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Making the Tarmac bloom

Natalie Bennett, Guardian
To engage with people’s dreams of a greener future in a post-peak oil world, we need to reach out at a community level.
Imagine the acres of Tarmac of your nearest superstore car park transformed into a permaculture garden, roots from the plants in raised soil beds digging through the concrete; the building itself part greenhouse and part market.

That was the response of Roger Creagh-Osborne of the Cornwall Green party to a challenge from Green MEP Caroline Lucas. Ms Lucas told the Green party conference in Hove on Friday that it was vital not to terrify people with an image of a low-carbon world in which they had to give up many aspects of their current lives and aspirations.

“Like Martin Luther King we have got to engage people’s dreams,” she said. “We have got to meet head-on the claim that progress in societies is measured by growth in gross national product.” That was the only way the target of cutting carbon emissions by 90% by 2050, which the experts tell us has to be done, she said.

Creagh-Osborne told the meeting that there was now a gap in the areas in which people’s dreams were being engaged. Efforts had tended to concentrate on the personal, on the creation of an “eco-man”, or else on the national political level – the election of a Green government. What was missing was the middle, community level, except in a few places.

One of those was in Kinsale in Ireland where, driven initially by local college students, the community had developed its Energy Descent Action Plan. The community now has ownership of its own vision of a low-energy future.
(25 Sept 2006)

Waterway to get to work

Matt Weaver, Guardian
As more commuters take to their bikes, Matt Weaver reports on the growing antipathy between cyclists and pedestrians on the country’s canal tow paths
Canal tow paths were never built for speed. They were designed for horses to trudge along, lugging barges and their non-urgent loads. More recently they have become the favourite haunt of people enjoying gentle pursuits such as walking, fishing and boating.

But they have now become the favourite route of new users who are in much more of a hurry – cyclists.

British Waterways reports a notable increase in bike journeys on towpaths, partly because of improvement works, through a lottery-funded project, to create a nationwide network of cycle lanes.

But traditional canal users are not happy. They complain that towpaths have become “cycle superhighways”. They are being pushed off these narrow paths, they say, by the sheer volume of cyclists in a tearing hurry to get to and from work.

In short, towpaths have become the new front line in the battle between pedestrians and cyclists. And, at the moment, it is the cyclists who are winning.

…Since the suicide bombings on London’s transport network in July last year, there has been a marked increase in cycling everywhere in the capital, but notably on the canals. At one stretch earlier this summer, British Waterways counted 300 commuting cyclists, or one every 25 seconds. This increase in use has caused tempers to fray.
(22 Sep 2006)

High Point: Seattle’s green community

Neil Peirce, Seattle Times
Not just a few “green” homes but an entire “green” community? Lovely old trees, creative plantings, sidewalks and streets tied to a path-breaking “natural” water-drainage system? Energy-efficient new condos and townhomes, both market rate and public housing, all so attractive you can’t tell which is which? Parks, vistas, a strong neighborhood feeling?

It’s all happening in the West Seattle neighborhood of High Point, replacing a hideous old public housing project of barracks-like structures originally erected for “Rosie the Riveter” defense plant workers at the start of World War II.

High Point is one of a nationwide series of “HOPE VI” projects, inaugurated by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros during the Clinton presidency – a program the Bush administration is strangling fiscally.

HOPE VI’s initial goal was a radical remake, with a mix of incomes and classes, of sites where large-scale public housing had degenerated into appalling concentrations of poverty and crime.

High Point fulfills that goal.
(24 Sept 2006)

Wal-Mart grows ‘green’ strategies

Mindy Fetterman, USA TODAY
… a new mission at Wal-Mart (WMT): Embrace the Earth.

The $312.4 billion retailing giant has launched an aggressive program to encourage “sustainability” of the world’s fisheries, forests and farmlands, to slash energy use and reduce waste, to push its 60,000 suppliers to produce goods that don’t harm the environment, and to urge consumers to buy green. Last Monday, for the first time, Wal-Mart reported on its carbon dioxide emissions – the “greenhouse gases” that cause global warming. It said it emits 20.8 million tons worldwide, an amount greater than what’s released by an auto company but much less than that released by a major utility company.

…Already, Wal-Mart has become the world’s largest buyer of organic cotton. It introduced “fair trade” coffee at its Sam’s Clubs. It began selling some organic foods in the spring and will introduce others this fall. And it is pushing suppliers to use smaller packages to cut waste.

Critics such as WakeUpWalMart call the efforts “green-washing.” They say the efforts are an attempt to polish a corporate image tarnished by controversies over low pay and limited health care benefits for its employees and “anti-big-box” feelings in some towns.

But many environmentalists are ecstatic. Wal-Mart is a very big rock to throw into the pro-environment pond, and its ripples, they say, will be felt across the globe.

…Wal-Mart isn’t pushing sustainability solely out of the goodness of its heart. It has realized that it can make money by selling products that are environmentally friendly. It can make millions selling recycled trash and save hundreds of millions by cutting transportation costs.

It even is actively supporting the idea of a system for companies to “trade” carbon dioxide credits. Wal-Mart believes it can earn lots of credits by saving energy, and it can sell them for millions of dollars to companies that can’t. All of those savings will go into keeping prices on its products low, it says.
(25 Sept 2006)
Good reporting – not just a rah-rah article. -BA

The religious war on bottled water

Martin Mittelstaedt, Globe & Mail
Church groups decry profit-fuelled craze
Bottled water has never gone down smoothly with many environmentalists, who view it as an extravagantly wasteful way of quenching a thirst, but the product is facing criticism from an unexpected source — religious groups.

Some churches in Canada have started to urge congregants to boycott bottled water, citing ethical, theological and social justice reasons. Bottled water, they argue, is morally tainted and should be avoided.

In British Columbia, for instance, the First United Church in Kelowna no longer wants bottled water on the premises. “We are starting to make the church building a bottled-water-free zone,” said Sandi Evans, one of the 350 congregants.

The St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ottawa used to sell bottled water at its fundraising events, but stopped this year. “We’re not doing that any more,” congregant Heidi Geraets said.

And last month, the United Church passed a motion urging its nearly one million Canadian adherents to leave bottled water on the store shelves, unless alternative sources of safe water aren’t available.

“Water is seen increasingly as a saleable commodity, [being used] to make a profit,” said David Hallman, a United Church official, “as opposed to our perspective of it being an element of life and good for all creation.”
(24 Sept 2006)