The Armchair Army


Me in my small corner…
by Sue Fairweather of the Armchair Army

This is for you, at your computers, in your armchairs.  It is given as a heartening example of ‘Power to the People’ and to ask you to consider the formation of Local Assemblies as suggested by the Occupy Movement… What do we want?  Why, When and Where?

Yes, with ‘me in my small corner and you in your’s’, we can make a change.

The term ‘Go to Wall’ is from medieval times when the churches/chapels only seated the Lords and Ladies, and was literally the place for the aged,sick and disabled to gain some support.  More derogatory phrases are ‘with our backs against the wall’ and ‘in a corner’… we can use the first, a ‘Wall’ (a ‘Corner’ provides two) as support for the power of good and productive campaign in our own lives.

‘If you think you’re too small to affect anything try sleeping in a room with a mosquito’

I belong to a Community on the furthest flung coast of Essex and though I can visit seldom now, I have played a valuable part in the past of their policy to environmentally be as responsible as possible towards land and people, we care for.

When as a new committee member in 2005, we faced a crisis of energy and accommodation, and were closed for a year… a group of us answered this sad situation by pursuing our community green policy with a vengeance.  Our Trustees wished to come off our home generated electricity and onto the National Grid and to go back to our 600 worldwide member families (and with visiting members there are hundreds more) and ask for funding for both energy supplies and a new building… the recessive gene in our economy was beginning to bite, plus to do so would mean that we would be forced along the easier affordable route of traditional and non sustainable building and energy suppliers.

I likened myself to a terrier snapping at the heels of challenge.  When having refused to fund-raise as the community volunteer coordinator (asking people for their time and energy was enough), this ‘don’t do computers’ dinosaur simply got on the phone and approached any one who was likely to listen. Surprisingly, listen they did…. even when passing me on from one office to another, I hung on with terrier like tenacity… until a lovely lady from the East of England Renewable Energies entered our sphere, and came on our buildings group.  Carol not only gave us a pre-feasibility study as to possible independent sustainable energies, but referred us to EEDA the government financed sustainable development agency who were giving in competition form granting for innovative schemes. I enrolled a fellow member to take me to Cambridge for their first meeting… but sadly EEDA was one of the first to be cut.

This was the background to a spiraling success story of local sustainability.  The Community was funded with 100% granting for a Wind Turbine and Solar Thermal water heating which meets most of our energy needs.  We didn’t have to buy into the ‘for huge profit’ energy suppliers for our source and were/are of little burden to the tax payer beyond ‘give a man a fish then teach him how to fish’!  On the second round of EEDA competition, we successfully won £125,000 towards a carbon cutting building… we built timber framed solar with a hybrid mix of straw, adobe cob and rammed earth, the last three worked by volunteer community members.

When a group of ordinary people have a purpose they can combine to make a powerful force.

I was then, as now, a mosquito… but gave into more able hands (and feet) in the community the jobs of admin, endless form filling, applications etc, technical, flood risk assessments (yes we’re high risk too), the actual mud wallowing building practices (I know they enjoyed those)….  I did facilitate, and join courses on sustainable building in straw (2/3 times),cob and rammed earth with LILI (google them if your interested) and continued to fight…  with the will of any ‘in it for profit’ Corporation who would desecrate our world with false sustainability, to support their greed.

Gordon Pye prompted this document but must meet the challenge to read it.  My going further into my myriad experiences on the subject shows that I may know a little about sustainability?

This is for you, at your computers, in your armchairs.  It is given as a heartening example of ‘Power to the People’ and to ask you to consider the formation of Local Assemblies as suggested by the Occupy Movement… What do we want?  Why, When and Where?

Gordon Pye’s Blog

Designing Sustainable Cities of the Future:

The horse meat scandal – our food culture is to blame


First posted February 8, 2013

The horse meat scandal – our food culture is to blame

by garryk99

The horse meat scandal grows bigger by the hour. As the number of products and retailers caught up grows wider and deeper, who really is to blame? Did Tesco and Aldi not check their suppliers well enough? Did the FSA fail to conduct their regulatory functions? Did someone somewhere fraudulently put horse meat into the beef food chain? Only time will answer these questions. However, there is a more fundamental issue at stake – is our food culture to blame?

The nature of the food we buy, how we buy it and the extended supply chains involved are in my view highly culpable. Most failures of this nature are not isolated blips, but are the logic result of a complex sequence of events. The different pressures and forces that apply create the motivations, incentives and possibilities  for such failings to occur.

A generation ago food was produced and sold locally by independent butchers, bakers and greengrocers. The local high street was full of independent retailers. The rise of the supermarket simply blew them all away. The selling of locally sourced produce stopped, to be replaced by a range goods flown, shipped and driven in from every corner of the globe. The carbon footprint of your green beans and bananas is huge.

Maintaining food safety over such a long supply chain is near to impossible. The food affected so far has included lasagna sold in the UK, made in France and based on Romanian meat. Tesco had issues with burgers produced in Yorkshire from Irish meat. While various codes of conduct and certification schemes exist, they cannot guarantee everything is as it should be. Documentation stating what frozen meat is delivered to the burger factory is wide open to corruption and abuse.

The rise of supermarket has led to the pooling of buying power. Big supermarkets screw suppliers to floor on price, while being really demanding. This pressure creates a motivation to break the rules. If a company is only making a few pence per burger profit, taking shortcuts on raw materials becomes tempting. The whole buyer/seller relationship is grossly biased in favour of the supermarket. Just ask a dairy farmer about milk prices.

Modern lives have shaped the way we buy food. People are busy and want speed and convenience. This means that driving into a free car park and filling your trolley with convenience meals you can heat up in five minutes is popular. The habit of actually cooking food from fresh ingredients is missing from the lives of many people.

We have also become very distant from food production. Little cellophane packets with portions of meat sliced up bear no relation to the rearing and slaughtering of animals. Bags of weighed and washed carrots of a nice even size are a long way from the varied, crooked and muddy vegetables that are pulled out the ground.

Here is my plan to improve our food culture:

  • Ensure planning regulations give small businesses a better chance over supermarkets
  • Introduce lessons on cooking and where food comes from at school
  • Encourage and celebrate seasonal, locally produced food
  • Encourage co-operative food groups to work in poorer areas, where diets are often worse and good fresh food is less available

So before a scapegoat is found, we must remember our whole food system is currently dysfunctional. Only by tackling these systemic issues can we have a healthier and more sustainable food supply chain.

Think Left says:

Food adulteration is another aspect of the 1830s which seems to be being re-introduced by the Coalition Government.  See Tom Pride’s post – Workfare = Workhouse?

Related posts:

Why Barclays and Co “can’t get no satisfaction” from food speculation.

Is Cameron’s Hunger Summit just a good photo opportunity?

Big finance and the great sell-off of ‘our’ natural assets.

The High Price of Materialism


Australian researchers have found that climate-change sceptics were more likely to report pro-environmental intentions when told about the effects of such actions on sociabilty or development than those told about the health risks of climate inaction (Nature Climate Change, DOI:10.1038/nclimate1532). In other words, arguments focussing on negative consequences are less successful than positively framed rationales.

New Scientist 23.06.12 p.9

Psychologist Tim Kasser presents just such a positive rational in this discussion of how America’s culture of consumerism undermines well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that “the good life” is “the goods life,” they not only use up Earth’s limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others. The animation both lays out the problems of excess materialism and points toward solutions that promise a healthier, more just, and more sustainable life.

Animation by Squid and Beard:

Hat tip Horner’s Corner

Related Think Left post:

Increasing the sum of global well-being should be the over-arching and ultimate motivation for every politician and policy.