Wednesday 31 March 2010

21 five year olds and a lot of water!

We had 21 four and five year olds visit the wood this week.

Can you spot them among the trees?

They had a range of activities planned for the day.

Bug hunting (see bees, bumble bees, butterflies and a variety of other insects)
Observational drawing
Treasure hunting for interesting leaves and sticks!
Toasting marshmallows
and due to a huge amount of water, lots of boats and dam building and some very very wet, muddy and delighted little people.

They even built a castle. Here they are collecting hazel sticks for the walls and doors.

Good enough to sleep in? They are coming back in the summer to put on a roof.....

What great children, with such a love for nature. I wish I could publish more photos of their delighted faces. Those of you that know the school, I guess you could check the school website for pictures from time to time!

The weather held out for us for most of the day and was even sunny til the last moment. Then we got soaked. How many people can you fit in our shelter? 21 children and 7 adults ;-)

Really looking forward to the next visit

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Thursday 25 March 2010

UK government holds summit on Peak Oil

As announced in The Guardian on Sunday, the UK government recently held a summit on Peak Oil:

Lord Hunt, the energy minister, is to meet industrialists in London tomorrow in a bid to calm mounting fears about the disruption that could follow a sudden shortage of oil supplies.

In a significant policy shift, the government has agreed to undertake more work on whether the UK needs to take action to avoid the massive dislocation that could be caused by the early onset of "peak oil" – the point that marks the start of terminal decline in global oil production.

Jeremy Leggett, the executive chairman of the renewable power company Solar Century and a leading figure in the UK industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security, said the meeting, to be held at the Energy Institute, showed a welcome new sense of urgency. "Government has gone from the BP position – '40 years of supply left, the price mechanism works, no need to worry' – to 'crikey'," he said.
The event was held behind closed doors, but fortunately one of the participants, Rob Hopkins from Transition Towns, has published a write-up, respecting the Chatham House Rule under which the summit was held. Here's a little bit of it: was fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Fascinating that it represented the first time the UK government has created a space to explore the peak oil question, what the Guardian that morning called a “significant policy shift”, how it overlaps with climate change and what policies they might make in response. Fascinating that Transition Network is seen as worthy of an invitation to such an event, that our work is recognised at that level.

Frustrating in that every time the question of economic growth and whether or not the idea had any mileage in a world of depleting energy reserves was raised it was largely glossed over. Frustrating in that so often the question of what we might to do in response to peak oil focused almost purely in transportation and on the timely and complete creation of an electric car fleet, with a recharging network and sufficient electricity to keep the whole thing going, with no consideration as to how a nation which is the second most indebted in the world, which has become a net energy importer at a time of increasing price volatility and little remaining indigenous energy, is actually going to pay for such an infrastructure. Frustrating because the techno-fix mindset was prevalent, and the idea that part of a response might include the intentional refocusing of the scale of economic activity, the application of the Proximity Principle to economics didn’t really register with people.

Anyway, who knows, perhaps nothing will come of it, but it certainly felt like a pretty historic occasion to me, and although it was only attended by a small number of people, I hope that this garbled account offers some sense of what went on behind the closed doors of the Energy Institute.

You can read the full report from Rob here.


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Monday 22 March 2010

Tipping point - will Peak Oil crash our civilisation?

The following is the summary from a recent report from Feasta.

The credit crisis exemplifies society's difficulties in the timely management of risks outside our experience or immediate concerns, even when such risks are well signposted. We have passed or are close to passing the peak of global oil production. Our civilisation is structurally unstable to an energy withdrawal. There is a high probability that our integrated and globalised civilisation is on the cusp of a fast and near-term collapse.

As individuals, and as a social species we put up huge psychological defences to protect the status quo. We've heard this doom prophesied for decades, all is still well! What about technology? Rising energy prices will bring more oil! We need a Green New Deal! We still have time! We're busy with a financial crisis! This is depressing! If this were important, everybody would be talking about it! Yet the evidence for such a scenario is as close to cast iron as any upon which policy is built: Oil production must peak; there is a growing probability that it has or will soon peak; energy flows and a functioning economy are by necessity highly correlated; our basic local needs have become dependent upon a hyper-complex, integrated, tightly-coupled global fabric of exchange; our primary infrastructure is dependent upon the operation of this fabric and global economies of scale; credit is the integral part of the fabric of our monetary, economic and trade systems; a credit market must collapse in a contracting economy, and so on.

We are living within dynamic processes. It matters little what technologies are in the pipeline, the potential of wind power in some choice location, or that the European Commission has a target; if a severe economic and structural collapse occurs before their enactment, then they may never be enacted.

Our primary question is what happens if there is a net decrease in energy flow through our civilisation? For it is absolutely dependent upon increasing flows of concentrated energy to evolve and grow, and to form and maintain its complex structures. The rules governing energy and its transformation, the laws of thermodynamics, are the inviolate framework through which all things happen- the evolution of the universe, the direction of time, life on earth, human development, the evolution of civilisation, and economic processes. This point is not rhetorical, access to increasing flows of concentrated energy, which can be transformed into work and dispersed energy, is the foundation upon which our civilisation stands. Yet we are at a point where these flows are, with high probability, about to begin decreasing. We should intuit that an energy withdrawal should have major systemic implications, for without energy flows nothing happens.

The key to understanding the implications of peak oil is to see it not just directly through its effect on transport, petrochemicals, or food say, but its systemic effects. A globalising, integrated and co-dependant economy has evolved with particular dynamics and embedded structures that have made our basic welfare dependent upon delocalised 'local' economies. It has locked us into hyper- complex economic and social processes that are increasing our vulnerability, but which we are unable to alter without risking a collapse in those same welfare supporting structures. And without increasing energy flows, those embedded structures, which include our expectations, institutions and infrastructure that evolved and adapted in the expectation of further economic growth cannot be maintained.

In order to address these questions, the following paper considers the nature and evolution of this complex integrated globalised civilisation from which energy is being withdrawn. Some broad issues in thermodynamics, the energy-economy relationship, peak oil, and the limits of mitigation are reviewed. It is argued that assumptions about future oil production as held by some peak oil aware commentators are misleading. We draw on some concepts in systems dynamics and critical transitions to frame our discussion.

The economics of peak oil are explicated using three indicative models: linear decline; oscillating decline; and systemic collapse. While these models are not to be considered as mutually exclusive, a case is made that our civilisation is close to a critical transition, or collapse. A series of integrated collapse mechanisms are described and are argued to be necessary. The principle driving mechanisms are re-enforcing (positive) feedbacks:

  • A decline in energy flows will reduce global economic production; reduced global production will undermine our ability to produce, trade, and use energy; which will further decrease economic production.
  • Credit forms the basis of our monetary system, and is the unifying embedded structure of the global economy. In a growing economy debt and interest can be repaid, in a declining economy not even the principal can be paid back. In other words, reduced energy flows cannot maintain the economic production to service debt. Real debt outstanding in the world is not repayable, new credit will almost vanish.
  • Our localized needs and welfare have become ever-more dependent upon hyper- integrated globalised supply-chains. One pillar of their system-wide functioning is monetary confidence and bank intermediation. Money in our economies is backed by debt and holds no intrinsic value; deflation and hyper-inflation risks will make monetary stability impossible to maintain. In addition, the banking system as a whole must become insolvent as their assets (loans) cannot be realised, they are also at risk from failing infrastructure.
  • A failure of this pillar will collapse world trade. Our 'local' globalised economies will fracture for there is virtually nothing produced in developed countries that can be considered truly indigenous. The more complex the systems and inputs we rely upon, the more globalised they are, and the more we are at risk from a complete systemic collapse.
  • Another pillar is the operation of critical infrastructure (IT-telecoms/ electricity generation/ financial system/ transport/ water & sewage) which has become increasingly co-dependent where a systemic failure in one may cause cascading failure in the others. This infrastructure depends upon continual re-supply; embodies short lifetime components; complex highly resource intensive and specialized supply-chains; and large economies of scale. They also depend upon the operation of the monetary and financial system. These dependencies are likely to induce rapid growth in the risk of systemic failure.
  • The high dependence of food on fossil fuel inputs, the delocalisation of food sourcing, and lean just-in-time inventories could lead to quickly evolving food insecurity risks even in the most developed countries. At issue is not just food production, but the ability to link surpluses to deficits, collapsed purchasing power, and the ability to monetize transactions.
  • Peak oil is likely to force peak energy in general. The ability to bring on new energy production and maintain existing energy infrastructure is likely to be severely compromised. We may see massive demand and supply collapses with limited ability to re-boot.
  • The above mechanisms are non-linear, mutually re-enforcing, and not exclusive.
  • We argue that one of the principle initial drivers of the collapse process will be growing visible action about peak oil. It is expected that investors will attempt to extract themselves from 'virtual assets' such as bond, equities, and cash and convert them into 'real' assets before the system collapses. But the nominal value of virtual assets vastly exceeds the real assets likely to be available. Confirmation of the peak oil idea (by official action), fear, and market decline will drive a positive feedback in financial markets.
  • We outline the implications for climate change. A major collapse in greenhouse gas is expected, though may be impossible to quantitatively model. This may reduce the risks of severe climate change impacts. However the relative inability to cope with the impacts of climate change will be much greater as we will be much poorer with much reduced resilience.

This will evolve as a systemic crisis; as the integrated infrastructure of our civilisation breaks down. It will give rise to a multi-front predicament that will swamp governments' ability to manage. It is likely to lead to widespread disorientation, anxiety, severe welfare risks, and possible social breakdown. The report argues that a managed 'de-growth' is impossible.

We are at the cusp of rapid and severely disruptive changes. From now on the risk of entering a collapse must be considered significant and rising. The challenge is not about how we introduce energy infrastructure to maintain the viability of the systems we depend upon, rather it is how we deal with the consequences of not having the energy and other resources to maintain those same systems. Appeals towards localism, transition initiatives, organic food and renewable energy production, however laudable and necessary, are totally out of scale to what is approaching.

There is no solution, though there are some paths that are better and wiser than others. This is a societal issue, there is no 'other' to blame, but the responsibility belongs to us all. What we require is rapid emergency planning coupled with a plan for longer-term adaptation.

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Sunday 21 March 2010

Better late than never: Spring 2010

Well, at last Spring is here. Here's some wood anemones about to come into flower, over in Sweep Wood:
This time a year ago, they looked like this:
So I reckon that Spring in our part of the world is about two weeks late. Still, the woodland floor is at least now looking green again:
I was up in the woods continuing with filling in the old tractor ruts in our main ride, and also tidying up some Hazel stools left over from the volunteer days. There's a lot of pheasants around at the moment, I got quite close to this one:
That's all for now. Next weekend I've got a bunch of engineering students who are linked with a development charity coming to camp, so that'll be fun!


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Friday 19 March 2010

Wood anenome excitement!

I popped up to the woodland today to cut up some logs for the children at the local school. They are learning about construction and they wanted to have some natural materials. Despite the drizzle it was nice to be up there again with the smell of the chainsaw fumes!

The best thing though, is that I saw some wood anemone beginning to grow. Some even had the beginnings of flowers. Soon the woodland floor will be white and green. Wonderful. Spring is a little late in coming this year, but I hope that once this rain passes everything will bounce back to life.
Can't wait.
and the children love their bits of wood! I will try to get some pictures of what they create next week

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Monday 15 March 2010

First Brimstones of the year!

We were up a the woods yesterday doing a few odd jobs, and excited to see a male Brimstone butterfly in our wood. I changed camera lenses while Tracy kept an eye on it, then I chased it out into the wayleave trying to get a picture, only ot find a second one out there! Brimstones are fast and don't land very often, and at this time of year there's precious little food to tempt them to land anyway, so I had to try and get photos of it in flight, in between running to keep up with it. Hence they're pretty poor pics, but here they are anyway as proof of the Brimstones' presence - you can't mistake them because of the colour:
There's other signs of Spring too, such as honeysuckle and thistle coming into leaf:
And also the fact that there's enough sunshine to light the kelly kettle with a magnifying glass!

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Precision flying

Birds initially have trouble flying in enclosed spaces, but our cockatiels have had plenty of practice, and do a little acrobatics show every morning, usually about 10 mins after they get up. Here they are, seeing how close they can fly to the wall without crashing.

Here's Pete, showing off his full set of feathers:
Here's Tom, who's moulting so is missing a few feathers:
In this one, it looks like he's got a bit too close to the wall, and is pulling up hard to avoid it!
And finally, the two of them together (yes, they do sometimes crash into each other, but never very hard):


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Saturday 6 March 2010

Timelapse videos of this winter's coppicing

Every day we went to work in the woods this winter we took photos from several different fixed points. I've put them together into short videos now, so you can see the progress we made as we worked. The first two videos are longer, but most of the changes are near the start, so feel free to skip the latter half of them, unless you want to see the snow at the end of each one. From the top of the hill at the left:

From the top of the hill at the right:
20m in from the top:
40m in from the top:

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Herring Gulls fighting, and our cockatiels investigate chairs

Just a quick video of Herring Gulls fighting on the roof of the houses opposite ours.

And for more strange bird behaviour, our cockatiels being weird...


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Wednesday 3 March 2010

The Orion Nebula

Just a quick post, to show you a photo I took through my telescope last night of the Orion Nebula:
It's actually made from 19 photos, taken at ISO1600 and 5" exposures, through my Skywatcher Explorer 200 telescope. The photos have been stacked using a neat piece of software called Registax. What I need to do some time is take me smaller telescope up the woods and connect a camera to it - should get some great long-distance photos of birds then, if they stay still long enough...


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