Tag Archives: renewable energy

Earth Hour Chard

Earth Hour is an annual event which celebrates a global network committed to creating a sustainable world. It’s organised by the World Wildlife Fund, and began as a ‘lights out’ event in Sydney, Australia in 2007.

The idea is for people, organisations and businesses to turn off all non-essential lights, and other electrical devices, for one hour. The hour begins at 8.30pm local time, so the effect ripples around the world. City landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Shard, participate now, as well as millions of individuals.

chard earth hour list mar18

Some people organise whole events around the occasion, and one such is Earth Hour Chard where I was booked to talk about Resilience. Their first event had been a magnificent street fair, betrayed by a bitterly cold March wind. They’d hired the Guildhall this time, for a whole day’s programme of activities supported by a cafe, bar and numerous stalls.

chard art stall march 2018
Some of the colourful hand made local products on sale

I arrived early; the kids’ activities were in full swing. Everyone was busy, so after I unloaded and parked, I took a walk to the museum.

chard museum earth hour march 2018

In a county of farming communities, Chard always stood out as a factory town. The textile industry was important, particularly machine made lace for net curtains and clothing. As outlined in the Resilience Handbook, the presence of machinery in the area encouraged a support network of craftspeople. These skills were then available to inventors.

 A very comfortable 'donkey chaise' in the foreground
A very comfortable ‘donkey chaise’ in the foreground

It was in Chard, in 1848, that John Stringfellow’s Aerial Steam Carriage first showed that engine powered flight was possible. Other major advances credited to the town include the development of articulated artificial limbs and of X-ray photography. Today, it’s the home of the Henry vacuum cleaner.

chard British icons march 2018
British icons!

I strolled down Fore Street, admiring the remaining old countryside architecture, the thatched houses and diamond pane windows, arriving back in time for the judging of the colouring in competition. I hastened over to the Phoenix Hotel; the talks were being held there while the Guildhall was set up for the evening event.

chard phoenix hotel mar18

I’d decided to create a new talk, outlining how the Resilience Project came into being through a fusion of Transition’s Energy Descent Action Plan and local emergency planning, with decades of experience in living off-grid thrown in. Jason Hawkes covered ecological footprints and housing; Kate Handley talked on local food.

We packed up in time for the music; a selection of bands often seen at off-grid festivals, compèred by Tracey West, publisher extraordinaire. Simon West manned their Word Forest Organisation stall on the top floor, where the poetry slam was going on.

It was a very entertaining evening, networking and enjoying quality performances. We didn’t turn off the lights in the venue for Earth Hour – a health and safety issue – but at least the people attending had turned theirs off!

Thatched cottages in Chard Somerset

Although Chard is poorly served by public transport, it’s worth a visit. I found some charming hotels with reasonable prices, though in the event I stayed with one of the organisers. Check for parking, as this may be a local issue.

Sadly, the nearby Wildlife park at Cricket St Thomas has closed and is now on the Heritage at Risk register.

chard ration foods mar18
From the museum…I eat less meat then that already…more cheese and eggs though

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Towers, Silk and Shopping in Shanghai

After a busy day at the water village, we still had time for one more trip on the way back to the hotel. There’s a definitive division of opinion about going up very tall towers. Some people can’t resist them, and others get vertigo just by seeing photographs of the view. About half of our tour group were really keen on going up the Shanghai Tower; the others waited in the bus and explored the traffic.

I paid the entrance fee and joined the intrepid group of tower-hunters. We queued up for the security check where I lost my lighter and water again. We queued up for the free souvenir photo which you collected at the top, and for the Very Fast Lift. This made my ears pop, so losing the water was a bit annoying, but takes you up to the sightseeing deck in no time, travelling at up to 46 miles per hour. When built, it was the fastest lift in the world, and possibly still is.

There seems to be a global competition to build the tallest skyscrapers. There are strict rules about what can be considered the actual top; the Shanghai Tower is 632 metres to the very tip. I was more interested in finding out about the building’s sustainable features. It’s enclosed in a transparent ‘skin’, and the space created is used to modulate the temperature inside, so reducing the need for electricity.

View over Shanghai; note the pollution haze in the background
View over Shanghai; note the pollution haze in the background

Wind turbines near the roof generate 350 megawatts a year, about 10% of the power needs. A combined system for cooling, heat and power saves energy; water conservation measures also operate within the building. The highest hotel in the world, using the 84th to 110th floors, is due to open next summer.

shanghai view with radio tower

The Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower, at a mere 468 metres high, is a more established tourist attraction; I’d have liked to see the glass floor and the double decker lifts, but that’ll need to wait until next time. As will the unfenced glass walkway around the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Tower.

The next day was an early start, as we had a lot of sightseeing to do before our eight hour train journey to Yi Chang; we were on the bus by 8am, luggage all packed and loaded.

One of the interesting breakfast options!
One of the interesting breakfast options!

The bus dropped us off at the Jiangnan silk factory. This incorporates a small museum covering the history of the Silk Road, which had several branches through China before focussing on Xi’an for the passage through the Himalayas. Silk, tea and other light goods took the land route. Heavier items, such as porcelain, travelled by ship along the sea route, from the Shanghai region as far as East Africa.

Further in, there’s an old silk reeling machine in working order; you can watch how the cocoons are unwound, each containing a single length of thread. It’s not unusual for these to be over a kilometre long! Even so, the raw silk is so fine that it takes more than 600 cocoons to make a shirt.

silk machine

The larvae inside the cocoon are killed with boiling water; they’re often eaten, or used for fertiliser. Some firms claim to make ‘ethical silk’, but there is a debate about how viable this is.

So far, the process had been much the same as the one we’d seen in Turkey, but then we were shown something new. A fine sheet of raw silk was teased out of a single cocoon, held at the corners by four women who gently tugged it into the size of a double quilt and laid it on top of a pile of similar sheets.

Once the required thickness of silk was reached, it was enclosed in a cotton cover and became a silk-filled duvet. The prices were very reasonable, the weight easily manageable and we could fit a large double quilt into a quarter of a medium sized suitcase; the shop compresses them for you. Most of the hotels on our tour were using these; they were very comfortable.

We got a lift from our tour bus to the Bund, where we had just enough time for a quick stroll along the historic waterfront area, formerly the British Quarter, before turning off into Nanjing Road. It’s worth doing some research before a holiday in Shanghai; you could easily spend a couple of days in this area alone. Some of the shops in this famous pedestrian street date back to the Qing dynasty; others are modern retail outlets. There are museums and temples worth a visit too.

A London bus on the Bund
A London bus on the Bund

Although there are few vehicles using the main thoroughfare, watch out for the constant cross-traffic of bicycles and electric scooters from the interesting little alleyways leading off towards tiny stalls. You can sample street food there, but it’s not advised unless you’re accustomed to it.

Avoid also – if you can – the husslers and touts brandishing catalogues of watches or scarves to entice you into certain shops. They can be quite insistent, but are restrained by the ubiquitous presence of smartly uniformed police. Ironically for a city whose name was once a byword for piracy, modern Shanghai is very law abiding!

nanjing road

 

We were in a hurry to reach the train station by then, so any serious shopping was out of the question, but the potential was definitely noted. One could easily spend a pleasant week in Shanghai doing sightseeing and retail therapy. The weather was mild even in November, so your luggage won’t be cluttered up with thick jumpers, leaving plenty of space for silk quilts and the like.

If you go as an independent  traveller, don’t even think about hiring a car. Join a local day tour, take a taxi, use public transport. Just avoid the last during the rush hours.

Next week: A Cruise up the Yangtze River

 

Resilience in Iceland

My trip to Iceland was a journey through the island’s past. I was well acquainted with the Sagas, set in the period just after Settlement, from about 900 to 1050 AD, which described a prosperous landscape. I knew that deforestation quickly became a problem and Icelanders avoided the fate of their relatives in Greenland by a very small margin.*

One of my first stops was the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik. This museum has been built over an excavated longhouse from the Saga days. Its inhabitants enjoyed Iron Age luxury in their spacious ‘hvoll’ surrounded by natural abundance.

Following the prosperity of the early days came the Little Ice Age which began in the 1300s and lasted nearly six centuries. The trees cut for firewood, building and smelting iron didn’t grow back. The topsoil was lost and barley cultivation ceased. The fjords filled with ice; the fishing boats rotted on the strand with no wood for repairs.

There wasn’t even enough firewood to boil seawater for salt, essential for preserving food through the long winters. Luckily cows were able to survive, presumably living on seaweed and lichens like the people, and there was plenty of whey left over from butter making. The Icelanders expanded traditional techniques of preserving meat in lactic acid.

There was no clay for making pots, no iron to repair pans. People used the volcanic springs to steam food wrapped in cloth, dug pits in hot sand. Icelandic cuisine became desperately inventive.

The climate change was compounded by hostile political conditions and by the Black Death in 1402. The population fell from 60,000 to 20,000. Then there was the Skaftáreldar eruption in 1783, which poisoned large areas of grassland.

As Europe began to prosper again, there was a market for the fine woollen goods from Iceland – the sheep had survived too, and just as well as there were no fibre crops for cloth or ropes. Finally permitted to prosper from their own trade, the Icelanders invested in boats. Their fishing fleet was revived; technology trickled in from the Industrial Revolution.

Then electricity was invented! Icelanders swiftly caught on to the potential of renewable and volcanic energies. Huge greenhouses now provide all the vegetables they need for domestic consumption, and extensive reforestation is progressing. Recycling is taken seriously. So is trashing the countryside with off road vehicles.

You’ll find a great respect for the land among Icelanders. It nearly killed them. If you visit this paragon of resilience, don’t pretend you know what you’re doing. Hire locals to show you around, especially in winter!

 

*There’s a poignant description of the fate of one group of Greenland Vikings in ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond.  This is one of the recommended books in the Resilience Handbook…reading is a good activity in the winter!

There’s still time to order a signed copy of the Resilience Handbook before Xmas – email me after you’ve placed your order if you want it signed to another name!