As the climate talks began yesterday over 600 posters had been put up around Paris to challenge the corporate advertising messages and allow environmental messages around the COP21 to be heard. Everything from beautiful images of nature and cartoons to fake company adverts admitting deceit.
The posters received national press coverage in France, Germany and the UK and raised issues of corporate sponsorship of the climate talks, social justice and the global economy. 130 artists from all over the world submitted hundreds of designs in English and French to the organisation Brandalism for illegal distribution by about 50 volunteers. I’ve been really impressed with the effect of this project to create discussion and change, and the power of seeing these messages in a normally commercial space. If this tactic interests you there is a wealth of information on the Brandalism website. Here are just a few of my personal poster favourites to put a smile on your face.
Next to a canal in Manchester is a five story building, converted from a mill, where lots of different environmentally minded organisations live. It’s called Bridge 5 Mill, it”s run by MERCi and it’s a hive of possibilities. I’d like to share with you a little of the story of this building and a couple of the groups who use it, from hydrogen fuel to peace campaigns.
Back in 1995 two friends in their twenties dreamed of making a sustainability hub for Manchester. After 6 months of consultation, gathering a team, and years of searching they succeeded in finding a building and gaining funding, purchasing the building in 1999. The old mill was renovated using trainees and volunteers as part of courses using reclaimed and recycled materials and won an award for it’s energy efficiency. It now has offices, conference space and a garden. Tenants include the International Coalition to ban uranium weapons, Black Environment Network, as well as bee keeping cooperative soap makers Three Bees, and Planet Hydrogen. I interviewed Tom from Three Bees last year and a year on they are now planning to add soap making courses to their services.
With hydrogen we can store renewable energy by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. When you want electricity they can recombine to form water again. Mike from Planet Hydrogen kindly demonstrated a hydrogen cell in action for me in a transparent container so we could watch the gases form.
Over the years spaces like MERCi provide so many positive groups with the basics they need to function. When a town has such a hub for a long time you can almost forget the importance of it. Once it’s built, everything slows down, it stops being so exciting, the four walls become a new norm. But most towns have no such space where groups can meet, grow and collaborate. It’s hard to imagine all the meetings, all the events, all the projects that have happened in that building so far. To speed up the social change we wish to see, one of the first things we need is to take care of the basics, to shelter these groups and give them a home. Long may MERCi continue to do so.
A year on from when I first interviewed the Avalon Community Energy (ACE) group, they’ve made some great progress. Their proposal for a local renewable energy park now has a site, which will have an anaerobic digester, and this weekend they launched their share offer so local people can now invest in the project. Starting with solar panels, the group will be gradually expanding and installing different renewable technologies and food production so that they compliment each other and form a resilient and diverse range of energy generation for the local area.
As part of the future plans for ACE, the group is considering aquaponics so I joined Maddy from ACE on a tour of bioaqua farm, where co-founder Antonio was generous enough to share his time and advice with us. I asked Antonio about the difference in nutrient content between hydroponics (plants in a water based system) and aquaponics where the plant nutrients in the water system come from fish which are farmed on the site.
Ashington used to be a coal mining town and the large sudden scale loss of work left a deep scar in the population, just as the coal mines left scars in the land. Where a mine used to be there is now a nature area, pond and several wind turbines. Rebuilding the community is taking longer, with many people feeling a lack of hope. I met the new cafe owners at The Bistro who’ve been making a success of their new venture for the last 6 months.
Heeley City Farm has the varied and cute farm animals that the word ‘farm’ might conjurer in your mind, but it also has an eco home where they are demonstrating renewable energy technologies. First, a few cute animals, because what is life without a little awwwwww.
Within the demonstration home there are solar thermal water heaters, underground heat source pumps, wool insulation and light tubes. ‘Solar thermal water heaters’ is the simple beauty of using the sun to heat black pipes filled with water, saving energy without any complex technology. Underground heat source pumps work by pumping water through pipes in the ground to extract and concentrate the heat.
The more thermal mass (weight that can absorb heat) a building has, the more it will average out the temperature around it. For example, in a cave underground in England the temperature is an average of the yearly temperatures – around 10 degrees C. An earth shelter takes advantage of this by having the building partially buried in the earth or with earth mounds up the sides.
Earth shelters are just one of the types of buildings that Idp Search architects produce but as well as new builds they crucially also do retrofitting – altering an existing building to make it less wasteful. One project they have been using is called Greening the Box. You can see an example of their work which is in High Wycombe.
The greenhouse in Norwich is a café, a bookstore, a gallery, a house, a shop and an information hub. The dappled shade in the courtyard garden is provided by clever solar panels. Above the shop lives one of the original 12 students, who 20 year on, is still running the space to provide an example of positive solutions. The flat is one of Englands Superhomes, which are very energy efficient and serve as an example to help others. The Greenhouse is a particularly useful example because it is a listed building which they had to retrofit. The vast majority of the UK housing stock would need to be retrofitted to make them more sustainable, we won’t be able to build new houses, as it would release far far more carbon. There are currently more houses in the UK than we need, the difficulty is a large number of them have been bought as investments and are vacant. The centre of London is a sad example of this. So we can’t keep building on the little nature habitat land we have left to feed the ever more hungry monster of the housing market. Retrofitting is therefore a vital part of the culture change we need to be able to lower our carbon emissions. As to how we change our culture to avoid our homes being at the whim of the investment market, we’ll leave that for later… 😉