storms have abated, we all will be left with serious questions we must address as a nation.

Because in ten or twenty years time we will look back on this as just the start. We will get more and more extremes of weather created by climate change. Last week the Government’s own Chief Scientific Adviser was in Bristol warning us of just this.

But once again our current short-term politicians are showing themselves incapable of grasping these long-term global problems. The Government’s crisis knee-jerk response is to talk of dredging and how much flood defence concrete you can pour.

To hell with the science that shows water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate of soil under grass. We’ll continue to promote intensive farming and pay farmers to cut down the trees and scrub that absorb the water. We’ll ignore the expert advice of river mangers that dredging can speed up flow and increase the risk of flooding downstream. And we will certainly ignore the advice of the Environment Agency not to build housing estates in flood plains.

For now, King Cameron Canute is at war. We shall fight on the eroding beaches. We shall fight on the land where we have removed the natural drainage, and we shall fight in the housing estates we have built on the flood plains.

Although David Cameron might want to take note. Professor Simon Keynes of Cambridge University says everyone gets the Canute story wrong. The king had his chair carried down to the shore and ordered the waves not to break upon his land. When his orders were ignored, he pronounced: “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless”. 

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June.

Hail the Humble Grit Bin

by Paul Rainger

05 December 2013

Grit BinIn December’s Sustainable Bristol column in The Bristol Post we hail the humble winter grit bin as a harbinger of the city’s future resilience.

It may seem a long way from the news of 100 extra Grit Bins in Bristol, to the on-going Typhoon Haiyan relief effort in the Philippines, but there is a lot the World can learn from the humble grit bin.

It’s all about ‘resilience’. That’s helping people to help themselves recover from difficult situations. And resilient communities are what we are going to need in spades in the coming years, from Bristol to the Philippines, to help people cope with climate change.

It’s a depressing time for environmental scientists at the moment. The cost of climate change is becoming ever clearer. From the cost to taxpayers like you and me for the Council to still be cutting the grass in our parks in December, to international relief efforts, like that in the Philippines, as more and more extreme weather disasters hit us. Yet as these dangers become clearer, our politicians seem perversely less and less able to act. No wonder the Russell Brand generation has given up on politics.

So we are going to need to help ourselves more. To be more resilient. To be prepared as we used to say in the Scouts.

I used to work with a charity that helps countries like the Philippines to be better prepared for disasters. In earlier emergencies, like the Pakistan earthquake or Bangladeshi floods, more people are often at risk from disease and starvation after the disaster has struck, than from the original disaster itself. One solution is a sort of yellow emergency bin, not full of grit, but full of animal feed and veterinary supplies in secure locations above flood zones. Then people can help themselves, not just wait around for outside aid to arrive.

If Bristol was to flood again, should we sit around waiting for help, or would it be better to have community wardens with access to some basic equipment stored in their community, so that neighbours could get together and help each other?

It’s an approach that could even help our cash starved Councils do things differently with less. And Bristol is already leading in a small way on this with its plans to cope with any winter snow and ice.

The City has 100 extra grit bins being installed, and has recruited nearly 100 volunteer community snow wardens equipped with snow shovels to help clear paths.

I was amazed in the past few winters of prolonged cold spells by how few people bothered to clear their own path when the snow first fell, leaving it to turn to crushed ice making it deadly for everyone. In many American cities where snow is common it is illegal not to clear the path outside your house.

So if we have a white Christmas, get out there and help clear your pavement. That big yellow grit bin might just be a glimpse of our more resilient future.

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June.

Working on my green Christmas list for Santa

by Paul Rainger

09 November 2013

Green ChristmasThe clocks have gone back and now there are just six more Saturdays until Christmas – yes, I know!

Definitely time then to start work on my green Christmas list for Santa. I’ve got three things so far…

First up I would actually like to return an unwanted recent gift from HM Government. Namely the billion-pound-a-year taxpayers’ subsidy just agreed to build a new Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

Of course in Orwellian Government speak it isn’t a subsidy. No, the nuclear reactor will be built by French (EDF) and Chinese investors, bizarrely all in the name of UK ‘energy security’ you understand. But we guarantee these investors will make a profit thanks to the taxpayer agreeing to buy the electricity generated for the next 35 years at a fixed price, about double that of the actual price today. That’s a massive billion-pound-a-year subsidy rip-off. Imagine what the British economy could do instead if that £35 billion went into making the UK the manufacturing centre for renewable energy for the world.

Personally I don’t want to create a society that has to live with the disproportionate risks associated with nuclear accidents and the storage of deadly nuclear waste for some centuries to come. Perhaps Father Christmas can deliver us some UK politicians with the courage and vision to copy the German Government’s investment in a 100% clean renewable energy future.

Secondly, I am hoping Santa might get me one of these new 3D Printers which have just started going on general sale.

According to the media hype, these 3D Printers will become a bit like replicators in Star Trek, producing objects out of thin air. But if you’ve seen one actually printing a small plastic widget, you’ve probably wondered like me, what all the fuss is about.

But I thought back to 1983 when my friend Paul got one of the first ever paper printers for his Sinclair Spectrum ZX80. It produced a practically useless shopping till like silver strip of paper. It was state of the art!

If these first 3D Printers improve as fast as paper printers did over the next twenty years then perhaps we are in for a revolution after all. And what excites me is the potential this technology has to spark a revival in repairing things and ending our current throw away culture. Imagine your washing machine door catch breaks, or a knob on your car comes away. No more rip-off by the manufacture, just print your own new bit and repair it yourself.

Finally Santa, a pint in my Christmas stocking from the Hofmuhl Brewery in Germany would go down nicely. Thanks to a combination of solar power and bioenergy, this German beer manufacturer is the first to become 100% self-sufficient. Just part of Germany’s investment in a 100% non-nuclear renewable energy future of course. Now I’ll raise a Christmas pint to that.

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June. This article was first published in The Bristol Post on 29th October 2013.

Happy Birthday Bristol Pound

by Paul Rainger

17 September 2013

One Bristol PoundThis Thursday is the first birthday of Bristol’s local money. It already feels like the Bristol Pound has been in our wallets forever. But no, it was only 12 months ago the city’s local currency launched in a blizzard of international media coverage around the globe.

Today there may be claims the UK is coming out of recession, but the economic case for local currencies remains crystal clear. Every £1 you spend normally supports about 20p of additional local economic activity. Every B£1 you spend in a local currency generates about £4 of additional economic activity as the local money stays in the local supply chain.

So one year later, with over 600 local business across the city trading in Bristol Pounds, and over £200,000 of the local currency in circulation, Bristol’s regional economy has much to celebrate.

Bristol, which will be European Green Capital in 2015, is not only the first city scale local currency in the UK, it also incorporates a cutting edge technology TXT to Pay on your mobile phone.

Now to celebrate its first birthday, from this week, city residents can also use Bristol Pounds on city buses in a world first for a national company supporting a local currency.

So happy birthday Bristol Pound, and here is to many more to come!


Evidence of Autumn

by Paul Rainger

05 September 2013

corn-on-the-cobAugust’s Sustainable Bristol column from The Bristol Post, on sweetcorn, car free city centres, the Wild Place Project and the ending of summer….

The arrival of the seasonal harvest of UK sweetcorn in farm shops is always a cause for celebration in our house. But my joy this year was dented somewhat by the response of the Farmer. “When we get the corn on the cob in, I know autumn’s just around the corner” he cheerfully announced.

I always struggle come September with not wanting the summer to end. I’m lulled into a false sense of hope by the remaining sunny days, and a glut of hedgerow fruits. I try and ignore the warning signs of the increasing early morning nip in the air and the children’s return to school. Now it seems I have the foreboding omen of sweetcorn to worry about too!

Fortunately the sun was still out on Sunday for the Mayor’s third free ‘Make Sundays Special’ event of the year in the Old City. If you haven’t taken the kids yet you should definitely visit the remaining two on Sunday 29th September and Sunday 20th October.

These monthly Make Sundays Special events are already proving a big success. It’s not just the crowds enjoying the free family entertainment. It’s great to see local businesses getting involved too. Many are putting on extra food, music and entertainment, with their own extra chairs, sofas and gazebos out on the streets. Some must be making many times their usual weekend takings on these special Sundays. And good luck to them.

What I find almost unbelievable is that a few businesses are actually shut and missing out on these Sundays. Take a look for yourself at next month’s event on 29th September. See which local shops have the community spirit and good business sense to be taking part. And as for those that are shut and losing out? I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those businesses aren’t still with us this time next year.

Of course the schools will be back by September’s Make Sundays Special, but there a few more weeks of summer freedom yet. If like me you are a bit ‘Gromited out’ by now, then the traditional problem end of summer problem of ‘What else can we do with the kids?’ is starting to crop up.

Fortunately this year help is at hand in the shape of Bristol’s newest attraction, the Wild Place Project. Out by Cribbs Causeway, this is Bristol Zoo’s first step towards their long term plan to create a National Wildlife Conservation Park. It may be a small start for now, but it is great to see the Zoo finally up and running with this venture, and for parents the Wild Place Project is a welcome additional family attraction to add to the list for keeping the children entertained.

So enjoy your sweetcorn and what’s left of the summer sun. And a big “Bah! Humbug!” to those Bristol restaurants already advertising for Christmas bookings.

Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June.

This article was first published in The Bristol Post on Thursday 22nd August.


What are Bristol’s big green ideas?

by Helen Burley

10 July 2013

our_own_futureA new project from Friends of the Earth is asking what Big Ideas are needed to navigate towards a sustainable future city. The question is one that Bristol, basking in its newly-awarded status as European Green Capital 2015, is perhaps well-placed to answer. What are the key ingredients in building a sustainable city? Is Bristol on the right track for the future? And can lessons learnt in Bristol be applied elsewhere?

Friends of the Earth has put forward three ideas that they suggest are key in developing the kind of communities which support well-being and sustainability: autonomy (in the sense of more power to the city), sharing, and active, free-thinking citizens. These are “big ideas” – powerful thoughts, but do they have any bearing on every day realities?

The importance of autonomy certainly seems relevant to Bristol’s future development. Having bucked the trend by being the only one of 10 cities to vote in May last year in favour of an elected mayor, the city is now led by the independent candidate George Ferguson, who is involved in an on-going struggle to secure the powers and the resources to be able to make a difference.

And while central government seems to agree that people should be trusted to make their own decisions, it seems less enthusiastic about handing down the cash to lift the local economy. As Jane Thomas points out for Friends of the Earth, rather than being empowered, local authorities are currently being penalised for problems that are not of their making.

But autonomy is not just about the power divide between the Council House and Westminster. Bristol’s strong independent streak gives the city much of its character – from its independent shops to the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft and our very own currency. Bristol likes to do things its own way – and perhaps this independence is key to the city’s success.

Sharing, the second of Friends of the Earth’s big ideas for cities, is certainly part of Bristol’s story – from car clubs to community gardens, street art to street parties and festivals – so much of what Bristol does well is about sharing with the community.

Friends of the Earth’s third big idea is fundamentally about education – drawing on the thinking of the philosopher Paolo Freire, who said: “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Bristol hasn’t found a way of opting out of Michael Gove’s national curriculum yet, but nevertheless, we seem to have plenty of people who are capable of thinking for themselves.

Does Bristol hold the secret of a future sustainable city? What about our congested streets and poor public transport? What about the things that Bristol gets wrong? Does Bristol have lessons it can share with the wider community? You can share your ideas on Friends of the Earth’s Big Ideas website – join the debate.

Yes we can!

by Paul Rainger

14 June 2013

winnerBristol has been crowned European Green Capital for 2015!

Bristol beat Brussels, Glasgow and Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, to the win having been runner-up to Copenhagen last year.

Cities are assessed against 12 criteria including innovation and sustainable employment, energy performance, water consumption, waste water treatment and climate change.

What will the 2015 year of eco-celebration be like in Bristol? Look no further than the next 9 days as Bristol hosts over 120 events in its annual BIG Green Week Festival.

Will Bristol win European Green Capital?

by Paul Rainger

12 June 2013

European Green Capital logoIn my latest column for The Post this week I report on how this Friday is a big day for Bristol. We will find out if our city has won the competition to be crowned ‘European Green Capital 2015’ at our third attempt.

It’s like Pop Idol for the City Mayors of Europe who are leading the way on making our cities more environmentally friendly and happier places to live.

Journalists often ask me what difference winning would make for Bristol. “So what?” ask the cynical. To be blunt, it’s about jobs. Bristol is already a leading city in the UK for the so called green jobs sector, and we want a lot more of them.

Read the full Post column here, and find out what events I am looking foward to this weekend in the first few days of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival.

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