A world apart, but facing an issue together?

The New Internationalist has been exploring issues around the current economic crisis and climate change through a series of events, interviews and articles. Their most recent publication looks at grass roots solutions to climate change and the impact this has on local economies – with an article featuring communities in southern Brazil.

  • Is there anything we can learn from these communities?
  • Can the VCS in the UK simultaneously tackle the issues of recession and climate change? Read on to find out more…..

New Internationalist held an event, ‘Clean Start’ on December 15th 2008. A key concern is that the current financial crisis is diverting attention away from issues around climate change – as the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asked ‘Is the economic crisis going to be the end of green’? This event, along with a series of articles in the January/February issue of New Internationalist, argues that climate change must be our number one priority, but that this goes hand in hand with the task of building a fairer economy. There is concern that this is a challenging agenda, and lacks commitments from governments around the world – as highlighted by their views on the recent UN climate change talks in Poznan. However the ‘Clean Start’ agenda not only analyses how we got into a financial and environmental crisis, it also provides specific policies and suggestions for practical action to tackle these issues and to potentially change the system to achieve economic and environmental justice.

What's happening in Brazil?

One of the articles in the current issue of the magazine written by Lucia Ortiz, looks at how a community in the south of Brazil generates energy: ‘Homegrown energy’.

In the mid 1990’s members of a rural electrification co-operative, mainly farmers, took over the running of the company. As time went on they began to produce their own energy using local renewable sources, such as mini hydro dams, rather than buying energy. Before a general assembly, members of the co-operative consult communities in more than 30 municipalities. The co-operative doesn’t send energy bills to people, instead they ask people what they have used – this level of trust reduces costs on metering kilowatts consumption.

The benefits?

People in these municipalities say this change in ownership has improved food production and quality of electricity supply – from better access to electricity and a more reliable supply. The members of this co-operative are now also involved in energy policies, at both a local and national level. They've also begun to research how to produce biogas and electricity from their waste. Fearing that the growth of monopoly energy production companies in the country would put them out of business, they also decided to produce their own fuel using small sugar cane plantations to produce ethanol in micro-distilleries.

While other rural co-operatives in the south of Brazil have followed their example, those in urban areas have also started to looked at localised production and consumption of energy. For them, it's a way to localise economies as well protect the environment by reducing the reliance on ‘monocultures’ damaging to both the local economy and environment. In one city, Porto Alegre, a movement has been started called ‘How to live in the city in times of climate chaos and peak oil’. This movement encourages people to think about where the things they need come from, in particular food and transport. They also exchange ideas with people living in the rural areas of the city around agro-ecology and food production for instance, to rethink the way they can be organised to be ‘less energy demanding’. For more information on this article and related debates have a look at and listen to the Cool Change interviews on the New Internationalist website.

  • While the issues in Brazil may feel like a world apart from those in the UK, is there anything we can learn and put in to practice from the actions described above?
  • In a world that is ‘globalised’, where both economies and ecosystems are so interlinked, could we spend more time learning from each other?
  • Could your organisation bring together urban and rural communities to discuss how resources could be used in ‘greener’ and more cost effective ways?
  • Does your organisation need to think about consulting with a wider community to identify their specific concerns about climate change and find practical, collective solutions?
  • How could your organisation influence a local, national and even international debate about climate change, such as those in Poznan?
  • Perhaps your organisation could get together with other VCS groups in the area to purchase greener energy supplies or share vehicles for community transport schemes?
  • How might your organisation play a role in a localised economy, such as that suggested above, or by others such as Philip Blond in a new economic deal?

Climate Change and the VCS

is the next in the Foresight Seminar series. Come along on March 5th at 2.30 – 5pm, followed by a drinks reception, to discuss such issues.

Book a place

If you've got any questions please email Kathryn Cook or call on 02075202510.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Last updated at 18:09 Mon 12/Apr/10.
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