What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

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Sunday, 24 May 2009

Wales, the greenest country on earth?

Wales has made legally binding commitments to become energy self sufficient in 20 years through reliance on renewable energy. It will also reduce it's waste stream to zero by 2050. This plan truly embodies the term "sustainable development". While many countries and companies are attempting to brand their efforts as such, for the most part it is business as ususal with a slight nod to increasing efficiency where it can be profitable. There is a big difference between sustainable development and developing sustainability. Wales looks to be an exception to that rule.

Wales is fertile ground for such commitments to take root. Here are a few reasons I believe that is true.

• Wales has had a tradition of establishing it's differences from England, sometimes violently, for a long time. In the 70's they had a vigorous nationalist movement which expressed it's displeasure with negative effects of the increasing numbers of English holiday homes, rising house prices and erosion of communities, by burning some down. Devolution has allowed this urge to become legitimate and increased Wales' capacity for leadership. They have also kept their ancient and beautiful language alive.

• Much of the coal that the UK used to depend on was mined in Wales and when Maggie Thatcher shut down the industry in favor of North Sea oil and gas the economy was hard hit. Many of the methods developed at that time for increasing resilience did not die out due to some later economic boom, which never really occurred country wide.

• Over 30 years ago The Center for Alternative Technology, just outside of Machynlleth Wales, presented the UK with an energy plan that would move the nation towards sustainability and energy independence. They have now published a 30 year update called Zero Carbon Britain,
and are working on a plan for Europe. CAT is now offering fully accredited masters degrees relating to sustainability in the built environment and renewable energy technologies. I've just finished one of those.

• Due to this legacy of leadership Wales has a high proportion of citizens either actively working for sustainability or are at least sympathetic to it. The area around CAT is a particular magnet for open minded and progressive folks.

• Much of Wales is still rural and doesn't suffer from the degree of NIMBYism that England does. This has allowed it to benefit from alternative energy installations at every scale. Folks have been powering their cars with vegetable oil since the 70's, microhydro, solar hot water and PV are not uncommon, biomass boilers are increasing in number, and wind generation from microwind to wind farms are in evidence.

Over at Worldchanging you can read more about Wales' commitments. Here is an excerpt;

"We intend to reduce by 80-90% our use of carbon-based energy, resulting in a similar reduction in our greenhouse gas generation," said Jane Davidson, the Welsh environment minister, launching the sustainable development scheme at the Guardian's Hay festival. "We are committed to making annual 3% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from 2011," she added.

"This is about living within our resources while improving people's well being. It will require radical changes in Welsh society," said Rhodri Morgan, first minister for Wales, which is currently celebrating 10 years of devolution.

The report sets out a series of ambitious goals:
• to produce more electricity from renewables than the nation consumes within 20 years
• increase recycling rates from 36% today to over 70% by 2025
• send just 5% of Welsh waste to landfill sites by 2025
phasing out free plastic bags
• developing new marine and biomass energy plants

"Waste will be taboo. Heavy industry and power generation will greatly improve their energy efficiency," says the report, "there will be a consistent drop in energy and water demand."

Jonathan Porritt, the chair of the UK Sustainable development commission, said: "Wales will set an example for the rest of the world to follow. [Its] government is showing a serious commitment to making Wales a truly sustainable country."

Communities in south Wales will become part of one of Europe's few "low carbon regions", with 40,000 social housing homes equipped with solar, wind and heat-saving equipment.

Davidson said that £623m was expected to be spent in the next three years on improving energy efficiency in homes in Wales, which has some of the highest rates of fuel poverty rates. Most of the money will come from energy companies." - John Vidal

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