Can CLTs tackle extinction and climate change?

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Author: Tom Chance, Director, National CLT Network

Like or loathe their tactics, the Extinction Rebellion protests over the past week have raised issues that every CLT should consider.

When David Attenborough, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Secretary of State for the Environment all line up in the same week saying as much, we ought to take note.

Take note of what?

Well, despite all the warnings, globally we are still emitting more greenhouse gases every year. At the current rate we will pass the 'safe' threshold within eleven years, and without abrupt change could bring about the collapse of civilisation by the end of the century. We have already killed over sixty per cent of vertebrate life in the past fifty years, and our forest clear-cutting and pesticide addiction continues to ravage wildlife. These are the warnings of the United Nations, echoed by Attenborough, Carney and Gove.

If we had started taking this seriously in the year 2000, we would only have needed to reduce our emissions by 4 per cent each year. Now, after years of dithering, we need to make cuts of 18 per cent per year!

Many Community Land Trusts are already taking steps to do something about this. Your main focus is probably your local housing crisis, but what use is an affordable home in an unsafe climate?

Here are three things you might think about. We will be discussing these themes with policymakers at out European CLTs conference in London in May, in a session on climate breakdown chaired by one of our corporate partners, the Ecology Building Society.

Build more sustainable communities

CLTs have a statutory duty to contribute to the sustainability of your local community, including environmental sustainability. So hopefully this runs like a golden thread through everything you do.

CLTs like Leeds Community Homes take this seriously. They've partnered with developers Citu on their first project, a 'climate innovation district'. You can read a quick overview of it on the Citu blog.

Thanks to improving building regulations and planning rules, most new homes are now designed to be more eco-friendly than they were twenty years ago. But they're still a long way off the standards we should be building to.

This isn't just about energy efficiency, though that's a big part of it, and one that is much about ensuring the homes are built well as getting the design right.

It's also about laying out streets to discourage car usage, and make walking and cycling easier and more plesant. It's about using lower impact materials - think more wood, less cement. You can help residents use less water, recycle more waste, and grow more fruit and vegetables.

There are lots of fantastic resources online to help you think about this. Bioregional, one of our Associate members, has lots of good free resources based around their holistic One Planet Living framework. I'd recommend giving their resources a read.

Make space for wildlife

This is a fun one, for those of us who like gardening, bird watching or hedge laying!

While most of our farmland is a pesticide-soaked ecological desert, and our towns and cities may feel like concrete jungles, it's not that hard to create rich habitats in and around our homes. A good supply of flowering plants throughout the year; lawns and verges left unmown; bird, bat and bee boxes, ponds and piles of rotting logs are all easy ways to make a difference.

There is lots of good advice on wildlife friendly gardening - look at these pages from the RSPB, the RHS and Buglife, for example.

I've also found lots of inspiration in books like The Living Jigsaw by Val Bourne, and of course anything by Bob Flowerdew.

Thinking bigger, you could contact your local Wildlife Trust to ask for advice about the sorts of habitats that are most valuable in your location. You might be able to help out local species on the brink, or connect up to wider conservation efforts in your area. They may also help connect you to experts and volunteers to plan a really wildlife-friendly housing development.

Plan for a scary future

Action on climate change has always had two parts: mitigation, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions; and adaptaion, to ensure we can cope with the warming world.

As it looks less and less likely that we will stay within the 'safe' 1.5 degree threshold, CLTs should think seriously about how your homes and communities will prosper as the climate breaks down.

For example, Lune Valley CLT is learning from Lancaster Cohousing's approach to flood risk. They ignored their council's flood projections and raised their homes higher up from the river Lune. A good job too, because the terrible floods in 2017 would have inundated their homes if they hadn't.

So think about how the homes will cope with more frequent flooding. Can you put in sustainable drainage features like swales and trees to reduce surface water flooding? Should you be a bit more risk-averse about local rivers?

Consider overheating, likely to be a growing problem. Can you plant more trees to provide shade and cool the air? Maybe you should talk to residents about other ways to shade windows, and to ensure homes are built with this in mind?

The community advantage

I think CLTs have one big advantage in all of this. Because you are organised, as a community, you can respond to changes much more effectively.

You're already thinking about how your local community can be more resilient - how more affordable homes, a saved post office, and a new community garden can help sustain community life.

So here's another thing to think about: how can you help your local community be more resilient in the face of climate breakdown? How can you do your part to reduce the problem, and to adapt to the changes to come?

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