Wedding and windbills

Is the credit crunch going to have an impact on guest numbers at eco-villages? Rhiannon Hanfman reve

Last week I drove my friend Judi Buttner to Loch Ness to officiate at a wedding. Judi is the Findhorn Foundation’s official marriage celebrant and can legally perform weddings not only in the community but anywhere in Scotland. The Foundation has, for at least ten years, had its own celebrant so that community people who do not, as a rule, want a traditional church wedding could have the kind of ceremony they prefer without needing to go the Registrar’s office to formalise it.

She is very busy these days with engagements throughout the Highlands, hence the trip to Lock Ness. More couples and not only those with an alternative outlook want to create individual ceremonies that incorporate words that are meaningful to them. I have been to a number of these events and each one is different and all are moving in their own way. This particular wedding took place on a boat in the middle of the loch in the shadow of Urquhart Castle. It was a very small and informal affair with family only, nevertheless the bridal pair was decked out in full wedding kit. Unusual as the venue was, some conventions do persist.

While waiting for the ceremony to begin I was chatting with a young woman who was one of the crew and learned that the number of visitors to the Inverness area is down on last year by 300 a day. Why, is no mystery. The cost of fuel, the credit squeeze and economic shambles we are in are keeping people away.

As a result of that conversation I was curious as to whether the Foundation was also experiencing low guest numbers. Fortunately, it seems not, or at least not yet. The numbers are pretty much the same as last year. This is good news for us but it would not be unreasonable to suppose that the economic downturn will reduce guest numbers eventually.

I wonder, however, if the reverse may not happen. When times are tough, people begin to question accepted truths like, for example, the superiority of free market economics, and will look for alternatives. An eco-village model such as Findhorn provides alternatives on many levels. The free market is increasingly becoming unsustainable and people may want to look for something that is.

Only yesterday, I spotted an interesting alternative in the front garden of my friends, George Goudsmit and Mary Inglis. There was a large metal object that looked like a cross between a bird and a modern sculpture, turning gently in the wind. George, who runs AES, a solar heating company in Forres, explained to me that it was a wind turbine designed to operate on the roof of an ordinary house. He and his neighbour hope to promote it and had placed it in the garden to see what interest it generated.

It certainly got my attention. Single-dwelling windmills have already been manufactured but some have the unpleasant side effect of making the house shake when they are going flat out. Apparently this turbine does not do that. What it does do is produce about 500w of electricity. The cost is reasonable too. George thinks it could pay for itself within three years. It’s encouraging to learn of a green energy option that doesn’t cost the earth.

It’s a bit of a ramble from weddings to windmills and sustainability. The common theme, if there is one, is change—change of status, change of lifestyle, change in the world. In the community we talk about change as a good thing, generally. The changes afoot in the world at the moment are challenging and it remains to be seen how we meet them, individually and collectively. The thought I am left with is that in the I Ching the hexagram symbolising ‘danger’ is the same as ‘opportunity’.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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