Carbon party

I have been with the Board of Co-operatives UK in Crewe today for a strategy awayday before starting next week. We have had a great input from a survey of members and the key step change everyone wants is to build the public campaign and case for co-operation. The timing could not be better.

Tonight we go for our local ‘carbon party’. Over the last twelve years or so, a group of us have met, courtesy of Robin Stott (doctor, cyclist, host and author), to share our carbon footprint levels and … party. It is a way to say that doing the right thing can be doing the fun thing – although in truth our footprints are still way over the levels we have to have as a society.

Big state, little people

Chris tells me of his visit last week to the Home Office for an event on immigration policy.

He represents the vocal non-profit Refugee Action. So, even though they have some state funding, he was taken aback to be given a badge for the event which described the organisation to the world as ”Home Office Subcontractor’.

“A few years back” he says “they called us a stakeholder…”


I have travelled North by train to Stirling (castle here courtesy, under creative commons license, of to visit Johnston Birchall and colleagues. Johnston is a friend and one of the Britain’s leading researchers on co-operation and mutuality.

stirling castle

One of his current passions is for farmers’ co-operatives, but he warns against the tendencies encouraged overseas by development donors to see these as NGOs. They are businesses and have to deliver marketing benefits to their members to survive and thrive.

He distinguishes co-operatives and mutuals as democratic businesses that are about members rather than shareholders. The three defining characteristics he sees are member ownership, member control and member benefits. Johnston has recently completed a short report with Richard Simmons forthcoming for the Co-operative College on co-operatives in international development and has been working on what will be an outstanding project for Co-operative Development Scotland – looking at the comparative performance of the co-operative sector across different countries. In Finland, for example, the co-operative sector accounts for a remarkable 21% of overall GDP. In Switzerland, it is 16% and in Sweden, 13%.

The economical environmentalist

51+5C54nj7L._SL500_AA240_I spoke at the launch last night of Prashant’s excellent new book, The Economical Environmentalist.

He is always so good with numbers – and not shy at presenting them – and he took a particular shot at meat eating in a time of climate change. These were my favourites:

  • it takes fifteen units of energy to feed a cow equivalent to produce the equivalent of one in terms of edible meat
  • switching to beans does make you more flatulent, but cows produce so much methane that for the same weight of food, beef produces 100 farts from the cow for every one from you after a unit of beans (I am not making this up)
  • a 400 gram book is a good way of sequestering 1kg of carbon…

prashantprashant house

Grand stile


Autumn walk in the Darent Valley and I encounter an unusual stile.

It invites you to climb over it, or walk around and wonder where the hedge has gone.

Powys in the sun

SL380753SL380751SL380750I have had a wonderful trip to mid-Wales to stay with my friend Pat Conaty.

Pat is a tireless and relentlessly optimistic pioneer of a wide range of self-help and co-operative initiatives – from community land trusts to National Debtline, which is now a lifeline for a quarter of a million people a year.


The biggest bet

I have been reading, pre-Copenhagen, the work of EcoEquity. They have put together a framework for a fair and equitable way to divvy up action on climate change, based on what they call ‘greenhouse development rights’ and meeting a target of no more than 2° warming. It is good stuff and there seems to be reasonable agreement that that level of warming over pre-industrial levels is the maximum that we should expect to manage.

Call me frivolous, but I wonder if one more way to bring this all home is to run bets on whether and when the world will reach the 2° threshold. After all, we bet on everything else, there is a betting shop in every high street and taking a punt has become an everyday part of our culture. Would Camelot, Ladbrokes or Coral run this?… the biggest bet yet.

Perhaps the proceeds can go into development rights and the winner can choose between a fat payout and a comfortable life-raft…

Nobel for Elinor Ostrom

Wonderful, wonderful news today that the co-operative theorist and researcher Elinor Ostrom has been awarded the Economics ‘Nobel’ prize.
Her greatest work has been to show how co-operative systems of management succeed in contexts where market theorists long predicted failure. Markets are one system of property ownership and management but there is another great system which are the ‘commons’. Grazing land, fisheries, parks … Garret Harding long ago predicted that these end in tragedy, because people operate in a selfish way, with the incentive always to be a free rider. Drawing together examples from across a range of settings, Ostrom demonstrated the ingenuity and resilience of co-operative systems of resource management.

Hers has been an economics of the everyday majority and not the service of a rich elite.

In her more recent work, she has drawn on game theory to develop and test a grand theory of institutional design. It is complex stuff, but also an uplifting reminder that human behaviour in our capacity to collaborate is so much richer and more creative than the traditional theorists of the dismal science of economics would have us believe.

Stone castle

IMG_0014A day as far away as can be from all work today. I accompanied my mother on a visit back for the first time to the place where she was born.

Not a home or hospital birth but a castle birth. Stone Castle is where my great grandfather was working at the time. In Northern Kent, Norman in origin, it lies within sight of the Thames and now on the cliff edge of the quarry that has become Bluewater Shopping Centre. It was on my visit there a couple of weeks ago to launch a consumer rights campaign that one of the staff mentioned Stone Castle and it rang in my head until, talking to my mother, we could put two and two together.

It was a moving day – a day that could have been a WG Sebald novel… full of memories, the shadows of family now gone, a day for sharing.