My Moment of Clarity

My moment of clarity came when I attended a green energy workshop at the Brithdir Mawr intentional community as part of my Permaculture Design course.

The first part of the day saw us being given a guided tour of the community, which is currently 80% self-sufficient in energy and 60% self-sufficient in food. As well as their gardens and polytunnels we were impressed by their wind turbine, micro-hydro installations, homemade passive solar panels and retrofit insulation measures, as well as the behavioural and lifestyle adaptations they had made to work towards a low-carbon lifestyle.

The final element of the day saw a talk given by one of the community members. He began by showing us in venn diagram format the total amount of energy the community required. He then showed us how much it produced via the various systems and installations that had captured our imaginations over the course of the day. So far, so sustainable.

He then embarked on a new diagram that contextualised the community within the wider world. There was still a circle that represented what it needed internally, and one that showed what it produced – both of these were more or less in harmony. He then showed us a much larger circle, which represented the impact of behaviours not of the community, but related to it, such as members travelling to visit parents for Christmas or for other celebrations. He exemplified this with a story regarding one of the gardeners – a deep green – who eschewed the use of a rotorvator on the vegetable plot ‘because it used petrol’. Said individual would, therefore, do all the labour by hand, which inevitably made him tired and stressed by the end of the day. This, in turn, would lead him to fancy a beer, causing him to get in the car and drive the few miles into Newport to buy some. For the price of a little petrol for the rotorvator, he ended up using more to slake his beer craving: a perfect example if ever needed of the Rebound Effect!

The final circle he drew dwarfed all the others by some distance. This represented the energy cost of one of the community members taking international long-haul and short-haul internal flights to spend time at a yoga retreat in India. What was fascinating was the comparison of the kilowatt requirements of this flight to the overall output of the short rotation coppicing – requiring massive person and horse hours – that they used to heat their buildings. Essentially, Brithdir Mawr and its community of 14 individuals would have had to have cut and used wood from their land for decades to offset the carbon from that single set of flights. This made me realise that all the ‘smaller’ virtuous behaviours we indulge in – and that do make a difference – can be completely undermined by one single ‘big’ behaviour that renders the smaller, virtuous ones almost entirely pointless. Why bother recycling, walking to the shops, eating local, etc. if you are to fly? The one negates the other. Since then I have not flown for leisure purposes.


Aeroplane at Cardiff Airport

Why bother recycling, walking to the shops, eating local, etc. if you are to fly? The one negates the other. Since then I have not flown for leisure purposes.