Environmental Awareness Talk

Earth rising 1969, communities rising 2019 ?
The Bexhill Environmental Group held a further environmental awareness talk at Beulah Church Hall in Clifford Road on the evening of Wednesday 20th February. The meeting follows a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saying we need urgent global action within the next 12 years to limit climate change and species loss.

The talk attracted widespread interest and visitors from Bexhill, Hastings and the surrounding communities packed the hall to hear of schemes where individuals and communities can reduce their carbon footprint.

The talk was led by four principle experts with considerable knowledge and experience in their respective fields: David Gee (former Friends of the Earth Director & Senior Advisor at the European Environment Agency), Pete Wilkinson (co-founder of Greenpeace, and sustainability consultant), Richard Watson OBE (Director of Energise Sussex Coast & Schools), Alister Scott (consultant on making global change happen & Chair of Cuckmere Community Solar Farm).

David Gee began the talk with an iconic “Earth Rise” picture taken 50 years ago from a NASA Apollo spacecraft orbiting the moon. He explained these images of our blue planet from space helped to give rise to the environmental movement of today. The widespread burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of rapid increases in levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 300 parts per million in pre industrial times to over 400 parts per million, absorbing more heat from the sun and warming the atmosphere. Our economies of growth and consumption need to be replaced by sustainable development to reduce damage to ecosystems. David gave some recommendations to reduce our carbon footprint including switching to renewable energy sources, “green” your journeys and consume less. David is backing a call to the UK government to support a global public awareness program called “Knowledge for Planetary Citizenship”. David concluded with a statement from Tanya Steele from the World Wildlife Fund: “We are the first generation to know that we are destroying our planet and the last generation that can do anything about it.”

Thousands of school children protested recently because many believe world leaders are not acting quickly enough to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees centigrade. These protests follow the actions of the Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, who has led a school strike campaign protesting about climate change in Sweden, which then spread to schools in Belgium and Germany and now to the UK. Technical issues in the hall prevented the audience seeing a video of Greta's moving speech to the recent EU conference on climate change in Davos. However, the video can be found on many internet sites by searching Greta's name.

Pete Wilkinson spoke of his early experiences of Greenpeace from 1971 onwards. He explained the considerable work done to lobby governments, corporations, unions etc. to change attitudes towards whaling and radioactive waste disposal. He explained that creating a spectacular photograph or film can be a successful way to get a message across to millions of people. Protests alone do not work he explained but prolonged campaigning involving a well thought through strategy can and often does make a difference. He concluded his talk by symbolically passing on the batten so that future generations may also strive to prevent environmental damage.

Richard Watson explained that human beings have been on Earth for a relatively short period of time in geological terms but now greatly influence almost all aspects around the globe. He tested the audience on some world statistics where the answers surprised many of those present. He sees some optimism as the amount of energy generated worldwide by renewables is rising to 30% and that many young people want action on the environment. He foresees many homes and future means of transport becoming their own mini power stations. Richard explained the work being done by the Schools Energy Cooperative to install solar panels on over 20 schools around the country including here in Bexhill and Hastings. He explained that the schemes are financially sound and will pay for themselves over time despite the drop in import tariffs.

Alister Scott explained the merits of communities coming together to start their own renewable energy schemes. The Cuckmere Solar Farm is an example where issues of finance, knowledge, trust, etc. were overcome to create a successful community solar energy farm. The operators would welcome approaches from other communities looking for help to start their own renewable scheme.

Some of the challenges to link a local renewable energy supplier with a major power user were discussed from an example with Network Rail and the Riding Sunbeams project with the help of the Rural Community Energy Fund.

Ella Wormley-Healing presented the project entitled “Bringing Zero Waste to our Community”. Ella is setting up a new shopping experience called Bare Supplies. This is a crowd funded scheme where zero waste shops are run by locals for locals. Customers purchase foods from these shops by bringing along an empty container, filling it from a dispenser and paying by weight. The audience expressed an interest if a similar scheme were set up in Bexhill.

Following on from Bristol City Council's decision to declare a climate emergency, it was suggested that the audience lobby local councils to reduce their carbon footprint.

The talk concluded with a lively question and answer session where the audience expressed some concerns on energy supplies and plastics.

Before the evening came to a close, visitors were able to talk one to one with the speakers, collect further information leaflets and to register their support for specific projects.

At the end of the talk, visitors gave favourable feedback and the Bexhill Environmental Group was pleased to attract 13 new members.