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Observations and Achievements by Dirk Campbell

By Dirk Campbell of TTL

  It sometimes seems like there are more people observing Transition than actually doing it, reminding me of the joke that for every Kalahari Bushman there are five documentary makers following him around. Hardly a month goes by without a student emailing to ask if they can interview us for their dissertation. The most recent emailer refers, without specifying, to certain negative perceptions of Transition Towns, which set me wondering what the negative perceptions might be. That the public interest which filled Lewes Town Hall on several occasions has faded? That Transition's entire emphasis was on peak oil when climate change is the real threat? That Transition is just another form of middle class self-indulgence? That the media is obsessed with people changing their sex? (Different type of transition —ed).

Well, first things first: Peak Oil. Have oil supplies peaked? In fact yes, but demand has dropped so much it doesn't show. Why? Largely because of the efforts made by a number of action groups, as well as the international scientific community, to raise awareness on climate change. In consequence many large cities, boroughs and organisations throughout the world (including the World Bank) have divested from fossil fuels, with Ireland now the first country to do so. Renewable energy technology has made such inroads on conventional energy that fossil fuel exporting countries such as the USA and Russia face a substantial loss in GDP if they continue to rely on it (Engineering and Technology The Transition movement's emphasis on the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels has doubtless contributed. But when demand declines, prices go down, making fossil fuels more affordable, so the climate change threat is still present. Oil production will continue, but oil-producing nations and companies, seeing the writing on the wall, will diversify into more profitable alternatives such as wind farms and field-scale solar. 


Second: self-indulgence for the affluent middle class, while ordinary working people with little spare time or cash don't see Transition Town activities as relevant to them. True enough, though it must be said the majority of affluent middle class people don't either! I think it boils down to what you choose to do with your spare time. Fund-raise for Bonfire or fund-raise for solar arrays. You can't do both unless you really do have a lot of spare time and don't notice that they are mutually self-cancelling in terms of CO2 emissions. Or you could work in a charity shop, or run a food bank, or join the Rotary Club — all perfectly normal activities for the affluent middle class with concern for the less well-off. Transition, however, is more concerned with the long-term: can we continue to function in all the usual ways when in the coming decades we face the increasing effects of climate change, resource depletion and mass immigration? Those seem to me to be valid concerns, and if our government can't or won't address them nationally, then we surely should try and address them locally. 

  Third: popular support. I think you have to take local conditions into account when assessing things like this. A small town with a population of 1,500 is cohesive enough to ban plastic bags, as the Devonshire village of Modbury did in 2007. A multi-layered town like Lewes with ten times that number of inhabitants, not to mention an argumentative culture, is never going to be cohesive even on important subjects like plastic waste or climate change. But there is still a core of support for TTL in Lewes despite a waning of general interest as inevitably happens with anything once the novelty wears off. Humans are insatiably curious, drawn to the new. They are also primarily interested in what's in it for them. Consequently the two most powerful marketing words 
are 'new' and 'free'. Check how many times you see those words next time you're in Tesco — sorry, I mean Waitrose. That apart, it's worth remembering that the Transition modus operandi is to seek solutions that don't necessarily require popular involvement, and don't have to be used immediately or at all. They only need to be available if and when required.

In the last TTL newletter I tried vainly to distil the complex subject of plastic waste down to 2,000 words. I concluded that effective safe disposal is the only realistic way of solving the problem. Two ways in which this might be achieved are plasma gasification and microbial digestion. Plasma gasification involves heating a material up to such a high temperature that it turns into gas, when it can be burned, producing energy but almost no air pollution or solid residue. Microbial activity was recently discovered in a Japanese landfill site. A bacterium subsequently named Ideonella Sakaiensis was found to be feeding on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is what plastic bottles are made of. Ideonella breaks down the complex polymer chains into simpler molecules that can be reused. Maybe it can be trained to feed on other plastics in quantities sufficient to eat away the plastic problem.

Boyan Slat's Ocean Cleanup device (watch video below) is a wonderful huge floating sieve designed to collect plastic in the Pacific gyre, currently under development and expected to be fully operational by 2020. This is a very hopeful solution to the ocean plastic waste problem. We still need to prevent plastic waste from going into the ocean though. And Boyan will still be left with the problem of what to do with all the collected plastic. He says recycle it but I don’t think he can have looked into the problem of recycling mixed plastics. One solution is to compress it into building blocks. Conceptos Plasticos in Colombia, Replast in New Zealand and our own Duncan Baker Brown in Brighton are all making houses out of waste plastic. It remains to be seen how successful and how permanent such structures will be. Plastic is light, strong and indestructible as we know, but is a fire hazard (like the Grenfell Tower cladding), squashes under heavy weight and can’t absorb moisture, so you can only have single story houses that are a bit of a fire risk and will cause condensation problems in a cold wet climate. On the other hand the compressed blocks do provide excellent thermal and sound insulation so there’s potential in the recording industry. And building with plastic will at least ensure it doesn’t end up back in the ocean.

For information on TTL's activities take a look around this website or go direct to: Ovesco, the Lewes Pound, the Lewes Food Market, the Lewes Neighbourhood Plan, the LDC Car Club, Divest East Sussex, Rain Gardens and Plastic Free Lewes are all projects originated, influenced or participated in by TTL.




Shoppers urged to unpack the plastic

Following on from the success of Lewes' first Unpack the Plastic event outside Waitrose in May, shoppers in town are being urged to take back their plastic packaging to supermarkets on every first Saturday of the month as part of a national campaign spearheaded by #notourplasticproblem.

Plastic Free Lewes is lobbying the local supermarkets to reduce their plastic packaging. To increase pressure, it is encouraging shoppers to think about what plastic they could do without - then hand back any excessive packaging to the supermarket it came from.

"Half of the 1.5 million tonnes of plastic waste that UK households generate every year is created by Britain's leading supermarkets," says Lynda Durrant of Plastic Free Lewes's supermarkets group, "The supermarkets can no longer say this is the shopper's problem to sort out. If we are going to tackle global plastic pollution, the supermarkets have to start taking responsibility for their contribution to it."

Plastic Free Lewes has produced a leaflet with tips on how to cut down on plastic when shopping, plus a wishlist of actions it would like the big supermarkets to take to tackle plastic waste. 

Click on the text below to view the leaflets:

What could we do while shopping?


We want all supermarkets to agree to:


"Half of the 1.5 million tonnes of plastic waste that UK households generate every year is created by Britain's leading supermarkets," says Lynda Durrant of Plastic Free Lewes's supermarkets group, "The supermarkets can no longer say this is the shopper's problem to sort out. If we are going to tackle global plastic pollution, the supermarkets have to start taking responsibility for their contribution to it." 

See more about Plastic Free Lewes and dates of monthly meetings



Lewes’ first Electric Car Show attracts 400 visitors

The inaugural Lewes Electric Car Show held on Saturday 21 April was a huge success, attracting around 400 members of the public.



In total 13 electric and hybrid cars were on display at the event hosted by Transition Town Lewes and Ovesco, the community energy company. Models included the Tesla S, the Nissan Leaf, the Hyundai Ioniq, Renault Zoe, Kia Soul and Smart Car, plus other cars by BMW, Toyota and Mitsubishi.

Visitors were able to quiz the owners about the practicalities of owning and driving an electric car and compare data for each model on real world mileage, charging times, speed and emission data. Talking to the owners gave non-electric car drivers reassurance on common concerns such as "range anxiety" – how far they would be able to travel and how they would be able to charge their car if it ran out of power unexpectedly.

None of the owners at the show had ever required rescue because of flat batteries and they emphasised how your driving behaviour adapts to energy management.

Matthew Bird, sustainability officer and lead on electric vehicle strategy at Mid Sussex District Council gave a talk on owning an electric car, the charging network and what the future might hold. A point he made was that the majority of people with an electric car either charge at work or at home and seldom need to use public charging points. A new and important EU grant was mentioned: a 40% contribution to the cost of buying an electric car for small businesses in East Sussex - more here 



Organiser Julia Waterlow says: “It was fantastic that this new event attracted so much interest and got such a positive reception from visitors. We are especially grateful to the marvellous owners who gave up their Saturday to come along with their cars and provide so much practical information to visitors. We’d like to thank Harvey’s Brewery for generously allowing us to hold the event in their yard – and Matthew Bird for a really useful and interesting talk.”

“One concern we heard from potential buyers, however, is that there are only two public electric vehicle charging points in Lewes, with many asking if the council, the supermarkets and large employers can take action to address this,” Julia said. “People who regularly have to drive long distances are also holding back from taking the plunge until there is greater provision of charging points across the country. For these reasons, some visitors told us they are initially looking at hybrid vehicles, which can fall back on a standard petrol engine when required.”

Future plans
Given the speed at which electric vehicle technology is progressing, lots of visitors asked if the Lewes Electric Car Show could be a regular event. “We will be looking to hold further shows in the future,” says Julia. “New developments in electric car technology are happening almost weekly. The one thing that you can be sure of is that both the cars and the network will be even more sophisticated within a very short time.”




Electric Vehicles

There are many good websites already covering the subject so here are links which should give you all the information you need. Note that the technology and models are changing fast so you are best to look at specialist websites like Zap Map and Nextgreencar which update regularly.

As a general introduction to electric cars, here's an excellent article by Geoff Barnard from Steyning 

    Car Club
Co-wheels car club has electric cars.


    Next Green Car
Comparisons of how green any car is (over its life), and general information on every aspect of electric vehicles here...


    Charging points
To find out about charging points, and get some of the latest up to date information on electric cars see Zap Map. They also have a guide to buying an electric car.

have charging points and offer half price charging for customers.

Office for low emission vehicles
What the government is doing.

Used electric cars: Here are a couple of websites to look at:


Different makes:








only hybrid



Record numbers of people are buying electric cars and plug-in hybrids, but many people still have reservations – and many of those centre on charging. How easy is it, where can you do it; how can you do it; and how long does it take? This video answers some of these questions:



Electric cars will come of age in 2018. For the first time they will compete in price and performance with petrol and diesel cars. But in the year ahead we will also be confronted with some uncomfortable truths about going electric.



Transition is about the creation of resilient communities. It's not about campaigning but designing. It's about putting in place systems that will help us to deal with the big changes that are on the way. Those changes will be in three main areas: energy, the economy and the environment. Read more and get linked in to the bigger picture!

Tell everyone you know about Transition Town Lewes
Together we can achieve so much more. We’re fuelled by local ingenuity and a passion for positive change in challenging times. This is our town, our future, so get in touch to share your ideas and be involved.

Take a look at our events, read some news and hopefully, get inspired by what you find here.



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