Walk­ing the talk

Otago Daily Times - - WORLD -

CHRIS Ver­non and Erica Thomp­son have known for decades what needs to be done about cli­mate change. Now they have joined a Welsh gov­ern­ment pro­gramme un­der which they can cir­cum­vent hous­ing plan­ning rules pro­vided they build an eco­home and work the land around it.

In a coun­try where peo­ple use three times their share of the world’s re­sources, a gov­ern­ment scheme is en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to live within their eco­log­i­cal means. Max Bar­ing, of the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion, re­ports from Glandwr.

FIGHT­ING cli­mate change is much more than a day job for Chris Ver­non and Erica Thomp­son. It is their en­tire way of life.

They are part of a ground­break­ing Welsh gov­ern­ment scheme un­der which peo­ple get to cir­cum­vent tight plan­ning rules as long as they build an eco­home in the coun­try­side and go back to work­ing the land on which it sits.

The ‘‘One Planet

De­vel­op­ment Pol­icy’’ was adopted by the Welsh gov­ern­ment in 2011 and so far, 32 house­holds have signed up.

The aim is am­bi­tious: in a small coun­try where peo­ple, on av­er­age, use three times their fair share of the world’s re­sources, Wales wants its One Planet peo­ple to use only the re­sources they are due. Which means a sim­pler small­hold­ing life, spend­ing and travelling less, grow­ing and mak­ing more.

A spokesman for the Welsh gov­ern­ment said the scheme was an im­por­tant niche ini­tia­tive, rather than a model to scale up.

‘‘It is in­tended to pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for those wish­ing to live a highly sus­tain­able life­style, project a light touch on the en­vi­ron­ment, and who will be largely self­suf­fi­cient in terms of in­come, food and en­ergy,’’ said Matthew Mor­ris.

‘‘Num­bers of such de­vel­op­ments are likely to re­main small.’’

The scheme has mostly at­tracted dig­i­tal­era small­hold­ers with a stub­born de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­turn to a sub­sis­tence life­style in the rolling hills and val­leys of ru­ral Wales — and not to ruin the planet with a con­sumerist, throw­away life­style.

‘‘We’ve known for 20 or 30 years now what we need to do to ad­dress the prob­lem of cli­mate change,’’ Ver­non said from his half­built home.

‘‘We don’t need more data. Whilst I was sit­ting in my of­fice work­ing on the com­puter I got the feel­ing I could be do­ing some­thing that demon­strates how we can ad­dress the prob­lems.’’

Ver­non and his part­ner, Thomp­son, know more about ‘‘the prob­lems’’ than most. She holds a PhD in cli­mate sci­ence; he has one in glaciol­ogy and is a cli­mate mod­eller at Bri­tain’s na­tional weather ser­vice, the Met of­fice.

They de­cided it was time for ac­tion, not academia.

Eight months preg­nant and el­bow­deep in lo­cal clay plas­ter, Thomp­son said their home had to be zero car­bon in con­struc­tion and use to win gov­ern­ment go­ahead.

It sits deep in bu­colic Pem­brokeshire, a lush, coastal county in the south­west of Wales that pi­o­neered the green ap­proach be­fore it was adopted coun­try­wide. Just up the road lies the Lam­mas com­mu­nity, a pi­o­neer­ing and col­lec­tive ecoven­ture where nine small­hold­ings nes­tle in the land­scape around a cen­tral com­mu­nity hub.


The In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, the lead­ing in­ter­na­tional group that as­sesses cli­mate change, es­ti­mates that global tem­per­a­tures could rise 3.4degC by the end of the cen­tury.

Amid a Euro­pean heat­wave run­ning from North Africa up to the Arc­tic Cir­cle, the Welsh ini­tia­tive is tak­ing root on the Western fringe of the con­ti­nent in a bid to re­dress some of the dam­age.

The pol­icy also aims to ad­dress a myr­iad of prob­lems be­yond ris­ing tem­per­a­tures, from soil degra­da­tion to ru­ral de­pop­u­la­tion, a hous­ing cri­sis to wasteful global supply chains.

It of­fers peo­ple with lit­tle money, but plenty of de­ter­mi­na­tion, a way out of the rat race and back to the land.

With prop­erty prices out of reach for many ru­ral work­ers and tight reg­u­la­tions re­strict­ing new builds, the scheme is the only way for many lo­cals to own a home and work nearby, said an­other One Planet home builder, Cathryn Wy­att.

Dairy farmer Brian Bo­man sums up the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by lo­cals seek­ing to live and work in the area.

‘‘We have two sons, both in their 30s, both in­volved in the busi­ness. We have more than enough room here to build some­thing on the farm for the pair of them, but of course plan­ning is a huge is­sue.’’

Hous­ing fig­ures across Wales tell the same story. In the 1980s, it would have taken a typ­i­cal 20­some­thing house­hold about three years to save for an av­er­age de­posit, ac­cord­ing to the Res­o­lu­tion Trust think­tank.

The re­search shows it would now take 19 years.

Like many of her fel­low One Planet builders, Jac­qui Banks wanted to jet­ti­son her old life and be true to her prin­ci­ples.

‘‘It’s a lot of work, in the early years, but what we’re build­ing is hope­fully a re­silient sys­tem that is go­ing to help us have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the world,’’ she said.

‘‘Liv­ing in the city I found it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult — the con­sumerist life­style and the waste in­volved.’’

The good life

To get per­mis­sion to build a One Planet De­vel­op­ment, three re­quire­ments must be sat­is­fied.

First is the over­all eco­log­i­cal foot­print.

As Ver­non ex­plained, each house­hold must only use their global fair share of land. ‘‘If you take the en­tire global re­source

. . . you di­vide it by the pop­u­la­tion of the planet, you get a num­ber: 1.88ha. It’s a fairly ar­bi­trary num­ber, but that’s the num­ber that is your fair share.’’

Each ap­pli­cant must also show that within five years, 65% of their ba­sic needs, in­clud­ing food, wa­ter, en­ergy and waste, are cov­ered by their patch of land.

Hence the hodge podge of green­houses and poly­tun­nels that dot the land, of­ten cob­bled to­gether from re­claimed ma­te­ri­als and de­signed to make the most of a grass in­cline, woodland shel­ter or pow­er­gen­er­at­ing stream.

Ap­pli­cants must also come up with a zero­car­bon house de­sign us­ing lo­cally sourced and sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als.

The re­sult: a mag­i­cal land­scape dot­ted with ‘‘hob­bit houses’’ straight out of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, with mes­meris­ing wooden beams, grass roofs and hemp walls.

Thirdly, ev­ery­one must set up a ru­ral busi­ness to pay the sort of bills — in­ter­net, clothes, coun­cil tax — that can­not be met with a sub­sis­tence­only life­style. En­ter­prises range from fruit wine to bees, an ex­otic tree nurs­ery to sculp­ture.


DIY . . . Erica Thomp­son ap­plies lo­cally sourced plas­ter to the straw bale insulation in her new home in Pem­brokeshire.

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