Carlisle & District

Meeting Summaries 2013 - 2014

Environment Group Meeting 3rd October 2013

After discussing which areas we wanted to look into this year and a coffee break we considered the topic of the state of the Lake District. This was raised by the environmentalist George Monbiot who concluded that it had been sheep wrecked! His article was sparked by the 3rd attempt to get the Lake District recognised as a World Heritage site on grounds of its cultural importance as well as its picturesque aesthetic.
George Monbiot also has a new book about 're-wilding'.

The following discussion ranged over such questions as

  • What have sheep and hill farming done to the original landscape?
  • Could we ever get back to the original landscape & should we?
  • Who should the Lake District be conserved for?
  • Who should pay for it?
  • Is there a tension between food production and the “public good”?

November 7th: Discussion of Fracking following on from the talk by Prof. Rutters in Cockermouth on the Monday 4th November.
Two of the group reported on the lecture they had attended. This was by Prof Ernest Rutter who studies structural geology at Manchester and so could give an informed view of the science and technology. Of course the debate includes social and political issues etc!
The discussion highlighted a number of advantages and disadvantages and I have attached a brief summary in a separate document. [There is also an interesting debate on the internet at http://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2013/aug/15/fracking-debate-local-communities-energy ]
When considering any issue we need to remember that:
The whole is different to the sum of the parts.
Often things emerge that could not have been predicted from studying individual components (unexpected consequences)
When dealing with areas involving people we need to consider their different perspectives.

With this in mind the group discussed our own views on many of the issues and this certainly sent me off thinking of other aspects I need to explore.

Dec 5th: Mega Farms
George Weston had done considerable research on mega farms and gave us much to think about.  There were quotes from interesting angles such as John Humphry's book 'The Great Food Gamble' and A.C.Grayling's 'The Reason of Things' so we could consider different points of view.  All this gave us plenty to discuss and explore from national to international issues - how do we cope with animal welfare, food security, the ups and downs of mega farming and even using insects as a source of protein. All fascinating stuff and there were lots of unfinished angles we can take up again later.

Feb 6th 2014: We started with a brief overview of what the group had covered so far and how it ‘hangs together’. There are so many links and overlaps when considering the Environment.

George suggested a few more thoughts on Mega Farms using ‘The Great Food Gamble’ by John Humphrys. This covers many issues around farming, fishing and agriculture and we touched upon organic food and the use of chemicals. I am sure we could come back to this sometime.

I introduced an overview of Energy Issues with reference to electrical supplies:
Different sources (renewable, non-renewable)
Issues for overall generation (the grid)
Uses of energy

We put these ideas together and created a map of the ideas everyone came up with. As well as the specific points in each area it was obvious that there were many links and specific general issues came up such as:
How to store energy sources so that we can cope with surges of need eg when everyone puts the kettle on after a football match or EastEnders! This may become more important if we have a ‘gap’ in our energy supply before new power stations come online.
How to make sure that our energy resources are secure and we don’t have to buy on the open market from other countries. We import from France and Ireland at the moment.
Localism is a good idea so that energy is not transported a long way. It also gives people a feeling of ownership.
March 6th: The topic was 'Energy'
Michael Radcliffe explained what Energy actually is.
Ann Singleton explained the financial costs to all of 'Renewables'.
Terry Jolly then explained some ways of converting forms of energy into electricity and their effect on the environment covering

  • Coal
  • Gas
  • Oil
  • Bio Fuel
  • Nuclear Power
  • Anaerobic digester
  • Hydro Commercial
  • Hydro Domestic
  • Hydro Pumped Storage
  • Bernoulli Theorem/principle
  • Solar Domestic
  • Solar Commercial
  • Wave power
  • Tidal flow
  • Wind turbines
  • Geothermal
  • Combined heat and power stations (CHP)

Terry then considered the storage of electrical Energy
Batteries,Hydro Pumped storage, Stored rotational Energy as well as reducing demand at maximum load times: Industries and home.
He covered reducing demand by insulation of buildings etc to use less electricity

April 3rd:
Considering all the examples of energy generation last month we looked at all the factors to consider when choosing sources of electrical energy for the home.
The discussion threw up a number of points such as: cost to consumer; cost to the environment; the security of the supply and its reliability. As usual there were many aspects to each point that were thrashed out!

May 1st:Environment group visit to the Footprint
One of the highlights of our year was a visit to the National Trust(NT) Footprint building near Windermere. This innovative building was completed in 2007 and so the first in Cumbria to be built with straw walls, a roof of oak shakes(tiles) and tyres in its foundations. The principle of its design was to use renewable resources or recycled materials to produce a building with minimal electricity and heating needs.

The Footprint Supervisor, Debbie Riviere, showed us round and welcomed us with refreshments and then the NT Environmental Practices Advisor, Gary Sharples, gave us a fascinating talk about how they are reducing their environmental footprint which includes a 6 million pound energy bill every year! Gary had picked out a range of ways they were improving things for instance:
replacing traditional light bulbs to LEDs which for some of the properties meant getting special bulbs developed that would look appropriate in chandeliers - these bulbs are now available commercially so if you have a chandelier you can go green too!
using renewable sources of heating such as biomass, hydro and solar panels and choosing which is appropriate for the property.
using new more efficient heating systems such as far infrared heaters triggered by movement switches which means that objects, not air, are heated just when visitors move into a space.
They are also encouraging green travel in areas such Wray Castle near Windermere and at campsites as well as sharing their experiences with their 'Fit for the Future' Network at ntenvironmentalwork.net

It was great to see Gary's enthusiasm and dedication to his work as we had spent a number of sessions previously exploring the whole energy debate. It is a great challenge to balance energy needs worldwide with the need to reduce global warming. We all need to do our bit and it was clear that the National Trust was taking this very seriously.

After the talk and extended discussion we were able to have our picnic lunch in the cosy building and take time to enjoy the place and its surroundings. It is regularly used as an educational base for green woodwork, craft sharing and bushcraft.

June 5th: We talked round a number of issues of small scale energy generation and some of how to reduce energy consumption.

I raised the issue of the 'rebound' effect of efficiencies which occur when an efficiency does not bring the savings expected. One example would be that if we have more efficient lighting then we might have more lights and leave them on more readily. This idea, along with other larger scale issues, is explored in an interesting book “The Burning Question” by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark.

Judy has since recommended “How Green are Bananas? :The carbon footprint of everything” by Mike Berners-Lee as an interesting read – perhaps this will fit in well with some discussions on a general topic of Food.

July 3rd Visit to Low Lucken's Organic Resource Centre
This gave us the opportunity to combine our interest in renewable energies and food production. We started by being welcomed by Ruth and Mike Downham and then were shown the small wind turbine, composting loo and anaerobic digester. We went on to see the work of Eva Organics who grow their vegetables and fruit here.
After a short walk round the beautiful farmland we had tea and were able to continue our discussion of lots of issues with Mike and Ruth.