A climate for change

This weekend Leeds will host its first climate change conference and the organisers have high hopes. But can the city's general public really make a difference? Neil Hudson tried to find out

LET'S get one thing straight: climate change has always happened. And it always will.

When the Vikings colonized Greenland in the 11th century – a blink of the eye in geological terms – they found a temperate climate suitable for grazing cattle. Fast forward 1,000 years and it's covered in snow and ice.

The idea that the present-day changes in climate are man-made is relatively new and until a few years ago was a hotly contested idea.

What began with a discovery of a hole in the ozone layer has slowly transformed itself into a burgeoning global crisis which threatens to affect – and in many ways already is affecting – every single one of us.

As Leeds prepares to host its first climate change conference – the ambitiously titled Transition City Leeds – one of its organisers, Paul Chatterton, 35, believes the global warming argument has been well and truly won.

'Peak oil'

Speaking to the YEP he said: "There are a few climate change deniers around, but they are in the main isolated figures.

"Transition City Leeds is part of a national movement and there are about 200 towns and cities already signed up. We are trying to get people to subscribe to the idea of making a change.

"There are two main driving factors: climate change and what we call 'peak oil', which means that in the next few years oil reserves will peak and we are going to have to get used to life without it.

"The question is, how do communities make the transition?"

It's a question councils across the land have begun to take seriously. Leeds City Council has even employed a climate change officer after it signed up to something called the Nottingham Declaration, a document whose central doom-laden tenet is 'climate change poses a genuine threat to our planet'.

Other councils have backed eco-villages comprised of houses with grass roofs, stuck wind-turbines on top of council buildings (in Kirklees) and given staff discounts to buy bicycles.

In Totnes, Devon, where the 'transition town' movement began, they have their own currency, the Totnes pound, which can only be spent in local shops and helps promote local producers.

Mr Chatterton, a geography lecturer at Leeds University, said that the idea could be introduced in Leeds. "We're not talking about going back to a feudal system, it's just a way of helping to keep things local.

"For example, we're making a load of chilli for people to eat on Saturday but we don't know anywhere in the city which grows chillies. If we did, we'd be buying from them."


Other ideas include a community agriculture project, where vegetables are grown on a communal site, a trial plastic bag ban in parts of Leeds and an environmental directory. Promoting cycling and car sharing go without saying.

But in the main, it's about getting people in Leeds to subscribe to doing the basics – getting an efficient boiler, installing insulation and changing to low energy light bulbs.

Mr Chatterton added: "There needs to be more of a sense of urgency about climate change. Everyone is affected. No-one can jump off the planet. It's our world. There are a lot of simple changes people can make which are not difficult but which ultimately will make a difference."

Andy Golding is chief executive of the Permaculture Association – www.permaculture.org.uk – which wants to change and improve farming methods to make them more efficient and free up more space for wildlife.

He said: "Quite clearly the world is at a crossroads where we find dwindling oil reserves and our ecology under threat, together with an increasing population.

"How do we engage the creativity of local people everywhere to solve these issues? We are not trying to say it's all doom and gloom.

"I think there are huge benefits to be had. What could Leeds be like if people were more involved?"

But do people have the time and inclination to be involved? According to George Munson, the council's first climate change officer, it's something that's going to happen come what may.

He said: "As a council we are thinking strategically about the ways people can make a difference. It has to be something that's right for the city. It's a case of if we do not do it and plan now, when the time comes when demands increase, we won't be in a position to cope."

Leeds City Council has so far only dipped its little toe into the babbling brook that is climate change – it has backed the use of ethically-sourced bio-diesel in its cars, is promoting car sharing schemes and has given tacit backing to a host of other measures; there's even talk of a 'grand project' as a statement of the city's intent, although no firm details as yet on what, or when, that might be.


Energy Advice Centre, Leeds offers free advice to people and businesses on 0800 512 012.

The Transition City Leeds workshop will take place at Centenary House, North Street, Leeds, on Saturday April 19, from 11am. Anyone is welcome to attend.

Email: transitioncityleeds@hotmail.co.uk; website: transition-city-leeds.wikispaces.com.