Exploring ‘System Change’ with Richard Priestley. Starting on Thursday 14th September at 7.00pm, St John’s Methodist Church Hall (East St entrance) a monthly series of evenings discussing concepts around creating system change.
The first session will be an envisioning exercise. If extractive, consumer-driven capitalism is destroying the world, then what is the best kind of society that would meet human needs while allowing nature to recover? How does system change occur: what role for protest, innovation and living ethical lifestyles? If we had a lot of money, how could we invest it to solve multiple problems simultaneously?
My plan is for these discussion evenings to be on the 2nd Thursday of the month, starting on Thursday 14th September, then 12th October and 9th November. We may well continue in the New Year if people want to. The idea is that the questions we investigate, and what balance we make between me giving a talk and a more general open discussion, will in large part be determined by how the participants want these sessions to evolve.
Subsequent sessions might focus on themes such as:
What kind of economy (and politics) makes sense, given the realities of the global crisis (climate/biodiversity/inequality)?
Can we feed 8 billion people, while also restoring biodiversity” The answer to this is an emphatic Yes! (With a few very big IF’s and BUT’s)
From ‘The Fossil-Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’.” This is an exploration about how we move to 100% renewable energy for the whole world, for all uses, from electricity to transport, heating and cooling to industrial processes. (Progress on this front is happening much faster than most people understand.)
These sessions are supported by Herefordshire Friends of the Earth.
The River Wye, like so many of Britain’s rivers is in a sorry state. It is suffering from decades of damage caused by poor farming practices. Phosphate pollution is a major issue stemming from intensive poultry units, excessive use of artificial fertilizers and old and poorly functioning sewage works and septic tanks. Excessive ploughing is leading to soil erosion after heavy rain. Maize, unsustainably grown for bio-digesters, is especially vulnerable to soil erosion. These are just some of the problems affecting the Wye catchment area. Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Andrew Nixon gives his list of what is wrong here. Helen Stace, the Trust’s director, writes about a recent act of ecosystem vandalism by a local farmer on the River Lugg. Investigative journalist Nicola Cutcherwrites about pollution on the Llynfi, a Welsh tributary of the Wye. Yesterday Extinction Rebellion held a vigil on the old bridge in Hereford to draw public attention to the crisis affecting our rivers. George Monbiot, Franny Armstrong and Nicola Cutcher are crowdfunding for what I am sure will be a fascinating live documentary to be called Rivercide.
this is about what is wrong, with just a little about some of the small things
that could be done to mitigate the damage. I want us to now re-imagine the
whole Wye catchment differently. We could utterly transform the whole ecosystem,
producing more food while also massively benefiting wildlife. Here’s how.
Protecting and rebuilding soil is of critical importance, and the scope for solving multiple problems is immense. Gabe Brown, a farmer from North Dakota, has been a pioneer in regenerative agriculture. He has five principles of soil health: ‘no-till or minimal tillage, keeping the ground covered, diversity in plant and animal species, keeping living roots in the soil as much as possible, and the importance of integrating animals.’ By applying these principles he has managed to increase his soil organic matter from 1.9% in 1991 to 6.1%, so increasing the rate at which water can percolate down into the soil from half an inch per hour in 1991 to eight inches per hour now. This increase in permeability massively reduces risks of both flooding and drought. The raised level of organic matter also increases fertility while sequestering carbon. Imagine if all farmland in the Wye catchment adopted these methods.
We could go further, as agroforestry pioneer Martin Wolfe demonstrated at Wakelyns farm over the last 25 years. Now several others are developing the most amazing farms utilizing agroforestry alley cropping. Outstanding among them is George Young of Fobbing in Essex. He is planting rows of the most extraordinary variety of fruit and nut trees, with a great diversity of nutrient rich grains and legumes grown in the alleys and is now integrating red pole cattle into the system. He, like most regenerative farmers, is gradually reducing all his chemical inputs and slowly converting to organic systems.
If we return to reimaging the Wye catchment where the entire area was converting to systems of organic agroforestry, with a very much greater diversity of trees and bushes, arable crops and livestock all integrated into each acre. As we did so we could close down all intensive poultry units and replace or repair all malfunctioning sewage works and septic tanks. We would then have massively reduced the risks of flooding and of drought, of pollution and of soil erosion. We could of course go further still. Many areas would benefit from rewilding. Some farms might want to follow the extraordinary example of rewilding set by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell at Knepp farm in Sussex. The reintroduction beavers would have a very positive effect, acting to slow the river, reduce erosion and create a wonderful network of habitats for more species to colonize. The Wye could once again have the biodiversity and health it had hundreds of years ago, and it could simultaneously produce more and better food than it ever has.
Temperature Changes around the World 1901 – 2018 (thanks to Ed Hawkins & Reading University)
Since my childhood in the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s I’ve been very concerned about a lot of environmental and social issues. I was, and remain, convinced that humanity could and should do a whole lot of things differently, and that by doing so we could all live more happily. I gave my first talk to my school sixth form assembly in 1972, and it was about climate change and other planetary scale problems, and possible solutions. Over the following decades I read a lot, volunteered with various environmental groups, visited experimental projects, joined the Green Party and attended numerous demonstrations. Over the years we won lots of small victories, but we failed to turn the global economy around. Carbon emissions, species extinctions, soil depletion, economic inequality and other key indicators continued to get worse.
Now a new generation of activists have emerged who give me hope. Greta Thunberg and the School Strikes movement I find absolutely inspiring. So too Extinction Rebellion. Maybe, just maybe, we can turn this whole thing around. We don’t have long.
I’ve been wondering about my own personal contribution. Over the last couple of years other aspects of life have demanded my attention. I’ve not given a single talk in over two years and didn’t get to nearly as many actions I wanted to. Now I am keen to return to the fray: to develop this blog, to do more talks, join actions and participate in projects that can really make a difference.
At 7.30 pm on Wednesday 24th July I’ll be giving a talk at De Koffie Pot in Hereford. The evening will have two aspects. Firstly I want to present some ideas about how humanity could get to net zero carbon emissions as fast as possible. That implies some very large changes to the nature of the global economy. Essentially everything needs to change, so let’s explore how it could be changed in ways that maximize ecological restoration and human wellbeing. I’ll talk a bit about how trillions of pounds/Euros/dollars might be raised and invested.
Secondly, I’d like to use the evening to explore how best to develop my own work and how I can best support the work of others. I’d like feedback and guidance from people involved in diverse aspects of change from young school strikers, old time activists from Friends of the Earth to the new Extinction Rebellion members, from engaged faith groups such as the Quakers, from people active in political parties and local governance to entrepreneurs and engineers active in the Cleantech revolution. Please all come along and bring your friends. If you can make it to Hereford on Wednesday 24th July I’ll see you then, and if you’d like me to do a talk elsewhere then do please e-mail me.