Local authorities up and down the country can tap into work done in Nottingham, London, Leicester and Derby to help them appraise how they are performing on ‘delivering best value and sustainability’. A checklist covering nine key areas of action, drawn up by Nottingham City Council (0115 915 5555) for the local authority executives’ association SOLACE, can be downloaded from SOLACE’s website (www.solace.org.uk).
Sustainable community projects should not just be isolated experiments. A report on learning lessons from five innovative projects in the UK, and from projects elsewhere in Europe, proposes ways of applying this experience to other initiatives, including future Millennium Village projects. Millennium Villages and Sustainable Communities is available for £24 from the DETR Publications Sales Centre and can also be viewed on its website.
A new website just launched by WWF aims to provide teachers with the best point of entry to the internet for finding information on sustainable development.
Peter Martin, WWF’s head of education, says that Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is one of the biggest challenges facing teachers. “They want to know what it is and how they can teach it in the classroom in an exciting and innovative way. The WWF website will use a range of interactive tools to support curriculum development and help ensure that ESD becomes a central focus for the management of the whole school.”
How do we start to restore public faith in scientists? How do we ensure that science serves sustainability – rather than speeding environmental destruction? These were the sort of questions which sprung out of this year’s Green Futures Debate, 'Science, Society and the Search for Sustainability', chaired by Jonathon Porritt, with guest speakers Sir Robert May, the government’s chief scientific adviser, and Unilever director Rudy Markham. Here are the highlights. “The speed of change in our policies and practices”, said Jonathon Porritt, introducing the debate, “is completely out of kilter with the continuing increase in the pace of destruction of the natural systems on which we depend. So we have to ask, whether there is something in science, the scientific method, or the use of science, which acts as a barrier to a more rapid uptake of sustainable mindsets and actions.” “Has science been co-opted by the private sector? Is it impossible any longer to talk about truly ‘independent’ scientific research?
Until recently it was reviled as Britain’s most polluted coastline, disfigured by the dumping of colliery waste. Now, with the natural beauty of its magnesian limestone cliffs adorned by sculptures, the Durham coast around Easington has been restored as a national nature reserve and a widely used amenity for local people. The four-year project responsible for this transformation, Turning the Tide, will have cost some £10 million by the time it is completed next spring. Funded in part by the Millennium Commission, the project is run as a partnership between local councils and national agencies and conservation groups.
Is there a place for people with disabilities in a sustainable world? Silly question, surely. Yet as Mark Kinver discovered, there’s been surprisingly little thinking about how to ensure that a greener future is accessible to all. But that’s starting to change… You’d think, on first impression, that disability and sustainability would have some sort of philosophical kinship. Both share a history of existing on the fringe of society, campaigning hard to be taken seriously by the mainstream.
Many sustainable solutions do hit the mark for disabled people. Think efficient and integrated public transport systems, or local authorities’ green-box collection schemes. With nearly nine million people in the UK classified as disabled, green strategies that have their needs at heart will be well on the way to winning the support of a sizeable – and increasingly vocal – slice of society.
Highlighting the potential role of new technologies in linking up rural communities, the Local Government Association (LGA) decided to webcast this year’s rural conference. Virtual delegates in remote locations were thus able to make connection live with the debate in Eastbourne. The theme of the conference -how local authorities can champion the interests of rural communities - was reinforced by the launch of the LGA’s Charter for Agriculture, offering advice and examples of good practice on such issues as the handling of planning matters, funding, diversification and business strategy, promoting farmers’ markets, and sustainable environmental management.
Chicken Little is alive and well and clucking madly in the heart of the green movement. Scare tactics may get attention, but they soon turn the audience off with a vengeance. Which is a shame, says Carl Frankel, because that sky might just be falling after all... What if they threw a Y2K disaster and nobody came? It’s pretty clear that’s what’s happened. After a year of shrill alarms, and some $600 billion spent worldwide on Y2K fixes, the Crash Caused by Computer never came.
It’s not that I hoped for a Y2K shock, although some of my colleagues in the environmental community did. They thought it would provide the world with a Great and Important Learning about how profoundly dependent we are on each other and our fallible technologies.
Maybe, maybe not. I’m twinge-ing for a different reason – because Chicken Little, the one who cried out that the sky was falling, took it on the chin again.
There’s something of a mini-boom under way in agri-environment schemes just now, at least in comparison with the Common Agricultural Policy’s once untrammelled emphasis on production-related payments and more intensified farming, The UK government has received a record 3,500 applications this year for its Countryside Stewardship scheme, which gives grants to farmers who restore hedges and other species-friendly features, or take land out of production for the conservation of wildlife and habitat. Funding for the scheme is to rise significantly, from just £13 million in 1997 to £126 million a year by 2006. This does still leave “an awfully long way to go”, however, in the words of Simon Lyster, director-general of the Wildlife Trusts. It would cost more like £1,600 million a year, according to his organisation’s estimates, to achieve a farmed landscape rich in wildlife. Half of all the payments made to farmers under the CAP, it recommends, should be linked to reductions in pesticide use and measures such as the re-establishment of field margins, hedges and beetle banks.
When human ingenuity is driving us ever-faster into an age of uncertainty, the old rules of risk assessment no longer apply. It calls for a new kind of science policy - and some creative humility from scientists,argues Jonathon Porritt. Business people have become very fond of the adage that ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’. Now policy-makers are beginning to realise that this applies just as much to risk as it does to business strategy. It sounds straightforward. But the trouble is we’re just too damn clever. Our ability to manipulate and recombine molecules (in a seemingly limitless array of new synthetic materials), not to mention DNA, accompanied by an enduring capacity to ‘screw up’ in an unforeseen way, makes it much harder to assess risk using the old-fashioned techniques of calculating statistical probability.
Which leaves policy-makers uneasily marooned in the zone of ‘virtual risk’, where assertions of statistical probability amount to little more than expressions of uncertainty. And this can be a minefield for public decision-making.
Know how to tell a green architect from a cowboy? If this problem is leaving you sleepless in Southwark, then rest assured, help is at hand. Consult the borough’s new Green Register of Construction Professionals, and you’ll be secure in the knowledge that everyone on it has been assessed at a two-day ecological building and services seminar. The second stage plan is to expand the register’s coverage from architects, engineers and interior designers to include builders, developers and tradespeople as well. Now that could really have an impact on the local insomnia rate!
The idea of the register was initiated by south London architectural firm Archipeleco, in conjunction with Southwark Energy Agency (SEA). The assessment process is unique in a project of this kind, according to Lucy Pedler of archipeleco, although other local authorities are interested in taking it on, too. Southwark’s seminars are conducted by Construction Resources, which also provides a showcase of ecological building in its pioneering centre in a refurbished warehouse.
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