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The futureproofers

Vicki Lesley and Hannah Bullock, Green Futures
On a rooftop in Brixton, a back garden in Totnes, a village hall in Ambridge, they’re preparing for a post-oil future. So is Transition Towns busting out of the eco-niche and into the mainstream?

Around the country, towns are printing their own currency, turning over scraps of land to grow food and re-skilling their workforce for a future where fossil fuels are no longer on tap. When the Transition Town movement first got under way it may have sounded a little militant: “from oil dependency to local resilience”. But with 85 communities on board, 700 more looking to join, and ‘peak oil’ in the news, is this an idea whose time has come?…

…Beyond the safe havens of the market towns that feature heavily in the network, could the model ever be rolled out in big urban environments, where you might not find the same community spirit? Hopkins concedes that “the first wave of places were the ones you’d expect”. “Laboratories,” he calls them, “where ideas get tested”. But he adds that all kinds of communities are now involved – Leicester, Coventry, South Liverpool… “It’s a whole new challenge to see if the idea translates to the city scale,” he says. The network is planning a conference to discuss the issue in November, but his hunch is that the way to tap into cities is to break them down into ‘villages’ – such as Brixton, the first London borough to sign up…

…With an ethnically diverse and highly transient population, it could hardly be more removed from Devon, yet the group is planning to introduce its equivalent of the Totnes Pound, the ‘Brixton Brick’, which takes its name from the borough’s much older LETS scheme. The team is also getting urban vegetable growing off the ground – quite literally; rooftops as well as estates are on the list of possible scraps of land for the ABUNDANCE Project (aka Activating Barren Urban Niches for Daring Agricultural Networks of Creativity and Endeavour)…
(19 September 2008)

Rural communities best equipped to cope with climate change: UN report

John Vidal, Guardian
Rural communities which protect nature and exploit forests, wetlands and wildlife sustainably will be the best equipped to cope with the droughts and floods that will increasingly hit Africa, Asia and Latin America with climate change, says a new UN-backed report.

Nature-based enterprise, says the report from the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, offers the world’s 2 billion rural poor key survival tools to weather the extreme changes that are expected. It argues that communities must be given secure rights to access, manage and profit from, the natural resources they depend on daily and calls on governments and development agencies to scale up such approaches.

Supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank, the report, called Roots of resilience, urges immediate action.

“Poverty will never be made history unless we invest in more intelligent management of the world’s nature-based assets,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP under-secretary general and executive director, at the report’s launch in Barcelona. “Mainstreaming [such] models is now a matter of great urgency in a world challenged by climate change, in a world where we are pushing, if not pushing past, the regenerative limits of the planet’s life support systems.”
(7 October 2008)
More on the document below. -BA

World Resources 2008: Roots of Resilience – Growing the Wealth of the Poor

United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, World Bank, World Resources Institute

From the Quick Guide to the full report (PDF):

Three-quarters of the world’s poorest citizens – those living on less than $2 per day – are dependent on the environment for a significant part of their daily livelihoods. Climate change, therefore, adds a real urgency to the efforts of the many institutions that work to improve the lives of the poor.

World Resources 2008 argues that properly designed enterprises can create economic, social, and environmental resilience that cushion the impacts of climate change, and help provide needed social stability. Increased resilience must be part of the response to the risks of climate change. The efforts that foster resilience chart the first steps on the path out of poverty.

Our thesis is that successfully scaling up environmental income for the poor requires three elements: it begins with ownership – a groundwork of good governance that both transfers to the poor real authority over local resources and elicits local demand for better management of these resources. Making good on this demand requires unlocking and enabling local capacity for development – in this case, the capacity of local communities to manage ecosystems competently, carry out ecosystem-based enterprises, and distribute the income from these enterprises fairly. The third element is connection: establishing adaptive networks that connect and nurture nature-based enterprises, giving them the ability to adapt, learn, link to markets, and mature into businesses that can sustain themselves and enter the economic mainstream.

When these three elements are present, communities can begin to unlock the wealth potential of ecosystems in ways that actually reach the poor. In so doing they build a base of competencies that extends beyond nature-based enterprises and supports rural economic growth in general, including the gradual transition beyond reliance on natural resource income alone.
(July 2008)
The entire document can be downloaded as PDFs. -BA

Natural healing

Juliette Jowit, The Guardian
With one in five people in South Africa living with HIV and Aids, and most of them poor, by custom and necessity many have turned to traditional medicines, putting intolerable strain on the once bountiful supply of plants. These include the cancer bush, the daisy-like wild cineraria, and the sore eye flower, whose monstrous black bulbs were once used by bushmen to poison their arrows but are also used to stop bleeding and to heal wounds.

The looming loss of plantlife has led to a partnership between traditional healers in urban townships around Grahamstown and the genteel calm of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, west London. The result is Africulture, a pilot project to encourage healers to cultivate the 30 most important plants they use, rather than harvest them in the wild. And so far it’s working, says Stephen Hopper, Kew’s director. “It alleviates the pressure on the wild services and gives people a way to help themselves.”

The scheme embodies the priorities of a new 10-year strategy, the Breathing Planet programme, just published by the world-famous botanical gardens: protection and restoration of habitats, a stronger focus than ever on the threat of climate change, and a clearer emphasis on the fact that ultimately their work is to protect people who are dependent on the plants.

This is less a radical new direction, more a natural evolution of Kew’s founding principles in 1759, says Hopper. “Now we’re less focused on bringing in the world’s plants to Kew and developing economic advantage from that, [and more on] forming partnerships with people throughout the world and working collaboratively with them on the science of plants.”…
(8 October 2008)