First things first


Saturday, 30 January 2010

Food, inc.

An upcoming film that those interested in food issues may want to see - and it'll be on at Greenwich Picturehouse on Monday 15 February.

As with The Age of Stupid, this is a small-budget, independent film whose chances of success and of getting more big-screen time depends on a successful first week, so do try to see it then and spread the word.

Here's the official blurb:

Friday 12 February 2010 sees the UK cinema release of a compelling new Oscar-tipped documentary film, 'Food, Inc'.

As one of the highest grossing independent films of 2009 in the US, 'Food, Inc.' is the eagerly awaited film lifts the veil on the food industry. This eye opening documentary reveals how supermarkets have worked with governments to keep food costs artificially low, to the detriment of our health, animal welfare and the livelihood's of farmers - revealing surprising - and often shocking truths about what we eat and how it's produced.

Food, Inc is more than just 'food for thought'; it's an opportunity for activism and essential viewing for any health-conscious citizen. You'll never look at dinner in the same way again!

The Soil Association is proud to be the official charity partner of Food, Inc. providing the solutions to the issues raised in the film. It hits our cinema screens on Friday 12 February, with a special day of one-off nationwide cinema screenings on Monday 15 February – this will possibly be the only chance to see this important film in some parts of the country, but please read below to see how you may be able to help!

The first week of the release is make or break for any movie. The cinema chains look at the number of tickets sold and then decide either to book the film in more cinemas, or to dump it in the bin.

Films such as An Inconvenient Truth and The Age of Stupid started very small, but then went on to have wide nationwide releases on the back of a strong start in cinemas. So if we can pack out the first weekend and the initial nationwide screenings, then the film will gather a momentum of its own, allowing the greatest number of people the opportunity to see the film.

In doing this the more people that can see the issues for themselves the more awareness will be raised about why organic principles and organic farming practices are so crucial for a sustainable future.

Please will you help?

What you can do:

1. Email - Please forward this email to everyone you know and encourage them to go and watch the film, ask if they can forward on to their contacts too

2. Trailer - watch the trailer and get a taste of things to come!

3. Watch the film - Look at the list of participating cinemas - Click on a cinema to go through to the booking page where you can buy your tickets now

4. Volunteer - Fancy a free ticket to a screening of Food, Inc. near you? If you're able to spend a few minutes of your time after the film handing out Soil Association membership leaflets after the film we'll pay for your ticket. Get a friend to help you and we'll give them a free ticket to the film too! Contact Lisa for more details

5. Promotion - Download the poster and stick up in your school/office/window or let us know if you want to buy the massive cinema poster and do the same

6. Social networks - Join the Soil Association on Facebook and Twitter - and follow the progress of this film. Add the screening you are going to as an event in Facebook and invite all your friends to join you

7. Support the 'Hungry for Change' campaign - Inspired by the release of the film, support our work by joining Soil Association today

8. Shout! - Announce the nearest screening to you at campaign meetings/school assemblies/business shindigs or just invest in a loud hailer.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Greener Streets proposal by TW's Barbara Morris

Greener Streets – a proposal for a new approach to street design
in an urban transition area (shortened text*)
Barbara Morris
January 2010

The streets where we live and work form the landscape and the soundscape of our lives. Many town and city dwellers rarely leave this urban landscape, and it’s nature and quality has a profound effect on people’s physical and mental health, and on people’s lifestyle choices. Yet the principles on which most residential streets are designed and managed are still mainly concerned with providing mains services, traffic space and pavements while keeping down the maintenance costs. The result can be streetscapes with poor social space and environmental quality. A new approach to the design of residential streets in towns and cities would now be timely, to see how these everyday, ubiquitous spaces could be re-tuned to match our 21st century needs – both to minimise global warming and to accommodate growing numbers of people happily, safely and healthily in an urban landscape.

Reducing the area covered in paving, concrete and tarmac, and replacing it with areas of soil planted with grass, shrubs and trees will help to minimise the effects of climate change. It can do this by increasing moisture levels in the soil and air during hot, dry periods; by reducing rainwater run-off flowing into storm drains in times of heavy rainfall; and by increasing carbon retention in the soil. A greener street environment can promote bio-diversity, by providing more natural habitats for insects and birds. It also provides a more pleasant environment for its human inhabitants, offering shade on hot days, shelter on windy days, and natural colour and variety all year round.

Greener streets encourages a wider range of people to walk more and can contribute to making the streets an effective social space, where people of all ages mix and meet. The additional surveillance makes people feel safer, for instance on dark evenings. With slower traffic speeds, and more surveillance from passing pedestrians, play spaces for children might even be included in the street layout. This would help to meet the current need for more opportunities for children and teenagers to get out more and take more exercise.

Five step to greener streets
As a starting point, and at a local scale within a Transition Area, the following five steps towards greener streets might be considered:
1. Reinstate roadside verges, or equivalent green spaces, and plant more street trees and shrubs
2. Reinstate garden spaces around houses and flats: and around shops
Encourage residents and landlords to reduce or remove hard-standing (put in place for parking) from garden areas in front of houses, around blocks of flats and around garage courts, and to reinstate topsoil and plants. Replacement surfaces include gravel, grid-blocks, and paved wheel tracks with soft surfaces between. Landlords and local businesses might also be encouraged to create new green spaces in garage and parking areas around flats and shops. And whenever a parking area needs resurfacing, a porous surface might be installed, replacing impervious tarmac or concrete.
3. Permit more on-street parking and reduce speed limit to 20 mph
Reduce the speed limit to 20 mph in all residential streets and return to the normal, non- controlled parking zone conditions, where residents may park in the street across the dropped curbs leading to their own access; also increase the marked parking bays to include all safe parking areas, regardless of length, and reduce where safe the long sight-lines specified for cross-overs (not road junctions). Increasing the area of on-street parking will tend to reduce road width for through traffic. If parking areas are marked out with a change of road surface (perhaps a porous surface), this may convey to road users that these streets are designed to accommodate pedestrians on an equal footing with motor traffic, which can encourage drivers to drive more slowly and more carefully.
4. Redesign the street layout, rather than the current ‘one-design fits all’ approach.
In the longer term, redesign the street layout with more space for greenery, and more space for people to walk and play. Perhaps single lane traffic with passing places instead of the current two lanes: or two-lane traffic with narrower lanes plus passing places for wider vehicles. Some echelon parking could be introduced along the wider streets, interspersed with planting and seats. Street layouts tailored to specific streets might be considered, while still providing space for all the essential services. Where surfaces are needed for walking, cycling or parking, replace the traditional hard, impervious surfaces (tarmac, paving, concrete) with appropriate porous surfaces which would allow rainwater to stay in the local area, rather than being carried away via storm drains. Where appropriate, storm drains could be laid with porous pipework to provide underground irrigation for street trees and reduce run-off surges.
Creating and maintaining a greener street environment needs a significant investment in time, skills, materials, equipment and labour. In the Transition Westcombe Area, some residents may be willing to take on some of this commitment. Where further resources are needed, and in the long term, a greener street environment has the virtue of providing training and employment opportunities in a range of skills Creating a better environment for walking promotes social networking and social inclusion, by making the local area more accessible to more people on foot – a free and healthy way to make local journeys.
5. Explore the future possibilities for designing in energy-saving and energy-creating elements about keeping up-to-date with new technologies as soon as they become practical, such as easier access to mains services or solar cells in street furniture;

The Westcombe Park area
Some of these five steps might combine well with Transition Westcombe’s plans to identify under-used outdoor space suitable for new planting, with the involvement of residents in the planting, care and maintenance of these new green areas in the streets. The Transition Westcombe is a particular place with some local needs and a great deal of local potential. This project proposes to tap local resources, and find local solutions to meet specific situations. The area has a stable, socially-mixed and age-mixed community, with a low turnover compared to some areas of London. There is a mix of low-density housing, mainly built between 1860 and 1940, now often divided into flats: plus numerous blocks of flats built from about 1950 onwards. Development continues in the area, with individual houses and blocks of flats still being built as infill or redevelopment. The area would benefit from new green spaces to counteract the environmental effects of continuing development.
Several streets in the area have wide roadways, with comparatively low levels of traffic. This may offer scope for a reassignment of street-space. Many streets in the area are sought out by walkers and cyclists, as safe and pleasant routes for local journeys. Situated on a north-facing hillside, many streets have good views across the Thames to north London and beyond. From the top of the hillside down to the spring-line, the ground is made up of sandy and pebbly soils. This offers a cost-effective, natural porous surface suitable for walking, playing and parking cars, which also supports green ground-over plants. On this soil, even car parking areas can support ground-cover plants. Below the spring line, the soil is clay, which will support a wider range of trees and shrubs.

What to aim for ?
It has been suggested that “a 10% increase in the green cover in London would offset the enhanced heat-island effect for the next 100 years” . This seems the least we should aim for, and it suggests a minimum, short-term aim of a ten per cent increase within, say, ten years across London as a whole. In a Transition area, a valid short-term aim might be 10 per cent by 2015, with a view to a 20 per cent increase in green cover by 2020. To this could be added any gains made by changing other areas from hard to porous surfaces (without green cover).
*For the full text of the proposal, please email


Monday, 11 January 2010


Are you an optimist or a pessimist after the Copenhagen Summit?
Described by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as “an important beginning”, the 3-page non-binding Copenhagen Accord has now been signed up to by 80% of the world’s carbon producers.
• Industrial countries must list their individual emissions reductions targets, and less-industrialized countries must list the actions they will take to cut emissions by specific amounts.
• All countries must accept a transparent system for monitoring their emissions.
• Poor countries will be paid to prevent deforestation.
• Wealthy nations will establish a fund (growing from 30 billion dollars per year to $100 billion per year by 2020) to help poor and vulnerable nations adapt to climate change.
• Signatory nations accept a goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C by 2050.
• The Accord creates a Technology Mechanism to accelerate development of low-carbon technology, but supplies no details.

Besides being non-binding, these are the main weaknesses of the Accord:
• 2 degrees C is too high and there is no cap for CO2 concentrations, even at 350 parts per million which scientists say is a safer level to take account of positive feedbacks. By setting a limit of 2 degrees temperature increase without specifying a CO2 cap, the Accord may implicitly be adhering to the older scientific consensus, which would mean a 450 ppm cap and 3 degrees or more of real temperature increase. Any scientific assessment of temperature and CO2 targets is delayed until 2015.
• No target date for peaking of emissions, and no global emissions targets for 2020 or 2050.
• No concrete deal on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation
• The promised finances for poor nations are too small.

The next opportunity to forge a binding global climate treaty will be the August 2010 U.N. conference in Mexico City. The delay to any global agreement on climate change means in my view that we must redouble our individual and community efforts to change our life-styles through 10:10. Our 10:10 actions will help us prepare for the inevitable carbon rationing that will be imposed either for the individual citizen, or else at the power stations and oil refineries. The reason why the Copenhagen Summit has failed to produce any binding global agreement on climate change is that the politicians are unable to agree voluntarily to measures such as carbon rationing which would see a stand-still or reduction in their own people’s material consumption. And the economic crisis makes climate change harder to solve in the way everyone wants to see—i.e., with lots of green-tech growth.

Ron Prinn, co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and a co-author of a new study in 2009, says that "our results show we still have around a 50-50 chance of stabilizing the climate at a level of no more than a few tenths above the 2 degree target. However, that will require global emissions, which are now growing, to start downward almost immediately.”

"If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." Dr. James Hansen, director of the NASA Institute for Space Studies.

Although the effects of climate change may develop gradually, it is more likely that we will experience abrupt and dramatic shifts in weather patterns. Over the last decade we have seen both the highest temperature ever recorded in the U.K. and the (by far) warmest decade, as well as close to the greatest rainfall in 24 hours ever in the U.K. The picture of extremes is mirrored across the world. The 2006 Stern Review on the economics of climate change remarks that under presently envisaged global climate change, 200 million people may be directly affected by sea level rise, including several major coastal cities such as London.

The bigger world picture is well put by Richard Heinberg (Jan 2010):
“Climate change is just one of several enormous interrelated dilemmas that will sink civilization unless all are somehow addressed at both global and local levels. These include at least five long-range problems:
• topsoil loss (25 billion tons per year)
• worsening fresh water scarcity
• the death of the oceans (due to acidification from more carbon dioxide)
• overpopulation and continued population growth
• the accelerating, catastrophic loss of biodiversity
• peak oil
As events are unfolding now, these problems, together with climate change, will combine over the next few years or decades to trigger a food crisis of a scale and intensity that will dwarf to insignificance any famine in human history. It's not just that national governments can't get together to solve climate change. They can't solve economic meltdown, peak oil, water scarcity, soil erosion, or overpopulation either. This is not to say there is nothing that can be done about these problems. In fact, there are organizations and communities in many nations doing path-breaking work to address each and every one of them. Without global agreements, local efforts are what we've got, and we will simply have to make the most of them that we can, by working locally and on a small scale, while sharing information about successes and failures as widely as possible.”

We need to create a strong environmental movement at grass-roots level to give the politicians the backing to go further than they are. What can you do?

Transition Westcombe has various subgroups and projects which you can join by emailing

• Food Sub-group: Community orchard planting, the urban foraging map, patch match

• Inner Transition: Form a 10:10 group with your neighbours to start reducing your carbon footprint by 10% in 2010. Email for info and advice on the first Transition Westcombe 10:10 groups.

• Energy Subgroup: Changing the planning criteria to allow more solar panels. Creating a Council-led system for the reporting of wasteful office lights left on at night.

• Various: International Plastic Bag Free Day for Greenwich. Getting community notice boards on stations.

Or propose your own project and get the backing of Transition Westcombe. We are currently looking at how to support the proposal of Westcombe resident Barbara Morris for “greening” the streetscape by redesigning the streets with less tarmac, more plants and more porous surfaces.

Latest News:
• 10:10 groups in Foyle Road and Humber Road have begun meetings aiming for a 10% reduction in their carbon footprint during 2010.
• Low Carbon Communities Challenge bid. Unfortunately our bid did not win this very competitive challenge, but we can still be pleased to have been chosen to bid.
• URGENT: The Mayor is revising the London Plan and also the Mayor's Transport Strategy, and the consultations close officially on Tuesday 12th January at 5pm. Key proposals you may want to question….1. Another road crossing at Blackwall tunnel. 2. A Thames Gateway road bridge plus car ferry. 3. A weakening of the criteria that would allow road building to take place. As was shown at the recent public inquiry, these new bridges would have little effect on traffic congestion, while increasing air pollution and contributing to climate change.
Specifically you may want to object 1. To any new vehicle or road river crossings (as referred to in paragraph 6.37 of the London Plan, and proposal 39 of the MTS) as these would be expected to generate more traffic and add to air pollution and climate change emissions and 2. to new policy 6.12 of the London Plan which weakens the criteria for building new road capacity / makes it unacceptably easy for new roads to be built.
Responses by email to "" with "Replacememt London Plan" as the title