Sunday, 31 March 2013

Part 2: 90% Food production

This is the 2nd instalment looking at a 90% reduction in consumption, based on the book “Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front” by Sharon Astyk. Following on from the last blog, I thought that it would be a good idea to look at the food growing potential in the UK. The 90% reduction doesn’t mean that Sharon and family are eating 90% less food than everyone else, but more that they aim to grow as much as they can themselves, and buy the rest as locally as possible. This would significantly reduce food miles and support the local economy, but it requires a change in diet and a re-emergence of food storage and preservation techniques. No hothouse strawberries in winter, or asparagus flown half way round the world.

A 90% target on the food front seems quite hard, when you think that probably 10% of food stuffs originate from exotic locations. Tea, coffee, spices, cocoa (which means everything chocolaty), and bananas, just to name a few, aren’t the kind of thing we could grow in the back garden in the UK. Bananas are currently the most eaten fruit here, so how do we get people back to eating the native pears and apples?

Then we have the issue that although pears and apples grow well here, do we have the space to grow them individually or locally, or do we need to continue to rely on France, Holland, New Zealand, and the USA to feed us? I think I will look at this first, because then we may see how big a change in our daily diets would be needed, based on what we could provide for ourselves.

So starting with a quick look at the state of New York in the USA, it is 54,000 square miles in area, comparable to the 50,000 square miles of England (94,000 sq. miles for the UK in total, but we’ll stick to England purely for ease of comparison). Both places have a major city area, New York with a population of 8.1 million and Greater London with 8.9 million (I’m just using wiki for the figures here to give a rough idea). England has 53 million people, whereas the state of New York’s population is 36% of this, at 19.5 million. If you take away the population of New York City, then the rest of the state is pretty sparsely populated.

Ok, so is anyone else feeling really small and crowded yet? This is just one state in the US that is already bigger than England, and even though we have the impression of the US being heavily populated it clearly isn’t, compared to England.

Garden wise the UK average garden size is around 190m2 (2,000ft2). This includes front and back gardens, including paved driveways. I’m struggling to find the equivalent for the US but it appears that the median average ‘lot size’ in the US is 810 m2 (8,750 ft2) (Can anyone improve on this?).  This is a vastly larger plot than the average UK dwelling has. Now this is really good news for suburban Americans who want to grow their own vegetables, as Sharon Astyk has pointed out, but is far more of a challenge in the UK.

If we just think in terms of 1 acre feeding a family of 4 (I’m not saying it is possible but it is a place to start), then with an average lot size in the US coming in at 0.2 acres it falls somewhat short, but would just about feed someone living alone. Based on the same principle, the 0.047 acre average garden in the UK would then provide only a fifth of the food required for one person, which is a bit of a concern.

In her book Sharon Astyk talks about the Victory Gardens taking up some of the slack during both World Wars. (I found an original instructional film about how to grow a victory garden at ) The UK had the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaigns encouraging growing food in every green space, from gardens and allotments to wasteland and verges. (Another amazing old film )

Allotments are having a revival in the UK and many have long waiting lists. It’s about 2 years for a plot in Loughborough, though up to 8 years in some areas of the UK. In addition some local councils have halved the size of the individual plots, so that they can reduce waiting lists (although these plots may then be too small to supply a family’s food needs).

Luckily, there are lots more initiatives springing up to get people back working the land and providing fresh local produce, like Landshare ( ), the Incredible Edible movement  ( ), Community Supported Agriculture ( ) and the Transition Towns movement ( ) to name a few. The main thrust of this is getting more green spaces used for growing food. Small patches of grass that the council have to maintain, can become vegetable beds maintained by the community.

France is much better at small scale farming and enjoying access to local produce. Maybe it is because food plays a more important role. It is not just a response to hunger, but a creative, sensual and sociable affair. They also have around 2 and a half times more land for about the same population as the UK. (260,000sq. miles with 65 million people)

At this point I have to admit to reading a book called ‘The Death of Grass’ by John Christopher when I was a teenager. From what I remember a virus destroys grass crops such as rice and cereals and many people around the World are facing riots and starvation. The British response (and yes this is all fictional) is to put military cordons around the major cities and bomb them. That way the population is reduced to a size that has a far better chance of an orderly survival, without everyone killing each other over the remaining food. I can’t really fault the logic behind this. I mean a quick death seems preferable to slow starvation, and the survivors certainly wouldn’t be complaining, and would be in much better shape this way. Good enough reason for me not to live in a city!

So back to the reality of the UK, do we have enough land to meet all the food needs of the population, should the need arise? I have read reports that we could, but at a much more sensible consumption level than we are now, with significantly less meat in our diets (I want to attribute this to Simon Fairlie, but I can’t seem to find where I read it, so I will reference this at a later date.) Small scale, labour intensive farms/ gardens can produce more food per acre than large farms, so this is something that we would need to address in order to hope to feed the nation.

Vinay Gupta, who specialises in Collapsonomics and risk management, has suggested that we should not worry too much about food in a short to medium term event, because there is 6 months supply of food currently standing in the fields baaing and mooing!. This would tide us over whilst we set about growing food in earnest. In a time of emergency it would be possible to significantly increase food production, but we are looking at how much we can do now – without an emergency.

Current planning policies, of providing handkerchief gardens with new houses and allowing old gardens to be cut up and built on, has got to stop. Gardening is a popular hobby, and something most people could adapt to if they wanted to and had the space. I guess the point is that individually we won’t have anywhere near enough growing space, but as community groups we have much more potential for requesting or commandeering land to share.

When I look at my own garden, it is 163m2 (1,754ft2), at least a quarter of which is heavily shaded by the house and paved. We also have a small front garden, again two thirds is paved for car parking. This garden space has been filled with climbing frames and kids playing football over the last 12 years. It still has a basketball net, trampoline and mad dog running around it, so the food growing potential is pitiful, but I am improving it by building raised beds and trying to use every space. There is no chance that it could feed a family of 6, but we can supplement some of our needs. I have my name on the waiting list for an allotment and the local Transition Group have just started a community allotment, where I can learn skills. The first 15 trees of a community orchard have been planted nearby, but already 4 of the trees have been damaged L The Transition Group are starting to work with the schools, so hopefully we can educate how important these trees are for the future.

In summary there is the potential to be just about self-sufficient for food in the event of a severe shortage (Note to all military personnel and politicians – no bombing is required!), but at the moment land is at a premium and out of reach of the majority of the population, gardens are far too small and allotments aren’t meeting demand. The average person has the odds stacked against them to provide any significant amount of food for themselves. The state of New York seems to have far more potential.

This means we need to put a lot more effort into supporting local food production and local businesses, which I think must be a topic for another blog.......

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Sir Winston Churchill was a very great man. Under his leadership he united Britain during World War II. If you think times are tough now, try to imagine your husband/ brothers/ sons going off to fight overseas, your wife/ sisters/ daughters working labouring in farms or factories and the kids getting sent away to the countryside to live with complete strangers, and in the background the constant fear of bombs, chemical warfare and invasion.

The fear of financial collapse/ peak fossil fuels/ climate change has not reached that level, because for most people it is not yet upon us. Only when you reach rock bottom and are facing stark choices for survival can the reality be truly felt, understood and responded to.

It is interesting to look at history. Everyone who lived through the war knew someone killed in battle or left homeless from bombs. Many witnessed terrible scenes and were put in grave danger. But if you talk to people who lived through it and see their faces as they remember, the impression is of unity, camaraderie and sense of purpose. Now I’m no historian and I am only just starting out researching more about the decisions which led to victory, but to me one of the key things was leadership.

“So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.” Sir Winston Churchill (Hansard, November 12, 1936)

In this quote Churchill could quite easily be talking about the government we have right now, but looking at the dates, he was talking about the British government before war broke out. If the government then was as ineffectual as the government is now, then how did they manage to turn things on their heads in a short space of time, to unite a country and win the war? And if it was possible to turn everything around then, surely there is a chance that we can do so now?

I put to you that it is all about leadership. It is about rousing speeches, strength of character, determination, making tough decisions and never giving in. Some bloggers on the subject of future collapse have already written off the political players in their country. In the UK, the strength or weakness of our leaders will play a big role in our future, and could potentially have a positive influence on other countries too.

“When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.” Sir Winston Churchill

I am not in the least interested in politics and I am certainly not a supporter of the conservative party. What I did find remarkable at the last election however was how people had so easily forgotten the Thatcher years and what the Conservatives stood for. Talking to people I knew, they just voted for the party with the perceived most charismatic leader. There really wasn’t much charisma on offer at the last election, but David Cameron was clearly at the advantage of his opponents.

The point of course is that people want a real leader, someone who has opinions, ideas and strength of character, to lead us out of troubled times. I am not saying he is the next Churchill, but Boris Johnson (Mayor of London) seems to have a lot going for him. Incredibly recognisable and well-known already, the spotlight from the Olympics gave Boris further opportunities to shine. His Olympic speeches were rousing and memorable, and compared to Boris, David Cameron’s were pretty dull (Don’t remember Dave making any speeches? You were probably getting a cuppa whilst he was on!)

What I find even more appealing is that he survives scandals. There are Western leaders who have been surrounded in scandals that have been their undoing. There may be hidden agendas and manipulation at work behind some of these scandals, but it would take a lot to tackle Boris to the ground.

If there is an election and Boris is in it, he could potentially win on charisma, regardless of policies or party. I’m not sure that this would be an entirely bad thing. We need someone who can rouse the masses and call for a united effort, when the going gets tough. Someone who is not afraid to talk directly to the people, rather than through the press. I’m not saying that the kind of policies that could ease our transition are the kind of policies that Boris would necessarily support, but I do believe that a point will come when there is no choice but to act on energy shortages and climate change, and that is when a vocal respected leader at the helm may be of significant benefit.

During the war there were lots of unpopular policies to introduce in order to hold the country together, many of them affected the richest people in our society. For instance the government enacted the Emergency Powers Act, which among other things, gave them powers to take land that was not being used productively and redistribute it. It is not the farmers who aren’t in the business of being productive, but the rich with their formal gardens, pony paddocks, golf courses and hunting ranges. The manor house nearest us was used by the army during the war and, like many others, was in such a state of disrepair by the end of the war, that it was too expensive to keep. It was demolished and the rubble used in the building of the M1 motorway. Looking back now, this seems like a tax on the rich, all be it in the name of the war effort.

It is very interesting learning about the policies during the war years. Taxing the rich is not something that is very popular with the conservatives these days, but really we don’t have the luxury of avoiding it any more. Improving equality could result in a more stable society, and this was something that was recognised during the war. Rationing, women’s wages and taxes were some of the ways that equality was improved. This was a preventative measure, to ensure smooth running of the country without internal issues, such as strikes, protests and riots.
“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong-these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.“ Sir Winston Churchill (Speech, House of Commons, May 2, 1935)

I will write more of this in another blog, but I have still got more research to do first. Next blog will be a continuation of the 90% reduction theme.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Energy Security

Did anyone hear about this in the news yesterday? The head of one of the 6 big energy suppliers in the UK is warning that power shortages are becoming a real possibility. Ofgem (the energy regulation body in the UK) have been saying something similar for a while already, but the government don’t seem to be taking it seriously. Hear Alistair Buchanan’s presentation to CIBSE for more information at . Todays news paints an even bleaker picture with the current cold snap and problems with the import pipeline causing even more supply concerns .

We have been in sticky spots previously regarding energy security. For instance in 2006, when the outputs of gas from the North Sea were declining and the increase in capacity for importing gas through pipelines from Europe had not yet come online. The UK has very little gas storage capacity compared to many EU countries, so if the 2006 winter had been cold then there would have been shortages. As it was, it was very mild and most of the public were unaware of how dire the situation could have been. That doesn’t mean we will be so lucky next time.

When there is a shortage of gas, it is too dangerous to reduce supplies to households, so instead gas is shut off to big industry. Electricity generation in power stations is a large consumer of gas, so the chances are that a gas shortage would result in the shutdown of gas power stations and lead to an electricity shortage. With the current situation, we also have the additional problem of power stations being taken offline as they become obsolete, or for financial reasons or because of the new regulations for emissions from coal power stations. Without sufficient spare generation capacity in the UK, there could be a shortfall of electricity generation during times of Peak load. So on a cold winter’s day (like today is – even though it should be spring), around teatime, when everyone is switching the kettle, cooker, lights and heating on, there is high demand for electricity. This is why there needs to be plenty of spare capacity, to meet these peaks. If there is insufficient electricity it could result in blackouts.

Essential services such as Hospitals have a back-up generator to provide constant electricity for just these emergencies, which is reassuring. The trouble is that industry experts have known that there is a shortage of electricity capacity looming, but rather than trying to reverse the trend by investing in increased generation capacity (or better still reductions in energy consumption), quick fix alternatives have been found. For instance Hospitals and other sites with large backup generators have been targeted. They have been offered the opportunity to be paid to run their backup generators during times of peak demand. In other words the emergency backup would then be used as spare capacity to cover the peak demand. This makes me twitchy!

Imagine the situation of severe snow lasting a week or more, causing high energy demand and depleting stores of gas. The emergency backup generators in Hospitals are called in to help meet the peak demand. The emergency generators run on diesel, but because of the travel disruption caused by the snow there are problems getting diesel supplies delivered. Very soon the peak capacity AND the emergency backup is lost. This would be a desperate situation that could lead to loss of life, and will hopefully never materialise, but it gives an idea of just how fragile our energy system is becoming. Building resilience involves having additional back-up and options in an emergency, not less.
Generally speaking, planned loss of electricity for short periods is not life threatening, although it can be inconvenient. In the UK climate, if you have no heat in winter then you can die. If you have no lights, fridge or TV, then it should not impact too severely on your survival. Looking back to the 1970’s, when there were electricity shortages and planned power cuts, most people found ways to adapt and carry on regardless.
I feel that we are more at risk now though. I can’t remember my kids ever experiencing a proper blackout, nothing more than a disrupted local power supply for an hour or two. The last blackout I remember was caused by the Great Storm of 1987, when I was just 14, and we were without power for much of the day. Even this only affected people in the South of the UK. I know there have been blackouts caused by weather events or technical problems since then, but they have still been relatively localised.
How many of you keep candles and a box of matches in just in case? My grandparents always did, my parents do, but what of the younger generation who have never really experienced significant power cuts? Hopefully most people have a torch knocking around. More people also have central heating systems, which are controlled electrically, so are likely to stop working in a power cut. It is worth ensuring that you have an alternative heat source in your home, maybe a wood-burning stove or gas fire. (Don’t count on using a barbeque, as these give off smoke and carbon dioxide and should only be used outside!) Rural areas especially could also lose their water supply when the electricity stops, so having some bottled water stored would be useful, or else fill up the bath with fresh water if there is time before the power goes off.
Other preparations to consider may include having a landline telephone that does not need electricity. Hands free units often need the base unit to have a power supply in order to work. Banks, cash machines and credit card facilities in shops cannot operate without electricity, so it is a good idea to keep some spare cash stashed in the house. The kids money boxes may be sufficient for an emergency situation, but make sure that you have at least enough cash to buy food for a few days, if the need arose. Ideally keeping enough dried or canned food for a week or more is an even better precaution.
These aren’t really big or difficult steps, but it may make the difference in the event of a power cut. It also puts you in a better situation to help less prepared neighbours or those in need.
The government has all the information about energy security, but has made the decision to run the risk of blackouts. My personal view is that they will not act to improve electricity capacity or significantly reduce demand until after an event, such as a shortage of electricity has happened. Then the energy bills will have to increase even further to relieve the financial burden of the infrastructure improvements required.
When my grandparents were born less than 10% of British households had any electricity and if they did it was just for lighting. The difference now is that we are used to having electricity and expect it to available for us to use forever. If David Cameron did a televised speech tomorrow, saying that electricity is in short supply and everyone needs to do what they can to reduce energy consumption in order to avert plunging the country into darkness, I think people would listen and act. I know that Cameron is no Churchill, and his speeches are hardly rousing, but the key is speaking directly to the people, not leaving room for hearsay and drivel to filter down from the press. That is how you get a united response, rather than everyone waiting to see what their neighbours do. It really isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
As for blackouts, we have lived through them before and people round the World are surviving without electricity right now. The difference is that we were pre-warned and prepared in the 1970’s. Will we have warning next time or will the politicians allow unexpected blackouts to cause total mayhem? I’m not taking that chance and I would suggest that you don’t either.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Part 1: Choices

Sharon Astyk in her book “Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front” talked about her experience starting up the ‘Riot for Austerity’. This is nothing to do with the riots going on in Greece and other countries against the austerity measures being implemented by governments, and was started prior to the financial crisis. It is about voluntary austerity, choices made to be more frugal and to reduce consumption in order to be more sustainable. It is not something forced on people by a government, which leaves people in debilitating poverty with no options.

So Sharon and a friend decided to see if it was possible to reduce their consumption levels to 90% of the average American consumption. This included energy, transport fuel, consumer goods and growing most of their food or buying local.

Now you could say that Sharon lives on a 27acre smallholding, which has sufficient woodland to use wood for cooking and heating, and land to grow crops and keep livestock, so she has an advantage to the rest of us, but the point is that she chose that. She chose an old un-insulated farmhouse over a modern suburban dwelling. She chose to live further from yoga classes, coffee shops and fashion boutiques, to devote her time to growing food and living sustainably. She gave up many modern day luxuries that we take for granted to live the sustainable life and I think we all have the power to make better choices too, where ever we live and however rich or poor we are.

I live in England, pretty much in the middle (we call it the Midlands ;-) ), and this is the place and culture that I know best, so I am going to relate this 90% reduction to the UK, and then to my life, and see what comparisons can be drawn. I am not an academic, so I am going to talk in general terms looking at the bigger picture, rather than being picky about the detail. I have spent more than 10 years working in various roles looking at reducing energy consumption, so it seems a good place to start to compare energy consumption.

The US Energy Information Administration provide some pretty good statistics for energy consumption per housing unit, so I have used those throughout. Likewise the Department of Energy & Climate Change provide the stats for the UK. The table below shows the average energy consumption for 2009. There are areas of the US where the climate is hotter and heating isn’t really a requirement, so I have added New York State here as well. The UK is further North than the state of NY, but I think the climate is fairly similar. It may even be milder in the UK because of the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.
Average Household Energy Consumption kWh
Average Household Energy Consumption Btu
US 2009
New York State 2009
UK 2009
My home 2009
My home 2012
90% reduction target

 The UK energy consumption is 28% less per average Household than for the US already, but still we would need an 86% reduction in energy consumption to meet the same target. That is a pretty tough target. I had imagined that we would be nearly half way there already (Wishful thinking!).

My home energy consumption looks pretty bad in the table I have to admit, but comparing the consumption per person rather than per household shows us in a better light. The average energy use is 8,100kWh per person in the UK (for 2008), whereas we used 4,226kWh per person in 2008 (only 3,766kWh per person in 2012) so actually we are well below the national average. The US average is 10,228kWh per person, so as individuals my family are already using 63% less per person.

I am going to see how much further we can go towards the per household target though. It is no good playing with the statistics to try and make things look rosier, because the bottom line is we need to reduce our consumption significantly. We made a choice to have a larger family, which explains why we have a higher household energy consumption, but I am not going to use it as an excuse to not aim for the same targets.

It may also be worth noting that my husband and I both work from home. This also contributes to our household energy bill, but really is offset by the fact that there is no separate office workspace dedicated for our use during the daytime hours, which is kept heated, cooled and lit by some company, that could have been employing us if we had not made the choice to work from home permanently.

I was reminded of this choice recently because I went for a job interview. I had happened upon a job that had good pay and was something that I felt I could do and do well, but more it had good pay. (Not that working for myself isn’t good pay, it is just it is sporadic and depends on me spending time actually working, er…not writing blogs.) I came out of the interview and bumped into a friend, Paul, waiting to go in. When he said he wanted to get this job to reduce his daily commute it was an enlightening moment for me. Instantly I was reminded of why I chose to start working from home five years ago, to cut out the awful commute, reduce my carbon emissions and spend that extra time with my family. This job would mean a return to commuting for me. I knew that Paul’s daily commute was further than mine had ever been and he had been doing it for several years. I stood there knowing that it made so much more sense for him to get the job. And he did. (Congratulations Paul!) Everything happens for a reason and I was reminded of the importance of why I do what I do that day, and it made me think about what I really need to be doing. 

Overall, looking at my family and as a nation, we really have a long way to go to reduce our energy consumption to our global fair share and need to start making those sustainable choices right now in everything we do. This will help us to be prepared for resources becoming scarcer and more expensive and make it easier to survive when they are gone.

More on the 90% reduction theme next time.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Book Review - 'Depletion and Abundance'

I have spent most of the last week coughing and sneezing (and I am talking earth-shattering sneezes), devoid of energy. Luckily I had a good book to hand and I really didn’t realise how good a book until I started getting into it.

“Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front” by Sharon Astyk is certainly well worth a read. Published in 2008, at the start of the financial crisis, it is still very valid to the current situation and I wish I had read it sooner.

Sharon Astyk is an American living with her young family on a 27 acre farm in rural upstate New York, but she has written a remarkable book which is very ‘British’ and really very applicable to changes needed in the UK. Clearly studying Shakespeare and British literature at University have made an impression on her writing. More than that though, she brings a warm-hearted woman’s perspective to difficult subjects. She has looked at the everyday individual issues but through an open-minded and educated view of the World.

I found lots of similarities with Sharon - she drinks Earl Grey for breakfast for a start. We share views on how our history of pulling together for the war effort during WWII can show us a way for the future, through the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaigns. I would go further and say that rationing could also play an important role in stabilising food prices, making food more accessible for the poor and reducing the risk of rioting and political unrest, but more on that in another blog.

Sharon has plenty of solutions, inspiring ideas and examples to help individuals make changes to reduce their environmental footprint. She is writing from her own experience having made some significant changes to how her own family lives, and I think this makes her book all the more powerful because she is walking the walk. It certainly isn’t an easy walk and there are some tough choices that she has faced, but the outcome seems to be an enjoyable and more sustainable lifestyle.

Anyway this book has inspired me to make a few comparisons and see where that may lead me with changes to my lifestyle. For a start Sharon’s target was to reduce her family’s energy consumption by 90% compared to an average American family, so it would be good to compare that to a British family. Also it isn’t that easy to get a home with 27 acres in the UK, and backyards are the size of a handkerchief and still shrinking! Let’s see how this compares and if there is still hope to get part way to self-sufficiency. Homes are also a lot smaller too and no longer have basements or cellars, so food storage is going to be a big issue – especially the 2 years of supplies that Sharon talks about, which is no problem in her 3,000ft2 (280m2) farmhouse.

See how the figures stack up for us Brits in the next blog.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Changing Expectations

It is snowing. There is a freaky weather system which has dropped snow on us when we weren’t expecting it. It is March and the daffodils should be out. Where is spring?

This is not how I planned to start my first blog, but it does reflect how we need to change our expectations. Climate change is increasing weather extremes but also mixing up the normal seasons. We can’t expect spring to be warm or summer to be dry anymore.

The same applies to lots of other things in our lives. The expected everyday events like driving to the supermarket to buy dinner could be changing too. It’s easy to forget that not so long ago it wasn’t the norm to own a car, supermarkets didn’t exist, and food had to be cooked from scratch on a daily basis. Did your grandparents have a fridge when they were young or your parents?

People have rapidly adapted to all the new inventions and expectations have changed accordingly. How hard would it be for us to adapt back to a life with limited oil? If petrol is restricted it becomes expensive and people react by reducing journeys or driving more efficiently. This is actually happening now. The UK has passed ‘Peak Car’, and it looks like the mileage we drive each year is reducing. What is next?

This blog is about changing our expectations and in doing so changing our future.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Organised Organisations

I like to follow a blog by Dmitry Orlov. He has an interesting viewpoint, a very direct manner, is not afraid to say what he thinks and has a wicked sense of humour. Sometimes he likes to rant, but mostly there is a moral to his blogs.
On the 5th February his blog contained an extract from his latest book, entitled “The problem of Excessive Scale” and can be read at He discusses how things can become too big to function efficiently and there is an optimum size. Smaller groups or states function better because they are still small enough for people to see the full picture. This blog relates very well to my experiences recently.
On the one hand I have been trying to get a prescription for my son. A specialist diagnosed him needing medication and wrote to our Doctor. The Doctor refused to write a prescription because they said it is too specialist, and they have insufficient experience with it. The Doctor then wrote to the psychiatrist who had recommended the specialist. The psychiatrist also claimed he could not prescribe said medication because he was not the person who recommended it. The initial specialist then said they could only prescribe said medication if they received a letter of recommendation from the Doctor. The Doctor wouldn't write a recommendation for treatment that he had not diagnosed.....I hope you can see that I am really getting nowhere after 5 weeks of going round in circles. And these are supposed to be well-educated intelligent people! (Dare I say that I could just buy the medication over the counter in the US!)
This is just a small example of how inefficient it is dealing with the large National Health Service in the UK, and I am still left chasing to get the medication.
On the other hand I am part of our local Transition Town. On the 15th December 2012, a few of us met at a local allotment site where there were some vacant plots and thought it would be great to get a community allotment started. Already we have created an official group, leased the allotment, laid sheeting over the weeds, obtained concrete slabs, been given a slightly damaged but new shed from the local DIY store, and collected a greenhouse that has been 'freecycled'. A seed swap has been organised in the town library and volunteers have started to dig the plot over.
Not bad going really for a small bunch of non-experts, just a group of generous, positive people helping each other out. This is the power of small communities. This is resilience. This is hope for the future.


(Written on 14th January 2013)

I wanted to start a blog about my journey to becoming more resilient. It seems a stupid thing for me to do, when I haven’t read many blogs let alone commented on them, but I see it as a way of keeping a journal and tracking my progress, along with commenting on the global state of affairs. I’m not sure anyone will be interested in reading it, but if it inspires anyone to take a more sustainable path, or to prepare for the collapse of our current systems, then I would love to hear from you.

To start the New Year the World Economic Forum released its ‘Global Risks 2013’ report, which you can download from . I found it interesting reading, though not very light-hearted. Financial risks dominate the top spots for ‘likelihood to occur within the next 10 years’ and ‘impact’, but ‘Rising greenhouse gas emissions’ and ‘Failure of climate change adaption’ featured prominently too. Peak Oil isn’t directly mentioned, although rising energy and food prices is given a fair amount of weight.

The report talks about the need for Resilience, ‘the ability to withstand, adapt and recover from shocks’. Where a risk is difficult to predict and to plan for, then the best preparation is to increase Resilience. It’s about having some spare capacity and the skills to be adaptable, and applies on an individual basis, as well as for communities, businesses and countries.

Resilience is about being knocked down but having the strength to get back up. It does seem to me to be ingrained in human nature. I mean if your house is flooded or you get made redundant, how many people would just lie down and say ‘I can’t go on anymore’? People find a way to cope, a way to survive, even in the most dire situations. It’s like the weeds in my garden, they want to live and grow so badly that nothing will stop them trying to spring up again. That’s us. You can’t write off our future because there is always a way to adapt and cope with whatever is thrown your way.