Green living-step by step

A new book by Camden Council eco-champion Alexis Rowell is an informative read, says Susanna Wilkey.

A BOOK with the word council in the title is probably not one which leaps off the shelf but, for anyone with an interest in climate change, peak oil and what we can do about it, Alexis Rowell’s Communities, Councils And A Low-Carbon Future (Transition Books, �14.95) is an informative read.

Rowell (pictured) was Camden Council’s eco-champion between 2006 and 2010 and he worked relentlessly to instigate change in the town hall’s approach to sustainability – in all its services from education to planning to its own green roof.

This book springs from what he learned during that time and it has been translated into easy-to-read thematic chapters, which include energy efficiency, biodiversity, food, planning and recycling.

It is almost a handbook for people trying to change their ways and influence others to do the same. Readers can dip in and out for tips on growing their own food, eating less meat, challenging local councils to change, organising community groups aiming to combat peak oil and improve sustainability, recycling, cutting down on waste and green travel.

Rowell is part of the growing Transition Movement, which aims to mobilise communities to grow their own food, learn about climate change and act together to try to address the issue.

The main message is do rather than say – be proactive and positive about climate change rather than reactive and negative.

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As Rowell puts it: “It was when I discovered the Transition movement that I changed my tune.

“Suddenly I had something to say that went past the disaster-scenario planning of climate change and peak oil: I had a vision of a positive future to sell, one where the dragon has been slain and the princess has been won.

“Transition turns the problem of carbon on its head and asks communities to come up with a vision of a more positive future and then set a path towards that happier place.”

The author spent four years getting to grips with the labyrinth of council bureaucracy and the book is full of advice on how to go about changing the way people and councils think, who to approach in a council, how departments work and what individuals can do.

Befriending eco-friendly councillors, swotting up on planning law, pitching ideas to council officers instead of simply criticising policy, and tailoring your arguments for different people are all ways to get the issue further up the local government agenda.

Rowell suggests that climate change is such a big problem our reaction to it is akin to the five stages of grief – shock, denial, anger and guilt, despair and depression and acceptance. Behavioural change and both psychological and physical preparation are needed to have a positive future in the face of climate change and the end of peak oil but the message to individuals is that change can be achieved if we all take part.

The preaching holier-than-thou nature which many associate with climate change campaigners is noticeably absent from this book and it is evident that Rowell and others like him have made inroads into changing local authorities’ view of climate change and peak oil. I only wonder why he decided to leave the council at such an important time – when public spending cuts threaten to overshadow the sustainability agenda.